Old broken links

At some point SB moved wordpress versions, and when this occurred old links broke. Every now and again when I come across an old post I fix them up, but you can’t, so here is the sekret decoder ring. Things like:

http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2007/11/hansen_again.php

turn into

http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2007/11/23/hansen-again/

Which is annoying, because whilst you can get from “new” to “old” by s/-/_/g, removing the extra number and adding “.php”, you can’t get from old to new without knowing the number. Argh! But, it turns out the server has been taught some intelligence, because

http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2007/11/hansen-again/

does work; it redirects to “new”. Don’t forget s/_/-/g.

The UK should not bomb Syria

In fact I’m not quite as certain of the Right Thing as my headline suggests; but if I’m going to nail my colours to the mast in advance of the UK’s parliament’s probable vote next week, I may as well be definite. It puts me with Jeremy Corbyn and against most of the UK pols. I don’t feel involved enough to go and protest2, though, as I did before the Iraq war. More than two years ago I wrote words that could be interpreted as support for military intervention. But that was more than two years ago; things have changed since. Most of what has changed has changed for the worse; the country is more broken; the chances of tilting the balance in favour of the Good Guys by bombing is pretty well gone.

The govt’s reasons for action are available. It is a long document; although page 11 onwards is “Response to Questions in the Foreign Affairs Committee report on “Enabling the House to reach a decision” ” and is effectively an appendix; but much of page 1 is blather, and page 2 begins That is why I believe that we should now take the decision to extend British airstrikes against ISIL [in Iraq] into Syria, so we deduce that there’s one key paragraph on page 1 to read. It is:

We need a comprehensive response which seeks to deal with the threat that ISIL poses to us directly, not just through the measures we are taking at home, but by dealing with ISIL on the ground in the territory that it controls. It is in Raqqa, Syria, that ISIL has its headquarters, and it is from Raqqa that some of the main threats against this country are planned and orchestrated. We must tackle ISIL in Syria, as we are doing in neighbouring Iraq, in order to deal with the threat that ISIL poses to the region and to our security here at home. We have to deny a safe haven for ISIL in Syria. The longer ISIL is allowed to grow in Syria, the greater the threat it will pose. It is wrong for the United Kingdom to sub-contract its security to other countries, and to expect the aircrews of other nations to carry the burdens and the risks of striking ISIL in Syria to stop terrorism here in Britain.

12310673_10153846982887859_3311188702826747669_n That contains a number of arguments not clearly separated; probably because they’re weaker when clearly and distinctly made.

1. Increase the UK’s security. Arguably a somewhat selfish attitude, but also part of the government’s core responsibility. But the applicability of this argument seems implausible to me; indeed, the reverse seems more likely to be true. The govt’s doc has a longer section on “The Threat from ISIL”, with stuff like We know that ISIL has deadly intent to strike us at home too. In the last 12 months, Britain’s police and Security Services have disrupted no fewer than 7 terrorist plots to attack the UK. All 7 plots were either linked to ISIL, or were inspired by ISIL’s propaganda. Whether you find that “undeniable” evidence of a threat to the UK is perhaps a matter of judgement; mine is that it doesn’t, and that I don’t trust the govt’s judgement5.

2. “It is wrong for the United Kingdom to sub-contract its security to other countries” is a two-part argument. The first is the “altruistic” quasi-moral part: we shouldn’t let other people do our fighting for us. And this is true, if we believe the fighting is a good idea; but it doesn’t help decide if said fighting is good. The contrary – we shouldn’t bother, since our military contribution is small and neither here-nor-there – isn’t very believable either; its along the same lines as those who argue that we shouldn’t trouble about our CO2 emissions, because on a global scale they are small. The second, implicit, part is that we shouldn’t undermine other’s efforts by hanging back. But again, that doesn’t help you decide of the efforts are good.

3. What we’re doing in Iraq argues that we should do the same in Syria. But there’s a key difference: in Iraq, we’re acting on behalf of and with the cooperation of an at least nominally friendly government. It seems to be that concentrating any military efforts there would be more fruitful1. The previous, notoriously sectarian and incompetent Iraq government, bears a large share of the responsibility for the rise of ISIS; if it hadn’t let so much of Iraq get taken over, ISIS wouldn’t have got its early boost (note: I’m willing to be corrected on the details of that). But we-the-West also bear our share, for propping up such a disastrous government. Having done my best to consider this carefully, it seems likely that the most useful route to removing ISIS begins by fixing Iraq’s government. That’s a long term process, liable to be tedious and difficult, and involve things like supporting and enhancing democracy. And in the short term, doing our little bit to help the US support the Iraqi’s astonishingly incompetent army. The govt says By inflicting brutal attacks against his own people, Assad has in fact acted as one of ISIL’s greatest recruiting sergeants. We therefore need a political transition in Syria to a government that the international community can work with against ISIL, as we already do with the Government of Iraq. However, I can’t see any signs of such a transition actually happening, so that crucial part of the govt’s strategy is broken.

4. “The longer ISIL is allowed to grow in Syria, the greater the threat it will pose”. This is almost believeable. It might be true; or it might not – since any concentration of ISIS is vulnerable to air attack, its hard for them to grow such concentrations.

20151128_wwd000 Arguments against bombing include “the Iraq war was a disaster”. And indeed it was; and you can make a decent case that disaster has lead directly to this one, albeit with many other mistakes along the way. But that argument is something of a logical fallacy, in the way its usually presented; somewhat along the lines of “but you were all predicting an ice age in the 1970’s”. In another way, in that the same kind of people who made the same kind of mistakes will be in charge again, its not a fallacy.

The recent attacks on France are why the French are so hot and why we may get involved; effectively, something so close to home provides motivation. What prevents similar here? Mostly, I’d guess, the difficulty of getting hold of Kalashnikovs. We’re probably not short of nutters; but the nutters are (thankfully) short of guns. This strongly suggests to me that doing more to get rid of the guns would be a good idea. While we’re here, I’ll note that the total death toll on French roads in 2013 was 3250; not-at-all-to-anyone’s-surprise, this hasn’t provoked horror or outrage.

Another argument against bombing might be the cost, if only I knew what it was. This piece says that 7 months in Libya (which I supported) cost ~$380 million; perhaps for the purposes of discussion I could guess that Syria would cost the UK £500 million a year. That’s not large enough to be a convincing argument against (but for comparison, we say we’ve donated £1.1 billion “providing assistance to ease the suffering of the Syrian people”). But I argue that the bomb money would be better spent on helping Syrian refugees in Turkey, and similar matters; not just in terms of bread-not-bombs being better for the world, but in terms of security.

12314117_10153163271956791_4705394141151366652_n Another item is that govt’s, and the press, and the public, can only focus on a few things at once, with enough pressure to get things done. Pushing so hard on bomb-Syria means other things can’t be pushed.

Not having Russia in Syria deliberately targetting non-ISIS opponents of Assad would help a lot3; but I can’t see any way to avoid their presence; Russia as elsewhere is just being malignant.

I don’t like the govt’s degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, including through Coalition military and wider action because I’m suspicious of the “degrade”. It is such a vague term; used by the US too; it amounts to “well, yes, we blew some things up and killed some bad guys but really we don’t have much of a plan beyond that”.

What would you do, then?

The obvious question, which I’ve partially answered above: help in Iraq, and provide aid. Another element, which I’ve referred to before, would be to end our obsession with border lines drawn on maps many years ago; and to support a Kurdish state.

Another possible question is “what would the people inside Syria like us to do?” I find I have no idea at all what the answer is4.

Notes

1. The govt comes close to conceding this point. In answer to v) Which ground forces will take, hold, and administer territories captured from ISIL in Syria. they reply The model that is starting to work in Iraq involves Coalition air support enabling Iraqis – from both the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga – to take back, hold and administer territory regained from ISIL. This is more difficult in Syria, because Assad’s forces are still fighting directly against the moderate opposition and there is no prospect of intervention by an external ground force. Any large-scale external force, even of Arab or other Muslim troops, could risk inflaming the conflict further, rather than contributing to a political settlement.

Update: 2016/01/03: and there’s more. As the Beeb reports, we’ve actually done hardly any strikes on Syria. It hardly seems to have been worth all the angst. And why not? Apart from the lack of targets, Auntie says In Iraq air strikes are making a difference, largely because there is an army to work with on the ground. And so on.

2. However, I will sign the petition, even though I disagree with some of the wording, since I like the headline.

3. The Economist tells me that “Turkey is hindering the campaign against IS. It is more interested in striking Kurds inside Syria and removing Mr Assad than it is in crushing the jihadists. Moreover, it has failed to stop the flow of IS’s oil out of Syria and the flow of money and recruits back in”, so the Russian’s aren’t unique; Turkey’s failure to reach an agreement with the Kurds is a major regional problem.

4. Bagehot, in an article suggesting “Britain’s left must reject the anti-West reactionaries at the heart of its movement”, says “There’s a big Syrian group,” murmurs one. “But they’re not anti,” continues another, disgusted: “They were lobbying for Britain to bomb Assad”. That’s not quite an answer, because those are Syrians not in Syria; but its informative.

5. It looks like I was right to not trust the govt; they appear to have been simply lying; see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/syria-air-strikes-senior-mps-back-alex-salmond-in-disputing-david-camerons-claim-that-seven-uk-a6764491.html

Update(s)

Syria air strikes: Britain is only dipping a toe in this war on Isis. Some good stuff, and also

Political action by Britain is, in any case, constrained by the US, which does not want Isis, President Bashar al-Assad or the forces headed by the al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front, to win the Syrian civil war decisively. Washington is trying to pretend that there is a moderate Syrian constituency opposed to these three parties capable of taking power in Damascus. David Cameron similarly expresses belief that not only does such a moderate force exist, but that it numbers 70,000 fighters, many of them members of the Free Syrian Army, an institution that was always an umbrella group and largely disintegrated two years ago.

This is important because if true (as it seems to me) then all the bombing is doing is prolonging a balance of war; possibly to our advantage, but not clearly to the advantage of those bombed.

What the Kurds think

For us Kurds, Western intervention is a lifeline says Karwan Jamal Tahir, Kurdistan Regional Government High Representtive to the UK (found via Benn’s speech to the Hoc; which was poor, even though he’s been attacked by nutters for making it). There’s an Iraqi Kurdistan but its an autonomous region not a state, no matter how much they and I would like it to be one. Anyway, what KJT says is worth reading, but the most relevant part is:

Most of Daesh’s territory is in Syria, which should be considered with Iraq as a single theatre. British airstrikes, already taking place in Iraq, would carefully target Daesh fighters, trucks and supplies in Syria. This is welcome, and no doubt our allies will do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties. But sooner or later, more will be needed: it will take ground troops to defeat Daesh. We know many British people are wary but we have to say, as your allies, that some British troops could be vital.

Strangely enough, Benn didn’t choose to quote that last bit, even though that para – rather than the one he did use – is the one that explicitly calls for UK air strikes.

Refs

* Timmy suggests their finance may not be as obscure as some might believe.
* The Krauts will send some stuff but not bomb anyone
* Defence secretary spends entire debate doodling explosions
* Sir John Chilcot urged to get a head start on Syria inquiry
* RAF bomb raids in Syria dismissed as ‘non-event’, Torygraph early 2016: “Since MPs voted for war over Syria RAF Tornados and Typhoons have mounted only three strike missions”.
* UK Govt response to petition
* The Dutch Join In 2016/01/29.

UK cancels pioneering £1bn carbon capture and storage competition

12238366_1001627256568874_147377248518629344_o UK cancels pioneering £1bn carbon capture and storage competition says the Graun: Two projects had been in the running to build plants demonstrating CCS at commercial scale. One was backed by Shell and SSE at Peterhead. The White Rose consortium was based at Drax, the UK’s largest power plant, but was in trouble after Drax halted its investment in September. I commented on the White Rose (Drax) thing before.

If you’d prefer to read something more hopeful about CCS, try David Hone: Shell officially open its first major carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility, the Quest project. It is in Alberta, Canada and will capture and store about one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.

Iconic

It looks somehow so serene. All that flawless blue sky.

AA_24112015_175075

Hopefull Evil Uncle Vlad won’t flail out in quite the same way that Good Uncle Sam did after 9/11.

It is a much smaller matter, of course; but the Commies, errrm, aren’t really reliably sane. Unlike, errrm, the Yanks. The FT gives me hope: although the blowhards are blowing hard with Vladimir Solovyov, host of one of the main political talk shows on Russian state television, compared the downing of the jet to the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 which triggered the first world war. “We are one step from a big war,” he said, but it also notes open calls for military action against Turkey are conspicuously absent and anger which many Russians feel quickly coagulating into well-practised rhetoric of a fortress under siege from hostile foreign forces and the need to weed out traitors from within. They’ve announced some economic stuff which, as everyone has immeadiately pointed out, will hurt Russia as much as Turkey, so is all a bit meh and will be relaxed quietly fairly soon. Other than that, hopefully they’ll settle for really really don’t do that again, which as long as the Commies don’t, will work out fine. Obama seems to have, very sensibly, backed Turkey but urged restraint on all sides.

Minor: Turkey released radar images of the planes flight path, to show it had passed through Turkish air space. The Commies have released a clearly and crudely faked map purporting to show that didn’t happen. Unfortunately for them, the impact sight is without doubt, and so (it would appear) is where the plane was hit. Extrapolation of that line backwards is obviously over Turkey so the Commies have drawn in an implausible right-angle turn at the point of hit. [Update: actually, its even more confusing than that. According to Aunty, the Commies and the Beys don’t even agree over the crash location. You’d hope that at least could be sorted out.]

Update: note, the Syrians shot down a Turkish jet in 2012; wiki says After the 2012 shootdown of a Turkish jet, Turkey changed its rules of engagement and, according to the new rules, it would consider all “elements” approaching from Syria an enemy threat and would “act accordingly.

perfect-kingfisher-dive-photo-wildlife-photography-alan-mcfayden-311

Refs

* Despite sound and fury Putin wary of letting jet incident spiral out of control – Graun.
* Statement by the NATO Secretary General after the extraordinary NAC meeting (2015/11/24)
* Blondie

CAGW rears its ugly head

Whenever I descended into the den of iniquity that is WUWT, I’d get “CAGW” flung at me. And I’d always reply that they had made it up1. See for example my If it isn’t catastrophic we’ve got nothing to worry about, have we? or comments in When will it start cooling? But now, alas, the philosophers are back (I wasn’t impressed last time; ATTP clearly was) with an open letter.

DSC_5410

TheConversation blurb contains the regrettably vague Those most responsible for climate change are relatively few compared to the vast numbers of people who will be harmfully affected. I don’t know how to interpret that: do they mean that the population of, e.g., the US and Western Europe and a few other places is small compared to the world population? That seems unlikely Or are they following the popular and deeply silly meme that those “responsible” are a tiny number of Evil Capitalists and Plutocrats? For people claiming academic rigour such vagueness is unimpressive.

But on to my main point. The intro to the letter starts We invite academics from all countries and disciplines to sign this Open Letter calling for world leaders meeting in Paris in December this year to do what is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. So, they’ve blown it. I can no longer say that CAGW is a made-up thing by the Watties and the denialist nutters; a whole pile of people at least a few of whom must be respectable are now endorsing the same. Are any of them respectable? Of the first 500 I recognise only Mike McCracken2, but he is definitely respectable.

Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about that too much; I no longer bother to descend into the filth-heaps. Let’s look at the substance:

Yet it looks unlikely that the international community will mandate even the greenhouse gas reductions necessary to give us a two thirds chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. At the moment, even if countries meet their current non-binding pledges to reduce carbon emissions, we will still be on course to reach 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. This is profoundly shocking, given that any sacrifice involved in making those reductions is far overshadowed by the catastrophes we are likely to face if we do not: more extinctions of species and loss of ecosystems; increasing vulnerability to storm surges; more heatwaves; more intense precipitation; more climate related deaths and disease; more climate refugees; slower poverty reduction; less food security; and more conflicts worsened by these factors. Given such high stakes, our leaders ought to be mustering planet-wide mobilization, at all societal levels, to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This, too, lacks any attempt at academic rigour. How, exactly, would one measure the balance between the sacrifices required and the damage to be done? The most obvious way is a cost-benefit analysis; if they’ve got another method in mind, they don’t trouble themselves to mention it. Perhaps its “obvious”? As I was taught many years ago as a maths undergraduate, “that’s obvious” is what you say when you don’t actually know the answer. Anyway, if you try to do the balance (maybe Stern?) you don’t come out with “far overshadowed”. Or perhaps they’re using some kind of moral balance, rather than an economic one? These are philosopher-y type folks, not economists, it looks like. In which case, I’m even more puzzled, because I’ve no idea how you’d construct a moral balance. At least with numbers you can just add and subtract.

Another thing wrong is the constant use of “more” in the above. The current amount of warming is not very large – so far – perhaps 1 oC above pre-industrial. Adding another 2 oC on top of that would be massively different. And so the same must be true of the consequences.

Notes

1. Another convenient example from Wikipedia.
2. Actually, that’s a different MMcC. The “real” one occurs later, it seems. And the “fake” one is no longer in the first 500; or maybe I miscounted last time? That seems unlikely.

Rates of ancient climate change may be underestimated?

An interesting paper in Nature Communications (David B. Kemp, Kilian Eichenseer and Wolfgang Kiessling, doi:10.1038/ncomms9890), and yet oddly unreported, or at least not in the corner of the blogosphere that I watch (did I miss you? Sorry, tell me). True, its not easy to interpret, but even so I’m surprised. I was hoping that someone was going to tell me what to think, but until they do here’s what I’ve thunk for myself. Let’s start with their abstract:

Recently observed rates of environmental change are typically much higher than those inferred for the geological past. At the same time, the magnitudes of ancient changes were often substantially greater than those established in recent history. The most pertinent disparity, however, between recent and geological rates is the timespan over which the rates are measured, which typically differ by several orders of magnitude. Here we show that rates of marked temperature changes inferred from proxy data in Earth history scale with measurement timespan as an approximate power law across nearly six orders of magnitude (10^2 to >10^7 years). This scaling reveals how climate signals measured in the geological record alias transient variability, even during the most pronounced climatic perturbations of the Phanerozoic. Our findings indicate that the true attainable pace of climate change on timescales of greatest societal relevance is underestimated in geological archives.

Hmm, well, that’s all obvious yes? No, indeed not. Their conclusion (my bold) is clear enough, but not quite why it follows from their analysis. The conclusion, if correct, is relevant: if you ask any number of people, including me, exactly why 2 oC is dangerous when we’ve seen changes bigger than that in the past, I’d give you various answers but quite high up would be rate-of-change which – as the paper says – is believed to be significantly faster than the geological record (For example, the niche evolution of vertebrates, inferred from ancestor–descendant comparisons over millions of years, has been contrasted with projected rates of climate change in this century to conclude that the rate of warming exceeds the adaptive potential of animals by orders of magnitude. Our work indicates instead that geological episodes of climatic or evolutionary change likely fail to capture the true pace of changes on timescales of most relevance for understanding the impact of similar changes today.) The paper (as far as I can see) doesn’t actually say that isn’t true any more; but it does say the speed of past change has been underestimated. There’s some PR which helpfully reassures you the team emphasise that their research doesn’t negate present-day concerns over climate change, but rather highlights a gap in our understanding of ancient climate change. Or some different PR.

The challenge (because this is in bastard Nature, and therefore compressed as though paper were going out of fashion) is to follow their chain of logic. Happily, there’s a helpful picture:

kemp1

The scaling relationship predicts that for every 10-fold increase in measurement timespan, there is an approximately 8-fold decrease in the recorded rate of temperature change. The logical explanation for this scaling is that climate change does not proceed in a linear, monotonic manner, but is instead characterized by transient stasis and reversals, even during episodes of extreme warming. Similar explanations have been put forward for observed timespan-dependent scaling in other Earth system processes, notably sedimentation rates and evolution. Geological temperature changes defined at typically centennial to multimillennial timespans cannot capture the full
variance of the climate system operative at shorter timescales; aliasing variability that is readily apparent from higher resolution and more recent records.

So, I can kinda understand that: temperature change isn’t linear, as we observe, its fairly wiggly. Any time you dice up a long-term trend you’ll find shorter term trends, and the relationship indicates that the maximum of those short term trends will be larger than the long term trend. Put that way it almost sounds obvious. They then make some attempt at a crude correction for that in their figure 3:

kemp3

I’m not sure how valid that is, but let’s lay aside that concern for the moment and notice that present-day rates are ~0.02 oC/year, which is still about 10 times faster than the Bolling-Allerod, which is the fastest even-vaguely-recent event in their records.

Caution: more than usually, I’m uncertain exactly how to interpret this thing; if people point out my errors in the comments, I’ll correct it. Anyone called Dr A who happens to be in the Waterman on Tuesday is also welcome to knock some sense into me over a pint.

Rice terraces in Yunnan, take 2

Caribbean brain coral

It’s not Rice terraces in Yunnan of course: it’s Caribbean brain coral, from the Royal Society photo competition. The winner, tadpoles, is cute, but looks to be a rip-off of the rather better newt. Unless its a common idea. The fish is good, too:

Going with the flow: schooling to avoid a predator

As is the snake. I like abstracts:

Sand has scales

A friend of mine, Ulrike Bauer, won the “Evolutionary Biology” category.