Authors retract paper linking nuclear power to slow action on climate change

nukes Look! No question mark in my title. This is from a post on retraction watch about “Nuclear energy and path dependence in Europe’s ‘Energy union’: coherence or continued divergence?” by Andrew Lawrence, Benjamin Sovacool, and Andrew Stirling, Climate Policy, 2016; 16 (5): 622 DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2016.1179616.

Given the title and conclusions the pro-nuke folk weren’t likely to like it, and it looks like they were right not to like it. Two criticisms (linked from the RW article, another I’ll skip because it was too shrill) are by Stephen Tindale and Suzanna Hinson and Nicholas Thompson. Those two crits cover the broad range from, effectively, the broad-scale methodology doesn’t make sense to the numbers are wrong. The numbers are wrong in many ways: simply mis-transcribed, calculated in the wrong way, and without reference to how the time period chosen affects the results. They also do questionable things with averaging: does it make sense to average an emission reduction, as a percentage, across Italy and Malta when the latter, in terms of absolute emissions, is tiny? I think you would expect at least some discussion of this point in the original paper, but it is absent. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt to evaluate statistical significant of the results either1. On a more broad scale, the first criticism questions whether the groupings of the paper make any sense, which seems like a fair comment.

FWIW my own guess would be that the factors influencing renewables and nukes in a country are sufficiently idiosyncratic that this crude level of analysis would be unlikely to be useful.


1. Don’t miss their delightful response which, errm, fully answers the statistical issue. Errm.

Photogenic teens sue US government

To be fair, only one of them is known to be photogenic1. Bizarrely, according to Slate, the young plaintiffs “range in age from 9 to 20”2. Brian reports but doesn’t comment on the weirdness of having 9-year-olds suing in the courts. Are we really to believe that a 9-year-old has sufficient command of the issues? It seems utterly weird to me, more of a piece of performance art than a real thing, but the USA is a funny place. Apparently,

climate change violates their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property by causing direct harm and destroying so-called public trust assets such as coastlines.

This sounds like just the sort of judicial overreach that got Trump elected; not a point Brian considers. Coastlines, assuming they are “public trust assets”, aren’t your property so even if they were destroyed that wouldn’t violate your right to property. And of course they won’t be destroyed, they’ll just migrate inland. The invocation of “liberty” is, umm, I was going to say bizarre but I’ve used that already, perhaps I’ll just say hard to understand. And “life”? Cars kill many many more people in the USA than climate change presently does, or even than would in the future for any plausible forecast. So should they not sue to ban cars instead? No, of course not. Firstly, it would be doomed, because USAnians like cars even more than they like guns-n-pizza. And secondly, because there’s a trade off: cars kill people, but they also provide benefits that people like. Burning fossil fuels is exactly the same, although perhaps that’s hard for a 9-year-old to understand.


the children and their lawyers say these government actions are willfully prioritizing short-term profit, convenience, and the concerns of current generations over those of future generations. The plaintiffs state that the government and these companies have continued to prioritize these short-term gains for more than five decades with full knowledge of the extreme dangers they posed.

I’m not sure this makes sense. They claim the government and the Evil Corporations have been prioritising short-term gains – let’s say “short term” means “decadal”, shall we, since they provide no clear definition themselves – for the last five decades at least. And that “short termism”, iterated for at least five intervals of short-term time, has clearly brought great material prosperity. So it can’t really be considered a short-term strategy. And are the winsome teens proposing to give up that prosperity? Of course along with that prosperity has come many problems, not uniformly distributed along with the prosperity, and not by any means restricted to the USA, though I’m not sure the court case considers harm to non-USA-type folk to be terribly important.

This in turn is just the to-the-present-day version of the familiar problem: that all the standard scenarios say that our descendants will be richer – in a material sense; they are responsible for their own metaphysical welfare; though I suppose they won’t be too happy if we f*ck over all the wildlife – than we are. So you can call it “short termism” if you like, but other people will call it “making us all richer”. Since these are the people who disagree with you, why do you think this is likely to convince them?

The fight to Do Something about GW is multi-faceted, and although my preferred route would be to convince people it is a good idea to Do Something (well, a carbon tax in fact, though I confess my efforts to persuade people of the bleedin’ obvious have not been successful so far) rather than sue them into doing something3, I can’t complain too much if other people prefer the grand theatre of the court system. And standing unbending on the Moral High Ground is so much more satisfying than arguing for a carbon tax. And I don’t suppose 9-year-olds are going to really understand the complexities of the process anyway. But I do wonder if now is a great time to be doing this. The case, inevitably, will go to the supreme court if it isn’t dismissed earlier. And so will concentrate the minds of Trump, and his advisors, on making damn sure that those he appoints will not pass this case. You’ll likely say – correctly – that he doesn’t need any more pressure to appoint the sort of judges who would oppose cases-like-this; but in that case, what’s the point, other than a few feel-good headlines?


1. I lie; see See-also this pic – is that a familiar green hat I see in the background?

2. Ah: “…and Dr. James Hansen, acting as guardian for future generations.” Oddly, neither Slate or Brian mention that.

3. Similarly, Brexit, where I’d rather the losers didn’t try to “win” through the courts.

4. From where I find the judgement itself (Brian’s link didn’t work for me). I wrote this post from Brian’s post and the Slate article; I suppose I’m going to have at least pretend to read a vast slab of legalese now.

The judgement

I pressed “post”, as noted above, before reading the judgement. Some of it is interesting. For example, This lawsuit is not about proving that climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it. For the purposes of this motion, those facts are undisputed.3 It is good to see that, although “climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it” is one thing “those facts are undisputed.3” is somewhat different, as you’ll see if you follow footnote 3. Which is:

For the purposes of this motion, I proceed on the understanding that climate change exists, is caused by humans, and poses a serious threat to our planet. Defendants [state] that “[c]limate change poses a monumental threat to Americans’ health and welfare by driving long-lasting changes in our climate, leading to an array of severe negative effects, which will worsen over time.”… Obama declared “[n]o challenge … poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” … When asked… intervenors declined to take a clear position.

So while I’m not entirely happy that the addition of “and poses a serious threat to our planet” occurs only in a footnote, and I’m not totally happy with the failure to resolve that against the rather stronger assertions form the teens; I do admit they have Obama on their side. And the bit about the other side shuffling their feet, looking embarassed, but not actually finding anything coherent to say, is nice.

The bit where it gets bad is the immeadiately following:

The questions before the Court are whether defendants are responsible for some of the harm caused by climate change…

which appears to totally fail to understand that this has to be a cost-benefit problem. Burning fossil fuels has costs. It also has benefits, otherwise people wouldn’t do it (duh). If the case really is that badly one-sided then it is doomed to fare badly further up the chain.

Plaintiffs adequately allege injury in fact

I kid you not, the judge has accepted Plaintiff Zealand B. alleges he has been unable to ski during the winter as a result of decreased snowpack. as an example of “injury in fact”. What a bunch of special snowflakes these people are.


* Basic Geo-Engineering or Cosmic Rays Bite the Particulates – Eli
* Trump could face the ‘biggest trial of the century’ — over climate change – WaPo

Economists agree: economic models underestimate climate change?

action Tis David Roberts, at Vox. I say that up front because although I’m pretty sure I’ve disagreed with him on just this kind of stuff before, I can’t find it now. Although maybe I was thinking of the related How much is climate change going to cost us? at Grist, which is presumably much the same thing. DR starts with:

It’s fairly well-established at this point that there’s a robust scientific consensus about the threat of climate change. But analysts and journalists often say (or imply) that there’s less of an economic consensus, that economists are leery of the actions recommended by scientists because of their cost.

The bit about the scientific consensus isn’t in doubt; but “economists are leery of the actions recommended by scientists because of their cost” reads oddly. As we all know, there is an economic consensus on a carbon tax, which I share. But what does “actions recommended by scientists” mean? If I go to Expert Consensus on the Economics of Climate Change which is what DR’s article is based on I find the scientific community has developed widespread consensus that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is necessary, which I think is reasonable, as a representation of the views of scientists. However I think I’d argue that those views are subtly wrong, because they mis-state’s scientists place in the process. (Climate) scientists get to investigate, determine that GW is happening and will proceed in such-and-such a way in the future under certain conditions (principally, emission scenarios). However they don’t have any especially privileged position as regards “policy recommendations” as to what to do about it. Why should they? Their expertise is in the science, not in economics or in policy. They can – rightly – complain if politicians do nothing about GW. So I think economists are leery of the actions recommended by scientists is entirely likely, and likely to be both a correct reflection of economists views, and that the said views of the said economists are likely to be correct, too (the title also doesn’t make sense, of itself. Should it read economic models underestimate economic impacts of climate change? That would make sense, as a question. But I won’t waste time on titles).

At that point I realised the survey was from 2015 and I’ve already blogged about it. FFS.

Other than that there’s a lot of confusion about “climate model” and failing to distinguish physical from economic, which I think is a poor show; and then there’s the standard stuff about social cost of carbon and discount rates, but there’s nothing new in that, of course.

In the end, as I said before, what’s most interesting about the survey of economists is the degree to which they think Something Should Be Done. As the graph I’ve inlined at the top shows, a clear majority, 56%, plump for “very serious” as the answer to “If nothing is done to limit climate change in the future, how serious of a problem do you think it will be for the United States?” and 50% go for “Immediate and drastic action is necessary” as the answer to “Which of the following best describes your views about climate change?” So it is pretty odd the way everyone beats up on the Evil Economists; it is almost like people are fighting strawmen.


* Peak Oil Was Correct – It’s Just It Was Peak Demand, Not Peak Supply

Trump’s Plan to Eliminate NASA Climate Research Is Ill-Informed and Dangerous?

Ah, excellent. I was looking for a post to hang my musings off, and Phil Plait’s rant is a splendid peg. Not only that, but via fb I find this charming astronomer fox in Discarding Images; it is clear that the stars have aligned so I’ll proceed.

PP is not just sad but outraged that

In an interview with the Guardian, Bob Walker, a senior Trump adviser, said that Trump will eliminate NASA’s Earth science research. This is the mission directorate of NASA that, among other important issues, studies climate change

and so on. And if you read the Graun’s headline Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’ you might get much the same idea. Or even if you read the Graun “paraphrasing” what Bob Walker said, you get Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said. However, if you read what he actually said you find something rather different:

“We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission. My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing Nasa programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies.”

[Note that I have deliberately truncated that quote to remove all the goo and dribble about “politicised science” because whilst it is undoubtedly part of their motive, it is also deeply stupid, and not really relevant to what I want to talk about.]

I doubt that were such a shakeup to occur, all that would happen is that the funding would transfer to other agencies. Almost inevitably the sort of folk that DT would select would choose to cut some science in the process. And perhaps you might like the idea of climate science being mingled into NASA, and thus hard to cut cleanly, rather than being in some clearly labelled and easily attackable or defundable agaency. But that’s a political or bureaucratic defence, and obviously not one that can be put openly, so let’s not discuss it.

Regrettably PP (and everyone else I’ve seen commenting on this) is so utterly and blindly outraged (The motivation behind this is clear: Utter and complete denial of science… the modern day Joseph McCarthy… the Earth is a planet, and studying it, studying its climate and our effect on it, is absolutely part of NASA’s mission) that he doesn’t even pause for a moment to wonder if DT’s people have a point.

Why does NASA do climate research?

NASA is a large organisation and doubtless does lots of things. Some of which probably connected together in sensible ways in the past; but that’s no reason they should continue that way in the future. Sending probes to Pluto has very little to do with running GCMs (notice: I said very little, not none. Please don’t bother point out that people run GCMs of Mars and Jupiter and so on).

One upon a time NASA knew lots about launching rockets, which was useful for putting climate-type satellites into orbit. But more and more (just today: SpaceX wins contract to launch NASA Earth science mission; also ULA in general) other people can do that. So the need for a tight connection to NASA is much less obvious now.

I did the smallest amount of legwork consistent with my elastic conscience and found which is nominally NASA Earth science. But it doesn’t even mention modelling, so clearly isn’t the full story.

Anyway, the question I wanted to ask my readership is the title of this section. Why should NASA do this stuff, rather than someone else? Answers of the nature of “well, it grew up this way, and would be painful to disentangle” won’t get you any points.

I wandered over to WUWT, confident that I’d find myself on the same side as them and then having to desperately explain why that’s all right. But instead I found State of the art weather satellite launched over the weekend promises huge gains in many areas by Anthony Watts / 2 days ago November 21, 2016: NOAA’s GOES-R satellite launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida this weekend at 6;42pm on November 19, 2016 wherein they’re being positively enthusiastic about NASA. But, there’s just now an Eric Worrall rant about “Trump Crackdown on “Politicized Science”: NASA Climate Division to be Stripped of Funding”. EW is a nutter, of course.

Update: Gavin – oddly enough – has some interesting things to say. Although he doesn’t address my question so loses prescience points. Doesn’t he look smug in the picture though? Just the sort of liberal elitist to wind up the rednecks.

Update: via Gavin – it’s him again! On Twitter I find, and it is kinda interesting: When NASA was first created by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, it was given the role of developing technology for “space observations,” but it wasn’t given a role in Earth science… Other agencies of the federal government were responsible for carrying out Earth science research… cross-agency research failed during the 1970s, though, due to the bad economy and… congressional leaders wanted to see NASA doing more research toward “national needs.” These needs included things like energy efficiency, pollution, ozone depletion and climate change. In 1976, Congress revised the Space Act to give NASA authority to carry out stratospheric ozone research, formalizing the agency’s movement into the Earth sciences… Declining planetary funding and growing scientific interest in the Earth’s climate caused planetary scientists to start studying the Earth. It was closer, and much less expensive, to do research on. And NASA followed suit, starting to plan for an Earth observing system aimed at questions of “global change.” This phrase included climate change as well as changes in land use, ocean productivity and pollution. But the Earth science program that it established was modeled on NASA’s space and planetary science programs, not the old Applications program. NASA developed the technology and funded the science. In 1984, Congress again revised the Space Act, broadening NASA’s Earth science authority from the stratosphere to “the expansion of human knowledge of the Earth.”

And so on. So you can try replying to the question with the answer “because Congress told it to!” (the Tweet does this) which is true, but of course is then vulnerable to the answer “fine. But now we’re telling you to stop.”


* The Real Climate Catastrophe – Gavin (again!)
* Plus ca change (NASA US Election Edition) – Eli reminisces.
* A Portrait of a Man Who Knows Nothing About Climate Change by Jonathan Chait. Not a good article, but does make the obvious point that Trump’s lack of commitment to the cause of climate-science denial is rooted in a comprehensive failure to grasp the issue but then fails to understand the consequences of his own point.
* Threat to NASA climate role a ‘disaster’ for global warming action: researchers including our Stefan
* Impact of ocean resolution on coupled air-sea fluxes and large-scale climate – Hadley folk: Malcolm J. Roberts, Helene T. Hewitt et al. DOI: 10.1002/2016GL070559
* Tracing global supply chains to air pollution hotspots – Daniel Moran and Keiichiro Kanemoto, Environmental Research Letters, Volume 11, Number 9, 2016.
* Five reasons why cutting NASA’s climate research would be a colossal mistake
* More besides-the-point ranting if you’re interested.



A response to a response to a proportionate response

13680412_1143628295702102_1239075109939584992_o In A proportionate response to Trump’s climate plans?” I reported RT’s opinion that WTO rules only permit border taxes if there is an equivalent domestic tax. VV, no great fan of Tol, replied

William, a scientific article published this May came by on Twitter. It states: “The implementation of such measures is likely to be technically possible under WTO rules (Veel, 2009 Veel, P.-E. (2009). Carbon tariffs and the WTO: An evaluation of feasible policies. Journal of International Economic Law, 12(3), 749–800. doi: 10.1093/jiel/jgp031; Zhang, 2009 Zhang, Z. (2009). Multilateral trade measures in a post-2012 climate change regime? What can be taken from the Montreal Protocol and the WTO? Energy Policy, 37(12), 5105–5112. doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2009.07.020) and a credible threat.”

Veel is a good reference, and also the top Google hit for “are carbon tariffs permissible under WTO rules”. You need to be very careful with words like “technically possible” because that includes vast wads of not easily digestible verbiage and legalese about whether the idea would be in principle even possible, before then going on to even more words to consider under what specific conditions that “technically” might be satisfied by. As far as I can see, the end result of all that is tht RT is broadly correct and VV’s hopes will be dashed, as will Chris Hope’s, even more than I previously though.

If there is anyone out there who can actually be bothered to wade through all of Veel in detail, or who has other more easily digested refs available, I’d be very grateful for pointers.

Reading Veel shows that this stuff isn’t new (which is interesting; I don’t see the meeja reports on the present proposals (note, BTW, that Sarko is out so all this stuff is probably dust until the next pol wants to say something populist aanywaay) having pointed that out); see e.g. NYT from 2006.

Perhaps more amusingly, it also points to a José Manuel Durão Barroso speech from 2008 which sayeth

We are however conscious of the need to allow the industrial sector to adapt. Energy intensive industries face a particular challenge during the transition, and especially those exposed to international competition from countries without low carbon measures. There would be no point in pushing EU companies to cut emissions if the only result is that production and indeed pollution shifts to countries with no carbon disciplines at all. Of course, an international agreement would reduce, or even remove, this risk. Sectoral agreements would also help. But in case of need, I think we should also be ready to continue to give the energy intensive industries their ETS allowances free of charge, or to require importers to obtain allowances alongside European competitors, as long as such a system is compatible with WTO requirements.

Note that JMDB isn’t sure that the WTO would be happy. Note also that he does think domestic and international “tariffs” would have to match.

The obvious implication from this would therefore not be to tax imports at the social cost of carbon type price which Chris Hope proposed – around $150 / tonne CO2e – but instead at the ETS trading rate – around €5 per tonne CO2e (whether you tax them at that rate or require them to buy ETS credits at that rate I’m not sure). $150 versus €5 is dramatically different. Continuing reading from Veel I find (skipping over vast mountains of legalese I was not very interested in):

1. The types of taxes amenable to border tax adjustment. As noted above, the essence of carbon tariffs — particularly those being examined by the EU and the USA—is that they are measures which are designed to force importers of goods to bear the same charge for emitting a given quantity of CO2 in the course of production of those goods as do domestic producers.

Which again looks to be the same conclusion: you can’t tax the US at the full social cost, whilst taxing your own people at the very much lower ETS cost.

Sea ice: wossup?

turn Sea ice, having been rather dull this summer – though it was also briefly interesting in April / May – has suddenly become really quite interesting. Which is odd; the minimum is usually the only time anyone pays attention.

Tamino has a nice post as does Mark Brandon and so does every man and his rabbit. What does that leave me to say? I have to fill in quite a few lines before I get to the bottom of my inset image, after all.

While NH ice is clearly low – indeed, a record for the time of year – it will look much less exciting if it recovers (duh!); just as in summer the April / May excursion became less exciting. MB does a better job, by actually analysing the patterns to some extent, from which you might begin to attribute why it is behaving as it is, which is after all the interesting bit; few people care about the ice for its own sake.

Speaking of which, what about the Antarctic, and by extension the global ice extent? The Antarctic is much more interesting that the Arctic, after all.

Update: Antarctic sea ice 2016: Historic lows by Mark Brandon • November 24, 2016.

The downside of the Antarctic stuff, of course, is that we’ve spent years explaining why the growth of ice there isn’t terribly surprising oh no not at all. Browsing my past, I discover that just in August I was less than convinced by Antarctica’s sea ice said to be vulnerable to sudden retreat? (OTOH I’m happy to say that the DEVM is now looking pretty good even for 8DPSK). However, I don’t think that was intended to apply on the interannual timescale. But how time flies! It looks like it was way back in 2012 that I was waving away the increase based on Paul Holland’s analysis (wind driven). Eli (bizarrely, IMO, because he’s quoting a Curry paper that I didn’t like) attributed the increase to snowfall; SKS seem to go for “its complicated” but what all these analyses have in common is that they didn’t predict the change, and – at least at the moment – don’t provide any explanation for the sudden decrease.

Quite possibly the lack of prediction or explanation is because the answer is “its weather”, but in that case its also dull. Vastly more interesting would be if the retreat that “should” be there in the Antarctic but has been “masked” for years has finally kicked in. Only time will tell.


* Silly me to be puzzled. Phil Plait knows exactly what is going on.

A proportionate response to Trump’s climate plans?

An interesting article by Chris Hope (a climate change policy researcher, PAGE model developer, and faculty member at Cambridge Judge Business School, interested in environment and energy; archive) of – oh dear – Arctic methane ‘time bomb’ could have huge economic costs fame. But never mind that. CH looks at Sarkozy’s mooted plans to levy a “carbon tax” on US goods if trump leads the US out of the Paris agreement.

Tol, in the comments, correctly points out that France couldn’t do this alone: it would have to be EU-wide. Never mind, pretend its a EU wide plan. Tol, in the comments, points out that WTO rules only permit border taxes if there is an equivalent domestic tax which if you think about it is fair enough. If you’re going to penalise the US, you should be penalising domestic folk too. You can’t penalise the US just for storming out of your favourite agreement in a huff. But you could probably finesse that if you could demonstrate that your membership of Paris had imposed equivalent tariffs on domestic production. However, lay that aside and consider the proposal assuming it is possible.

Which brings me to part 2, which is CH’s rough calculation of the tariffs required. His numbers, which I won’t check, are that $1000 of production costs 0.4 tonnes of CO2-equiv, and the EU-cost of a tonne2 is $150. Which is $60 per $1000, or an implied tax rate of 6%. Whether you agree or not, it is interesting to see the numbers written out like that. And of course you could put in your own pet cost of carbon; and you could fiddle it into energy cost per dollar for particular industries, if you wanted to make it too complicated to be usable.

How does that compare with the tariffs that are actually imposed? I find I haven’t a clue. The top Google hit is Trade in goods and customs duties in TTIP (TTIP! Horrors! Remember to hiss under your breath at the very sight of the initials). It says At just under 2%, average [I do hope they mean value-weighted, let’s hope so] customs duties between the EU and the US are generally low. But the average hides a different situation for individual products1. So, 6% is bigger than 2%. But, since the US wouldn’t actually do a great deal under Paris in the near future even if it doesn’t leave, there’s no obvious reason why you’d whack on the full 6% immeadiately; it would be more reasonable to ramp up slowly. So you could just do nothing at all, except label the existing tariffs as “carbon tariffs”, if you were feeling somewhat dishonest.


1. The document is mad, of course. Or rather, reveals the madness of existing policy (and not just in the EU). [F]or train carriages… the EU charges only 1.7% on imports from the US. WTF? Why do we charge any duty at all on train carriages? Let alone having a special category for it. No wonder we’re drowning in bloody stupid regulations when things like this are allowed to occur. It continues The EU wants to remove these duties and other barriers to trade… but doesn’t explain why, if the EU wants to remove duty on train carriages (and it bloody well should) it doesn’t simply do so; instead of pratting around producing stupid documents. But I digress.

2. Clarified. Happy now ;-?


* Trump carbon and the Paris agreement – RC
* Slate Star Codex – You Are Still Crying Wolf; via Scott Adams (If you insist that Trump would have to be racist to say or do whatever awful thing he just said or did, you are giving him too much credit. Trump is just randomly and bizarrely terrible. Sometimes his random and bizarre terribleness is about white people, and then we laugh it off. Sometimes it’s about minorities, and then we interpret it as racism.)