2018-03-31

A little bit more climate suing stuff

sx Following on from More climate suing stuff, Alsup, and Who knew what when with a side order of Para 67, there's a period of rest for the court, so let punditry thriveStanford law and science experts discuss court case that could set precedent for climate change litigation is mostly good, but with key problems.

The tutorial revealed that there is not going to be a lot of fighting about the fact that human activities are causing accelerated climate change is true, and it seems to have been a rather efficient and trouble free process. Why do you think both sides are largely in agreement on the science? gets the obvious answer "because both sides are using the same source, viz the IPCC"1. But it isn't quite obvious: Chevron could perhaps have chosen to quibble it. I'm glad they didn't; it would be stupid and unsustainable and messy; and as I've been saying for years, there are better fields to fight on. Which brings us to:

What can science tell us about whether companies or individuals are more responsible for climate change-related impacts? Mach: Science doesn’t have a single best answer... but no no no no: the correct answer is that this isn't a scientific question. Mach is apparently a research scientist, so it is perhaps natural that she attempt to provide a scientific answer, diverting over to current versus historical emissions. But that's not the line of defence that Chevron has put forward; they have put forward the rather more fundamental "FF companies producing FFs don't cause GW, people burning FFs provided to them by FF companies cause GW".

Another interesting point that strikes me, now, is that Chevron put forward a lawyer saying "we accept the IPCC". The cities put forward some well-known scientists. It was a climate tutorial, so perhaps that was fair enough, but the cities will need to pivot somewhat away from the science, if it isn't going to be a point of contention. They can't win the case on the science.

There's a nod to the propaganda aspect: the plaintiffs must show that a 50-year or whatever delay caused by the industry cover-up is the cause of damages that they are experiencing today. That’s a tall order. And speculation: testing out legal theories and strategies designed to shake the country out of its complacency and highlight the need for much more urgent and robust action.

Meanwhile, elsewhere


There's a case involving a Gorette in Roxbury, wherein Judge Mary Ann Driscoll found the defendants not responsible, saying she agreed with their argument that their actions were necessary to combat climate change... “Based on the very heartfelt expressions of the defendants who believe, and I don’t question their beliefs in any respect, who believe in their cause because they believe they were entitled to invoke the necessity defense, I’ll accept what they said,” which reads pretty weirdly to me. The idea that you can get off due to the sincerity of your belief is odd; but it was a minor case, and their "crime" had already been downgraded to parking-ticket status. But despite quasi-diligent searching I can't find the actual court proceedings, or even discover the actual case name.

[Update: astonishingly, there is some intelligent comment at WUWT on the issue.]

Notes


1. With quibbles, of course. Chevron are hewing to the conservative IPCC line; and getting a lot of flak from their opponents for not using post-IPCC-AR5 science; but this is trivia, in the great scheme of things. Indeed, it begins to seem more like a knee-jerk from people who simply knew they were going to find something in the science Chevron presented to disagree with.


Refs


Climate Change Movement Retreats to California Courts
* Space-X: Iridium-5

2018-03-27

Paragraph 67

If you read the wackosphere - not a thing I'd encourage - you'll find many odd things, such as BOOM! Federal Judge Dismisses Claim Of “Big-Oil” Conspiracy To Suppress Global Warming Science. And you'll wonder "WTF? Has Monckers been passing his giant spliff around?"

But it's not quite that. Instead, we find:
MR. BOUTROUS: I'll be really brief, Your Honor. The timeline that I walked through paragraph 67, for example, the Oakland complaint, when I read it it read to me like they were talking about a document that was secret inside knowledge by this organization they were pointing to. Well, it turned out it was a summary of the IPCC report from 1995. It was -- those were quotes from the Power Point deck. So I found it to be a bit misleading, very misleading.
What is para 67? It is from Oakland's submission. They say:
In February 1996, an internal GCC presentation stated that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels over pre-industrial concentrations would occur by 2100 and cause "an average rate of warming [that] would probably be greater than any seen in the past 10,000 years." The presentation noted "potentially irreversible" impacts that could include "significant loss of life." 
 To which the Court replies:
I think Mr. Boutrous is correct. I read that paragraph 67 the same way; that there was a conspiratorial document within the defendants about how they knew good and well that global warming was right around the corner. And I said: "Okay. That's going to be a big thing. I want to see it." Well, it turned out it wasn't quite that. What it was was a slide show that somebody had gone to the IPCC and was reporting on what the IPCC had reported, and that was it. Nothing more. So they were on notice of what in IPCC said from that document, but it's hard to say that they were secretly aware. By that point they knew. Everybody knew everything in the IPCC. So I don't know. I think Mr. Boutrous makes a fair point.
This isn't quite the #Exxonknew nonsense, but it isn't far off. And it is a hint that the Court won't take kindly to being fed fake conspiracies.

Refs


* Yet more Exxon drivel

2018-03-26

Who knew what when?

When they run out of reality to talk about, people often drop back to arguing exactly when a thing was known. In this case the "thing" is GW, loosely defined. An illustrative example of the sort of bollox being bandied about is this pic, below, with associated caption:

DY1Lq3gW0AA14Ss

The graph is of course not bollox, just wrong [Oh, joy. As pointed out by several of my more perceptive readers, I've misread the scale on the graph by a factor of 10. Sigh. That certainly means my example of bollox is invalid. Now I'll have to think whether my entire argument in invalid; at the moment, I think not]. The temperature did not go up by about ~3 oC from ~1890 to ~1930; it's not even close. For the time, with the data available, the graph was doubtless a reasonable attempt; but the linkage that people are trying to put on it: see, people knew, all those years ago, is just wrong. Similarish points are made by ScienceOfDoom: #CaliforniaKnew, and the debate is over. And this kind of stuff matters because in the Alsup case the questions turn not so much upon climate science but upon blame, and uncertainty.

There are two linked reasonable questions: when would a reasonable, perhaps somewhat conservative, person have concluded there was strong scientific support for the attribution of warming to human activity; and when would such a person have concluded that "action" was desireable?

Attribution of warming to human activity


This is sort-of the easy one, because the answer is the IPCC reports. You may - if you like - assert that various earlier reports were strong evidence to contradict the IPCC conclusions on this, but I won't believe you. Further, I don't think a court will believe you; it is clear that IPCC is the authority in this area - when it chooses to speak - and any Evil Oil Company that cares to rely on the IPCC will be able to put forward a host of official govt documentation that describes IPCC as authoritative.

IPCC '90 says: Global - mean surface air temperature has increased by 0 3°C to 0 6°C 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. That's unambiguously ambiguous.

IPCC '95 says Our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability, and because there are uncertainties in key factors... Nevertheless, the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate. "Balance of evidence" is the familiar common-law phrase, and is distinct from "beyond reasonable doubt", the criminal-law phrase. "discernible influence" is quite weak.

The TAR says There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

I think that a reasonable person could hover between '95 and TAR as to when human influence was "established", whatever that might mean; but that even a conservative reasonable person ought to have been convinced by the TAR in 20012. Notice that all these reports were public, were discussed in the media and have been substantially disseminated by govts. No reasonably well informed person in the West can be excused from ignorance of their broad outline.

When would such a person have concluded that "action" was desireable?


"action" goes into quotes, because I don't care to try to define it here. It could mean anything, from fervent political attempts to impose carbon taxation, to banning or restricting fossil fuels, or pushing renewables, or whatever. Note that I'm not stating in advance that you need to have been convinced of the "attribution" question before agreeing on this one1. Another question in this area would be "action by whom exactly?"

I don't really have a good answer to this question. As hinted at above by #CaliforniaKnew, and by some of my prior art, one could make a not-unreasonable case that a great many people jumping up and down about Evil Oil Companies are not walking the walk themselves, yet, and therefore that action by individuals, or even individual companies, is not yet warranted or obligated.

Lay that aside for the moment and consider two opposing viewpoints. The first is that although human-caused warming wasn't clearly visible by, say, 1990; nonetheless the principle that emitting large and increasing amounts of CO2 was indeed clearly visible by then, and well agreed on. The other might be that only after attribution would you seriously consider future impacts. I don't think that latter is reasonable.

However, even after agreeing that CO2 emissions will undoubtedly cause future warming, you're still left with the problem of how much. This is where stuff like the Callendar pic come in: if you don't even agree on the observed warming, you're not in much of a position to predict the future. Even now, substantial doubts remain about, say, climate sensitivity just for starters. I don't think that doubt is enough to stop us raising Carbon Taxes, but sadly I find myself in a minority on that score.

Propaganda


I still think that a finding against the FF companies on the grounds of "you burnt it, you pay" is unlikely; unless the judge concludes that FF sponsored propaganda was a significant factor in derailing efforts to reduce emissions.

Update: oops


I've added a note that I misread the graph (I blame Callendar: he should have written "0.2", not 2-with-a-nearly-invisible-dot; did the man have no standards?). I've struck some text out that is no longer sustainable, and I haven't tried to find an alternative piece of wrongness. But - after not very much thought - by my "see, people knew, all those years ago" being wrong because people didn't know; they were tentative and unsure. Feel free to argue this point in the comments; you might convince me.

Myles Allen: He's from Oxford. He talks a little funny, but I'm sure you'll be able to understand him.


Now the transcript is available - apologies for the source - we can see MA's view, which is, abbreviated:

Drawing all this together, drawing both our understanding of basic physics and understanding of the -- both understanding of the basic physics and the early simulations from global climate models, the 1979 National Academy of Sciences was able to draw the conclusions that they were expecting a warming of between one-and-a-half and four-and-a-half degrees for the equilibrium warming on doubling CO2. 

Hmm. Maybe.

I'm here today representing Chevron Corporation


Not me of course. That nice Boutrous, Jr.

Chevron does not do original climate science research. Chevron accepts the consensus of the scientific community on climate change. That scientific consensus is embodied in the results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. And that has been Chevron's position for over a decade. 
That's a good line, if he can stick to it. As is:

it won't surprise the Court we believe the resolution of climate science issues aren't going to be determinative here for all the reasons in our motion to dismiss. That's for another day.
There's also a tantalising "Chevron does not agree with all the policy proposals analyzed by the IPCC" but he doesn't give details. More later, perhaps?


Notes


1. Boutrous (p. 88) gets this one wrong. I think, though he doesn't quite address it directly.

2. Boutrous rather "rolls" over the TAR, and puts more faith in AR4. That wasn't very subtle of him. Also, p. 96, both he and Hizzonor misread the CO2 feedbacks during the ice ages, so Myles did a poor job on that.

3. P. 119 is the court noting that it's going to approve the amicus submissions, sadly, so we won't have the pleasure of seeing them rejected.

Refs


Should we care about the world after 2100?
Europe's $38 Billion Carbon Market Is Finally Doing Its Job

2018-03-22

Alsup: today's news

[The endgame: Holy Alsup, Batman!]

The case continues to fascinate me. News on it over this side of the Atlantic is sparse, so if you have any nice links please put them in the comments.

The main outcome of the "tutorial" as I understand it was Chevron's lawyer essentially agreeing with the IPCC (for example, in their submission, the very first statement is “IPCC Fifth Assessment Report: It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”). The other oil companies didn't speak, and have been given not-very-long to say whether they disagree with anything he said. I hope they make no substantive disagreements, because then finally we could have a discussion about GW in which the important point is not the science - which all sane people are agreed on, to the degree needed - but questions of responsibility and perhaps economics. This would also relieve the court of the tedium of having to read Monkers' or HKL's screeds. Or the latecoming nonsense from the "Concerned Household Electricity Consumers Council", aka an astroturf front for Joseph D’Aleo. What is it with these nutters?3

The Verge says "CHEVRON’S LAWYER, SPEAKING FOR MAJOR OIL COMPANIES, SAYS CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL AND IT’S YOUR FAULT". That's rather foolishly phrased, as well as very shouty. It is also wrong: as far as I can see Theodore Boutrous was speaking only for Chevron2, and if he wasn't, Alsup's request would make no sense. The "it's your fault" bit is the point I've made many times before: "Fossil Fuel Companies Do Not Cause Carbon Emissions, We Consumers Do". I'm glad to see Chevron saying it in court, and it is fun to watch the Verge's head exploding as a concept that doesn't fit gets rammed home. Boutrous also (from the Verge; I can't find a transcript) appears to have sensibly tried to discuss exactly when the science was firmed up to the "well you really should have known it" stage. There's been a lot of deceptive PR about this recently, but I think they'll have no great trouble showing that even by the first IPCC report in 1990, attribution was at an early stage (in Chevron's presentation, the second substantive quote contains, in bold, Thus the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability, which is from IPCC '90)1.

There are suggestions from the Daily Caller, Federal Judge Dismissed Claim Of A Conspiracy To Suppress Global Warming Science, but I'm dubious that is a WP:RS, and seems to be based on tweets. ClimateLiabilityNews provides a more nuanced Despite opening with a warning from Alsup “not to get political,” the tutorial ended on a political note. Boutrous referenced a paragraph in the plaintiffs’ complaint that accuses the defendants of colluding to suppress public information about climate change. “From what I’ve seen—and feel free to send me other documentation—but all I’ve seen so far is that someone went to the IPCC conference and took notes,” Alsup said. “That’s not a conspiracy.”

As you'd expect, the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. Whether that's plausible or not, I've no idea. I suspect Alsup is having too much fun to just throw this away quickly, though.

Notes


1. From sciencemag, I find Speaking for the cities, Myles Allen, a physicist and climate scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom told Alsup the science was clear enough more than 3 decades ago to realize global warming would be caused by greenhouse gas pollution, even if measurements hadn’t definitively picked it up. “It wasn’t necessary for scientists in the late 1970s to detect the warming in order for them to predict what was likely to happen next as a result,” he said. I don't think that will fly. It would be unreasonable not to allow the oil companies to rely on the authority of the IPCC reports.

2. Ah good, The Graun confirms my memory: Boutrous was indeed just speaking for Chevron, and said so. Which makes The Verge's drivel even harder to understand.

Update: and indeed, the transcript says: "I'm here representing Chevron here today, and
I'll be presenting the tutorial on behalf of Chevron." So why the bald-faced lying from The Verge?

3. Happily, the nutters aren't happy with Chevron for throwing them under the bus. They are going to be even sadder in two weeks time when the other oil companies agree with Chevron.

Refs


Who Should Pay For Climate Change? - 538. Measured, but nothing new.
The oil industry knew about climate change long before the American public did?
* Grist. Somewhat better than The Verge.
* #CaliforniaKnew and also The Debate is Over – 99% of Scientists believe Gravity and the Heliocentric Solar System so therefore.. from SOD.

Trump and science: malice or indifference?

Pop quiz: who wrote "A second lesson is that scientists who are opposed to Trump (and please count me among them) should take care that their zeal does not backfire" and was then excoriated by luminaries such as Michael Mann for defending Trump? This is an easy question; the answer is of course everyone's favourite, Roger Pielke Jr.

MM points us to the DailyKos, which points us to a piece by "ClimateDenierRoundup" (shades of how readily Tillerson gets labelled a denier), which after some brief "scene-setting" refers us to a piece in the Graun, Donald Trump isn’t waging war on science. He just doesn’t care, by the said RP Jr. Apart from missing a nice potential reference to Hobbes, I can't see much to object to in RP's piece. It fails to condemn Trump as a Baby-Eating Evil-Doer, which won't get him many dinner party invites from the likes of MM or DK, but that's no offence.

RP does reference There Is No Ban on Words at the CDC, which ought to earn him plaudits for setting-the-record-straight, but it isn't part of the approved story line so it doesn't.

RP suggests "benign neglect of science policy" by Trump. That's probably not how many people would see it; but the same event can be viewed many ways. RP points out "President Trump has gone more than 400 days without appointing a director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy", which he interprets as indifference. But I've seen many on the Left interpret it as, effectively, an attack on Science.

RP can find some examples of Trump wrt science; for example "When Trump has voiced opinions on policy issues valued by the scientific community, such as the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal, he has been far out of step with the views of most scientists". Which doesn't look like defending Trump; quite the reverse, he notes that Trump is out of step.

RP's language on Pruitt is determinedly neutral, which I think I would fault him for, saying "Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency has resulted in sweeping changes to how that agency does business, notably how it uses science advice". But the link is to sciencemag.

And "It is hard to sustain outrage when your opponent doesn’t care, the public overall supports science and technology, and Congress is increasing overall R&D budgets. In this context, Trump can do more outrageous things longer than the community can stay outraged" seems reasonable, and a reasonable warning. Unless, of course, your business-model is outrage.

2018-03-21

Alsup: the Graun steps up to the plate

28698482_10156156574237350_348230224579552952_o Keen to show off their skilz at answering Alsup's questions, the Graun falls flat on its face. We read:

What is the molecular difference by which CO2 absorbs infrared radiation but oxygen and nitrogen do not? It’s rather complex, but basically the molecules of gases such as carbon dioxide are able to bend and slow down solar radiation bouncing off the Earth and returning to space. Nitrogen and oxygen aren’t able to do this and so do not have the same greenhouse impact upon the planet.

The "It's rather complex" link is to a long complex doc which I think in the end does provide the answer, but only after so much that anyone who doesn't already know will certainly give up. Why couldn't they just use RealClimate's "somewhat unique" answer? Or even HKL.

To nit-pick "able to bend and slow down solar radiation" is ambiguous. Does it mean the CO2 is able to bend, and that therefore it can slow down solar radiation? Or does it mean that CO2 is able to "bend and slow down" solar radiation? As a test, I forced the question on my highly intelligent 16 year old daughter, who didn't understand the science, and who found what the Graun had written of no use; but when forced to choose, went for the "bend and slow down" version, since there was no comma. I then explained the right answer - at the simplified level that I understand it - and she understood. So I think it is disappointing that the Graun wimped out; there was the chance to explain some interesting science.

And secondly, although you kinda know what they mean, "slow down solar radiation" is wrong. Solar radiation moves at the speed of light, or something not far off, in the atmosphere. Also, CO2 is essentially transparent to solar radiation.

Oh, but thirdly (and I only noticed this when my wife, also highly intelligent, read the Graun's text and also failed to make any sense of it): there's solar radiation bouncing off the Earth and returning to space. Is this is what Alsup is going on about with his rather silly Q4?

Happer, Koonin, Lindzen vs Alsup

40834391762_fb7ab00dfa_o It turns out that Happer, Koonin and Lindzen have a shark-jumping amicus curiae brief, too, in the Alsup case1. As you'd expect it is of much higher quality than Moncker's effort; but as you'd also expect, it is subtly wrong. You can compare to RC's answers, if you like.

Question 1: What caused the various ice ages...? Starts off well - "corrects" Alsup on mixing in the LIA with the real ice ages, either that's a genuine mistake on A's part or it is thrown in there to test the responders. But ends with The claim that orbital variability requires a boost from CO2 to drive ice ages comes from the implausible notion that... And here we see their problem, which I think is exactly what A is looking for: do they know the difference between reasonable skepticism and wild-eyed denialism? And the answer, as any Betteridge could tell you, is No.

Question 2: What is the molecular difference by which CO2 absorbs infrared radiation but oxygen and nitrogen do not? This one is a softball, and easy to answer well. And yet they still fall into the trap of ending with The most important greenhouse gas, by far, is water vapor. Sigh

Question 3: What is mechanism by which infrared radiation trapped by CO2 in the atmosphere is turned into heat and finds its way back to sea level? This is one they could have got wrong, but they don't, well done; they answer straight, and as far as I can't see don't attempt to deny that CO2 does "trap" radiation.

Q4, as I noted before, is silly. They answer no, and briefly but understandably go off and ride their hobby horse. Q5 is also odd and they give the obvious correct answer.

Q6 is a bit weird too; HKL take it as a chance to demonstrate that they understand the carbon cycle and the balance of carbon in the atmosphere, and do so correctly. Perhaps that's the point of the question: it is there to trap the really far out wackos who don't believe the increase in CO2 is human-caused. Q7, ditto.

Question 8: What are the main sources of heat that account for the incremental rise in temperature on earth? Aha, the big one. The tension mounts: how do HKL shape up? Ooh look they say changes in the resistance of heat flow to space - have they been reading Eli? Ah, but they disappoint: they wimp out of answering, by merely listing things that might affect the rise, but don't make any attempt to quantify much less rank them. RealClimate, by contrast, has no trouble producing a far better, quantified, well referenced answer.

Overall, I think their brief is a mistake. It would probably play well if presented in the Senate, or some other body where debate is what matters; but it won't survive being picked apart. They really needed to Red-Team their brief before submission. I am available, for a modest fee.

Notes

1. Hmm, something odd here. That's a hyperlink to http://climatecasechart.com/case/people-state-california-v-bp-plc-oakland/. When I wrote it, and trying again now from home, I get http://archive.is/EQSLIhttp://archive.is/EQSLI. And yet when I tried to look at it from work it was on the spamblocked list, and when I tried archive.is I get http://archive.is/Ln6vl.
.

2018-03-20

Monckers him back

DSC_7192 Monckers is back, and he has a cloud of righteous smoke from a giant spliff to blow in your face. Yes, it looks like the Alsup case has drawn the crowds. Monckers has a very large pile of words, and naturally I didn't read them all or even most of them, and neither will anyone else.

But you don't have to, because the thing falls apart all by itself. It begins by stating that the purpose in submitting the present brief is [there's a "to" missing here -W] address the eighth question put to parties by the Court, which was: What are the main sources of heat that account for the incremental rise in temperature on Earth? 

And their answer to this question is given by their conclusions and is (a) examination of almost 12,000 of papers on climate and related topics over a 32 21-year period reveals that only 0.3% of those papers had explicitly stated their quantified assent to the “consensus” proposition that at least half of the global warming of recent decades was anthropogenic; and (b) the Charney sensitivity is less than everyone thinks; and (c) For the foregoing reasons, the Court should reject Plaintiff’s case and should also reject those of Defendants’ submissions that assert that global warming is a serious problem requiring urgent mitigation: for it was only the error that made it appear to be a problem. It is not a problem at all.

You'll immeadiately notice that (c) is nothing to do with the question to hand. And you'll then notice that while (a) and (b) form a (ridiculously weak) case that the conventional explanation for the observed warming is wrong, they don't actually supply an answer to the question asked, which was, "what has caused the warming". It is exactly responses like this that Alsup is trying to tease out, I think. Are you sane enough to admit that the observed warming is, indeed, observed? And if you are, are you able to bring yourself to accept a sane explanation for it?

None of which makes the actual case itself sane, as I've said before.

[Update: if you prefer lies dressed up as truth, then Happer, Koonin and Lindzen have your needs in an amicus curiae brief. I really think they've made a mistake there, because it won't stand up (not even The Court’s specified questions include topics that have been the subject of the professors’
study and analysis for decades - that doesn't fit Happer, and I doubt it fits Koonin). It too is exactly the kind of stuff the judge was hoping to draw out. I really don't think the oil companies will be this dumb.]

Refs


* IN ZERO DIMENSIONS ONLY A PINHEAD CAN DANCE ON THE HEAD OF A PIN - RS - why the double spacing, why oh why?
* More detail than you could ever want, from Eli.
Climate Denial Arguments Make Their Way to Federal Judge’s Science Tutorial - climateliabilitynews (Alsup responded to the brief by asking for the source of funding of their research. He gave them a deadline of 5 p.m. PDT Tuesday to respond)
* Alsup dox: http://climatecasechart.com/case/people-state-california-v-bp-plc-oakland/

2018-03-15

Oedipus Tex, and other Choral Calamities

Pdq-bach-oedipus-tex You've heard it before - or so I should damn well hope - but since RS reminds me, and CIP also comments, I think I should too. Who could ever forget "the cat drinks only gerbil milk"? Or "transporting young gulls, across escaped lions, for immoral porpoises"?

My ire was raised by the HuffPo, and it's headline "Trump’s Pick To Replace Former Exxon CEO As Secretary Of State Is A Bigger Climate Denier". WTF? I have as yet no particular opinion on Mike Pompeo, but the implication that Rex Tillerson is a Climate Denier is fuckwitted, and all too much a part of the general loss of any sense of proportion amongst the more panic-stricken members of the  Left.

Their argument, insofar as they have one, appears to be In a twist, Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp., turned out to be one of the most moderate voices on climate change in the Trump administration, despite his previous employer’s role as an early and generous financier of the climate change denial movement. But this is silly. Exxon-is-evil stems from the Lee Raymond era. Tillerson, by contrast, supported the Paris agreement. Under his leadership, Exxon supported a carbon tax (admittedly not terribly convincingly, but they were at least nominally in favour). If your bar for "climate denier" and other forms of ideological purity is that low, you're going to have an awful lot of enemies and not many friends.

FWIW, my not very well informed opinion is that Tillerson was a decent guy who reluctantly accepted a job from Trump that he didn't want, for the good of the country.

Not an effective Secretary of State?


CIP, in the comments, makes this assertion. It seems reasonable to me; perhaps even undeniable. But the question then is why? You could blame him, and perhaps he wasn't a natural inhabitant of the post. But I would blame Trump. My theory - which is as valuable as anyone else's - is that Trump picked Tillerson (a) for his contacts with Russia, and (b) because at that point in his filling-posts he was desperate for someone with gravitas who hadn't called Trump a twat. Part (a) didn't really work out: the Left was desperately anxious about the Russian ties, but I think there was less there than people thought, and perhaps the Mango Mussolini was disappointed. And as for part b: how could anyone with gravitas possibly get on with Dumpy Donald? With T contradicting Tillerson anytime he goes bored, it was impossible for Tillerson to do the job.

Refs


* Tillerson calls Washington a 'mean-spirited town' in farewell speech - CNN
Tillerson warns military grads of 'growing crisis in ethics and integrity'

2018-03-08

More climate suing stuff

Via a somewhat weird Twatter post, comes news of yet another climate-suing case. Are there so many that I'm losing track? It is hard to know. Why isn't Brian on top of all this? Trying to work out what is going on I find Big Oil Climate Change Suits Stay in Federal Court, which tells me that U.S. District Judge William Alsup found the cities of Oakland and San Francisco cannot sue oil companies for public nuisance under state law because the alleged misconduct occurred on a global scale and therefore falls under the federal court’s jurisdiction. That appears to start further back: San Francisco, Oakland Blame Oil Giants for Rising Sea Levels, from 2017, says Oakland and San Francisco sued five major oil companies on Tuesday, claiming they should cover the costs of sea walls and other projects needed to protect the cities from the consequences of climate change. “These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades... and so on. The usual stuff. I've already explained why I think the fundamental point here is wrong, although in a different context and perhaps not clearly, so I'll do it again: the people getting most of the benefit out of fossil fuels are the consumers. The benefits they get are warm homes in winter and cool ones in summer, and electricity, and flights to distant places, and so on. For the same reason, fossil fuel companies don't have enough to pay out the expected liabilities, should they be found liable; or so I'd guess.

But that's not the end of the legal fun-n-games: The oil companies say they can’t be sued for problems caused by fossil fuel emissions because any such claims are preempted by the federal Clean Air Act, which regulates emissions. The cities counter that the Clean Air Act only preempts federal common law claims, not state law claims. By concluding that the cities cannot sue oil companies for public nuisance under state law, Alsup undercut some of the cities’ key legal arguments. But the cities also advanced a novel theory of liability that could enable them to sidestep the Clean Air Act preemption problem. Oakland and San Francisco seek to hold the companies liable for public relations campaigns aimed at discrediting scientific research on global warming. The cities also want the companies held liable for selling fossil fuels, rather than emitting pollutants.

I think that holding someone liable for selling fossil fuels, when you yourself not only permit them to do so but tax them for doing so, and you personally use their products, is implausible. The idea of suing them for disinformation is possible, but, meh. It turns out that part of this was decided some time ago; American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut says the [Supreme] Court, in an 8–0 decision, held that corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) under federal common law, primarily because the Clean Air Act (CAA) delegates the management of carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Aha! But perhaps the Clean Air Act only regulates the companies that burn fossil-fuels, not the companies that sell them. That, too, sounds unlikely.

But the fun bit is the "tutorial". It appears that the judge has asked the various participants to come prepared to answer some questions. Some of them are quite science-y and very easy and probably both sides will be able to answer with a straight face, such as "What is the molecular difference by which CO2 absorbs infrared radiation but oxygen and nitrogen do not?" (Andrew Dessler's answer to this is weak). Some are rather weird and I can't really understand why they are being asked, such as "Does CO2 in the atmosphere reflect any sunlight back into space such that the reflected sunlight never penetrates the atmosphere in the first place?". Point 5 is also odd, and appears to be global warming is not from waste heat. But, maybe he's trying to get them to do sufficiently quantitative calculations to show that, which would require them to actually agree on the radiative forcing from CO2. Aha! Perhaps it is a trap. It will be interesting to see the outcome; I suspect the main thing to ensure will be that the discussion doesn't get bogged down. This has echoes of U.S. fossil fuel groups pull out of climate change court case, which provided the glorious "But discord arose among them after a judge ordered them to submit a joint filing stating their views on climate science". In this instance, “The court is forcing these companies to go on the record about their understanding of climate science, which they have desperately tried to avoid doing,” said Marco Simmons. And he may well be right.

Refs

* Alsup asks for answers at RC. Although vitiated by it's "somewhat uniquely" - Gavin has gone over to the dark side - it does notice that some of the questions are a little odd, but provides good answers, should you want them.
* Schwarzenegger jumps on the bandwaggon too.
* Eli can do the easy ones.
San Francisco, Oakland Climate Cases to Stay in Federal Court, Judge Rules.

2018-03-07

The oil industry knew about climate change long before the American public did?

knew Via Twatter, we come to yearsoflivingdangerously.com and their theme, "Big Oil Knew". And it is essentially the same drivel1 as On its hundredth birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming?, except they've been a bit more careless in their wording. Specifically, see this screen grab: "The oil industry knew about climate change long before the American public did". Oooh, isn't that just calculated to wind you up? Those Evil Oil Executives had secret knowledge that they hid from you. Except, of course, they didn't. They had public knowledge. Joe Public may not have read that knowledge - which is not too surprising, if you'd given Joe Public the report and put a gun to his head he'd probably still have refused to read anything so boring. But the report of the 1959 symposium was published, publically. If newspapers decided not to report it, if the government chose not to disseminate that information, then that was their choice.

Of course they are correct - if rather blurred in their timelines - to say that the API and its friends, most obviously Exxon under Lee Raymond, said things sufficiently misleading to constitute misinformation and probably lies. But I don't see that justifies them lying in return.

BTW, perhaps you are wondering: "why do you attack these nice people for lying? They are nice people, the sort of people I would invite to a dinner party, and they are lying - well, let us be kind, they aren't really thinking carefully, they're just putting their point of view across forcefully - in a good cause. Why don't you attack the nasty people who lie for bad reasons?" And the answer is of course that I have, but I've done that, just consider it read.

As a reward for reading that drivel, some wise words from Latif, 2010:

“There are numerous newspapers, radio stations and television channels all trying to get our attention. Some overstate and some want to downplay the problem as a way to get that attention,” he said. “We are trying to discuss in the media a highly complex issue. Nobody would discuss the problem of [Einstein’s theory of] relativity in the media. But because we all experience the weather, we all believe that we can assess the global warming problem”

Notes


1. It is possible to misinterpret what I'm calling "drivel". Teller was significantly wrong, per the linked post, but his words aren't drivel. The drivel I'm referring to is the claim, re-made in the current stuff, that there was some big secret hidden from the public.

Refs


* Evaluation of the Study, “Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977–2014)” by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, published in Environmental Research Letters, 2017 by Kimberly A. Neuendorf, Ph.D. February 22, 2018. Via Exxon-Funded Study Rebuts Research That Showed It Deceived Public on Climate, by Climate Liability News.

2018-03-05

Is Bruno Latour a useless ponce?

Shamefully, RS doesn't address this vital question. But, contra Betteridge, I think the answer has to be Yes. My text is RS's: The LA review of books The Critical Zone of Science and Politics: An Interview with Bruno Latour Steve Paulson interviews Bruno Latour. We begin with "BRUNO LATOUR HAS NEVER been easy to pin down" which is another way of saying we're not really sure what if any contribution he has made. Let's quote Sokal and Bricmont:

The strong programme in the sociology of science has found an echo in France, particularly around Bruno Latour. His works contain a great number of propositions formulated so ambiguously that they can hardly be taken literally. And when one removes the ambiguity— as we shall do here in a few examples— one reaches the conclusion that the assertion is either true but banal, or else surprising but manifestly false.
Naturally, the fawning interviewer in the LA RoB isn't tactless enough to bring that up, preferring softballs.

Lovelock


Latour starts off with Lovelock, who he claims to have read very carefully. He seems quite unaware that in 2010 Lovelock went Emeritus. But it turns out that Latour's aim is to contribute to a precise definition of Gaia as a political entity which is a stupid idea anyway.

Sociology of science


As the article keeps going back to, Latour is still doing sociology of science, and not saying anything new.

Is that it?


I scrolled down a bit further but failed to find anything interesting.

Refs


* Feyerabend.
Werner Krauss is a tosser.
* Leading Science and Technology Experts Named Breakthrough Senior Fellows, 2010.
LaSi vs EcMd: round two.
Laudato Si versus the Ecomodernists.
*  Gaia 2.0: Could humans add some level of self-awareness to Earth’s self-regulation? Timothy M. Lenton and Bruno Latour via RS.

2018-03-04

How much would we have to adjust our lifestyle to stop global warming?

This question came up recently; characteristically, I have forgotten where. But it reappears on Quora with an answer by mt. As usual I find mt's answers thoughtful but, where applied to a domain that could be called "policy", wrong.

mt's answer


Is, condensed: the things people think will change a lot - how we get around, what we eat, where we vacation, would not change anywhere near as much as they think. But something else which most people think of as tangential must change drastically - how we think about the world, how we engage with it, what we take responsibility for, how we decide what is a good thing to do and what is not. These are nice thoughts. But IMO they are not realistic thoughts. I say this for reasons similar to my universally acclaimed That it is easier to agree on economics than morality; or the previous Architecture and morality. And my argument, deeply compressed, is that it is easier to improve technology than it is to improve people. Of course, you can try to do both; but while making tech better is nearly unambiguously good, making people better has a chequered history for the obvious reasons: whose version of "good" are we going to go with, a problem that stretches back as far as Plato and probably before.

What do you mean "we", white man?


Still a classic after all these years. By chance it was pretty much the first thing I saw on usenet, and as you'd hope some humourless person totally failed to understand it. Anyway the point is that of course a privileged minority can maintain a near arbitrary lifestyle. The entire world can't emit CO2 at USAnian per capita levels though. Over the coming <arbitrary time period, a few decades perhaps> more of the globally poor are going to become rather less poor, as exemplified most obviously by China.

My answer


If we're not going to have to change our lifestyles, then what was all the fuss about?

That isn't a full answer, so I suppose I should say more. Our lifestyles are going to change. Some of the changes are quasi-predictable - driverless cars, for example, though exactly what that will change them into is less obvious - and some of the changes will be unexpected. As a best guess, I think it likely that these only-tangentially-related-to-GW changes will be larger than the GW related ones. In particular, the rapid cheapening of solar PV is promising. In this sense, I am assuming non-apocalyptic futures. I think that is likely correct, but of course I can't prove it. People get terribly grumpy if you take away their shiny toys, either the ones they have got used to or the ones they were hoping to get used to, so rather than planning to do that it's better to plan to substitute.

Refs


Should we care about the world after 2100?
Manuel Ayau: Guatemala’s Liberal Searcher.
FT: The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable.
Whats wrong with the world - me, 2010.
* A harder line view, from CH, from 2007.

2018-03-03

OECD: Fossil fuel subsidies added up to at least $373bn in 2015?

28516246_10156122614482350_866869397862622298_o
28424482_10156122615352350_4943015317011824808_o
CarbonBrief is at fossil fuel subsidies, which I last seem to have covered in 2015 in Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF?, and if your calculator is rusty that's $5.3 tr a year. That's more than a factor of 10 difference, which you'd expect CB to notice. They sort-of do, with The [OECD] report also does not include any estimates for the cost of externalities – such as climate change – resulting from the use of fossil fuels, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has previously included. But that's it. Note that calling not costing an externality a subsidy was one of my major objections to the previous report. Now I look a little harder, the "subsidies" in this report may be the "pre-tax subsidies" of the previous; see the blue diamonds in fig 4 of the previous.

Before wading into the detail there's another thing to explore (beyond me making the habitual whinge that they don't provide a convenient link to the report they're talking about) which is the word "subsidy". Last time (see my link) we had a big discussion about what might meaningfully be called a subsidy. This time, the source report OECD Companion to the Inventory of Support Measures for Fossil Fuels 2018 (at least, I assume that's their source, I can't be sure, see rant previous) somewhat interestingly uses the word "support" not "subsidy", at least in their headline. Is this a semantic game or does it matter? If the OECD has deliberately chosen a different word, it would be nice to think they probably have a good reason. But it isn't clear that they do have; if they explain the distinction they are trying to make, I failed to find it (and, for example, fig 1.3 is headlined fossil fuel support in Indonesia, but the caption reports subsidy data). CarbonBrief uses the word "support" 59 times and the word "subsidy" 35 times, but as far as I can see show no awareness of any difference. So, I shall ignore the distinction and use the word "subsidy".

An example of how slippery the concept of "subsidy" is, is provided by figure 1.2, for the column for France, which shows a huge increase in support for Coal. Foot note 2 helpfully explains this: France introduced a "carbon tax component in fuel taxation" in 2015, but energy-intensive things not covered by the ETS and that were subject to possible "carbon leakage" pay pre-2015 tax rates. This counts as support. And in a sense it is; but it would probably be more accurately be described as "non-penalisation". And of course the industry itself has not had its tax position changed at all by this measure, yet it shows as a huge change.

Another is something not in the OECD report, but in the CarbonBrief report, is specific report to UK fossil fuel support. This notes that The UK defines fossil fuel subsidies as government action that “lowers the pretax price to consumers to below international market levels”. Therefore, the UK government argues that it does not provide any fossil fuel subsidies. CB notes that this is similar to the definition used by the IEA; but then continues Definitions of “fossil fuel subsidy” aside, the OECD inventory documents a significant level of support for fossil fuels in the UK. So, that's a bit confusing.

Some things are unambiguous subsidies: where the government supplies fuel at prices below market rates. Those are stupid and should be stopped, obviously. The report notes Mexico and Indonesia moving in this direction. On the producer side, the report tells me that Germany subsidies hard-coal production (this OECD report says  As production costs remain well above revenues, the company gets substantial government subsidies). That's mad, obviously, and shouldn't happen.

There's another oddity, on page 18, where they discuss (with approval) France and Belgium "phased out fossil fuel subsidies" by removing the tax differentiation between Petrol and Diesel. But this doesn't make sense: diesel is more CO2-efficient, and so should indeed be taxed less? Ah, but although the report cares deeply about the Paris agreement etc. etc., CO2 is not it's measure; all they care about is differentials? I don't really understand their thinking on this point and they don't really explain themselves. They seem to regard any (tax) that differentiates between petrol and diesel as a subsidy; would they regard tax differentials between petrol and coal as a subsidy?

There appears to be a concept of "efficient" and "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies. Unfortunately the last sentence of the Exec Summary notes that there is no consensus as to when a subsidy might be "inefficient". So although people promise to phase out "inefficient" subsidies (as you'd rather hope; why have them in the first place?) this may not mean very much. Section 1.2 discusses this; the implication is that subsidies that encourage wasteful use are "inefficient".

Overall the report isn't really telling me what I'd like to see. I'd like to see total subsidies split up into different classes, and by different countries, in a more useful way. Figure A.1 (I've belatedly got that far) partially answers that.

Pix


Maggie, head of a truncated Lents. Caius bumped Downing to go second, but would not have caught Maggie even if the other two days had happened; it took them until past the railway bridge to get Downing. See more.




2018-03-01

GWPF membership inclines?

28423603_10156117037322350_1639370992866642754_o Last year in GWPF membership declines? I reported, based on the Indy, on an apparent decline in the membership of the GWPF, based on membership income as given by the accounts. The numbers - these are membership income, in pounds, not members - were:

2010  8186
2011 14330
2012 12161
2013 12771
2014  9871
2015  6049
2016  5479

To that we can now add:

2017 11937

So that's a rather sudden jump in income, although still to a low level. One possibility is that they've noticed people looking at the numbers and have persuaded some to increase their donations. Another, of course, is that the membership has actually gone up. Now I look, The Ecologist has noticed too but they also don't know. Their headline is Climate science denial group GWPF sees membership income double post Trump's election but I'm dubious of the Trump connection. Companies house says the accounts were filed on 15 Feb 2018.

My rubbish picture - it was late on a grey and very cold day - shows a crowd-sourced attempt to clear the towpath to allow Lents to take place on Friday, having been stopped on Wednesday after an accident, and not run at all on Thursday due to dangerous conditions on the towpath.