Yes, climate change is a problem and yes, we do have to do something: but in Britain, we've done it already?

Or, Timmy in the Torygraph. Its a bit broken I’m afraid, though it manages to get some obvious things right. But before I start on the actual matter, we need to sweep away some of the dross.

It starts Perhaps we can sit down and discuss this climate change thing like the adults we are? Put the Delingpoles over here, the vilenesses that are Greenpeace… and the problem – repeated elsewhere – is the pretence of equal treatment of the two “extremes” whilst actually clearly favouring one side. The bias continues in the treatment of climate sensitivity, though for something appearing in the Torygraph it isn’t bad.

The problem is the continuation: Timmy tells us that the IPCC range is 2-4.5 oC, that there are entirely honest and reasonable scientists… out there arguing that this range is either too high or too low (dubious, but we don’t need to worry about that for now) and that It is this “we don’t know” that leads to needing to do something. Economists call this uncertainty, and the correct and reasonable reaction to uncertainty is insurance. This is a broken variation on something I’ll call “mt’s argument”, because as far as I know mt is the person who has been making the (correct, unbroken) version of the argument for longest.

mt’s argument is that uncertainty does not help the cause for inaction, although it is frequently used as such by denialists and the lite. The idea that we don’t know enough climate science, or we don’t know enough about climate sensitivity to pin down its value, and therefore we should do nothing, is twaddle. And this is for two [*] reasons: the first and most obvious is that if there is uncertainty in climate sensitivity, then to first order it is as much on the high side as on the low side, so the mean damage is sort-of the same; so even at the idiot-argument level, it doesn’t work. But the other is that damage is non-linear in sensitivity, in the bad way, increasing faster than linear; so for symmetrical uncertainty about the mean, the more uncertainty, the higher the mean expected damage.

But that isn’t what Timmy is saying. Timmy is asserting that only uncertainty makes action necessary. That if we knew, for certain, that climate sensitivity were 4 oC we would need to do nothing. This, of course, makes no sense at all. Fortunately, this doesn’t much matter, because the uncertainty is much less than Timmy thinks; as any fule kno, climate sensitivity is 3 oC.

The rest of the article argues for a carbon tax, and of course I agree, though I don’t agree that Stern is a good source for the correct numbers.

[*] Oh all right 3: because the distribution of climate sensitivity is limited below (effectively by 0.7 oC, unless you’re a nutter, definitely by 0, unless you’re a true wacko) then “uncertainty” about an expected value implies (to first order) more uncertainty above than below.

Supreme irony: wind farms can cause atmospheric warming, finds a new study?

What is it about GW that brings out such levels of stupidity in so many people?

Lets start with the easy bit. There’s a paper Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature by Zhou et al.. It isn’t very exciting, but it made into Nature Climate Change, probably because of the inevitable stupidity it would arouse. What it says is Our results show a significant warming trend of up to 0.72 °C per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to nearby non-wind-farm regions. This isn’t ironic or even particularly surprising: the effect is due to mixing down of warmer air on nights with an inversion. At least, that’s what I expect, not having read the paper, and its what Black of the Beeb wrote, having talked to Zhou: At night, air above ground level tends to be warmer than the ground. Dr Zhou and his colleagues believe the turbine blades are simply stirring up the air, mixing warm and cold, and bringing some of the warmth down to ground level.

But if you’re silly, like the Torygraph, you find yourself obliged to headline your story Wind farms can cause climate change, finds new study. The actual article itself isn’t too bad – it correctly notes this is a local effect, largely night-time only, and it permits itself a little speculation that if done on a large enough scale this might just be noticeable regionally. And, being generous, you could call this “climate change” – though to most people, “climate change” will mean global climate change, which this isn’t.

However, you then get people who really should know better repeating Windmills cause climate change! Timmy manages the oh-how-I-wish-it-was unusual feat of having nothing useful to say, whilst quoting the worst bits of the article and suppressing the useful bits. This is global cooling come again – people just can’t resist the “counter intuitive” stuff. He has another go at Forbes but gets it even wronger there – now its explicitly become Wind Farms Cause Global Warming!

But the funny thing is to look at the comments. Like:

I had a good laugh about that, it’s fairly obvious really you convert kinetic energy into electricity and get heat as a bi product. Silly eco mentalists


Think it through & you’ll realise there’s no climate warming effect whatsoever. The energy is in the wind. The bird shredders remove some of the energy as electricity but the process of doing so isn’t 100% efficient so it also creates heat

These are wrong – they are fairly typical of the “I know nothing about climatology, but rather than trying to find something out I’ll just speculate and call it truth” sort of commentator. But they have absolutely no excuse for being wrong, because even the Torygraph got it right, in the first few paragraphs of its article: “Usually at night the air closer to the ground becomes colder when the sun goes down and the earth cools. But on huge wind farms the motion of the turbines mixes the air higher in the atmosphere that is warmer, pushing up the overall temperature.”

Since its Timmy’s blog, and he is often rude to people, I get to call him and his commentators idiots. Which he (in this instance) and they (oh so often) richly deserve. Which brings me neatly on to…

WUWT, which is where I stole my headline from. That too reports the same study, and in the same sensationalist terms. What is, again, funny is that the commentators there completely miss the point and run off down the same inefficient-conversion-leads-to-heat rabbit-hole (and they even find some new ones), even though Watts has half-said it in the very top paragraph. I tell them the truth, but they aren’t grateful. In fact Watts is very ungrateful indeed – but that is after the inevitable degeneration of the dicussion into a pointless demonstration of their lack of knowledge of wikipedia.


* Potential Climatic Impacts and Reliability of Very Large Scale Wind Farms – Chien Wang and Ronald Prinn

Do what you’re good at

My morning blog-reading threw up Well, no Mr. Chakrabortty, no wherein Timmy is characteristically blunt about the failings of politicians. You don’t have to agree, this is only the lead-in to my own view. The problem with Timmy’s analysis is that no, most politicians aren’t idiots, they are quite clever. Or at least some of them. But they do stuff up a lot of things very badly.

So I’ll put up my own view, which is more Darwinistic: you should do what you’re good at, and free competition will select those who get it right. In an idealised free market this happens for businesses: those that succeed, errm, succeed; and those that fail, fail. In a bad market, biznizmen can capture the regulation to their own advantage. But in a sense, that is the same Darwinism in action: if you’re astute, and wish to prosper, you have to recognise what in that environment will make you prosper. If the framework is wrong, the “right” behaviour won’t help. Setting the correct framework is the politicians job. If they get it wrong (e.g. by preferring cap-n-trade over a carbon tax) then the market will inevitably respond, “wrongly”.

And so to politicians. What pressures act to select on them? I argue that the ones you would want – competence, ability to manage their brief, making valid decisions – are there, but weak. Far stronger are ability to win elections, fighting up the party hierarchy, looking good, etc. Which is why I agree that the state should do as little as possible, and concentrate on what it should do: making the framework right. One large part of which (MPs expenses, the current phone hacking stuff) is preventing corruption.