Book review: A Heritage of Stars

PXL_20240720_191952701A Heritage of Stars by Clifford D. Simak is a harmless lightweight piece of SF-fantasy "pastoral" fluff. There is no particular pretension to literary quality, just a story told as well as he knows how.

We skate over various improbabilities, most obviously how the motley cast of characters come to be assembled. We quietly ignore the improbability of anyone not attempting to recreate tech. We just about manage to believe that pretty well all tech all over the world would somehow simultaneously be destroyed with no hold-outs, bar obvs the one Our Heroes are heading for. I'm dubious that the various "talents" that his party shows wouldn't have been noticed and studied and learnt from, but the book calls on us to believe in a vitiated huan race, somewhat like Tolkein's elves, so maybe.

Oh dear. This was meant to be on "the other blog". Well, never mind, it isn't as if it is crowded here. FWIW the dig about "literary quality" was a fling at John Harrison's Light. Since I ended up putting it here, I could add: reading the wiki biog of Simak, he seems  a decent likeable chap.



The Loper's so Bright, I gotta wear shades

loper You should probably start by reading SCOTUSblog's Supreme Court strikes down Chevron, curtailing power of federal agencies for a largely neutral view. In brief, By a vote of 6-3, the justices overruled their landmark 1984 decision in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which gave rise to the doctrine known as the Chevron doctrine. Under that doctrine, if Congress has not directly addressed the question at the center of a dispute, a court was required to uphold the agency’s interpretation of the statute as long as it was reasonable.

I discussed Chevron briefly in Kavanaugh’s views on EPA’s climate authority, without really focussing on the principle.

If you want to read someone wringing their hands about how terrible the decision is, you can try UnSciAm's A Supreme Court Ruling May Make It Harder for Government Agencies to Use Good Science. You should be cautious about believing the article though; for example "it was an unremarkable reminder of judicial restraint that had been the norm for a century" is doubtful; an attempt to prevent you thinking "but hold on this is just restoring things to how they were before". But inadvertently their A particularly important feature of Chevron deference, he says, is its nonpartisan nature. “It is a neutral principle,” Doniger says. “It lets conservative administrations cut back on the scope of these laws, and it lets liberal administrations do more with them” is quite telling: pretending that this is entirely or primarily a matter of scientific expertise is bollox: raw politics comes into it. And having the law change under your feet when the administration changes is not good. Another blow against the "scientific expertise" idea is the case actually under discussion, which amounted to who should pay for agency monitors on fishing boats. Oddly, the agency wanted the fishermen to pay.

To return to the basics: law (cough legislation cough) requires making, and that is down to the legislature; execution, and that is the job of the executive; and interpretation, which is what judges are for. Having the executive get to both execute and decide the law is dubious, and an obvious violation of separation-of-powers. Few people will object to the agencies resolving minor ambiguities; but major questions are a different matter. Speaking of which, the judgement helpfully points out that the Supremes haven't actually upheld Chevron for years. But as quite a few have pointed out, it will remain common for courts to actually defer, particularly in technical instances1.

There's a fairly strong theme of people making up their minds pro and con on this matter based on the results they want, not the principles; vide UnSciAm, who correctly judge that the bulk of their subscribing readership come from amongst those likely to be in favour of regulators having more power. Another issue I've seen is defenders admitting that Congress routinely writes poor quality legislation that begs for interpretation. That shouldn't be a defence; if (but its unlikely) this acted to wake up Congress and get them to write better quality legislation, that would be nice.

Wiki quotes the NYT (arch) that this was the "cumulation of the current Supreme Court's efforts to weaken the adminstrative state as part of a conservative agenda against big government"; that seems to me to be typically poor thinking, since I see no reason why it should be the culmination (ah: I should have actually read the article: their point is that Chevron was the point, not Roe vs Wade; this is more plausible; it also rather nicely suggests that the left is easily fooled since it concentrates so hard on stuff like RvW and none of its people really care about stuff like C; vide the relative lack of coverage and the total lack of popular interest).


* Not to be mistaken for City of New York v Chevron Corp, again,
* Change Pending: The Path to the 2024 General Election and Beyond - the people want ponies and rainbow-farting unicorns.


1. The judgement prefers "respect" to "defer", and perhaps that's right: The Court recognized from the outset, though, that exercising independent judgment often included according due respect to Executive Branch interpretations of federal statutes. Such respect was thought especially warranted when an Executive Branch interpretation was issued roughly contemporaneously with enactment of the statute and remained consistent over time. The Court also gave “the most respectful consideration” to Executive Branch interpretations simply because “[t]he officers concerned [were] usually able men, and masters of the subject,” who may well have drafted the laws at issue. United States v. Moore, 95 U. S. 760, 763. “Respect,” though, was just that. The views of the Executive Branch could inform the judgment of the Judiciary, but did not supersede it. “[I]n cases where [a court’s] own judgment . . . differ[ed] from that of other high functionaries,” the court was “not at liberty to surrender, or to waive it.” United States v. Dickson, 15 Pet. 141, 162



mayflies Another year, another Mays. Somewhat wet this time; my pic is from Friday M2 which was especially rainy during the row-down; here we see, keeping up my shameless tradition, Caius M2. Watch the whole thing.

Fortunately Saturday was sunnier.

As to the results, the blockbuster was LMBC catching Caius on day one. I didn't see that, it happened halfway down the Reach; here's a vid. Congratulations to LMBC; commiserations to Caius, who also went down on Saturday to Magdalene. And also congratualations to Fitz on making it into div 1; I expect great things of the future. On the women's side, the widely-tipped Caius went down to LMBC to third on day one, got them back on day three, and then dramatically went head on Saturday.

As usual, this post is really just here to link to the full playlist.


Spinoza, Ethics

PXL_20230822_075622617~2 Spinoza, Ethics was recommended by Russell; that is recommended in the influence on thought sense. I "read" (browsed, skimmed, eventually gave up) this on Kindle during last summer's holiday; these are my notes from that reading.

You can tell from the title (Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order) that its going to go wrong, being another (but perhaps the first (no: the rather more successful Leviathan predates it by 10 years)) to ape geometry. It doesn't take him long to go wrong, he doesn't really understand definitions / axioms well: thus he defines finite (not rigourously, obvs) and then uses infinite without defining; he uses eternal before deffing it; etc. We get a pile of propositions that all depend on e.g. exactly what he means by "substance" so I didn't care.

Then, the ontological proof of god, which no-one believes, including him, because he immediately follows it with another proof variant (see wiki: by God he may mean Nature; which may or may not be the simple material universe (in which case why bother prove it exists?) or some pantheistic god).

Later, he proves that you can't cut an infinite thing in half because it would then be two infinities which is twice as large. Duh. He also neglects to consider one part being finite. I hope we get past this dull stuff soon.

Doesn't like free will (prop xxxii) since will needs a cause which must regress ro god; similarly (xxxiii) the world could not be other than is, since it proceeds from god and god cannot be different it would be absurd. Confusingly (corr to prop xxxi, but another ordering of props) things are contingent.

There's very little actual ethics in there. In discussing good / bad (mostly in terms of desire / aversion in which he is close to Hobbes) I think he goes wrong (e.g. later: good-v-evil is nothing but emotions of pleasure-v-pain). He is missing the key concept of societies only existing if they have moralities that allow existence. This is unsurprising but means all his stuff is broken. Note: it is important to realise when things are broken. Not doing so, and endlessly chattering, is a key failure of most philosophy. Of his many propositions re emotions, some are kinda interesting aphorisms, and so of some value, but the proofs are all uninteresting.


Hazlitt, in The Foundations of Morality, quotes Spinoza for "In no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it" (written between 1661 and 1675). That would make me think him worthwhile, had he originated it. But it is just a rip-off of Hobbes: "But whatsoever is the object of any mans Appetite or Desire; that is it, which he for his part calleth Good: And the object of his Hate, and Aversion, evill; And of his contempt, Vile, and Inconsiderable. For these words of Good, evill, and Contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them" (Leviathan, published in 1651).


Two Federal Courts Rule Against Biden's New Student Loan Forgiveness Plan on the Same Day.

* France 2023 part four: Les Deux Alpes to La Berade; around; Dibona; and to Bourg D'Oisans.


In Defence of War

PXL_20240622_191625720Before you get too excited, no, this is nothing to do with the current fracas in the near orient; instead it is a work of philosophy by Niglet Biggar. In terms of the examples he uses, WWI comes up.

I've read approximately a third of it, and eventually stopped, not because it is poor quality but because his analysis is almost entirely from a Christian, Thomist, Just-War perspective. Being a good atheist I reject reasonning based on an assumption of the correctness of the Christian perspective, of course. That could, though, leave us with the Just-War theory as of value because it has historical respectability; because it has been honed over centuries; because it has been considered and improved by fine minds.

But I don't believe that. I think Just-War1 theory is a figleaf; a confection, devised to "allow" states to do what they would anyway. I can think of no examples of when states have said "oh hold on no we won't have this war because it fails test 3 out of the Just-War list of conditions". All the intellectual effort over the years has gone into disguising this.

The original problem is that Christianity is a blatantly pacifistic religion, which has been adopted as a state religion, and states need to go to war or at the very least credibly threaten to do so; and there has never been a shortage of intellectuals willing to provide words to paper over the problem.

Our Author does his best to get round Christianity's pacifism by noting things like "well, there are soldiers in the New Testament, and they are not ostracised, nor is there any suggestion they should give up their profession; from the Bible's silence on this, we can deduce that...". He is obliged to admit that deduction-from-silence is weak, but then immeadiately leaps over that.

Similarly - but here I am relying on my weak memory, and on sections that I didn't read carefully anyway - he has a tendency to bring up subject X, which has been brilliantly handled by scholar Y; but ah: he analyses scholar Y's analysis and finds it, whilst brilliant, quibblable; and so discountable.

My own defence of war, should I be obliged to make one, would align closely with Hobbes.


1. Somewhere - lost in the depths of wiki I think - I have a weak joke on this in which I suggest that Just-War should really be called "Just-Go-To-War, using the alternative meaning of the word Just.


Sherwood B. Idso suffers hard delete

PXL_20240601_173547588 Another one bites the dust; at least according to wiki. I'd tell you what the Dork Side thinks, but WUWT is giving me "429 Too Many Requests" at the moment2. Perhaps it too has kicked the bucket1.

I don't think I had much accasion to write about SBI; I can find a casual "one of the usual suspects" in Who were those masked men? and Patrick Michaels suffers hard delete.

Here's an obit for Sherwood Burtrum Idso.



1. My picture shows our faithful old bucket, which we acquired when we moved to Coton in 1995, as the old owners had left an ex-chickenshed full of stuff. It moved with us into Cambridge, until felled by a mighty blow from a pallet that delivered our new bench, a birthday present from my mother.

2. It's back now; no mention of the lateness of Idso that I can see. Archive.is is also giving me troubles; but here's an arch.



Polling Pales

Middle East news: both sides are trying to avoid giving a definitive answer to those nice USAnian's peace proposal, and are hoping they can blame the other side for rejecting it. Cue endless vacillation and death.

Meanwhile, there's a poll by the Palestinian Center for POLICY and SURVEY RESEARCH; see here; h/t RH. It makes grim reading for anyone hoping for peace.

Before going on, it's worth noting the finding that A majority of 58% expected Hamas and Israel to reach a ceasefire in the next few days while 39% did not expect it. That's 58% delusional or reporting their hopes rather than actual expectations1, which you should factor into your reading of all the other answers and my notes.

Most interesting to me is the figure below2.

Poll: Humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip

Yes that's right: slightly fewer people have been injured; and the number killed has increased by less than a percent. We could excuse this by sampling difficulties, perhaps, but the lack of increase of dead is weird. Of course it isn't the number of dead, it is the proportion of "families" with at least one dead, but still the lack of increase over the last three months suggests to me that these numbers just aren't reliable. Bizarrely, the report itself makes absolutely no comment on this oddity.

Support for Hamas's attack remains high, at 73% (fig 1), perhaps partly because only 3% think Hamas committed atrocities (fig 4) and 67% expects Hamas to "win" the current war. They carefully avoid explaining what "win" might be. 61% would prefer Hamas to control Gaza (fig 7); though if you prefer a slightly different perspective, Most Palestinians Don't Want Hamas Rule, Poll Shows3.

But what should be done? We have: When asked about its support and opposition to specific policy measures to break the stalemate: 66% supported joining more international organizations; 49% supported resort to unarmed popular resistance; 63% supported a return to confrontations and armed intifada; 62% supported dissolving the PA; and 22% supported abandoning” the two-state solution and demanding one state for Palestinians and Israelis. Three months /’, 55% supported a return to confrontations and armed intifada; 45% supported resort to unarmed popular resistance; 58% supported the dissolution of the PA; and 24% supported abandoning the twostate solution in favor of one state. Unfortunately they weren't offered the option of "surrender; stop fighting" which is my suggestion, but I doubt that would have been popular. Fig 22 provides another view on this, with 54% up for armed struggle 25% for negotiations; and 16% for popular non-violent resistance. "66% supported joining more international organizations" is amost sweet in its delusion; but more likely it indicates despair of other ideas. [Note: the weird "Three months /’" is in the original; I don't know what they've been smoking.]

It does seem that these people are motivated by hatred: The poll found significant opposition of three quarters to Saudi-Israeli normalization, even if it is conditional on Israel accepting a Palestinian state and taking concrete and irreversible steps toward that goal.

Somewhat more speculatively, I notice that the Palestinians invariably refer to their dead - all and any of their dead - as martyrs. That doesn't seem healthy. Whereas the Israelis usually call theirs murdered.

Update: Lebanon / Hizbullah

I'll write a few hasty words here before the world explodes, so I know what I thought.

The major oddity is that the Lebanese govt gets very sniffy about Isreal violating their sovereignty (example; notice that doesn't mention why the naughty Israelis are attacking, which is of course Hizbullah). And that would be fair enough, were they indeed sovereign in southern Lebanon. But if they are, then they're responsible for the rockets being fired into Israel from there (alternatively, they condemn the rocket attacks and would like to stop them, but can't, in which case they do not have actual sovereignty over the area). And if they're flinging rockets at Israel, they can hardly complain if Isreal bombs them back.

The answer, of course, is that the Lebanese govt is too weak to control Hizbullah in southern Lebanon, but doesn't want to admit it, and won't upset its people by telling Hizbullah to stop. The best solution would be for Iran to stop funding Hizbullah; that seems unlikely; second best is probably the upcoming Israeli attack.

Update: Hobbes

it is a precept, or generall rule of Reason, "That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre." The first branch, of which Rule, containeth the first, and Fundamentall Law of Nature; which is, "To seek Peace, and follow it." The Second, the summe of the Right of Nature; which is, "By all means we can, to defend our selves." - Hobbes, Leviathan, CHAPTER XIV. OF THE FIRST AND SECOND NATURALL LAWES, AND OF CONTRACTS, The Fundamental Law Of Nature.


1. Speaking as a SWeng or mathematician, when people ask me a question I tend to answer it, and become unhappy when I can tell that my answer to their question, given literally, will mislead them; or when their question is so badly posed that no accurate answer is possible. But most people, I observe, treat a question more as an invitation to say whatever they like on a given topic. So I have no faith at all that survey reports are literally accurate.

2. I don't know why they've labelled that as "Jun 24"; the text says surveys between May 26 and June 1, 2024.

3. There's some wishful thinking going on there. Another way of saying it is Among those intending to vote, support for Hamas stands at 46%, Fatah 25%, third parties 6%, and the undecided at 25%.


Reporting of yer conflict.

The flower of justice is peace.

Meritocracy, democracy and competition.

Two views of democracy.

Words for the word god: "He moves in darkness as it seems to me, Not of woods only and the shade of trees".

France 2023: part two: around Vallouise and Ailefroide.

Reflections on Juneteenth.

ADHD Reconsidered.

The Gap.

Are the Rich Antisocial and the Poor Emotionally Intelligent?

* The parable of the Antheap and the Anteater.


The morality of not meddling in other people's business

PXL_20240608_120158084 Welcome to ye merie monthe of jun. Which is always a busy month of rowing - Mays is in swing as I speak - so perhaps that excuses my shameful lack of posting.

We're back to the olde feldes with Supreme Court preserves access to abortion pill at which all right-thinking people shout hurrah! Although one senses that the Graun isn't fully comfortable, or even cognisant, of what happened. The issue is one of Standing: just because you happen to care deeply and passionately about a given issue doesn't give you a right to stick your twitchy nose and grimy fingers into the legal pie. Which I link to my previous advice to care less.

This is a legal principle1. But elevated - carefully - to a constitutional provision in some suitable fashion I would tout it as a solution to the Great War: in the sense that the govt really has no cause to be making laws about things that are best left to individuals. I've said this before to the inevitable great acclaim.


Church and State.

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The Supreme Court Inches Towards Liberty - Richard Hanania.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18th.

Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson.


1. For an opposing view, see The Case Against Restrictive Constitutional Standing Requirements; and for discussion of standing, see many comments on Murthy.


Why do we have so many bullshit plans?

Screenshot_20240509-160613 Moans Sabine (5:25 in the video), in the context of GW. The answer of course is because that's what the system rewards; it's what the people demand. People want "to do something" about GW - or at least, that's what they'll answer in any survey you give them, because they know that's the right answer. But paying for it, in direct financial terms or by changing behaviour is a different matter. So "performative" politics - people saying nice things but postponing action into the indefinite future - is the default for any long-term problem1. Hence, targets - which are targets for the future, not now - are popular.

The other issue is that these targets are always in the context of a command economy, which we don't have and don't want. Trying to do it amounts to pushing jelly. Tellingly, at the end (5:45) our hostess wonders what she would do if she were in charge, and decides she would step down: she doesn't have any actual ideas.

This is the Carbon budgets and carbon taxes stuff come again. And the answer is the same.

Addendum: based on a pub conversation today, I realised I've missed off "so what will happen, given that the plans are bullshit?". My best guess is that rather than a superheated hellscape, we'll end up with solar and wind becoming cheaper and us switching to that, not as fast as possible but faster than the no-govt-action plans predict. See-also footnote 4 at my review of Climate Schlock.


1. See-also national debt, pensions, and so on.


* ATTP is A bit inactive… (yes, I trimmed his ellipsis. There are rules, you know).
* The 100th Anniversary of One of America's Worst Laws—the 1924 Immigration ActThe 100th Anniversary of One of America's Worst Laws—the 1924 Immigration Act.


Your right to lorenorder

PXL_20240510_061801824 Gangsters in El Salvador are terrified of strongman Nayib Bukele says the Economist, and after noting He protects citizens from crime it wonders But who will protect them from him? Before you accuse me of being interested in El Salvador, I defend myself by pointing out that this is merely a hook to hang a discussion of the balance between the govt's duty to provide Peace, vs the govt's duty to provide Due Process. Or, about the tension between Order and Law.

In the soft warm comfortable West we are so used to a generic background of lorenorder that we take it much for granted, and therefore prize due process without a great deal of thought. But perhaps this isn't true everywhere. Indeed TE notes that Leaders everywhere must decide, in tackling gangs, what is the right balance between respecting civil liberties and protecting the public. Completing the set of warring opinions, we may note that growing disillusion with democracy is fed by a sense that governments are not keeping the public safe, which can lead to growing populism, a desire for strongman leaders, and authoritarianism; but also that discarding due process in one place may legitimise said discard elsewhere, also tending to authoritarianism. 

Why does it seem that only strongmen be able to discard due process? Democracy should be able to as well, where necessary. And yet the inevitable softening and blurring of multiple opinions makes this hard; the regard that the West has taught all democrats for due process is so entrenched that it is hard for a democracy to show the necessary determination. Instead, TE offers the usual platitudes: leaders who care about civil liberties must do the hard, patient work of figuring out how to fight crime without trampling on them. Bryan Caplan, who will also supply you with some nice statistics if you want them, tries some kind of moral calculus to work out if all the imprisonment without trial is worth it, and concludes reluctantly that it is, at least in the short term. You may also like Blackstone's ratio It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer, though opinions seem to differ on what the ratio should be; Benjamin Franklin seems to prefer 100:1. I would though extend the thought: does 10:1 guilty-escapes to innocent-suffer being good imply that 100:1 is bad? The proverb is not just trying to tell you not to be too harsh; it is reminding you not to be too lenient.

Just as (per Hobbes) violent revolution is only permissible if it has a fair chance of success, discarding due process in favour of peace is only permissible if it is likely to work; TE (yes them again) argue that the experience in El Salvador may not be generalisable. However, I wanted to talk about when it does have a fair chance of success.

And my answer (per Hobbes, but also others) is that govt is constituted first to provide peace, and replace the private resolution of disputes by violence with common public law. The norms of due process that we in the West take for granted are desirable but secondary; we should not impose our values on them. The current war in Palestine also refers.

Note also that Peace, in the conventional model, is a matter of the govt ensuring that citizens are non-violent towards each other. Due Process is a matter of the govts relations to citizens.

Hobbes said it well: THE final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants.


* The main opposition candidate on how to fight organised crime in Mexico. New leadership and outside help are needed, says Xóchitl Gálvez.
Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus - but Mises "Let justice be done, lest the world perish" is better.


Bad Beekeeping, spring 2024

PXL_20240512_142319088 At last a somewhat slow spring becomes warm, so it is time to head out to the olde country and check in on the girls. I had gone out a month earlier and the signs weren't good: few bees, all seemed rather quiet, though it wasn't desperately warm then.

But today things are better. Here's the "before" hive, only lightly overgrown; "after" is somewhat better.

Opened up, things seem quite believable: there are bees, rather well behaved ones in fact despite my somewhat rough treatment; lacking a car right now I am equipement light which means not much in the way of smoke; smoke being hard to transport by bicycle, you understand.

I don't even consider taking off any honey at this point, I'm just looking in. And traces of rape remain in the fields.


View from above onto the brood box. No, I didn't lift the queen excluder. Do you think I'm mad?


My friends back garden remains idyllic-looking in the sunshine.


Update 2024/06/02: Sunday was nice so I drove out to Coton prepared to take honey off, if needed. But when I came to look, it was all rather light: frames with some honey in, but the capped stuff wasn't freshly-so; so I decided to leave them be. Or bee. It has been a wet spring, but I wonder if they are a new swarm. Pic of hive herePic of hive here


* "Hive B" didn't survive the winter; but did provide a refuge for a shrew. Video.

Bad beekeeping, spring 2023.


End of the line for the photogenic ex-teens

FB_IMG_1714149201499 Ninth Circuit Puts An End to the Kids Climate Case says Volokh. For those not paying attention, in the dim and distant past of 2016, Photogenic teens sued the US government so they could stay cool while looking hot. It didn't go terribly well, see wiki for some of the long-drawn-out pain, but finally as Volokh put it, A unanimous panel orders dismissal of Juliana v. United States, bringing this zombie litigation to a close.

If I sound... gloating then I apologise. But as I said at the start, I think this was a bad strategy and poor use of the world's finite resources.


Your right to protest

FB_IMG_1713869916254 We citizens of comfortable liberal western democracies tend to believe that we have a "right to protest"1. But as someone who doesn't really like rights-based language I have different views, and feel the urge to write them down to general acclaim. Examples of the kind of thing I mean are Mass arrests made as US campus protests over Gaza spread; or back in Blightly, Extinction Rebellion: Seventy arrested at climate change protests.

Right to protest isn't the same as Freedom of speech, of course. The clue is that the words are different. If you're USAnian your freedom of speech is strongly protected from govt interference, and extends to things not obviously speech, such as burning flags. But only if you own the flag in question; burning someone else's flag is criminal damage. It extends to the inverse, no-forced-speech, which again extends to things not traditionally speech, such as not having to make cakes in support of causes you don't like. It makes sense to say things like I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It.

However, that doesn't transfer across into a right to get in the way of law-abiding citizens going about their law-abiding business2, no matter how passionately you feel about whatever it is you feel about. This is where thought is often replaced by emotive and disingenuous language. Preventing LACGATLB is non-non-violent, and pretending otherwise is lying.

How this all works out in practice is another matter. Laws don't prescribe exact behaviour and we don't want them to. There's always a certain amount of grey area in how far you can get away with getting in other people's way before people become sick of it. Govts, of course, are often the target of protests and so are often keen to crack down; at least in England the general mass of the population is fairly easy-going; but if the protesters are annoying enough the general public sentiment gives govt their excuse to pass more restrictions, and everyone loses. Protesters such as XR recklessly abusing the system are bad.


1. No-one in places like Russia or China believes that, or at least not for very long.

2. And a "right to protest" that didn't get in other people's way would just be a "right to go about your own lawful business" (see comments) which you have anyway and which doesn't need to rise to the level of a separate "right".


My Beautiful Bubble - Caplan.
Armed Men on Campus! - Pierre Lemieux


There is no human right to a safe or stable climate

FB_IMG_1713124662053 My title is taken from La Curry (arch); but apart from that I can't recommend her post; and sadly but predictably the comments are worthless1 and make no attempt to address the interesting issue; whether such a right does or should exist.

First some reference material: the judgement itself; press release.

As regular readers know, I dislike rights-based language. This case rather illustrates that: having found that those dastardly Swiss have failed to do <something or other>, there's no effective remedy. The Swiss are now obliged to do <something>, and perhaps in five years time we can look forward to another case complaining that <something> wasn't enough; and so on around, to solve what we're pretending is an urgent problem. By contrast, a proper "right" - something that forbids the state from interferring with you - does have an effective remedy. See e.g. Gay Cakes.

This problem was covered extensively by Alsup in what was once upon a time everyone's favourite climate case, before it got decided in a way that people didn't like. Doing something about GW is for the executive, not the courts. Interestingly, in all the reactions to the judgement I've seen, not one of these memory-of-a-goldfish people reffed Alsup.

Nominally, the evil Swiss have violated article 8Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. At a stretch, you could possibly consider that <not doing enough about GW> fails that, but you could just as easily if not more so argue not; and there's no real way to make any definitive judgement, so it is all rather meaningless. Clearly, GW was not in anyone's mind when the Convention was written so it was not anyone's original intent to provide a right to not-GW. The dissent says all this and more, but in nice legal words, as well as politely chiding the court for going off the rails.

A minor snark: the case was brought by "KlimaSeniorinnen" i.e. wrinkly folk who effectively argues that because they were frail, they were more affected. Which is an interesting inversion of the Photogenic Teens, who argued that they were more affected because they were young, and would be hit by future change. I think the the PT have a better case; the wrinklies will die off before they're too badly affected.

Another: the court rejected standing by individuals, but granted it to organisations. Despite this being against their usual policy. I can't work out why they did this; it makes no sense to me.


1. Sorry DA and RS. You can try again here if you'd like more intelligent conversation.


* 2021/11: Lust for suing.

* 2021/04: Yet moaah climate suing; and City of New York v Chevron Corp, again.

* 2020/06: Yet moah climate suing.

* 2019/12: Exxon Found Not Guilty of Deceiving Investors Over Climate Risks; and Historic Urgenda Climate Ruling Upheld by Dutch Supreme Court.

* 2019/02: Moah suing news.

* 2018/08: Yet more climate suing.

* 2018/06: Holy Alsup, Batman!

* 2018/03: A little bit more climate suing stuff.

Richard Ekins: Strasbourg’s absurd climate ruling will see environmental policy annexed by the courts.

The People Will Save the Planet, Not the Courts (arch).

We Don’t Need a ‘War’ on Climate Change, We Need a Revolution? and Words for the word god.

* Bruce Schneier points us to Dan Solove on Privacy RegulationMurky Consent: An Approach to the Fictions of Consent in Privacy Law. This gets one thing right: both the US version (by using this service you consent to our terms) and the EU version (a zillion cookie popups that everyone clicks through) are not "real consent". His answer is, astonishingly, more regulation, how could we possibly have guessed (Murky consent should be subject to extensive regulatory oversight with an ever-present risk that it could be deemed invalid: in other words, yet again, overturning contracts (see-also Sandel: Liberalism and the Limits of Justice) and thus providing more work for lawyers). A better answer is: yes, this is not real consent, but no-one gives a toss so just move on. There is general public apathy in this area, which is good grounds for believing that no new law is needed.

* Sabine has a video on the general subject but it is shallow; and she has forgotten - or never heard of - Alsup or the ex-photogenic ex-teens.


Retread: Lowell Ponte: The Cooling

Following Wood, 1909, continued I realise it might be worth putting up some of the other old stuff here; and since it came up, I present a retread of wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/ponte.html (arch). I'm not sure this gets reffed much nowadays; my last seems to be from 2022 whilst dissing Tim Ball. You get the full glory of my original page, lightly cleaned up, complete with <h1> tags. See at the end for bonus entries. I would have written this in... the early 2000s, I'd guess.

Analysis of Lowell Ponte: The Cooling

For many years I have been tantalised by quotes from the semi-mythical book "The Cooling" by Lowell Ponte. Now (thanks to the zShops second-hand booksellers program, a part of Amazon) I got hold of a copy, shipped across the Atlantic in little more than a week, for only $10.

The book is "popular science": as it says (remarkably) in the preface by Reid Bryson: "...There are very few pages that, as a scientist, I could accept without questions of accuracy, of precision, or of balance..." and any claim to utility it may have would have to come from bringing interesting ideas to the general public (of the time).

In this analysis, I'm interested in whether the book accurately reports the state of science as then known and what issues it chooses to focus on. Its also interesting to see what uses other people put it to, now. Its often cited in the "but 20 years ago people were predicting cooling" type pages.

Lets just prove that, shall I?

The cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people in poor nations... If it continues, and no strong measures are taken to deal with it, the cooling will cause world famine, world chaos, and probably world war, and this could all come by the year 2000. Lowell Ponte, The Cooling, 1976 (from http://www.princeton.edu/~strasbrg/ruseScare.html).

What global warming proponents don't want people to remember is that just 20 years ago, they were predicting that global COOLING would destroy the world. Lowell Ponte wrote The Cooling on the subject in 1976 (which incidentally, can be found in Hodges Library). The theory then said that particulates reflected sunlight into space, thus preventing heat from reaching the earth. Predictions of a new ice age abounded. Then the earth started warming up. Whoops. (from http://beacon-www.asa.utk.edu/issues/v76/n35/tipton.36v.html).

Book Structure

  1. Foreward (by US Senator Claiborne Pell)
  2. Preface (by Professor Reid A Bryson)
  3. Part I: Forces that change climate (3-76)
    1. Reports of decrease is sunshine / aerosol & dust / ice-albedo feedback
    2. Cooling interrupts predicted warming / "GH" effect & CO2 / CFCs and ozone / Heat pollution / Warming vs Cooling
    3. Some dodgy climatology / Why cooling might be accompanied by warming
    4. Milankovitch-y stuff / Sunspots / Gravity weakening!?! / "Summary"
  4. Part II: The human side of climate (77-176)
  5. Part III: Options in a changing climate (177-246)
  6. Appendices: (247-296)
  7. Back-cover quotes from Pell, and Stephen Schneider. Inside quote from Emilliani.
The "science" of the book in contained within part I, which I've read moderately carefully; I've skimmed parts II and III.

Ponte gets some points for noting (p13) that the "greenhouse effect" is misnamed. But that is the high point of his science.

Evidence for Pontes inability to tell sense from nonsense (or at least to check speculative results) is his assertion (p70) that gravity is weakening in the universe, and that this is proved by the moon moving away from the earth at 4 cm/year.

The first chapter starts off with stuff about decreases in sunshine (from few measurements from industrialised areas; I'd guess that was consistent with aerosols) then notes the Rasool and Schneider 1971 science paper (but only in passing. See main page for more on R+S). Ponte asserts that R+W estimate that man's potential to pollute will increase six- to eightfold in the next fifty years. I think this is wrong: R+S actually say it is still difficult to predict the rate at which global background opacity of the atmosphere will increase with increasing particulate injection by human activities. However, it is projected that man's potential to pollute will increase 6 to 8-fold in the next 50 years.... I think they are reporting other peoples estimates to use as feed for their model, not making their own.

Stephen Schneiders quote

The back cover of the book has this from Stephen Schneider:

The dramatic importance of climate changes to the worlds future has been dangerously underestimated by many, often because we have been lulled by modern technology into thinking we have conquered nature. But this well-written book points out in clear language that the climatic threat could be as awesome as any we might face, and that massive world-wide actions to hedge against that threat deserve immeadiate consideration. At a minimum, public awareness of the possibilities must commence, and Lowell Ponte's provocative work is a good place to start.

I'd say this is a regrettable quote. But its not really the ringing endorsement that it is often presented as.

Reid Bryson's Preface

Bryson's preface is rather odd, because it indirectly contradicts much of what is in the "science" sections of the book. Lets read it, shall we:

The Cooling will be controversial, because among scientists, most of the matters it deals with are hotly debated. There is no agreement on whether the earth is cooling. There is not unanimous agreement on whether is has cooled, or one hemisphere has cooled and the other warmed. One would think that there might be consensus about what data there is - but there is not. There is no agreement on the causes of climatic change, or even why it should not change amongst those who so maintain. There is certainly no agreement about what the climate will do in the next century, though there is a majority opinion that it will change, more or less, one way or the other. Of that majority, a majority believe that the longer trend will be downward. Nevertheless, it is an important question, as this book points out, and it is time for some of the questions to be settled. Lowell Ponte has summarized the data and theories very well, and has reasonably concluded that a rapid change in Earths climate is possible, perhaps even likely, within the next few decades, and that this would have serious consequences for mankind.

OK, lets stop there for a moment and compare this to what Ponte has to say:

Opening words of chapter 1: "Our planets climate has been cooling for the past three decades. Most experts agree on this, for it has been carefully measured by scattered monitoring stations throughout the world. Climate in the southern half of our planet has been warming rapidly, according to the few measurements available. But in the hlaf of our world north of the equator, where most human beings live, the annual mean atmospheric temperature has plunged by 0.7 oC, more than enough to offset the southern warming and to lower the average temperature of the whole planet by 0.5 oC."

Some disparity with Bryson, I hope you can agree. Looking at Pontes words further, note how, despite asserting that there are few southern measurements, he is nonetheless happy to assert that the globe as a whole is cooling. Where he gets the 0.7 oC cooling is a mystery: he cites no source; the graph reproduced in appendix 1 of the book shows a cooling of possibly as much as 0.4 oC. [Somewhat later, p45, the 0.5 global warming is qualified as "according to available measurements".]

This failure to acknowledge uncertainty is not something trivial, to be passed over rapidly. It is crucial. Brysons central point, that people are not really sure whats going on, was a good one to make at the time and thoroughly justified by hindsight.

OK, on with the preface:

"There is surprisingly little argument among those who have actually studied climates over multi-millenial time scales that we will be in an Ice Age 10,000 years from now. There is, however, less agreement about how soon and how rapidly the transition from the present interglacial will take place...".

I quote that to point out that (AFAIK) it was indeed typical of the views of the time (at least amongst those that extrapolated the past into the future); that it is probably not accepted widely now [TS Ledley, 1995, ???]; and to wonder if "among those who have actually studied climates..." is a dig at some other group.

Skipping over, we come to: "...There are very few pages that, as a scientist, I could accept without questions of accuracy, of precision, or of balance... but he then goes on to say that the book is worth reading for its presentation of the arguments. I'm somewhat surprised the publishers let him keep that bit in, its not really very complementary.

Ponte's Misuse of the 1975 NAS report

Ponte says (p4) "Are we at the dawn of a new Ice Age? In 1975 the US National Academy of Sciences issued a report saying that if the present cooling trend continues, there is a "finite" chance an Ice Age could begin "within 100 years". How much chance? The NAS panel...set the odds of this happening at no better than one in 10,000. The number was not random [Oh good, thats a relief - WMC]. As their report noted, Earths climate in the past has tended to change in fairly regular cycles, and if the past patterns continue we should now be entering a 10,000 year period of cooling climate.

The NAS report was shocking...".

The NAS report was not shocking. Anyone reading it would be more likely to describe it as "soporific". See here for some notes I made from that report. But to quote some of it here:

  1. "The climates of the earth have always been changing, and they will doubtless continue to do so in the future. How large these future changes will be, and where and how rapidly they will occur, we do not know" (from the intro; note how how this resembles Brysons initial words)
  2. The recommendations were: Establish National climatic research program; Establish Climatic data analysis program, and new facilities, and studies of impact of climate on man; Develope Climatic index monitoring program; Establish Climatic modelling and applications program, and exploration of possible future climates using coupled GCMs; Adoption and development of International climatic research program; Development of International Palaeoclimatic data network. There was no recommendation for action.


It occupies pages 296-269=27, so there are 28 pages of bibliography.

I thought it would be interesting to look in Ponte's book to see which statements are backed up by which references. Its easy, after all, to stuff a bibliography full of references - but what matters is which statements are backed up by respectable scientifc references, and which are backed up by fluff from the newspapers. But (yet another flaw in Ponte's book), you can't do this, because the bibliography is just a "selected bibliography", *not* a directed source of references for particular statements. So its impossible to tell what statement a given reference is intended to support, or indeed which statements are supported by references, and which are fluff.

Anyway: the bibliography is largely non-scientific. Page 269 (the first page):

Science (ie, as in the prestigous mag): iii
esquire: i
science news: iiii
los angeles times: iiiii
fortune: ii
readers digest: i
n y times: ii
playboy: i
"african genesis": i
"the ends of the earth (asimov)": i
smithsonian: i
unesco courier: ii
time: i
"readings in man, the env and ecology": i
sci am: ii
"lao tzu": i
"western amn and env ethics": i
"harvest of the sea": i
and I've no reason to believe that untypical.

Lazy people have complained that one needs to index the whole bibliography to be sure of the sci/non-sci content. Are you one of these people? Then please do the said indexing and send it to me.

Misc bits: peoples use of LP's misquotes of NAS 76


In January 1975 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report entitled Understanding Climatic Change: A Program for Action. There is, it said "a finite possibility that a serious worldwide cooling could befall the earth within the next hundred years...


http://groups.google.com/groups?q=lowell+ponte+cooling&hl=en&safe=off&rnum=6&selm=3ra7gi%24bnt%40spool.cs.wisc.edu - post by mt.

http://groups.google.com/groups?q=lowell+ponte+cooling&hl=en&safe=off&rnum=7&selm=19960315.172700.862%40almaden.ibm.com - by jbs

Other text

A search of the citation indices reveals that the only other publications by Ponte, L were in Readers Digest, the most recent in 1991. Read something about him here. John McCarthy has a quote that he asserts comes from the book.

Here is some text I was mailed:

For nearly three years, Lowell worked as a futurist in the high tech think tank International Research &
Technology; Inc., as first assistant to Dr. William Van Leave (who later served as chief weapons advisor to
America's SALT I delegation and as chief strategic advisor to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in

Lowell wrote a prophetic 1976 book about global climate change, The Cooling (Prentice-Hall; forward
by U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, preface by Univ. of Wisconsin Climatologist Reaid A Bryson), which was
widely reviewed and went through five printings.

Bonus items on retreading

Here's the full foreward, as read by Google Lens:



The enormous power and capricious behavior of the Earth's environ- ment have amazed and terrified man throughout the ages. In various ways man has searched for methods to control the vast climatological and geophysical forces which have awed and ravaged him. Primitive sha- mans used incantations and talismans; modern scientists seed clouds and experiment with ways to produce geothermal energy.

Man's attempts to master and manipulate his environment have not always been for peaceful purposes, but it is only in the last several years that we have come to realize the potential horror involved in harnessing natural forces for hostile purposes.

Mr. Ponte's book is a fascinating and important contribution to the growing literature of what has come to be known as environmental modification, or Enmod in the acronymic vocabulary of the arms control bureaucracy. What distinguishes Mr. Ponte's work is his thesis, which is bound to be controversial, that changes in the environment-in this case the natural cooling of our planet's climate since 1945-can constitute a source as well as a means of conflict among nations.

If, indeed, the climatological changes which Mr. Ponte foresees do in fact take place that is if the cooling produces bad weather and wide- spread crop failures-then the world's leaders must come to grips with the real possibility, as Mr. Ponte contends, that food will very soon play a dominant role in world politics and that many of a cooling world's nutritionally disadvantaged nations will seek to develop nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, including environmental modification weapons, in order to increase their bargaining power in the struggle against famine.

Given our own government's recent saber rattling reaction to the prospect of another oil embargo, Mr. Ponte's warning is not as far- fetched as it may seem. Regardless of whether one finds the specific scenarios he develops to be realistic, Mr. Ponte has demonstrated that the provocative issue of environmental politics deserves further informed public debate and governmental attention.

In setting forth options to deal with the cooling phenomenon. Mr. Ponte sees possible salvation through further research and experimenta- tion, which may-if given priority attention by governments-suggest safe ways in which weather or climate can be changed for the benefit of all mankind. He warns, however, that the nations of the world may devote more energy to developing the destructive rather than the con- structive aspects of environmental modification particularly as the realities of the new "cold war" become more manifest. Thus this book is as disquieting as Silent Spring in its analysis of environmental hazards that can affect our future. If Mr. Ponte's worst fears come to pass. The Cooling could prove to be the most important and prophetic popular science book of the 1970s.

Even without such a cataclysmic stimulus, I find it troubling that environmental modification techniques have already been applied to warfare and that developments within the environmental sciences, par- ticularly in the field of weather modification, are rapidly narrowing the gap between fact and fiction. Deeply troubled by the implications of the Defense Department's weather modification activities in Southeast Asia, I urged as early as 1971 that the United States take the initiative in developing an international agreement banning all forms of environ- mental warfare. At the same time, I called for a more active role on the part of the United States in international cooperation for the peaceful uses of environmental modification. In my view, the military use of any environmental modification technique can only lead to the development of vastly more dangerous techniques whose unpredictable consequences may cause widespread and irreparable damage to the global environment.

Mr. Ponte has recounted my efforts in behalf of the development of the draft treaty banning environmental modification as a weapon of war which the United States and the Soviet Union tabled in August 1975 at the Geneva Disarmament Conference. If concluded and universally accepted, such a treaty would ensure a peaceful framework for the vital research into the future applications of environmental modification for which Mr. Ponte so persuasively argues. 

And the Reid Bryson preface:



The Cooling will be controversial, because among scientists most of the matters it deals with are hotly debated. There is no agreement on whether the earth is cooling. There is not unanimous agreement on whether it has cooled, or one hemisphere has cooled and the other warmed. One would think that there might be consensus about what data there is but there is not. There is no agreement on the causes of climatic change, or even why it should not change among those who so maintain. There is certainly no agreement about what the climate will do in the next century, though there is a majority opinion that it will change, more or less, one way or the other. Of that majority, a majority believe that the longer trend will be downward. Nevertheless, it is an important question, as this book points out, and it is time for some of the questions to be settled. Lowell Ponte has summarized the data and theories very well. and has reasonably concluded that a rapid change in Earth's climate is possible, perhaps even likely, within the next few decades, and that this would have serious consequences for mankind.

There is surprisingly little argument among those who have actually studied climates over multi-millennial time scales that we will be in an Ice Age 10,000 years from now. There is, however, less agreement about how soon and how rapidly the transition from the present interglacial will take place. One extreme view envisions a "snow blitz" beginning of the ice-age climate, only a few years long, and a rapid growth of continental glaciers. If this were true, response would be almost impossible. The other extreme is the opinion that climates change gradually and almost imperceptibly over many thousands of years, with plenty of time for adaptation by the ecosystems and man. My own opinion is intermediate that climates change by relatively abrupt small steps; that these small steps are important, for they can be disruptive to stressed ecosystems such as ours is now; and that man can prepare somewhat for their occurrence.

There is also a great deal of argument about the efficacy of various options in preparing for, or dealin divergent ophanging climate. After opteral decades there are still widely divergent opinions on the magnitude severaberate weather modification effects, especially as practiced or not practiced by the military.

rachere is no consensus about whether there is still time to let normal agricultural research develop crops and technologies that will "save the world from hunger." There is almost no question of the quality of the research, but a great deal of question as to whether it will be "too little and too late." Nevertheless, the problem is sufficiently important that all promising leads must be followed, and a number of them are outlined in this book.

Not everyone is enamored by the concept of caring for 10, or 20, or 30 billion people in a highly regulated technological society, even if it were possible. I'm not, and I'm not even slightly convinced that it is possible or desirable. I am convinced that there is very little in the way of human ill, ecosystem degradation, resource shortage, social stress, and interna- tional instability that would not be relieved markedly by having fewer people on earth than there are currently.

But rather than fewer people on Earth, we will have more. With population saturation, any climatic variation becomes important; any option worth considering. This book raises some of the questions, and gives us some of the possible ways that mankind might respond short of eliminating people.

When I first read the manuscript I started to accumulate large numbers of marginal notes. There are very few pages that, as a scientist, I could accept without questions of accuracy, of precision, or of balance. As 1 read on, I threw away my critical notes and started to record the points the author brought up that I had missed in my reading. Lowell Ponte's overall representation of the problem presents a reasonable picture of the hazardous possibilities we would face if Earth's climate changes signifi- cantly. Mr. Ponte has delineated the outline of the tangled jungle which mankind must chart to find a way to the other side. He has put the map of climatic arguments into a reasonable perspective. He has shown that there are potential solutions. I hope that scientists will read it as a thallenge to set their theory and analysis in order. I hope that all will read it as a serious and thoughtful analysis of a real and pressing problem 


Morality as cooperation

PXL_20240323_101412300~2 Via XitterMoral universals: A machine-reading analysis of 256 societies; which appears to be a project at the LSE.

As they say of their theory (edited), Recent research suggests that the function of morality is to promote cooperation: humans face, and have faced, a range of different nonzero-sum problems of cooperation, and have evolved and invented a range of solutions to them. These cooperative solutions take a variety of forms, including character traits, strategies, dispositions, behaviours, rules, norms, institutions, and technologies. Together, they motivate cooperative behaviour and provide the criteria by which we judge the behaviour, attitudes, and traits of ourselves and others. And it is this collection of cooperative solutions that philosophers and others have called morality. Because there are many types of cooperation, there will be many types of moral values. There are seven distinct types of cooperation: (1) the allocation of resources to kin; (2) coordination to mutual advantage; (3) social exchange; and conflict resolution through contests featuring (4) hawkish displays of dominance and (5) dovish displays of deference; (6) division of disputed resources; and (7) recognition of prior possession. And each of these types of cooperation gives rise to a corresponding type of morality: (1) family values, (2) group loyalty, (3) reciprocity, (4) heroism, (5) deference, (6) fairness, and (7) property rights.

This seems like a useful way of thinking of things; it makes morality a part of, and part conditioned by, what-makes-society-work; and since things need to be Darwinistically defensible, that fits. It also helpfully predicts that we will be less moral to strangers, other cultures, or people we perceive will be unlikely to cooperate with us.


Kant on Morality - a different and less successful approach: what morality should be, if you're an ever-so-slightly-whackjob-kraut.
* ACX has a post on Covid origins, which ends with general musing: "although the X theory is inherently plausible and didn’t start as pseudoscience, it gradually accreted a community around it with bad epistemic norms. Once X became A Thing - after people became obsessed with getting one over on the experts - they developed dozens of further arguments which ranged from flawed to completely false..." which seems nicely applicable to GW.


Wood, 1909, continued

PXL_20240309_084345662 Many years ago I transcribed R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse onto my personal website (yes, it really was that long ago; and really it was transcribed even earlier from a free-hosting site). As this seems a good excuse, I'll copy it to the end of this post as a reference.

But the immeadiate reason for this post is DC, who points out Vaughan R. Pratt's Wood's 1909 greenhouse experiment, performed more carefully. I think I am or was uneasily aware that this exists, though I can't recall reading it. We will not simply dismiss him because he is emeritus.

Pratt's first and I think major complaint is that Wood "superimposed a glass plate on the salt window". This is based on Wood's statement that "the sunlight was first passed through a glass plate". As far as I can tell Pratt thinks Wood's glass plate was directly on top; which would indeed be a problem. But I think that Wood put some distance between the two, and I think that isn't a problem1. As to the rest... I find my mind bounces off it. Perhaps I'm getting old; I certainly find that I don't care about these struggles as I used to. Or perhaps Pratt's stuff is badly written. Unlike Wood's, it wasn't AFAIK published.

None of this, of course, has any particular relevance to the atmospheric greenhouse effect which we all care about, apart from the regrettable similarity of name.


1. I think Pratt's attitude to Wood smacks of "our ancestors were idiots because they knew less than us". This is almost invariably false. I sometimes veer close to this - see my notes on Aristotle's physics for example - but I think I don't fall in.


R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse

The following text is from the Philosophical magazine (more properly the London, Edinborough and Dublin Philosophical Magazine), 1909, vol 17, p319-320. Cambridge UL shelfmark p340.1.c.95, if you're interested.

I found this reference by reading "History of the greenhouse effect", M. D. H. Jones and A. Henderson-Sellers, Progress in physical geography, 14, 1 (1990), 1-18. This, in its turn, I found from Jan Schloerer's FAQ: Climate change: some basics.

I present the full text, although the second-to-last paragraph is (in my opinion) regrettable and wrong. See after the text for why I think its wrong.
XXIV. Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse 
By Professor R. W. Wood (Communicated by the Author) 
THERE appears to be a widespread belief that the comparatively high temperature produced within a closed space covered with glass, and exposed to solar radiation, results from a transformation of wave-length, that is, that the heat waves from the sun, which are able to penetrate the glass, fall upon the walls of the enclosure and raise its temperature: the heat energy is re-emitted by the walls in the form of much longer waves, which are unable to penetrate the glass, the greenhouse acting as a radiation trap.

I have always felt some doubt as to whether this action played any very large part in the elevation of temperature. It appeared much more probable that the part played by the glass was the prevention of the escape of the warm air heated by the ground within the enclosure. If we open the doors of a greenhouse on a cold and windy day, the trapping of radiation appears to lose much of its efficacy. As a matter of fact I am of the opinion that a greenhouse made of a glass transparent to waves of every possible length would show a temperature nearly, if not quite, as high as that observed in a glass house. The transparent screen allows the solar radiation to warm the ground, and the ground in turn warms the air, but only the limited amount within the enclosure. In the "open," the ground is continually brought into contact with cold air by convection currents.

To test the matter I constructed two enclosures of dead black cardboard, one covered with a glass plate, the other with a plate of rock-salt of equal thickness. The bulb of a themometer was inserted in each enclosure and the whole packed in cotton, with the exception of the transparent plates which were exposed. When exposed to sunlight the temperature rose gradually to 65 oC., the enclosure covered with the salt plate keeping a little ahead of the other, owing to the fact that it transmitted the longer waves from the sun, which were stopped by the glass. In order to eliminate this action the sunlight was first passed through a glass plate.

There was now scarcely a difference of one degree between the temperatures of the two enclosures. The maximum temperature reached was about 55 oC. From what we know about the distribution of energy in the spectrum of the radiation emitted by a body at 55 o, it is clear that the rock-salt plate is capable of transmitting practically all of it, while the glass plate stops it entirely. This shows us that the loss of temperature of the ground by radiation is very small in comparison to the loss by convection, in other words that we gain very little from the circumstance that the radiation is trapped.

Is it therefore necessary to pay attention to trapped radiation in deducing the temperature of a planet as affected by its atmosphere? The solar rays penetrate the atmosphere, warm the ground which in turn warms the atmosphere by contact and by convection currents. The heat received is thus stored up in the atmosphere, remaining there on account of the very low radiating power of a gas. It seems to me very doubtful if the atmosphere is warmed to any great extent by absorbing the radiation from the ground, even under the most favourable conditions.

I do not pretent to have gone very deeply into the matter, and publish this note merely to draw attention to the fact that trapped radiation appears to play but a very small part in the actual cases with which we are familiar.

Why is his second to last paragraph wrong?

Firstly, note that unlike the experiments described earlier, this paragraph merely expresses his opinion.

Second, although the troposphere is subject to convection, the stratosphere is not.

Third, in contradiction to his assertion about "the very low radiating power of a gas", the troposphere is largely opaque to infra-red radiation, which is why convection is so important in moving heat up from the surface. Only in the higher (colder) atmosphere where there is less water vapour is the atmosphere simultaneously somewhat, but not totally, transparent to infra-red and thus permits radiation to play a part.