Monthly Archives: April 2015

“Changing climate” or “Human caused climate change”?

Committe Hearing UN Climate Pledge

Today I watched the archived webcast of the Full Committee Hearing – The President’s UN Climate Pledge: Scientifically Justified or a New Tax on Americans? with the statements of Dr. Judith Curry, Karen Harbert, Jake Schmidt and Dr. Margo Thorning, followed by a question-answer session. At first it seemed less interesting, I heard such statements before and the Q&A session started a bit dull. However, my interest quickly raised when Mr. Beyer (Representative Virginia) asked some questions to Dr. Curry about her statements. I found his questions very interesting because it clearly showed how his beliefs prevented him from understanding the presented arguments.

Let’s look at his questions:

I found myself deeply troubled by Dr. Curry’s written and oral testimony. and I respect your career and your academic background and am grateful that you are here. But I found your testimony just full of internally conflicting facts and opinions and in almost total conflict with everything I read in the last 15 years in every journal that I could get my hands on.

That is strange. I had read the written testimony and heard the oral testimony, yet didn’t find “conflicting facts and opinions”. Her story made sense. I think that the confusion came from a misunderstanding of the skeptical argument by the different definition he uses. He continues:

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Old as the mills

A surprising find last week: Hundreds of old wind mills at sea are leaning (Dutch). I found the exact same text in many other media. Seems those journalists were in full copy/paste mode. This story sounded strange to me because offshore wind mills are a rather recent phenomenon. So I was really curious about what was behind this story.

Basically, the story goes like this: the builders of those wind mills used a certain type of cement to align the foundation. That cement is now coming loose due to salt, waves and the weather. That is the reason that those wind mills (start to) lean over and will not produce electricity in an optimal way, what means less money coming in for the owners. Energy producers now will need to replace the cement by something else that can keep up with the elements. Worldwide there seem to be 2,500 wind mills that are constructed using the same cement.

But that is not what surprised me most. It was when the age of those “old” windmills was revealed…

… wait for it …

… five years …

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Decision making under (un)certainty

After reading last two posts one might think that I am not really fair here. My assertion was that climate science, being an observational science, will never ever be able to pinpoint human emissions as the cause of the increase in temperatures since the 1850s or the 1950s or the 1980s. If the cause of climate change never can be determined, isn’t that just a means of delaying policy actions?

I very much doubt that.

Uncertainty was never a road block when it comes to making policy decisions. In the real world we are used to making decisions, even when there is (considerable) uncertainty involved. It is essential for policy makers to know about the uncertainties before making decisions. Uncertainty in itself is not really the issue and can even be valued by policymakers (it gives room for their own decisions or also can be useful to avoid culpability).

In decision taking under uncertainty, the situation with the best expected value is being looked for. It becomes tricky when information is coming from only one side or when the (un)certainty is misrepresented. We like to take decisions with as much as possible information available. We probably wouldn’t like making such decisions when someone overstates or understates the (un)certainty involved.

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More about observational and experimental science

Looking at the stats pages of my WordPress account, I found quite some views suddenly coming from reddit, more specifically from the thread The Observational science that is mistaken for an Experimental science, where some quotes from my previous post with the same title were discussed. I don’t see how to react there (and I don’t even know if I want to, looking at the style of reactions), but the reactions are rather typical, so some more context could give better understanding.

[Quoted from my post]
The problem is that it takes experimental research to determine cause and effect.

[Comment on this quote]
This is simply not true. Cause and effect can be determined from first principles (Such as increasing radiative forcing will make it warmer), inferred from observations (Thunder is caused by lightning) or form part of a theory that is proven by other means (gravitation affects light because it is a curved space-time phenomenon)

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The Observational science that is mistaken for an Experimental science

In my weekly catching us with the news I came across this article: Why the environmental movement can let the GMO-dossier go. In it, an environmental activist writes about how he changed his mind over genetically modified organisms. Before, he campaigned against them, but after looking into the matter, he changed his mind.

That is all very praiseworthy of course, but it was the way he changed his mind that surprised me (Translated from Dutch):

I decided to do the same as environmental movement relating to global warming: look if a scientific consensus exists that is based on the most reliable scientific studies such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses published in leading peer reviewed top journals like Nature and Science.

When he found there was a consensus that there are no indications that GMOs are harmful, he changed his position. The rest of the text was about further exploring this consensus position.

This was strange to me, because he seemed to be an intelligent guy with several university degrees, yet when he wanted to investigate an issue, he based it solely on the consensus position…

I have been there also, so I realize that of course it is not entirely illogical. When a group of scientists (who have it as their job to study a certain issue and therefor are experts in their field) agree on something, then it is not difficult to see that other people (who didn’t study it that closely) have no reason to doubt such a consensus. Whether we believe a “scientific consensus” is meaningful or not. How could those who didn’t study the issue as closely as the experts, criticize this consensus?

It is not really unreasonable to agree that a consensus is the accepted view with our best current understanding and the best starting point when we try to grasp a new field of study. In a way, I still hold this view, still today. If I am told by the experts that the consensus is that earth circles around the sun or that gravity exists, as a non-expert I have no problem with that and the consensus would be a no-brainer. Legitimate authority matters.

So why would I think differently when it comes to climate science?

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Carbon versus Carbon dioxide

It always feels strange to hear so many people talk about “carbon” pollution when they actually talk about CO2 emissions. Not only by politicians and activists, but also by universities and people who should know better. Beside the fact that CO2 is a gas benevolent to life, not exactly usable to describe a pollutant, there is something else wrong with this: it doesn’t describe well what is talked about.

  • Carbon is solid stuff. Remember: a solid
  • Carbon dioxide is a (trace) gas in our atmosphere. Remember: a gas.

Big difference.

Calling carbon dioxide (CO2) “Carbon” is like calling water (H2O) “Hydrogen”. It doesn’t make any sense either. Suppose we would do the same for water, we get something like this:

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