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?

The British political establishment seems to be moving more towards climate change denial, which is worse than the previous stance of acknowledging the problem while doing virtually nothing to address it?

My, what a long title. But its a quote from RN in a comment on my IPCC 5th Assessment Review post.

And since this butts head on into something I’ve been thinking for a while, but not said, I’ll write it down. Don’t call me too bitter or cynical, please. And just for the moment, don’t demand references either – this is all stream of thought.

So: for a number of years now, starting at some unknown point – possibly around Cameroon’s ridiculous dancing-with-huskies moment, but most likely more nebulous and earlier – the British political scene went soppy green. Windmills sprouted, solar panels were subsidised, and commitments made – and even passed into law – to decarbonise the economy, with no apparent thought to the cost. I was baffled. Not only were people speaking some of the right words, sometimes even in the right order and at the right times, they were making what appeared to be hard commitments. But what they weren’t really doing was making it clear who was going to pay for it all, which I found worrying. That is, in the end, the acid test. Which we failed.

For when “hard” times came – and, having wandered today around the heart of Cambridge Christmas shopping, those times are really not very hard at all – suddenly even rather minor pledges to pay started to look expensive and the pols started backing off. The most obvious sign of this is the “green levy” or whatever its called, put on fuel bills to pay for the likes of rooftop solar panels. We got some solar panels but I was never really clear who was paying the bills – the money comes from the power companies (or will, when we get round to finishing off the forms) – but obviously these companies aren’t going to give away money for free. I had assumed it was govt (i.e., our tax) money being recycled, somehow. But no! it turns out to be a levy on everyone’s energy bills. And when bills are going up and the supposedly-reticent-and-stuff-upper-lip-but-actually-as-whiney-as-everyone-else Brits see increased fuel bills (presuambly at least some people do read their fuel bills) and ask “why are they going up” and the govt shamelessly tries to blame it on evil fuel companies, then naturally the companies fight back and throw mud in the water with “no! its your green levy wot did it” and suddenly govt support just melts away.

Get to the point

Anyway, back to my point: during the “long” boom up to, whenever, 2007, when we all felt rich and expansive, the public said they wanted greenery and the pols said “yeah!” But it was shallow. No-one thought much about the cost – well, economist types thought about costs, but economists are dull so who’s going to listen to them? Certainly no-one cool.

Public opinion wasn’t prepared for costs-vs-benefits, and suddenly costs matter again. The pols bow to the wind. In a way I’m pleased – the previous policy consensus smacked rather too much of fairyland. It was untested by any real opposition. The opposition now is facile and unthinking, if they’re dumb enough to think that attacking the IPCC is a good idea. But if the good guys can’t beat off idiots like that, how are they going to cope against competent opponents that are sane enough to look at the weak spots, rather than the strong points?


Minister to admit failure on key climate change emissions target – me 2006.

Energy and Climate Change committee: new inquiry: IPCC 5th Assessment Review

So, da UK Energy and Climate Change committee is having an “inquiry” into IPCC 5th Assessment Review. I’m not sure why. This will be a review of a review, which could itself be reviewed, which will end in endless regress? More likely it will fizzle away into nothing. Myles Allen appears to be suggesting that the ctte are bozos (not in so many words, of course. That would be unparliamentary. Instead, he says things like the thrust of the committee’s questions does raise concerns that the committee has allowed itself to be misled in this regard or As an aside, it seems strange to ask about the economic implications of a report that is explicitly and exclusively focused on Physical Science or This question is so broad that almost any answer is possible), which may well be correct. Myles has several other rather sensible things to say, many of which reflect my concerns. For example:

The problem with IPCC’s response to criticisms of previous assessments is that the focus has been entirely on formalizing procedures, whereas the reports ultimately depend on the collective scientific judgment of IPCC authors and reviewers.

This chimes with things I’ve said – or perhaps just thought – before; and not just about the IPCC, but about life in general.

One shouldn’t take this “inquiry” too seriously. This is the sort of things pols do as part of living and breathing. For example, they’re having an inquiry into the Outcomes of Warsaw COP 19, an event so pointless that I didn’t even bother to mock it.

You can read the written submissions. Aaaaaanndd the result is: everyone has said exactly what you’d expect them to say. Some usual nutters say the usual things – bonus points for the Star Trek analogy though. Its always helpful for a committee like this, with lots of stuff to wade through, for people to write “yes, I really am a nutter” in bold type right up front, so they can ignore you more conveniently.

I can’t say I read much of it. There are fewer responses than might be expected – I suspect that many people didn’t take it seriously. I did read one of the less usual folk – Professor (aside: prof? According to the EPS he is a humble Dr, and is retired. Which wouldn’t be odd, because he’s 85 years old) Pierre Darriulat – who said (when he isn’t saying A good guide to make such a critical review is the NIPCC report; fortunately, he’s not dumb enough to say that twice):

To what extent does AR5 reflect the range of views among climate scientists? While it is easy to find a vast majority of scientists who consider that evaluating the potential danger of an excessive (whatever it means) emission of C02 is of utmost importance, they will usually recognize that our current knowledge prevents making reliable predictions and they will not see it as urgent to take decisions. However, in most cases, on the basis of their relying on the precautionary principle, they would mostly be for considering seriously ways to limit in the long term, our C02 emissions. They will agree that no decision should be taken under pressure, but should take due consideration for economic, financial, social and geopolitical considerations for which they do not claim particular competence (other than as ordinary citizens).

I’ve pulled this out not because its interesting in itself, but because it does the usual: fails to answer the question, and instead veers off into the responders pet obsession: in this case, not science, but policy.

But enough fluff. What of reality?

I’m glad you asked. All this chatter reflecting the blogospheric world doesn’t reflect the real world. In which we get responses like:

* The fundamental consensus on climate change science has not changed, and there is overwhelming evidence that supports the causal link between human activity, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change.
* Climate change is a global issue, and so international collective action will be critical in driving an efficient and equitable response on the scale required to meet our climate challenges.
* EDF Energy agrees with the statement made by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change at the IPCC launch event on 1st October 2013 that the Fifth Assessment Report “…should be a catalyst to renew efforts and meet the challenge head on.”

(Written evidence submitted by EDF Energy (IPC0043)).


* How robust are the conclusions in the AR5 Physical Science Basis report? The Government considers that the conclusions of the AR5 Physical Science Basis report are robust. The report was produced by over 850 independent expert scientists, all leaders in their fields (209 Lead Authors, 50 Review Editors and Over 600 Contributing Authors). The report took over 2 years to produce and underwent multiple rounds of expert review. It was also reviewed by the 194 governments which form the IPCC. They have all accepted the findings.
* To what extent does AR5 reflect the range of views among climate scientists? The Government understands that the IPCC Working Group I Report assessed all relevant peer-reviewed climate research and modelling undertaken since 2007. As already noted the report was produced by over 850 independent expert scientists from all over the world, many being leaders in their fields (209 Lead Authors, 50 Review Editors and Over 600 Contributing Authors). Then the author teams considered the comments of 1000 reviewers. The report reflects any lack of consensus through the use of confidence levels throughout. Thus, the Government is confident that the assessment takes into account the full range of the wealth of recent research and the conclusions of its authors, plus the full range of views of climate scientists, because of the thorough and open review process.

(Written evidence submitted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (IPC0025)). Note, BTW, that the govt is intelligent enough to actually answer the question.

Or, put another way, “Piss off pygmies”.

Meanwhile, at the Keeling Curve

You’ll note the button for “support the Keeling Curve”. This, too, I haven’t investigated in detail (can the US Govt really be not continuing this stuff? That would be mad. Even Bush didn’t do that) but Eli assures me its a good thing.

Evaluating Obama’s speech: follow the money

Need I say more?


Source: QS. Oh go on then. I’ll say more. Here’s a different pic:


which is from whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan. Or you can read the PDF. So, full marks for heart-in-the-right-place kind of stuff, and of course he’s fighting a Congress stuffed full of wackos.

The bit that seems to have got most attention – e.g. from the Graun is

But his boldest move by far was the decision to bypass a deadlocked Congress and issue an executive memo to the Environmental Protection Agency, calling for new rules curbing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants… However, the measure ran into fierce opposition from Republicans and industry, even before Obama had delivered his speech.

What the plan actually says is

President Obama is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency to work expeditiously to complete carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants. This work will build on the successful first-term effort to develop greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. In developing the standards, the President has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to build on state leadership, provide flexibility, and take advantage of a wide range of energy sources and technologies includingmany actions in this plan.

I think if I were a coal seller I wouldn’t be too unhappy with that language – its all tolerably vague.

[Update: I’d assumed QS had cached the pic, but he hadn’t. So I’ve replaced it with a 5-day pic that still shows yesterday’s rise clearly.]


* Critics call Obama’s climate change plan a ‘war on coal’

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/us/critics-call-obamas-climate-change-plan-a-war-on-coal-693148/#ixzz2XJ53Q0i7

Saturday morning breakfast cereal editon

Popcorn time again, it seems. Starting at the end, Anthony Watts is “threatening” to sue Greg Laden. Although from that, its hard to see why. Going back to the bottom, GL originally took the piss out of AW for believing in sky fairies. Phil Plait (“No, Diatoms Have Not Been Found in a Meteorite”) patiently points out why these particular fairies are unreal; PZ Myers is rather less patient, and appears to call AW a crackpot. GL doesn’t seem terribly worried by AW, which seems reasonable.

What exactly is AW complaining about? He says:

I spent yesterday conferring with lawyers about the smear that Greg Laden made against me (see here)

That post picks out “Anthony Watts, the anti-science global warming denailist, was not equipped to recognize this bogus science as bogus. We are not surprised.” to quote, so I suppose that must be the bit that AW thinks is actionable. I’m no lawyer, but I’d be doubtful that would stand up. Plenty of people have said as bad, or worse. I’m pretty sure you could find much the same from AW about, say, Mann (aside: when Mann sued… whoever it was, AW thought that was a terrible idea, in principle as I recall). Comment threads on WUWT (which are moderated, remember) host far worse. And since AW reproduced it on his blog, it can’t be that terrible (does re-publishing things you claim to be libel reduce the chance of suing for them? I dunno).

But then again, that might not be what he is complaining about. He may be complaining that he’s miffed GL said that AW believed in sky fairies. That sounds even weaker.

Eli is suggesting that AW just grow up.

Other sue-related stuff

* Sue the Bastards! says John Mashey Farley to Mann, over two writers and the CEI (more).

[Image ripped off of vvattsupwiththat]

Update: “regarded it as interesting and worthy of reporting”

In the comments we have a brave visitor from the Dark Side, who suggests that

anthony watts stated that he did not regard the story as fact ,but regarded it as interesting and worthy of reporting

(the Dark Side are short of capitals, it appears). He’s wrong: it wasn’t worthy of reporting, and it wasn’t interesting (as science; as an example of how easy it is too fool the ignorant it was moderately interesting).

But this, I think, is a perhaps under-appreciated difference between people who actually want to understand how the world works, and those whose primary aim is to sow FUD. Its not easy, from the outside, to see the distinction between “lets not be narrow minded, lets look at all ideas” and “lets throw out chaff so no-one has a clue what’s going on”. The second fits the denialist ideal perfectly: there’s no real interest in understanding the world (at least, in terms of its physical climatology), because they are all too aware of where that leads: to the std.IPCC result. And if they keep on pushing stories of scientist-X-says-thing-Y, which later turns out to be trash: well, that’s no problem for them, because it just fosters the incorrect idea that we don’t know what’s going on in the world.

Science isn’t about following down every last lead. A major component of it is winnowing out chaff. Which is part of the service that peer-reviewed journals provide. And which Journal of Cosmology does not.

Update: the basis?

Well b*gg*r me down dead with a bargepole. There’s actually an intelligent comment at WUWW! Pointing out the bleedin’ obvious, that the first amendment is a powerful obstacle to suing for libel in the US-of-A. In response, AW insists that the main basis is “false light”. I know nothing about this, obviously, but [[false light]] doesn’t look hopeful to AW to me: False light privacy claims often arise under the same facts as defamation cases… false light cases are about damage to a person’s personal feelings or dignity, whereas defamation is about damage to a person’s reputation -W]

Update: the result. Err, not quite yet

So we now have:

January 21, 2013 at 8:03 am. Thanks to everyone for all of the helpful input and responding to the poll. Using these, I’ve made my decision. Comments are now closed as well as the poll. – Anthony

This is pathetic. We all know what the result will be – he’s not suing. But he wants to spin it out just a leedle bit more in the hope of – what? Dunno. I suppose he’s going to have to find a form of words that makes a climb-down look like the moral high ground.

Axing the British Antarctic Survey would mean the end of Scott's legacy?

Says the Graun. If you agree you can sign the petition. The issue is that “On June 7th 2012, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) announced that there is a strong strategic case for the merger of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) to take place, creating a new Centre encompassing polar and marine science”. As it says that was June, so this is old news (ah, but the consultation only started in 11 Sep 2012), but has suddenly blown up. Back in March JEB had news of cuts at NOC.

Note: I used to work there, but left at the end of 2007… gosh, nearly 5 years ago. So I have some sympathy for them. But then again, I left :-).

If you’re feeling brave, you should read the 9 pages of the consultation document. Some of it seems to be honest; other bits seem to be cunningly worded mgt/pol speak; I’m not sure I’m able to read it all correctly. But anyway: the reason for all this is Money, of course [*].

One thing I find rather revealing is that the document keeps saying “ocean and polar science”, again and again. Which is because there isn’t really all that much in common between the two.

How is this going to save money? That isn’t quite clear: the costs of relocation and /or of redundancy of staff depend on the detail of plans which are still to be developed, but as the proposals envisage maintaining all three current UK sites, these are not expected to be significant. I don’t know how to reconcile that with In terms of on-going savings post transition, savings arising from merging management structures, from merging some functions and from the more coherent and efficient planning of large scale infrastructure are to be expected. BAS and NOC both run ships, and perhaps there is some saving to be made there. But not much; we (oops, I mean BAS) already hire theirs out for the summer.

I was going to touch on the political aspects of this, but fortunately John Dudeney (long-ex-deputy director; I didn’t get on with him well) has done this for me:

Britain is pre-eminent in Antarctic affairs, both in science and in policy leadership. HMG’s long term objectives for an influential place in the international governance of Antarctica based on a world beating scientific programme which underpins the policy, have been outstandingly well served by BAS and the Polar Regions Unit of the FCO. Any proposal for a change in the status of BAS must be judged by whether it will maintain (and even enhance) this success, and there must be measurable indicators of success that demonstrate this is the case. Talk of scientific synergies between polar and ocean science is misleading unless this requirement of government is maintained, because the imperative for British presence in Antarctica at the current scale is political and territorial, and not scientific even though the science is of first quality.

Um. And he is saying that in defence of BAS. You see the problem, of course.

[*] I’ve read in the comments a few people saying “aha, don’t like the message, shut down the science, eh eh?” I don’t believe that.


* Cuts threat to UK Antarctic research on climate change Graun/Obs: Merging the British Antarctic Survey with the National Oceanography Centre will harm climate research, say scientists. Nice quote from Jon: “The British Antarctic Survey is almost synonymous with the Antarctic ozone hole. Losing it would create a comparable hole in British science.”
* Stupid times require stupid solutions, says Romney
* Decision looms on future for British polar research BBC. Oct 5th
* Gore wades into British Antarctic row
* British Antarctic Survey saved as merger plan is scuppered – um, maybe

Protecting the Arctic?

It am de report ob de House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Second Report of Session 2012–13, Volume I: Report, together with formal
minutes, oral and written evidence. And things like Arctic Methane Emergency Group? refer.

I don’t really have much to say, because Geoengineering Politics has said most of what needs saying. I find it somewhat disturbing how seriously the HoC seems to take the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, though.

Oh yeah, its got tipping points in it too, and that Tim Lenton. And Peter Wadhams.

Don’t rot your brains with this stuff. Read SoD on instability.


* HCTN 91 – MetOffice on sea ice.

Amerika headed for theocracy?

This is something I wonder about off-an-on; with Happy Birthday, Charles! The Phytophactor has now put clearly the “doom” version:

There was a time in this country when policy was debated, but then politicians found out it was easier to deny the science rather than debate policy, and now the people who do the science are being demonized. If these ideologues have their way the USA will fall even further under the sway of fundamentalist theocrats, and thus our society will begin to converge on that of Islamic countries charging forward into the past, the distant past, the Dark Ages, at a time when fewer and fewer realize that embracing science is one of the few avenues to maintaining any type of competitive advantage internationally.

It does seem to me that the advantages of science are long-term, and that politicians (and not just politicians) find more advantage in denying science short-term (and this includes the odd folk over in WUWT-land, who actually think they are doing Blog Science, so are not anti-science in principle, indeed they think – possibly even honestly, some of them – that they are defending science. But they are deluded). Without long-sighted people in power / authority, I can’t really see why the long-term stuff should win out.


* Free speech and academic freedom
* Bronte Capital takes hope from the death of LightSquared

Famine: impacts and adaption

Never blog when pissed [*] they said…

So, Kloor and Romm are having a dust up over stuff, and if you care you can read the details or even take sides (I’m with Kloor, you won’t be surprised to learn). But we can take a step back and consider a more generalised problem, in the context of Doctors Warn Climate Change is “Greatest Threat to Public Health”: suppose we care about famine in the third world (in the sense of wanting to do something about it, rather than in the sense of finding it interesting material to blog about it): what might we do?

* stop climate change (reduce impacts)
* improve their governance (adaption)

Obviously the two are not exclusive, but more importantly it is likely that one factor is more significant than the other. Which might it be? I’ve been pretty skeptical about the chances of future famine in the past (pardon?) and I’m still skeptical, so my vote goes to choice 2: their big problem is governance. Climate might well be an aggravating factor, but in comparison to being shot up, attacked and generally having your entire civil society destroyed by armed gangs, climate comes a pretty poor second.

So temporarily ignoring the problem that “improve their governance” doesn’t have a glorious recent past (Afghanistan and Iraq being our most recent disaster areas; but we could look to Sierra Leone, or possibly Libya as better examples) I’d say option 2 is distinctly a better bet. Plus the associated externalities are positive too (not only do they not starve to death, they don’t get shot either).

[*] In the English sense, which is to say, when drunk.

[Update: AG reminds me that I really ought to have mentioned Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate. And you can read his blog on it, too.]

Historic climate change deal with legal powers agreed by Cabinet?

That is what The Grauniad said over the weekend.

Cabinet ministers have agreed a far-reaching, legally binding “green deal” that will commit the UK to two decades of drastic cuts in carbon emissions. The package will require sweeping changes to domestic life, transport and business and will place Britain at the forefront of the global battle against climate change.

Continue reading “Historic climate change deal with legal powers agreed by Cabinet?”