Dr. Kenneth Green vs Horatio Algeranon

I do not see any evidence that the Ken who thinks walruses are dying in massive numbers because they are unrepentant liberals with an axe to grind (see comments at the link) is the same as thinktanquista Dr. Kenneth Green, whom we have had as a visitor hereabouts on a prior occasion.

But I did discover that the latter Dr. Kenneth Green is competing with our old friend Horatio in the field of climate and sustainability related rhyming verse. See for yourself.

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Thought-Provoking Week


A whole bunch of interesting stuff to react to this week. The conversation, which advances in fits and starts, has done some advancing.

A very careful effort to rebut Monckton was put together by a team of people who have been ??ist targets of late, drawing upon experts in each Monckton assertion. It got coverage in the Guardian, and plenty of blogosphere reaction (Angliss, Bickmore, Cook, Littlemore, Mandia, Romm, Verheggen), but not elsewhere.
Regarding the limited interest of the press, a veteran science communicator was overheard to say

I didn’t expect it to get a ton of pickup initially. It’s good educational material for discrediting Monckton’s arguments, but because his testimony was from a few months ago, I think a lot of reporters didn’t see enough immediate news-value to write on it. Unfortunately, good, credible scientific analyses always take longer to put together than a powerpoint deck full of misinformation, so the contrarians typically enjoy a “deadline” advantage.

which bears some thinking about. Of course, by “contrarian”, he meant ??ist, the point of view which must not be named.

On that note we have Lubos Motl staking out the anti-Rosen point of view with an appeal to a one-dimensional model of intelligence, at which, as a (presumed brilliant because he can think in eleven dimensions) string physics guy, he clearly claims an outstanding position. The trouble with his position is that it rules out democracy altogether. It’s essentially not just a plea for continued cowardice in journalism, but also a plea for the most unworkable imaginable aristocracy; a world run by the idiots-savant. So no thanks on those grounds. Otherwise it’s unworkable: Lubos’ argument essentially allows no mechanism for governance to be informed by science at all.
On the other hand, in what looks like a breakthrough (but possibly won’t be, old habits die hard), there is some real progress in the difficult journalistic art of letting science speak for itself at Dot Earth. Revkin’s Laughlin piece leads to a follow-up article, and a similarly structured piece a couple of days later, that looks like what a serious science journalist with a good network of contacts ought to come up with.
Along with the stunning and depressing piece by Anthony Doerr, an apparently brilliant writer and sane thinker of whom I was shockingly unaware until this morning, we have a similar jolt of pessimism from Monbiot that made a bit of a splash.
But in my opinion, among all this fascinating stuff, the best thing written in the past few weeks was Bob Grumbine’s. Bob has captured the essence of the science/sustainability problem perfectly.

I think a crucial part of that error is a failure to understand how science works. While you and I (and others) look at it and see masses of scientists from different areas and reach a conclusion, others don’t. The extra piece of knowledge we have is that science has to hang together as a coherent picture. If climate people were seriously wrong about the radiative properties of CO2, then CO2 lasers would not work. And so on through a very, very long list. Conversely, if climate types were seriously wrong about CO2’s radiative properties, laser specialists would look at the climate work and point to the errors and that’d be the end of the wrong climate CO2 work.

Instead, they take the view that science is story-telling. Laser physicists go along with the climate people because the climate folks are telling a story that the laser folks like, not because there’s any particular evidence in favor of it. The “It’s a liberal conspiracy”, or “They only say this because they want to impose one world government” responses are part of this. The he said — she said journalistic line is exactly this, as the science is presented as two stories the reader is chosing between. They think the scientists are doing the same thing. (How would they know differently?)

Aye, there’s the rub.

That’s the problem. In America at least, science teachers do not understand science, and in particular, they do not understand this key constraint that makes science work. The idea is absent not only among the general public, but even among educated and prominent people. I have been calling it “coherence”.

Even many engineers fail to understand how coherence works in science, even though it’s equally a core tool in engineering. Everyday plumbers and auto mechanics (the better ones being by no means unintelligent) experience the constraints of coherence every day, but in a relatively small and clear-cut domain. The fact that coherence works at large to distinguish science from non-science, and that for all its flaws, the scientific culture is sufficiently robust to manage this distinction reliably, is really not understood. I don’t know if we can get anywhere without getting this point across.
Though Bob usually has a much more down-to-earth close-to-the-evidence style than I do, he has described the key quandary better that I have ever managed. Dang.

Update: Note also that Bob points us to this interesting discussion.

Anthony Doerr on Geoengineering

Read the whole thing. It starts

During my sophomore year, 1992, 1,500 scientists, including more than half the living Nobel laureates, admonished in their Warning to Humanity: “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

So what have we done? Not much. From 1992 to 2007, global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels rose 38 percent. Emissions in 2008 rose a full 2 percent despite a global economic slump. Honeybees are dying by the billions1, amphibians by the millions, and shallow Caribbean reefs are mostly dead already.2 Our soil is disappearing faster than ever before, half of all mammals are in decline, and a recent climate change model predicts that the Arctic could have ice-free summers by 2013. Unchecked, carbon emissions from China alone will probably match the current global level by 2030.

The god thou servest,” Marlowe wrote in Dr. Faustus, almost four hundred years before the invention of internet shopping, “is thine own appetite.” Was he wrong? How significantly have you reduced your own emissions since you first heard the phrase “climate change?” By a tenth? A quarter? A half? That’s better than I’m doing. The shirt I’m wearing was shipped here from Thailand. The Twinkie I just ate had 37 ingredients in it. I biked to work through 91-degree heat this morning but back at my house the air conditioner is grinding away, keeping all three bedrooms a pleasant 74 degrees.

My computer is on; my desk lamp is glowing. The vent on the wall is blowing a steady, soothing stream of cool air onto my shoes.

h/t Andrew Sullivan. Anthony Doerr, whom I had not heard of until today, lives in Idaho, writes “on Science” column for the Boston Globe, and is a 2010 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Peak Oil? Or not?

So what are we to make of the Farrell and Brandt graphic found at Romm’s?

If it holds up, it tells us that “peak oil” is not looming at all.

It’s always been a question: will “peak oil” get us before “global warming” does? The stock answer from the climate community has been that “peak oil” is an economic problem with relatively little impact on climate. That is, we accepted “peak oil” fears and presumed that the bulk of the risk from fossil fuels came from coal reserves, which looked to be much larger than oil or natural gas.

A fellow named David Rutledge at Cal Tech has even been arguing that coal reserves are overestimated. He’s been taking the position that, as a consequence, the whole climate issue is overblown, since all the fossil fuels would be going away soon.

Here’s Rutledge’s picture (from his powerpoint):

So, worry about energy supplies, he says, but not about climate. We are running out of fossil fuels too soon to worry! I actually ran Rutledge’s idea past Stephen Schneider on the day I met him. He dismissed it out of hand.

But if Farrell and Brandt are right, then Rutledge is wrong. In their schema there is plenty of reserve of fossil fuel, not even counting clathrate deposits as a fuel. (Whether they count as a feedback is out of scope here.)

Admittedly, half of F & B’s projection is coal. But there are great swaths of petroleum potential from the new natural gas (“fracking”) supplies (GTL), tar sands, and enhanced production from sites that were played out to the limits of old technologies. The uncertainties are huge, but if we consider the high end, we see that we have tapped barely a twentieth of liquid fuel potential, and the production costs leave room for profit even under present pricing.

Also, presumably F & B maximize liquid fuel production at the expense of stationary energy plants. This is arguably what will happen if we don’t attend to transportation infrastructure, after all.

But it’s also worth noting that these methods double to quadruple the impact of each unit of energy consumption. If the sources and efficiencies of fossil fuel recovery continue to grow (in what would ordinarily be seen as the “techno-optimist” scenario) that leaves a whole lot of room for baking the planet.

People talk a lot about uncertainties and then get all worked up about climate models. The sensitivity is between 2 and 4, okay?

It would be nice if we knew within a factor of ten how much carbon we are worrying about! Please and thanks.