Monthly Archives: February 2014

Aloha from Manoa

I’m off to the land of rubbish, poi (aka paste) and Portuguese Sausage.    I’ll be back in three weeks.

Speaking of poi.   Poi is made from the root of the Taro plant and it really does taste and look like paste.  Two finger poi (thick) or three finger poi (thin), it’s all paste to me.  Grey paste.

Last year I was in Fiji and I attended a feast put on by the locals.  In Fiji they serve Taro differently.  They sliced the root,  and then fried it or maybe baked it, I cannot be sure.  They then prepared a topping made of taro leaves.  Sliced Taro root with a cooked leaf topping.  It was pretty good.   Way better than poi.

The meal was prepared in the same manner in both places (baked in a hole with warm rocks and covered with leaves).  They share a similar culture and heritage.  Too bad Hawaii didn’t get Taro preparation tips from Fiji.

Bye for now, Aloha….oh and Bula too.

Remembering Katrina and climate change politics

Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck the city,  was just convicted of corruption.  Twenty counts.  All related to Katrina reconstruction contracts.  I must admit, I wasn’t surprised.

Katrina is a classic example of people not preparing for a likely event simply because it is infrequent.  Politics is all about immediate problems.  Politicians do not do well preparing for events that only come along every 100 years or so.   A relatively large hurricane struck a city adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.  A city with sections below sea level.   It has happened before and it will happen again.  Someday.

Katrina and Al Gore are inexorably linked in my mind, because of Mr. Gore’s film.   An Inconvenient Truth linked human tragedy with climate change.  Lots and lots of newsreel footage of Katrina suffering, with Mr. Gore narrating.   George Bush and global warming shared the blame, according to Mr. Gore.

Mr. Gore’s approach begins with little bit of science.  He then provides lots of anecdotal information.  He then uses that information to support his gloom and doom climate change thesis.  The science may or may not have anything to do with the subject at hand, but it seems like the two are linked together.   The process works well.

The Katrina section of the film opened with a graph.  The graph displayed the changes in worldwide ocean temperatures.  The graph showed a rise in recent years.   That graph was the only specific data provided.

Tropical systems need warm water to form.  Mr Gore asserted that because  the oceans are warmer,  there would be more storm systems.  Videos of suffering in New Orleans; pictures of suffering in Asia. Many  tropical systems were featured.  The storms themselves were all the proof Mr. Gore needed.

Multiple problems immediately come to mind.

  • Global average ocean temperature is a bad proxy.  Most warming since the end of the Little Ice some 250 years ago  has occurred in temperate and Arctic locations.  The Tropics have been remarkably stable.
  • The IPCC 2007 Synopses Report, released a year after An Inconvenient Truth,  called tropical cyclone data  inconclusive.  Mr. Gore’s favorite UN agency contradicted him in their most recent report.
  • Mr. Gore’s ocean temperature chart went back to the 1940’s.   Ocean data before the 1980’s must have been a wild guess because before that date very little data existed.

But Mr. Gore’s central problem is this; statistical data does not support his premise.   Tropical systems have not been becoming more frequent.   In the years since his film was released, worldwide activity has decreased by a small amount.   Globally, tropical systems have been surprisingly stable for at least 40 years.

How do I know this?

Scientists use ACE (The Global Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Cyclone Energy) to track worldwide total tropical cyclone activity.  This data takes into consideration both the strength and the number of cyclones all over the world.  It’s a mathematical way of calculating the yearly impact tropical systems have on our environment.  24 month running sums are plotted.

Here it is:

Forty years of data, no trend.  Unfortunately the real world and the world of global climate politics are completely different places.   In 2005, when Katrina was devastating New Orleans, man caused global climate change was supposedly causing bigger and nastier storms including Katrina.

Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines late last year.  Global climate change was an oft stated source of the devastation.  Haiyan was a big storm, but not unprecedented and not unexpected.  6 to 9 typhoons strike the Philippines in a typical  season.

A typhoon struck the Philippines in September of 1881. It is estimated that 20,000 people in the Philippines died and thousands more died in Viet Nam. It was the most devastating tropical storm in recorded history. More tropical cyclones strike the Philippines than any other populated place on earth.

Mr. Obama, in his State of the Union address, blamed drought in California on man caused climate activity.   A recent study disagrees:

Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years

Katrina was a category 3 storm when it hit New Orleans, Haiyan was a big storm, but others have been bigger and the drought in the West has happened before.   The Mayan culture disappeared some 600 years ago, presumably due to over population and a change in the climate.

Maybe, just maybe, Nature is simply being Nature.   Some climate change might simply be a Natural Event.

Chicken Little, Smoking and Al Gore

Sunday’s paper included an article on the acidification of the oceans, and another on the changed political world associated with smoking cigarettes.   I sat in my easy chair,  and I let my mind wander.   Almost immediately, Chicken Little and Al Gore popped into my head.  It makes sense, sort of, really, it does.

I have disliked Mr. Gore for a long time, and the article on smoking brought back old memories. Mr. Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, is probably where my smoking Al Gore memories began.    The film discussed skeptics and the smoking lobby in a way that tried to make one interchangeable with the other.   I took it personally.

According to Mr. Gore, I must be immoral, unethical or stupid since I don’t see the world his way.  I find his actions oddly suspicious and, dare I say it…unethical.  Why does Al Gore seem to feel a need to attack those that disagree with him?  He has equated skeptics to people who think the Apollo missions were faked.

Let’s review how Mr. Gore attacked climate skeptics in his film.

  • He began by showing how he was fooled by the evil smoking lobby.  How he grew tobacco on his farm until his sister died of lung cancer in 1984.  I thought Mr. Gore was about 20 years late for the anti smoking party.
  • He then used some statistical gymnastics to “prove” that there was a consensus in science. Everybody that was anybody in science agreed with him.  The science was conclusive.  Earlier in the film he made the point that conventional wisdom is frequently wrong in science.  Most scientists will admit there is no such thing as consensus in science.  Doubt is a part of science.
  • People that disagree with him could not possibly have any factual basis for their argument.  They must have an ulterior motive.
  • The only explanation was that these people were casting doubt and profiting by this effort.  And as Mr. Gore then noted, we have all seen this one before….
  • A slide from a 50’s magazine showing physicians recommending smoking immediately appears.
  • It is followed by a quote from a smoking lobbyist recommending doubt as a strategy.

Casting doubt is a part of the scientific process.  Mr. Gore demonstrated an ignorance of the way science works and personally insulted everyone that disagreed with him.   Why?  To convince the audience that skeptics have no credibility.   Come on Al, argue the science.

I found the character assassination unwarranted and uncalled for.  Why the smoking references?   The two (smoking and carbon dioxide) are very different subjects.

Smoking is an addictive habit with virtually no beneficial offsets. Carbon dioxide is a building block of life.  No carbon dixode, no plants.   As carbon dioxide increases it causes changes in our environment.  Some changes are good, and some are bad.  Some carbon dioxide is good, too much is bad, but how much is too much?

A difficult question…and there is no consensus, no single answer.

Al Gore was not the first and he will not be the last to try to win his argument by attacking the credibility of his opponent.  It is a normal political activity…that does not belong is science.  Ahhh, if only it were so.  The argument has been a recurring one for decades.  The skeptic/smoking talking point seems to be everywhere.  It’s like everybody in the global climate game has the same script.

Let’s talk Chicken Little.

The Oceans  suck up carbon dioxide.  As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air increases, carbon dioxide increases in the sea.  This presumably causes rapidly accelerating changes in the surface ecosystem of the oceans.   I have read several articles on the subject.  It certainly sounds plausible,  the ecosystem might be in danger?  Unfortunately, I find myself distrusting the science because of one simple problem.  History.

Climate experts have been spouting gloom and doom since the 1980’s.   And at least so far, the sky is not falling.

UN IPCC predictions of doom have been around since the first Climate Assessment was published in 1992.  A strong El Nino in 1998 made these guys look positively brilliant.  And then as the 21st century began, the climate gloom parade developed growing pains.

  • The predictions of accelerating warming failed to show up.  The world stopped warming in 1998.
  • The Mathematics of the Hockey Stick were successfully challenged
  • Scientists got caught cooking temperature numbers in Climate-gate.  The e-mails also displayed an arrogance and disdain for those that disagreed.
  • The IPCC 2007 Synopses predicted erroneously that the Himalaya Glaciers would be gone 30 years.  Their current guess, 400 years.  As a part of the admission, the IPCC was forced to acknowledge some sloppy vetting practices.
  • In 2006 a skeptic found huge errors in NASA climate data, lowering temperatures for the first 6 years of the 21st century.
  • In 2009 Al Gore predicted incorrectly that the Arctic would be ice free by 2013, a year when the Arctic Ice actually grew.  2012 was a big year for ice loss, but a cool summer in 2013 caused at least a temporary change.

The sky could start falling today or tomorrow, and Chicken Little could be right.  But I cannot help but think:

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Al Gore’s Wild Ass Arctic Ice Guess

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Mr. Gore spent lots of time talking about Arctic Ice in his 2006 pseudo documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth.  We got to see Al ride on a Nuclear Submarine and watch as he saw first hand how the Navy measured ice thickness in the Arctic.

Sometimes it’s good to be Vice President.

Mr. Gore talked about how he was able to use his influence to get very important confidential Arctic Ice data released.   He then provided the data in graph form.   Mr. Gore narrated while the graph was displayed.   He said that the ice had been reduced by 40% in 40 years.  It was catchy and easy to remember.  What a story.

But was it true?

No.  Well I’m sure he rode on the sub and the Navy has data.   Most everything else is simply a part of his story.  And it’s a good story.

Mr. Gore (in the film) presented a charts that showed a steady decline in the ice mass in the Arctic.  He lectured to the audience while the slide was being displayed.   He claimed the ice had decreased 40% in 40 years.   Here’s the chart:

Mr. Gore’s chart says the ice declined by 1.5 million square kilometers from a base of a bit less than 14.    I’ll help Mr. Gore with the arithmetic.  1.5/13.7 = 11%.

11% in 35 years is not exactly 40% in 40 years.   Mr. Gore’s careless use of data  really is old news.  Why, one might wonder, am I bringing this up now?

Well I always suspected the entire calculation was a wild ass guess but I didn’t have good independent confirmation.   I suspected Sub based data would be spotty and incomplete.  But I wasn’t sure.  Now I am confident the entire section of the film was a fabrication (except for the submarine ride).  A good story and nothing else.

Visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center  (NSIDC) web site.   They provide lots of statistical information about  ice in the Arctic (and Greenland and the Antarctic too).   The NSIDC has this to say about Arctic Ice thickness:

While satellite observations have shown a decline in Arctic Ocean sea ice extent since the late 1970s, sea ice is highly mobile, and a decrease in extent does not necessarily imply a corresponding decrease in ice volume. Observations of thickness (which allows  calculation of volume) have been limited, making it difficult to estimate sea ice volume trends. The European Space Agency (ESA) CryoSat satellite was launched in October 2010 and has enabled estimates of sea ice thickness and volume for the last three years.

The best information is only 3 years old.  Wow.  Everything before that is a guess or so says The National Snow and Ice Data Center.  These University of Colorado scientists are the recognized experts.  Mr. Gore released his film in May of 2006.  Most of his data ended before 2005.

Wild Ass Guess Confirmed.

Fact Checking Mr. Obama on Energy

I must confess I did not see Mr. Obama’s State of the Union Address.  I expected the speech to be a non event.   The next day I was surprised when the business news channels (CNBC and Bloomberg) discussed his energy policy that included a more favorable view of Natural Gas.  Natural Gas was finally getting it’s due.  That was a change.

I then read an article by Politico, and another in USA Today .  The Politico article talked about energy policy and the USA Today article discussed the statistical gymnastics included in the speech.  I then read the entire speech transcript.

I was not impressed.  I’m a numbers guy.  Too few numbers and too many human interest stories.  I like a good human interest story as much as the next guy, they make great movies.  I wonder why a speech on the status of the USA today needs to be so personal. And as USA Today pointed out, the numbers have been selectively chosen.

Mr. Obama did advocate Natural Gas as a preferred fuel in both electricity production and as a motor fuel.   He’s about 5 years late to the party, but better late than never; a welcome change.   The remainder of the speech was not surprising.

The piece on solar was….well… you decide:

we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job cannot be outsourced

OK, I guess?   Becoming?  The USA is not now and never has been a leader in solar.  Germany is the world leader, and China is coming on fast and will likely pass Germany in 2015.  Germany has 35 gigawatts of solar installed right now.  China has over 20 gigawatts now and an additional 14 gigawatts should begin production in 2014.  Italy is third with about 18 gigawatts connected.

The USA, Spain and Japan duke it out for the remaining positions in the top 5.  The USA is currently in the 4th spot with a little bit less than 8 gigawatts connected.  We are adding solar fast enough to maintain our #4 spot on the list, but we will not catch Italy this decade.

Solar, even in Germany plays only a very small part in the carbon emissions game.  Germany gets less than 6% of it’s electricity from Solar power!    Statistically, solar will be a non issue on the global carbon front for years and years to come.  Mr. Obama’s emphasis on solar when talking global climate change is….well….misplaced.

A bit further in the speech he says the following:

Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.

True.  We have done better.   The recession reduced demand, vehicles became more efficient and natural gas displaced coal in power generation.  But it’s old news.  2013 reversed the trend as this graph prepared by the US Energy Information Administration demonstrates:

Yep, the EIA is expecting an increase in carbon related emissions in 2013 and 2014.  Perhaps that is why Mr. Obama said the following:

But we have to act with more urgency — because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.

Maybe, maybe not.   Recent studies indicate that long periods of very low rainfall are normal in California.  Twice during the medieval warming period, California had droughts that literally lasted hundreds of years.  And the same study showed periods of spectacular flooding in between the years of droughts.

Perhaps California is witness to normal climate variation.  Recent studies indicate that the last 150 years might be the oddity, not the norm?   20 year droughts in Southern California appear to be relatively regular and surprisingly common.   Maybe what we see in California today is simply Nature being Nature.

I wonder what would happen if a politician simply told the truth?   Unemployment, I suspect.  But come on, Mr. Obama, your last election is behind you.  Suppose, just suppose, that we heard the honest truth about global climate change.   It would look something like this.

The world is warmer than it used to be and it is likely that man is at least partially responsible.   So far, climate change has not been particularly problematic.  If the scientists at the UN are correct, then we must make immediate changes in the ways we use and produce energy or the world will get lots warmer. That warming will probably have dire consequences.

The biggest carbon dioxide producer in the world is China.  In the year 2000, China was a small player.  Today, China produces more carbon dioxide than the USA and all of Western Europe combined.  If China does not slow down their ever increasing rate of carbon dioxide production, and if the UN’s IPCC Scientists are correct, the world is going to get lots warmer.

Actions taken in the USA or in Europe will be of little consequence.  China’s impact is so large it overwhelms everything else.  China’s rate of increase has been greater than 8% per year since 2000.   At that rate they will double their production again between now and 2023.  They are already 30% of the worldwide total.

So far at least, the UN has been horribly wrong in their predictions.   Climate variability is difficult to predict.    The simple fact that the IPCC has been wildly high in their predictions does not prove that they are wrong, it simply accentuates how difficult the problem is.   Yes, global warming stopped some 15 years ago, but it could begin again soon.  We must continue to study the issue with an open mind, and work to minimize our impact on the climate.

Nahhh…to0 boring….it would never work in politics.