And then there’s physics

Various people have convinced me that it’s worth considering a new blog name. So, I’ve gone ahead and done exactly that (actually, I had set something up a while ago). With credit to BBD (who’s tagline it really is), I’ve created a new blog called And Then There’s Physics. I’ve transferred everything, bar the final few comments, and closed comments on this blog. If you want to make a comment on an old post, feel free to do so on the new site. This site will remain live for the foreseeable future as a way to link to the new blog. I think it’s all ready to go, but there may be some teething problems. If you have any comments, let me know what you think on the new blog.

Posted in Climate change, Watts Up With That | Tagged ,


According to Anthony’s Blog spawn page, he now knows who I am and is considering whether to release or not. He also adds, see about page, which links to my about page. I’m not quite sure why he’s said that. Is he thinking I might simply decide to announce it myself? I don’t know if he does know who I am. He certainly seems to have a habit of working these things out, having recently outed Sou and others in the past. Maybe he’s made a lucky guess? Maybe I’ve slipped up somewhere? If I have, I don’t yet know where. Apart from my family, I’ve told 5 other people, so maybe it’s a 6 degrees of separation thing, but I’m sure one of them would have mentioned knowing Anthony Watts. Apart from that, I know I mentioned my name in one DM on Twitter, and maybe it’s mentioned in an email or two.

Anyway, I certainly wouldn’t ask Anthony not to release it. I’d rather he didn’t, but I’ll let him decide whether he thinks it’s right to do so or not. I can’t imagine he’s terribly happy with me or my blog, but I have offered – the only time we ever communicated – to apologise and correct any personal attacks if I’ve made any. That offer still stands and, as with everyone else, he’s welcome to correct anything I’ve said that he thinks is wrong and can demonstrate to be wrong. I don’t think I have made any personal attacks, as that isn’t my intent, but I have written a lot, so can’t claim to have never said anything poorly. I appreciate that some think that the blog name, in itself, is a personal attack, but I don’t agree and Anthony’s never directly indicated that to me. He even highlights it on his blog spawn page. I should add that if I were to start making personal attacks on people (not that I want to), Anthony wouldn’t be my first choice anyway. There are numerous other people who (at least with respect to how they’ve treated me) are more deserving of it than Anthony.

Anyway, I have no real intention of outing myself just to beat Anthony to it. I’d want to give it a bit more thought before doing so, and can’t really see any particular advantage to not being anonymous. Others my disagree and already have. I had considered trying to keep this blogging going for a year (it’s been just over 8 months) and then, depending on how things are going at that stage, either out myself, or wind things down. Of course, an interesting issue is what I should do if Anthony does indeed know who I am and does decide to release it (what might be more interesting is if he decide to release it, but doesn’t actually know who I am :-)). Do I stick with it as is? Do I change the blog name and move on (in terms of posts, that’s kind of happening anyway)? Do I feel that I’ve done enough and simply wind it down? I don’t know the answer myself. Will just have to cross that bridge if and when it happens.

Posted in Anthony Watts, Watts Up With That | Tagged , , , | 57 Comments


Dana Nuccitelli posted a tweet yesterday about an article called The truth about tornadoes in which he suggested

I retweeted Dana’s tweet because when I read the article, the first person I thought of was indeed Roger Pielke Jr. He does seem to have a habit of popping up whenever somebody discusses the increase, or possible increase, in extreme weather events to point out that some work he’s done suggests that there’s been no increase. Of course, Roger’s work seems to never include any actual physics, so he really can’t say anything about the future, or whether his analysis is at all consistent with any physical mechanism. Also, he seems to normally focus on damage/cost and then seems to imply that because there’s been no increase in damage/cost, there’s been no increase in intensity. However, given that Roger seems to object to people criticising his work, let me make it clear that what I’ve just said is my own personal impressions based on what I’ve seen or read. Happy to be corrected by those who know better.

Anyway, Roger wasn’t particularly impressed with Dana’s tweet and responded with

If one was being pedantic, one could argue that it’s not clear in what way what Dana said could be regarded as a lie with respect to Roger. What Dana got wrong (and which he acknowledges here) is that the article didn’t actually mention Roger Pielke Jr. Everyone seems to want Dana to apologise to Roger, but it seems that if he were to apologies to anyone it should be to the authors of the article for suggesting they said something that they didn’t.

The issue, however, seems to be as follows. The article that Dana refers to (linked to above) says

The honest “truth” is that no one knows what effect global warming is having on tornado intensity. Tornado records are not accurate enough to tell whether tornado intensity has changed over time.

The article is apparently written by experts and the statement seems quite clear. We don’t know. In testimony to the US senate, Roger states

Tornadoes have not increased in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since 1950, and there is some evidence to suggest that they have actually declined.

That seems, to me at least, not consistent with the view expressed by the experts. Roger is stating that tornadoes have not increased in frequency or intensity. The article, supposedly written by experts, clearly says we don’t know if tornado intensity has changed over time.

Roger claims that his senate testimony is 100% consistent with [his] peer-reviewed research. The research he’s referring to is a paper called Normalized tornado damage in the United States: 1950–2011. So, is it consistent? The abstract says

Under several methods, there has been a sharp decline in tornado damage. This decline corresponds with a decline in the reported frequency of the most intense (and thus most damaging) tornadoes since 1950. However, quantification of trends in tornado incidence is made difficult due to discontinuities in the reporting of events over time. The normalized damage results are suggestive that some part of this decline may reflect actual changes in tornado incidence, beyond changes in reporting practices. In historical context, 2011 stands out as one of the most damaging years of the past 61 years and provides an indication that maximum damage levels have the potential to increase should societal change lead to increasing exposure of wealth and property

I would argue that this is consistent with what the experts say (i.e., we don’t really know) and not really consistent with a statement that Tornadoes have not increased in …. intensity. Such a statement would seem to require actual evidence that they’ve not increased in intensity, rather than a lack of sufficient evidence to make a claim either way.

So, I certainly find what Roger says misleading. Also, it would seem to me that if one was called to testify before a senate committee, it would be as an expert who can present our current understanding of a particular topic. It’s not, I would think, so that one can simply present the results from one’s own research. I would have much more confidence in what Roger presented if it didn’t always seems to rely on his own papers. Furthermore, even if what Roger had stated in his senate testimony was consistent with his own papers (and it seems that it’s not) it would still seem misleading if it’s not consistent with other relevant research and if this isn’t made clear in the testimony. Given that the article Dana refers to is written by experts, it would seem that the general view is that we don’t know if tornado intensity has changed over time and would imply that tornado intensity has not increased is a rather misleading statement.

I realise that this post is rather critical of Roger Pielke Jr. However, I can’t really change my opinion just because it’s not particularly complimentary. It certainly seems that Roger does say things that appear misleading. He may not intend to do so, and may well believe that what he says is consistent with evidence, but that doesn’t imply that it’s not misleading. If others regularly interpret what he says as implying something that is not consistent with the evidence then that would appear to qualify as being misleading, even if that was not the intent. Of course, maybe I simply misunderstand much of what Roger is saying and so, as usual, am happy to be corrected by those who know better. This is also, I imagine, a rather contentious topic so can I ask that those who comment be somewhat careful about how they express whatever views they may choose to express.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming | Tagged , , , , , , , | 178 Comments

Natural gas prices

Matt Ridley has an article in The Times called Green energy could kill Britain’s economy. I will say that I find it quite remarkable that someone who would probably call me an alarmist (for simply accepting the underlying science associated with AGW) can then use such a title without any sense of irony. The article is pay-walled so you can read it here.

I won’t say much about this article, but the basic premise seems to be that oil and gas prices will continue to drop and hence if more and more of our energy comes from renewables we will have an uncompetitive energy market. I’m clearly no expert at this so, as usual, happy to be corrected by those who know better. My understanding is that at the moment, the most expensive renewable technology is offshore wind at around $220 per MWh. The cheapest fossil fuel source is natural gas at around $80 MWh. Many, however, argue that we should be introducing a carbon tax to properly reflect the cost of emitting carbon. Reasonable estimates of a carbon tax would take the natural gas cost up to around $120 per MWh. So, if nothing else changes, natural gas is considerably cheaper than the most expensive renewable technology, but actually quite similar to some (PV, onshore wind).

I did a bit of searching to find out something about projected costs of natural gas. What I found is from the US Energy Information Administration and the relevant page is here. It produces projections for 4 different shale gas scenarios. The figure is below. I realise that this is for the US and that it is simply projections, but it does seem that there is no scenario in which natural gas prices won’t rise.

credit : US EIA

credit : US EIA

So, it seems to me that the cheapest fossil fuel energy source (natural gas) is – today – about a factor of 2 cheaper than the most expensive renewable energy source (offshore wind). There seems to be a general view that natural gas prices will rise over the coming decades. It seems unlikely that the cost of renewables won’t fall. Given that, it’s hard to see how switching to renewables will destroy our economy simply because of a price differential (because there won’t be much of a difference).

Having said that, I’m not suggesting that switching to renewables is trivial. Clearly there are many issues that would need to be resolved and there are some renewable sources that won’t be suited to UK conditions. All I’m really suggesting is that the argument that renewables will destroy our economy by being much more expensive than fossil fuels seems to be based on some assumptions that are unlikely to be correct (fossil fuels remain cheap, renewables stay expensive). Matt Ridley finishes his article with

Suppose, instead, world energy prices come down, even as the cost of subsidising renewables and nuclear starts to bite. We will have rising energy bills while the rest of the world has falling ones. That is a recipe for job destruction.

Suppose, instead, world fossil fuel energy prices don’t drop? Maybe then we’ll be thankful we’ve had the foresight to consider alternatives, especially if we’ve invested in our own labour force rather than simply importing from elsewhere. That might seem like a good way to create jobs.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 123 Comments

The secretive Royal Society

I wrote. a couple of days ago, about Nigel Lawson’s meeting with the Royal Society. The meeting was apparently held under Chatham House Rules. This means that those involved can use the information presented at the meeting but cannot disclose who participated or their affiliation.

The secretive nature of the meeting has lead the usual suspects to claim that this means that the Royal Society are trying to hide something. Well, given that the participants are allowed to use the information presented, that seems a little unlikely (plus there’s nothing secret about mainstream climate science). I obviously have no idea why they chose to hold the meeting under Chatham House Rules, but it’s not that unusual and maybe they just wanted to be able to have an open and frank discussion without it turning into a media circus and without those involved having to deal with media enquiries for the next few days. Why do some always assume some kind of conspiracy? (and, yes, that question is somewhat rhetorical)

Given that the GWPF agreed to the terms of the meeting, you might expect them to at least try to discourage all this conspiracy ideation. You might expect it, but you’d be wrong (actually, no, you probably wouldn’t expect it). The latest opinion piece on the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s site is from Christopher Booker and is titled The secret society of warmists. Booker says

Nurse’s team, led by Sir Brian Hoskins of the Grantham Institute, who also sits on the climate change committee advising the Government on policy, trotted out all the familiar arguments for the orthodoxy, including several “hockey stick” graphs to show global temperatures now soaring to levels unknown for thousands of years.

Well, what did Christopher expect them to show? It is now largely accepted that global temperatures today are likely higher than they’ve been for thousands of years. Disputing this just adds credence to Paul Nurse’s suggestion that the GWPF is not getting appropriate scientific advice.

Christopher also says

“the oceans are acidifying” and that there has been a dramatic increase in “extreme weather events” (neither claim is true).

Neither are true? Well as far as I’m aware the oceans are indeed becoming more acidic (or less alkaline) as more and more CO2 is dissolving. I believe there is also evidence for an increase in some extreme weather events, heatwaves in particular. Again, it seems clear that the GWPF is really not getting suitable scientific advice from it’s advisory board.

Christopher finished with

As one present put it, “it was like talking to members of a cult”. What particularly struck the GWPF team was their opposite numbers’ refusal to discuss the policy implications of their beliefs

So, the GWPF has a meeting with one of the leading scientific societies in the world and then publishes an article on its site implying that it’s a cult. Not only is this absurd, it’s also infantile behaviour. Is there any chance that the Royal Society will ever suggest another meeting with the GWPF? I don’t actually know the answer to this, but they’d be mad if they did so or agreed to one.

What about the refusal to discuss the policy implications? Well the whole motivation behind the meeting was that the GWPF are not getting suitable scientific advice. The idea was to give them an opportunity to discuss climate science with actual experts. How is policy relevant and why should the policy implications in any way influence the science? Of course the policy should be based on the best possible scientific evidence (hence the motivation for the meeting in the first place) but the science shouldn’t be influenced by policy implications. That this was seen as a surprise by the GWPF seems to indicate, as I suspected, that they distrust the science because of the policy implications, not because they have any real evidence to suggest that there is anything wrong with the science.

It also seems to be a standard practice in such discussions. As soon as the scientific questions get tricky, start discussing policy implications as if to suggest that the implications are so severe that the science can’t possibly be right. If the Royal Society did indeed stick to the science and avoided the policy, I think they were wise to do so and it’s certainly what I’d prefer.

Posted in Climate change, Climate sensitivity, Global warming, IPCC | Tagged , , , , , | 270 Comments

A lower climate sensitivity from Ring et al.

I was wondering if anyone had any particular insights into the Ring et al. (2012) paper Causes of the Global Warming Observed since the 19th Century? The study use a simple climate model (SCM) to model the change in global surface temperature since 1850. The model seems to have 3 parameters, ΔT2x – the change in global-mean, equilibrium near-surface temperature for a radiative forcing equivalent to a doubling of the pre-industrial CO2 concentration – FA – The aerosol radiative forcing in reference year 2000 – and κ – the ocean thermal diffusivity.

The paper is interesting for two reasons. One is that it concludes that

Our findings have confirmed that human emissions are the main cause of the global warm- ing over the past 150 years. Since human emissions are the cause of the global warming, reducing emissions will reduce the amount of warming in the future.

The other is that it estimates the equilibrium climate sensitivity to be quite a bit lower than other estimates. This is shown in the table below

Table 1 from Ring et al. (2012)

Table 1 from Ring et al. (2012)

As far as I understand it, the paper uses estimates for the various forcings to model the change in global surface temperature and then varies the three parameters above so as to get the best fit to the various different surface temperature datasets. Although the paper claims that ΔT2x is the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), it’s not obvious how this is implemented in this model. As far as I understand it, one would normally need to run a model until an equilibrium is reached, or use the current radiative imbalance to estimate the ECS. The paper seems to make no explicit mention of the radiative imbalance, although it does say

The ocean thermal diffusivity, κ, is estimated using the observed upper ocean heat uptake. For the temperature comparisons, we consider the four different instrumental temperature records mentioned in Section 1. The simulated upper ocean heat uptake is compared to [15].

where [15] is Levitus et al. (2010). I’m not sure what the upper ocean is defined as. If it’s only the upper 700m, then that might imply that this study is underestimating the radiative imbalance. Having said that, the results from this paper are not that dis-similar to the Otto et al’s (2013) observationally-based estimates. Otto et al., however, estimated that the ECS was closer to 2.4oC when the influence of anthropogenic aerosols was included.

The Ring et al. paper has already been criticised by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo, who say

“[Schlesinger’s] numbers have no sound or physical basis,” Trenberth said. “The problem is the paper uses a very simple model, one that has no hydrological cycle, and one where the ocean structure is fixed.”

Fasullo added: “Crude models such as the ones used in the [Schlesinger] study …. should not be used as a surrogate for GCMs as they are by their very nature simplistic and small changes in their basic assumptions can yield widely varying results.”

They also comment on the single-study syndrome, which is also a valid issue. Clearly, however, a lower ECS would be a good thing, but there are very few studies that support such a possibility. I, however, don’t understand – well enough – what Ring et al. have done to really understand why they’re getting a lower ECS than other studies would suggest. Hence, I was wondering if any of my regular commenters had any insights into this paper.

Posted in Climate change, Climate sensitivity, Global warming | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Nigel Lawson and the Royal Society

Apparently Nigel Lawson, Chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, met with members of the Royal Society to discuss climate science and climate policy. Nigel Lawson has reported on aspects of the meeting in a Spectator article and is implying that – at the insistence of the Royal Society – the details of what was discussed remain secret. The article, however, actually says that the Royal Society insisted that there be no press present, which is not quite the same as insisting that the details of the meeting remain secret, but maybe they did insist on that too.

According to Lawson’s article the meeting was motivated by an exchanged between Nigel Lawson and Paul Nurse (president of the Royal Society) in which Paul Nurse apparently said (wrt Nigel Lawson)

I am not sure you are receiving the best advice, and I would be very happy to put you in contact with distinguished active climate research scientists if you think that would be useful.’

Nigel Lawson responded with :

I readily accepted his offer….. The charge that my critical views about climate change policy are based on inadequate exposure to reputable scientists was always absurd, not least given that the academic advisory council of the GWPF has on it, among others, the world’s most highly regarded physicist, Professor Freeman Dyson of Princeton, arguably the world’s most eminent climate scientist, Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT (who flew over for the meeting), and three Fellows of the Royal Society.

Well Freeman Dyson is indeed a great physicist, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that he’s an expert at climate science. His views on climate science are motivating various rather uncomplimentary cartoons, such as the one below from SMBC comics (although, to be clear – if you do follow the link – I don’t think that Freeman Dyson should be put down).

credit : SMBC comics

credit : SMBC cartoons

Furthermore, if you were to read this I don’t think one would conclude that Richard Lindzen is one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists.

So, are there others on the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council who might be giving suitable advice about climate science? Well, I count 7 economists who, presumably, are largely unqualified to give advice, specifically, about climate science. There’s a physicist who thinks rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations are fine because CO2 is plant food. There’s Henrik Svensmark who has suggested that our climate is sensitive to the flux of galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). The latest results from CERN’s CLOUD experiment suggests that the cosmic radiation that bombards the atmosphere from space has negligible influence on the formation rates of these particular aerosols. There’s an astrophysicist who has mainly worked in the media, another astrophysicist who thinks it’s the Sun (it’s not), a biochemist, a geologist, a science writer (who is probably more famous for being Chairman of the first UK bank to have a run on its finances in over 100 years), an electrical engineer, and a biogeographer.

So Nigel Lawson may well believe that he’s getting adequate exposure to reputable scientists, but there’s very little evidence to suggest that he actually is. There are 25 people on the Academic Advisory Council, but only one is actually a climate scientist (Richard Lindzen) and, as far as I can tell, is not particularly well regarded by his peers. There appear to be 14 others with science backgrounds, but only two seem to have done research in an area related to climate science and both have theories (GCRs and the Sun) that have largely been shown to be incorrect. So, it’s quite hard to believe that he’s referring to the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council when he suggest that he’s getting adequate exposure to reputable scientists.

I have sometimes wondered, given that the GWPF does not think that there is a consensus amongst active climate scientists with respect to AGW, why the GWPF doesn’t simply select the scientists on its Advisory Council randomly from active, senior climate scientists? That way you’re likely to get adequate exposure to reputable scientists and if it’s random – and there’s no consensus – those selected are unlikely to have any particular bias. Do you think Nigel Lawson would agree with such a suggestion? Maybe someone could suggest it if they ever bump into him somewhere.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming | Tagged , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Empirical models and decadal forecasts

I noticed Anthony Watts and Judith Curry getting quite excited by a new paper from Emma Suckling and Leonard Smith called An Evaluation of Decadal Probability Forecasts from State-of-the-Art Climate Models. The paper was basically a comparison of an ensemble of dynamical climate models (GCMs) and empirical models. The basic conclusion was that empirical models are, statistically, better at decadal forecasts that dynamical climate models.

I was initially quite positively inclined towards this paper, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more critical I’ve become. Having said that, it’s always possible that I’ve missed some subtlety or misunderstood some aspect of the paper. Hence, I’m happy to be corrected by anyone who knows more than me. The core figure is probably the one I show below. The left-hand panel shows decadal projections for the ensemble of dynamical climate models, while the right-hand panel is for the empirical models. Forecasts are launched every 5 years and so the two panels on each side are simply to split the forecasts as they would overlap if they were in the same figure.

Decadal forecasts from dynamical climate models (left-hand panel) and empirical models (right-hand panel) (credit : Suckling & Smith 2013).

Decadal forecasts from dynamical climate models (left-hand panel) and empirical models (right-hand panel) (credit : Suckling & Smith 2013).

If I understand the rest of the paper, it is essentially an analysis that indicates that – when considering decadal forcasts – the empirical models outperform the dynamical climate models. So, what are my issues with the paper? As far as I understand it, dynamical climate models are extremely complicated. They consider the oceans, land, atmosphere, polar regions, can consider both regional and global climate, and they can do more than simply consider surface temperatures. All this study seems to have done is compare global surface temperatures from these two types of models. Unless I misunderstand something, these empirical models can do virtually nothing else. It’s not really a like-for-like comparison. They’re not really considering two models that can do the same things. They’re comparing a very simple model that can do only one thing, with one aspect of a very complicated model.

Another issue is that if I consider the right-hand panel in the figure above, then it appears that if you were to overlay the top and bottom panels, there would be quite sharp discontinuities at a number of the 5-year launch points. There appears to be an element of this for the dynamical climate models, but it does not appear quite as severe. This would seem to indicate that the empirical models would do a very poor job if used to forecast more than a decade. Additionally, most of the papers cited when discussing the empirical models were written in the 2000s. The comparison, however, starts in 1960. Given that one would expect these empirical models to have been developed based on past knowledge, it would remarkable if they didn’t do a very good job of forecasting the period from 1960 to 2000. You might argue that that’s true for dynamical climate models and there, presumably, is some merit to this suggestion. Dynamical climate models are, however, constrained by the laws of physics. Empirical models, I believe, are not. Given that there are no such constraints on empirical models, it would be pretty amazing if people developing empirical models in the 2000s did not ensure that they were particularly good at forecasting the period prior to 2000.

The paper concludes with a few interesting comments

It also calls into question the extent to which current simulation models successfully capture the physics required for realistic simulation of the Earth system and can thereby be expected to provide robust, reliable predictions (and, of course, to outperform em- pirical models) on longer time scales.

I find this a little bit of an odd statement. Unless I’m mistaken, empirical models have no physics and so they seem to be concluding that dynamical climate models may not have captured all the physics needed because they’re outperformed by models with no physics at all. It may well be that dynamical models do not have all the necessary physics, but it’s not clear why such a comparison is needed to know this. A comparison with actual observations would tell you this. Also, this study has only considered one aspect – surface temperatures – of dynamical climate models. Dynamical climate models are also used for more than just making forecasts. They’re being used to try and understand the climate and how it evolves, and also to consider different future emission pathways. Empirical models, I believe, can do none of this.

The paper then says

The blending (Broecker and Smith 2008) of simulation models and empirical models is likely to provide more skillful probability forecasts in climate services, for both policy and adaptation decisions.

This may well be true. There may well be policy decisions we might want to make based on decadal forecast and so empirical models may well play an important role here. So, I’m certainly not suggesting that empirical models have no role, just that I’m unclear as to the value of the kind of comparison done in this paper.

I have been rather critical of the paper so, again, if someone thinks I’ve misunderstood it, or missed something important, feel free to point it out through the comments. Something I haven’t touched on is how other’s have interpreted it. There is already some evidence that some interpret this as implying the empirical models are better than dynamical climate models. Given that dynamical climate models do much more than simply consider surface temperatures, this interpretation is – in my opinion at least – incorrect. I also find it interesting that these type of papers (i.e., statistical analysis of climate models) often seem to come from people associated with economics, rather than from climate modellers themselves (I commented on something similar a while ago). I appreciate that the authors of this paper have physical science backgrounds, but I’d be fascinated to know what climate modellers actually think of these papers. Do they find them useful and interesting, or do they – secretly – find it frustrating that some think that the way to assess climate models is through statistical analyses rather than through checking how well they satisfy the fundamental laws of physics? Anyway, there’s probably more that could be said but I’ll stop there.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Myles Allen’s proposal to bury the carbon problem

A guest post by Rachel
Because Wotts is very busy at the moment and because I’m quite keen for a post about Myles Allen’s proposal to bury carbon and because Wotts, I think, has quite different views to me about this, I thought I’d write a guest post.

Myles Allen has an article in the Guardian today, Green levies may be ‘crap’. The way to deal with carbon is to bury it. This article follows on from a similar one he wrote in June this year, Climate change: let’s bury the CO2 problem.

Myles Allen is proposing that rather than pricing carbon, we should make it compulsory for anyone who extracts or imports fossil fuels to sequester the carbon. His suggestion is to start sequestering a fraction of the total carbon emitted and to gradually increase this to 100%. His logic is that we need to reduce emissions to zero; pricing carbon is not achieving this fast enough, and the people with the best resources for sequestering carbon are those in the fossil fuel industry. Yet they have no incentive to do it unless we force them to.

I really like Allen’s idea. It solves the problem without the need for a complex tax or emissions trading scheme; it puts the responsibility squarely where it belongs: with the fossil fuel companies themselves; and if the challenges of deploying carbon capture and storage technology increase the cost of fossil fuels – as will likely happen – then it will make carbon-free energy sources much more competitive and that is surely what we want.

The other advantage I can see is that regardless of how we solve this problem, we *need* carbon capture and storage. Atmospheric CO2 is already at 400ppm and humans in the future may decide that we need to go back to 350ppm.

Allen is going to get lots of criticism for this article. One criticism will be that he has stepped over the line from science into policy. I don’t have any objections with him stepping over this line. I *want* climate scientists to take a more active role in policy decisions that are related to climate change. They are the ones who understand the problem better than anyone else and so it follows that they know better than anyone else what needs to be done to solve it. We need solutions coming from the people who understand the problem. As Allen points out, the economic solution – pricing carbon – is not going to solve climate change unless emissions are reduced to zero.

Furthermore, Universities and the people who work in them play a role in society known as critic and conscience. This means that academics have an implied duty to criticise aspects of society and they should be allowed to do this without fear of repercussions. This is recognised by law in New Zealand under the Education Act 1989 which says, they [universities] accept a role as critic and conscience of society.

A report written by the New Zealand Academic Audit Unit explains it very well:

These aspirations are based upon a number of features. The first is that universities have a responsibility towards society, to work for what they view as the good of society, even at the cost of passing judgement on aspects of that society. To function in this manner, dialogue has to occur between universities and society, dialogue that will only be possible if university staff act with integrity and if this integrity is widely respected outside universities. Implicit within this role of universities is the freedom of academic staff to critique ideas both within and beyond the universities themselves. This freedom is to be exercised by academic staff, both directly and indirectly: directly, for the good of their academic disciplines, and indirectly, for the good of society. As such, it appears to be a highly specific kind of freedom, with clearly articulated boundaries, determined by the academic expertise of the staff and the close relationship between this and their areas of responsibility within the university.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming | Tagged , , , , , | 63 Comments

IPCC WG1 video release

Reiner Grundmann has posted, on Die Klimazwiebel, a video from the IPCC that summarises the Working Group 1 report. I watched it and thought it was alright. Seemed to do a pretty good job of presenting the scientific evidence. Reiner asks, in his post, how well this video communicates the basic science and whether or not it manages to do so in a policy neutral way, while still being policy relevant. I’d be interested in what those who read this blog think of this video. Might be fun to compare the comments here with those on Die Klimazwiebel. Could be somewhat revealing.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming, IPCC | Tagged , , , , , , | 96 Comments