The year in stoats

carbon-tax-now A post a month, chosen not quite at random, and I couldn’t always restrict myself to one post. Somehow, I feel that not a great deal happened scientifically during the year. But I still enjoy writing this stuff, and people still read it, so on I go.

* Himalayan glaciers to disappear by… when? an obligatory reference to the CRU nonsense, but its a spin-off, so that’s OK.
* Death at UAH (and Wolf Hall)
* Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi – its not all chance folks (and Hobbes again, and 400 ppm CO2)
* Currygate, part 3: the key papers exposed – no round-up of the year could be complete without at least one dissing of Curry. Oddly, her blog has gone from oh-how-exciting to oh-dear and now down to not even bothering clicking the links in my feed reader & close to unsubscribing (so really I shouldn’t have mentioned her at all. But I seem to have sooo many posts). Still, others seem to like her stuff (Round in circles with Accelerated warming of the Southern Ocean and its impacts on the hydrological cycle and sea ice? also refers, if you want your prejudices confirmed).
* Three views of sea ice – the summer minimum this year was a nail-biter and the current extent is interesting too.
* Dumb America. An all too frequent phenomenon by no means restricted to Americans. Meanwhile, I am old.
* Every now and then I think I’m oblige to re-state What I think about global warming even though the answer is unexciting and largely unchanging. A classic from the Climate Scum is a fun interlude, but I should not forget NN who did indeed write a bloody paper about it, then.
* August is full of holidays but I found time to read and write Scientific Perspectives on the Greenhouse Problem? and by golly it is a stinker.
* Then I had my Big Fight with PZ which was jolly exciting, briefly. But the Boston Marathon was more fun.
* Not much fun was They make a wasteland and call it peace but that post is still rather prophetic (and there is some follow-up here). That Jimbo Wales is a twat, you know?
* The Wegman story is still ongoing – what will 2011 bring? Presumably GMU can’t stall forever.
* I rather like the recent Explaining too much but Can’tcun is also important. I can’t point you to the carbon tax now post, because I haven’t written it yet.

Best wishes for the New Year to All. Your year’s proverb is There’s no light the foolish can see better by.

[Update: jealous of other people knowing their site traffic, I looked at Alexa, and discovered something related:

The top queries driving traffic to scienceblogs.com from search engines. Updated monthly.

Query	Percent of Search Traffic
1	pharyngula		3.10%
2	sign out		1.40%
3	science blogs		1.02%
4	respectful insolence	0.60%
5	pz myers		0.56%
6	pz			0.23%
7	stoat			0.18%
8	nifty stories		0.16%
9	phd comics		0.14%
10	science blog		0.13%

Obviously PZ wins, but I’m doing OK too.]

Refs

* Best posts of 2009
* 2010: best posts, and personal reflections – PW
* Top Inkstain posts of 2010 – JF
* My top ten (or so) list of climate-science related events of the 20th century in chronological order – mt
* 2010 blog round-up (Bart) and his blog highlights.

Explaining too much

A couple of people have recently complained about the rash of stories explaining how snow-in-December (or, your pet weather event at whatever time of year) is compatible with Global Warming. For example: Cold Spells From Climate Change? (DA) or Yes, they have now said it (TW; I’m sure those two will love being associated).

What I think is correct is to explain that Yes, X has occurred, which perhaps you might not expect given GW, but then showing that it is entirely compatible with GW. Not that it is a particularly exciting game to play, because pretty well any form of weather will be; the variation in weather is so large, compared to the slow changes under GW, that it will be a long time before any given weather event we’re used to could possibly be ruled out.

What I think rather less correct is attempting to say Y has occurred because of GW; and that is so for pretty well the same reasons. And of course it doesn’t play terribly well either: “ha, they are saying that both heatwaves and freezes are caused by GW, hence it must all be nonsense”. Of course that isn’t what the science is saying, only that both are compatible.

So before explaining such-and-such an event, the first thing you need to do is to show that there is something in need of an explanation. A cold December in Europe doesn’t fall into that category. So when the NYT (ref’d by DA) says

Over the past few weeks, subzero temperatures in Poland claimed 66 lives; snow arrived in Seattle well before the winter solstice, and fell heavily enough in Minneapolis to make the roof of the Metrodome collapse; and last week blizzards closed Europe’s busiest airports in London and Frankfurt for days, stranding holiday travelers. The snow and record cold have invaded the Eastern United States, with more bad weather predicted. All of this cold was met with perfect comic timing by the release of a World Meteorological Organization report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record, and 2001 through 2010 the warmest decade on record.

How can we reconcile this?

The obvious answer is: Der, this is global warming, not local, and 2010 is more than just a few weeks. Annual cycles like El Niño/Southern Oscillation, solar variability and global ocean currents cannot account for recent winter cooling is probably true, but deliberately leaving out natural variability as an explanation is at worst ignorant. But all this is just a peg to hang some bloke’s forecasts off: Model accuracy demonstrated says “Judah Cohen, AER, Inc.” who looks to have consultancy to sell. Cohen issued a real-time winter forecast for Europe for 2010, which was significantly more accurate than those issued by the European forecast centers it says, but conspicuously fails to link to the forecast. Remind you of anyone called Piers? (that’s unfair, I know). FWIW the overall idea (less sea ice => more moisture => more seasonal snow => changes to the jet stream => pick your own favourite result, it could do anything) is at least plausible; I’ve no idea if it is also true.

Meanwhile, George Monbiot has another explanation which made Timmy sad, also keyed off the sea ice, but using a different mechanism (warmer Arctic => reduced pressure gradient between Iceland and Azores => pick your own favourite result, again, possibly mediated by the jet stream if it pleases you).

Or possibly the two mechanisms are, cunningly, the same thing in disguise. But at the moment, such things are subjects for research papers, not settled science. The correct (but boring) response is to go back to the beginning, which should always be, Is there actually anything in need of explanation?

Refs

* Environmental reporters ought to be more responsible too (Eric at RC)
* Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
* Cold winter in a world of warming? – Rasmus at RC
* Joe Romm reports Munich Re talking out of its arse but unfortunately he doesn’t realise they are doing so.
* Ben Santer on the attribution of extreme weather events to climate change – ht: CP
* NCAR’s Trenberth on the link between global warming and extreme deluges at CP
* Are recent snows from global warming? – DA

Glad Tidings of Great Joy

Well, I need to do a Happy Christmas posting (and here it is, folks!) so this message from wonkroom seems rather festive:

New psychological research finds that dire messages about the threat of global warming will strengthen people’s acceptance of climate science when combined with solutions, which is the approach taken by leading climate activists. For some people, their response to dire messages is strongly dependent on whether hope is offered.

(ht: Chairman Brian).

Which means, I need to present you with The Solution. And that is clearly, dress up as Father Christmas and go rowing:

DSCN1522-pair-o-santas-cr

Sea ice low

Since we’re having this cold spell in the UK (which is just weather, and should not be mistaken for climate, much less global climate) now is perhaps a good time to look at the NH sea ice, which is at a record low for the time of year:

AMSRE_Sea_Ice_Extent_L-2010-12-20

At the moment it is only low by a tiddly bit, and could well start to recover again. But it is also notable that it has been on the low edge of the pack all the time since the end of summer. It certainly bears watching [Thanks to C]. Roll on next years bets…

[Update:

When I wrote this, I should have mentioned No ‘Tipping Point’ for Sea Ice in Polar Bears’ Future (thanks PH) which is a useful antidote to the overhyped killer tipping points of no return stuff. So whilst On the emergence of an Arctic amplification signal in terrestrial Arctic snow extent – Ghatak et al. (2010)(thanks H) is perfectly valid (and expected), the two are compatible, as I hope is obvious -W]

Refs

* RC: Cold winter in a world of warming?
* Temperatures
* No ‘Tipping Point’ for Sea Ice in Polar Bears’ Future

Boris Johnson is a tosser

#2 in the Is A Tosser series, begun by Andrew Marr. But Boris is a bigger tosser because – hard to believe I know, but there are really no limits to some people’s credulousness – he takes Piers Corbyn’s predictions of a new ice age seriously.

Upiers-forecast-dec Boris hedges his bets, of course: Is he barmy? he asks (errr, try asking anyone who has attended a scientific meeting at which Piers has turned up to ask a “question” which actually turns into a long exposition of his theory). Then Boris gets hideously snarled up trying to have it both ways Nothing he says, to my mind, disproves the view of the overwhelming majority of scientists, that our species is putting so much extra CO2 into the atmosphere that we must expect global warming is correct, but then comes the std.septic schtick: Is it possible that everything we do is dwarfed by the moods of the star that gives life to the world? The Sun is incomparably vaster and more powerful than any work of man. Idiot (Boris, that is, and whatever fool on the Torygraph that commissioned this trash).

It is all a bit mixed up. Boris is really talking about seasonal prediction rather than the ice age nonsense, and lauds Piers’ forecast, presumably based on not having actually bothered to read it. But if you actually look at the “forecast” (I’ve no idea when it was made) it predicts Floods & Thaw floods. Thunder & rain deluges. Mild Wet & windy. Gales / Sev gales esp North. Which is hopeless, exactly as you’d expect. [Note: when I first wrote that, I mistook the year of Piers’ forecast. That is obviously inaccurate for “now”, but actually that forecast I’m quoting is for 2009-12-19. But its also wrong for then, so all is well. here is a met analysis for the 19th (from http://www.wetterzentrale.de/topkarten/tkfaxbraar.htm). Or you could trust the Mirror: “UK weather chaos: Big freeze causes distruption on roads and rail as 1,500 schools are shut”. Or the Torygraph]

Since I’m here, a nice story:

There is an unsubstantiated story that during his meeting with Hitler, Mannerheim lit a cigar. Mannerheim supposed that Hitler would ask Finland for help against the Soviet Union, which Mannerheim was unwilling to give. When Mannerheim lit up, all in attendance gasped, for Hitler’s aversion to smoking was well known. Yet Hitler continued the conversation calmly, with no comment. In this way, Mannerheim could judge if Hitler was speaking from a position of strength or weakness. He was able to refuse Hitler, knowing that Hitler was in a weak position, and could not dictate to him

From Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim

This is coming from me reading through Enigma-related stuff, since Bletchley Park isn’t far away (and my great-aunt worked in Hut6, which I’ve only recently discovered).

Occasionally, when there was a particularly urgent need to break the German naval code, such as when an Arctic convoy was about to depart, mines would be laid by the RAF in a defined position, whose grid reference in the German naval system did not contain any of the words (such as sechs or sieben) for which abbreviations or alternatives were sometimes used.[121] The warning message about the mines and then the “all clear” message, would be transmitted both using the dockyard cipher and the U-boat Enigma network. This process of planting a crib was called gardening

[[Cryptanalysis of the Enigma]].

Refs

* For Green Boris read Greed Boris
* JEB on Corbyn
* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qi8oZ2vG0c&feature=related – watch Piers in action!
* Looks like the “meto predicts mild winter” thing is a Daily Express fantasy (thanks DM)
* Winter forecast? – no, the UKMO didn’t issue a winter forecast (ht Deltoid)

Snowy again

DSCN1569 Time for a few linky type things. The first couple point to the New Blog in case you’ve missed it.

* Snowy again by me, about the recent weather.
* Christmas Head
* xkcd Christmas Tree (thanks Mayank) and on wikileaks 🙂
* Lamest edit wars on wikipedia. The Bot wars section is good. Of course, wikipedia is soft nowadays, with the block-fingers too poised. We had real edit wars in the old days.
* Beautiful supernova fragments via Bad Astronomy. As a species we are frequently rubbish but occaisionally sublime.
* J+J go to AGU but don’t find much except Macs. A nice dig at Curry’s incoherence, but the apparent lack of much new confirms my vague impressions from the outside.
* Infinite Growth and the Crisis Cocktail – Guest Posting looks to me like a fine example of wishful and woolly thinking. I left some questions; it will be interesting to see the answers.
* [Late in] Why Velikovsky was right by Tim Ball – ht to the Baron. You just couldn’t make this stuff up.

Can’tcun

carbon-tax-now I largely ignored Copenhagen (the conference, not the city, I hasten to add: very nice place I’m sure and I mean no disrespect) and chose instead to push for Carbon Tax Now, though I felt obliged to read a little bit of what they had to say. But now we have Cancun. What to say about that, other than rather unoriginal puns?

Nothing but the obvious really: it was a total failure and it would have been better if it had never occurred. Cancun was the triumph of the negotiator-class: the parasites encouraged by all the process: yet another waste-of-time conference designed purely to generate paper (you can get a feel for this by reading some of the stuff that the otherwise sane Ben Hale blogged. The aura of “why did I bother turn up” is palpable. Probably, someone gave him a grant). HT has quite a nice article which attempts to smile through the gloom:

Although it’s not everything we need, the agreement on the table puts the UN negotiations back on track after the shambles of Copenhagen last year. Expectations were lowered in the run-up to Cancun and completing the final agreement was never a possibility… when it became obvious that a deal had been crafted, there was such a palpable feeling of relief… the Bolivian Climate Change Ambassador complained that governments had not gone far enough in agreeing emissions cuts. He is right, but for almost all the governments, the deal on the table is a good step forward, and all that could be achieved…. The emissions reduction pledges in the Copenhagen Accord were merely noted in this Cancun agreement. They fall woefully short of the level of ambition required to avoid dangerous climate change… the good news is that, for the first time in the agreement, there is recognition of the inadequacy of the pledges…

The main touted success appears to be the establishment of a $100 bn Green Climate Fund, which has a lot of people licking their lips over a nice big barrel of pork. Lots of well-paid Western Negotiating Types are going to get a pile of very well paid jobs out of it, and if there is any money left over a number of Developing Country types may get some Pork (for some odd reason Turkey gets its very own special Pork: para 142). But given the real amounts in play, and the rather slim chances that the $100 bn will ever materialise (This headline-grabbing promise, however, is not part of the UN process and is merely an aspiration of rich countries), the West gets off cheaply and is happy.

You can read Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, though I’d bet you probably won’t. But who could fail to agree when they affirm that enhanced action on adaptation should be undertaken in accordance with the Convention; follow a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems; and be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional and indigenous knowledge; with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate?

Around para 50 I started skipping heavily. Around paras 80-100 I thought I was losing the will to live, but then up came para 102:

Decides that the Green Climate Fund shall be designed by a Transitional Committee… shall have 40 members, with 15 members from developed country Parties and 25 members from developing country Parties, with: (a) Seven members from Africa;
(b) Seven members from Asia; (c) Seven members from Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; (d) Two members from small island developing States; (e) Two members from least developed countries;

No pretence that membership will be decided on merit then. Incidentally, the $100 bn is written in, as

98. Recognizes that developed country Parties commit, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries

But that certainly doesn’t sound very binding. After that the text seemed to rather fizzle out and I found nothing worth quoting or mocking. If you find any good stuff in there, please leave a comment.

So I think it has now become perfectly clear that the entire giant international process has stopped being a way to negotiate meaningful cuts in CO2 emissions and has become – well, has been for years, I’m not sure when this first happened, it was a gradual process I suppose – subject to capture by the negotiators, as these things so often are. Far too many people now have far too much of their energy wrapped up and invested in lobbying this bloated zombie process. It needs to die.

Where to go from here?

First off, recognise that it (the current process) has failed and needs to be thrown away. It was a nice try, but gets no cigar. Saying “but it is the only game in town” won’t work. The reason all these long years of negotiations have failed to produce anything meaningful is because there is no real heart available from the politicians to do so – which in turn means lack of heart from the public, since politicians on the whole aren’t the sort who stand up for Principle above Votes, and those who do tend to become Ex Politicians and Lessons. Trying to negotiate a global deal is just too difficult, the only way forward is more local agreement. And as far as I can see the best option is revenue-neutral carbon taxes, honestly applied (which means stuff like no dumping on nukes just cos you don’t like them – or if you must, don’t do it under the guise of a carbon tax. Of course, stopping subsidising the coal mining industry would be a thing to do first, if at all possible). As far as I know, this isn’t a change of heart by me. If you can find me an earlier quote from me contradicting any of this, I’d be interested and you might well win a Valuable Prize of up to $100 bn.

So I shall start my Carbon Tax Now! campaign (in a token attempt to do some research I found this but didn’t of course read the associated pdf). I’ve done the first essential step – I’ve made a logo. I hope you like it. Feel free to “join” me. yes, I know there are Vast Insurmountable Policital Hurdles to overcome. Fear not – I have no interest in them. I’m not a practical politician, you may have noticed. Anyway, this is but the post about Cancun – the post about Carbon Taxes vs Cap-n-Trade is still to come.

This is all The Politics, of course. It doesn’t affect The Science in the least.

Refs

* France unveils carbon tax?
* mt – “You don’t run a ship with six big captains, a dozen less influential captains, and a hundred and forty minor captains”
* Yes, agreed, carbon tax now!
* Nature, unable to admit the truth
* Cancun: A reason for optimism? – no, but worth reading anyway.