Climate Science for Everyone: correlation and causation (updated)

Correlation does not prove causation, but lack of correlation doesn’t disprove causation either.

IPCC AR5 WG1 Decadal variation in global temperature (IPCC)

To read other articles in this series, click here.

UPDATE: After some feedback, I’ve added a bunch of graphs to the number lists below to help clarify.

What does it mean when someone says “correlation does not prove causation?” It’s a common phrase uttered by individuals who deny that climate change is happening, that it is dominated by the industrial emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), and that the changes will be disruptive to both ecosystems and human society (aka industrial climate disruption, global warming, or climate change). In order to understand why these deniers of industrial climate disruption are wrong, we first have to understand what they’re talking about when they’re talking about correlation, causation, and the relationships between the two.

What is correlation?

Correlation is a measurement of how related two different sets of numbers are to each other. Continue reading

Climate Illogic: Appealing to history to predict the future is often illogical

When the conditions today are significantly different from conditions in the past, relying on the past to predict the present or the future is an illogical appeal to history.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

EPICA ice core data (image source:

There are a lot of illogical arguments made by climate disruption deniers (those who deny the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the reality of industrial climate disruption). One of the most common illogical arguments is that increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) today can’t cause global warming because CO2 increased after global warming had already started when previous ice ages were ending. This argument sounds reasonable, but it’s actually a logical fallacy known as a “predictive appeal to history” (also known as an “appeal to tradition“). It’s the wrong same argument as “we’ve always done it this way, so we have to keep doing this way.”

To illustrate the issue with this argument, let’s look at an apocryphal story told by Richard Quinnell to engineers:

In the early 1940s, so the story goes, the Army wanted a dependable supply of llama dung, as required by specifications for treating the leather used in airplane seats. Submarine attacks made shipping from South America unreliable, so the Army attempted to establish a herd of llamas in New Jersey. Only after the attempt failed did anyone question the specification.

Subsequent research revealed that the US Army had copied a British Army specification dating back to Great Britain’s era of colonial expansion. The original specification applied to saddle leather. Great Britain’s pressing need for cavalry to patrol its many colonies meant bring together raw recruits, untrained horses, and new saddles. The leather smell made the horses skittish and unmanageable. Treating the saddle leather with llama dung imparted an odor that calmed the horses. The treatment, therefore, became part of the leather’s specification, which remained unchanged for a century.

The moral of the story is that, since airplanes don’t need to be calmed down, the llama dung was unnecessary. Something had changed that rendered the historical knowledge irrelevant. Continue reading

Walking the walk on global warming – Renewable Journal for 2/25/2015

Leasing solar panels and acquiring an electric vehicle helped clear a mental block that had kept me from writing much about industrial climate disruption for about two years.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

About two years ago I took a break from regular writing about industrial climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change). My day job was very busy and all the writing energy I usually pour into blogging was, instead, going into my work. By the time I got home at the end of the day I didn’t even want to think about writing again. I’d also become very frustrated with how little recognition my efforts seemed to get. The posts I was the most proud of seemed to be ignored almost completely while the stupid l drive-by posts on a topic of the day would get tons of hits and links. And then there was the fact that much of my topics were being duplicated by others with more time and/or money to write, so it seemed like my niche was rapidly disappearing into other climate focused blogs who were doing it better than I could. All these factors combined to make writing about climate an extremely unpleasant experience.

Recently, though, I discovered that there was something else that was clogging up my writing brain – something that I didn’t realize until the blockage had been removed. I discovered that the fact I hadn’t been really doing much personally to address industrial climate disruption had been a metaphorical ball and chain on my writing. When I started leasing my solar panels from Solar City and bought my Nissan Leaf, that particular weight was removed. Continue reading

Peddlers of climate change deceit have significant advantages over climate realists

Climate realists are fighting an uphill battle against professional climate disruption deniers who have media bias, time, money, and an apathetic public on their side.

Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Today scientists are as certain about the threat of industrial climate disruption as they are about tobacco smoke causing lung cancer, yet neither the United States nor the broader international community has made any significant progress toward addressing the disruptions expected as a result of the Earth’s changing climate. The question is why.

When we look at the public discussion of industrial climate disruptionA (aka global warming or climate change), it’s clear that the playing field is not level. It’s very clearly slanted in favor of peddlers of deceit like Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), and his fellow professional climate disruption deniersB for four main reasons. First, the media prefers publishing disinformation that’s interesting to publishing uninteresting “me too” articles. Second, professional climate disruption deniers simply have more time and money available with which to push their disinformation. Third, writing disinformation is remarkably easy when you’re not inhibited by facts, yet correcting the disinformation is difficult partly because it requires strict adherence to the facts. And fourth, Harris et al are peddling disinformation that people want to hear, rather than an unpleasant reality that they need to hear. Continue reading

Tom Harris’ commentaries intended to impede, not advance, public understanding of climate science

Tom Harris’ stated goal in his commentaries is to advance the public discussion on industrial climate disruption, yet his language and arguments say exactly the opposite.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries that appeared mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the English-speaking world. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public discussion about climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking.6” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern. Continue reading

Tom Harris distorts the maturity of global warming science and imagines expertise where little exists

The science supporting global warming theory has a history going back almost 200 years, but readers of Tom Harris commentaries might come away thinking that it’s all brand new science.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries that appeared mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the English-speaking world. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public discussion about climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking.6” S&R’s analysis found that Harris’ commentaries contained multiple examples of the very logical fallacies he was taking others to task for as well as disingenuous arguments and rhetorical boobytraps, all in an attempt to convince readers that the science of climate disruption is less certain than it actually is.

In Parts One through Three, S&R showed how Harris’ commentaries were filled with hypocrisy, illogical arguments, and misinformation and how he was making the bizarre and irrational argument that ignorance and inexperience should be considered equal to knowledge and expertise. Today S&R corrects Harris’ many misunderstandings about the present state of climate science and what makes someone a climate expert. Continue reading

Tom Harris places absurd limits on scientific truths and elevates ignorance to equal knowledge

Tom Harris asks his readers to put aside their common sense and reject knowledge and expertise in favor of ignorance and inexperience.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries that appeared mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the English-speaking world. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public discussion about climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking.6” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern. Continue reading

Tom Harris’ recent commentaries rife with errors and illogic

If you’re going to attack climate realists for making supposedly illogical arguments, you’d best be sure that your own arguments are logically flawless.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries that appeared mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the English-speaking world. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public argument over climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking.6” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern. Continue reading

Tom Harris – hypocritical peddler of deceitful climate change editorials (corrected)

Eight related commentaries written by Tom Harris of the International Climate Science Coalition since mid-December are packed them with distortions, errors, hypocrisy, and more.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

[Update 2/21/2014: A word in one of Tom’s commentaries was confused by the author – “censure” was confused for “censor.” Since the entire section was based on this error, it has been struck from the post]

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries. They were published mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the United States, Canada, and South Africa. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public argument over climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking6.” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern.
Continue reading

Why I chose the Leaf over the Jetta TDI – Renewable Journal for 7/4/2014

Tax credits and rebates, low cost of operation, and reduced air pollution all made the Leaf the better choice for my family.

[MotorTrend]For more posts in this series, please click here.

I know I’m going to get asked why I spent over 30k (before all the crazy tax rebates) on a car that only goes 80 miles. My father especially will ask at some point, and he’s already called it a “toy” car.

He’s not entirely wrong, either. I’m in my 40s now, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun to drive around in a car that can go from 0 to 60 in just a tad over 6 seconds. I’ve never had a car that has this kind of acceleration. Continue reading

Roy Spencer attacks Anti-Defamation League for denouncing his use of “global warming Nazis”

The Anti-Defamation League clearly understands that a “denier” is someone who denies the truth of something. Unfortunately for his credibility and legacy, Roy Spencer does not.

IPCC AR5 WG1 Decadal variation in global temperature (IPCC)

IPCC AR5 WG1 Decadal variation in global temperature (IPCC)

Last week, once-respected climate scientist Roy Spencer went off the rails with a rant about how he would start calling unnamed climate scientists and activists “global warming Nazis.” In response, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Southeast Interim Regional Director Shelley Rose issued a statement that denounced Spencer for “trivializing” both Nazis and the Holocaust. Rather than rethink his position, however, Spencer attacked the ADL for hypocrisy.

Last week I wrote a post cataloguing six significant issues with Spencer’s original rant that sounded “more like paranoid ramblings than the words of someone who should be a respected elder statesman of climate science.” In his attack on the ADL, Spencer took his rant even further, claiming that the “denier” description was a form of character assassination, issuing a blanket defense of anyone and everyone who has been called a denier of climate change/global warming, and implying that only so-called “skeptics” like him really care about the poor. Continue reading

Supreme Court “Friend of the Court” brief challenges EPA’s climate change, greenhouse gas regulations

Playing fast and loose with both climate science and logic in a Supreme Court brief is a good way to destroy your own credibility.

CATEGORY: ClimateClick here for the other posts in this series

In June, 2012, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruled that the Clean Air Act permitted the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) as pollutants. Multiple industry groups and states appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court in March, 2013, and the Court agreed to hear part of the appeal in October, 2013. Specifically, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether or not the Clean Air Act automatically required the EPA to regulate stationary sources like power plants as a result of the EPA finding that motor vehicles were a source of pollution. The Court refused to hear arguments on whether or not the EPA had the authority to find greenhouse gases a pollutant, or to regulate them as pollutants.

Even though the Supreme Court refused to hear arguments related to the EPA’s science-based endangerment finding, a group of 12 self-described “experts” submitted a Brief of Amici Curiae, also known as a “Friend of the Court” brief [hereafter “the brief”], to the Court on December 16, 2013. The brief asks the Supreme Court to overturn the DC Appeals Court ruling and the entire endangerment finding even though the Court refused to hear arguments on those issues. Continue reading

Climate Illogic: don’t be distracted by irrational assertions of global warming catastrophe and crisis

“Global warming crisis” and “catastrophic global warming” are common straw man arguments.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

There are a couple of terms commonly used by climate disruption deniers (those who deny that industrial climate disruption1 is derived from widely accepted scientific laws) that are nearly always attempts to distract the reader (aka “red herrings”). These terms often are used specifically because they appear to be both relevant and reasonable, but are actually neither. Instead, these terms are logical errors, specifically “straw men” logical fallacies.

These terms are “catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” as well as their variants. Continue reading

IPCC physical science Summary for Policymakers: 95% certain that human activity is dominating climate disruption

[Update: several clarifications have been added in the best case scenario section.]

The complete, 2500 pages long Working Group One (WG1) report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) has been published. While the devil is often in the details buried deep in those 2500 pages, the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is a distillation of the key scientific findings that the WG1 authors and every national government agree upon. As such, the SPM is an inherently conservative1 summary of the science. Continue reading

Climate Illogic: Sometimes arguing from authority is the logical thing to do

For more posts in this series, please click here.

A common illogical claim among those individuals who deny industrial climate disruption is that any discussion of consensus or reference to a scientist’s expert opinion is an “appeal to authority.” Those who make this illogical claim are essentially trying to say that expert opinion doesn’t matter. This not only a misunderstanding of the logical fallacy, it’s also absurd given the realities of living in a complex world.

The actual fallacy is known as an “appeal to misleading authority.” In order for an authority to be “misleading,” it has to have at least one of the following:

  • The person being referred to as an authority may not be an actual expert on the subject in question.
  • The person being referred to as an authority may be biased.
  • The person being referred to as an authority may hold opinions that are not representative of his/her fellow experts in the subject
  • The reference to authority may be unnecessary.

With respect to climate disruption we find many examples of each of these types of misleading authorities. Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, and most of the NASA 49 are examples of individuals who have been identified as authorities on climate disruption but who are not actual climate experts. There is evidence that climate scientists Roy Spencer and Patrick Michaels are less than objective about climate disruption due to their religion, free market ideology, and/or fossil fuel industry funding. Richard Lindzen of MIT is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences due to his climate expertise, but his opinions about how the Earth supposedly cools itself (his “iris” hypothesis) are not representative of expert opinion on climate disruption, and so referring to Lindzen’s authority may be misleading. And at this point the increase in global temperature has been verified so often and independently that an appeal to any single scientist’s authority on the subject is unnecessary.

So long as these pitfalls are avoided, arguing from authority may be justified. This is especially true with respect to complicated subjects such as climate disruption and with respect to situations where people are forced to make decisions with incomplete information. We live in a complex world, and it’s not possible to rely exclusively on direct evidence from our own senses. Everyone must place their trust in the authority of someone else eventually.

One example of this fact is purchasing an automobile. People generally don’t purchase an automobile until after researching the vehicle, taking a test drive, etc. At each step of the process, however, the customer is forced to place his or her trust in the authority of someone else. When researching the automobile, the customer must decide whether or not to trust the reviewers, the crash reports. After all, its possible that the reports were fraudulent or the reviewers were paid to give positive reviews of a substandard vehicle. And the customer places his or her trust in the authority of the automobile’s engineers, manufacturers, and technicians to build and certify a safe automobile.

Given a proven track record of safety by the manufacturer, no major recalls on a given model, and safety testing monitored and certified by unbiased third parties, it’s not only reasonable to assume that the vehicle is safe, it’s justifiable. Essentially, the authority of the engineers et al is independently verified. And given that most people lack the ability to perform their own crash testing, relying on these types of authorities is not only reasonable, it’s also justified.

The process of verifying a person’s authority includes the person demonstrating a high level of understanding of key issues. In the example of an automobile that might be crash crumple zones, how wiring is routed in the engine in ways to prevent it from being melted by engine heat, or the effects of road grime on frame corrosion. In the case of industrial climate disruption the authority might need to understand how carbon isotopes prove that the excess carbon dioxide is due to burning fossil fuels, the physics of why carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation, and an understanding of blackbody radiation and how it interacts with greenhouse gases to create the greenhouse effect.

In addition, an authority is someone who has been verified to be an expert on a particular subject (automobiles above, or some aspect of climate science). The verification process is subject to some level of assumed trust, but is usually based upon independent, third party proxies such undergraduate and/or graduate degrees related to the subject, years of experience working with/in the subject area, a significant publication record of peer-reviewed studies on the subject, acknowledgment as an expert by multiple other experts on the same subject, and so on.

Finally, someone’s authority may be formally or informally revoked if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the proxies got it wrong. In the case of an automobile, if a test technician was falsifying safety reports, he or she could be fired or even charged with crimes. Meteorologist Joe Bastardi has repeatedly made claims about climate disruption that were easily disproved both mathematically and empirically, and as such he no longer has any real authority on the subject of climate disruption.

Arguing from authority is rarely if ever as good as arguing from first principles. When information is available and can be understood, arguing from that information will nearly always be preferable to arguing from the expert opinion of someone else who understands the information. However, when the subject being argued (say, climate disruption or a criminal proceeding) is sufficiently complicated that arguing from first principles is unrealistic, arguing from authority is not only justified, it is the logical thing to do.

Taylor attacks his critics instead of correcting his distortions of a peer-reviewed study

CATEGORY: ClimateOn February 13, James M. Taylor of The Heartland Institute published a deceptive and dishonest blog post at Forbes in which he falsely claimed that a new study rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus about the human causes of climate disruption. On February 20, Taylor dedicated a second Forbes blog to the same study, and instead of admitting his factual errors and correcting his original post, he chose to attack both his critics and the study’s authors. However, his second post was filled with yet more false claims that demonstrate yet again Taylor’s habit of deception and dishonesty.

Taylor attacks a straw man

According to Taylor, climate disruption realists (those who accept the reality that human activity is the dominant driver of climate disruption) supposedly feel that “only atmospheric scientists are qualified” to comment on climate disruption and that geoscientists and engineers are not qualified. While having an understanding of atmospheric science certainly helps understand certain aspects of climate disruption, it is not true that only atmospheric scientists can be climate experts. Scientists who study glaciers and ice caps provide understanding of how the Earth’s glaciers will respond to climate disruption and how that may affect sea level rise. Chemists who are experts in geochemistry provide valuable information on how fast carbon dioxide is sequestered by chemical reactions with rocks. Biologists provide information on how plant and animals will respond to ocean acidification and higher temperatures. Some climate experts such as Ray Pierrehumbert were even engineers before they changed their focus and became climate researchers.

The problem with Taylor’s assertion (his “Argument #2”) and his related claims of hypocrisy by climate disruption realists is that they’re straw man logical fallacies. In this case, Taylor has falsely asserted that his critics are making a claim that they haven’t actually made, and he’s attacking the assertion instead of the real one because it’s easier and because it distracts his readers. In the process of creating his straw man, Taylor attacks both James Hansen and the head of the IPCC, Raj Pachauri

As Taylor says, Hansen is an astronomer by education. But Hansen’s original expertise, namely the atmosphere of Venus and how it’s resulted in Venus’ surface temperature being hot enough to melt lead, is directly relevant to climate disruption. Furthermore, Hansen has been publishing peer-reviewed studies about the greenhouse effect and the Earth’s climate since 1974. His publishing record and decades of work are what make Hansen an expert, not his original astronomy background.

And while Pachauri is a railroad engineer, he’s also an administrator, not a scientific expert. It doesn’t take a scientific expert to be a good administrator and manage scientists effectively. If it did, corporations run by MBAs without engineering backgrounds would fail because the managers and executives didn’t understand how to design a telephony circuit or an Ethernet switch. Whether or not Pachauri is a climate expert is immaterial – Taylor’s claim is a distraction either way.

S&R examined the nature of expertise in April 2012 when 49 former NASA employees wrote a letter insisting that NASA prevent its scientists from publishing their scientific conclusions about industrial climate disruption:

Expertise in the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide on astronauts doesn’t make one an expert on CO2‘s effect on ecosystems. Expertise in lunar geology doesn’t make one an expert in geochemical sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Expertise in heat transfer through space shuttle heat tiles doesn’t make one an expert in heat transfer between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. Even expertise in weather forecasting doesn’t make the forecaster an expert on climate.

No amount of expertise on one subject can magically bestow expertise on any other subject. Expertise must be earned through dedicated effort day in and day out, over the course of years.

Taylor’s attacks are against a straw man argument that his critics have not actually made, and he fails to tar his critics as hypocrites in the process.

Taylor falsely claims government scientists are guilty by association

Taylor continues his deceptions by resorting to yet another logical fallacy, specifically guilt by association, when he falsely claims that the scientists surveyed for the Doran and Zimmerman 2010 study (D&Z2010) are biased simply because they work for or are funded by government grants. As S&R wrote in response to another of Taylor’s failed attempts to discredit scientists using guilt by association,

Is commentator David Brooks inherently biased because he writes for the New York Times? Is Richard Lindzen, the contrarian MIT climatologist, inherently biased because he teaches at MIT? In every case the answer is clearly “no” – any individual may well be biased, but simple association does not and can not prove bias.

If we applied Taylor’s own poor logic to Taylor himself we could automatically dismiss everything he writes on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because he’s a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. (emphasis original, links removed)

Furthermore, even if Taylor is correct that the source of money is corrupting, then by his own logic, scientists in the employ of fossil fuel-related industries are far more likely to have been corrupted than those scientists employed by the government. In 2010, S&R found that fossil-fuel related industries (those involved in the production, transportation, consumption, and refining of fossil fuels) were responsible for approximately $9 trillion, or 15%, of the entire global economy in 2008. In contrast, the entire global budget for climate research globally in 2008 is estimated to be about $3.8 billion, or 0.04% of the revenues of the fossil fuel-related industries.

Taylor can’t have it both ways. If Taylor wants to claim that scientists are automatically tainted by government money, then scientists are automatically tainted by industry money too. And there’s over 2,500 times more industry money than government money.

Taylor dishonestly distorts yet another survey

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

Taylor’s last deceptive claim borders on being dishonest. He falsely claims that “an often misrepresented survey claiming 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing a global warming crisis… (emphasis added),” a reference to the previously mentioned D&Z2010 survey. The problem is that D&Z2010 doesn’t say that 97% of scientists agree, it says that 97.4% of “climatologists who are active publishers on the subject of climate change” agree. The survey says that only 82% of all respondents (all scientists from various academic institutions and government research labs) agree that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.”

A related claim of Taylor’s, however, is dishonest. Taylor writes that D&Z2010 “asked merely whether some warming has occurred and whether humans are playing at least a partial role (emphasis added).” The actual question posed in D&Z2010 was “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures? (emphasis added)” Note the difference in significance between Taylor’s “at least a partial role” and D&Z2010’s “a significant contributing factor.” This is a dishonest attempt by Taylor to downplay the results of the D&Z2010 study.

Taylor repeats his dishonest allegations about the Lefsrud and Meyer study

But most of Taylor’s dishonest claims are made in reference to the survey of professional engineers and geoscientists by Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer. Taylor writes that Lefsrud and Meyer “claim their survey is not strong evidence against the mythical global warming consensus, therefore skeptics cannot cite the survey while debating the mythical consensus.” However, what Lefsrud and Meyer actually claim – three times just in their response to Taylor at his original Forbes blog – is that their results are not representative of all scientists.

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …”

We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.

But once again: This is not a representative survey and should not be used as such! (emphasis added)

As S&R found last week, the authors correctly state that the study is not representative.

There is no mention [in Taylor’s original Forbes blog] that all the study’s respondents were only in Alberta, Canada. There is no mention that they’re all members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). There is no mention that the membership of APEGA is predominantly employed by the Alberta petroleum industry and its regulators. And there is no mention that the authors repeatedly and specifically write in their study that their results are not applicable beyond the respondents and members of APEGA.

Furthermore, Taylor repeats the false claim he that he originally made with respect to Lefsrud and Meyer’s “[frequent] use terms such as “denier” to describe scientists who are skeptical of an asserted global warming crisis.” S&R identified this lie of Taylor’s previously, writing that

the word “denier” is used exactly twice in the body of the paper – in the conclusion on page 20 of a 24 page paper. Taken in context, the authors clearly differentiate between those who deny climate change (such as the 0.6% of survey respondents who reject that climate change is occurring at all) and those who are skeptical of it for some reason.

Taylor writes that climate disruption realists are “attacking the integrity of scientists” in an attempt to “minimize the damage” supposedly caused by Lefsrud and Meyer’s study. As demonstrated above and by Taylor’s critics previously, this claim is false for a couple of reasons. Since the study isn’t representative, there is no damage to be minimized. Similarly, Taylor’s critics aren’t questioning the integrity of the individuals who responded to the survey, only whether the respondents are a representative sample of all scientists like Taylor claims.

Ultimately, Taylor’s critics are not questioning scientists’ integrity, they’re questioning Taylor’s integrity.

Venus’ surface temperature series updated

Venus terrain composite (NASA)

Venus terrain composite (NASA)

In early May, 2011 I posted a five-part series about the surface temperature of Venus. In it I demonstrated that the Venus’ surface temperature – hot enough to melt lead – was not a result of internal heating from Venus’ core. Instead, the greenhouse effect of Venus’ largely carbon dioxide atmosphere is the reason the surface is so much hotter than it would be without the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, I made a pretty significant error in my calculations and used the wrong value for a physical constant that made many of my calculations about 20% too high. While I acknowledged the error as soon as it was pointed out to me by an observant commenter, I had not taken the time to go back through all five posts and correct the calculations until last week. As I had pointed out as soon as my mistake was discovered, none of the conclusions changed as a result of the error, but I feel it’s important nonetheless to make admit mistakes and make corrections as required. I’m sorry it took so long to make the corrections.

Here are links to each of the Venus posts I made in one place. I hope you find them useful.

Venus’ climate I: How scientists know Venus’ surface is unusually hot (corrected)

Venus’ climate II: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature isn’t from internal heating (Corrected)

Venus’ climate III: How scientists know Venus isn’t geologically young (Corrected)

Venus’ climate IV: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature isn’t from a “recent” astronomical collision

Venus’ climate V: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature is a result of greenhouse heating (corrected)

Libertarians and engineers should embrace industrial climate disruption, not deny it

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3Part Five of a series

Industrial climate disruption presents challenges to libertarians and engineers. As we saw in Part Three of this series, the likely policy responses to industrial climate disruption represent a threat to libertarian values, specifically the moral ideal of “negative” liberty. And we saw in Part Four that many engineers consider industrial climate disruption a threat to their jobs and to their employers, and industrial climate disruption runs counter to many engineer’s psychological need for certainty (as discussed in Part Two). And we saw how cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and motivated reasoning can lead both libertarians and engineers to deny the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting industrial climate disruption.

But not all libertarians or all engineers are industrial climate disruption deniers. Many have reviewed the evidence and concluded that greenhouse gases emissions by industry is the best explanation for all the facts related to climate disruption. Some have simply chosen to trust the experts. And others have concluded that it’s simply good personal and professional policy to plan for the worst – at least that way you’re prepared for whatever comes your way and any surprises are good surprises.

But these aren’t the only good reasons why libertarians and engineers, both as groups and as individuals, should embrace industrial climate disruption. Denying the reality of industrial climate disruption won’t get either group a seat at the negotiating table, but engagement might. There’s also a lot of money to be made adapting to industrial climate disruption and mitigating its causes. And the sooner we start working on the problem, the cheaper it will be in the long run.

Libertarians: fight, not flight

When something that you hold dear is threatened, there are essentially only two responses. You can stand and fight, or you can flee. Industrial climate disruption threatens the values and livelihoods of many libertarians, and many have chosen to flee to the perceived safety of denial. But that safety is illusory, as the crazy weather of 2012 (the increased incidence of extreme weather phenomena has been projected by climate models for years now) and the ongoing global temperature record demonstrate.

While the the threat to libertarian values could reasonably justify the denial of industrial climate disruption by a significant majority of libertarians, the best way to ensure that your values are protected is not to flee, but rather to confront the threat. Denial won’t prevent the enactment of policies that are a threat to the “negative” liberty valued by libertarians, but engagement might. At a minimum, engagement with liberals and conservatives who also accept the reality of industrial climate disruption will ensure that libertarians have a seat at the negotiating table, something that flat-out denial is unlikely to provide. After all, libertarians are only about 10% of the U.S. population – if the other 90% came to an agreement on their own, libertarians could find themselves, and their values, steamrolled.

There are all sorts of policies that are presently being considered as ways to adapt to and to mitigate the causes of industrial climate disruption. Most of them are potential threats to economic liberty, defined as the right of a person to spend his wealth however he sees fit. The Environmental Protection Agency has already put in place regulations to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the regulations have survived review by the DC Court of Appeals (and are likely to survive Supreme Court review as well). California has implemented a cap-and-trade scheme, and some economists and scientists are calling for outright carbon taxes. The cap-and-trade scheme is the least disruptive to libertarian values, but the other two have their proponents and both are more disruptive to people’s economic liberty. If more libertarians were involved in the process, a cap-and-trade system that minimizes economic disruption would become more likely than highly disruptive carbon taxes or regulations and the associated fees and fines.

With respect to being able to live your life however you see fit (lifestyle liberty), the costs of addressing industrial climate disruption will also have an impact. Any method that prices CO2 will necessarily increase energy prices. This will increase the costs of products, especially those manufactured overseas and/or trucked long distances as the price of marine bunker fuel and diesel increase. People will probably travel less for vacations as well. And the cost of living wherever you choose will also go up, as insurance rates skyrocket (or insurance simply goes away) for property near sea level, on floodplains, or in wildfire prone areas.

Industrial climate disruption will continue to threaten libertarian values so long as it threatens human welfare and the global economy. If libertarians want their ideology to survive the crucible of industrial climate disruption, they’ll have to engage. And the sooner that engagement happens, the less damage the libertarian ideology will suffer.

Captain Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation (CBS)

Captain Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation (CBS)

Engineers: engage

Engagement is also the best approach for engineers, and those engineers who are not also libertarians will probably find engaging easier than most libertarians will. Partly this is because engineering is a professional discipline rather than an ideology, but it’s also partly a result of the corporate environment in which engineers work and that inculcates them with many of its values.

Corporations value short-term profits more than anything else, with one notable exception – staying in business. If it’s a question between either providing dividends this quarter or investing in the company so that it’s still in business several years from now, smart companies always choose to invest in themselves. That’s part of why engineers are asked to design new products – markets change, and corporations who fail to provide what the new market demands risk going out of business.

Engineers working in product development are expected to adapt to new market realities all the time. Often the adaptation is as simple as updating a prior design to a new set of requirements – different temperature ranges, different operating voltages, different types of materials, etc. Occasionally adapting requires doing something completely new, and many engineers live for that kind of intellectually stimulating challenge. Most engineers will find engaging with industrial climate disruption no more difficult than updating their requirements and initial assumptions. Once that’s done, the engineers will pick up the new changes and run with them. The challenge will be convincing engineers that their experience and expertise may no longer be applicable (depending on the industry and engineer) and that they may have to change career paths in order to adapt professionally to a new, climate disrupted reality.

Ultimately, though, engineers respond to challenges, and just as industrial climate disruption is perhaps the most important issue that modern humanity has ever faced, so too is it one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Engineers who can move beyond denial and engage with the creation of solutions will likely find the process remarkably rewarding.

Mining profits from industrial climate disruption

Beyond needing to fight for their values or rising to meet new technical challenges, both libertarians and engineers should engage with industrial climate disruption because there is a huge amount of money to be made in the process.

Many libertarians are economic or financial types who make their money trading stocks, commodities, etc. Assuming that a cap-and-trade market system is implemented nationally or globally instead of carbon taxes or direct regulations, that market is going to be largely the same as any other commodity market. As such libertarians will be able to buy and sell carbon credits, creating carbon liquidity much as traders create financial liquidity in the financial markets today. But this opportunity only materializes if a cap-and-trade market is created instead of carbon taxes or direct emission regulations.

For those libertarians who work in other fields, the all-encompassing nature of industrial climate disruption will create opportunities for anyone who has the courage to grab them. Libertarians working in construction can make money insulating homes and installing solar panels on rooftops. Libertarian farmers can make money figuring out how to grow crops using less water and fertilizer and then marketing those methods to fellow farmers nationwide. Libertarians working in the energy industry can make money by financing new power lines to transport renewable electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. And libertarians in transportation can make money by providing new, low carbon emitting cars, trucks, tractors, aircraft, and ships to carry people and goods from one place to another. But each of these opportunities requires that the individual libertarians working in these industries stop denying the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Engineers have at least as great an opportunity to make money as libertarians do. After all, who do you think is going to design all those products for all those industries listed above? Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to get PCs to consume even less power than they already do. Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to turn small-scale carbon capture demonstration projects into full-scale installations at coal and natural gas power plants. Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to boost the efficiencies of solar panels by combining photovoltaic panels with passive solar water heating and at a price point that consumers can afford. And so on.

Engineers excel when given a problem to solve and a set of parameters within which to solve it. And the engineers who are the best at it will make a great deal of money in the process. But to do so, they have to move beyond denying industrial climate disruption. After all, just because an engineer will to work on a project he doesn’t believe in, that doesn’t mean he’ll be motivated to do his best work that way. But give an engineer a project that makes him think “this is going to be totally awesome” and he’ll figure out a way to move Heaven and Earth for you.

Pay now, or pay a lot more later

Not everyone can be lured by wealth and a good, high paying job with good job satisfaction into changing their mind about denying the reality of industrial climate disruption. For some, avoiding the anticipated economic costs of industrial climate disruption is a greater motivator. Economists have been saying for years now that it will cost less to mitigating industrial climate disruption than the damage done to the global economy by doing nothing (or delaying action for decades). Essentially, most economists believe that the cost of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable (and possibly nuclear) sources of energy is much lower than the cost of sea level rise on property values, rebuilding communities built in floodplains, losses to crops due to drought and pests, and the disruption of the global economy due to tens or hundreds of millions of migrating climate refugees, among others.

There are fundamental disagreements among economists about the “correct” way to account for multi-generational issues like industrial climate disruption, with some economists (Nordhaus for one) approaching the problem strictly from a utilitarian perspective while others approach the problem from a “minimal regret” perspective. The utilitarians tend to weigh the economic status of people who are alive today much higher than they weigh the economic status of unknown future generations. This can result in a situation where you could mathematically argue that it would be OK for humanity to go extinct ten generations from now so long as the people alive today aren’t inconvenienced by having to pay more for gasoline. It’s not a coincidence that libertarians tend find themselves among the utilitarians, given that Iyer et al found that libertarians are utilitarian and also value themselves more highly than they do “generic others” like hypothetical great, great, great grandchildren.

The “minimal regret” economists, on the other hand, tend to approach the problem more holistically, applying value not just to a standard of living, but also to the quality of that standard of living. They also tend to apply different discount rates to different aspects of human goods and experience, and they try to incorporate the needs of human survival and health into their economic models. But at the extreme end of this end of the spectrum, “minimal regret” economics can mathematically conclude that destroying the global economy today is acceptable to ensure that at least some of humanity survives ten generations hence. The inclusive nature of the “minimal regret” economic models makes their conclusions more likely to be robust than utilitarian models, and it’s the models of the “minimal regret” school of thought that indicate the costs of doing nothing are much higher than the costs of mitigating industrial climate disruption.

(Scott Ambler)

(Scott Ambler)

But even if you reject the economic models and instead ascribe to utilitarian economics, there is a business concept that makes the same basic argument. In business, the costs of making changes to a project is very low early in the project’s lifecycle. But as the project moves through its various stages, it becomes more and more expensive to make changes until, finally, making changes simply isn’t possible at any price.

Businesspeople and engineers who work in product development tend to understand this idea almost instinctively. During requirement definition, the cost of making a change is maybe a few hours to updated a few documents. Once the design is complete the cost of making a change includes a few hours for several people to update a lot more documents. Once something physical is created, the cost increases even more to include changing hardware, possibly even throwing out the original design and starting from scratch. And if a change is needed after the product has been delivered, it may need to be recalled or it may not even be possible to implement the change at all.

We can look at adapting to and mitigating the causes of industrial climate disruption as a set of projects not too different from any other. As an example, adapting New York City to rising sea level may require sea walls around the harbor, major filling of land and reconstruction of buildings on the newly raised ground, or even the partial abandonment of low-lying areas such as those that were most affected by Superstorm Sandy. The sooner this process starts, the cheaper it will be to implement. First, inflation means that the longer a major construction project takes, the more the construction materials will cost. Second, the longer the process takes, the more likely it becomes that another another storm like Sandy sweeps into New York City and does tens or hundreds of billions more dollars in direct and indirect damage – damage that could have been dramatically reduced had the adaptation strategy been in place.

On a smaller scale, this same business axiom explains part of why you shop around for the right solar panels to put on your roof. Not only are you looking for a good deal, but you’re also making sure that you won’t want to change your mind later. After all, if the wrong panels are already on your roof when you discover they’re wrong, you’ll be lucky to get away with only having to pay someone to come out to remove the wrong panels and then pay to have the right panels put back up.

According to national polls, about 84% of all libertarians deny the reality of industrial climate disruption, and while there’s no data about the number of engineers who are similarly in denial, there are a lot of people who identify themselves as engineers on major denial websites. While it makes sense that both groups would feel threatened by industrial climate disruption, albeit for different reasons, both groups should embrace the overwhelming science and data and work toward solutions instead of denying the problem. There will probably never be a greater challenge to solve, or a greater opportunity to make money from creative solutions, than the challenges and opportunities posed by industrial climate disruption. And the sooner the solutions kick in, the less damage will be done to libertarian values, business, and the global economy.

Over the last few weeks, we have in investigated why there are so many libertarians and engineers among the ranks of industrial climate disruption deniers. We’ve looked at the values and personalities of both groups and we’ve looked at how those values and personalities lead so many libertarians and engineers to deny the reality of industrial climate disruption. And we’ve looked at why, as a matter of pragmatism, both groups should embrace industrial climate disruption instead of denying it.

There are some known areas of contention in climate science, such as the effects of clouds on global climate. But those few remaining areas of contention are very unlikely to change the scientific conclusion – human industry is emitting greenhouse gases and those gases are and will be largely responsible for disrupting the Earth’s climate. However understandable it might be for a libertarian or engineer to hunt for and cling to the few scraps of data that confirm their existing biases, doing so is no longer rational. There are just too many other fields of scientific endeavor that would have to be largely incorrect for the conclusions of industrial climate disruption to be wrong.

Lance Armstrong and Superstorm Sandy were both doped

This house was floated off its foundation by Sandy. Fairfield Beach, CT. (Genevieve Reilly/Fairfield Citizen)

If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you’re no doubt aware that Lance Armstrong was recently stripped of all of his Tour de France wins because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found evidence of doping. While there are some questions that remain unanswered in the case and there are certainly reasonable criticisms that can be levied against the USADA’s investigation, the scientific evidence appears to be overwhelming.

But I’m not here to talk about Lance Armstrong. Instead, there’s another example where the scientific evidence of doping is overwhelming even though there are a few reasonable criticisms and a few unanswered questions – the doping of Superstorm Sandy by the performance enhancer known as industrial climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change).

Industrial climate disruption increases the amount of heat stored in the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. When the oceans heat up, they expand, raising sea level. When a warmer ocean and atmosphere melts ice caps (as is happening in Antarctica and Greenland), sea level rises even more. And when sea levels rise, the storm surge that accompanies large storms like Sandy (and Hurricane Katrina) is that much higher than it would have been without a storm surge sea level rise.

But there is another effect of industrial climate disruption that doped sea level rise specifically in the region hardest hit by Sandy. The region of the east cost between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts appears to be a “hot spot” for local sea level rise that is driven in part by the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC), of which the Gulf Stream is part. When the AMOC speeds up, local sea level drops, and vice-versa. Recently, industrial climate disruption has warmed the air over Greenland enough to significantly increase the amount of freshwater entering the North Atlantic. More fresh water makes the North Atlantic less salty, and thus less dense. Since the AMOC is driven in large part by the warm, salty Gulf Stream cooling and sinking in the North Atlantic, adding lots of fresh water to the Gulf Stream will make it sink slower, and thus slow down the AMOC, leading to sea level rise in the region hit by Sandy that was, according to the paper linked above, 3-4x larger than the global average sea level rise.

Surface temperatures using data from NASA GISS.

There’s a third way that industrial climate disruption enhanced Sandy’s performance, and this is related directly to the warmer oceans. Hurricanes derive their energy from the ocean, and the warmer the ocean is under the storm, the more powerful the hurricane can become. Not all hurricanes become powerful storms over hot water because other factors matter too, but no hurricane can get large and/or powerful without ocean heat. The Atlantic Ocean has become, on average, between 0.9 and 3.6 °F (0.5 to 2 °C) warmer in the area traversed by Sandy over the period from the early 1900’s to the last decade during the months of November and December. This extra ocean heat boosted Sandy’s performance dramatically.

Warmer oceans due to industrial climate disruption also mean more water vapor in the air (over the ocean, anyway), and that means more intense rainfall. And there’s evidence that the dramatic drop in Arctic ice cover changes weather patterns across North America. One of those changes is more common “atmospheric blocking” pattern, which is part of what Sandy fused with to become a superstorm in the first place.

Critics claim that Sandy wasn’t caused by industrial climate disruption. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins weren’t caused by his doping, after all. But he was still stripped of his wins because the doping made it much more likely he’d win.

Industrial climate disruption may not have caused Sandy, but it made Sandy more likely and more devastating. And until we stop emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere, industrial climate disruption will continue to dope up hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, and more.

DC appeals court says EPA's interpretation of Clean Air Act "unambiguously correct"

Part three of a series.

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found in 2009 that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from motor vehicles was a threat to public health and welfare, that Endangerment Finding set into motion a set of statutory compulsions that led first to new regulations on motor vehicles and then to new regulations on power plants, cement kilns, and other major stationary sources of GHGs. As a result a significant number of states and industry groups collectively filed 26 independent petitions to the federal courts seeking to overturn these regulations. The states and industry groups focused first on the Endangerment finding itself, but as we saw yesterday, they were rebuffed by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, the states and industry groups didn’t rely exclusively on attacking the Endangerment Finding. They also argued that the EPA incorrectly interpreted the Clean Air Act with respect to regulating motor vehicle emissions. And they also made several different arguments in an attempt to convince the court that the phrase “any air pollutant” didn’t actually mean “any air pollutant.”

In every instance the court disagreed. Continue reading