Ukraine: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation

Invisible Um, so. Exciting times in the Ukraine seems to have got even more exciting. Is it possible to hope for a Happy Ending? If people will Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation then yes [*].

The Prez is fled, and the Beeb says Ukraine crisis: Crowds descend on Yanukovych house where they find the usual opulence; somewhat reminiscent of Gaddafi; I was cautiously hopeful then but I’ll hope the Ukrainians manage better. Lenin statues toppled in protest Aunty continues, which has ominous echoes of the disaster area that we made of Iraq; not that the statue-toppling was the problem itself; indeed the people’s joy is clear.

The Prez has declared this a coup and scarpered to Eastern Ukraine, whilst simultaneously declaring “he has no intention of quitting”. Declaring a coup, and hoping for the Russkie tanks to restore him to power sounds like his best hope; but is it a runner? Miriam says Yes: she thinks “Russian armed forces, on Ukrainian soil, within two weeks” (she declined to say “tanks over the border”, though I think that’s the only way they can do it, if they want to). I say No. perhaps more in hope than in judgement, but my reasoning would be: this is all unexpected. No-one is in place to react quickly. Invading (sorry: “restoring the democratically elected Prez”; note that the FT says he was constitutionally removed, but I’m sure that can be finessed by sufficient firepower) is very risky, and could go terribly wrong for Putin. Whereas doing nothing except fomenting a bit of bother, and hoping it all goes horribly wrong, is not very risky(he looks a bit stupid and somewhat dissed, but its far from fatal).

[*] Well I suppose I should say that whilst I like Alasdair Gray’s books and the slogan itself is beautiful and apt, I don’t agree with the politics in his article.

Updates: there’s some interest in the sequence of events. As far as I can see, the xPrez’s departure was shockingly abrupt. One moment his thugs are sniping from the rooftops, the next he’s run away to the Crimea, having failed to run away to Russia.

My version or speculation of this: he was always a rather low-grade thug type; unlike the deeply-dyed-in-evil types like Putin or Assad. And the Ukraine isn’t a barbarous state. So the army wouldn’t go into Maidan, resorting to sniping forced people at the top to take sides, and too many of them just didn’t want to be on the xPrez’s side. Who would want to live in a state he was dictator of?

Now the Russian thugs are making mafia-like noises – Putin’s sockpuppet has been wheeled out – but Putin himself perhaps more wisely stays silent.

A reader writes: Why are there people who seem hell-bent on denying anthropogenic global warming?

Or, in fuller,

Why are there people who seem hell-bent on denying anthropogenic global warming?; What are the deniers trying to achieve?; Why do they post comments on your article that totally defy not only science, but also common sense?

These are not easy questions to answer accurately. But its easy to give sloppy caricatures in answer.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

One answer is: who cares? It is possible to operate in a mode of try-to-understand-their-motives, but firstly its just guesswork and secondly its probably not terribly useful. Perhaps if you could really get it right, and understand better than them the deep wellsprings of denialism, you might just apply leverage at the right point and turn them from the dark to the light. But I think this is unrealistic. Its like the idea that we can convince everyone by magic. Wishing for a magic bullet is another way of giving up; don’t do it.

They are legion

Another answer is: the dork side is no more unified than the light. Watch (or better still, don’t watch) the poor people who don’t believe in the GHE try to convince the Watties who don’t believe in the temperature record, or something else. Once you remove the train-wreck factor its desperately dull, and repetitive. But apart from “the IPCC is wrong, and Al Gore is fat” they don’t really agree about anything. Asserting that they all believe X is wrong; as wrong as the usual denialist nonsense that everyone who believes in GW is dedicated to the downfall of Western Capitalism and wants to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

Ahm all shook up

Moving away from evasions to attempts at actual answers: you don’t have to read septic blogs – or comments from septics – for very long to realise that they’re often quite confused between the science of GW and the political consequences. So there’s a big constituency of rightward-leaning greeny haters whose logic goes something like (a) “all these people like this science, so it must be wrong” or (b) “all these people say the consequence of this science is global communism, so it must be wrong”. I caricature, of course, but I think this is one of the bigger groups. This category doesn’t really understand the science, and doesn’t really want to. It wants to believe that it doesn’t need to understand it, or take it into account. This group probably contains the largest group of sane-but-misguided folk.

To be fair though the confusion between science and politics is depressingly common on the greeny side too. Any number of people will try to tell you that because you believe in the science of GW, therefore you must believe in their pet solution to the problem. And its a pernicious error, because it pushes the “(b)” people above away from the science.

They’re nice to me

If you’re a bit of a nutso, and wander into the GW debate, you’re quite likely to spout some piece of drivel you’ve innocently picked up from some septic blog, and someone who clearly knows much more than you will then tell you “you’re spouting drivel that you’ve picked up from a septic blog”. On the other hand, if you wander over to, say, WUWT you can talk as much drivel as you like and no-one will care; and very likely people will even compliment you on your drivel, especially if its clear that you believe that Al Gore is fat. People like being told that they’re right, and don’t like being told that they’re wrong. Since there is a wide spread ocean of wrong and the islands of right are harder to find, its likely that the lazy folk, always a majority, will get things wrong. And such people are unlikely to be self-disciplined enough to say “hmm, yes, you have a point, I really am a bit ignorant about that”; they’re more likely to surrender to the warm but smelly embrace of the septics.

People have said, quite directly, in comments here (that of course I can’t be bothered to find right now) that they don’t believe what I say because I’m not saying it nicely. Anyone saying such a thing is clearly stupid, but alas not unusual.

Not invented here

A fairish segment of the denialism market has convinced itself that all climate science since Lamb is wrong, and all climatologists corrupt or stupid. And so they wander around re-inventing the wheel, badly. Once they’ve got into that state, pointing them at fairly basic textbooks or papers that do what they’ve just done, but properly, doesn’t trigger a response of “oh yes, we were wrong, thank you for correcting us”. It either triggers embarrassment, if they’re capable or reading the papers, or more likely fury if they discover themselves unable to even understand the basics when explained properly. And so human nature kicks in.

That’s only a small set, of course, because people with enough imagination to invent, or re-invent badly, or even think, are fairly rare. Far more common are the related Dumb America type folks, who approach a complex problem, make the first obvious error that they can see, and then stick vigourously to that error as proof that they won’t succumb to “consensus”. Their rejection of the obvious evidence then becomes self-evidence for their ability to “think”, and so they’re stuck.

A motto of this kind of strand of thought, if you’re interested in mottoes, is that its a pretty good idea not to argue in such a way as to put people’s backs up; because you won’t get them to back down. So calling people “dumb”, “tossers”, “septics” and “denialists” is just bad debating style. Fortunately, I’m not here to convince anyone who doesn’t want to be convinced, so I don’t have to live by those fine rules. People like ATTP or Bart do that kind of thing well, and I admire them for it, but I’m not going to emulate them.

The professionals

[This section added after the first comment.] How embarrassing. I totally forgot this category: those who are simply for hire. Perhaps I can justify forgetting about them, in the context of the question, because the answer is obvious: money. Its not large, numerically, but of course its part of the hard core; and part of their function is to be a core for the weak to coalesce around. They aren’t worth talking to, of course, because they aren’t it to learn, but only for the gold. They’re worth talking at, because of the bystanders.


[Another one I forgot. DB says it quite well in a comment so I won’t re say it.

Don’t overestimate their dedication

Sometimes we take the septics too seriously. Many, well most, of them are lightweights. They’re good for a drive-by blog comment, but not for a sustained argument. They’re good for a quick whinge about wikipedia, but not for the hard slog of trying to write articles that make sense. Are they “hell bent” on anything? Not really, outside a hard core.


* A Look at the ‘Shills,’ ‘Skeptics’ and ‘Hobbyists’ Lumped Together in Climate Denialism – Andy Revkin.
* Time to push back against the global warming Nazis – Dr Roy burns his bridges, and his fanbois compete to see who can make up the naughtiest words.

Found by the lost

td Um, so, it just happened that I was checking my moderation filter (can you guess why?) and the comments-held-in-moderation, which I very rarely do, and was embarrassed to find quite a few there that didn’t belong. Sifting through the piles of trash trying to sell handbags, or herbal acne remedies, or even worse in a way the ones that appeared totally pointless, I found perhaps twenty that really should have been published ages ago. They are all now basking in the glorious light of day, though of course you’ve lost your chance to influence the conversations.

To prove that I hadn’t held up stuff-I-didn’t-like, several of them were comments I’d actually replied to, and so must have intended to publish. About 50% were pingbacks from a variety of blogs. I generally rely on emails from wordpress to tell me about comments, but it looks like this isn’t totally reliable.

So the motto of the story is: if your comment, valuable or otherwise, is held up in moderation then please email me separately: wmconnolley at the traditional gmail.

Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Timothy Ball (2nd nomination) closed as keep

In Tim Ball: turned out NN again I gloated over Tim Ball’s nth deletion, but now I have to eat humble pie because he’s been undeleted. Or rather, he’s been created from scratch. Before his partisans get too excited its worth pointing out that the keep rationales begin with

Keep: Michael E. Mann called him “perhaps the most prominent climate change denier in Canada”.

This is clearly silly: you don’t become notable just because some genuinely notable person thinks you’re an idiot.

As compensation, there’s still time to rub out Ferenc Miskolczi. He’s looking pretty marginal: his puffers are having to pretend that writing a whole 4 PR papers makes you notable. And apparently he, too, has been told he’s an idiot by genuinely notable people.

The idealised greenhouse effect model and its enemies

This post comes about as an attempt to write down, slowly and carefully, a simple version of the “idealised GHE model“. This apparently simple concept causes lots of confusion, though mostly amongst people who want to believe there are fatal flaws at the heart of climate science.

Before I go on: this is an idealised model. No-one actually does any real calculations from it. Some of the concepts involved are used in GCMs, but anyone who says, for example, “aha! You’ve averaged the diurnal cycle in your model, therefore the GCMs are wrong” isn’t thinking.

Lets consider a very heavily idealised model of the greenhouse effect. There’s only one “atmospheric level”, and energy transport is by radiation only. Very importantly, this is an equilibrium model. In each layer (sfc, atmosphere, space) the fluxes balance; none of the layer’s temperatures are changing over time.

 [SUN. SW to Earth]                   ^ [LW to space]          (1)
 [S=1362 W/m2; 0.7*S/4=238 W/m2]      |
             V                        ^
------------ V ---[ATMOSPHERE Ta]-----+-------------           (2)
             V            ^           V
             V            |           |
             V            ^           V
             V            |           |
             V            ^           V [LW absorbed at sfc]
/////////////////////[SURFACE Ts]////////////////////          (3)

The surface, at temperature Ts, emits thermal radiation given by (rho)Ts^4. The atmosphere at temperature Ta emits thermal radiation (upwards and downwards, this is important) according to the Stefan-Boltzmann law given by (rho)Ta^4; (rho) is the Stefan-Boltzmann_constant, 5.67/10^8 W/m^2/K^4. Or close enough for our purpose here.

[Update; note, although I’ve written (rho) here, and it all works of course because it is just an identifier, the usual symbol is the Greek “sigma”, so (sigma) would have been clearer. Thanks to mz.]

You’ll see at once that this is not a strictly realistic model of the Sun-Earth-Atmosphere-Space system. Never mind, we’ll not worry about that much now. Lets just note the salient features of the model, without justifying them:

1. The Earth is assumed to be uniform and a perfect blackbody. Its also either perfectly super conducting, or some other appropriate set of assumptions to get a uniform surface temperature. It still spherical, though, if that helps.
2. Solar radiation, S, is 1361 W/m2. But because the Earth is a sphere, and the ratio of the area of a sphere (4.pi.r^2, Earth’s surface area, which emits thermal radiation) to a circle (pi.r^2, Earth’s cross-section to Solar radiation, which determines how much Solar we absorb) is 4, the average insolation per unit area of the Earth is 1361/4 at the top of the atmosphere. But since Earth’s albedo is ~0.3, the average insolation at the surface is 0.7*1361/4 = 238 W/m2 (if you do the approximations slightly differently you get 239; no-one cares about that difference at this level of accuracy).
3. In this version, the atmosphere is entirely transparent to Solar radiation (also known as SW, for Short Wave) and entirely opaque to Earth’s emitted thermal radiation (also known as LW, for Long Wave). And for the purposes of the model, SW and LW occupy non-overlapping bands; this last assumption is realistic, unless you’re being really picky.
4. Energy transport is by radiation only. This is not at all realistic for the totality of the Sfc-Atmos system, but it isn’t too implausible if you think of the model “surface” as representing some level of the atmosphere, perhaps 400 hPa.
5. There is only one “atmospheric” level, and only by convention is it called “atmosphere”: it could be a sheet of glass. It has no defined height above the surface.

We can now write down the energy balance of the three layers:

(1) Space. Solar radiation (0.7*1361/4 = 238 W/m2) absorbed by the Earth equals the LW radiation lost by the Earth. Hence,

238 = (rho)Ta^4

Woo, that’s good. We can immeadiately work out the temperature of this layer:

Ta = fourth_root(238*10^8/5.67) = 254 Kelvin.

(2) The Atmosphere. This one is a bit harder, but not much. The Solar SW radiation doesn’t appear, since the atmosphere is transparent to SW. So the terms are: the upwelling LW radiation from the Earth’s surface; balanced by two terms, from the upward (lost to space) and downward (absorbed by the Earth’s surface) thermal radiation emitted by the atmosphere. The crucial point here is that there are these two LW “loss” terms, and they must be equal, because they are both thermal emission from each side of an object, the atmosphere, with the same temperature, Ta. So:

(rho)Ts^4 = 2 * (rho)Ta^4.

From which the (rho) cancels, leaving:

Ts = fourth_root(2) * Ta.

Which is nice and simple. We now know the surface temperature, and its warmer than the atmosphere, by a factor of fourth_root(2) = 1.19. Ts = 302 Kelvin; roughly.

(3) The surface. Note that we’ve now run out of variables to find the value of, since we know the sfc and atmospheric temperatures, so we’d better hope the sfc budget balances. The terms are: incoming solar, 238. Outgoing thermal, (rho)Ts^4. And incoming atmospheric thermal, (rho)Ta^4. So:

238 + (rho)Ta^4 = (rho)Ts^4.

Happily, if you look back to the balance for layer (1), you’ll see we’ve already deduced that (rho)Ta^4 = 238, so this equation just says:

2 * (rho)Ta^4 = (rho)Ts^4

Which makes it a duplicate of the balance for layer (2), and thus it must balance, because we’ve already balanced that layer. So it all ends happily, phew (you may be tempted to see that as sleight of hand but it isn’t; it had to happen like that, or the physics would have been wrong).

In summary

We end up with an energy balance that looks like this:

 [SUN]                                ^ [LW to space]          (1)
 [S=1362 W/m2; 0.7*S/4=238 W/m2]      | [= 238 W/m2]
             V                        ^
------------ V --[ATMOSPHERE 254 K]---+-------------           (2)
             V             ^          V
             V             |          |
             V             ^          V
             V             |          |
             V  (rho)302^4 ^ =238*2   V [LW absorbed at sfc=238 W/m2]
/////////////////////[SURFACE 302 K]////////////////           (3)

Having done that…

You’ve probably guessed that I’ve written all this down because someone else has got it wrong. That someone is “Derek CAVEMAN SCIENTIST”, and his version is a set of slides at (Update: actually he’s changed them. Sigh. Fortunately I took a webcite. As far as I can see from a quick scan he has removed some redundant pics, but his basic errors remain).

He starts off with some pics he’s found. Lets go through them.

A picture roughly corresponding to the above occurs in a Beeb page the greenhouse effect which appears to be part of some “GCSE bitesize” thingy. They don’t put any numbers on the arrows (I suppose S-B is beyond GCSE), (?hence?) they don’t explain the /4 geometry, and they do make it easy to mistake the thermal LW emitted by the Earth for “reflected heat” (though if you bother read their text they do get it right). They also don’t explain energy balance, or that the downwelling LW is part of it. Overall, not a very good effort I’d say.

Analogies with a real greenhouse are unhelpful. Real greenhouses work differently. Not everyone realises that, and some people get hung up on the terminology and forget that they’re trying to understand reality.

Here’s a pic that corresponds closely to mine. Its attributed to Lindzen, and that’s quite believeable, because about basic science he’s likely to be right.

This one is attributed to Gavin, and that’s plausible too, because this one is also correct. It reduces to the previous one, or to mine, if you set (lambda) to one. It isn’t clear to me if the source for my pix realises this. (lambda) represents the absoption of LW in the “atmosphere” layer. If (lambda)=1 all the LW is absorbed, as in my model; if (lambda)=0 the atmosphere is transparent to LW, and there is no greenhouse effect. This complexity adds nothing fundamentally interesting. Also the real atmosphere is opaque to LW when its of any thickness, so (lambda)=1 is reasonable at this level of detail.

Or, you can call the incoming solar Is*(1-(alpha)) where (alpha) is the planetary albedo of ~0.3; 1-0.3 is the 0.7 I’m using explicitly. This makes no difference; its just a matter of labels. You can also fold in a surface albedo, too; again, it makes no real difference.

But, what you can’t do is this: which is to say, write the wrong numbers onto the arrows. This is obviously broken, because the surface energy budget doesn’t balance, and nor does the atmospheric layer balance either. Not at all by coincidence, they are out of balance by the same amount, 239. This pic is described as “a fair and accurate representation of all the above model 2 diagrams”.

What’s gone wrong? Well, as we saw from my correct version, the upwelling LW from the surface needs to be twice the downwelling (and upwelling) from the atmosphere, in order to make this model balance. And that happens because the surface is warmer than the atmosphere. In the picture I’ve inlined, the author has the surface emitting 239 W/m2, which will only happen if Ts = Ta. So, this picture can be sort-of considered as an unstable state, before it equilibriates, if you want to be generous. You can make the picture correct by replacing the erroneous “239” pointing to box 3 with the correct value, 2*239.

[Update: thinking about this, is it possible to explain the Author’s confusion by him thinking this is a diagram of energy flowing round the system, in a step-by-step way? That is to say, he thinks the leftmost arrow happens *first*: SW enters and strikes the Sfc. *Then* he thinks the sfc emits LW, and naturally (on this incorrect view) he thinks that must be 239 too. *Then* he thinks the atmosphere emits thermal radiation. I think that really is what he’s doing wrong. Oh dear. That isn’t at all how the diagram should be interpreted: everything happens at once, and everything is in equilibrium. There is no step-by-step to it. The numbers on the arrows (1 to 4) do not represent a sequence in time. Uupdate: this is indeed how he is thinking; I notice that he actually explicitly says “One is supposed to follow the diagram from left to right. ie, arrow 1, arrow 2, arrow 3 and then arrow 4.” Oh dear.]

What would happen, physically, in a world that really had those arrows on it? Well, instantaneously, to make the sfc upwelling LW consistent with the surface thermal radiation, Ts would have to be 254; ditto for Ta. From that picture, the surface would start to warm, because there’s a positive imbalance of 239 W/m2. The atmosphere would instantaneously start to cool (before warming back to 254 later as the surface warms), because it would have a negative balance of 239. The exact path that Ts and Ta take would depend on the heat capacities of the layers, but eventually it would equilibriate at my values.

Returning to the slideshow, our Author has got badly confused, because we next come across:

Ta has already been described by him as sunlight in (240W/m2) = Tg (240W/m2) = Ta (240W/m2)

This makes no sense at all: the incoming 240 W/m2 (or 238, or 239, whatever) is, errm, in W/m2. It can’t equal Tg (T_ground; my Ts) to Ta, because Tg and Ta are in Kelvin.

Our author then presents this pciture as “Professor Nathan Phillips also explains in this pdf Greenhouse effect “theory” model 3.” I don’t know why he calls this “model 3”; its the same as the previous ones.

The Greenhouse effect “theory” as clearly depicted in the above diagrams has (at least) four fatal flaws, which are as follows.

This is the bold assertion our author makes. Lets go through it:

1) A 2 parallel plane (2PP) model used – Inappropriate, does not apply to earth.

This an idealised model, so its not expected to be entirely accurate. But this criticism isn’t a very good one: on Earth, the vertical scale is small compared to the horizontal, so representing the atmosphere as a plane is quite reasonable.

2) The power of sunlight received at the top of earth’s atmosphere is divided by four (P/4) – This is unphysical, and can not be applied to earth.

This is a failure of abstraction. I think our author understand the area-of-circle divided by area-of-sphere bit; what he hasn’t realised is that if you’re applying a time-independent view you can average over the day-night cycle, and over the Earth’s geographical area.

3) In the model 2 type, 240W/m2 is absorbed by earth’s atmosphere which becomes 480W/m2 radiated by the atmosphere. The atmosphere is depicted as emitting the same power or amount of energy both up and down, ie, twice what it receives. 240 W/m2 of energy is created. – Energy can not be created.

All we’re seeing here is the Author’s confusion. He has written the wrong numbers onto his “model type 2” diagram, and then complained that the numbers are wrong. Um.

3 cont) In the model 3 type the atmosphere is depicted as radiating 240W/m2 before the surface warms it. This is double accounting, at best, and is by any other name, creating energy.

No, the picture is time-independent. Its a steady state once all layers have come to equilibrium. The surface has, indeed “warmed the atmosphere” and the atmosphere has “warmed the surface”. There is no double accounting, all fluxes balance, no energy is created or destroyed.

4) In the model 2 type earth’s surface receives 480W/m2, but is depicted as only radiating 240W/m2.

Only in our Author’s broken version. See above.

We now come on to a pile of pix of what our Author calls “model type 4”. these are no longer the idealised model; instead, they’re considerably more complicated diagrams dealing with a whole pile of extra processes that we deliberately abstracted out of the simple model to make it tractable. If you don’t understand the simple model, you’re unlikely to get far with this one.

That’s about the end of the slide show.

Returning to the divide-by-4 bit, which seems to worry people

As I said earlier

Solar radiation, S, is 1361 W/m2. But because the Earth is a sphere, and the ratio of the area of a sphere (4.pi.r^2, Earth’s surface area, which emits thermal radiation) to a circle (pi.r^2, Earth’s cross-section to Solar radiation, which determines how much Solar we absorb) is 4, the average insolation per unit area of the Earth is 1361/4 at the top of the atmosphere.

This seems to worry some people as “unphysical”. Weeell, if it helps you, rest assured that GCMs don’t do this: they apply the diurnal cycle or radiation point-by-point, adjusting for latitude, and they include the effects of clouds and atmospheric scattering and surface albedo.

Another way of looking at it is, how could you rescue it so it was physical? One way is to render the Earth entirely uniform, and super-conducting to heat. In which case the “dark side” gets its share, irrespective of whether the sun is up or not. You have to make the “atmosphere” super-conducting too, of course.

But a better way is to realise that its an approximation: we know that in the real world, there is a day-night temperature cycle but (at least, say, over the oceans – we can imagine all this going on in an aqua-planet world if we like) its not very large. And then you’d need to fold in the latitudinal dependence too.

This all returns to my The New Aristotelians post: in order to make progress in science, you need to understand what to abstract, and what to keep.

Another way of thinking about it…

…which is in fact exactly the same way of thinking about it, even further simplified.

If you don’t like the numbers of the maths, don’t despair, there is hope for you. Its possible to get a qualitative understanding with no numbers at all.

* Agree that the Earth is heated by the sun,
* and that it emits thermal radiation to balance the heat from the sun.
* In the absence of atmosphere, that’s it.
* With an atmosphere (that absorbs some or all LW, but no SW) the LW from the Earth warms up the atmosphere,
* which emits thermal radiation upwards and downwards.
* Therefore, the Earth is warmer in the presence of an atmosphere, because it is heated by two sources: the sun and the atmosphere.

Easy, no?

Very late update

From March 10th: reading some comments at ATTP I think I begin to understand where the “its all the lapse rate” Doug-Cotton-types are going wrong (other than their a-priori insistence that it can’t possibly be GHG’s): they have in mind the black-body T, correct, and the lapse rate, correct, both of which they at least half understand; and the “effective emission height”, which they don’t understand at all. But they think of it as fixed. So they think of the sfc temperature as being from the temperature profile (as set by EEH and lapse rate) at the sfc. Or something like that – it can be hard to tell whether they think they’re starting from the EEH or the sfc. But all this is so obviously wrong (the EEH isn’t fixed) that its hard to know what else to say.


Every man and his dog has their own pet explanation of the greenhouse effect. If you’re not a “skeptic”, and you can cope fairly easily with the maths and with S-B, then you probably want a more advanced version. Like the wiki one, or I’ll collect some here.

* Learning from a simple model – Gavin’s, at RC. Goes through the maths faster, and therefore gets beyond my very simple model to more interesting stuff.

The pic is Klee; found via the lost.

* Science of Doom Reference post – goes through some of the basics.

Who Should Pay for Solar Geoengineering Liability?

A question raised by the normally sensible Geoengineering Politics. They come to an odd conclusion:

any damages caused by SRM [Solar Radiation Management, I believe – W] would essentially be the negative side effects of a response measure intended to remediate harms caused by excessive fossil fuel use, and fossil fuel companies have been the primary direct beneficiaries of this activity, it stands to reason that they should be the ones to pay for its cleanup

and offer an analogy:

This is precisely how the international oil spill liability regime works–the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds, financed exclusively by oil companies, have paid out more than $700 million in compensation since 1978

Now there is a problem with this analogy, or rather two. The first and most obvious is that oil spills are caused directly by the oil companies, and dealing with them is a cost of their operation (or they could tighten up their procedures and spill less, which would also cost, but differently). You could argue that paying for SRM is analogous to paying for oil spills, but paying for getting it wrong is stretching things a bit. If some (company, or govt) puts up mirror-satellites to reduce incoming solar, and accidentally fries Australia, is that really the fault of those who put the CO2 in the atmosphere? This is perhaps part of the fun that things like geoengineering will inevitably lead to. After all, GW will have benefits as well as costs, so sorting out whether those who would have benefited are allowed to sue those who prevented that benefit would be fun.

The second problem is that spilling fuel is a consequence of extracting or transporting oil, but not a necessary consequence. Thus its reasonable to expect the companies to minimise it, and to fine (or otherwise force them to pay up to clear up the mess) if they do spill. Whereas emitting CO2 (most fossil fuel is inevitably going to get burned at some point in its use cycle) is essentially a necessary consequence of extracting and selling fuels.

I’m also dubious about the assertion that in regard to excessive fossil fuel use, … fossil fuel companies have been the primary direct beneficiaries of this activity. As I said before, I think the primary beneficiary has been the consumer of the fossil fuels, not the companies.

In other news

* The Free Speech Brigade Suppresses Free Speech – Barry Bickmore tries to pin down the jelly that is people who feel “unease” about the Mann-vs-Steyn lawsuit, and finds that even Professor Stephen L. Carter, of the Yale Law School is quite wibbly-wobbly and finds great trouble in saying what he really means. Which isn’t very surprising, because he’s trying to defend the indefensible.
* ATTP offers A quick science lesson for Lord Lawson who is (as you’d expect of anyone associated with the GWPF) in desperate need of education. Which brings us neatly on to
* Tamino, who finds “skeptics” who are Making up stuff. There’s a common thread to all this, no?

Speaking of utter drivel, I found Derek CAVEMAN SCIENTIST desperately trying to understand the GHE. Well, not even that really: he’s trying to understand the simplified 1-layer atmosphere model. But he can’t do maths, and doesn’t appear to understand what all the squiggly symbols are, so he’s doomed. Its more sad than anything else.

Update: another view

So, my conclusion was that we’re unlikely to try geoengineering any tmie soon: even if we could get the physical problems out of the way, there are massive legal ones too. However, DA points out another side of the issue: if we do once start geoengineering, are we likely to just stop at just fixing up problems?

Bloggers behaving badly

Maybe I should save this stanza for a slightly more apt occasion, but I’m impatient, so:

But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole-shrine he came,
And he told me in a vision of the night: —
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
“And every single one of them is right!”

(Kipling, In the Neolithic Age, of course). But back to the post.

We might hope that the blogosphere would be full of reasoned debate, with people making interesting points supported by logical argument and careful references. Of course, any such hope would be dashed by fare such as posts titled “IPCC: not science, just dishonest!” (I’ve deliberately not linked that; before I go on, try and guess who that is) and quotes like:

Now, (yet again) these climate “scientists” have been caught out working not to the level of science, nor even to the standards of economics, but at a standard so appalling it would not be tolerated by any politician. Claiming to be “scientists”, getting public money to be “scientists” and then not behaving as “scientist” is totally dishonest. And when these people obtain public grants as “scientists” and they are not, such dishonesty must be fraud.

That’s a direct, and entirely false, accusation of fraud and dishonesty. What saves it from being actionable, in my humble non-legal opinion, is the careful avoidance of any specific individual targets.

Now, lets compare that to a minor kerfuffle that my attention was drawn to, viz The Sceptic View (Rev. 0.5) by ScottishSceptic – examined by CC and the follow-up, Dear ScottishSceptic, why do you keep threatening me? (you guessed, didn’t you?). This, in turn, is a critique of The Sceptic View (Rev. 0.5). Before I go any further, I’ll take a moment to revisit my criticism of (some small aspects of) that. This occurs in the comments on another post, sceptics vs. academics (a post so bizarre as to be largely surreal) and which (keep up at the back there!) has a post commenting on it at ATTP.

Anyway, I said

Its sweet that you try to claim the “hard facts” for your side. But that’s hard to reconcile with your view, that you say most “skeptics” support, that “Current estimates of about 0.8 C temperature rise in the past 150 years are very likely too high. There is compelling evidence of malpractice, urban heating and poor instruments & siting. A figure of 0.5-0.6C warming appears more likely”, and which you say is based on

“We had a discussion on this on WUWT (which I cannot find!!) where the consensus was around 0.5-0.6C from memory!! I felt if we said “the 0.8 figure is wrong”, I had to give a sense of what kind of warming we felt could be realistic.”

There are no hard facts in your revision, just your memory, which is as fallible as everyone else’s.

If the IPCC tried to produce temperature records, or evidence for or against UHI, based on “errm, a discussion we had somewhere, I can’t find it now” you would (correctly) rip them to shreds. But when it comes to your own words, suuddenly your “skepticism” disappears.

this gets a non-answer, as you’d expect, and it continues further on if you can bear it. So far, so many excuses for swipes by me, but bear with me, the connection will become clear in due course. Now, back to SS’s complaints (SS is ScottishSceptic) against CC’s posts (CC is citizenschallenge). SS complains under two headings, copyright and libel.


But before I do that… Wikipedia has an interesting and possibly relevant policy, WP:NLT which is, somewhat expanded, “No legal threats”:

This page in a nutshell: If you have a dispute with the community or its members, use dispute resolution. If you do choose to use legal action or threats of legal action to resolve disputes, you will not be allowed to continue editing until it is resolved and your user account and or IP address may be blocked. A polite report of a legal problem such as defamation or copyright infringement is not a threat and will be acted on quickly.

Within the blogosphere, I’d translate this into: if you’ve got a problem, start off by making a reasonable attempt to solve it reasonably. In this case I don’t think it would have worked, but it was worth a go nonetheless. Within wiki, the policy is strictly enforced, and does a good job of preventing people using legal threats as a debating trick, or to intimidate people in argument. You can go to law of course, if you really want, but if you do you’re off in a different arena and can no longer participate on wiki.


Claim one is The document is my copyright. You have copied it without permission.

It is true that CC has reproduced SS’s “Sceptic View (Rev. 0.5)” statement. However CC has done it in blocks, and clearly with the purpose of critiquing it, and the original is clearly attributed. It might also be argued that the document isn’t clearly SS’s copyright: as it says of itself, its been compiled from the views and with the input of numerous others.

I would also argue that anyone publishing a “statement” that is clearly political in nature offers an implied right to reproduce it – indeed, it seems pretty clear that SS would like the document itself to be widely publicised; what he is really objecting to are the critical comments.

Is it possible to permit copying only if no critical comments are made, but permit and encourage it otherwise? Perhaps. It hardly fits within a desire for vigourous debate, though: it smacks strongly of defensiveness.

What of the moral issue? Here the answer seems clear: because the document’s original source has been clearly attributed, and its been so cut about that no-one would copy the copy, they’d certainly go back to the original, I can’t see that any theft of intellectual property has occurred.


Claim two is and then listed it under “denial industry” making numerous false claims. This is a libel… (is there a missing “and” in there? I.e., should this read under “denial industry” and making numerous false claims? Or is this suggesting that the listing, under “denial industry”, in itself constitutes numerous (false) claims? That seems an odd reading; I’ll go with the former).

I’m not sure what the “numerous false claims” are supposed to be. On a quick skim, I’d say that CC is more correct than SS. I’ve already noted the problem with the arbitrary lopping off of 0.2 oC. It would be interesting to see SS back up the NFC assertion with evidence, but based on past behaviour I consider this unlikely.

di The unambiguous claim, though, is that by filing the post under “denial industry” CC has, errm, labelled SS as part of the denial industry (BTW, allow me to make it clear that I don’t think the SS is part of a “denial industry”. He says he isn’t paid for anything he writes, and I know of no reason to dispute that). But… well, firstly, its not exactly prominent. Here’s a half-size screen grab, but remember its taken from the bottom of a loooong post. Secondly, its also labelled “AGW educational link”, which is far from uncomplimentary. Third, I’m dubious that just putting a post into a category is really as serious as SS thinks. It seems rather thin-skinned to me.

Conclusion: clean hands?

Morally, I can’t see that SS has much of a case, even on the merits of these few posts taken in isolation. But more than that, SS doesn’t have “clean hands”. The quote I started with – when these people obtain public grants as “scientists” and they are not, such dishonesty must be fraud – isn’t an isolated example; you could find many more at his blog. More, there’s a complete lack of reflection, or self-consciousness, or any ability to read his own words as others would. Try this comment of his for example, ending There are two standards of morality in this debate – ours which is what any reasonable person would expect – and that of your side which would lock us up and tattoo us for the crime of saying it isn’t currently warming. Need I say more, guv?

Arctic amplification dominated by temperature feedbacks in contemporary climate models

There’s a paper in Nurture GeoSci entitled Arctic amplification dominated by temperature feedbacks in contemporary climate models by Felix Pithan & Thorsten Mauritsen (Nature Geoscience (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2071). As far as I know the paper is entirely sensible, though I’ve only read the abstract. From which I quote:

Feedback effects associated with temperature, water vapour and clouds have been suggested to contribute to amplified warming in the Arctic, but the surface albedo feedback—the increase in surface absorption of solar radiation when snow and ice retreat—is often cited as the main contributor… we analyse climate model simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 archive to quantify the contributions of the various feedbacks. We find that in the simulations, the largest contribution to Arctic amplification comes from a temperature feedbacks: as the surface warms, more energy is radiated back to space in low latitudes, compared with the Arctic… the surface albedo feedback is the second main contributor to Arctic amplification and that other contributions are substantially smaller or even oppose Arctic amplification.

So far, so analysis-of-climate-models. As I’ve had occasion to say in the past: GCMs can be good tools for studying climate, but alas they are nearly as complicated as the real climate system, so it can often be pretty hard to work out why they are doing something, even if you know that they are doing it.

But if you squint at the paper a bit through “skeptic”-tinted googles, it looks a bit like it is saying that the models have got it wrong, and that something else is the real effect. And this is what NoTricksZone has tricked itself with: the headline there, “Climate Modelers Flub Again…Albedo Not The Number One Arctic Amplifier After All!” says it all. In the comments I’m patiently trying to explain to them what the paper is really saying. There is some hope – there’s an update to the post which rather plaintively says the claims made by the authors are based on “model simulations” which you might well have thought was the bleedin’ obvious: “Here we analyse climate model simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 archive to…” is more than just a hint to the wise; although There’s no light the foolish can see better by.

Speaking of which, WUWT falls into the same error. And for a wonder, my comment pointing this out passed moderation. Even more astonishingly, more than one person has, though gritted teeth, admitted that I’m right.

Comments there: NTZ

You haven’t understood the paper. What the paper discusses are the mechanisms for Arctic amplification, as seen in climate models. The models the paper discusses are largely the same as the ones used before. So its not possible for these results to falsify the models, because these results are based on taking the model results at face value.

What you’re missing is the distinction between *understanding* the model results, and the construction of the models.

So “This casts many of the assumptions made in earlier climate models deep into doubt” is entirely wrong. The assumptions made in building the models aren’t challenged at all by this study. What this illustrates is the way the models are so complicated, it can be hard to know exactly why they do things.

FWIW, the idea that ice-albedo feedback isn’t the full answer has been known for some time; e.g. discusses V A Alexeev et al, Climate Dynamics (2005) , which actually sounds distinctly similar to the new Nature paper.

got the reply:

Not really sure what you’re getting at. Wrong assumptions with right answers still means faulty models.

One thing is clear: 114/117 models have missed the barn so far. Models have been hopelessly inadequate, biased in one direction. In general the paper in my view is rather murky and, should it come out from behind the paywall, it would be interesting to get a closer look at it.

So there’s a regrettable failure of understanding, and a not-hard-to-predict attempt to deflect the conversation.

My reply took two attempts to get through:

> Wrong assumptions with right answers still means faulty models

There is no suggestion from the paper in Nature that the assumptions in the models are wrong, or that the models are wrong. The Nature paper presents a new analysis of the models, and that analysis suggests that “the surface albedo feedback… [which] is often cited as the main contributor… is the second main contributor to Arctic amplification”.

> what Spiegel writes

I can find nothing in the English translation of the Spiegel article which supports your assertion. I can see how a rather hasty (and from your point of view, hopeful) reading of the article, or the Nature paper, might suggest that.

I hope you can understand the point I’m trying to make: this doesn’t challenge the assumptions, or the results, of the models at all. It makes no suggestions that the models are in errors. It merely presents a new analysis of the model results.

I don’t think I’m getting through.

Comments there: WUWT

My opening bid was:

> climate models need to be reworked

You seem to have made that up. Its not in the paper.

REPLY: It’s an opinion. much like many of your Wikipedia entries – Anthony

since I didn’t feel inclined to waste my pearls of wisdom if they were going to be suppressed. But they weren’t (indeed, AW replied, I’ve just noticed that so I’ve added it in here. He doesn’t seem to understand that its not an opinion; this is a matter of the actual statements in the paper), so I replied to “Graeme W” with:

> Much as I hate to agree with Mr. Connolley,

Dr. But apart from that, yes, you’re correct. This is an analysis of model simulations. The article makes no claim at all that the models are flawed, all it is doing is analysing the actual causes of a certain affect *in the models*. The suggestion that “climate models need to be reworked” appears to be an interpolation by our host, possibly based on the post at NTZ, which has made a similar error.


which drew a reply

REPLY: Yet, CMIP5 models still don’t match reality. So yes, they need to be reworked on many levels until they can properly predict climate with accuracy. The dialing in Arctic albedo and feedbacks (plus many other things) aren’t quite there yet. If they were, we’d see better agreement in graphs like this one:

Unless of course, you’d like to argue that models are “good enough” and need no improvement whatsoever.

So I think the shape of the argument for the defence starts to become clear: ground will shift away from what this article actually says, onto “models aren’t perfect”, which is dull. I replied (I’ve corrected the spelling of CMIP here):

That the CMIP simulations aren’t perfect would be agreed by all who work on model development. But that’s not the point here: which is that *this study* provides no evidence for that assertion; its entirely orthogonal to that idea, since its an analysis of model output. I don’t know what you mean by “dialing in Arctic albedo”; that appears to continue your misunderstanding of the paper. The paper isn’t suggesting the models should “dial in” the albedo at all. All its doing is presenting an interpretation of the model results.

which drew in return

REPLY: And you are honing in on a headline, not the body, tough noogies if it upsets you. The fact remains that

1. CMIP Models still have a poor understanding of feedbacks
2. CMIP Models still don’t have a handle on real-world albedo changes
3. CMIPModels aren’t matching reality as measured

Hence, they need to be reworked. I’m not going to change the headline simply because you interpret it in your own special way. Now run along and write up your usual smear.

So, yes, the defence shifts, and he also attempts to use the “headline defence”, which is weird, because although headlines in the Meeja are often crap, that’s because they’re written by subs. In this case, he’s written it himself, so “blame the headline” is no defence at all.

> honing in on a headline, not the body

Not at all. Later on you include: “This casts many of the assumptions made in earlier climate models deep into doubt. It’s back to the drawing board (again) for the modelers.”

This is as wrong as your headline. As I said, that models can be improved is doubted by none, but what we’re talking about here is this study.

> Please provide a clarification which would remove the ambiguity in your post.

Mmmm, this is difficult. (a) and (b) are wrong, because the study doesn’t talk about errors in the models. (c) is wrong, because the study isn’t really talking about nature very much. I think you’re missing the basic point: this study is about the interpretation of model output; its trying to work out what processes in the models are responsible for a certain result in the models. Models are complicated things; its often not at all easy to work out why they do what they do.

(that last abc bit is in response to some drivel by richardscourtney. My response has been disappeared, but Windchasers says much what I would have).


* Harry Potter and the Polar Amplification of Global Warming
* Polar amplification, again – wherein I somewhat prophetically note that People constantly get polar amplification wrong. That post does cast some doubt on the novelty of the Nurture thing, though.

Another year in stoats

Subtitled As the days of my life are but grains of sand.

I’ve tried to not-choose the knockabout stuff, which is all great fun, but ephemeral. But some months were thin and I had little choice.

* Jan: On happiness
* Feb: The sleepwalkers
* Mar: Man slumped after hitting wall (see-also)
* Apr: North Korea ‘may not be performance art’, say experts
* May: Syria: the West makes the usual mistake – which I drag out not because its brilliant, nor because time has proved me wrong.
* Jun: Saturn’s hexagon. See-also Earth from Saturn.
* Jul: Up three to nine. See-also Happy Birthday to Watts’ paper!, an event none of us would wish to fail to mark (I look forward to its second unbirthday too; speaking of which, don’t forget Climategate 3.0 – well, how could you?)
* Aug: This year’s sea ice considered unexciting
* Sep: AR5: cursory review of chapter 4 (cryosphere) mass balance of Antarctica
* Oct: Wyatt and Curry part II: not waving but drowning
* Nov: Thrust
* Dec: Climate science is interesting and fun

Overall, a fairly thin year I’d say. Which was part of the reason for writing this.