Don’t blame hurricanes Irma and Harvey on climate change? Says Alan Reynolds in Newsweek, although originally at Cato. But Michael Mann says he wants you to let @Newsweek know what you think about them running Koch-funded Cato Institute climate denial propaganda. But I only care because someone called “Lawrence Torcello‏”1 Tweeted Quoting Popper against climate science signals Pseudointellectualism.

Obviously, quoting Popper against any genuine Science must be wrong. Although equally obviously it can’t possibly, of itself, signal pseudo-intellectualism; it could simply signal stupidity or error. But the more extensive implicit claim – that quoting Popper against anything said about climate science must be bad – is obvious nonsense. But enough generalities, what of the present case?

Before going on, it might be helpful to read, say, Neptune’s revenge by mt, who cannot possibly be accused of being Koch-funded or anything of that ilk.

The core of the Newsweek article is attributing today’s extreme weather to “climate change” regardless of what happens ( maybe droughts, maybe floods ) is what the philosopher Karl Popper called “pseudoscience.” If some theory explains everything, it can’t be tested and it is therefore not science. (Popper’s favorite examples of pseudoscience were communism and psychoanalysis.) [The article also contains various stats and numbers that I wasn’t very interested in and didn’t trouble myself to check; and some other rather dubious assertions that are uninteresting but which would earn my ire if I could be bothered to analyse them.]

I think it is interesting to ask if Popper’s viewpoint has any explanatory power in the ever-widening debate about how to say something meaningful about the relationship between hurricanes and GW. So for example I think it was inevitable that Harvey and so on would be “blamed” on GW, but that if they hadn’t happened, that wouldn’t have cast doubt on GW. But that latter point is uninteresting, because there are so many lines of evidence for GW that it isn’t possible to honestly doubt it. The Newsweek article, though, is too un-nuanced in its accusations to be much use. I’ve read lots of pieces about the connection between Harvey etc and GW, and almost all of them have been pretty equivocal about the causal connection. But is there any testable theory that Harvey would be evidence for or against? Remember, whatever the theory is, it must be proof against the absence of Harvey last year, or the year before that. Perhaps More on Bayesian approaches to detection and attribution is relevant.

Anyway, I wondered (sea-ice betting having rather faded out due to lack of diverging opinions) if we could translate this into a bet. Does anyone think that “GW caused Harvey (or Irma, or whatever)” translates in any way into a meaningful prediction ability for next year, 2018? Or if the storm season for 2018 reverts to normal, will everyone be completely unsurprised? I’ll take the “revert to normal” side of the bet, of course. If anyone has $1,000 or above for the “Ha! 2018 will make 2017 look like a picnic!” side, we can discuss terms. Actually, you don’t need to be that extreme, I’m sure something far more moderate would do.

Incidentally, if 2018 did turn out anything like 2017, it might be time to revive a piece of pure speculation I made on sci.env perhaps 20 years ago now. I was talking about tornadoes in the Southern US, but the concept works as well for hurricanes: how much stronger / worse would they have to get, to make the entire area economically uninhabitable?2 People will rebuild from one year, and perhaps even from one year a decade, but not from every year.


1. Ah. He’s a Mann co-author and climate alarmist.

2. Eli catches up.


* Bonus Quotation of the Day at CH: on new ideas.
* Eli says that climate change increased the DAMAGE from these storms.
* Corporate leaders must reject Trump’s tariffs – Charles Koch in the WaPo.

Retread: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions?

Apparently, Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions? was so popular that it gets a retread. Despite the original being published in 20133, we’re now being told that Researchers have for the first time tied a group of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil, and their products to specific increases in greenhouse gases, global warming and sea level rise. A study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change concludes that since 1880, 90 of the largest carbon producers are responsible for up to 50 percent of global temperature rise, 57 percent of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and between 26 and 32 percent of global sea level rise. Don’t worry, people have memories like goldfish, and the meeja even less, no-one will notice or think to complain1.

The original – not that it was terribly original – was Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010 by Richard “just call me Dick” Heede2. The retread is The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers by a pile o’ people, include R Heede, but also Myles “seminal” Allen.

Just to remind you of why the whole thing is bollocks: customers emit CO2, not producers. Don’t blame the people that sold you a thing for your using it. Hopefully that’s bleedin’ obvious4.

The article in climateliabilitynews is unusually explicit in positively vaunting the political motives of this “science”: The research could open the door for those who have suffered losses due to climate change to sue major oil companies for damages. The study also links each individual company to its percentage impact on climate change. “This study could inform approaches of juries and judges who are looking to monetize damages,” said study lead author Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Not even a pretence of that ivory-tower impartiality so notable in the usual caricature of scientists.

1980 or 1960?

There’s a detail of the analysis worth snarking about. From the article: In the century prior to 1980, companies may not have been aware of the harm their products cause, Ekwurzel said. After 1980, the firms had sufficient scientific data showing carbon dioxide from burning the fossil fuel they produce was harmful. [Obligatory Exxon drivel elided] “Once it became clear no later than the 1960s that continuing CO2 emissions would progressively undermine the climate, the major carbon producers could see that they were marketing harmful products,” said Henry Shue, a professor emeritus of politics and international relations at Oxford University, wrote in a commentary published alongside the study.

So, what’s it going to be: 1960 or 1980? In the (IMHO unlikely) event that this nonsense ever turns into money, two decades will be a pile of dosh and lawyers fees and doubtless the expert witnesses can expect some, too. The “1960s” claim is by one “Henry Shue” in a commentary. I think it is bollox. Admittedly, he is emeritus, but really? OK, I suppose I’m obliged to find out who this old geyser is. He sort-of makes wiki, in the “Negative and positive rights”. Ah, he’s at Merton. Lovely place, but no real history of understanding climate science5.

Can I prove that “1960s” is bollox? Of course. Just consider the 1975 NAS report. Recall that I wrote that summary many years ago, when showing that the “global cooling” stuff was, also, bollox; so if anything I had an interest in exaggerating its “warming” credentials. And as I quote from the foreword, we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate. Which I gloss: “I believe that this is an accurate assessment of the state of knowledge at the time”.

One of the sources quoted by this idiot Shue (“Later in 1965, the President’s Science Advisory Committee issued a report treating CO2 as a pollutant, with an appendix on “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide””) is (US, White House 1965). And the report (well, the little bit of it that deals with CO2; notice, tellingly, that it is shuffled off to an appendix) says:

I’m not sure I’d say 1980s is right, either. But it would depend on what you meant. By then [update: IPCC ’90 was of course published in 1990, so represents the thinking of the late not early 1980’s], IPCC were saying Based on current models, we predict: under [BAU] increase of global mean temperature during the [21st] century of about 0.3 oC per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2 to 0.5 oC per decade); this is greater than that seen over the past 10,000 years; under other … scenarios which assume progressively increasing levels of controls, rates of increase in global mean temperature of about 0.2 oC [to] about 0.1 oC per decade so certainly predicting future warming. But they weren’t signing up to attribution at that point: Our judgement is that: global mean surface air temperature has increased by 0.3 to 0.6 oC over the last 100 years…; The size of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability. Thus the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability; alternatively this variability and other human factors could have offset a still larger human-induced greenhouse warming. The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect is not likely for a decade or more.


0. Pic: seracs, Barre des Ecrins. One day I must learn how to do captions.

1. Other than a few grumpy old men, but they can just be ignored.

2. I know, I know. Forgive me. Also I used the same “joke” last time.

3. The published date is 2014 but my blog is from 2013; doubtless in the usual tedious way it was trailed by glowing clouds of PR.

4. I see form the comments last time that it isn’t; so I’ll say in advance: trying to palm our responsibilities off on other people is pathetic evasion. You buy and burn oil, that’s your decision. Don’t blame the guy you bought it from.

5. Though they did some good early work on physics.


While I was away having fun in the mountains, I rudely ignored a number of comments on the blog that I’d normally answer. I could answer them in place, but if I did that now, no-one would notice, hence this post. Did I rudely ignore your fine comment here, too? Then tell me. But first, a picture: walking from La Berarde up towards the Pilatte hut.

The rule of law

Q: When will we see ‘tailpipes’ on cars as morally wrong? An Earth Day question

The similarity to smoking ban in public places seems an obvious similarity to draw.

My thoughts:

One difference between smoking and ICE cars is that it is cheaper and not essential to smoke, however electric cars are more expensive and some travel is essential. Consequently I can see reasons for such a movement not gaining much ground for the next couple of years. Fortunately it may not be much longer before electric cars are cheaper and then there is no reason for sales not to be banned in fairly short order along the same lines as smoking to protect innocent other people. Indeed Norway is already talking about banning ICE cars by 2025. If all countries did so, we might have difficulty in making enough electric cars by 2025. The more this is talked about, the more car companies will realise it is coming and prepare and the sooner it will be possible to put such a ban in place.

So morals should demand that we should talk about it to encourage it to become possible to put such a ban on sales of ICE cars in place sooner.

What is the libertarian counterargument? That we should be allowed to make decisions that deliberately harm other people?

A: Ha, you mistake me for an L theorist. I will attempt to guess an answer: they would likely say that the evidence for the public smoking ban (i.e. for damage from secondary smoke) was weak enough to not justify government action. Damage from cars definitely exists, and yet most of the population benefits, and almost all of the population that can afford a car, buys one; and hence are in a poor position to complain. My suspicion is that Electric will take rather longer to come in than some rosy estimates, so this problem will be around for a while yet.

Economic denialism?

And some more denial.

A: Meh. If you’re going to get excited by every dumb thing Trump does, you’re going to be permanently excited, which is bad for you. As for the committee, you have to get a long way down the article before you find The committee was established in 2015, but its members were not appointed until last summer. They convened their first meeting in the fall.

>How about the rest of the species on this planet? Not a single economy out there, let alone a discount rate.

This is what I don’t get: much of biology is made out of economies (there’s a whole discipline called Ecology for starters), and yet most economists seem to have zero idea about the fundamental set of relationships that pay the bills. By Pay The Bills, I mean a) provide oxygen for those of us who breath, b) feed all the humans on the planet, and c) provide livable environments/moderate climates.

I find it bizarre that ECOnomics is solely concerned with human financial relationships, while our unbelievably fantastic and generous Growth Economy continues to unsustainably eat away at both “our” biological capital and the very systems that provide food and oxygen. The dismal science indeed…

A: I have some sympathy for this viewpoint. As I’ve said many times in the past, it seems to me likely to be the major impact of GW, but very hard to quantify. That said, we’re not and won’t be short of oxygen, and current crop yields are increasing, not decreasing.

Study of company documents, peer-reviewed papers and newspaper ads claims to show how the oil giant tried to cast doubt on climate science…

But economics!!! The company clearly got its money’s worth….

A: Meh. Retread; nothing new.

Somewhat higher up, coming down from Pilatte.

NASA scientists seek to improve sea ice predictions

An excellent idea, you might well have thought. But that leads me to look at the annual Sea Ice Outlook (SIO) aka SIPN. Here are some pix:




[2013: everyone underestimated. 2012 was massively low, and everyone overestimated.

If you’d just predicted from extrapolating the OLS line-fit, then 2015 and 2016 would have been very close, and 2014 would have been within ~0.4. I think that OLS extrapolation should be considered the “null method” (comparable to weather forecasting, where the null method is “the same as yesterday”). Measured against that, all the techniques fail; at least when looked at in this aggregated scale. I’m not trying to suggest it is an easy problem, mind you. The lack of significant improvement in forecasting three, two or one months ahead is notable, too. Except maybe for the models, in 2016? But that could be chance (I mean, chance in the sense of having a situation amenable to being modelled). The SIO summary for 2016 does say The SIO reports should start making some comments on forecast skill for those teams who have submitted forecasts for many years, or for those teams who submit or have published the skill of retrospective forecasts. Which does sound like a good idea. Does anyone else make any attempt to assess these?

This year’s extent is shaping up to be dull.


* JA reviews “Practice and philosophy of climate model tuning across six US modeling centers”.
* Delingpole freezes over.
* Reality Only SEEMS to be Easier to Understand If It’s Interpreted as a Battle Between the Forces of Good and the Forces of Evil.