Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chu 'n' tobacco


Last night I went to Palo Alto High School's Great Minds lecture by Steven Chu on climate change. For those unfamiliar with Palo Alto public schools, billionaires send their kids there - they're pretty well decked out.

Chu is all in on using tobacco as the analog for climate, which he did at great length during the discussion (including comparing the corporate disinformation tactics). He did a good job overall, being a professor has made him a good speaker. He said the 500-1000 year period to mostly recover from the effects of GHG emissions is an imposition on costs on umpteen future generations, "500 to 1000 years of future generations breathing our second-hand smoke."

The kindly professor showed some steel at two points during Q&A, sharply correcting two people who misstated something he'd said previously. Guess you need that to survive at a high level in DC.

Few other random notes:  very bullish on wind and solar, believes the business world has really seen the light. He's also bullish on battery technology and has his own business venture in the area. I hope he's right. For all that he still sees a long-term future for fossil fuels - I can't remember quite what he said and don't want to get sharply corrected, but it seemed like 20% of energy to come from fossil fuels well into the second half of this century.

He's supportive of nuclear power but not in the US, saying we take too long to make it happen, and that utilities keep messing around with designs instead of turning out cookie-cutter plants like they do in South Korea and did in France. He also supports carbon sequestration and is doing research in that area. I tried to ask a question about the economic failures in that area but didn't get the chance.

He made fun of his fellow physicists for believing they can understand anything in science, but then attempts to do the same thing himself.

New fact:  he was the first scientist ever appointed to a Cabinet-level position, and was replaced by another scientist (Ernest Moniz). He gives Obama a lot of credit for appointing scientists against the advice of people surrounding him, who don't think scientists play well in the DC pool.

EXTENDED REMARKS (Eli)  From YouTube, a talk by Chu at the Stanford Business School.





MOAR EXTENDED REMARKS (Brian) The YouTube clip is pretty similar to his Paly talk. He gives an extended version of the second-hand smoke allegory 15 minutes in, although I think he was pithier with the high school audience.

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 5


Think it could not get stranger young bunnies.  Well, four days ago Brendan Montague was lovin it on Desmog UK, reporting on a strange interlude at the 2012 Heartland Climate Science Roast that he had with Willie Soon, something that was so good that he was holding it for a forthcoming (still book).


Willie was on a role, throwin' everyone under the bus, Exxon Mobile, and CfA.  According to Montague he said

The process is we have to go through my centre I am working for, where I get a paycheque, so it goes through our grants office and of course the director has to approve it. My previous director was very friendly. He loved what we do. Then the new director is somewhat, very not friendly so I’m in a bit more trouble. 
Now Eli is the RTFR type of bunny so he went and looked up who the previous director was, Irwin Shapiro, and then Eli looked for some connection between Shapiro and Soon, when this 2013 gem from the Boston Globe popped up
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s former director, Harvard astronomy professor Irwin Shapiro, said there was never any attempt to censor Soon’s views. Nor, he said, was Soon the subject of complaints or concern among the 300 scientists at the center.

“As far as I can tell,’’ said Shapiro, “no one pays any attention to him.’’
True enough and obvious enough for science, but in his own way, as the Globe points out, Soon science has been useful for his funders.  Testimony in its own way to the obliviousness of astronomers.



Monday, February 23, 2015

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 4


It just keeps on coming.  Anymore of this and Eli will have to be hospitalized for acute giggles. Chris Mooney at the Washington Post does everyone a service by calling out Willie Soon's research as the fantasy that it is, but buried deep at the top of his article are some interesting quotes

According to a statement from the Smithsonian, Soon is “a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,” and the institution is “greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research.” The acting secretary of the Smithsonian, Albert Horvath, “has asked the Smithsonian Inspector General to review the matter.
A twofer.  Last, the real auditors are being called in, and when they get their hands on the budgets Eli suspects that Charles Alcock, Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is going to have an interesting time explaining how indirect cost money that was originally going to be used to cover institutional operating expenses got converted to discretionary donations under his control.

But that's not all folks.  First, after looking at the grant awards and budgets, Eli was thinking that even with the Koch money and the Southern Money and the Donors Trust money, Willie was not covering his salary, and indeed here is proof.  They list him as part time.  Worse, anybunny with a calculator can see that his institutional base salary was not much at all, a bit less than 100K.  Each grant/contract was for three, four months at max and anybunny can do the math on that.  With overhead and fringes the Smithsonian was actually pulling in more money that Willie Soon.  Were there other non-Smithsonian sources that Dr. Soon was taping?  $50-75K is not much to live on in the Boston area.  Perhaps speaking fees?

From the Smithsonian Facebook page, where such things are found
The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research.

The Smithsonian is taking immediate action to address the issue: Acting Secretary Albert Horvath has asked the Smithsonian Inspector General to review the matter. Horvath will also lead a full review of Smithsonian ethics and disclosure policies governing the conduct of sponsored research to ensure they meet the highest standards.

Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon is a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. He was hired to conduct research on long-term stellar and solar variability. The Smithsonian does not fund Dr. Soon; he pursues external grants to fund his research.

The Smithsonian does not support Dr. Soon’s conclusions on climate change. The Smithsonian’s official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming.
Of course, they were quite happy to accept the funding, but now the Smithsonian has tossed Willie Soon under the bus.  Will he have the company of those who thought it was a good thing?

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 3


More fun and games at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics featuring Eli's heroine Amanda Preston.  So Willie Soon sets up some funding for his salary with Exxon Mobile.  Well that's what soft money people do and Eli would have not been too hard on our Willie had he not at an AGU conference long ago been subjected to the single stupidest poster talk through ever by said Soon.

But be not concerned because once the money was in the bag, Amanda Preston lower (or rather raised) the boom indirect cost rate on Exxon-Mobile in a small Email

I am attaching a proposal for your review and a request for payment. You may recall that I mentioned the adjustment in our indirect costs upwards from the 15% that Walt Buchholtz and I negotiated when he was still in your position. You will see in the attached that the project cost increases to -$76.000. 
The adjustment was to 43% of salaries and wages.

Eli is only a few pages into the document dump but he is laughing so hard that a pause is needed

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 2


More hi-jinks from the crew in Cambridge.

Amanda Preston was hip deep in the financials of Willie Soon's support network.  As the Advancement and External Affairs Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics she negotiated the terms for his support from Exxon Mobile among other things.  Today she has moved on to be Executive Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University, where, amongst other things she works works with faculty to squeeze out more dimes.

Looking at the FOI document dump Eli reads this interesting bit in the first Email, from Amanda Preston to various people at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

You will see that $22,181.00 was allocated to task 40301770IS50AP. This amount is equivalent to the indirect costs that would have been charged if the gift had been a grant. on instructions from Charles Alcock, I asked ExxonMobil to allow us to reclassify that amount as an unrestricted contribution. Judith Batty assented to our request (see attached email). 
Charles Alcock is the Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Email continues
I have the following questions and comments: Charles Alcock agrees that this money should be used to defray any shortfall in development funding. Do we move it from 301770 to 101600? Or to the DDF
The DDF is the Director's Discretionary Fund, which is a fund that is dispersed at the, guess what, discretion of the director.  These funds in research centers are used for program development, bridge funding when a soft money person is out of grant/contract funding, or for tea.

Now Eli, maybe Russell, does not have a clue of how money from indirect cost accounts flow at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, but he expects that as the norm, some of it flows to the PI as a reimbursement for undividable costs, some to the PI's department for same and some to the institution director, but the lion's share goes to things like electricity and heating costs, and oh yes, to make sure that the toilet's flush and that the library maintains subscriptions.  Moving the money to development or the DDF means that it was totally available to the director for other stuff.  Oh yeah, and probably that Willie did not get his cut.  This cut is important to defray many costs including travel to conferences.

One of the gotcha's in research institutions like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is that you cannot use federal grant money to support applications for federal grant money.  What this means in practice is that if someone is completely supported by federal grant money, at least in the audit sense, they cannot spend time writing further grants.  The out for this is to allocate a small amount of a researcher's time to general support from the institution, which, so the argument goes, covers the time and effort of the researcher and the support staff in applying for further federal funds. Coming up with non-Federal money to do this is a bit of a problem.

Charles Alcock is one of the principles in the Origins of Life Initiative which was seed funded by Harvard in 2005.



Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks1


Justin Gillis has lit the fuse on the interesting funding received by Willie Soon from hither and yon.  Eli had done some digging early on into that pile of offal, but admittedly did not follow through as he should have.  However, the results of the FOI requests by the Climate Investigations Center are telling

One of the fuses in this controversy has been the neglect, rather perhaps the purposeful admission of who funded that in particular with respect to Soon's latest provocation, a rather silly article co-authored by Monckton and two guys to be named later.  The Weasel summarizes this as

I’m not sure it’s coherent enough to count as drivel. There’s quite a bit where I had no hope of working out what it means or what the point of saying it was.
and then goes on to shortly summarize why it was drivel.  Jan Perlwitz provides a more measured discussion (e.g. he provides the reasoning why Soon and Monckton were spitting up, in short, they model the response of the system to a 150 increase in greenhouse gas concentrations as if it was a single pulse and other things and calls the paper drivel after providing the reasons rather than in the opposite order).

Much of the commentary on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hi-jinks has concerned how one of Dr Willie Soon's sponsors the Southern Company had the right to examine and review any manuscripts that Dr. Willie Soon submitted for publication.

Even before the Gillis piece appeared, Paul Thacker was been hot on pointing out that this paper does not acknowledge Soon's support from various sources including the Southern Company and had noticed that the contract between the Southern Company Services and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics contained the unusual clause
Publicity. Smithsonian shall not publish and utilize the name or otherwise identify SCS or its affiliate companies in any publications or other advertisements without the express written consent of SCS. As further consideration to SCS, Smithsonian shall provide SCS an advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for comment and input, if any, from SCS. 
Eli would guess that even had permission been requested, it might have been, well, not given.

But there is much more in the pile.  Consider the Amanda Preston two step in Hi-Jinks 2 to follow

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Oslo, then the world



Obviously no gas engines when there are no gas stations. In 2013 I argued that each percentage of vehicle sales that EVs take away from gas engines is a percent that will not be maintaining the gas engine infrastructure, and that loss of infrastructure support may make a difference in the near future in some places.

Norwegians are currently buying EVs for about 15% of vehicle sales (admittedly with a lot of incentives that may be gradually reduced). Obviously the existing vehicle fleet composition is different from the new vehicle fleet. Per the video above, a gas engine car bought 20 years from now could still be around 20 years later. Still I think the correct reference for when the gas infrastructure will start becoming spotty and inconvenient uses the percentage of vehicle miles traveled in a given time done by EV. People with two cars generally drive more with the newer one, and with electricity always costing less than gas, it will make sense for people to choose their EV when they can. That 15% will translate into 15% less gas revenue, not today but soon, and gas stations are going to notice it. If I were a young businessperson in Oslo today, I don't think I'd view a gas station as an attractive long term investment.

I don't expect range anxiety for gas vehicles so much as range annoyance as they have to go further and plan more to refill their cars. Mechanics and the rest of the infrastructure that support gas cars will also be less common and more expensive.

The above is obviously true at some large percentage of vehicle miles coming from EVs, the question is whether it can and will happen anytime soon at some smaller percent, say 10%. We could see that in Oslo in 5-10 years.

And FWIW, I don't think gas stations will completely disappear everywhere. There will be some vintage/hobby cars tooling around, maybe retrofitted to run biodiesel or other biofuels, and there will be some businesses that service them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Black Swans, Black Cats


A couple of days ago, when describing the incoherence of the Luckwarmers, Eli cribbed from the Idiot Tracker  (v. 2010) about those wide eyed optimists
So the critical question then becomes: what is the lukewarmers' range? Consensus scientists estimate climate sensitivity at about 3C, but concede that it might be 1.5C, 4.5C or even higher (and very unlikely to be much lower). What range do lukewarmers think is plausible? 
So far, to my knowledge, no self-identified lukewarmer has been persuaded to answer this question. They will find it difficult. Because they have positioned themselves as participants in the scientific debate, they can hardly claim 100% confidence in X climate sensitivity, no error bars. If they are reasonable, they have to accept they they are as fallible as the rest of the scientific community, and although they think the climate sensitivity is 1.5C (say) it might be 1.0C, or 2.0C, or even (gasp!) 3.0C (where the consensus puts it).
Time has moved on Tom Curtis pointed out in the comments
Being fair to the lukewarmers, some including Nic Lewis and Steve Mosher have indicated uncertainty ranges (sort of). The first problem is that Lewis' uncertainty looks an awful lot like dogmatism given how tight his uncertainty interval is relative to that of the IPCC. The second problem is that Mosher's range looks more like a con job. 
Specifically, Mosher has said:  "ECS is not less than 1.2C ( or basically a no feedback value however you want to calculate it And the probablity of it being less than 3C ((Hmm I’ve prolly said 3.2 in a couple places) is greater than 50%." 
The IPCC does not give a PDF, but from their statements it is clear that any distribution maximally coherent with their claims must have a strong right skew. Assuming that their likely range is centrally placed, ie, that it is as unlikely to be below the range as it is above it, that means the modal value is around 2.5 to 2.8 C and the median is likely to be very close to, and possibly below 3 C. So, in an attempt to give a range for a purportedly distinct position, Mosher appears to simply redefine the IPCC as "lukewarmers".
Today, the twits guided Eli to a piece on skepticism by Nassim Taleb, keeper of the black swans. Black swans keepers are, of course, the opposite of Luckwarmers, who, in their way are the Émile Coués of the science blog world

Taleb looks at the effect of ignorance on estimates of probability
The introduction in general in any field with potential iatrogenics of any new element without available track record (hence model uncertainty) fattens the left tail. 
Some straight applications 
• Skepticism about climate models should lead to more precautionary policies in the presence of ruin. It is incoherent to doubt the mean while reducing the variance. 
Which pretty much kills Nic Lewis's squeezed prior and
• "Mitigating" policies aiming at reducing risks –say geoengineering– in fact are likely to increase such risk. 
• Conservatism is a dominant strategy in the tails.               
Taleb elaborates
In thin-tailed domains, an increase in uncertainty changes the probability of ruin by several orders of magnitude, but the effect remains small: from say 10−40 to 10−30 is not quite worrisome. In fat-tailed domains, the effect is sizeable as we start with a substantially higher probability of ruin (which is typically underestimated).
He also makes an interesting point about such issues as GMOs
For standard statistical theory doesn’t allow "acceptance", it only allows "failure to reject". Even when someone in prose says "accept that" he mathematically means "failed to reject at some significance level...", i.e., baring a tail event. Similarly, when someone is indicted, he is treated as innocent unless proven otherwise. This principle is adopted by scientific journals (remember from section 1.3 that statisticians are the "evidence" police and their evidence is "up to" a tail event that is not specified in impact). This is a very big thing and it is ironic. 
For the majority of biologists involved in the GMO debates against the precautionary principle don’t appear to be aware of the central fact that
evidence = ”barring a tail event”
and argue they have "evidence there can’t be a tail event".

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The coal divestment and oil divestment arguments are the same

Some people make a qualitative distinction between divesting from coal businesses versus divesting from oil. I'll concede at the start that coal is the worst, so if you choose to only divest from one sector then it should be coal. That doesn't serve as a reason to oppose oil divestment.

The main reason I hear for distinguishing coal and oil is that we can live semi-normally without coal but not without oil. Depending on the time frames, though, we arguably can't live without coal and we can live without oil.

Two hypotheticals:

First, the one thing that changes tomorrow is that the political willpower suddenly exists worldwide to stop using coal, completely, and the question you get to decide is when to implement that decision to maximize human benefit. I think it's pretty clear that while immediately ramping down coal use is a good idea, ending all coal use literally tomorrow would not be a good idea. The energy grid would collapse in many countries and take months and years to reconstruct, causing a deep global recession.

Instead you'd want to use a time frame - I'd guess the best balance of reducing emissions with minimizing economic disruption would mean 5 to 15 years for eliminating coal use in developed countries, and add five years for developing countries.

Second hypothetical is the same as the first except the political willpower also suddenly exists worldwide to stop using oil, and you get to choose whether and when to get to zero. In this case an appropriate time frame does allow us to live without oil. We switch the power grid to near-zero emission sources and switch transportation systems to electricity, maybe with some use of biofuels (managing land use impacts) and hydrogen. Maybe very limited, continued use of oil balanced by carbon-negative practices. All you need is time, maybe 30-50 years.

So no, we can't live semi-normally without coal tomorrow, but if that doesn't keep you from supporting coal divestment then it shouldn't stop you from supporting oil divestment. We can get to a point of living without oil, so it's not wrong to use oil divestment to push us in that direction.

I haven't talked about natural gas divestment, which is a little trickier. While the time frame arguments apply to it, there's also the fact that natural gas competes with coal at the same time that it competes with renewables. I think it's a close argument and I'd welcome the natural gas industry reaching a deal with renewable energy, but in the absence of that deal then I'd rather pressure the natural gas industry as well through divestment.

Finally, some other folks may lump in tar sand oil with coal divestment. I agree that tar sands are the worst oil option so it's a start, but not the place to stop.


UPDATE:  thought I'd add that Palo Alto City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the state agency CalPERS, which manages Palo Alto pensions, to divest from fossil fuels. Palo Alto has done some pretty good work on limiting their own emissions, so that's evidence that divestment is compatible with direct emission reductions.

Fish in the Milk


There is an old story about how finding a fish swimming in your bottle of milk is an indicator of something or other.  Now over the past couple of weeks, the fish swimming in the climate bottle has been a provocation published by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph.  Any bunnies who are not up to date on the quality of Booker's writing, well what John Nance Garner called a bucket of warm spit (well, he really called it something else, but the else could not be printed in those days), can read up at Real Climate, ATTP, Climate Etc, and etc.  Of course, this quickly entered the right wing food chain.

Now some, not Eli to be sure, have wondered about the Telegraph.  Today we need not wonder any more.  Peter Oborne the chief political commentator of the Telegraph has resigned, (yeah yeah not Osborne) and pulled back the curtain from that corner of oz.  Although as he writes, things have always been a bit off at the Telegraph, they have become downright suspicious ever since the paper was bought by the Barclay Brothers.

Who?

Well, think the Koch brothers, but with less of a sense of shame and more of entitlement.

Oborne details many stories where the commercial interests of the papers advertisers determined what did or did not appear in the paper.  The recent treatment of HSBCs troubles with the tax authorities in several countries but particularly the UK and Switzerland was the last straw but
The reporting of HSBC is part of a wider problem. On 10 May last year the Telegraph ran a long feature on Cunard’s Queen Mary II liner on the news review page. This episode looked to many like a plug for an advertiser on a page normally dedicated to serious news analysis. I again checked and certainly Telegraph competitors did not view Cunard’s liner as a major news story. Cunard is an important Telegraph advertiser.

The paper’s comment on last year’s protests in Hong Kong was bizarre. One would have expected the Telegraph of all papers to have taken a keen interest and adopted a robust position. Yet (in sharp contrast to competitors like the Times), I could not find a single leader on the subject.

At the start of December the Financial Times, the Times and the Guardian all wrote powerful leaders on the refusal by the Chinese government to allow a committee of British MPs into Hong Kong. The Telegraph remained silent. I can think of few subjects which anger and concern Telegraph readers more.

On 15 September the Telegraph published a commentary by the Chinese ambassador, just before the lucrative China Watch supplement. The headline of the ambassador’s article was beyond parody: ‘Let’s not allow Hong Kong to come between us’. On 17 September there was a four-page fashion pull-out in the middle of the news run, granted more coverage than the Scottish referendum. The Tesco false accounting story on 23 September was covered only in the business section. By contrast it was the splash, inside spread and leader in the Mail. Not that the Telegraph is short of Tesco coverage. Tesco pledging £10m to fight cancer, an inside peak at Tesco’s £35m jet and ‘Meet the cat that has lived in Tesco for 4 years’ were all deemed newsworthy.
Oborne continues and Eli ends
I duly went to see the chief executive in mid-December. He was civil, served me tea and asked me to take off my jacket. He said that I was a valued writer, and said that he wanted me to stay.

I expressed all of my concerns about the direction of the paper. I told him that I was not leaving to join another paper. I was resigning as a matter of conscience. Mr MacLennan agreed that advertising was allowed to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that “it was not as bad as all that” and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at the Telegraph.  (emphasis added)
I have since consulted Charles Moore, the last editor of the Telegraph before the Barclays bought the paper in 2004. Mr Moore confessed that the published accounts of Hollinger Inc, then the holding company for the Telegraph, did not receive the scrutiny they deserved. But no newspaper in history has ever given an unfavourable gloss on its owner’s accounts. Beyond that, Mr Moore told me, there had been no advertising influence on the paper’s news coverage.
There are bridges to be sold in Brooklyn, and evidently buyers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rotating Eyeballs






Eli would not even try to make this up.