2021-03-30

Reflecting Sunlight

tt AKA Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and the new NAS report. I think Michael Mann has a typical response: don't touch it with a bargepole, but I think his reasoning as well as his answer is wrong. His reasoning is mostly "geoengineering is hardly cheap—it comes with great potential harm". This is strictly invalid; the actual-cost as measured by how-much-it-costs-to-do-it is, I think, generally agreed to be "small", or at least likely-to-be-small; no-one has actually done it yet, so there aren't any good numbers. But the worry is that it might be cheap. And the cost ascribed to the harm is not really known; in the usual way, one should probably weight that potential harm by the unknown probability of it occurring. And yes I know that SRM doesn't deal with, e.g. ocean acidification

A useful presentation of the "two tribes" comes via ATTP's twit; the "where is the NAS report on nationalizing and rapidly shutting down the fossil fuel industry?" side (which I think is fuckwitted, obvs) is by Kevin Surprise; you can sense him salivating at the idea of "a massive, punitive-level wealth tax". By contrast, Matthias Honegger who - apart from talking to idiots - appears quite sane, represents the "we won't be able to meaningfully engage on questions of desirability unless there is meaningful research" side.

My own view is that while SRM has dangers, running screaming from it with drivel about "SG at best bolsters status-quo, at worst would further concentrate power" is wrongthink. In trying to "solve" GW we're trying to, errm, solve global warming; we're not trying For Great Justice and to use it as leverage for the revolt of the proles and a return to earthly paradise; though that is what some people (hello, Kevin!) are trying to use it for.

And the reply to "it comes with great potential harm" is "well, then it would be a good idea to do some research on it then". The reply to "but that might come with 'moral hazard' - people might stop trying to reduce CO2" is "calm down". A tiny (by comparison with other things) bit o' research isn't going to do harm.

[Update 2021/10: I see that as usual I've rather wrapped my own views up in responding to other people's. So to be clear: I'm advocating research on "geoengineering" broadly defined. And push-back against the fools opposing said research. See-also perhaps Climate Schlock.]

This has shades of "experts will lie to you sometimes" (notice the ATTP, badly IMO, twits that without indicating any opinion); but the underlying piece by Noah Smith is bad. And it seems to me it's the way that some "expert" opinion is headed on SRM: "you poor proles can't cope with complexity so let's just run away from it".

I should perhaps point out that I haven't actually read the NAS report. But here's the summary: Reflecting Sunlight: Recommendations for Solar Geoengineering Research and Research Governance Climate change is creating impacts that are widespread and severe for individuals, communities, economies, and ecosystems around the world. While efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts are the first line of defense, researchers are exploring other options to reduce warming. Solar geoengineering strategies are designed to cool Earth either by adding small reflective particles to the upper atmosphere, by increasing reflective cloud cover in the lower atmosphere, or by thinning high-altitude clouds that can absorb heat. While such strategies have the potential to reduce global temperatures, they could also introduce an array of unknown or negative consequences. This report concludes that a strategic investment in research is needed to enhance policymakers' understanding of climate response options. The United States should develop a transdisciplinary research program, in collaboration with other nations, to advance understanding of solar geoengineering's technical feasibility and effectiveness, possible impacts on society and the environment, and social dimensions such as public perceptions, political and economic dynamics, and ethical and equity considerations. The program should operate under robust research governance that includes such elements as a research code of conduct, a public registry for research, permitting systems for outdoor experiments, guidance on intellectual property, and inclusive public and stakeholder engagement processes.

Update: 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea?


By Alan Robock via Aaron Thierry. TL;DR: not convincing; more of a hand-waving "there are issues" than any attempt to address them in any depth; and I'm doubtful he is being honest (or, if you prefer, impartial); see #8.

Let's look: 1. Effects on regional climate: true but GQ will also have effects on regional climate. 2. Continued ocean acidification: probably the best one. 3. Ozone depletion: potentially an issue; he provides zero detail, which is odd; if there is no detail, crying out for more research; 4. Effects on plants: again, research; 5. More acid deposition: doubtful, I think, as the effects would be small; he makes zero attempt to quantify it. 8. Less sun for solar power. Scientists estimate that as little as a 1.8 percent reduction in incoming solar radiation would compensate for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Errm, but we're not suggesting nearly so much compensation. So, less than 1% effect on solar power in exchange for ~50% compensation? That would be a pretty good deal, not that you'd guess it from his words. 9. Environmental impacts of implementation. Any system that could inject aerosols into the stratosphere... would cause enormous environmental damage. Silly, I think. 10. Rapid warming if deployment stops: true, as I noted. 11. There’s no going back: untrue, I think. 13. Undermining emissions mitigation: not I think a valid argument against doing the research. 15. Commercial control of technology: meh. 16. Military use of the technology: ditto. And so on, to the usual hand-wringing.

Note I've skipped a couple that were dull, IMO. His #13: Undermining emissions mitigation. If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for “business as usual,” gathering
the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult.18 This is the oldest and most persistent argument against geoengineering is what I'm criticising: he doesn't want SRM to work, because he wants emissions reduction for its own sake - for changing lifestyles - and something else that would solve GW would be bad, for him, because his primary aim isn't solving GW. That, obviously, is a permissible idea, as long as you're open about it: but he isn't.

Refs


* US urged to invest in sun-dimming studies as climate warms: National academies report is most explicit call yet for a government research programme to explore the controversial field of solar geoengineering - Nurture.
Possibly an unpopular opinion here, but I'm uneasy about some of the proposed research. Given the issues are far more related to the (im)possibility of sustainable governance, accelerated research into the physical science could lead to over-confidence about deployment says Big Gav.
* Some not-very-interesting speculation from the Economist: Reaching for the sunshade: July 2030
* As you'd expect, there are loads of useless tossers opposed; or as Slate puts it Even Research Into Tinkering With the Sky to Fight Climate Change Needs Public Support.

2021-03-26

Warren vows to fight against being heckled by snotty tweets

PXL_20210325_090608797Elizabeth Warren vows to "fight to break up Big Tech so you’re not powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets". Seriously. I didn't make that up. She really said it. What gratuitous abuse of power. And of course she is lying: she isn't being "heckled"; the tweet from Amazon was entirely reasonable.

I think this is part of a generic rule-of-law failure on the part of populist pols like Warren: she genuinely but incorrectly believes that the law should be whatever she wants it to be, not what is written. In this particular case, the Yanqui tax code is unquestionably bad law, because it is so enormous that it is inevitably full of loopholes. And why is it enormous? Because of people like Warren. And how will Warren try to fix this? Partly, as we see, by intimidation. But also no doubt by making the tax law even bigger. Idiot.

Another in-the-news example is the EU, where the pols are trying to direct private business for their own political ends. Again, it's a mix of gangster-like intimidation and threatened extra "rules", which aren't really rules, being so opaque and value-ridden that they would amount to arbitrary rule.

Meanwhile, in the garden: fasciation (sure 'nuff) on my Forsythia. More pix. Don't miss the rhubarb emerging.

Refs


2021-03-23

A Bankruptcy Judge Lets Blackjewel Shed Coal Mine Responsibilities in a Case With National Implications

From InsideClimateNews:

The Blackjewel coal mining company can walk away from cleaning up and reclaiming coal mines covered by more than 30 permits in Kentucky under a liquidation agreement that was reached Friday in federal bankruptcy court in Charleston, West Virginia, attorneys participating in the case said. About 170 other Blackjewel permits in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia will be placed into legal limbo for six months while Blackjewel attempts to sell them to other coal mining companies, the attorneys said. Any permits that are unable to be transferred can then also be abandoned by the company, once the nation’s sixth-largest coal producer. 

Interesting, though I think not a new concept; I can't recall commenting earlier so I will now.

Looking at Top twenty-three coal-mining companies in the United States, 2018 on wiki, bankruptcy is hardly a surprise; and more can be expected; coal production in the US in the not-particularly-long term is doomed. The emotive language about "walk away from" doesn't add very much; they're bankrupt, so however much you might like the CEO to go out there with a shovel and tidy things up, not much will come of it. There are, it would seem, supposed to be bonds to cover remediation, but, surprise! Both the state and the companies that issued bonds guaranteeing clean-up and reclamation of the dynamite-blasted landscapes had warned in court proceedings that there might not be enough money to do all the required work. So, over-friendly regulation by the state, I suspect, which didn't want to force the miners to post large enough bonds since that would probably just have bankrupted them earlier.

How do I fit this into my Great Political Scheme? After all, this is a clear example of the State needing to step in to regulate the industry better, or clean up afterwards. But I think not. the state routinely screws up regulation, as it would appear to have done in this case, and trying to fix that is hard work. Instead, I think I'd just recognise that dying industries tend to leave junk behind them; not all problems have neat solutions. By their very nature, dying industries tend to be financially small, so I think there is easily enough money floating around the US to fix things up, if anyone wants to: in other words, sell off the carcass to the highest bidder.

Refs

Review by Brad DeLong of James Scott (1998), Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.

* Fairness > equality by Tyler Cowen

2021-03-22

Doughnut Economics

doughnut Tom asked about "Doughnut Economics"; I'm very tempted to just reach for the W-word, but since he was also kind enough to ask for more posts, I'll post on it. 

We need to begin by working out what this stuff is. They offer The Doughnut offers a vision of what it means for humanity to thrive in the 21st century - and Doughnut Economics explores the mindset and ways of thinking needed to get us there and the economic thinking needed. So I deduce it is a way of thinking; a way of thinking about economics. However The Doughnut's holistic scope and visual simplicity, coupled with its scientific grounding, has turned it into a convening space for big conversations about reimagining and remaking the future is really very off-putting and I feel the W-word looming. You have been warned.

The idea is to change the goal from endless GDP growth to thriving. Well, I've heard that one before, of course. So first of all her terminology is wrong: the present-day aim of GDP growth is a political, not economic goal. This indicates muddled thinking on her part, but may not be fatal. As any fule kno, Economics is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Complaining that when she says econ she really means pol would be mere semantics; but the unanswered question at this point is whether a new goal, which we will choose and use econ thinking to work out how to achieve - this would require no new econ, merely pol; or whether she has some substantive criticism of existing economics, not politics, - errors in existing anaylsis, important previously-ignored components - that will force us to revise our economic analysis. That she is unable to state the question clearly isn't encouraging.

Initially, it looks very much like pol: her very first idea it to change the goal, from increasing GDP, to "the Doughnut". An immediate objection is that GDP is at least clear, whereas her alternative is vague. Another objection is that "increasing GDP" isn't many people's goal. It isn't mine, and it isn't yours. It is the sort of thing that govts tend to claim to do, because people tend to like increasing prosperity. But I think she is somewhat confusing emergent properties with goals; like those funny denialists who insist that climate models have set sensitivities. Items 2-7 are so wanky (damn! I finally said it out loud) that I can't comment without looking deeper.

But there doesn't seem to be much depth. Take, for example "peace and justice" (sadly, there's isn't a "motherhood and apple pie" element). So, I'm sure we'd all agree that Peace and Justice are excellent things, though quite likely we'd disagree on exactly what Justice means. How will DE get us there? I've no idea.

So as far as I can tell DE reduces to "(a) it would be nice if no-one were poor or sad; and (b) using more resources than we actually have isn't sustainable in the long term; and (c) I have no real idea how to get there". Is there anything new in this, other than an infographic? You can tell, I'm pretty sure, that I'm unconvinced; if  missed the depth of analysis, do please point me to it. I tried the original 2012 report, which says thing things like  Income: Ending income poverty for the 21 per cent of the global population who live on less than $1.25 a day would require just 0.2 per cent of global income. And this it true... or at least it was then; since global poverty has fallen in the past 9 years and global income risen, it would now require even less. But to write it in those term completely misses the point. Most dreadfully poor people are so because their govt is crap, not because of any inherent limitations.

Refs


2021-03-20

Global 'elite' will need to slash high-carbon lifestyles?

PXL_20210320_105614975 Climate change: Global 'elite' will need to slash high-carbon lifestyles sayeth Aunty; or World's richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, says Oxfam from the Graun; and my excuse for re-hashing 2020's olde newes was that this was back on Twatter recently. 

The underlying idea is that rich people have more money and so emit-or-cause-to-be-emitted more CO2 than poor people (brilliant work, Carruthers, I'd never have thought of that for myself). And we also know - have known for quite some time - that the "average" for a sustainable level is well below the current rich-country level.

Being idiots, neither the Beeb nor the Graun link to the report in question. There's a UN Emissions Gap Report 2020, but that's fuck all use because whilst it contains the said numbers, it contains no source for said numbers. Ah, but that's just the Exec Summary; Execs, clearly, are not to be bothered with sources. The Full Report (fig 6.1) points me to "Oxfam and SEI (2020)" which gets me to the SEI report.

Before I go on to quibble the figures, of which I am dubious, let's draw out another point, by quoting some fuller numbers. For the moment, let us take these as at least ballpark:

* The richest 10% of humanity (c.630 million people) accounted for 52% of the cumulative emissions, depleting the global carbon budget for 1.5C by nearly a third (31%);
* The richest 1% (c.63 million people) alone accounted for over 15% of the cumulative emissions, using up 9% of the carbon budget: more than twice the poorest 50% (c.3.1 billion people), or more than the entire cumulative emissions of citizens in the EU;
* The 40% of humanity in the global middle class (c.2.5 billion people) accounted for 41% of the cumulative emissions, and 25% of the carbon budget, while the poorest 50% accounted for just 7% of cumulative emissions, and a mere 4% of the budget.

So we notice that both Aunty and the darling Graun have tailored their messages to their audiences: the evil demons who must slash their emissions are the top 1%, from which I - and, I assume, most of my readers - are safely absent. But the very rich, being very few - well, being 1% - , "only" emit 15%; whereas the darling 10%, being many - about 630 million - account for 52%. You and I, dear reader, are in that 10%. We need to slash our emissions. See-also XR.

Having said that, let's move on to the emissions estimates. These are based on income data, which are available, not emission data, which aren't. How do they do it? Oxfam and SEI's approach to estimating how global carbon emissions can be attributed to individuals based on their consumption... start with national consumption emissions data for 117 countries from 1990 to 2015 period... allocate national consumption emissions to individuals within each country based on a functional relationship between income and emissions, drawing on new income distribution datasets. We assume, based on numerous studies at national, regional and global levels, that emissions rise in proportion to income, above a minimum emissions floor and to a maximum emissions ceiling. What does that functional relationship look like? We assume that between the upper and lower bounds discussed above, emissions rise monotonically with income, and that the relationship can be expressed as an elasticity of emissions with respect to income. Depending on income-dependent consumption behaviour in a given country, emissions may grow faster than income (elasticity >1), in proportion to income (e=1), or more slowly than income (elasticity <1). It also turns out (fig 4) that "elasticity" varies per country, from about 0.7 (UK) to around 1.5 (Finland) with no discernable sorting by income... at which point they kinda give up and use elasticity=1. Maybe; I got tired of wading through the fine print.

But the end result, is that I'm dubious that emissions go up linearly with income at the 1% end of things. Not having waded through all their papers, I can't really justify that or claim to have convincingly demonstrated it; I'd be curious if anyone else has seen any analysis of these results.

Refs



2021-03-17

Coronavirus days: Happy Anniversary

PXL_20210316_160527815~2 My first wildly exciting Coronavirus post wasn't; and don't expect this special anniversary edition to be any more exciting. But it is now a full year since March 17th 2020... how are things going?

Personally, they are fine. I'm working from home; so is my wife; so, now, is my son (for Darktrace, since you ask). The slightly eccentric several-small-rooms design of our house has facilitated this. My daughter is off at university, but since terms are short she is now back at home. Work is remarkably unchanged; being at home makes little difference. Some things are a bit annoying - swapping kit around for example - but that happens rarely. Talking to others, casually, is hard; so collaboration is down a bit. But we have regular meetings, so we all stay in touch. Overall I think that in terms of the work I get done, it's a net positive; and in terms of my work-life definitely better. I save an hour commuting each day, so gain that time, though I also lose that exercise. And since I'm at home I get to do useful things, or nice things like sit in the garden, in the odd 10-minute breaks; instead of just moodily slouching around the work kitchen wishing there was somewhere nice to go. And no-one cares if I wear shoes or not (spoiler: I don't).

On a more personal level I miss the coffee shops, and I miss rowing4, but not much else has gone. I missed going to Scotland this New Year, too. Hopefully the idiot EU will sort themselves out by summer time.

Just yesterday I got vaccinated, with AZ3. This being NHS-mediated, I wasn't given a choice, but then again, I didn't want one. The idiot EU folk, not content with having badly fucked up their vaccine roll-out, are doing their best to stuff it up even further and flailing around; and now out of an excess of caution are killing their own citizens2. Meanwhile the selfish Yankees are holding on to 10M doses of AZ that they won't use but won't give away; so much for Biden being the good guy1. I get my Daily Dose of Death via JA on Twatter - inlined - and the steady decline is good to see; deaths are now ~below 100/day.

David Spiegelhalter says There's no proof the Oxford vaccine causes blood clots. So why are people worried? The answer, of course, as far as ordinary people are concerned, is because their idiot authorities have paused vaccinations; and since, we're constantly told to "trust the experts" these experts must have some good reason for doing so? Of course the answer is that they don't; they are idiots; but DS isn't brave enough to say so.

You're only as good as your last crisis, so our glorious govt's comparative failure a year ago compared to the EU will effectively be forgotten; meanwhile history is being rewritten under our feet, but people have memories like goldfish so that will probably work. The loud voices that told us a year ago that the UK and USA were doomed because capitalists can't cope with plagues have gone rather quiet now that France, Spain, Germany, Italy all have higher death rates than the UK does5. Take that, lefties.


Notes

1. Spoiler: he isn't: he's a pol. Update: and to be fair, the Yanquis are starting to get their act in order: U.S. to Send Millions of Vaccine Doses to Mexico and Canada, though they haven't actually done it yet, and only 4M out of "tens of millions". I await further updates.

2. To be fair, the EMA appears to be sane. Update: and has now told the EUdiots once again that it's all fine, and it seems they might listen this time. But, gloriously, the Frogs have stuffed it up again.

Flailing continues: AstraZeneca plant inspected by Italian police at EU's request. I'm doubtful that the EU really believes in the rule of law at all.

3. And this morning I felt distinctly sub-par. But I think I'm back now.

4. Lents didn't happen but hopefully Mays will; and we're hoping to run the Head of the Cam in late April.

5. As long as you remember to look at present rates, rather than cumulative. See previous comments re goldfish.


Refs

a liberal democracy is characterized not by “popular rule” but by various devices providing for “an intermittent, sometimes random, even perverse, popular veto” which “has at least the potential of preventing tyranny and rendering officials responsive.”
The EU's AstraZeneca vaccine stance will cost lives, here in Spain and all over Europe by A. Spaniard.
* Covid: Arrests during anti-lockdown protests in London
* Thank You AstraZeneca says JA (no, not that JA).
* How the beach 'super-spreader' myth can inform UK's future Covid response via PW.
* Science in the Time of COVID-19 - ATTP.

* Boris Johnson's two cheers for capitalism by Alberto Mingardi.

* AZ vaccine: we, too, are fuckwits.

Suicide trends in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic: an interrupted time-series analysis of preliminary data from 21 countriesno evidence of a significant increase in risk of suicide since the pandemic began in any country or area (which when you think about it is surprising, given the number of series they had...) from the Lancet.

2021-03-08

More wank about science as a social construct

PXL_20210304_225020349.PORTRAIT Every now and again there is a minor flare-up in the "science is a social construct" war1. Real Scientists, of course, ignore this stuff and get on with doing science, because that is what scientists do. I don't think I've got anything new to say, so this post is mostly for my own benefit. I wrote about Science in 20142.

And then Carl T. Bergstrom offers Here’s a short explanation of why the socially constructed nature of science matters. But does he deliver? I think not. He asserts Yet science is not the inevitable One True Path to knowledge about the material world. Rather, science operates via a set of norms and institutions jury-rigged to operate atop the evolved psychology of one particular species of ape. If bees did science, I suspect it would look altogether different but that is but an assertion, and his personal opinion. Whilst it is true - and indeed little better than the bleedin' obvious - that science in everyday use and practice is part of human culture, and hence contingent and shaped by our biases, it isn't at all clear that the output of science in terms of understanding of the world is so shaped. By science, of course, I'm excluding all the wiffly social-science stuff, whose output is inevitably part of and shaped by human culture.

Indeed, arguably - and I do so argue - Science is all the bits that aren't contingent and human-shaped; Science works, bitches; things that don't work aren't; and things that do work get absorbed into it.

I suppose I should make it clear that I'm not arguing that all writing about science is worthless; The Structure of Scientific Revolutions isn't, for example.


Refs

* Is Bruno Latour a useless ponce?
* THE ACCIDENTAL CLIMATOLOGIST Of OLD ALGIERS (the first title was the best).
* LORD MONCKTON FEARED LOST IN THE MANDLEBROT SET (and again)
* The social construction of science - ATTP gets it wrong
* [the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau] displayed just the right mixture of noble sentiment, lofty rhetoric, muddled thinking, and disregard for reality to attract those intellectuals who, like him, refused to “tolerate the world as it is - Richard Pipes, Property and Freedom.
Trapped Priors As A Basic Problem Of Rationality - SSC/AST - not quite correct I think (it assumes everyone remembers everything; instead, we have filters which reject stuff we don't like, so no updating occurs) but interesting.

Notes

1. For example, that naughty Dawkins says "Science is not a social construct. Science’s truths were true before there were societies; will still be true after all philosophers are dead"; some idiot pops up to say "what's "objective reality""; and someone else will say "science is able to uncover information about whatever is being studied that can allow us to develop an understanding that could converge towards something that we accept as being essentially true (even if absolute truth isn't possible)".

2. Note the quote at the end of that. Another defn of Science - I say because I'm fond of linking to this post - might be "the thing that advances one funeral at a time".