Monday, October 12, 2015

The China Cap

Environmental Defense Fund had one of their sporadic podcasts recently, this one on the planned China cap-and-trade program (EDF has been heavily involved there). A good backgrounder.

China's future emissions are more important than America's, so the whole thing deserves more attention. One partly-valid reason why less has been said is there's nothing known about it so far. In two years it'll be in place, they say, although EDF says no one has done it that fast before. China has a pilot cap-and-trade program for "only" 250m people, so they do have experience. I didn't know prior to the podcast that China also has a cap-and-trade program for SOx, which might have helped develop their confidence.

Anyway, something to watch.

I'm looking around for info on the pilots, probably a good basis for predicting the national program. They've only been around for two years, about as long as California's program. Here's some good background, although EDF notes above that the offset program hasn't actually been used - no trades have happened. It also says utilities can't pass along costs, so the entire adjustment has to be internal instead of through reducing demand.

This says the opening price in one pilot was $4.89/tonne, not all that substantial but maybe more meaningful in a low-margin economy.

With a multi-pronged attack on carbon emissions and related pollution, cap-and-trade may be only one component, or the price may even collapse if they don't establish the right cap or a floor on prices. That's not the worst thing in the world, it would mean they could tighten up the standards.

Eli Follows Up

Eli took a peek at the interactive review for the Hansen, et al paper on sea level rise, remember, the one that found that if global temperatures rose more than 2 C, the carrot patches near the water, like Miami and Venice were soggy toast.  The editor, Frank Dentener,  has closed the open discussion and thrown the paper into the second stage of review
The authors are now expected to publish responses to the comments and reviews. Based on reviewer and contributed comments the authors will provide a revised manuscript and a detailed overview of how the comments were addressed. The editor will then decide to accept, or reject the paper, or ask for further revision, with the possibility to solicit further reviewer’s advice. This procedure is more in-line with the traditional peer-review process.
Dentener also provides a few remarks about the food fight.  First the issue of which journal the paper should have been submitted to
The multidisciplinary aspect of the paper made it difficult to chose the journal for this work, that covers paleo-climate, modern observations and climate modelling. Indeed ACP does not have strong roots in paleo-climate, while the sister journal ‘Climate of the Past’ does not address modern climate modeling.
Peter Thorne had raised the issue most strongly in his review.  The editorial judgement was that this was not a major issue by itself but required soliciting the views of expert referees across fields, which was done.  Interestingly Dentener says that the authors wanted an open discussion and review.  The motive for that, well Eli is very Fox News on that.

Of course, this gave rise to a number of comments which were not "scientifically sound".  Dentener's advice to the authors was to reply to such comments simply by referring to a textbook.  More interesting to Dentener and to Eli was the approach of six reviewers who submitted a combined review.  Dentener finds this very useful as a new model for long and complex papers and an advantage of the open discussion reviews.

The serious six, S. Drijfhout, M. Helsen, R. Haarsma, R. van de Wal, J. E. Williams and B. van den Hurk, did not much like the paper as set forth in their opening paragraph
This manuscript submitted by Hansen et al. has drawn considerable attention in both the media and among peers and scientists across disciplines. This is not a surprise, given the importance of this topic for the planet. However, to our opinion the paper and its framing in the public arena sometimes tend to cross the thin line between opinion and scientific evidence. On one hand, the evidence compiled by Hansen et al. to conclude that global warming is highly dangerous is based on rational arguments. The analysis does not contain any process that is physically impossible (albeit sometimes unlikely), nor present principally flawed interpretations of the paleo data (albeit often biased to the upper end of uncertainty measures). As such we can support the conclusions that the scenarios sketched in this paper could be interpreted as an extreme high‐end scenario that describes the upper bound of what one might expect in the coming centuries to happen with our current climate if carbon emissions continue at present‐day rate. The philosophy on which the construction of this “upper‐end” scenario is funded does not fundamentally differ from the previously released “Delta‐committee” scenario that was published by Katsman et al. (2011),  with the notion that the Hansen et al. scenario is even more extreme and unlikely to occur, that is, it resides in the end of the tail of the probability distribution of future climate change.
Anybunny interested can follow the link.  Reading between the lines Eli judges that the editor will pay serious attention to these arguments and Hansen, et al, will have to meet their challenges.

Those looking for a twist of the knife are referred to the authors response to Rud Istvan

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Ethon reports that one Oliver Geden has taken up the cudgels dropped by Roger Pielke Jr.  Geden, at root, does not believe that knowledge has any role in forming policy.  He tweeted so himself

Eli, is not very happy with this.  A moments thought brought to mind the pithy differentiation between weather and climate to mind, that weather is an initial value problem, and climate a boundary value problem.  IEHO, knowledge should set the boundaries for policy
But, as Ethon saw in the past with Roger Jr., the chain link fence of science is a dangerous thing for someone trying to influence policy.  Fantasy is much more convenient.

Next president has 57% chance to flip the majority of the Supreme Court. Or lock it in for decades.

I'm revisiting my calculation from three years ago, projecting survival rates for the Supreme Court conservatives and looking at the next term. This time I'm not simply taking their ages through 2021 and applying actuarial tables. I think there are two fudge factors pushing in opposite direction.

First, the justices are probably much healthier than the average person their age, and they receive top-notch medical care. A better table would be one with mortality rates for people who are still working at their ages, but I don't have that. My WAG is their mortality rates are equal to the average person who's 4-6 years younger.

OTOH, a medical development doesn't have to kill them to push them out of office. If they're facing replacement by a Democratic president then they'd do anything to stay on the Court, but there's a limit. A debilitating stroke or anything compromising mental function could force them to retire.

I'm going to give a slight edge to the factor of better health, and assume the chance they'll avoid going off the Court due to death or disability is equivalent to the chance of someone two years younger of surviving through the next term. The odds work out to be 76% of Kennedy staying through January 2021, 73% for Scalia, 90% for Thomas and Alito, and 96% for Roberts, so that's a 43% chance of them all getting through.

I didn't calculate it for the four moderate justices but I'd guess the chance of replacing them would be equivalent (you can DIY:  ages here, actuarial table here).

I thought the 2012 presidential term would see a lot of Court turnover but I was wrong. At this point the Rs will filibuster any reasonable Obama appointment, accepting the moderate political damage to keep the slot open. The lack of change increases the probability in the next term. I think the odds are good that a bunch of justices in their eighties will get off the Court - both involuntarily if the president is from the opposing party and voluntarily moving into semi-retirement when they like the president.

Gay marriage, and some death penalty restrictions are at stake if things go badly, while restoring Supreme Court precedent controlling unlimited political funding could happen if things go well. I'm not sure about EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions, but it could also be at risk.

And once again, Supreme Court term limits would be helpful. We've had to put up with Scalia for 29 years on the Court. We can do better.

Friday, October 09, 2015

There Was a Young Treaty From Rio. . . .

A recent microtwittering that Eli became involved in made it clear that there is considerable uncertainty amongst the bunnies and lambs about the relation of various letters in the alphabet soup to each other.  Everybunny sorta knows, but how does it hang together

Eli being a patient soul, really though this would be a good thing to nail down with the upcoming festivities in Paris scheduled to start.  He learned a bit too.  Good visuals can be found on the Norwegian GRID Arendal web site

The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Environment Programme to report on the current scientific basis of climate change, associated environmental and economic changes and the possible responses. 

The UNEP is an organization within the United Nations, lead by an Under Secretary General and functioning under the General Assembly, that was established in 

The WMO is an independent UN agency established in 1950 which grew out of the International Meteorological Organization that had been founded much earlier, 1873.  The purpose of the latter was to exchange weather and climate information and standardize measurement instrumentation and methods.  WMO policy is set by the World Meteorological Congress with each of the 191 member states having a representative and its Executive Committee.  

The UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) is a treaty drafted at the UN Conference on  Environment and Development aka Rio Earth Summit in 1992.  Planning for the conference had started in 1989, and the first IPCC assessment report was an important input. 

It also helps to explain some of the spit one finds on the inside of our computer screens to know that the Conference Secretary-General (e.g. organizer for the UN) was Maurice Strong and one of the major products of the meeting was Agenda 21, a plan for sustainable development.

The UNFCC now has 196 signatory nations who form the Conference of the Parties which implements the treaty

The IPCC through its reports provides technical advice to the COP SBSTA.  The COP SBI evaluated progress under the UNFCCC.  

The COP meets every year, but meetings following IPCC reports are more important.  The most recent meeting, COP15, the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009 was at best a damp squib, no matter the best face one could put on it, in part due to the sabotaging effect of hacking correspondence from the Climate Research Unit.

The Kyoto Accords were negotiated at COP 3, in, of course, Kyoto following the 1995 release of the IPCC Second Assessment Report

The upcoming COP 21 at the end of November in Paris is gathering some steam based on significant (not perfect) pledges by the EU, China and the US and many other countries.  Others (Canada, Australia, India) not so much.

Eli is pleased to offer a prize for the best limerick whose first line is 

There Was a Young Treaty From Rio

Hey, Runaway Rubio - try answering the question about climate change

Marco Rubio, maybe the currently best-positioned candidate to win the Republican nomination, is trying to hit a sweet spot by being deliberately evasive in answering climate change questions while denying that he's being evasive.

Rubio wants to do two things:

1. Reassure voters who think climate change is real, which includes 44% of Republicans, that he will not be a do-nothing president on this issue.

2. Reassure the denialists, ideologues, and monied interests funding the Republican Party that he will not step on their toes, their ideologies, or their pocketbooks, and that he will undertake no policies they find distasteful.

What to do? Pretend that adapting to the challenge of natural disasters, including the possibility of natural climate changes that just coincidentally, somewhat mirror the effect of human-caused change, is adequate action. He never says human-caused climate change is real - he's still doing the "I'm not a scientist" thing, just without saying the words. An example (where Rubio incorrectly refers to adaptation as "mitigation"):

SEN. RUBIO: Well, again, I mean, headlines notwithstanding, I’ve never disputed that the climate is changing. And I pointed out that climate, to some extent, is always changing. It’s never static. That’s not the question before me as a policymaker. The question before me as a policymaker is if we ban all coal in the U.S., if we ban all carbon emissions in the United States, will it change the dramatic changes in climate and these dramatic weather impacts that we’re now reading about? And anyone who says that we will is not being truthful...

MR. BELKIND: The U.S. Geological Survey has warned that sea levels could rise by two feet by 2060, imperiling Florida’s coastline. How should the United States prepare itself and its citizens to deal with rising sea levels and the catastrophic flooding that is likely to follow?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, again, as I pointed out earlier, I have no problem with taking mitigation action, as we did in my time as speaker of the house. We encouraged mitigation after we were hit by five hurricanes in the summer of 2004 and 2005. And we took steps to encourage people by finding savings in their insurance programs to harden their homes against the occurrences of these storms....So I have no problem with us taking steps towards mitigation. In fact, I think that would be essential, not simply because of weather occurrences....The bottom line is that natural catastrophes have always existed. And as we build out population centers with expensive structures and vulnerable areas, we will have to take mitigation action to account for that.
Members of the public not immersed in climate issues think fuzzily between "the climate may be warming naturally and we have to respond to it" and "the climate may be warming because of people and we have to respond to it". Rubio's trying to get both groups, but it's nonsense. Human-caused warming is linear and will get worse, unlike natural warming (which isn't happening anyway). What you prepare for depends on what's happening.

Some some questions that Rubio shouldn't be allowed to run away from:

  • Human-caused warming will raise sea level in Florida two feet but natural change won't. Which scenario would you prepare us for?
  • Human-caused climate change that keeps getting worse is different from natural climate cycles that hit limits and go down. Which one should we be prepared for?
  • Don't Americans have the right to know whether you accept the scientific consensus that we're making the climate worse?
  • What's your basis for not accepting the scientific consensus? Are you a scientist, and if not then why should you choose to rely on the tiny fringe opinion instead of the consensus? Or do you deny the existence of consensus?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

In the Replication Funhouse

Eli was moaning with a quack today about Eli's health issues (he is an old bunny) and the issue of replication of scientific studies came up.  Of course this was a hot thing about two months ago when Science published a paper showing that only 39 of 100 experiments published in hot psych journals could be replicated

Ninety-seven percent of original studies had significant results (P < .05). Thirty-six percent of replications had significant results.
It is hard to disagree with the conclusion
Reproducibility is not well understood because the incentives for individual scientists prioritize novelty over replication. Innovation is the engine of discovery and is vital for a productive, effective scientific enterprise. However, innovative ideas become old news fast. Journal reviewers and editors may dismiss a new test of a published idea as unoriginal. The claim that “we already know this” belies the uncertainty of scientific evidence. Innovation points out paths that are possible; replication points out paths that are likely; progress relies on both. Replication can increase certainty when findings are reproduced and promote innovation when they are not. This project provides accumulating evidence for many findings in psychological research and suggests that there is still more work to do to verify whether we know what we think we know.
Rabett Run would like to add somethings to this.  A test to reject the null hypothesis (OK you Bayeseans sit down, you can have your turn in the barrel comments) of P < .05 is asking for trouble.  That means, roughly speaking one out of 19 times, just on the basis of statistics you are going to be wrong.

P < .05 is not a strong test.  In an experiment unconstrained by underlying theory or previous work, it is a dangerous place to be, especially in the environment of glamour magazine publishing, where as the authors point out novelty and press releases are the game.

CERN required a P < 3x10-7 before claiming the discovery of the Higgs boson and they had
theory on their side.  They also had a boat load of money.

Eli's second point is that one (journal editors to the front please) should establish a sliding scale of acceptable P values, with P < .05 only used for cases where there is iron clad (as in gravity and the greenhouse effect) theoretical backing for the outcome of the experiment.  Where the theory is novel, a smaller P value should be used.  Experiments (or surveys) that refer to previous experimental results to establish reasonableness should also require smaller P values.

Blue sky territory and stuff that says that Newton had it all wrong should only be established as teasers, not claims unless the results are at least in 3 and higher sigma land.  Then, of course is the issue of the number of tails on your beast.  Yes, there is an element of art here, but us experimentalists ARE artists.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Atrios programming in some extra misses

Normally Eschaton is great, but a few things have been off. Duncan Black's repeated statements that self-driving cars won't happen (or will never work) is one good example, especially as they've been improving leaps and bounds in the last 2-3 years. He says it doesn't matter anyway until it becomes policy relevant, but cruise control+++ could already get people to drive instead of flying or taking rail.

I'm not sure whether the long-run effects are positive. I'm leaning in that direction as cities get more livable with less space taken up by parking and personal cars, but who knows. It'll definitely happen in Duncan's lifetime, and I'll bet he'll eat his words in about 5 years.

Another issue:  while I agree with him that Larry Lessig is going about things wrong, Atrios consistently pooh-poohs the influence of money in federal politics (and I haven't seen a lot of concern from him about money on non-federal politics). Based on personal experience I beg to differ about the role of money in politics, at any level. I have trouble seeing why the federal level would be different from state or local, and I'd be glad to get a solution at a federal level even if it doesn't solve everything. Everything or nothing isn't a good way to go about doing politics or policy.

We've got an over 50% chance of reversing Citizens United if we elect a Democrat in 2016, so I think a lot can be done about this issue.

In his defense, Atrios was right in not caring about Congressional earmarks, and I was wrong to oppose them. Spending on water projects has been a complete mess at the federal level since earmarks were eliminated.

Finally just a weird get-off-my-lawn moment where Atrios announces urban farms aren't farms, they're "commercial gardens" because....that's what he's said the words mean. As for being small, yes they're small, and intensive production can do a lot with small spaces.

Per usual, I'll write nothing about the vast majority of time that he's right, so I can concentrate on complaining.

Whitehouse Wednesday

Here is the latest from Sen. Whitehouse

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Putin's half-learned half loaf

Looking beyond all the caterwauling over Putin's latest, moderately harmful interference in Syria, I think we can see a method in places like Georgia and Ukraine:  Putin will go for the half loaf and not try to take the whole thing.

It's always tricky to guess someone else's psyche, but I think he thinks he learned the lesson of the Soviet Union as he watched it crash around him in the 80s and 90s, which is to extend but don't overextend. And there is a modest truth to that lesson, one that American neocons have never learned. Future Russian historians will look fondly at his retaking of Crimea while ignoring the methods used.

For the rest of the world, this is useful to keep in mind as we try to figure out what he's doing. There's no grand plan for Russian dominance in the Middle East, he's just trying to hold onto his very last proxy. Unless you're Syrian, the damage Putin is causing right now is limited.

While future Russian historians might applaud Crimea, they won't applaud Putin's inability to learn anything else from the fall of the USSR. Russia has neither political nor economic stability and has done nothing to diversify itself from being an oil commodities exporter in the last 20 years. That's on Putin and it will greatly affect Russian ability to be one of the global powers of the future.

"Would you encourage people to avoid driving your cars when possible until the illegal emission problem is fixed?"

The headline above is the question I would love to see asked of VW executives. Unless the fix is quickly enacted in some widespread form (e.g., people are given a cash rebate to bring in their cars quickly) then the health damage VW is causing will continue.

So far, they're saying something problematic:

In a response Saturday night to an earlier request for comment, Volkswagen said the EPA has noted that the affected vehicles do not present a safety hazard and are legal to drive. "General allegations regarding links between NOX emissions from these affected vehicles and specific health effects are unverified. We have received no confirmed reports that the emissions from such vehicles caused any actual health problem," the company said in a statement.

Keep saying that after being given a chance to limit their impact by discouraging people from driving their cars, and VW digs itself further into the liability hole. A legitimate answer would be something like "our affected diesels are currently legal to drive, but anything people chose to do to limit pollution such as driving other brand vehicles or finding alternatives to driving would likely reduce the emissions while we work on a solution."

Such a statement would be painful, but VW knows who it has to blame. Until they say it, they haven't come clean and haven't taken all the steps they could take, right now, to reduce the problem they've created.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Cool new stuff

I normally don't post about the daily Today's Exciting Breakthrough That'll Change Everything, but some exceptions:

1. The Economist on electronic flight. Air travel is already a non-trivial source of emissions and getting bigger, and its unclear whether biofuels will ever be real substitute for jet fuel. That small electronic planes could be flying in just a year or two for an hour at a time is good news, as trainee pilots use them to learn skills. It seems like massive planes are a long ways off, but any bit helps, so maybe biofuels are one solution with electronic planes the other, and if at least one works then we're good. And also, get rid of flying whenever possible.

2. Osmotic power:

From Sciencedaily, new steps, hopefully,  in using the salinity differential between more- and less-salty water to create power. I've heard of osmotic power before and think it has serious potential. The paper mentions combining brines from ocean desalination plants with seawater. I think a better example, maybe, could be brines from wastewater recycled via reverse-osmosis plants, combined with wastewater that that isn't undergoing RO treatment. It's much less salty to begin with, so it's easier to achieve a higher salinity differential with RO wastewater brines than ocean desal brines.

In the water field, we're used to doing energy recovery when you pump water over an incline - you just stick a turbine at the bottom on the far side, and you get 80% of your energy back. Why not do the same thing after you pump wastewater across a membrane?

3. Kauai installing the first utility-grade solar-plus-battery storage. Hawaii has the goal of 100% renewable power by 2045, something the rest of us in the developed world need to hit a decade or so later (combined with whatever large hydro/nuclear still around then). The real if overhyped problem renewables have of intermittent wind power and no solar power after sunset can be counter acted with batteries, and Kauai (amazing place to hike, btw) is doing it. They're using massive numbers of Tesla's Powerwall batteries to get 52 megawatt-hours of storage, several percent of total daily usage. Hardly a complete solution, but a non-trivial start. Combine storage with smart homes that shift power usage to times when renewable power is working, and you're getting a solution.

Hawaii does have sky-high fuel import costs that makes this financially feasible, but it's worth noting that the state doesn't have the energy poverty of Haiti. The rest of us could do this now if we were willing to bear some costs - the world doesn't face a binary choice of current fossil fuel waste or Haitian levels of economic development.

4. Small scale solar-plus-used-hybrid batteries replace generators at Yellowstone National Park. Lamar Buffalo Ranch, an environmental education facility at Yellowstone with no grid power, had used diesel generators for decades. They switched to solar power backed up with 208 reused, hybrid car battery packs. This is obviously experimental and not based on straight financial considerations, but it points the way. Millions of hybrid battery packs are going to be available in the next 5 years. My Prius from 2004 with 175,000 miles is going to have to be recycled someday. I don't honestly know whether there's enough juice in these hybrid batteries to make them commercially useful, but I think it's highly likely for reusing the much larger plug-in and EV batteries, millions of which will be available in the next decade. That's lots of cheap power storage.