Cassandras of Climate?

So says Krugman. He means, of course, that the scientists are predicting disaster but no-one is listening. Or rather, that people listen but then find doing anything too inconvenient. Since this happened over fishing I find it not at all odd. But Krugman’s basic premise – the sense that we’re hurtling toward catastrophe but nobody wants to hear about it or do anything to avert it. And here’s the thing: I’m not engaging in hyperbole – is twaddle. This *is* obvious hyperbole. The prognosis for the planet has gotten much, much worse in just the last few years. – no, I don’t think so. You could argue that things haven’t got any better, and there are a few areas where things look worse – the glacial contribution to future SLR may be higher than expected for example. But “much much worse”? I don’t think so. “About that same” would be closer, were you to look at, say, projected temperature changes. And thanks to sterling work from the likes of James and Julia we now know that the “long tail” of very high climate sensitivity is unlikely. So that is good, isn’t it?
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Science by press release

We all hate science by press release which is why we all love the good old stodgy UKMO (now rebranded the Met Office, note no dot) who would never write Met Office warns of catastrophic global warming in our lifetimes oh no of course not. The Torygraph has much the same thing. Sigh. They seem to have delegated the pressing to Oxford (the shame; oh no, you can have the UKMO instead but it is equally vapid) and it is all in aid of some conference 4 degrees and beyond; “beyond” apparently in reference to their bizarre typography.

Actual substance seems to be rather lacking; Nurture does its best with thin material. It looks to like A1F1 (i.e. high emissions) and weakening the sinks and who knows what else in order to pump up the CO2. Hopefully they will publish the actual research at some point – though that is so last year, perhaps they will be really “hip” and tweet it instead (bloody hell I was only joking I didn’t realise they would :-().

Ely to Littleport

DSC_3030-fen-rivers-way_crop Sarah (whose blog is rather emptier than James’ so-called EB) is walking from Cambridge to the Sea to celebreate her age; and she invited company; so I joined her for stretch today from Ely to Littleport. It was a glorious day for it, sunny with just a light wind. It is a funny bit of the river though – I had envisaged striding out of Ely with the shadow of the cathedral on my back (ignore the geography, you know what I mean), but instead you start from riverside, go round some bits and under a bridge, leave the river around the back of an Env Ag deport and get briefly confused, round the back of a nature reserve, and then cross the river, all without seeing or feeling the cathedral at all. After a further diversion (recommended by the book to avoid a short stretch of road, but probably not a good idea, and I cut it out on the way back) you go over the river again and embark on the Long Straight Bit that ends in Littleport. Having boated down section of this river it was interesting to do from the top of the flood bank where you can actually see things. The countryside is flat round here and not particularly good, but the company was, and so we enjoyed the stroll to the Black Horse, I getting the somewhat easier side of it because I hadn’t walked Cambridge to Ely yesterday. Since Andrew bought me a pint and a half the trip was well worth it :-).

Here is about what it looks like, from the bridge not far out of Ely, looking downriver towards distant Littleport.


Didn’t like this? Ha. Then read Paul Graham instead. Or the rapidly-becoming-cult DenialDepot (even if they can’t spell the bunny proper). Coming soon: gloating about sea ice.

Wildfires and global warming

Off on an email list we’ve been discussing wildfires and their connection to global warming. I’ve always been somewhat cynical about the connection, which appears in the popular press [1] to amount to “fires are hot, global warming is, err, warm, so they must be connected”. However, I really do know well enough to ignore the popular press.

This kind of thing: There are many reasons for any particular fire, but basically the (wildfire) pattern is reflection of two things related to higher temperatures – earlier spring snow melt and also higher spring and summer temperatures,” he added. [2] isn’t the popular press though. Or The increase in outdoor fires in England andWales between 1965 and 1998 may be attributable to a trend towards warmer and drier summer conditions (Cannell et al., 1999). [3] (thanks Eli).

I’m entirely happy with dryness causing fire, and I’m entirely happy with warmer temperatures causing earlier snowmelt causing summer dryness causing fires. What I’m dubious about is fire risk from pure higher temperatures unmediated by drying. Maybe this is a strawman. Maybe no-one believes it; though the quote above suggests not.

JF says that Westerling and Swetnam [4] is a key paper; and that says what the quote above said, so is probably the source for the above. However it is hard to disentangle the effects of temperature and dryness, since dryness often leads to heat (since evaporative cooling is then lost, as in the Great European Summer of 2003). Indeed, W&S say “Temperature affects summer drought” though it seems odd to make it so one-way, when the system is clearly coupled, and I would have thought that the influence was more largely in the other direction. W&S make no effort that I can see to disentangle the two effects.

But does anyone actually believe that warmer temperatures, without and change in dryness, causes wildfires? Is a fire really (significantly, measureably) more likely to start and / or spread at 32 oC than 30 oC? It seems rather unlikely to me, though I suppose possible.

[Very late update: -W]

The Boston Marathon

DSC_3022-whole-crew-at-finish_crop Subtitle: Snow white and the seven dwarves, though it is some time since I’ve been snowy white (even if I am wearing my SEH MCR 1988 top and my “these are older than you are young lady” rowing shorts) and some of the ladies are bigger than me. Left to right: Anne, Ev, Mels father (support car driver), Amy, Louise, Alan (trailer driver), Jo, Joss, Mel, Elissa (volunteer cox from Magdalene), Me. As you’ll notice, they are female and I’m not. This is because they had a spare space and the men, as ever, hadn’t quite got round to organising themselves. I was keen to do it, and also thought I might get an easy ride this way. Certainly the ladies do a better job of balancing the boat, either that or their boat is intrinsically more balancable. Main thanks (apart from the crew for the rowing fun and the aforementionned support crew) to Anne for organisation, but also to Andy S for emergency rigger maintenance and Paul for lending us the trailer. As to the all-important time: we got 4:57:25, just under the magical 5 hours. That is a looong way adrift of the winners (Monmouth, 3:13) but we don’t care. We should have been novice, but there weren’t enough so no cat for that, and we should have been mixed, but ditto.
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France unveils carbon tax?

Says Nature. Well, good, is my first reaction. It is set at €17 (and phased in) whereas €40 was apparently the minimum considered worthwhile. Furthermore “the plan is to phase in higher carbon prices over time, but Sarkozy failed to give further details” so we’ll have to see. More from the beeb: “It will apply to households as well as enterprises, but not to the heavy industries and power firms included in the EU’s emissions trading scheme.” Hmm, tricky. Taxing them twice would be bad. But so are exemptions. I’m not sure I’d trust the EU trading scheme to be sane.

As to the reactions: “Mr Sarkozy insists the new tax is all about persuading the French to change their habits and cut energy consumption, the BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby reports from Paris… Critics say it is just a ploy to boost ailing state finances… Two-thirds of French voters say they are opposed to the new levy, fearing they will struggle to pay higher bills. ” Oh well, nothing new there.


DSC_2993-bookshelf Everyone else blogs about what they’ve read (everyone? Well, this is a blog, who cares about accuracy. Bryan does and I’m sure other people do to). And I happen to notice that my queue of books-I’ve-finished-reading looks quite good just now. Once upon a time (well, since my teens up to only a few years ago) I read almost nothing but trashy sci-fi, but lots of it. But no more; I read few novels and those slowly.

So from right to left:
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The Iraq disaster, continued

Tim Lambert normally does the Iraq war, for example this. But I was struck by a recent Economist (you know, those left-wing pinkos) article bemoaning Iraq’s descent into a police state. Which is a shame, because in the nearly-unmitigated disaster that is our adventure in Iraq, the restoration of democracy and the end of torture and the police state were supposed to be among the few successes.

To be fair the article is called “Could a police state return?” and doesn’t say it is inevitable. They quote a diplomat who gives it 2-3 years. In the meantime, press freedom is disappearing (just like the journalists), arbitrary arrest is back as is torture (Abu Ghraib was bad but I’d rather be in a US-run prison then than an Iraqi-run one now).

Anyway, enough of my wurbling, read the thing for yourself.

The stoat in the room

The normally sensible mt has a post The Elephant in the Room that I’ve been meaning to rip to shreds for ages (oh, by the way, if anyone feels tempted to say “how unfair ripping mt to shreds when he is on the Good side, why not shred Plimer or someone” the answer is: mt is interesting, Plimer is dull). Most of it is just gobbledegook as far as I can tell, but I may just be too materialist (a nice word, perhaps hijacked for alternative meanings, but in many ways better than “atheist” which otherwise defines me in terms of something I’m not. Yes, I’m a materialist) to have fully understood.

It looks like mt retreats in the comments a little, saying “The point I am making is that plenty of intelligent people don’t dismiss religion. These are the people who should be talking to fundamentalists, not people who dismiss the whole business as nonsense”. Or later, “The point is that creating an atmosphere of direct challenge to religious belief acts against the interests of science”. If that was the point of the post, I wouldn’t complain (I wouldn’t necessarily agree either; I’m just not terribly interested in arguing religion; there is nothing new to say). mt is rather more interested in communicating science, and furthermore appears to live in a rather more wacko-filled environment than Cambridge, so all credit with him for trying to engage with the religious folk on climate change. But if that was the point then he has very unhelpfully mixed up two very different ideas.

Anyway, what does mt say?

* There is a view in which science and religion address orthogonal questions, and in a sense I’m an advocate of that view. A fair start. I’m prepared to let religion have that much. “In a sense” is troubling though, and leads on to…

* The separation can’t be said to be perfect. Certainly, here in Texas as we are besieged by people who are convinced who “don’t believe in” evolution… This is just confusion. The beliefs of the wackos in Texas has nothing at all to do with the orthogonality of science and religion (depending of course by what you mean by religion. If you mean “a set of beliefs of varying kinds amongst varying tribes subject to sociological analysis” then yes, science and religion interact, but only in the sense of religion being subject to science).

* the inherent value of the experience of Unity… in turn draws attention to the phenomenon of experience, and how very feeble and hollow efforts to reduce the phenomenon of experience (formerly, the “soul”) to a basis in a physical theory must be. I think this is nonsense. We clearly haven’t reduced conciousness down to a physical explanation, nor do we have a path towards doing that. But we haven’t reconciled QM and GR either. mt doesn’t event attempt to provide a reason to believe that this is in principle impossible (Paul said that too. If mt found an answer, I didn’t see it). Off in the comments mt expands it is impossible to come up with a physical origin for the metaphysical property of consciousness – this is merely an unsupported assertion (assuming by “impossible” he means “ever”; if he means “today” then it is just obvious but uninteresting).

* As theologian Paul Tillich (apparently; I’ve seen this attributed to others) said to atheists: “Tell me the God you don’t believe in, and I probably don’t believe in that God either”. – this is a cute quote, but the point is a little obscure. Later on, he says I wasn’t raised in the Christian tradition, and I find the Christian approach to religion confusing. so this may be a way of trying to say that he believes in some kind of “religion” but not one of the mainstream ones. I can’t tell.

* shallow materialism – again, I don’t really know what this means. It looks like a cheap shot. Is the idea that a philosophy must have some incomprehensible non-physical component in order to be respectable?

By the end, after skimming the comments, I’ve become very unclear what he was trying to say. The post is nominally about “God” but god doesn’t really get a look in to the discussion – it is all about “spirituality” and explaining conciousness, which apparently physics can’t do. Welllll… suppose that is correct. In fact, it wouldn’t even be especially surprising. Suppose we either get bored trying, or through some Godel-like theorem we deduce that conciousness can’t be explained by physics. So what? That still doesn’t get you a god; it still doesn’t prove (or even suggest) that conciousness is anything other than a direct result of the unaided operation of the physical world.

Pope springs eternal

mt has been writing about religion and I even got Paul to comment. I’m going to do my take in a bit, but in the meantime a bit from Nude Scientist caught my eye: Another favourite climate nostrum was upturned when Pope warned that the dramatic Arctic ice loss in recent summers was partly a product of natural cycles rather than global warming. [1]. Yes, that is right: apparently we’re supposed to take His Holiness seriously as an authority on climate change. So the question must be, Was he speaking infallibly at that point?.

[Update: I’m cr*p. See the comments 🙂 -W]