The melting north

The Economist has a Special Report on “The melting north” (hopefully that works for you, I have a subscription so I’m not sure if its behind their paywall or not).

And what it says –

A heat map of the world, colour-coded for temperature change, shows the Arctic in sizzling maroon. Since 1951 it has warmed roughly twice as much as the global average. In that period the temperature in Greenland has gone up by 1.5°C, compared with around 0.7°C globally. This disparity is expected to continue. A 2°C increase in global temperatures—which appears inevitable as greenhouse-gas emissions soar—would mean Arctic warming of 3-6°C. Almost all Arctic glaciers have receded. The area of Arctic land covered by snow in early summer has shrunk by almost a fifth since 1966. But it is the Arctic Ocean that is most changed. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s the minimum extent of polar pack ice fell by around 8% per decade. Then, in 2007, the sea ice crashed, melting to a summer minimum of 4.3m sq km (1.7m square miles), close to half the average for the 1960s and 24% below the previous minimum, set in 2005… There is no serious doubt about the basic cause of the warming. It is, in the Arctic as everywhere, the result of an increase in heat-trapping atmospheric gases, mainly carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned

– is not desperately exciting for anyone who has been paying attention. What is interesting is that there isn’t even the smallest sop to the deniers in there. The sea ice record is taken for, well, for exactly what it is. There are no stupid quibbles about the temperature record. No-one wastes their time asking Lindzen or Spencer what they think of the trends, and no-one proposes that “its the sun” or space aliens or whatever.

Of course, the Economist (the clue is in the name) is also interested in other matters, so it looks at the possibilities of shorter shipping routes, and expansion of farmland. But ends with:

Yet how to reconcile the environmental risks of the melting Arctic with the economic opportunities it will present? The shrinkage of the sea ice is no less a result of human hands than the ploughing of the prairies. It might even turn out as lucrative. But the costs will also be huge. Unique ecosystems, and perhaps many species, will be lost in a tide of environmental change. The cause is global pollution, and the risks it carries are likewise global. The Arctic, no longer distant or inviolable, has emerged, almost overnight, as a powerful symbol of the age of man.


* A short walk in the Stubai: day 2: Aperer Turm

Carbon tax watch

carbon-tax-now Well, sort of. Via Timmy I find Will Hutton bemoaning the failure of yet another GW-type summit, Rio-20. We all knew it was going to fail: had I thought there was any question about it, I would have offered to bet heavily on its failure (in fact, so little do I care that I haven’t even looked to see if it has failed. But I assume so…). But there would have been no takers. Nonetheless the pointless waste of time took place, which merely demonstrates how broken our politics is. But we knew that too.

Hutton correctly identifies at least one problem, but fails to see the obvious solution:

Climate change sceptics, most vividly in the US where it has become a basic credo of the modern Republican party, are sceptics because to accept the case is to accept the need to do something collectively and internationally that must involve government. But government is bad.

Sound entirely plausible. He continues…

It is inefficient, obstructs enterprise, inhibits freedom, regulates and taxes. Climate change activists want carbon taxes and to set targets for efficient resource use; they also want regulations to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour. This is the back door through which socialism will be reinvented…

(my bold). You can argue about the inefficient, etc. bits – though that’s what the teabaggers think. But notice the bit I’ve bolded, all of which are first-order unnecessary, though will be pushed by the likes of Hutton and env folk. We need a Carbon Tax Now. And as a sop to the teabaggers to get that, we should make it clear that all the rest of the regulation stuff isn’t needed, so that all their “gummint be evil” stuff becomes irrelevant.

[Update: David Hone, who I used to take seriously but no longer can, has a fascinating, and totally wrong, piece about ETS and appears to happily quote some utter nonsense:

The scheme was intended to deliver a significant shortage of allowances against business-as-usual emissions and thereby oblige ETS installations to pollute less…. Even those stakeholders who have argued for a return to the intended levels of scarcity have been handicapped by a dearth of analysis… The business-as-usual emissions baseline against which both the EU climate target and the ETS caps were set are totally obsolete…

You see the problem? No? OK, let me explain. What this is saying is that those in favour of the ETS see it not as a means of reducing CO2 emissions to a certain level, but as a means of forcing industry to emit less CO2 than it wants to. This is a very puritanical, sackcloth-n-ashes viewpoint, and it has nothing to do with science. Because it isn’t saying that a certain level of emissions (implicitly, if they ever did their sums which I doubt, a certain atmos concentration) is OK; its saying that “a bit less than you can comfortably manage is OK”. The entire point of having an ETS scheme is that Big Gummint decides how much emissions are OK, and issues/sells permits to this level. It makes no sense at all to say “oh, well, since we’re all emitting less than expected we’ll artifically make permits scarce”. All that shows, if its correct, is that they got their calculations wrong in the first place. Which, arguably, they did; but that just shows how stupid the whole scheme is.]


* What on Earth is Sir David King talking about? – on the dangers of stepping outside your area of knowledge.
* Carbon taxes won’t work. Here’s what will – provides some extremely stupid arguments and poor thinking (h/t Brian).
* Some are still dumb enough to support the ETS.
* Which Is More Corrupt? Wall Street Or Congress?
* Brian is still pushing Cap-n_trade, though; and points at this for how glorious it is.
* Timmy points at The Most Sensible Tax of All in the NYT.
* Carbon Tax or Cap And Trade? Whichever Leaves Less Room For Politics And Corruption
* There will be any amount of special pleading to reserve carbon tax revenues for particular special interests. Here is one example of such pleading, that should be ignored.

Bad beekeeping, again

DSC_0343-w-up-ladder The peace of Sunday afternoon was disturbed when a friends children called to say, very politely, that err there was a swarm of bees in their garden and might they be mine? Possibly, I said, though you can’t pin it on me guv, but I’ll come and look anyway. If you’re not used to looking at swarms of bees, its the dark blob just to the left of the point of the loppers, and the little specks in the sky to the left again are bees. For some faint idea of how heroic I’m being see how high the ladder is – bees delight in swarming into inaccessible locations.

DSC_0348-e-k-ben-bucket What I’m doing in the pic is cutting away excess branches. The usual next step is to snip the branch they are on, so the whole swarm falls into the box you’re holding with your other hand… except I need both. So Ben, whose garden was holding all this wonder, thought of hanging a bucket from a very long pole that he just happened to have in one of his many sheds.

DSC_0349-swarm-in-box From there it is all easy: drop the bees in the bucket, put the bucket in a cardboard box, loosely put on a lid, and then all the little bees who got all excited and flew up in the air follow the scent of their queen and end up inside the box. I even found a colony-less friend who wanted a swarm, so that was all very good.

At which point you could justly complain that I haven’t lived up to my post title. But wait. Today – at very long last – I finally got around to taking the honey off my own hive, for this “spring”, unseasonably delayed by bad weather for about a month.

This brings me to my exhibit:


which (the expert among you will recognise) is what happens to your hive if you don’t have enough frames to fill the super over winter, so you just leave a gap at the edges and hope you’ll remember, come springtime, to fill in the gap. And then don’t. Of course, the bees happily build their own comb to fill the gaps. Here’s a close-up; and here is the offending super, with the good comb in the foreground (standing on top of the spare hive) with the real hive in the background.

DSC_0493-spun-frame After that its all plain sailing: bring the usable frames back down the garden in a wheelbarrow, cut off the cappings with a breadknife (the nectar, as collected, is too thin to store. So the bees concentrate it by fanning in the hive. When each cell is ready, it is capped off with wax for their over-winter use), and then spin out the honey in a rotary extractor. Or in this case get Darling Daughter to do for me.

That leaves you with empty frames (some damaged but never mind: the bees are very good at repairing them) that can be returned to the bees for re-fill and the autumn recolte.

Oh, and the garden still looks a lot like this.


* 2010.
* 2009 – a different sort of bad.

Solar, Discount, Eco, Bees, Gleick, Rowing tech

* On global solar power growth and its prospects – “Many existing markets – in particular China, the USA and Japan, but also India – have addressed only a very small part of their enormous potential for PV development. Moreover, several countries from large sunbelt regions like Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and South America are on the brink of starting their development, pushed by an increasing awareness of solar PV potential. As a whole, the global PV market will grow more sustainably, driven by the competitiveness of PV solutions rather than mainly by financial support schemes. But this Paradigm Shift will not happen overnight.”
* The earth could be nearing a point at which sweeping environmental changes, possibly including mass extinctions, would undermine human welfare, 22 prominent biologists and ecologists warned on Wednesday. Shame the actual Nature paper is behind a paywall. Obviously, this is a planetary emergency but not one severe enough for Nature to offer the info for free. I say that lightly, of course, but it is a thought. I need to pay more attention to ecological problems – this is where any this-century major disasters (no, Katrina wasn’t a major disaster, not on the scale we’re talking about) are going to come from, after all, not physical effects. von S blogs it but isn’t impressed, worrying that this is just lo-d eco modelling, subject to problems like the much-hyped THC collapse that disappears in real GCMs. OTOH one of his commentors usefully provides a full link.
* Timmy chats about discount rates but it isn’t the piece I wanted to see; its fluff, really.
* The bees will be a separate post.
* There is a nice piece about septic lies at Skeptical Science (h/t HT) where Don Easterbrook invents an “IPCC prediction”. Such things are ten-a-penny, but I think we need to remember them every now and again.
* The Gleick stuff rumbles on. After the PI’s not-very-convincing press release, The Volokh Conspiracy actually tries reading it, and finds that the important questions have been deliberately evaded and disguised. JA is skeptical (watch for time order here) but probably the best comment is from BB: What this development undoubtedly means is that the Pacific Institute is confident enough in Peter Gleick’s story that they aren’t afraid of getting sued if they reinstate him after publicly announcing that his story held up to an independent review. I don’t think anyone can say much beyond that. BCL is, errm, more vigourous.
* Smartphones and rowing: I now have the Talos rowing app on my phone. Its pretty cool, the accelerometer graph is particularly good, though knowing the rating and being able to second-guess stroke is good too. Here is a fragment of the trace (only two strokes, but we’re very consistent, apart from the obvious noise, which varies a bit). Its the arrowed pink dip after the catch and first drive I’m interested in… is it real, or an artifact of the phone moving (its only velcroed down)? The graph here suggests it is real, and expected; but that is a scull at 32, not an VIII at (from memory) about 24.


The Guardian’s ridiculous claim of 75% Arctic sea ice loss in 30 years – patently false?

Well, with a headline like that you know I’m talking about denialist nonsense, and yes its WUWT again. What they are foaming at the mouth about is Jarvis Cocker: the iceman cometh but not the article, rather a factoid at the end:

Of the Arctic sea ice, 75% has been lost over the past 30 years. Last year saw sea-ice levels plummet to the second-lowest since records began. It is estimated that the North Pole could be ice-free in the summer within the next 10-20 years

Understanding this fairly simple piece of text proves to be beyond the Minds over there. 75% is a lot, and ice area or extent hasn’t declined by that much, so the obvious variable to look at is volume, which has declined more steeply. And indeed, if you look at the PIOMAS-based Arctic Sea Ice Volume Anomaly, version 2 you’ll discover that the September minimum has indeed declined by the reported amount.

So: how is it possible to be so stupid as to not guess this yourself? If you start from the bad-faith position that the Grauniad as lying, then you probably won’t even look. And if you’re so used to denying the ice change, then you’ll then further mislead yourself and your readers by deliberately looking at the change in annual extent rather than the September minimum, which is the one that people are far more interested in.

The very second commentator manages to guess right: I think the argument is about sea ice volume rather than area/extent but even with this clue AW still fails, replying The original article… does not contain any discussion of ice volume. I double checked. But by this point I think he has realised he is lying, because of course the original article doesn’t specify extent, or area either. Indeed the original article is unclear; but when there are several interpretations, one of which agrees exactly with the numbers, it doesn’t take much sense to realise which was the right one. Commentator number three finds the second flaw in AW’s stuff: that he has deliberately used annual rather than minimum. But neither 2 nor 3 has the wit or industry to find the actual numbers from PIOMAS.

Sadly, the usually sensible Nick Stokes manages to find the correct source for the numbers but then (mislead by the contrived lead-in of AW’s post?) fails to read them properly.

A little while later (after a pile of content-free Grauniad-bashing) JohnB finds the right answer and supports it with number from thinkprogress. AW doesn’t like this and in reply says some spurious nonsense and one plausible thing, viz quoting Julia Slingo: She also said that suggestions the volume of sea ice had already declined by 75% already were not credible. “We know there is something [happening on the thinning of sea ice] but it’s not as dramatic as those numbers suggest.” We need to pause here for a moment to contemplate the irony of AW taking as gospel the words of the UK Met Office’s chief scientist. This oddity can be explained in this way: she is saying something he wants to hear. However, AW still isn’t thinking straight: the Grauniad can only be reporting what the numbers say, not the One True Reality that inhabits JS’s mind. So when AW says “Slingo said the 75% loss for volume isn’t supported” he is, if he pauses for a moment to think, already in possession of the correct answer.

So, by that point in the comment thread it has clear to anyone who is reading that, yes, the Grauniad was correct – or, if you prefer the worst interpretation, that they were correctly reporting, in broad-brush terms, the numbers that are generally bandied about. That doesn’t stop the commentators still pushing “Someone needs to sue the paper for misrepresentation” and so on. Just a little later Steve from Rockwood asks “In discussing ice volume, how do they reliably estimate volume from the satellite data?” No-one there has any answer (which is odd, considering that they like to think they have a clue), but anyway, if SfR was actually interested he would have followed one of the links already provided.

And eventually, all doubt is removed: Phil Clarke finds the actual source from Greenpeace which the Grauniad has used, and yes indeed it is talking about volume, and the source is PIOMASS. AW gets really snotty in reply to that; pointing out the actual referenced source of the numbers in question has become, in AW’s words, “wasting my and everyone else’s valuable time with your diversions”.

The Slingo question

As noted, AW is heavily reliant on Slingo as his authority that ice volume has not declined by 75% (incidentally, I too wouldn’t assert that it has declined by X, and nor would the PIOMASS people, with certainty, I’d guess). But as a best-guess estimate its not implausible. The source for the JS quote is The Grauniad but the original is UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE PROTECTING THE ARCTIC WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2012 who are clearly very shouty people. The Graun’s quote from her is odd. They have her say:

* “We know there is something [happening on the thinning of sea ice] but it’s not as dramatic as those numbers suggest.”

instead of what she actually said:

* We know there is some thinning but it is not as dramatic as those numbers would suggest.

I can’t see why they prefer their longer and less clear and non-direct-quote version. But on: what question was JS actually answering with those words?

Q118 Chair: One lot of evidence that we had suggested that the volume of ice had already declined by 75%, and that further decreases may cause an immediate collapse of ice cover. Would you recognise that? Would you give credence to that?

Professor Slingo: No, I wouldn’t. We don’t know what the thickness of ice is across the whole Arctic with any confidence. We know that the sea ice extent has declined annually by 4% per decade, and in summer, yes that the sea ice is declining at a faster rate of 12% per decade. You also have to understand that it recovers pretty well as we go back into winter, so the 4% per decade annually is still there. We know there is some thinning but it is not as dramatic as those numbers would suggest.

So, this is ambiguous. She may just be reacting to the “further decreases may cause an immediate collapse of ice cover”. Although in answer to Q117 she has just said “We run quite a sophisticated sea ice model that includes the volume of ice, and it is fair to say, yes, there is a decline in the volume of ice” which I find surprising. If she is on top of a UKMO programme that parallels PIOMASS, why isn’t she quoting any numbers from it? That would be the natural thing to do. I’m not aware of UKMO/ Hadley “observational modelling” of sea ice like PIOMASS; they have HadISST, but that is area/extent type stuff. My suspicion is that JS has confused the climate-type GCM sea ice model with what PIOMASS are doing. Though if anyone has any better ideas, I’ll be interested to hear them.

JS isn’t a sea-ice modeller; I wouldn’t give any particular credence to what she says, at least insofar as it could be considered an interpretation of the PIOMAS 75% figure.


Finally, Scott notices the other anomaly, that “If they were talking about volume, then last year was the LOWEST, not second lowest. Thus, if they’re talking about modeled volume (at the summer minimum), then the second sentence is wrong”. This is (at last) a fair point (and one that AW is happy to sieze upon, since his existing “rebuttal” of its-not-volume is so unconvincing). The answer I can think of is that by the standards of newspaper journalism, swapping from volume in one sentence to extent in the next is hardly a big leap, indeed such a tiny one that they wouldn’t even notice it.

It is estimated that the North Pole could be ice-free in the summer within the next 10-20 years

I suppose we’re left with that. What does it mean? Hard to know. If you meant, literally, just the North Pole then maybe its plausible. If “North Pole” is a proxy for the whole sea ice cover, then I’m dubious. But you know that already.


In this case, if you strip out the mood-music from the peanut gallery and look only at the comments where people have made at least a small attempt to think, the crowd doesn’t do too badly, considering that they have all been put off the true scent by the trail AW has tried to lead. Dave, a True believer, even gently criticises WUWT for not writing a very good response to the Grauniad. Mat L argues

C’mon Anthony, you lose credibility when you start comparing sea ice extent with a volume metric and saying they don’t match. Fair enough if you missed this when writing the article, but now it has been pointed out to you, it’s disingenuous not to update your post/ graph.

[Update: I’m banned at WUWT. I’ve had some fun tweaking AW’s source for this nonsense, though -see the comments there. Back at WUWT, PaulB is doing a good bulldog on AW. I am curious to see how long before he gets stomped on – W]


* Nick Stokes has a nice set of plots of the PIOMAS data by year, etc., and with his nice “anomaly with trend removed”.

Yes, climate change is a problem and yes, we do have to do something: but in Britain, we've done it already?

Or, Timmy in the Torygraph. Its a bit broken I’m afraid, though it manages to get some obvious things right. But before I start on the actual matter, we need to sweep away some of the dross.

It starts Perhaps we can sit down and discuss this climate change thing like the adults we are? Put the Delingpoles over here, the vilenesses that are Greenpeace… and the problem – repeated elsewhere – is the pretence of equal treatment of the two “extremes” whilst actually clearly favouring one side. The bias continues in the treatment of climate sensitivity, though for something appearing in the Torygraph it isn’t bad.

The problem is the continuation: Timmy tells us that the IPCC range is 2-4.5 oC, that there are entirely honest and reasonable scientists… out there arguing that this range is either too high or too low (dubious, but we don’t need to worry about that for now) and that It is this “we don’t know” that leads to needing to do something. Economists call this uncertainty, and the correct and reasonable reaction to uncertainty is insurance. This is a broken variation on something I’ll call “mt’s argument”, because as far as I know mt is the person who has been making the (correct, unbroken) version of the argument for longest.

mt’s argument is that uncertainty does not help the cause for inaction, although it is frequently used as such by denialists and the lite. The idea that we don’t know enough climate science, or we don’t know enough about climate sensitivity to pin down its value, and therefore we should do nothing, is twaddle. And this is for two [*] reasons: the first and most obvious is that if there is uncertainty in climate sensitivity, then to first order it is as much on the high side as on the low side, so the mean damage is sort-of the same; so even at the idiot-argument level, it doesn’t work. But the other is that damage is non-linear in sensitivity, in the bad way, increasing faster than linear; so for symmetrical uncertainty about the mean, the more uncertainty, the higher the mean expected damage.

But that isn’t what Timmy is saying. Timmy is asserting that only uncertainty makes action necessary. That if we knew, for certain, that climate sensitivity were 4 oC we would need to do nothing. This, of course, makes no sense at all. Fortunately, this doesn’t much matter, because the uncertainty is much less than Timmy thinks; as any fule kno, climate sensitivity is 3 oC.

The rest of the article argues for a carbon tax, and of course I agree, though I don’t agree that Stern is a good source for the correct numbers.

[*] Oh all right 3: because the distribution of climate sensitivity is limited below (effectively by 0.7 oC, unless you’re a nutter, definitely by 0, unless you’re a true wacko) then “uncertainty” about an expected value implies (to first order) more uncertainty above than below.