Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some Blame Hydraulic Fracturing for Earthquake Epidemic -

Earlier this month the NY TImes had an interesting article about earthquakes in the Youngstown, Ohio region:

Before today there had been 9 minor quakes this year.... Today's 4.3 quake is fairly large as these things go, and is surely going to add fuel to the debate.

Ohio Earthquake Raised to M 4.3

Globe with Earthquake Location

4.3 Ml - OHIO

Preliminary Earthquake Report
Magnitude 4.3 Ml
  • 31 Dec 2011 20:05:01 UTC
  • 31 Dec 2011 15:05:01 near epicenter
  • 31 Dec 2011 12:05:01 standard time in your timezone
Location 41.121N 80.684W
Depth 5 km
  • 4 km (2 miles) NW (314 degrees) of Youngstown, OH
  • 4 km (3 miles) SSE (167 degrees) of Girard, OH
  • 6 km (4 miles) NE (54 degrees) of Austintown, OH
  • 70 km (44 miles) E (85 degrees) of Akron, OH
  • 96 km (60 miles) NW (322 degrees) of Pittsburgh, PA
Location Uncertainty Horizontal: 0.5 km; Vertical 31.6 km
Parameters Nph = 18; Dmin = 61.0 km; Rmss = 0.23 seconds; Gp = 136°
M-type = Ml; Version = 1
Event ID LD 60029101 ***This event supersedes event USc0007f7s.

For updates, maps, and technical information, see:
Event Page
USGS Earthquake Hazards Program

Lamont-Doherty Cooperative Seismographic Network
Columbia University


This email was sent to You requested mail for events within the 'United States' region for M4.0 at all times. To change your parameters or unsubscribe, go to:


Ohio Earthquakes Not Especially Rare

So how rare is a 4.0+ earthquake in Ohio? Roughly one a decade -- here's an interesting page from the USGS, with this chart.

Probably nothing to get excited about.

Here's a entire report on the subject, if you want to read more.
Earthquakes are a legitimate concern in Ohio and parts of adjacent States. Ohio has experienced more than 160 felt earthquakes since 1776. Most of these events caused no damage or injuries. However, 15 Ohio earthquakes resulted in property damage and some minor injuries. The largest historic earthquake in the state occurred in 1937. This event had an estimated magnitude of 5.4 and caused considerable damage in the town of Anna and in several other western Ohio communities.


This ought to give the anti-frackers something to talk about: Ohio just had a 4.0 earthquake:

UPDATE: Here's a notice in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The EQ occurred at 3:04 pm Eastern Time.

Friday, December 30, 2011

America's Science Decline - Neil deGrasse Tyson

An interesting little presentation:

I believe these statistics come from the report released this past March by The Royal Society (UK), especially page 43:

While this looks bad for the US, it's mostly a matter of other countries (especially China) catching up:

It's not a bad thing (for the US) just because China will soon publish the same number of papers as the US -- a rising tide lifts all boats -- or that other countries are 'catching up.'

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Burton Richter Makes Sense

Physicist Burton Richter (a Nobel Laureate) makes some sense:
Q: If you got one wish on international policy on climate change, what would it be?

Richter: That we would abandon the stupid notion of legally binding agreements on emissions. What are the fines for not meeting your agreements? Who levies the fine? Where does the money go? There are no sanctions, so what does "legally binding" mean?

Also, 15 countries are responsible for more than 80 percent of the world's emissions. Why are we trying to get a deal with 196 countries, most of which are spending all their time trying to figure out how to get the richer countries to pay them money? What we really need is to get these 15 countries, which includes some developed countries and some rapidly developing countries, to agree on a deal.
Richter: ...It's obvious to anyone that on national economic grounds we should shut down these coal plants as fast as we can replace them. However, you have a bunch of senators from coal-producing states and from states that are heavily dependent on coal, like those in the Southeast, that get most of their electricity from coal-fired power plants. So, you've got to get the politics of this right. I won't say it's easy, but you are just going to have to run right over West Virginia.

Yes, Kant Actually Wrote This

This is from one of the fathers of the Enlightenment:
"The inhabitant of the temperate parts of the world, above all the central part, has a more beautiful body, works harder, is more jocular, more controlled in his passions, more intelligent than any other race of people in the world. That is why at all points in time these peoples have educated the others and controlled them with weapons."

-- Immanuel Kant, On the different races of Man, 1775

(via Hulme)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Just Stuff

The Scientist named the Wegman plagarism incident one of the top 5 scientific scandals in 2010:
A controversial climate change paper was retracted when it was found to contain passages lifted from other sources, including Wikipedia. The paper, published by climate change skeptic Edward Wegman of George Mason University in Computational Statistics and Data Analysis in 2008, showed that climatology is an inbred field where most researchers collaborate with and review each other’s work. But a resourceful blogger uncovered evidence of plagiarism, and the journal retracted the paper, which was cited 8 times, in May.
(Via Deltoid)


Federal spending last year (FY 2010) actually dropped by $62 B, compared to the year earlier. (That's 1.2% of GDP.) The deficit dropped too, from $1.41 T to $1.29 T. It's still much higher than previous years, however, but some people would call that a recovery if it occurred in, say, Arctic sea ice.


Rick Santorum actually said this the other day:
"Let's look at colleges and universities," Santorum said in the ballroom of the restored Frank Lloyd Wright Park Inn Hotel on Mason City's town square. "They've become indoctrination centers for the left. Should we be subsidizing that?"

Santorum tossed out Harvard University's motto, "Veritas," Latin for truth. "They haven't seen truth at Harvard in 100 years."
Can you imagine a world where universities receive funding, or not, based on whether what they teach is the position of the Administration? Frightening -- at least as frightening as Gingrich's proposed Presidential Commission on Religious Freedom, which he says he would establish by Executive Order the first day he's in office.


Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has some laughs at his own expense. All pundits should write such a column.


Wait until Michelle Bachmann hears about this: the ban on incandescant light bulbs may kill the Easy-Bake Oven.

I Left GoDaddy Over Their SOPA Support

I only had one domain with them, but I transferred it from GoDaddy due to their original support of SOPA, which is a very dangerous piece of legislation. (Their reversal is too little, too late, and too obvious.) They refunded me for the unused portion of my hosting plan, too.

Also, their CEO, Bob Parsons, is kind of a jerk.

Tomorrow is Dump GoDaddy Day. If you use them, think about it. There is, though, a legitimate question of what good it will do:
BetaNews reader Mark Haus shares similar sentiment: "Moving from GoDaddy won't change whether the legislation passes. It seems to me our energy could be better used fighting sopa itself. Registrar changes can be made anytime. Focus, people". Jeremy Brownstein disagrees: "The all mighty dollar on ether side of the road has more of an impact than any vote or the current democratic system".
The thing is, who really believes Congresspeople are going to listen to some Internet people, compared to the lobbyists who fund their campaigns. It's a big problem. But you can't cancel your account with Congress and deny them your monthly dollars; but you can with your domain's host. (Not so easy with your Internet provider -- if you have a choice at all -- which is probably why few are calling for a boycott of Comcast even though they are a SOPA supporter. Makes you wonder if they would be had they not bought a majority stake in NBC Universal this past January. There's the danger of the corporate consolidation issue that gets written whenever one happens, and that people ignore as boring or brush off as only theoretical.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Back Before Havel Died

Sure, Václav Havel denied manmade climate change, but on the other hand he earlier appointed Frank Zappa to be his government’s Cultural Adviser as well as “Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture, and Tourism, which isn't quite a wash but closer to a rectification than your average contrarian ever gets. This was back when some obnoxious Washington wives like Tipper Gore and Susan Baker (wife of James Baker) made it their business to protect the yutes of America from all the naughty lyrics then being sung by the bands of the time.

In the process the "Washington Wives" formed the PMRC and got their hubbies to get Congress to hold a hearing, where Susan Baker said
"There certainly are many causes for these ills in our society, but it is our contention that the pervasive messages aimed at children which promote and glorify suicide, rape, sadomasochism, and so on, have to be numbered among the contributing factors."
Tipper Gore looked and sounded equally dismayed, and another witness said that heavy metal was different from earlier jazz and rock-n-roll because it was "mean-spirited," which probably doubled the record sales of several bands.

Testifying for the opposition were John Denver with straight hair, Dee Snider of the band Twisted Sister with a huge pile of long blond curls, and Frank Zappa. (Some kind soul has put Zappa's testimony on Youtube, in four parts: 1, 2, 3, 4 -- they're all worth watching.) Zappa called the PMRC "a group of bored Washington housewives" and said
"The major record labels need to have H.R. 2911 whiz through a few committees before anybody smells a rat. One of them is chaired by Senator Thurmond. Is it a coincidence that Mrs. Thurmond is affiliated with the PMRC?"
which was a great question and so naturally it went unanswered. Zappa also said
"...the PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretation and enforcement problems inherent in the proposal's design."
But what really ticked some people off was when Zappa mimicked Susan Baker's southern accent. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash. snapped at Zappa, calling him "boorish, incredibly and insensibly insulting," like that was supposed to hurt Zappa's feelings. Frank Zappa. Right.

Anyway when US Secretary of State James Baker learned of Havel's Zappa appointment he declared,
“You can do business with the United States of America or you can do business with Frank Zappa!”
which was all I really wanted to post about in the first place.

Oh yeah: Havel caved on the Zappa appointment, so perhaps he wasn't the big rebel skeptics made him out to be after his death . Zappa went on to sell memorabilia through a company named Barfko-Swill. (Ha.) And Tipper and her girlfriends managed to completely and forever clean up all the dirty and naughty lyrics in rock-n-roll, and American children have all lived happily forever after.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Sometimes They Surprise You

“Environmental pollution, believe it or not, is interstate commerce, too.”

-- Rick Santorum, while campaigning in Iowa

(My only wish is that someone -- a reporter, or one of the few Americans [those in Iowa or New Hampshire] who get to elect the party presidential candidates -- would simply ask him, "Mr. Santorum, what does 'All men are created equal' mean to you?")

Things Learned from Vonnegut's Timequake

Kurt Vonnegut's book Timequake is characteristically good -- part story telling, part commentary -- and I learned a few interesting things too, including:

1) Our word "plumbing" comes from the Latin word plumbum, meaning lead. As in, what the Romans made their pipes from. (Whether these pipes killed them is another matter.) That's why the chemical symbol for lead is "Pb."

2) Kurt Vonnegut's maternal great-uncle was Carl Barus, a founder and president (in 1905) of the American Physical Society. Barus investigated the effect of ionizing radiation on condensation on a cloud chamber, by fogging up the inside of a wooden box, and concluded it was unimportant. About the same time the Scottish physicist Charles Thomson Rees Wilson did similar work, only his cloud chamber was made of glass. Wilson showed that X-rays and radioactivity did create condensation, and, Vonnegut writes
"He criticized Uncle Carl for ignoring contamination from the wood walls of his chamber, for his crude method of making clouds, and for not shielding his fog from the electrical field of his Xray apparatus.

Wilson went on to make paths of electrically charged particles visible to the naked eye by
means of his cloud chamber. In 1927, he shared a Nobel Prize for Physics for doing this.

Uncle Carl must have felt like something the cat drug in!
I guess there could be worse things for a scientist. KV writes in the book:
Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different!
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake

Warm, Cold, Doesn't Matter -- Brad Johnson is on the Case

Warm, doesn't matter to Brad Johnson of Thinkprogress Green -- he has a hammer, and he's determined to find some nails. 12 months ago he wrote:
Meanwhile, the building heat trapped by billions of tons of fossil fuel pollution is fueling catastrophic changes in the world’s climate system predicted years ago by scientists:
...Dynamic winter-storm systems driven by the rapidly warming Arctic have plunged much of Europe into killer cold weather for the second year in a row, months after a summer of record heat and precipitation. Up to 30 people have frozen to death in Poland, and thirty more killed in the rest of Europe. (emphasis mine)
Yesterday he wrote this:
This winter has been unusually warm, crippling ski resorts, ruining holiday traditions, and dashing hopes of a white Christmas across the northern hemisphere. While the billions of tons of greenhouse pollution in our atmosphere sometimes encourage freak snowstorms, the primary effect of global warming on winter is, well, warmer temperatures — making white Christmases less likely.
In this post from December 2010, he flat-out states that nearly ever instance of serious weather on the planet is, all at the same time, due to fossil fuel emissions: wildfires, droughts, extreme cold, floods, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and heavy rain.

Brad Johnson may be the worst climate blogger out there. People like him are actually doing damage to resolving the issue of fossil fuel emissions, and to environmentalism in general -- providing fodder to the contrarians, aiding those who want to find laughingstocks, and generally satisfying all the stereotypes some have of a know-nothing left.

And a reminder: Thin Progress refuses to say who its funders are. (Despite what you might guess, I doubt the Barnum & Bailey Clown College is one of them.) Despite this, they have the temerity to complain about other's lack of disclosure (scroll down to the Update on this post).

Santa's Climate Problems

“I’m sorry, Mr. Claus,” said the U.N. Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Planetary Climate Affairs. “But your credentials for future climate changes conferences has been permanently revoked.”

“Now see here, young man,” said Santa in his best stern voice. But he was cut off abruptly.

“Sir, you may appeal to the Deputy Associate Arctic Office for Indigenous Member Appeals.” Santa grimaced, and not just from the familiar pain in his back. “Good day to you, Sir.” The call ended.

Good day, Santa grumbled as Skype asked him to rate the call. Idiot--we've got 24 hours of darkness up here. Santa turned to the elf sitting across his desk.

“Well, Eugene, you’ve gone and done it again.”

“All I did in Durban was point out that the world continues to ignore this problem,” protested Eugene, pushing his glasses up the slope of his nose. “This place isn’t getting any colder, you know.”

“But did you have to get Vixen involved?” said Santa. “You know how she is since she became a grandmother.”

“Besides, credentials are the least of our problems,” said the elf, glancing down at his iPad. “The sea ice volume is down again this year. They do know we live and work on this stuff, right?”

“Of course, Eugene, of course,” said Santa with a sigh. But Eugene was just getting started—again.

“Arctic sea ice volume is down 48 percent since 1979,” said the elf. “And the National Snow and Ice Data Center says area—excuse me, extent—is decreasing at 4.7 percent a decade.”

Santa had been hearing this for years. “But Gordon says it’s increased since 2007.” Frankly, he just wanted to get back to his list, which this year was longer than ever.

“Gordon,” smirked Eugene. “Gordon won’t admit the climate is changing until he’s ankle-deep in sea water. This is about the long-term trend, as Gordon well knows.”

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?” said Santa, exasperated. “I’m not the one emitting all this carbon dioxide.”

“We do our share,” said Eugene, smugly. “Sure, reindeer power the sleigh, but do you know how much oil is burned shipping their straw up here? Not to mention the wood that goes for toy construction.”

“No, but I’m sure you can tell me,” said Santa. He had no head for figures, and besides his shoulder ached.

“Per-capita, and including reduced sequestration from tree harvesting for the toys, plus the enteric fermentation from that ground beef you like…”

Santa cut him off. “Eugene! For crying out loud.”

The elf stopped. He pushed his glasses up and sniffed his ever-runny nose. Chastened, he said, softly, “Well, carbon dioxide warms planets, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” said Santa with a humpft.

“It’s only a trace gas,” Eugene said, “but without that small amount the world would be about 12 degrees colder. Fahrenheit. So it’s no surprise that our carbon dioxide emissions will cause more warming.” Santa simply looked at him.

“And satellite measurements show less heat escaping the planet since 1979,” said Eugene, “and that it’s being blocked just where CO2 and methane absorb heat.”

His peace said, the elf pushed at his eyeglasses and sat quietly. The fire in the hearth crackled. A blast of wind battered the window. Neither the man nor the elf spoke for a long time.

Finally, Santa said, softly, “Eugene, let’s just do what we can, OK? Insulate, turn off the lights, run those numbers for a wind turbine again. But for now, my friend, we have toys to get delivered.”

“Yes Sir,” said the elf, turning off his iPad. “Thank you.” He bowed his head and left.

Santa sat alone for ten minutes, then twenty, staring into the fire. Advil, he thought. I need Advil. Finally he picked up his own iPad, cringing when he saw there were 16,217 new messages in just the last half-hour. Soon we’ll need a bigger server, he thought to himself.

He would revisit the problem in the new year. Taking a deep breath Santa sat up, and, with a few taps, opened the file named “List.” He scrolled through it, checking it for the second time today, looking again to see who had been naughty, and who had been nice.

by David Appell

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Benjamin Franklin on Plate Tectonics

Plate tectonics was discovered in 1967. But Benjamin Franklin wrote this in 1782:

Cost of a Space Elevator: $350 Billion (?)

NIST carbon nanotubes for sale
How much will it cost to build a space elevator? Here's one estimate for the raw material alone: $350 billion.

At least, that's the current cost of the carbon nanotubes, if you want ones free of impurities. NIST has started selling single-walled carbon nanotubes, certified to be free of certain contaminants: $865 for 250 mg of the stuff.

That's 61 times the price of gold, per ounce.

As I wrote in my recent Physics World article, a carbon nanotube is the only existing material that is both strong enough and light enough to satisfy the demanding engineering requirements of a space elevator. (Basically, you need a material that can hold up about ten thousand kilometers of itself without breaking.) It remains to be discovered how to combine something that basically looks like a pile of soot into something durable like you'd need for a space elevator ribbon, but let's assume the SmartPeople (maybe these guys) work that out. What's the price of just the CNTs?

Well, the mass of the elevator will depend on its length (which, in turn, depends on how much of a counterweight you can manage to attach its space-end), and on its shape (which would be some kind of taper, widest at geosynchronous orbit). You can play with these (and here is a great spreadsheet by Maurice Franklin that lets you do just that), but the length is likely to be about 100,000 km, and the GEO-to-end taper ratio about 2-4, so the mass is going to be somewhere around 105 kg.

At the NIST list price that will run you about $350 billion, or 0.5% of world GDP. Pricey even for Google.

Of course, this is just NIST's introductory price for uncontaminated CNTs -- it will likely drop by the time the elevator ribbon construction facility gets going.

And NIST will surely give you a big discount if you show up with a checkbook and say you want to buy in bulk.

Comet Lovejoy As Seen From the ISS

NASA has some nice images of Comet Lovejoy, taken yesterday from the International Space Station. More here. (This was the comet that was not expected to survive its passage through the Sun's corona, but did.)

Frozen Fog Here This Morning

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"I knew Christopher Hitchens better than you"

Wonderful satire by Neal Pollack, in Salon:
Christopher Hitchens and I were friends for 40 years, plus another five when we were enemies. He took ideas so seriously that if he disagreed with you on a matter that he deemed important, he’d literally throw you in a ditch. It was 1972, the height of our mutual virility. He and I went to a pub to celebrate his most recent intellectual victory over the establishment press. I intimated that sometimes women could be funny on purpose. Even back then, the thought enraged him. Hitchens threw a drink in my face, pressed a lit cigarette into my neck, and hit me over the head with a barstool. The next thing I knew, it was two days later and I was lying hogtied and naked beside the M5. Hitch had already severely damaged my reputation in a vicious essay in the Guardian. But that’s how he operated, and that’s why we loved him.
The rest is here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Environmental Problems of Days of Yore

And you think we have environmental problems.... from Scientific American, June 1860:
"Last year during three months of very dry weather, old father Thames, that once-classic stream, became a huge sewer sending forth fetid odors over all the British metropolis. A report recently presented on the subject contains the statement that about $88,000 worth of deodorizing materials, $88,000 worth of deodorizing material was thrown into the Thames during the months of June, July and August, chiefly chloride of lime, of which 478 tons were used, and chalk lime, of which 4,280 tons were used. These were chiefly thrown into the sewers [and while] the temperature of the river remained high, from 69 to 74 degrees, the river remained proof against all efforts of deodorization. Great preparations have been made this year to provide a sufficient supply of the perchloride of iron in order to modify the pungent powers of father Thames's snuffbox."
£88,000 then is either £6 million or £53 million today, depending on how you calculate it. In either case, the stink must have been an extremely urgent problem.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Night Stuff

Here's a perfect example of how climate change serves as a proxy for larger issues of contention, as Mike Hulme writes in Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Tidewater Virginia residents who oppose their town planners' efforts to prepare for sea-level rise, in one of the most vulnerable parts of the US to the problem. Ostensibly they disagree with climate change science, but, if you read closely, their concerns are really about distant and unelected technocrats who they think are making rules for their property and their town's. Sure, maybe they have misinterpreted the UN's "Agenda 21" -- but then, what do any of us know about what the UN is really up to, and what could you do about it anyhow? Or, for that matter, the town planners of small towns, who have certainly been known to pull a few shenanigans. So I don't think you can dismiss these kind of things as just more denialist tea partiers.


A tidy example of a negative climate feedback(*): In the face of a record breaking climate event Texas farmers have reduced the number of cows raised by 600,000, or about 12%. That's like taking 750,000 cars off the road, if this article is correct -- a reduction of 2 million metric tons of CO2 this year. Less cows, less GHGs, less warming, less drought -- negative feedback.

(*) admittedly glossing over all details of attribution.


I missed this last month, but the WMO-GAW GHG Monitoring Network released their annual report last month. Global atmospheric methane levels are indeed rising again: up 5 ppb in 2010, continuing the increase that resumed in 2006. (Past reports here.) Nobody seems to really know why.


Last week the NIH said it would no longer fund research on chimpanzees. This is a very good thing. This picture immediately sprang to my mind when I heard about this ban:


Don't tell me these animals don't deserve the same consideration as humans, unless you are OK with being caged, exploited, and butchered if and when a higher intelligence shows up (or is developed) here.

That Amazing Silent Protest at UC Davis

I knew UC Davis students had protested their Chancellor's defense of the police pepper-spraying incident, but I didn't pay attention to the details and I missed their amazingly powerful silent witness on November 19th. It's so impressive I got goosebumps watching it.

Here's an account of that day:
A pretty remarkable thing just happened. A press conference, scheduled for 2:00pm between the UC Davis Chancellor and police on campus, did not end at 2:30. Instead, a mass of Occupy Davis students and sympathizers mobilized outside, demanding to have their voice heard. After some initial confusion, UC Chancellor Linda Katehi refused to leave the building, attempting to give the media the impression that the students were somehow holding her hostage.

A group of highly organized students formed large gap for the chancellor to leave. They chanted “we are peaceful” and “just walk home,” but nothing changed for several hours. Eventually student representatives convinced the chancellor to leave after telling their fellow students to sit down and lock arms.
Here are two videos showing the students simply quietly, with linked arms, simply observing Linda Katehi as she left. The protest was organized by one of the students who was pepper-sprayed. Extremely effective. I heard Thom Hartmann say that Quaker women used to do this, and it's a form of protest I hope is revived.

Sometimes It Seems They Don't Even Try

Christopher Booker in the The Telegraph, yesterday: "I was criticised for pointing this out last week, but as anyone can see, from satellite-based charts on the Cryosphere Today website, the extent of polar sea ice was last year 1.6 million square kilometres greater than its average over the last 30 years – something which could never have been guessed from Attenborough’s dramatic film sequences, carefully chosen to convey the very different message the BBC wanted us to believe."

Actual current data from Cryosphere Today:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Methane Time Bomb in Arctic Seas - Apocalypse Not -

But Andrew Revkin has much better reporting on the Arctic methane issue than The Independent:

Kilometer-sized Methane Bubbles Seen in Arctic Ocean

Russian scientists have reported sighting large amounts of methane coming to the surface out in the Arctic Ocean:
In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them." 
Semiletov spoke at this year's AGU meeting earlier this month, but here's an AGU blog posting from almost two years ago where he also reported surprising rates of methane emissions. It includes this interview of his colleague Natalia Shakhova:

Last month I blogged about a paper that found a resumed increase in atmospheric methane levels at two sites in Europe.

Roy Spencer's Minimalized Government

Roy Spencer, July 5, 2011:
"I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government."
Roy Spencer, today:
It’s true that the “golden age” of state-of-the-art Earth-observation science missions is gradually ending. There is currently a real problem that no government agency has been specifically funded to carry on climate observations into the future....
Perhaps, as Spencer advocates for "poor people," the private sector can coordinate charity for a new satellite.

Inhofe's Inhofeian Statement

<span class="leadp">Not representative<br /></span>
<b>U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe:</b> He said Monday at the Tulsa Metro Chamber that he wanted to assure people that lifting the ban on gays in the military has not led to the legalization of bestiality. Under pressure from a local civil rights group, a chamber official said Inhofe's comments "do not reflect the chamber's view on diversity and inclusion."Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) solidly reassured the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce that ending Don't Ask Don't Tell hasn't "legalized bestiality" in the military:
Inhofe also reassured his audience that the lifting of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gay service members has not “legalized bestiality” in the military.

He explained that, although gay people may now “go in the military, go wide open and use that for their agenda,” sex with animals is still outlawed by military code.

“When you go out and talk to people on the street, they’ll tell you, ‘Oh, they’ve legalized bestiality,’ … but that hasn’t changed.”
What can you possibly say about such an comment -- that it's monstrous? Depraved? Evil? I don't think the word has been invented yet, so I'll go with "Inhofeian."

To their credit the Tulsa Metro Chamber issued a statement that paid appropriate homage to...him...while distancing themselves from his statement: "...while the chamber often supports Senator Inhofe's policy stances related to business matters as mentioned above, his comments at the Dec. 12 forum do not reflect the chamber's view on diversity and inclusion.... The chamber is committed to the belief that an inclusive community improves the economic and social climate in the Tulsa region."

Inhofe has also found another hoax: he said that concerns about side effects of fracking are "a phony issue that's been invented." A peer-reviewed study in PNAS disagrees. (To be clear, this PNAS study found significant contamination by methane that increased the closer one got to the well head -- but no contamination by fracturing fluids. An MIT study and a University of Texas study found no contamination, but the latter found some pollution from above-ground spills. None of these studies qualify as "phony.")

I am still holding to my position that the real hoax is Inhofe himself. It's the simplest explanation that fits all the observations.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Movement on Climategate Investigation

It looks like CG2 has gotten someone to tell the US & UK authorities to get off their butts and see where the hack came from.... But what good does it do to seize home computers? Surely they ought to be seizing servers, or doing some detailed forensics in routing records.

Here's the US DOJ (Criminal Division) notice received last Friday by Tallbloke and Jeff Id.

Big Picture's Series on Homelessness

This is a rather shocking picture, from The Big Picture Blog's series on homeless around the world. They have more.

Another Way Science Writers Have Ruined Science

I wish I could read just one article about the Higgs boson without the phrase "the God particle," but it's probably too late. Is any editor ever going to publish an article without it, now, even if the writer wanted to (and most probably don't)?

The phrase comes from Leon Lederman's 1993 book (written with Dick Teresi) The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?, and that came from Lederman, who had been using it as a joke. This is from the preface to the 2006 edition of the book:

Teresi is a former editor at Omni who has a penchant for titles that try a little bit too hard, such as Would the Buddha Wear a Walkman? A Catalogue of Revolutionary Tools for Higher Consciousness and "Hungarians Think The Darnedest Things," etc. I know writers don't usually have final say on their titles, and I guess someone knew what they were doing since the book has sold over 100,000 copies. Eck, maybe I'm just jealous. But it's an awkward, unnecessary, and misleading conflation of science and religion, as if science gives credence for any of that.

I was wondering how Peter Higgs feels about the name, and found this article from today in LiveScience. It seems a lot of scientists don't like the name:

Vivek Sharma (UC-San Diego), leader of the Higgs search at LHC's CMS experiment: "I detest the name 'God particle.' I am not particularly religious, but I find the term an 'in your face' affront to those who [are]. I do experimental physics not GOD."

Michio Kaku (CCNY) : "It's an awful name. It does not convey the particle's true role, that it is the last missing piece of the Standard Model, and that it gives mass to the other particles."

Matt Strassler (Rutgers): "I feel the term 'God particle,' invented by a publisher to sell books and make money, insultingly misrepresents both science and religion."

Kyle Cranmer (NYU): "[It] carries almost no information about why the Higgs particle is important, it makes physicists sound pompous and arrogant, and it reinforces a very harmful presumption that physicists are trying to replace or compete with 'God,'...."

Gordon Kane (Univ Michigan): "'God particle' is a bad name, in every way. It has nothing to do with the physics. Most (all?) physicists dislike it."

More here.

The article also says:
The story goes that Lederman originally wanted to name the tome "The Goddamn Particle" because of how difficult it was to detect, but was persuaded by his publisher, Delta, to shorten it.
which seems to contradict the preface above, but oh well it's a good little story.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Energy Efficiency Isn't Enough

Can energy efficiency and conservation alone solve the CO2 problem? An op-ed in today's Oregonian by Kumar Venkat discusses this and other aspects of the problem.
Can we rely primarily on energy efficiencies in the meantime? Up to a point, yes; but efficiencies are not a panacea for all our energy problems. Energy efficiencies are known to cause rebounds, which can reduce potential energy savings by stimulating additional energy use.
This is Jevons Paradox, and you can see it in gasoline consumption in the US over decades.

Here's a back of the envelope calculation:
Take CO2 and population data from the World Bank, for 2009. Assume that
  1. OECD countries cut their per-capita CO2 emissions by 30%. 
  2. the per-capita emissions of the non-OECD countries reach a factor F of the OECD countries (currently F=0.29).
  3. the world's population increases to 10 billion, with all the increase in the non-OECD countries. 
Then this would be the world's total CO2 emissions, as a function of F, as a factor of 2009's CO2 emissions:

In other words, even if we cut our emissions by 30% and everyone in the world attains this standard of living, emissions would be 2.5 times today's.

You can't even get to today's (already unacceptable) levels of emissions, and F=1, unless the cutback = 72%

I don't see how you can possibly get enough cutback in emissions with conservation and increased efficiency, unless most of the world stays poor. The demographics swamp everything.

And if we have to reduce emissions by 80% of today's, it's impossible without new technologies (at least in energy storage, if not renewable energy). Impossible. You can't even get close.

You must either (1) invent new ways to store energy, or (2) new ways to generate noncarbon energy. Lots of it, on demand. R&D is the only answer.

Note: the only data I used is (2009):

OECD population: 1.225 B
non-OECD population: 5.536 B

OECD per-capita emissions: 9.83 mt
non-OECD per-capita emissions: 2.88 mt

(Remember, US per-capita emissions in 2009 were 16.9 mt.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Intel warns that fourth-quarter results will be below previous forecasts because of hard-drive supply shortages.

Speaking of the economic impact of the Thailand floods....

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Intel warns that fourth-quarter results will be below previous forecasts because of hard-drive supply shortages.
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2011 09:20:08 -0500
From: Breaking News <>

-- Intel warns that fourth-quarter results will be below previous forecasts because of hard-drive supply shortages.

Log on to for the latest news.

Lacrosse Bleg

Has anyone here played lacrosse? I want to buy my 7-yr old nephew a stick for Christmas. He's never played before or used a stick, but is interested. Would something like this be appropriate for him?


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where the Billion$ from Durban Should Be Going Instead

In the Washington Post's article on the agreement in Durban, they write:
Last week, researchers from the Wilhelm Bjerknes Centre in Bergen, Norway, gave a presentation in Durban projecting that the Arctic will experience a 2-degree temperature increase within one to two decades. The only way to limit the global increase to 2 degrees, the researchers said, was to have global emissions peak by 2020 and fall between 40 percent and 50 percent between 2040 and 2050.

“That’s the real missing element here,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s nothing that’s going to get the world to lift its game and close that gap.”
It seems to me there is one way, and only one way, that global CO2 emissions will be 1/2 of 2020 levels by 2050: if there is a cheaper alternative than burning fossil fuels. That's it. People want to be warm and comfortable and fly to SoCal in the winter and overseas to climate change conferences, and the heck with those living a hundred years from now.

So instead of establishing bodies to collect and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year to poor countries -- which we should be doing anyway, not because the climate is changing but because they're, you know, poor -- we should take those 10s B/yr and make a massive R&D effort to find ways to generate cheaper energy. Take 1% of it and hire the world's best PR agencies so they'll make it like going to the moon or defeating the Nazis. Build a few CERN-scale laboratories around the world, give the world's smart nuclear engineers and fusion scientists and nanotechnologists healthy grants, and have a yearly conference (run by technical people, not the UN) that reports on their progress. Include energy efficiency experts too, of course, and other smart people with ideas worth pursuing like wave energy and tidal power and more solar. Cut them loose.

That's what's going to work, isn't it, not hammering on people to reduce emissions when it can only make relatively small changes at best, and having the rich pay for the impact of their profligate lifestyle on the poor. It didn't work 20 years ago and it didn't work now, because after China develops India is going to develop, and after that will come the rest of south Asia, and then (hopefully) Africa, and the population is going to keep increasing in all of them. You can't stop people from wanting to live better. So you have to provide a less impactful way for them to do that.

Durban Wrap-Up in Two Easy Pieces

The climate conference has wrapped up in Durban, and the results surprised no one. They can be summed up with two short items: one, the prayer of the teen aged boy who said,
"Lord, let me be good, just not yet."
and the following graph -- which applied equally before the conference, during it, and after it -- and predicted the result with perfection:

This chart will predict the result again in three years, when the world has agreed it will agree on what it might someday again agree to as a token effort to solve the CO2 problem.

More on the Tsunami of Junk

For some reason I can't stop thinking about the coming tsunami of Japanese junk that will start washing up on west coast shores in about 2 years. It's 5 M metric tons, or 5.5 M tons. Looking at the simulation, it will impact from about Los Angles to Vancouver(*), a distance of about 1500 miles, so we're talking about

4200 lbs/yard -- one car every yard


1400 lbs/ft -- two refrigerators every foot


5 lbs/mm -- a toaster over every millimeter

As a commenter pointed out yesterday, at least one group in Oregon, SOLV, is already on the case.

(*) Yes, I know some of the stuff will sink, or currents will take it down or up the coast, or back out to sea, etc, and it's not going to be cars or refrigerators but smaller, more floatable stuff. Stop being such a fussbucket and play with me here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Coming Surge of Japanese Junk

The Harper's Index also has this item:
Estimated tons of debris from the Japanese earthquake headed for the West Coast of the United States: 5,000,000
Date by which the debris is expected to begin reaching shore: 10/1/2013
That came from this story from the University of Hawaii, which includes this nice animation of the expected debris track.

Another story gives a report from a Russian ship near the Midway Islands: “On September 22, in position 31042,21 N and 174045,21 E, we picked up on board the Japanese fishing boat. Radioactivity level – normal, we’ve measured it with the Geiger counter,” wrote Natalia Borodina, information and education mate of the Pallada. “At the approaches to the mentioned position (maybe 10 – 15 minutes before) we also sighted a TV set, fridge and a couple of other home appliances.”

A few days later they added, "we keep sighting everyday things like wooden boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets (small and big ones), an object resembling wash basin, drums, boots, other wastes. All these objects are floating by the ship.”

Free stuff! If a bit waterlogged.

The Good and Bad from the Harper's Index

Here are some of the best items from this month's Harper's Index in Harper's Magazine, which I've ordered from most- to least-heartening:
Amount employees of private-equity firm Bain Capital have donated to the campaign of its co-founder Mitt Romney: $69,500
To the Obama campaign: $119,900
Percentage of all Americans who consider themselves part of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners: 13
Percentage of Hispanic Americans who do: 28
Percentage of workers with only a high school diploma who received employer-based health insurance in 1979: 70
Percentage of workers with a bachelor's degree or higher who receive it today: 66

Friday, December 09, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Stupid Idea

According to David Brooks, Newt Gingrich has suggested that “a mirror system in space could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for nighttime lighting of the highways.”

This is an idiotic idea that immediately qualifies him for President, if the other ten thousand reasons didn't already convince you that he is the devil incarnate. (I mean that with a level of seriousness greater than zero.) It might save, what, 1-2% off our national electricity bill? On the other hand, it's going to light up whole counties like two yokels with a spotlight looking for deer in a Pennsylvania hay field, and who can possibly sleep through that? (Really, people -- sleep is important.) You can't aim a space mirror so it just illuminates the 50 meter-wide slice of Interstate 70, and sleeping with your blinds down every night can get creepy real fast. What if you're camping? What about all the animals -- they need to sleep too. (Just ask my cats.) What about astronomy, for Christ's sake? You can't cut the James Webb telescope and ruin optical astronomy -- are we supposed to look at our feet all day long? The stars fascinate us, inspire us, even give some of us hope. Take that away and you might well stick a hose up our ass and drain the life out, which I sometimes think is the true goal of the Republican party anyway.

Just leave the night sky alone, OK? That isn't too much to ask from a presidential candidate, even if he is an irreducible representation of the end days of civilization. Jeez.

Research study shows link between earthquakes and tropical cyclones

Maybe here's a reason to think earthquakes might have a multi-stage link to climate change:

If AGW means more cyclones, and those mean more heavy rain events, and those mean more saturated hillsides, which means more landslides, which means (this paper says) more earthquakes.... Is there time series data for earthquakes somewhere? What's the EQ anomaly trend?


Thursday, December 08, 2011

How Air Pollution Has Cut PC Production

Here's another effect of an extreme weather event: The world will be short about 3.8 million hard-disk drives next quarter, because of flooding in Thailand (where many of the components are made).

That many are expected to be missing from an earlier forecast of 88 M. Another way to put it is that while the usual 4Q to 1Q end-of-year decline in such drives is 6%, this time it will be 11.5%.

And so growth in 2012 will only be an estimated 6.8% higher than 2011, instead of 9.5%.

2012 PC shipments will be down by 23 million units. (399 M were expected to be shipped.)

This may impact companies like Intel (and you if your 401K is invested there) which will affect Oregon. (Intel employs 15,000 in the state.)

The situation won't return to normal until the end of 3Q12. The World Bank has estimated the cost of the flooding in Thailand at $45 B, the 4th costliest disaster of all time. Rainfall in northern Thailand was 344% above average.

Scientists recently "linked the increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones over the Arabian Sea between 1979 and 2010 with a rise in soot and aerosol emissions over the Indian subcontinent."

I trust you can connect the dots here. But (apparently) until some super-duper fancy-schmancy climate model can predict the decline in hard-disk drives to the nearest 0.001 percent from hourly worldwide aerosol emissions, and a coupled economic model can forecast the impact on the price of butter in U.S. supermarkets to the nearest nanodime, there's just nothing we can do about it.

There's always the abacus to fall back on.

SoCal Trip

I was in southern California for the last several days -- an entirely different universe, as far as the weather goes. Beautiful sunny days with blue skies....

Best part of the trip was a Segway tour of the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, and seeing friends I hadn't seen for too long.

Pasadena had a huge windstorm the night before I landed, with winds up to 97 miles-per-hour. There were trees down on the streets and the NY Times said up to 40 buildings will need to be torn down. I took a few pictures of the mess at the Huntington Botanical Gardens:

Some pictures from the plane, of clear cuts in southern Oregon:

And some unusual ground features in southern Oregon or northern California, that I haven't yet figured out:

Why the Climategate 2.0 Emails are Devastating

I've started reading Mike Hulme's 2009 book, Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. Hulme is, of course, a well-known climate scientist, founding Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and now a professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Hulme has what seems a more balanced point-of-view than most, and recognizes that the debate over climate change is largely a proxy in the timeless war of larger ideas: about our values, about how society could/should/will be governed and the economy regulated. Hulme is a firm believer in man's influence on climate, but you can tell he's coming from a different place by his book's dedication on its very first page: "To my father, Ralph Hulme (1924-1989), who taught me that disagreeing was a form of learning," and by the quotation before the Table of Contents: "A good place to look for where you least expect to find it: in the minds of your opponents." (Jonathan Haidt, 2006)

In particular, the following passage struck me as a succinct summary of why I think the recently released batch of UEA emails are, as I first wrote, "devastating." It's from Hulme's sum-up of his chapter on "The Performance of Science" -- what I've highlighted in blue seems most relevant here (emphasis mine):
There are three limits to science that we must recognise. First, scientific knowledge about climate change will always be incomplete, and it will always be uncertain. Science always speaks with a conditional voice, or at least good science always does. Belief in the power of science requires a simultaneous doubt about the final and ultimate adequacy of any scientific knowledge claim. We must recognise that uncertainty and humility should always be essential features of any public policy debate which involves science, not least climate change-Certainty is the anomalous condition for humanity, not uncertainty

Second, we must recognise that beyond such 'normal' scientific uncertainty, knowledge as a public commodity will always have been shaped to some degree by the processes by which it emerges into the social world and through which it subsequently circulates. What will in the end count as scientific knowledge for public decision making is not necessarily the same knowledge that first emerged in the laboratory. In the production, or better still the co-production, of climate change knowledge for public policy, trust in the processes of science and participation in the social processes of co-production are essential. Without trust and/or participation, scientific knowledge about climate change is unlikely to prove robust enough to be put to good use. The separation of knowledge about climate change from the politics of climate change – a process that has been described as 'purification’ – is no longer possible, even if it ever was. The more widely this is recognised the better.

Third, we must be more honest and transparent about what science can tell us and what it can't. We should not hide behind science when difficult ethical choices are called for. We must not always defer to ‘science' or to the 'voices of scientists' when we need to make decisions about what to do. These are decisions that in relation to climate change will always entail judgements beyond the reach of science.

-- Mike Hulme, Chapter 3, Why We Disagree About Climate Change
So, the claims last month that 'the science is settled,' like this essay by John Abrahams and one by Scott Mandia, miss the point, I think. It would be great if humans were strictly rational animals who make decisions on nothing but the analytics, but that is not true, for any of us. This is no longer only about the science. To an extent this is unfair to climate scientists -- they should not have to operate in an environment like that of politicians, where every remark might be deeply scrutinized and exploited by enemies. Surely this is new territory for the enterprise of science, as is the climate change problem in general. One thing Hulme's book makes clear is that we will never attain a solution to this problem by somehow finally getting a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from "Science." And we should stop expecting one.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

"Science Never Cheered Up Anyone"

"Science never cheered up anyone. The truth about the human situation is just too awful."

-- Kurt Vonnegut (as his alter-ego Kilgore Trout), Timequake

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gorgeous Picture of a Rocket Launch

This gorgeous picture is of a rocket launch this week from northern Sweden by the European Space Agency, for a propellant test. (Click to enlarge.)

My Article on Space Elevators

I have a feature article on space elevators in the December issue of Physics World -- here's a PDF:

Also, I'm taking a week off to go get some sunshine. Be good (more or less).

How Not to Report on Climate Change

This article might win an award for Worst Reporting on Climate Change (So Far): "Here’s A Reason to Care About Climate Change: It Could Ruin Texas Football," Matthew van Dusen, Txchnologist.

Who thinks football players -- Texan football players -- are going to be thwarted by more heat waves? These guys are into suffering. The game is about suffering. I went to the hospital twice during a football game, and I never played past 9th grade. Strap it up and bring it on.

With the popularity of football in Texas they will built domed air-conditioned practice facilities for even the 6-man squads out on the dry barren plains of West Texas before they will give up their football.

Catastrophists are going to have to try harder than this. Here's a suggestion:

Here's a Reason to to Care About Climate Change: 
Your Guns Might Jam 

That might be taken as a warning--to buy bigger guns.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Open Minds

"You must keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out." 

-- James Oberg, NASA engineer and science writer

When Elephants Fight

There is a African proverb that says, "When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." The Wall Street Journal does some reporting on the grass.

Climate Panel Cancelled For Lack of Balance

A few weeks ago I noted that an upcoming (tonight) panel on climate change lacked balance, heavily skewed towards the denialist position. Today the panel was cancelled for... lack of balance.

It was a presentation of the Oregon chapter of the American Meterological Society, to be held at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and History). OMSI said no.
...Mark Patel, OMSI's vice president of marketing, said the museum told organizers in early November that they needed a balanced panel and offered to move the meeting to its "science pub" event at the Bagdad Theater, picking up half the cost of the move. With no progress made, the museum cancelled the event last week.

"By the very fact that we're holding it here, people are going to assume it's OMSI's point of view," Patel said. "Our intention is far from trying to shut anybody up. We're trying to encourage proper debate, and not allow OMSI to be used as a mouthpiece for one group or another."
Last month Steve Pierce, a local meteorologist and president of OR-AMS, told me the group "takes no position on the subject of climate change" and they had hosted panels on the anthropogenic side in the past and wanted to provide "equal time for all."

Tonight's panel was to consist of:
  • George Taylor, a former manager of the Oregon Climate Service at OSU whom Oregon governor Ted Kulongowski asked that he stop using the title "state climatologist."
  • Chuck Wiese, a former TV weatherman who says he writes "papers" for Watts Up With That. I debated Wiese a few years ago at the Multnomah Athletic Club, where he presented this graph as proof of a cooling trend. (The graph is apparently generated by fitting 1980-2007 temperatures with a 6th-order polynomial, and screams JUST BECAUSE EXCEL LETS YOU DO IT DOESN'T MAKE IT RIGHT.) 
  • Gordon Fulks, a man who insists even his postman know he has a PhD and who writes inanities for the Oregonian like "All plants and animals owe their very existence to carbon dioxide." It has been alleged that he has connections to Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch Brothers. Fulks says he is part of something called "Gordon Fulks and Associates," but strangely the only place that  organization seems to appear is next to his signature on his climate denialism. 
OMSI was right to cancel this event -- they have a great place there (especially for kids), and a reputation to maintain. This panel would have been an insult to science and the true skepticism it honors and practices.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Who Knows How Deep This Goes?

Several months ago Christopher Monckton wrote:
I suspect that the Muller project - precisely because it will indeed be properly conducted and will produce results as fair as the group can make them, and precisely because it has obtained funding not only from the ClimateWorks Foundation etc. but also from the Koch Brothers – has been brought into being so that its results, broadly confirming the official record, can be trumpeted as showing how wrong the skeptics are, how pure the IPCC’s science is, how clear all the official conclusions are. This is a classic diversionary tactic: for, although Jones and his crooked crew were indeed remiss in trying to withhold and destroy data about the temperature record to prevent other scientists from coming to realize what a mess the record was in, the most revealing aspect of Climategate had nothing to do with the temperature record itself.
Surely no one is going to fall for that. I mean, Monckton has to be in on this too. His inane comments and unsupported speculations are clearly intended to divert attention away from the Muller diversion. Judith Curry has a role in this too, to occupy bloggers and readers as they try to figure out her role. (That was a clever choice.) I think it's clear what role Michael Mann and Christopher Horner are playing in all this, and surely Marc Morano is just playing Inhofe's monkey to take heat off Inhofe. When you think about it, Inhofe has to be at the center of this whole thing -- HAS to be -- because his belief that global warming is all a hoax is just too crazy to be anything but true. No one would believe it if it appeared in a novel. HE'S THE HOAX -- Inhofe is. Get it?

You can't make this stuff up. Who knows how deep this goes.

WHO Injected Politics into Science under Bush??

There's an interesting letter from writer Mark Bowen in the most recent issue of Science, where he calls b.s. on Ray Orbach for writing, in an obit of John Marburger, that it was the scientifically civilized people who "injected politics" into the Bush administration. Orbach was Under Secretary for Science at the U.S. DOE from 2006 to 2009.

Bowen wrote the book Censoring Science.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

More on Tuvalu

By the way, that Harper's article on Tuvalu doesn't come to any firm conclusion--and certainly not the conclusion that Tuvalu is necessarily doomed. Actually the author seems to suspect Tuvalu might be playing the issue for all the foreign aid they can get, even as they might be going under. Or maybe not going under.

Reading it online requires a subscription (there's always the newsstand), but here are a few more excerpts:
The basic facts are these: Tuvalu’s average elevation is about three feet above sea level, and water expands as it gets warmer. If current global-warming trends continue, the National Research Council predicts, the sea will rise by at least two feet in the next ninety years. Even if industrialized countries drastically reduce carbon emissions in the near future—and there is little reason to think they will—Tuvalu is in serious trouble.

This is the story Tuvaluan officials like to tell. But as with any scientific story, even where there is broad consensus, the details are debatable. Global sea levels are rising, but not homogeneously. The fluid dynamics are too complex to model, but it’s theoretically possible that, as in a sloshing bathtub, some parts of the Pacific will rise sharply while others will fall. And even where waters do rise, some scientists think islands will adapt and accrete. In fact, the only study to measure Funafuti’s shoreline over time, published in June 2010, found that the atoll’s area has grown, not shrunk, over the past twenty years. Even the environmentalists who sounded the alarm—-Tuvalu will sink in fifty years!—-admit that fifty is, at best, a guess.
The author meets some foreign administrators of the Tuvalu Trust Fund, having dinner while on the island:
I asked them whether they thought global warming posed an imminent threat, and Abbott made a sour face. “Don’t ask me that,” he said. “I’m not going to give you the answer you’re looking for.”

“He’s a skeptic about that stuff,” Wrighton explained. “Me, I think global warming is real, but I do believe you can find science to support either side. And if you're one of these tiny countries, and this is the one issue that can get you traction internationally—‘We’re vulnerable, we’re sinking’—wouldn’t you use that to your advantage?”

“I agree with that,” Abbott said, “in the sense that it’s in the self-interest of Tuvalu to seem as pathetic as possible.”

“But isn’t there a contradiction?” I asked. “If you’re asking for money to build a new school, yet the claim is that your land will be submerged in fifty years—”

"You can't have it both ways," the American consultant agreed.
Most development consultants I spoke to sounded comparably cynical. Why shouldn’t the Tuvaluan government be complacent? Donors rewarded them for drawing attention to problems, not for finding solutions. Never mind that Tuvalu was staking its economic future on the claim that it had no future, or that Tuvaluans themselves did not seem truly convinced they were sinking. International aid was a marketing competition, and with sea-level rise, Tuvalu had found its niche."