A large part of the planet will become unlivable: either too hot or too dry?

americanpieVia Twatter, I discover to my alarm1 that A large part of the planet will become unlivable (either too hot or too dry). It's in Salon, which isn't where you'd normally go for scientific accuracy. But it's by that nice Michael Mann, who you'd rather hope wouldn't talk drivel4. To complete the quote, he also says And more and more of the available land surface will be used for agriculture and farming to feed a growing global population. That means more concentrated human settlement—and probably a lot more conflict.

He also says We will need to adapt to a world where damaging extreme weather events are far more common. If we don’t act, these events will become both more extreme and more common. Whilst a touch repetitive, it is at least defensible. But let us return to my headline quote. It isn't clear exactly when he imagines this will occur; perhaps 2050 (a date mentioned later in the article, by Trenberth) or perhaps 2100. Never mind; sometime in the future. For the sake of argument, let's pick Trenberth's 2050, when the world is 2 oC above pre-industrial, so (picking numbers rather out of the air) perhaps northernish land areas are +4 oC, since land warms faster than sea and so on.

Heat and Dust

I find it hard to see how just getting warmer will make the world unliveable, at least for humans. People already live in places that are significantly warmer than where I live. Unprotected humans definitely feel uncomfortable if they get too hot, but that's a rather different matter. And air conditioning makes a huge difference, as Florida shows. Naturally, you'll say that air conditioning takes energy and making it hotter just to cool it down is a bit mad, but there it is. You'll also say that poor people don't have a/c2,, but part of GW is increased CO2 emissions is from the world getting richer, per SRES and so on3.

This doesn't mean there wouldn't be a fair bit of adaption needed, but if we have 30+ years to do it, it will be possible. To point out the hopefully obvious I'm not suggesting that just because we can adapt all is fine; but suggesting areas will become unliveable requires some evidence. Perhaps Mann is on a dial-up line and unable to transmit many bytes.

Dryness and drought is a more plausible problem, but it won't make places unliveable. Because (I hope you guessed this) people already live in areas that are far dryer already. For people, greater dryness isn't a problem, though it may be bad for their lawns. But lawns aren't a good idea anyway.

More of the available land surface will be used for agriculture and farming

Agriculture and farming as well? My, the land will get crowded if they have to do both in the same place. This is a more serious concern, at least when linked to the dryness, because obviously enough droughts are bad for crops. And yet, much of the world's agriculture is dreadfully inefficient, and many of the world's food chains are very badly run, with a large proportion of crops wasted. The answer, of course, is more efficient western style farming and supermarkets, and fewer happy peasants and charming but inefficient mom-and-pop stores. We could feed a growing global population off less land, and return some back to wild, if only the world was better run. Though improving the world's government is not a trivial task.

If the climate changes, the optimal crops for various areas will inevitably change. In Ye Olde Dayes, this would have been a problem, because people didn't have instant access to information and predictions, and didn't have ready access to advice on what other crops they might plant. Happily, now they do.

Wild Thing

You make my heart sing. But this doesn't address the non-human-sphere component, which IMO is where the problems are most likely to lie. But nor do I know much about it, so I won't say much.

More concentrated human settlement

Is a fairly safe prediction. But is it a bad thing? Probably not; probably it's a good thing. Let's concentrate the people and leave the wild alone. Most of the settlement patterns, at least in the West, are a fossil of the days when mot people spent most of their time grubbing in the soil. Most people don't do that any more, so most villages are functionally redundant, other than to cater to tourists coming to look at nice villages.

What should be done?

Bizarrely, having asked two physical climatologists about the likely consequences of GW - an entirely reasonable thing to do - Salon then goes on to ask them about what should be done; an area in which neither Mann nor Trenberth have any particular expertise. Naturally, they have nothing particularly interesting to say.

Science advances one doctorate at a time

I briefly considered writing a post taking the piss out of John McLean's shit PhD thesis, but ATTP has said that it's rubbish, with his habitual disappointing lack of rudeness, and really it's better to leave it to die quietly in a ditch than talk about it.


1. Don't worry. Whilst I take GW seriously, as you'd expect, I don't find this particular story very alarming. Or at least not in it's original sense. I do find it quite alarming that respectable people will say this stuff, though.

2. Unless they're poor USAnians, of course.

3. Which I haven't looked at in yonks, of course; hopefully my fallible memory isn't misleading me or you.

4. Mann says sane things, for example, here. He's also getting rather political; e.g. Brick by brick, Trump and his enablers are dismantling the incredibly fragile geopolitical and societal infrastructure... But (whilst agreeing that Trump is a twat, and probably a dangerous one) "incredibly fragile" is wrong. It must be. If it was so fragile, it would no longer exist.


Credit where it's due - JEB
Wages Reflect Underlying Economic Realities - CafeHayek
* Is Quantum Mechanics a Probabilistic Theory? - NotEvenWrong
Politicians say nothing, but US farmers are increasingly terrified by it – climate change - Graun
* The space race is dominated by new contenders; Private businesses and rising powers are replacing the cold-war duopoly - the Economist


The producers of hydrocarbons have made astonishing returns over decades?

DSC_7960 The Carbon Majors Report, linked by the Graun (under the Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, which I was so rude about), sez
‘Carbon Majors’ offers insight into responsibility from the perspective of the producers of hydrocarbons; those companies that have made astonishing returns over decades through the extraction and production of greenhouse gas emitting products. 
Normally one's eyes pass straight over that kind of stuff as boilerplate, but just for once I read it, and thought "huh? Really?". It is fine rhetoric, but how does it compare to reality. This matters, of course, in two ways: for one, part of "the people's" anger at FF companies is them making vast unjustified profits; and the second of course is that luvverly idea that there are oceans of profits just waiting to be taxed to pay for damages.

Quora from 2017 offers me about 4.5% for Exxon. Forbes, in 2011, says on average, between 2006 and 2010, the largest oil companies averaged a profit margin of around 6.5%. This pales in comparison to profit margins in just about every other industry. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, routinely averages a profit margin of about 16%. The soft drink market is even more lucrative... And so on.

So it is hard to see their profits as "astonishing", or even much out of the ordinary. Which is what you'd expect: oil is a competitive industry, there isn't much room to make extraordinary profits.

Related to this is The big lie we’re told about climate change is that it’s our own fault over at Vox. It's the usual anguished stuff and rather carelessly written. It's also rather vapid: stripped of the emotionalism, there's almost nothing there, apart from the assertion that it isn't our fault, oh dearie me no not at all, it is all the Evil Oil Companies to blame. Weirdly, having got that bit wrong, it then gets we can’t pretend that some unnamed cavalry is coming to save us. We are the adults in this room. We have to save ourselves right, which is a nice surprise. At least, the words are fine (apart from the dubious assertion that such people are the adults). Is the hyperlinked list of "10 ways to accelerate progress against climate change" any good?

#1 is "Price carbon emissions" which is a good start. They spoil it a bit by offering DR's quibbling at the end, which is all a recipe for special interests. #2 is "Subsidize clean energy, and end subsidies for dirty energy". Meh. And, so on. I think I'll not go through them in detail here; I'd rather have a separate post on "what to do".

[Pic: Dolomites, chapel carved into the rock, at the Apostoli hut.]


Fixing the tomato: CRISPR edits correct plant-breeding snafu.
* More on the Long Run - CafeHayek.


The Fall of the Rebel Angels

I don't have much to say at the moment - except it would seem in the comments - but I've had this up in a tab for a week now. Isn't it gorgeous? I find it wonderful that something most of 500 years old can be so good; and it is hardly alone.

In other news we came third in the IM3 IV+ in Robs's Autumn Head today; but only by 1.6 seconds. Despite a strong headwind, and a rain shower while marshalling, it was a lovely day, unseasonably warm.


Kavanaugh's other dangerous assault - on the environment?

So says Michael Mann. Although that link is only to someone else reposting something Mann said, and annoying only "said" in the form of an image1.

Aanyway, the relevant case is I believe Mexichem Fluor, Inc. v. EPA. And since I took the trouble to find that out, and read some of the decision, I shall blog about it. You'll be unsurprised to learn that while MM's soundbite is mostly true, it elides a great deal of important detail. For example, just like the recent Alsup case, K was entirely happy to take all the GW science at it's word.

The actual judgement is here (or here). The argument, as in so many of these cases, is arcane and complex, hinging (sort of) on the meaning of the word "replace". It's worth pausing for a moment to think about this point: the higher courts don't hear simple cases where the answer is obvious to the lower courts; or indeed so obvious that it never comes to court. This kinda returns us to a point I was trying to make before: that if the legislature wanted to make these points beyond doubt it could. It could either explicitly give the EPA authority, or withhold it.


Quite some time ago, in 1990, section 612 of the Clean Air Act was passed, and requires manufacturers to replace ozone-depleting substances with safe substitutes. In fact that - although a quote from the judgement - is a slightly dodgy paraphrase; the exact rule is quoted later: To the maximum extent practicable, class I and class II substances shall be replaced by chemicals, product substitutes, or alternative manufacturing processes that reduce overall risks to human health and the environment. What that adds to the paraphrase is "to the maximum extent practicable" - but that's not important, because no-one tried to contest that point - and using "reduce overall risks to human health and the environment" instead of the hard-to-interpret "safe". But as it happens, that didn't matter either, because K was entirely happy that HFCs could be called, colloquially, "unsafe", because they cause GW. Indeed, K was quite happy for the EPA to move HFCs from the "safe" list, where they had previously been (because they didn't deplete ozone) to the "unsafe" list (because further research had revealed they cause GW). Indeed, he's even happy that the EPA, in doing that, may prohibit anyone from replacing an ozone-depleting substance with HFCs2.


So what does that leave as a problem? The problem was that the EPA wanted to use that authority to oblige people using HFCs to replace them with something that doesn't deplete ozone, and doesn't cause GW; or at least not so much. However, the act appears to only give the EPA authority to force people to replace ozone-depleting substances; and HFCs aren't. Is this a bit Jesuitical? Yes, but that's the law for you. Is it a reasonable reading of the law? I think so; and of course on of the other two judges on the case concurred. Could one make a reasonable case for the opposite? Yeees, probably. Indeed the dissent (Wilkins) does so (page 26). Is this an example of K clearly being unreasonable? No.


As Hobbes puts it, concerning ambiguity in the law,
In all Courts of Justice, the Soveraign (which is the Person of the Common-wealth,) is he that Judgeth: The subordinate Judge, ought to have regard to the reason, which moved his Soveraign to make such Law, that his Sentence may be according thereunto; which then is his Soveraigns Sentence; otherwise it is his own, and an unjust one.
So it is pleasing to see K address this by referring to what the Senate considered, when writing the law:
The Senate’s version of the safe alternatives policy would have required the replacement not just of ozone-depleting substances, but also of substances that contribute to climate change. Id. sec. 702, §§ 503(8), 514(a). In other words, the Senate bill would have granted EPA authority to require the replacement of non-ozone depleting substances such as HFCs. But the Conference Committee did not accept the Senate’s version of Title VI. See H.R. Rep. No. 101-952, at 262 (1990) (Conf. Rep.). Instead, the Conference Committee adopted the House’s narrower focus on ozone-depleting substances. Id.; see S. 1630, 101st Cong. sec. 711, § 156(b) (as passed by House, May 23, 1990). In short, although Congress contemplated giving EPA broad authority under Title VI to regulate the replacement of substances that contribute to climate change, Congress ultimately declined.


There was a petition for a rehearing en banc4, that was simply denied; so it is appealed to the supreme court.


1. I can't find the quote via Google. Reverse image search says the image appeared in Mann's Twitter feed some time in 2017, and I have no reason to doubt it is his. The slightly odd "Secretary of Science and Environment" bit is from the Shadow Cabinet.

2. Although, as the judgement notes, this is probably unimportant, as it is unlikely if there is anyone left still using ozone-depleting substances. Update: ah no, That's not quite what it says: footnote 2 is: The parties disagree over whether, as a factual matter, any manufacturers still make products that use ozone-depleting substances. EPA says yes. Mexichem and Arkema say no. We need not resolve that factual dispute here, as it has no bearing on our legal analysis of the meaning of Section 612(c). 

3. Also note that "flying under the radar screen" is an odd way of putting it. The analogy is with a plane, flying underneath the radar beams. The "screen" is just the read-out from such a radar; a plane would not meaningfully fly under the operator's screen.

4. Which I'm guessing means "with a wider panel of judges", perhaps the "full court".

5. laws, when good, should be supreme; and that the magistrate or magistrates should regulate those matters only on which the laws are unable to speak with precision owing to the difficulty of any general principle embracing all particulars - Aristotle, Politics.


What Brett Kavanaugh on Supreme Court Could Mean for Climate Regulations
Schumpeterian Profits in the American Economy: Theory and Measurement – Yale economist William Nordhaus
* VIM cheatsheet; thanks Paul.
* Salon thinks we're about to exist under an oxymoron: Neoliberal fascism by Tim Worstall.
Climate change and compassion fatigue - ClimateSight.

Der Prozess

Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. Not entirely applicable to the current fuss, but an arresting start to a book, which I read when I was far too young: about sixteen. I really should re-read it some time. And - before you get carried away - no, I am not making and would indeed deny any analogy between the bizarre processes described in The Trial and the current situation; I just like the text. So, we turn to Brett K and his travails.

TL;DR: he should not be confirmed, on balance of evidence.

I'm kinda tempted to leave it at there, but can't quite bear not to write down my brilliant and insightful reasoning. In brief, the sexual assault allegations against him are - at this point - too thin to carry sufficient weight; but his own recent testimony is, on balance of evidence, enough to convict him of lying.

I'd like to rely on someone else's analysis. Unfortunately the matter has become so partisan that almost everyone's words are near worthless. Unlike mine, of course. So if we think back the the now-almost-unimaginably-distant time after the first hearing but before the sexual assault allegations, we can categorise people into for and against. If we then step forward to now, we find the same people in the same camps, some of whom admit that they simply hold the same views more firmly and believe of deny the allegations accordingly, and others who pretend that the allegations have tipped them over1.

The Economist (I generally like to be able to agree with them, Pinko-Crypto-Lefties though they are) sez Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony disqualifies him from the Supreme Court and I largely agree with them, except in some matters of tone. There are too many lies, though I also find myself disagreeing with people of what exactly are the lies. So I won't commit myself to exactly what are, and what aren't4.

On the question of whether this has all become so partisan, and K has - in part, simply in defending himself - come to attack the Dems in a partisan fashion, I'm rather less sympathetic. The Dems I think did go all-out to attack him. An ideal candidate would have remained above such a fray but failure to do so is too understandably human to disqualify him. CIP asserts that K will seek revenge; that would certainly be human; the Dems have made it quite clear that they regard K as their sworn enemy. But CIP also assert that There was every reason to expect him to be an utterly partisan justice from the get go, so it isn't clear what margin for "revenge" CIP thinks there is. But on yet another hand, I don't think CIP is right in that last, so the "revenge" question, not as far as I can see addressed in mainstream analysis, is interesting. And calls into question the Dems strategy: if you're going to lose, why lose in such a way as to antagonise the winner? Unless you're going to gain something precious by dying in the ditch.

The other side lied too

Lest I be misunderstood3, I think the other side has lied too2. This initially confused my thinking, because people were bandying around terms like "due process", and so it was natural to think of it as a "trial" in some sense, and so there was some balance to be struck, and their lying some defence on his part. But it isn't; so the "other side" lying is irrelevant to his fitness to serve; and anyway there isn't "another side" on the supreme court.


That the Dems are really pissed off is not strange, but being pissed off is not a strategy. On balance of evidence (and not on beyond-reasonable-doubt) I think the use of the sexual assault allegations was a tactic, and the delay deliberate; but that doesn't make it wise; nor indeed the strength of their previous opposition. Were they, perhaps, trapped in what their fanbase insisted on getting?

The solution

I like Brian's solution: regain Prez and Senate, and appoint two more judges. This has the advantage of being about as outrageous as the Repubs antics over Merrick Garland, but equally legal. It might also set a precedent, that might help prevent similar antics in future. At least it might, if both sides have the sense to step back from the obvious tit-for-tat war that could ensue.

Historical context

Everything was better in the Olde Dayes, of course. Politics was conducted with decorum, by dead white men wearing wigs. Or was it? Who said:
And these discussions, whether relating to men, measures, or opinions, were conducted by the parties with an animosity, a bitterness, and an indecency, which had never been exceeded. All the resources of reason, and of wrath, were exhausted by each party in support of it’s own, and to prostrate the adversary opinions.


1. Arguably the American Bar Association has sort-of changed it's mind, in that it argued for a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI. Well it has had an investigation, and we don't know if the ABA considers it careful; one might hope not. Perhaps their current opinion is the hard-to-read New information of a material nature regarding temperament during the September 27th hearing... has prompted a reopening... does not expect to complete a process and re-vote prior to the scheduled Senate vote. Our original report must be read in conjunction with the foregoing. Our original rating stands. If they'd left out the last sentence it would make sense.

2. For example, the sainted Christine Blasey Ford's purported Fear of Flying.

3. Obviously, simply writing that will prevent me being misunderstood.

4. For example, for fans of the "Devil's Triangle" being obviously sex and definitely not a game, note that the current wiki page carries neither; there's currently a discussion of whether the sex version should be included, which appears to be leaning towards "no".


At least Americans choose top judges in public - Samizdata via TF.


No-one understands wiki, part n+1

As I've said before, no-one from the outside ever understands how wikipedia works, but that doesn't stop them writing about it for their own partisan political gain (arch). In this case, it's the social justice warriors on the Graun. The offending text is:
When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm announced the Nobel prize for physics this week, anyone wanting to find out more about one of the three winners would have drawn a blank on Wikipedia... Until around an hour and a half after the award was announced on Tuesday, the Canadian physicist Donna Strickland was not deemed significant enough to merit her own page on the user-edited encyclopedia. The oversight has once again highlighted the marginalization of women in science and gender bias at Wikipedia... when a Wikipedia user attempted to create a profile for her in March, the page was denied by a moderator. “This submission’s references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article,” said the moderator.
Problem number one, as you'll discover if you try to follow the "said the moderator" link, is that the link is broken. It is missing a "y". What they presumably intended to link to was https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Donna_Strickland&offset=&limit=500&action=history. Which brings up problem number two, which is that link is not in the least informative. If you scroll down to the bottom you see some crossed-out stuff from 2014 that looks interesting (but you can't see the contents, and neither can the Graun, cos you'd need at least admin priv) but actually is I think irrelevant. What they intended to point you at was somewhere around Draft:Donna Strickland from May this year, and in particular this edit, which carries the edit comment Declining submission: bio - Submission is about a person not yet shown to meet notability guidelines (AFCH 0.9), and whose (templated) textbox begins This submission's references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article—that is, they do not show significant coverage (not just passing mentions) about the subject in published, reliable, secondary sources that are independent of the subject (see the guidelines on the notability of people). I've bolded the start of the textbox addition, because it looks to be the source of the Graun's quote.

But notice that what was said was not "marginalization of women in science [or] gender bias". It was pointing out either that the subject was "not yet shown to meet notability guidelines". It didn't of course say "doesn't meet the notability guidelines" - just "not yet shown".

This being wiki, there is a long and (if you like such things) interesting discussion of how this was assessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Donna_Strickland#Notability. The Graun could have referenced that, but didn't. The talk page also contains some fascinating facts that the Graun could have used, but wouldn't, since they undermine it's case: since Wikipedia's Jan. 2001 launch:

  • of 212 Nobel laureates, 69 (33%) had no Wikipedia bio when prize was announced;
  • of 48 laureates in physics, 17 (35%) had no WP page when award was announced—all except Donna Strickland being male, including one each in 2014 & 2015.
Meh. A bit later, I noticed that "said the moderator" is actually two links and was sad enough to bother look up the page HTML to see why. The answer is dull; it just is two links, for no good reason. But that showed me the top of their page source, which is:


Which is an image not "pre" text, because blogger doesn't seem to handle pre properly.


It isn't just the Graun that gets this wrong, of course. Forbes totally stuffs it up too, writing: only to have their proposed entry deleted. What's wrong with that? Well, the link they provide is to the proposed entry (the draft). If it had been deleted, they wouldn't be able to point to it.