Category Archives: Climate Mitigation

Matt Ridley and the Wall Street Journal misrepresent paper cited in Ridley column

Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) evaluated from paleoclimatic data (PALAEOSENS group, Rohling et al., 2012).

There’s more to say about the latest attempt to deny the mainstream estimate of equilibrium climate sensitivity (e.g. NRC, 1979; Annan and Hargreaves, 2006; Knutti and Hegerl, 2008; Rohling et al., 2012) by Matt Ridley (remember him?) at the Wall Street Journal later. But I just wanted to point out something rather troubling about one of Ridley’s and Nic Lewis’s (the source of Ridley’s claims) citations.

Ridley claimed:

Some of the best recent observationally based research also points to climate sensitivity being about 1.6°C for a doubling of CO2. An impressive study published this year by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Center and colleagues gives a most-likely estimate of 1.6°C.

I recalled the Aldrin et al. paper from the last time it made the rounds in the “skeptic” blogosphere, when Chip Knappenberger cited it as finding a “low” climate sensitivity.

The funny thing about the Aldrin et al. paper is that it really doesn’t find a “low” ECS at all. Their main result is an ECS of 2.0°C, which is completely consistent with the IPCC AR4 range. Moreover, they caution that their main result is incomplete, because it explicitly does not account for the effect of clouds:

When cloud behavior is included as another term, the ECS increases significantly, from ~2.5°C to 3.3°C depending on the values used:

Surely this wasn’t the Aldrin et al. paper Riddley and Lewis were citing as finding an ECS of 1.6°C.

The 1.6°C value literally never appears in the text of the paper.

Of course, it was entirely possible that Aldrin had published another paper on ECS this year finding 1.6°C that I was simply unable to find. I reached out to Bishop Hill and Matt Ridley for some clarification:

  1. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient Which Aldrin 2012 paper was Lewis citing on your blog?
  2. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Can you provide either the title or the DOI for the Aldrin paper you cited in your WSJ piece? Thanks!
  3. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak Environmetrics 2012; 23: 253–271 Panel A of Fig 6.
  4. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient The one that finds an ECS of 2.5-3.3K when it bothers to account for clouds (4.8)? LOL.
  5. mattwridley
    @thingsbreak… Aldrin, M., et al., 2012. Bayesian estimation of climate sensitiv… Environmetrics, doi:10.1002/env.2140.
  6. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Did you personally read the paper? Where does the 1.6 number come from? Did you read section 4.8?
  7. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak Most likely values still only 2 ish. If we are to include cloud lifetime effect shld we include other highly uncertain effects?
  8. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient If you’re making a comparison to IPCC values, should use most apples-to-apples comparison, which Aldrin et al. discuss in 4.8.
  9. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient Where does the 1.6 value come from anyway? Literally doesn’t exist in paper.
  10. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak He got it by measuring the graph (It’s actually slightly lower I believe).
  11. mattwridley
    @thingsbreak lewis calculated it from aldrin’s paper’s data/charts and aldrin agreed it is correct
  12. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Aldrin agreed that apples to apples comparison with IPCC ECS estimates is 1.6K? Doubtful. Directly contradicts paper itself.

I posted the following to Nic Lewis at Bishop Hill’s blog:

I think that some readers, and probably the authors of a paper themselves, might find it at least slightly misleading for you to claim findings on their behalf that the paper itself does not actually state.

The main result from Aldrin et al., as reported by Aldrin et al., is an ECS of 2.0°C. The authors caution that this result probably isn’t an apples to apples comparison to other ECS estimates due to the unaccounted for cloud term, and find that the value increases to ~2.5-3.3°C with clouds.

Rather than report either of these values, you simply claim Aldrin et al. “an impressively thorough study, gives a most likely estimate for ECS of 1.6°C…”.

Ridley likewse claims, “An impressive study published this year by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Center and colleagues gives a most-likely estimate of 1.6°C.”

It would be easy for me to lob accusations of bad faith, as we don’t know each other and this is just the internet. Instead, I would encourage you, if your goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible, and try to make an impact beyond the “skeptic” and conservative blogospheres, to be more upfront about the scientific literature about ECS.

Ignoring the two main findings of a paper for values that you’re either estimating from a curve or are creating yourself based on data not used by the paper will be seen by at least some people to be misleading. Claiming that ECS cannot be estimated by paleo data is absurd, especially when so many are aware of efforts like the PALAEOSENS project and various paleoclimatic intercomparison groups.

I won’t attempt to read minds or divine motivations. I will simply suggest that what you have been doing thus far will cause some people to dismiss what you’re trying to say due to perceived dishonesty.

I hope you take this criticism in the constructive context in which it is being offered. There will be plenty of time for name-calling and insults later.


  • Aldrin, M., M. Holden, P. Guttorp, R. B. Skeie, G. Myhre, and T. K. Berntsen (2012), Bayesian estimation of climate sensitivity based on a simple climate model fitted to observations of hemispheric temperatures and global ocean heat content, Environmetrics, 23(3), 253–271, doi:10.1002/env.2140.
  • Annan, J. D., and J. C. Hargreaves (2006), Using multiple observationally-based constraints to estimate climate sensitivity, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, 4 PP., doi:200610.1029/2005GL025259.
  • Knutti, R., and G. C. Hegerl (2008), The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes, Nature Geoscience, 1(11), 735–743, doi:10.1038/ngeo337.
  • National Research Council (1979),  Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  • Rohling, E.J., et al. (2012), Making sense of palaeoclimate sensitivity, Nature, 491(7426), 683–691, doi:10.1038/nature11574.

No one could have predicted

Remember how a few years back, supporters of aggressive climate mitigation legislation were castigated for being shrill, tribal, hippies? And how if only we tried a “third way” of making incremental progress with opponents of greenhouse gas limits, a bipartisan tide would lift us all to new clean energy heights?

Good times.


Rumors of cap and trade’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bernt Rostad

The world’s 8th largest economy is going to enact a cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Apparently they didn’t get the memo that cap and trade is “dead”.

Game changer, or hot air?

Image courtesy of Flickr user

The Times of India reports:

In a dramatic move that will alter India’s climate change policy irrevocably, Jairam Ramesh, speaking at the ministerial summit at Cancun, said India was willing to commit to legally binding commitments as part of an international climate deal.

But that’s not really the meat of it, though it might make better headlines. Ramesh explicitly rejects that such an agreement will come at Cancun. But, further down:

US has talked of binding agreement in the past. Brazil and China, I can tell you clearly, in a Basic [Brazil-South Africa-India-China] meeting expressed support for a legally binding agreement. South Africa has consistently talked of of a legally binding agreement. So have the Chinese and and they are willing to live with it. This is the reality.

Stop the Presses! Climate journos think the emissions-reduction issue looks an awful lot like a narrative problem. No word yet on just how “nail-shaped” people wielding hammers see it

Cartoon by Tom Toles

Keith Kloor, Andy Revkin, and Tom Yulsman appear to have bought into the meme that in order to really combat climate change, what’s really needed is a New Narrative. For too long, Keith tells us, people have framed the problem of climate change as… a problem of climate change.

So, I’ll bite. After all, I care about the end success, not about any particular road to it. So what’s this “new” narrative, and what’s the underlying plan to limit climate change? Apparently it goes something like this:

  1. Fund clean energy technology!
  2. ???
  3. Climate disaster averted!

Longtime participants in the climate blogosphere will note that, far from being a “new” narrative, this is just another iteration of the technology trap. Moreover, there isn’t actually anyone in favor of averting disruptive climatic change opposing clean energy technology investment- we’re all big, big fans.

Why are Kloor and Co. so hot for a master Narrative game changer? This meme plays straight into two key occupational prejudices: narrative primacy and conflict. People who make a living painstakingly creating stories from ideas tend to overvalue the importance of narrative. Additionally, people who have been brought up on journalistic crutches like forcing events into artificial frames of conflict are predisposed to view systematic and process-based events and outcomes in terms of individual actors and thus winners and losers. This is almost comically evident Kloor’s piece “Who’s got game?“:

Well that ball is dead. There’s no longer a game. There’s not even the pretense of a game on the global stage. So all those progressive steps that were promised by the legislation’s supporters are not going to happen. Where does that leave them?

Well, why not try a new ball with some life in it and get another game going? For that, let’s go to one of the willing players…

… Here’s the way I look at it: there’s no game in town right now. Norris and his team see an open court and are starting their own game, with their own ball. Some people are starting to come by and watch what unfolds. The other guys who held the court before don’t like that. Well you lost and got kicked off. What are you going to do now? Hurl insults from the stands, or take on the new guys?

In response, I and a whole host of others have pointed out that the flawed assumptions implicit in Keith’s framing of this issue in the comments section of that post. My chief objection is that it’s a little absurd to “challenge” people to adopt a “new narrative” to prevent climate change problems when said narrative is neither new nor explains how it will- even in theory- actually prevent climate change problems.

Keith has responded several times telling us all that we just don’t get what he’s saying (guilty as charged!)- he isn’t going to debate the actual merits of the “new narrative” in terms of its viability as a strategy to combat climate change. Rather, he’s interested in why people seem so unwilling to adopt this new narrative before being informed about its viability as a strategy to combat climate change. I point out the implicit, problematic assumptions in doing so, Keith complains that I’m missing the point, and on and on.

Did I mention that this New Narrative meme is being pushed by the same people who are arguing against any sort of meaningful emissions pricing? They wouldn’t have a vested interested in framing emissions legislation as a dead, would they? I mean, it’s not like they would ignore that for the first time in US history, climate legislation actually passed in the US House of Representatives.

Look, as I’ve said before- pursuing clean energy on its own isn’t going to keep coal in the ground. What is the proposed mechanism by which the “breakthrough” scheme accomplishes this? If they don’t have one, they should just explicitly acknowledge it. If they have a mechanism, they should articulate it, so that people like me will become evangelicals for them. I’m ripe for conversion, “breakthrough” people. Help me help you. How, absent a price on carbon or obscenely distorive subsidies does a clean energy fund keep coal in the ground?

It’s nice that you have a meme. It’s nice that some journalists bit. When you feel like getting around to actually hooking some grassroots support, give us a reason to support your Narrative besides an appeal to novelty.

Meanwhile, there has been early signaling that any dreams of a post-partisan big clean energy push will be dead on arrival. In a Politico story framed in terms of compromise- precisely the mood that the “breakthrough” people assure us will make their scheme viable whereas emissions pricing is not- GOP insiders have showed their hand on energy plans in a Republican-led 112th Congress: drilling in ANWR, some tax breaks for coal and nukes, with a token nod to renewables. Same old, same old. What of a transformative investment in clean energy breakthroughs?

One thing is certain: Republican leaders probably won’t have to worry about being called overly ambitious.

“I wish I had some real great novel stuff, but this is all Riggins up the middle,” said a former House Republican energy staffer, referring to former Washington Redskins running back John Riggins.

The GOP isn’t interested in averting dangerous climatic changes because it as a party has almost uniformly turned its back against science. It may make token gestures towards geothermal, natural gas, and electric vehicles as the Politico article later guesses, but a party that sees no problem with GHG emissions is going to dig up the coal and either burn it, turn it into synthetic gasoline, or export it.

Rather than take serious steps to address the issue, they’re going to try to defang or coopt the relevant Congressional committees and regulatory agencies like the EPA, Department of Interior, etc. They’re going to push for tax breaks for their pet energy industries- namely oil and gas, coal, and nuclear- without regard to GHG emissions. They’re going to push for more domestic fossil fuel consumption, not less. As they whinge about government spending and deficit doom, they will close the government’s purse strings to the kind of funding that the “breakthrough” people assured us will have bipartisan support.

Clean energy developers themselves seem to have little faith in the “breakthrough” scheme, with some major players moving their projects to nations that have more aggressive clean energy incentives and low carbon requirements. Even though there is some bipartisan support for some aspects of clean energy funding in the Senate:

[T]here’s also willingness on the Republican side to resist anything constructive being enacted.

A large majority of Americans wants the government to limit greenhouse gas emissions. As such, that isn’t the narrative failure on this issue. I do agree with Roger Pielke Jr. and many others who point out that when people are given a choice between economic growth and emissions reductions, they will choose the former over the latter. But you can substitute virtually any other subject for “emissions reductions” in that proposition and it will still hold true. If there is a narrative failure on the climate issue, it has been the utter failure to communicate to the general public that there are genuine economic costs in failing to reign in emissions. People mentally compare the costs of reductions with unimpeded economic growth, not with the costs of unchecked emissions growth.

The physical science basis for the case for emissions reductions was made sufficiently back in 1979. Obviously that doesn’t mean that there are no unanswered questions or that future studies cannot meaningfully further strengthen that case. But at a policymaker-level, the focus needs to shift to the impacts and economics of different emissions trajectories. If the various “-gates” have taught us anything, it’s that the WGII and WGIII IPCC reports need to be tightened up far more than the WGI Physical Science report.

Economic models that show a mere 50% loss in GDP for a 20°C temp increase need to be rejected out of hand. On what basis should we believe that people prefer and are willing to pay for a hotter planet? That initial warming will see a large decrease in mortality?

If there was a grossly underestimated or zero cost associated with burning a house to the ground, who would insure their home against fires? How can we expect people to prefer a significant price on carbon when they believe the alternative is basically no economic cost whatsoever? Getting a more realistic handle on the cost of unchecked emissions should be a bipartisan (post-partisan, post-post-partisan, what have you) goal. Will the “breakthrough” people and climate journalists in search of a new narrative buy in? Or are they going to bet the future of ameliorating climate problems on the GOP allowing massive governmental interference in the energy market?

UPDATE: Why on Earth is anyone supposed to take claims of bi- or post-partisan anything seriously when the GOP leadership is trumpeting its plans to frustrate the current administration at every turn? Does this sound like a political party that is going to work across party lines for massive governmental funding of a clean energy “breakthrough”?

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” — Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in an interview with the National Journal, describing his goal in retaking the Senate.

Did Lomborg really change his delayer tune?

Way back in July of 2008, I wrote this about Bjørn Lomborg:

Lomborg, similarly to Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, and Roger Pielke, Jr. is not actually a climate change denier per se- he claims to accept the underlying principles whereby anthropogenic emissions warm the planet and alter the climate, though he often underplays or otherwise attempts to minimize the expected impact- rather these “non-skeptical heretics” argue against emissions regulation policies and instead push for increased investment in future technologies, which presumably will come to fruition at an unspecified later date that will arrive in time to prevent the most severe negative consequences otherwise expected…

You can be guaranteed that the take home message from Lomborg at the end of the day will be “delay, delay, delay” [pricing and reducing emissions] “because technology, technology, technology”.

Has Lomborg changed at all? Lomborg was recently (21/9/10) interviewed by New Scientist, in a piece headlined: “Bjørn Lomborg: Use technology to fight climate change“. He argues for the same in an op-ed in the Australian earlier this month:

Galiana and Green find that devoting just 0.2 per cent of global GDP, about $US100 billion a year, to green energy R&D would produce the kind of game-changing breakthroughs needed to fuel a carbon-free future. Not only would this be a cheaper fix than trying to cut carbon emissions, it would reduce global warming much more quickly.

There is no currently available “breakthrough” energy technology, nor is one on the horizon. Banking on this myth is like betting that you don’t have to have a fire evacuation plan for your office because you hope to ride a unicorn out of the burning building.

The “breakthrough” needed to develop cost-competitive alternatives to fossil fuels is to actually price in the negative externalities from carbon-intensive fuels, in order to let the market most efficiently determine the “winning” substitutes. This is basic, market-based economics. Funny how the “alarmist” greenie commies are the ones that constantly need to point this out, isn’t it?

Ezra Klein on the technology trap

Tom Toles

Showing hopeful signs that maybe he hasn’t bought into the Breakthrough myth, Ezra Klein:

There’s something to this line of thinking. We really don’t know what we’ll be able to do by the year 2100. America’s best scientists are studying the problem. China just committed more than $700 billion to funding clean energy research over the next decade. We’re human beings. We’ll think of something.

But will it be enough? The example I’ve been using to show the limits of techo-optimism has been the BP spill. We could’ve stopped it from happening, but we couldn’t reverse it once it happened. And we know a lot more about managing oil spills than about manipulating the atmosphere. But reading Atul Gawande’s article on dying brought another example to mind: cancer.

Cancer, of course, has been a long-term problem. For decades now, we’ve put an enormous amount of money into researching cures and treatments. We’ve thrown our best minds at the problem. And we’ve made some remarkable advances. But not nearly enough of them. Insofar as we’ve been waging a war on cancer, there’s a very good argument that we’re losing, and it’s not clear when, or whether, we’ll turn it around. Sometimes, the best minds and a lot of money are enough. That’s been the case in computers. As this proposal for more energy research says, if our technology had been left in 1975, the iPod would cost $1 billion and be the size of a building. But sometimes, money and minds are not enough. We can’t solve problems so much as try and prevent them. And the death of cap-and-trade means we’re not going to hedge against the possibility of our failure.

Debunking Jim Manzi in 5 Easy Steps

Via Michael Tobis, it seems that Jim Manzi is generating a bit of buzz for a non-denialist challenge to the case for mitigating climate change recently published at TNR: Why the Decision to Tackle Climate Change Isn’t as Simple as Al Gore Says.

First off, let me echo others who’ve stated that it’s a pleasure to engage with someone who doesn’t typically deal in the fringe, anti-science nonsense that dominates so much of the right in American political discourse. To his credit, Jim Manzi doesn’t attempt to de-legitimize the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change and chides his conservative colleagues for exactly that sort of tinfoil hattery.

With that said, it’s disappointing to see Manzi engaging in an only slightly less silly argument against mitigation, which utilizes a superficial gloss on some figures from the 2007 IPCC WGII Summary for Policy Makers to propose that costs incurred from unchecked warming don’t justify the cost of preventing it. This is an argument Manzi has made before in other venues, and one I’ve engaged him on previously.

Manzi’s argument can be fairly summarized as “according to the IPCC, the most warming we can realistically expect is 4°C, which will only cost ~3% global GDP using economic models like DICE, which is less than mitigating against that warming will cost according to an analysis of my choosing, ergo mitigation isn’t an optimal strategy”.

  1. There is only one SRES scenario that reasonably tracks real world emissions growth per observations and infrastructure legacy: A1FI.
  2. The “likely” temperature range for A1FI is 2.4-6.4°C.
  3. The high end cost of ~6°C warming in Manzi’s source is upwards of 11% global GDP, yielding a range/estimate of 1-11%/5.5% GDP, not 1-5%/3%.
  4. Manzi cites a third party estimate of mitigation costs as ~6% GDP for stabilization at 450 ppm, while other analyses by experts in the field put the cost far lower- e.g. 2.5% at 350-400 ppm.
  5. Being generous and more than splitting the difference- rather than using my own preferred analysis outright- gives a cost of 4.25% GDP for 450 ppm, compared to a non-stabilization cost of 5.5%GDP.

In short Manzi’s analysis depends on a suspiciously narrow reading and selection of source material that doesn’t hold up to even a cursory amount of scrutiny.

Further points: This simple debunking has ignored other problematic assumptions implicit in Manzi’s analysis- the absurdly conservative damages of the DICE model, for example. Notoriously, DICE shows a warming of 20°C resulting in a loss of only 50% of global GDP, a warming so extreme that it would exceed humans’ (and other mammals’) capacity to endure heat stress, resulting in mass extinction. It’s fairly safe to say that there wouldn’t even be a “Gross Domestic Product” much less one half as large as today’s 2100′s expected. Ocean acidification, non-linear ice sheet collapse and resulting sea level rise, and other costly consequences of unchecked emissions are likewise ignored by DICE. [And yes, I realize that Manzi will simply claim that the IPCC deserves a similar criticism, with which I agree- though in its defense the IPCC doesn't attempt to hang its conclusions on such a slavish acceptance of this modeling.]

Work by others (like Annan and Hargreaves) finds losses from DICE to be understated in the AR4 compared to their own papers. This isn’t a problem with Manzi’s formulation of the issue, but is relevant to the discussion.

On a final note, it’s also disappointing  to see that the pro-mitigation punditry (e.g. Klein, Plumer) don’t even appear to seriously investigate Manzi’s argument, but rather grant his flawed premises and hand-wave in favor of mitigation anyway. Or as Tobis puts it (emphasis in the original): “The answer from the punditry to Manzi is not to call the absurdly small cost into question, but to say that we should take drastic action anyway, even though the [economic] risk is trivial.” As much as I appreciate the interest of Klein and Plumer in climate issues, they do not appear to be sufficiently conversant with the relevant material to proficiently engage their opposition.


Toles on the technology trap

Tom Toles does brilliant political cartooning, and climate is a frequent subject. He’s been on fire lately and his take on the “technology trap” is no exception.

As a reminder, we don’t need miracle technology to solve to the climate challenge.

BPA regulation’s lesson for climate disruption

New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer:

Studies of BPA have raised alarm bells for decades, and the evidence is still complex and open to debate. That’s life: In the real world, regulatory decisions usually must be made with ambiguous and conflicting data. The panel’s point is that we should be prudent in such situations, rather than recklessly approving chemicals of uncertain effect.

What a novel f*cking concept, eh?

The parallels between the fight over BPAs with climate mitigation are legion. Here’s hoping that both issues can be solved before any further harm is locked in.

[via Balloon Juice]