Chris de Freitas considered stiff

DSC_7345 Did you notice? Did the entire blogosphere just not care?1; July 2017 apparently. It passed me by. Ah well, BLP no more.

Via the wiki page, I found this exchange at the Graun between deF and "Dr Jean Paultikof" (who she? Oh, she's actually Jean Palutikof, or so I'd guess. That's taking Graun-like miss-spellings to a rather impolite level, I'd say). The exchange itself is stereotypically stupid, the usual dumbed-down nonsense thought fit for the eyeballs of the proles. Captioned In this week's email exchange, Dr Jean Paultikof and Dr Chris de Freitas discuss the causes and consequences of global warming, it starts (from JP) with "Here, the weather's been sweltering. In the UK on Sunday, the daytime maximum exceeded 100F (to 38.1C) for an official first time. In Paris, the Sunday night minimum was a record 25.5C". FFS, what a waste of space; deF has no trouble at all batting that back: "Here in the antipodes, it is currently uncomfortably colder than average. I don't mind saying that I would rather be in Clacton."

Anyway, the bit I wanted to pull out was this from deF:

There is no proof that humans are affecting global climate. The IPCC 2001 report endorses this view. It states: "The fact that the global mean temperature has increased since the late 19th century, and that other trends have been observed, does not necessarily mean that an anthropogenic [human-induced] effect on the climate system has been identified. Climate has always varied on all time-scales, so the observed change may be natural."

That's from the TAR. JP rather weakly rebuts that with The IPCC 2001 report also states: "Most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations". But that isn't the real answer; the real answer is: deF, you're a misleading lying-by-quoting-out-of-context denialist. Because the text deF quotes above is most of the first para of a little Detection and attribution section, but he omits the revealing last sentence: " A more detailed analysis is required to provide evidence of a human impact". The IPCC report is not endorsing deF's wacko views; instead, the bit he's quoted grossly out of context is simply a generic expression of truth. Elsewhere, we get the results of the "more detailed analysis" that deF has mysteriously missed: and it's the familiar:

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

and so on and so forth. The motto from this is obvious: only an idiot gets their science from newspapers.


1. The Watties cared. At least a bit. Though not enough to spell his name right the first time round, it seems. Although just like Robert Carter, although they big him up as "Prominent New Zealand scientist" you'll notice that they can't actually find any of his science to mention.


* Wurld economics
* McLean, de Freitas and Carter throw Soon and Baliunas under the bus - Eli, 2010
* Too bad to be believed - also Eli, also 2010


Tim Ball considered incredible

IMG_20180213_152322 There's been a long-running lawsuit of Andrew Weaver against Tim Ball, who said naughty things about him. For background, or the-right-guys-won, see the Smoggies or Sou or doubtless others. And you can read the judgement itself. If you'd like to be told that TB won, then WUWT is your source; or in somewhat more detail, but be careful how much of that you read because even they can't help but quote some incriminating material. Judith Curry has a reasonably balanced set of quotes which cannot but look bad for TB, but of course she can't help veering off to her hobby-horse, Mann. The main substance of the judge's conclusion is that

the Article is poorly written and does not advance credible arguments in favour of Dr. Ball’s theory about the corruption of climate science. Simply put, a reasonably thoughtful and informed person who reads the Article is unlikely to place any stock in Dr. Ball’s views, including his views of Dr. Weaver as a supporter of conventional climate science. In Vellacott v. Saskatoon Star Phoenix Group Inc. et al, 2012 SKQB 359 [Vellacott], the court found that certain published comments were not defamatory because they were so ludicrous and outrageous as to be unbelievable and therefore incapable of lowering the reputation of the plaintiff in the minds of right-thinking persons (at para. 70). While the impugned words here are not as hyperbolic as the words in Vellacott, they similarly lack a sufficient air of credibility to make them believable and therefore potentially defamatory.

There is more, which I'll get to, but that's the main point; and of course, it is the version that makes Ball the loser: his article cannot be defamatory, because it isn't credible to any but the credulous.


I think the judge did the right thing with this finding. I've seen a couple of comments suggesting that AW might appeal, with the amusing consequence that AW would have to argue that TB was credible, and TB's defence have to argue that he wasn't. I think that would be a bad idea; it would be taking the piss, and I doubt the judgy world take that kindly. Specifically - and here I'm channelling Law: it's origin growth and function by James Coolidge Carter - the law is there primarily so that the reasonable expectations of reasonable people might be upheld, and violence be prevented. Not to deliver Great Justice. And so it is the duty of the law to get out of the way, if it can. Also, it is the duty of the law to try to avoid deciding things outside its provenance, which includes Science. Since the judge is able to decide that the article is not credible (note that, at least on my swift reading, he found it sufficient to declare the article not credible, and didn't need to declare TB not credible) he doesn't need to trouble himself with balancing the various scientific facts.

The other good finding, although I think this was secondary, was that despite professing to have been “saddened, sickened and dismayed” by the Article, I am not satisfied that Dr. Weaver himself perceived the Article as genuinely threatening his actual reputation. As noted, Dr. Weaver has been actively and publically engaged in the climate change discussion for many years. That included endorsing political candidates who advanced policies he agreed with and opposing candidates with whom he disagreed. It is also quite apparent that he enjoys the “thrust and parry” of that discussion and that he places little stock in opposing views such as those espoused by Dr. Ball, which Dr. Weaver characterized as “odd” and “bizarre”. Dr. Weaver went so far as to post the Article on his “wall of hate” located outside his office, alongside other articles and correspondence from “climate doubters”. It is apparent that he views such material as more of a “badge of honour” than a legitimate challenge to his character or reputation. That mixes up, possibly deliberately, two things: one, only slightly regrettably, the idea that if you're part of the cut-n-thrust you've got to expect some cuts. The other, better, that if you stick someone's stuff up on a noticeboard you can't really be taking it that seriously as a terrible attack. Also paras 66-71 are worth noting: the judge thinks AW over-construed the article.

In summary

The lawsuit dragged on since 2011; law is like that. In this case, it was probably beneficial. TB had it hanging over him, and it probably restrained him. He issued an apology, I'd forgotten about that (see para 30). In the meantime, the world has moved on, the std.GW science is more solid than ever, and no-one really gives a toss what TB thinks any more.


* Balls' theorem.
Judge finds written attack on climate scientist too ludicrous to be libel - Ars Technica.


Rocket science!

I feel like being enthusiastic for once. Here's the just-before-touchdown shot from the video.


And this one is a transparent piece of showmanship but will probably become a classic (from the livestream, watch Earth drifting away, I wonder how long the link lasts?):


And I liked this:


I suppose it's rocket engineering, really.


Overhype much?- from ATTP about "planets in nearby galaxy" that I'd rather wondered about, but not found time to read the details.
* Back on the GW wars beat, Weirdness from Armstrong/Green and conservative media from Moyhu.
* Or, join the Graun in whinging.
* They whinge more! But Timmy points out why they are wrong. Or, since they're so badly wrong, he points out some of the reasons they are wrong. And, as he doesn't say, the problem in Syria is govt.
China and Europe love SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket. Does NASA?
China Has Mixed Feelings About Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy Success.
* whereisroadster.com


ExxonMobil: Positioning for a Lower-Carbon Energy Future?

energy It's a report, the 2018 Energy & Carbon Summary. And (to confess a guilty secret) I came to it via WUWT. Well, I wouldn't have had to if the rest of my blogging sources were doing their job properly. And if it helps, the Watties have it from the NYT. You'll recall, I'm sure, that the Nasty Shareholders had demanded last year that the company give a more detailed accounting of the consequences of global policies aimed at curbing emissions of earth-warming gases. I cannot, now, recall if I wrote about that. The NYT's summary of the company's response is Exxon’s conclusion: Even aggressive climate policies pose “little risk” to its investments. It stressed that it expected healthy demand for its products for decades to come, regardless of how strongly countries move to cut emissions.

Predicatably, the NYT has no problem finding someone to disagree, and that person is Adam Scott (who?) who points out (a) Exxon assume CCS; (b) maybe we'll decide to hold warming to 1.5 oC; (c) lawsuits! To which I would answer (a) I'm dubious about CCS too but I doubt much of Exxon's answer hangs on it; (b) ho ho; but anyway, I think Exxon assuming Paris is probably reasonable; and (c) well, I think that's all drivel as I've said many times before, but since it is lawyer-drivel, you never can tell.

But enough of that. What does Exxon actually say?

Letter from the Chairman

The chairman has a page of stuff to say, read it yourself, of which I'll select:

Providing affordable energy to support prosperity while reducing environmental impacts – including the risks of climate change – is our industry’s dual challenge... The global energy system is massive. The world needs solutions that can scale... Our algae biofuel program holds great promise... We are also a leader in carbon capture and storage (CCS) research. The world will need much more CCS... Policy has a place here, too. We’ve been vocal in our support of a carbon tax, and recently joined the pro-carbon-tax Climate Leadership Council. We also support the Paris Agreement.

All of that is spiffy. Read as PR, it's all in the right direction, and Lee Raymond wouldn't have been seen dead saying any of it. In 2015 I was rather dubious about their actual, as opposed to nominal, support for a carbon tax. But enough of the obligatory glad-handing, what of the substance?

Summary at-a-glance

For all you busy mustelids with the attention span of a lagomorph, they provide a handy summary. Dubious point #1 is "Worldwide electricity from solar and wind will increase about 400 percent" to 2040. This looks like a classic case of the Photovoltaic growth: reality versus projections of the International Energy Agency – the 2017 update fallacy (but, if they're relying on WEO predictions, that would be entirely defensible in public). And now I come to look, the pic I've just inlined and stuck at the top probably says it all. They're really predicting very little shift to 2040.

Considering 2°C scenarios

Says "The annual Outlook for Energy represents ExxonMobil’s updated view of the most likely future for the global energy system and forms the foundation of the company’s strategic decisions, business plans, and investments". So quite likely I'm reading the wrong base document (there's a graph on page 7 which shows their Outlook CO2 scenario to 2040). It also helpfully notes that "While the current NDCs do not appear to achieve a 2°C scenario, the Paris Agreement is a positive step in addressing the risks of climate change".

Potential proved reserves and resources impacts considering 2°C scenarios

The "Exxon collapse" scenario - assuming you don't believe the lawsuits - is based around the stranded assets idea. So they have to address that problem, and it doesn't appear too hard for them to do so:

At the end of 2016, ExxonMobil’s proved reserves totaled about 20 billion oil-equivalent barrels, of which approximately 53 percent were oil and 47 percent were natural gas... value of an integrated oil company’s upstream operations is its proved reserves... we estimate that by 2040, over 90 percent of our year-end 2016 proved reserves will have been produced. Considering that the 2°C Scenarios Average implies significant use of oil and natural gas through the middle of the century, we believe these reserves face little risk.

Errm, any questions?

The pointt what

I'm channelling Hobbes. I hope you noticed. So: anyone who hoped that the shareholder vote would make Exxon write down a report and then go "Holy shit! You're right: now you force us to look, we realise it's all going horribly wrong" will be dreadfully disappointed. Instead, they've written down a report that justifies them continuing to do exactly what they planned to do already. Weird or what? The advantage - other than providing employment to some report-writers - is that it is all written down now. If you don't like their conclusions you can read through their arguments and attempt to spot the gaping flaws. If you think you're hard enough.


Men spake from God being moved by the Holy Ghost / Every man in his own language

20180128_145921 Every now and again I find a link on the wub that nicely illustrates some point I made years ago, and I try to find my post with the concept, and fail, and realise that I didn't actually write down my carefully reasoned post, I just told it to myself. And this is one of those times.

The quote is

In many countries, decades (even centuries) have passed with far too much intellectual effort exerted in elaborating idealized or stylized constructions of how a political economy might work.  Unfortunately, analysis and examination of how political and economic interaction takes place in nonromantic or realistic settings, as populated by real persons, were largely ignored.

from James M. Buchanan via Cafe Hayek. The context I would have fitted this into is all the volumes by the likes of Plato carefully designing their ideal society; to be opposed of course by the likes of Hayek and Popper. And of course the relevance to modern society.

Pic: Tindale in Hertford college chapel. The words are "Men spake from God being moved by the Holy Ghost / Every man in his own language".


Would you believe it, but bloody Blogger limits comments to 4096 characters. FFS. I was going to split up my deeply wise and wonderful comment, or even make a new post, and then I thought I'd just stuff it in here instead.

On Hayek's determinism: that seems implausible, which is probably why I didn't read your long comment at the time. Plus, I think that Willard is a twat. Plus you're making the same mistake then about legal freedom that you do now. But the Wayback Machine has it. I guess you're relying on

It may be noted in passing that these considerations also have some bearing on the age-old controversy about the ‘freedom of the will’. Even though we may know the general principle by which all human action is causally determined by physical process, this would not mean that to us a particular human action can ever be recognized as the necessary result of a particular set of physical circumstances.

This is what I would call "meaningless determinism". You can, if you like, believe (with Hobbes) that the physical universe is all that there is, and that it evolves according to causal physical laws (at present not fully known), and (we've left Hobbes behind at this point, BTW) this in principle leaves no room for free will. As it happens, that's exactly what I believe (I've said this before). But it produces a world indistinguishable from one in which people have free will: there is no possible test you could make to distinguish the two. So, no: you may in no meaningful way claim Hayek for determinism.


* Free trade - Left behind? by Christopher Rowe.
* Politics and Prohibition - Don Boudreaux.
The Case for Freedom Does Not Rest on the Assumption of Perfection - CH


The global CO2 rise: the facts, Exxon and the favorite denial tricks?

A recent slightly dodgy RC post from Stephan triggered my knee-jerk. It is about knocking back, yet again, the stupid denialist idea that the recent CO2 rise could possibly be natural. That's all fine, of course, anyone discussing GW with those not really capable of thought comes across this idea; I can find myself mentioning it back in 2005, and I'm sure I did so earlier too.

No, the dodgy bit is "How Exxon misled the public against better knowledge: One fascinating question is where this false idea of humans just contributing a tiny bit to the relentless rise in atmospheric CO2 has come from? Have a look at this advertorial (a paid-for editorial) by ExxonMobil in the New York Times from 1997...".

As Stephan says, of the advertorial, "That is pretty clever and could hardly be an accident. The impression is given that..." but the same can be said of his post "That is pretty clever and could hardly be an accident. The impression is given that Exxon originated this idea; but no evidence is presented." Stephan is a good scientist and knows the difference between showing X said a thing and showing that X originated a thing.

Aanyway, the point is: I had a look back and can't now from this distance find where the idea comes from. It was certainly common stupid currency in the Usenet days. I probably saw it before 1997, but don't actually know.

Ah. If I look back to What I said about Exxon I can find Lee Raymond talking drivel, in 1997. As I said then "We've had this before on sci.environment. Steve Hales should certainly know better than to post rubbish like this. Raymond may not know better, but he should have enough expensive advisors who should be able to tell him better. I can only conclude that he (Raymond) is deliberately trying to mislead."


* Yes more Exxon drivel
The Weekend Wonk: Growing Legal Wolfpack Hunting Oil Industry on Climate, Corruption
* RS suggests a dry ice palace
So, this equality of wages lark then - Timmy


I babble in an unknown tongue

I was turning over certain rowing-related matters in my mind today, and chanced upon a memory:
“What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously. 
"I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue.”
Vance, of course. I discover that I've had occasion to use this before; once every five years is not unreasonable. It may be convenient to write it here, not connected to other blog-related matters, so I have.


* There's no light the foolish can see better by.
A Case for Repealing All Antitrust Legislation - CH of course, but touches on the way conventional economics is equilibrium
* From Ronald Coase‘s 1972 article “Industrial Organization: A Proposal for Research”]
The variability diet - VV


WATN: Trump

In Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night I made some brilliantly prescient predictions on how Trump's presidency was likely to go. But my overall prediction was "minor". I'm still defending that for now; wake me up when the nukes start falling. Regrettably, it looks like I got "Opposition" spot-on.

I was going to attempt a review of economist's reviews, but got bored at one but I liked it, so: Trump's Mixed Report Card - Richard A. Epstein at the Hoover Institute starts As we come to the end of 2017, it is perhaps appropriate to take stock of the ups and downs of the Trump presidency. For progressives, this is a simple calculation. They despise the man and his policies, so it is easy for them to mount a full-scale denunciation of both. Many populists admire the man for his bravado and have a guarded acceptance of his policies, so their sentiments run in the opposite direction, which most people will sign up to. Of his own assessment, For classical liberals like me, however, the calculations become difficult. The bad news is the man. The good news is his administration. The overall picture is a tricky composite. The President’s oft-manifested indifference to managing the executive branch allows his able subordinates to work diligently to undo many of the misguided initiatives of the Obama administration and to propose useful reforms. But the moment the president gets involved, anything can happen.

On the "minor" note, I put forward as an example Trump-appointed regulators reject plan to rescue coal and nuclear plants (arch). This was a witty and amusing attempt to feed some subsidies to the coal folk. I thought it was quite funny the way everyone reacted to the very idea that anything other than things that they like could possibly be subsidised. But, after a pile of words and much wasted time and effort, it all comes to nothing.

As I said in Dover BeachAll the stories about Trump deleting data will turn out to be nonsense. All the people squirrelling data away will look stupid, and will do their best to quietly forget they ever did it or suggested it, or pretend it never happened. The second bit of that certainly hasn't happened; CHANGING THE DIGITAL CLIMATE (h/t MM via fb) is more of the same. Does it, conversely, prove me wrong? Not obviously. I didn't read the entire thing - obviously - but the Key Findings start with The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) removal and subsequent ongoing overhaul of its climate change website raises strong concerns about loss of access to valuable information for state, local, and tribal governments, and for educators, policymakers, and the general public. So I think I'm entitled to assume that's important for them. And if you follow that section you find "The most significant reduction in access to an agency’s climate change information occurred when..." so yeah, this is key for them. But then reading on I can't find any actual real datasets that have been removed. Can you? I'm not interested in stuff like them removing "Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change" which was probably pointless anyway; just read Global Warming (why must everyone have their own wheel?).

May / Brexit

This is a convenient place for me to quote the Economist about how useless Theresa May is: Theresa May adds a botched reshuffle to her growing list of botches The prime minister’s latest failure to relaunch confirms her as an unsafe pair of hands... her most conspicuous defect—the fact that she had never knowingly said anything of any interest about anything... her biggest problem is more fundamental: she doesn’t have any ideas... Mrs May is locked in place, because her party is terrified of provoking a civil war over Brexit. And booting out the Tories would mean electing an opposition that has been captured by a neo-Marxist clique.


* A Rough Guide to Climbing at Dover
The one-year-old Trump presidency - the Economist is not keen on him either.
* No discredit where none is due: Donald Trump’s economic policy has not been as bad as expected: Meanwhile, the economy is booming - the Economist.
* Has President Trump Been Very Consequential?David Henderson- econlog; points to Inside the new trade arguments Trump is hearing.
* Ha ha told you so: Buzzfeed pretty well admits I'm right. fb'd by MM, too.
That GOP 'tax scam' is putting money in millions of workers' pockets.
Trump's Punt On Fake News Awards: In The End, He's Got Nothing.
* Yet another end-of-year-one assessment.
Bombardier wins fight against huge tariffs on aircraft imports


tumblr_p1a1ggkHGW1rqxd5ko5_1280 Inspired by CIP's ventures into philosophy (see also my insightful comment) I thought I would share my little project to improve the "dialectic" article on wiki. Regular readers will know my hatred of wanky philosophical words that I don't really understand, and "dialectic" is one of them. Partly because it seems to have a different meaning for every person that uses it. But! I think I have now become enlightened - on this issue at least - and have decided to share my enlightenment.

This is a link to the state of the article as I found it. Before touching it I threatened to improve it, but no-one responded, so I've made it better. If you prefer you can look at the diff.

Ironically, perhaps, the dictionary definition was most helpful in resolving the problem. So the answer is threefold:

1. Any formal system of reasoning that arrives at a truth by the exchange of logical arguments.

Or, put another way, hardly to be distinguished from discussion, except we emphasise rationality and put aside appeals to emotion (and we'll quietly forget that many of the actual Socratic dialogues don't do this). This I think is part of my annoyance with the philosophers: adding a word that can only just be distinguished from a commonplace word, so as to make their sentences more high falutin'; and then failing to distinguish different meanings of their shiny new word carefully.

2. A contradiction of ideas that serves as the determining factor in their interaction.

This is the Hegelian version. Subtly, the concept of evolution or process has come in; in that things start in one state and end in another. Quite exactly what it means is up for grabs; if you believe Popper it allows contrary ideas to stand and is thus the death of reason; if you're an Hegel fanboi it will mean something subtly different; as you can tell I'm not a great fan of big H. But that's OK; my purpose on wiki was mostly to distinguish things.

3. A progress of conflict, especially class conflict.

This is the Marxist version. TBH I'm still not entirely sure what it is, but I think it just takes the "process" idea and runs with it; the connection with the original meaning has become rather tenuous at this point.

There's another point - which I'm not fully sure of - which is that dialectic doesn't fit well with formal logic. The arguments can all be logical, of course, but it relies on a process of evolution, whereas logic is timeless. Anyone able to explicate that more clearly - or refute it - is welcome to try.

And there you have it. If you have any interest, or even philosophical training, I encourage you to improve the wiki article too. As long as you agree with me, of course.


* Jesus and Mo.


Another Koch-Up

kochup Proof - in the unlikely event that proof were needed - of the Ultimate Evil that is the Kochs (Koch-Up / Cock-Up. Geddit? Oh of course you do, don't be so po-faced) is contained in this screen-grab of a Tweet (archive). The offending text - I presume, JB is too outraged to say explicitly what offends him - is the bit about interglacials lasting 10 kyr and so the current one must be due to end. This isn't true, of course; but the error is a commonplace one. Tagging it to the Koch's is just paranoia and stupidity. It comes into the "global cooling" wars of course; so much that wiki even has some text explaining itIt is common to see it asserted that the length of the current interglacial temperature peak is similar to the length of the preceding interglacial peak (Sangamon/Eem), and from this conclude that we might be nearing the end of this warm period. This conclusion is mistaken. Firstly, because the lengths of previous interglacials were not particularly regular;[10] see figure. Petit et al. note that "interglacials 5.5 and 9.3 are different from the Holocene, but similar to each other in duration, shape and amplitude. During each of these two events, there is a warm period of 4 kyr followed by a relatively rapid cooling". Secondly, future orbital variations will not closely resemble those of the past. [11]

I'm guessing this is where ATTP's latest comes from; it is too much of a coincidence otherwise.


* Contrary views at WUWT by RS.
* The climate change misinformation at a top museum is not a conservative conspiracy - the Verge; h/t anon in the comments.


Global SST, WWII, global cooling, and forgetting

One of the things that made global cooling plausible was the observed temperature record although you have to be a bit wary, when talking about what people thought in the 1970s, because of course the record they had available then wasn't as good as the one we have now. But anyway, as you can see from that pic, the "cooling" from the 1940s to the 1970s was more of a plateau, coupled with a peak during WWII (insofar as it makes any sense to talk about a record in that way).

This was always a bit problematic, but in 2008 quite a bit of it disappeared, when A large discontinuity in the mid-twentieth century in observed global-mean surface temperature (Thompson et al., Nature 453, 646–649 (29 May 2008) doi:10.1038/nature06982) appeared; also known as "Post-World War II cooling a mirage". I noticed this at the time; and JA was characteristically caustic; but other than making the modelling easier it didn't really have much consequence and I don't know quite how it got folded into the records. Not very much, I suppose, since I've just pointed you to a recent record with the same problem in it.

And now, Kevin Cowtan, Robert Rohde, Zeke Hausfather have discovered the same thing. At least, it looks very much like the same thing. Sou notices the new stuff, but doesn't refer to the old. Cowtan's blog explainer doesn't mention "Thompson". The paper itself does: "(Thompson et al. 2008) detected an inhomogeneity in the sea surface temperature record arising from a change in the shipping fleet at the end of World War 2 by comparison of sea surface temperatures to temperatures from coastal weather stations and from climate models".


On its hundredth birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming?

Or so sez the Graun. The substance of this comes from some long-lost words from Energy and Man: A Symposium, held in 1959, apparently published in 1960. It looks like it would cost me $25 to actually read this, and my guess is that it will be a flash in the pan, so I'll have to reply on quotes from the Graun and one customer review from Amazon. That helpfully provides some context, so I'll quote from it:

the third speech beginning on page 53 in the middle of the book is of particular note. It was given by the real-life Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Edward Teller of thermonuclear bomb fame. His title was to be "Energy Patterns of the Future" and he spent most of his speech extolling the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and begging the public to allow nuclear research to continue until a truly clean fusion energy could be developed. He also foresaw the possibility of using readily-available nuclear explosives for large earth-moving jobs like canal and harbor creation, and underground explosions to break up or make impermeable rock formations to redirect water flows below the surface, and even considered mining the residual heat of deep underground nuclear explosions as geothermal energy. On pages 67-68 he even suggested using nuclear explosions for strip-mining oil shales or tar sands, and for underground fracking operations to release tight oil! But it was on pages 56-58 at the beginning of his speech that was most impressive/distressing. There, he clearly presented global warming, then newly researched by the Scripps Institute, as the main reason that nuclear research needed to progress.

So, this was Teller. Oddly enough, his main interest was in pushing nukes. He did present something about CO2 but - and I'm slightly guessing here - only because it pushed his favourite button, the big red one. Oddly enough the Graun's author Benjamin Franta, a PhD student in history of science at Stanford University doesn't consider that little detail worth mentioning.

OK, enough of that, "what did Teller actually warn us about CO2?", I hear you cry. And the answer is:

It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York

Pretty devastating, huh? The Graun, as you'd expect, then segues into the usual "but the oil companies didn't listen, you know". Though for some odd reason they manage to avoid #exxonknew (I put it here for my own purposes so that searches will work). But, there are two obvious problems. The first is that although the Graun carefully sets this up as breathlessly secret stuff revealed only to the Oil industry, of course it wasn't: the symposium report was published publically. And of course wherever Teller got his wacky numbers from was probably public too: the Amazon review says Scripps.

But more importantly, he was wrong. +10% CO2 isn't enough to submerge New York or melt "the icecap" (whatever he meant by "the icecap". Greenland? Antarctica? Who knows). At least, not within a plausible timeframe. We're already at most of a 50% increase, and even that isn't enough - well, not yet. What should governments and oil companies have done when faced with new information that appeared to indicate a potential problem? Well, what you obviously shouldn't do is to rush to action in a panic because some famous and eminent person in a scientific field not particularly closely related to the issue at hand tells you to. Any more than you should pay much attention to Freeman Dyson when off on one of his rants about GW. Instead, you should consider the issue and if warranted start proper study of the issue (this starts to go wrong about following IPCC One, when the results start coming in but the policy doesn't; but that is all in the future at this point).

It is useful to be aware of, say, Spencer Weart / the AIP's "discovery of global warming" timeline.


People will not look forward to posterity who do not look backwards to their ancestors

Lord Adonis has resigned, almost quoting Burke: people will not look forwards to posterity who do not look backwards to their ancestors. Sadly, the man ain't got no culture: it should be "forward", not "forwards". Tch, youth nowadays. LA was Chair of the independent National Infrastructure Commission, and therefore not only in favour of but actively pushing HS2, and is therefore an idiot, so we should not take his opinions too seriously.

The interesting problem is, what does the quote mean? The question is asked and (IMO incorrectly) answered at englishforums.comIf you are not interested in your ancestors, you will not expect future generations to be interested in you when you are dead. This answer doesn't really make any sense; or is no clearer than the original.

To understand what Burke meant, it probably helps to know that "in the twentieth century he became widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism" (quotes are from wiki; don't get the idea I know anything about Burke). This makes him an odd source for a Labour peer, but the devil can cite scripture for his purpose. Perhaps a quote is in order:

Again and again, revert to your old principles—seek peace and ensue it; leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, nor attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they anciently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it... Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it... Do not burthen them with taxes... But if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question... If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. No body of men will be argued into slavery.
Burke is a small-c-conservative: opposed to revolution (indeed Reflections on the Revolution in France is helpful), focused on the practicality of solutions instead of the metaphysics, writing "What is the use of discussing a man's abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In this deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor".

So Burke is not advising people to be "interested" in their ancestors, in any historical or theoretical sense. He wants people to adopt, continue, know the living breathing traditions of their ancestors. It is a desire for a "common law" approach, rather than a legislative approach. It is analogous to Hayek's scepticism of central planning, and in favour of incremental change. LA is, of course, a central planner. Perhaps he was quoting Burke ironically?

But enough of this, what would Burke have thought of Brexit? I don't know, of course, but that won't stop me making something up. The most facile response would be that he would oppose the massive change it represents. But then again, he was for thinking in the long term, so might have regarded our brief membership of the EU as an anomaly to be reversed; he would have probably opposed Brentry in the first place.


Should we care about the world after 2100?
My idiot sons could run this country better than you, Queen tells May
The White Witch as Tragic Figure
Open science and science communication at #EGU18, the European Geophysical Union General Assembly - VV. Quote: I hope that at least outside of Anglo-America it is uncontroversial for scientists to inform the public and policy makers of their findings... When it goes further, trying to convince people of certain solutions, please let go of your saviour complex, you will mostly like not achieve much. The way scientists are trained to think and communicate works well for science, but it is not particularly convincing outside of it. The chance you are good at convincing people is not much better than the chance of some random dude or grandma down the road.


Why I am So Wise

donate Why I Am So Wise is but one chapter of Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche; but in this debased age it is extracted as the title of a short book in the Penguin books "great ideas" series. Quite why Penguin have honoured this self-indulgent bombast is a mystery to me. I read the Penguin version; it is probably digested though it doesn't say so. Comparing it to an online version there are obvious differences. I'm not going to care about that; I'm not interested in differential textual analysis of N, nor am I interested in reading him at greater length. The bits considered here are Why I Am So Wise / So Clever / Write Such Good Books / Am A Destiny (or "Am A Fatality" in the online version). And to round off the intro: I read this because a friend recommended it (thanks RC).

There's a lot of ponce in the book; I won't go into that, this review by "John" seems to cover most of it1. I found the online version via IA, and since they're having a fundraising drive now, my image links to their "donate" page; I did.

You cannot be serious

The book reeks so much of pretentious puffery that it is hard to see how it can ever have been intended to be taken seriously. Nonetheless, people appear to do so and I suspect that N intended it as such. But nonetheless always in a "playful" vein which conveniently allows him to disown any particular sentence or fragment that might otherwise embarrass him. To me it reads more like Oscar Wilde tossing off epigrams at a rout than anything serious. As to deniability, wiki says of the title "Ecce HomoIn this regard, the wording of his title was not meant to draw parallels with Jesus, but to suggest a certain kind of contrast and so on. It is all like that.

I been Ayn Randed, nearly branded Communist, 'cause I'm left-handed That's the hand I use, well, never mind

Simon and Garfunkel, as I'm sure you knew. Why do I mention it? All the stuff about the weakness of pity and how terrible Christianity is. You'll want quotes, so: a creed so wretched as ChristianityChristians and other Nihiliststhe degenerate instinct which turns upon life with a subterranean lust of vengeance (Christianity; it is only among decadents that this pity is called a virtue... The overcoming of pity I reckon among the noble virtues; and so on. As it happens, I have some sympathy with this, though not in the way it is said. It is eerily reminiscent of Ayn Rand (although of course, given the time order, it is actually the other way round), of which my recently vanity re-published book review will provide you a handy ready-reckoner. See-also Master-Slave morality, if you can bear it.


In the paper version he declares himself a pure-blooded Polish nobleman; he speaks disparagingly of German culture but dotes on the French; and so on. Wiki tells me he had his Prussian citizenship annulled. There's loadsa pop-psychology in there so I feel free to indulge in some briefly: doesn't denial of one's nationality and apparent loathing of one's nation imply a degree of self-hate inappropriate for the man N claimed to be?


The S-word doesn't appear anywhere in the wiki article about N, it is far too elevated for that sort of thing. But even the mealy-mouthy Friedrich Nietzsche's views on women is obliged to quote some of his poison. The best you can say is that it was the kind of trash people wrote in those days, and other men at nice dinner parties tended to agree with it, and pass over such as Women all like me. . . . But that's an old story : save, of course, the abortions among them, the emancipated ones, those who lack the wherewithal to have children.


More dangerous ground here, particularly as I'm unread in this area and am piecing things together without bothering to read all the sources. You cannot accuse N of being a Nazi of course; he predated them. And I saw nothing anti-semitic in there. But what there is in spades is what Popper complained about in TOSAIEv2: stuff like: The truth of the first essay is the psychology of Christianity: the birth of Christianity out of the spirit of resentment, not, as is supposed, out of the "Spirit,"—in all its essentials, a counter-movement, the great insurrection against the dominion of noble values... Can you see what is wrong with that? If you can't, you may need to read Popper, who says it better than me. It is the denigration of decent behaviour in favour of allowing free reign to "noble"s to behave as they wish. Which segues into National Destiny and it's all downhill from there.

On the meaning of words

One cannot help but notice how much of N is subject to interpretation. He uses ambiguous words and phrases, perhaps out of simple intellectual inclarity, but more likely out of the previously alluded to desire for plausible deniability (I commented on deliberate avoidance of precise language in the context of Curry, in 2014). I find N inferior to Popper or Hayek - or Hobbes, or Smith, or indeed anyone of whom I've been able to approve - on this ground.


1. You may need to discount point 3 somewhat, though: N does appear to have some military service, if I can trust wiki.


* The Grumpy Economist: John Cochrane's blog: Economists as Public Intellectuals

Book review: Atlas shrugged

[This is a direct copy of my Book review: Atlas shrugged from 2013 over at LiveJournal (I blame Paul). I'm copying it here because I want to refer to it and keep not being able to find it (but you can still comment if you want to). In order to forestall some of the inevitable criticism, here's a link to CIP who presents the case for the opposition. Note that everything (including the edited-to-add) below this was in the "original".]

Quick summary: (too) long, interesting, enjoyable (as long as you skip stuff), but ultimately unacceptable.

A famous work; here's its wiki entry. I'm not going to bother attack its many faults too strongly, because they are too obvious. If you want to read someone disliking it, try CIP. As a token: the many long dense passages of philosophy - Rand's "Objectivism" - that lard the book get increasingly boring as they repeat. This culminates in John Galt's 70-page 2-3 hour speech on the radio, which is more like something you'd get in Cuba or communist Russia than in the cold West. Some of the characters - the dashing pirate - are laughably implausible. But enough criticism (errm, I won't keep to that. Sorry).

The image the book conjures up - of a fading darkening America crumbling under the weight of an unproductive, uncomprehending and eventually almost unwittingly hostile bureaucracy or parasitic class is well done, and will strike a chord with anyone who actually makes things. Those who work for the govt may be less impressed (token: I find her hatred of all govt funded research ridiculous. But hey, I was a govt-funded scientist for years). But Rand's solution - that all the able folk withdraw their labour and their physical selves and rebuild society in a quiet corner before, presumably, walking into the territory emptied by starvation, cold and strife is hard to see as acceptable. As an aside, at the present day, the central core of the hardened capitalist struggling to keep a railroad - yes, a railroad - going seems very quaint and 50s.

A veil is drawn over most of the deaths, but she helpfully provides one example: the wood burning transcontinental sleeper train taken through the long tunnel. It gets stuck inside, and everyone dies. Rand is at pains to set up the incident as an example of bureaucratic stubbornness and buck-passing (someone at the top decrees the train must get through, but all the way down officials area at pains to ensure that the disastrous orders they give can't be traced back to them) and does her best to make it seem as though all the passengers deserve death; but they don't.

You'll have to forgive me some vagueness here: I started reading the book on the way back from the Amsterdam marathon last October, and finished it a few weeks later, so my memory is fading.

And yet the two key intermingled ideas are worth thinking about: that there is a parasitic class leaching off the productive, and that this class is actively harmful (in Darwinian terms, they are bad parasites). In the book, as things go wrong, the parasites use fear of the problems to gain more power and control, and they use that power to throw patronage at their friends, but they also make genuine (to them; at least the book doesn't try to say otherwise) attempts to fix things, but because they are incompetent things just get worse. The attempt-to-fix-but-fail stuff is very true to life for anyone watching politics ever. The Tobin Tax propsed for the EU is a possible example. The stupid carbon trading schemes are another. These are examples where pols motivated by - well, we cant see into their minds, so we have to guess - a combination of shallow and wishful thinking, carelessness and stupidity, and a desire for patronage, act to make the world worse.

Since I've mentioned Darwin I need to complete the thought: which is, that parasites are universal, unless you make great efforts to remove them. Rand's idea is for a parasite-free society. Like many others she has no patience for fixing the old - its a tired toy, she will throw it away and make a new shiny one; lives don't matter to her; or at least, not the lives of small people. Inevitably, her new world would acquire parasites, but that's for the future. Our world is infested by parasites; what keeps them down is partly Democracy and blah; partly that anywhere that becomes too uncompetitive gets out-competed. That's not a careful analysis, but what I mean is that we accept a balance as we must: as long as society functions, and produces enough wealth for all or most, we tolerate some parasites. And at least at the moment it is working: the share captured by the unproductive isn't too high. In Atlas Shrugged Rand has had to produce a less capable society that succumbs to the weight of parasites - though even there it isn't really clear that it would do, if it wasn't for the "strike". Rand's various protagonists have decided - amongst themselves - that all the invisible deaths are worth it, to them. It is a very individualistic philosophy, and to support its plausibility all the lead characters are implausibly capable.

If you agree that Rand's apparent solution - restrict, retreat and rebuild - isn't very plausible, what lesson does the book teach? Just, resistance to stupid bureaucracy I suppose. Put like that, its not profound. And I do sense that many of the book's admirers are motivated more by some savage uncomprehending hatred of The System rather than by a desire, themselves, to try to build something better. Nonetheless there is something there.

[Edited to add: if I'm not mis-remembering, another important element to Rand was the coercive power of the State: its structure and authority is based ultimately on force. She doesn't like this; it doesn't fit with her individualistic world. Nonetheless in the book the state is rather uncoercive: only at the end is there a carefully contrived torture-John-Galt scene, which is inserted only to fulfil her own prophecy, that the state will ultimately resort to force. In this, I'm firmly with Thomas Hobbes and against Rand: without the Civil Sword, no compacts and hence no civil society is possible. Rand's insistence otherwise places her with the hippies and flower children, who she would despise.]


B.H.P. Billiton, Acknowledging Climate Change, to Quit Coal Group?

25446008_795530077309981_4883035578440317314_n From the NYT: B.H.P. Billiton, Acknowledging Climate Change, to Quit Coal GroupB.H.P. Billiton, the British-Australian mining company, said in a report Tuesday that it planned to withdraw from the World Coal Association, an international lobbying group, because of differences in climate and energy policies. The report also noted that B.H.P. would review its relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in light of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. The FT's take is essentially the same. You can read BHP's own report on the release of the report. The report is apparently  In accordance with the commitments given on 18 September 2017, but I couldn't find what those commitments were.

The interesting bit to me is withdrawl from the World Coal Association, but before I come to that, an oddity: Twenty-one industry associations were assessed as holding an active position on climate and energy policy, and were included within the scope of the review. The review focused on 10 climate and energy policies identified as being of key importance to BHP, with seven material differences in position identified across three associations: The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA); The United States Chamber of Commerce; The World Coal Association (WCA). So of 21 industry associations they only found something to worry about in 3 of them? Odd. But, never mind that for now. Onto the WCA.

BHP's report considers "Material differences". They find quite a few with the US chambers of commerce, but with the WCA all they can find is "Technology neutrality", which BHP likes (We believe energy markets should be both fuel and technology neutral, and should not artificially favour one type of technology over another. We also believe governments should focus on setting policies to facilitate efficient markets. Government intervention in resources and energy markets should only be in response to a demonstrated market failure, and informed by cost-benefit analysis) and the WCA sort-of likes (The World Coal Association (WCA) has expressed support for technology neutrality in climate and energy policy frameworks11. The WCA, however, has also called for policy changes that are more technology-specific. For instance, the WCA supported abandoning the proposed Australian Clean Energy Target because in their view abandoning the Clean Energy Target would improve the investment climate for HELE generation).

So as a stated reason to withdraw from the WCA, this looks a little thin. A bit later on we see possibly a bit more explanation: BHP derives benefits from its membership of the WCA, though the scope of these benefits is narrow... the role of the WCA is primarily focused on information provision, it generally does not manage initiatives aimed at improving the performance of member companies... This is largely because such initiatives are driven by national associations and/or the International Council on Mining and Metals. Which might be code for "the WCA only does lobbying", other Real Organisations do the hard stuff.

They conclude In relation to the WCA, BHP has reached a preliminary view that, in light of the nature of the material difference, and the narrower activities of benefit to BHP from membership, it will exit as a member but they'll give the WCA a chance to respond before making up their minds. So it almost seems like the main reason for leaving is that the WCA is a bit useless. Or at least the official reason. Perhaps they are also an embarrassment, too.


Should we care about the world after 2100?

25438869_1662238943841032_1081912425639291177_o I think it is obvious we should care, in the sense of being benignly interested; but should we care in the sense of changing our actions in order to design changes in the world post 2100? I don't think I've written on this directly (as I say in reply to DB). Morality and economics discusses mt's The Seventieth Generation, which would be relevant, but sadly I'm looking at a different perspective. I say don't think more than 100 years ahead in reply to NB in 2014 in Meesc, and the discussion continues for a while there.

There are two valid reasons why you might not care about post-2100 (or post-2117; or some other arbitrary but distant time. But not a time as close as 2050). One is that you like to use a conventional-economic discount rate of X% and that reduces future concerns so that mathematically and economically you're convinced those concerns are so deflated by discounting as to be uninteresting. And two is that you think our ignorance of those far-off times is so deep that we cannot possibly usefully design our behaviour to helpfully shape their world. Those two reasons aren't totally separate, but for various reasons I'll talk explicitly only about the second.

Not to ruin the tension, but my answer is a qualified no; we should not care-as-change.

And why would I think a thing so manifestly absurd? Because our ability to foresee the future is so weak. An easy recent example that comes to hand is the IEA (and everyone else's) inability to predict solar PV growth even a year ahead, let alone a decade or a century. You could plausibly say that case is hard, and that broader trends are easier to forseee, but meh. Would we have thanked people in the past for trying to see 100 years ahead? When I asked that before, Gavin replied "Central Park" but I wasn't convinced; and I'd add that on the scale of GW, that's trivia. Dunc did better with "the London sewer system" but again; it's a small thing.

And secondly, too much striving to foresee and manage the future leads to too much managing, which is bad, in my opinion. This of course leads back to Hayek, but I see I've failed in my duty to provide the promised posts on him; Hayek and Climate provides a reasonable sample. I don't mean the comparatively minor parasitic class that flies off to the various political climate conferences around the world. I mean more the encouragement of the very concept that it would be a good idea if the state did more planning, when it should be doing less.

"Not caring" doesn't include not doing sensible and obvious things. One of which is to Do Science, which apart from anything else is cheap. The science we've done so far leads us to conclude that Sea Level Rise will be about +1m by 2100. You can make a case for only 50 cm and you can make a case for 2m. But - barring some major revision - it won't be as much as 10m (which would be disastrous) and it won't be as little 10cm (which would be too little to notice). So that's a happy co-incidence in a way; there's no obvious reason why SLR out to "about as far as we can usefully look" should sit just around the "irritating but manageable" level. You'll notice I've spoken only of SLR, because it kinda fits my narrative. But I could spin similar words around temperature change I suspect. Ecological response as usual I leave to others. To get with certainty to clearly disastrous levels of SLR you have to go out ~500 years; and that's too long. Can you help the case by replacing certainty by "at least Y% probability of"? Doubtful.


* So What Climate Change Stories Would Sir Philip Sidney Tell asks Eli. Somewhat disappointingly, it isn't about predictions from that era. I prefer the Python version.
Freeman Essays #4: “Capitalism: Who Are Its Friends and Who Are Its Foes?” - old stuff from CH
Dangers Lurk in Timid Defenses of Free Trade - sort of more old stuff, from CH



I'm feeling quite techno-optimistic at the moment. Don't worry, I'll fall back into cynical despair before too much longer. Just recently I've thought it implausible that we'll starve, and noted how well solar PV is doing.


And of course there's watching SpaceX launches; another one today, from which my pic is taken. It is just after second stage separation. Stage 1 has turned and has begun its "boost-back burn". What I find cute is that you can see any of this; the pic is a screen capture of video from the ground, and the Falcon 9 is 80 km up. Other cuteness: they've stopped scrubbing the soot off the sides before reuse. What's also cute is to compare the landing with a recent Blue Origin effort: notice how BO pretty well stops well clear of the ground, has a think, and gently descents. Whereas SpaceX have calibrated themselves rather more carefully and simply slow to zero at the ground. BTW, I noticed that they were very careful to be very nice to NASA this time.

But just being optimistic is dull. Happily, there's a recent James Hansen post I can take mild exception to. The offending text is I believe that the legal approach will become increasingly important in the future, because the judiciary is relatively independent of fossil fuel interests. The Guardian did an article on this. I've expressed my doubts about solving GW through the courts before - funnily enough, also in the Hansen context - although with my characteristic lack of clarity. But I've also said more clearly - though I can't now find it - that approaching GW through the courts just seems like a bad idea to me, doomed to fail, doomed to polarise further an already far too polarised situation.


Whats wrong with the world
* adventofcode.com
* FOAAS: Roy Moore
* Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy 2017


Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death?

europe George Monbiot, in the Graun, with a lead pipe. By which I mean it is the usual bludgeoning. He has various points, many of them semi-valid, including the superior efficiency of a non-beef diet, to which I feel a great deal of sympathy. But I don't want to talk about that, I want to look at a thing he points at for his cropland doom, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification's Global Land Outlook. I went expecting to be disappointed and they didn't disappoint me about being disappointing. You can skip the next couple of paragraphs if you don't care about that stuff but only want the yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands stuff. I find some interesting discussion of vaguely similar points from a 2008 post of mine. In 2009 I looked at Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization? but failed to say "Betteridge".

As you'd expect, the report isn't friendly to agribiz; their solutions are about "managing" things. Bureaucrats good, never markets. And we get stuff like Small-scale farmers, the backbone of rural livelihoods and food production for millennia, are under immense strain from land degradation, insecure tenure, and a globalized food system that favors concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanized agribusiness. No, that's not the right way to think about that kind of problem; this is more longing for the Merrie England Happy Peasant type stuff that no-one who can possibly avoid it will actually choose to live with. People abandon peasant agriculture when they can, for the obvious reasons. Their Happy Peasant culture of dancing around maypoles will be lost, just like ours has been.

Much of the early sections reads like boilerplate; things that other people have written, and they've copied, without even thinking about. Take, for instance, The widening gulf between production and consumption, and ensuing levels of food loss / waste, further accelerates the rate of land use change, land degradation and deforestation. What does that even mean? There can't be a large excess of consumption over production, the gulf can't be that way round, otherwise we'd run out of things to consume, which is physically impossible. So they must mean that production now greatly exceeds consumption. If true, that would be mad, but it would also be a cause for hope: because if you could then cut down on the waste - presumably, the "gulf" in that case comes from waste, I think even the EU has stopped just throwing food away, though even that is indeed waste - you could feed more people from the same land, which would be good. Is that what they mean? I don't know. I get the feeling they've been told to bang out a report, lots of references, at least 1" thick 2" would be good, never mind about the actual words too much.

Anyway, so much for intro, the bit I wanted was A significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading and at further risk from climate change and biodiversity loss. From 1998 to 2013, approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface showed persistent declining trends in productivity, apparent in 20 per cent of cropland, 16 per cent of forest land, 19 per cent of grassland, and 27 per cent of rangeland. These trends are especially alarming in the face of the increased demand for land-intensive crops and livestock.

But we also learn, from the start of Chapter 4, that Over the last 20 years the extent of land area harvested has increased by 16 per cent, the area under irrigation has doubled, and agricultural production has grown nearly threefold. These two ideas aren't incompatible of course. We can be increasing productivity in some places while losing it in others. We could be grabbing good new land while throwing wrung-out old land away. Maybe.

key But as Chapter 4 says, Measuring the extent of land degradation is difficult, so we didn't try to do it we just nicked The World Atlas of Desertification (WAD) instead. It appears to be an EU product. For an example pic, see Europe inlined above. I've cheated; Europe is the greenest. But is that cheating? Europe is intensively inhabited and intensively farmed; why isn't it desertifying, if that's the problem we're worried about? The answer is obvious: Europe is also run by wealthy people who look after the land, in general. Perhaps that's the solution?

The report is keen to guide your eye, and will tell you for example that Indications of decreasing productivity can be observed globally, with up to 22 million km2 affected, i.e., approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface shows persistent declining trends or stress on land productivity. But if you look at Europe, you'll see that more than 50% is deep-green, which is to say "increasing". That doesn't get a mention (they can't avoid mentioning Europe entirely of course, so they say Local farming practices often result in water and wind erosion and other degradation phenomena that, however, cannot be captured universally at the scale of analysis with the current datasets available; they know there's a problem, even if they can't see it). Even globally, the "deep green" total is bigger than the red-plus-yellow bits. That doesn't mean all is well, but it does deserve noticing; I can't think that a report that doesn't notice that is balanced.

I'd better stop before I channel any more of the spirit of Bjorn Lomborg. Global warming is bound to bring shifts to rainfall patterns that are bound to disrupt our agriculture and natural ecosystems in ways that are hard to predict in any kind of detail. I do caution against lack of caution.


* Does Eating Meat Contribute to Global Warming?


Photovoltaic growth: reality versus projections of the International Energy Agency – the 2017 update

A fascinating picture, and blog post, comes my way, ht CR. There are various ways of looking at the same numbers; I've picked solar PV additions on a log scale, but you can also look on a linear scale, or look at total installations; see the post for more.

What we're seeing is that "official" forecasts of solar PV have lagged waay behind actual installations, and have done so with remarkable consistency. Despite repeated failure they have learnt nothing year on year. There's some discussion of just why the forecasts have been so bad, up to and including capture by Evil Fossil Fuel Barons, even though it isn't clear how that would make sense. Greenpeace also don't do a very good job, as the post notes. I tried to trawl back through GP's reports. But I got stuck because the 2005 report has ~70,000 PJ/a total energy baseline for 2000, whereas the 2010 one has 400,000; and that's illogical, captain. Also unpresciently, 2005 lumps solar PV, hydra and wind together; and the 2010 report is lead by pix of shiny mirrors.

The blog post quotes the IEA as pointing out that its reports are not supposed to be forecasts; this is probably about as useful as the IPCC saying the same about its projections. The IEA claims not to take into account new policies or "major new technologies" and that second point gets closest to the problem. Which I take to be not, really, any major new technologies but just steady technological improvements. Wiki has a nice pic showing growth by region; you can see the overall exponential growth continues, but Europe has clearly tailed off.

Although this is somehow news to me - clearly I've been asleep - others have noticed. The linked blog post provides examples, one of which is David Roberts at Vox. And, delightfully, I find myself able once again to disagree with him. He quotes GP saying Everything beyond projections for the next 10 years is simply a political statement from us, indicating what we want to see happen. This also becomes a work plan for us. If we see a renewable energy market isn’t performing as we want it to, we’ll try to jump in with campaigns—against fossil and nuclear fuels and in favor of renewables. And he likes this; because, effectively, he's a campaigner; and campaigners need something to campaign for. And I disagree because I wonder...

What are the consequences of this mis-forecast? Off in the real world, as opposed to scenario-land, solar PV keeps getting cheaper and people keep installing more of it. We can assume this is likely to continue, regardless of who campaigns for what and, probably, by this stage, largely regardless of government policies. Carbon taxes would help it, of course, but carbon taxes (or anything vaguely equivalent) are moving so sloowly that it seems solar PV will likely leap straight past that hurdle. I'm speculating here, of course. So a possible consequence of all this is that CO2 becomes less of a problem than we thought. Could it be that John McCarthy's semi-magical techno-optimism was actually right?


* US carbon emissions