Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Climate Fix by Roger Pielke jnr

Here is my summary of his main points so far:
  1. we will need VASTLY more energy in the future
  2. the amount of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere is a big problem - both AGW and biogeochemical effects
  3. so we have to decarbonise the energy supply, aka reduce carbon intensity C output / energy consumed (see Kaya identity section for more detail here)
  4. decarbonisation makes sense from other perspectives too, eg. energy security for some countries (from a policy perspective it is important that there are some short and intermediate term gains from the pain or costs of policy)
  5. the public will not accept a big C tax designed to change energy consumption behaviour - they will vote out any party that introduces it
  6. small steps are better than grandiose plans that end up being rejected
  7. there is not a linear relationship between climate science and government policy, Scientific findings in complex social issues do not dictate policy. Politics in a democracy requires public support. A non linear or oblique approach might work. The direct approach has failed (Copenhagen)
  8. the public will accept a small dedicated C tax (rising slowly over time) to fund R&D; there is consistent public support for some action on climate change but not dramatic action which will alter standard of living
  9. We need more R&D because present technology is not sufficient to do the CO2 reduction that is required – taking into account future economic growth and removal of CO2 from the ocean to reduce harmful biogeochemical effects, as well as from the atmosphere
  10. Since the above steps do not provide a guarantee for targeted CO2 reductions then a backstop is also required
  11. CO2 air capture and storage (remediation) is a potential backstop, which could reshape the climate debate, one of the targets for further R&D

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

the Nobel family has dissociated itself from the economics prize

One of the most annoying things is to read or hear an economist's views promoted because they have won the Nobel Prize. Hence, it is refreshing to hear that the Nobel family has dissociated itself from the economics prize

There are some good spoofs on this at Improbable Research:

2010 ECONOMICS PRIZE: The executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money — ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof

2009 ECONOMICS PRIZE: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

brain plasticity

Norman Doidge has written a book, The Brain That Changes Itself, about brain plasticity which has implications for our education system in general, those with learning disabilities and for senior citizens. Note the comment in the Kerry O'Brien interview below where it is argued that the decline of rote learning of long poems has contributed to declining oratory skills.

These theories developed in conjunction with Michael Merzenich have a great deal of scientific support. Check out the Norman Doidge video (on the brain and neuroplasticity, in 3 parts) and Michael Merzenich videos (TED talk, google talk) on the web.

Here is an extract from a 2008 interview with Doidge:
KERRY O'BRIEN: You write that humans instinctively were on the right track in the age of rote learning in education and you cite Abraham Lincoln's skill as an orator as an example. Can you elaborate?

NORMAN DOIDGE: Sure. In the '60s, there were things that were part of a kind of classical education that people did away with 'cause they thought that they were irrelevant like an almost fanatical attention to elocution and handwriting, or memorising long poems. But, it now turns out that what these activities did is they exercised very important parts of the brain that allow you to think in long sentences, have deep internal monologues and a certain amount of grace in all kinds of expression. And probably a lot of damage was done by doing away with these exercises that were there for good reasons we didn't understand.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You mean that they have reduced the scope of the functions of a child's brain as they grow to adulthood?

NORMAN DOIDGE: Yeah. The simplest example would be memory of long verses of poetry. It allows you to speak in public and have long, deep paragraphs of thought in private. When you reduce the amount of memory in those processors, we're reduced to a world of sound bites.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So, somebody else might say, well, you know, the kind of oratory of a Lincoln is simply a lost art. You would add to that; you would say it's a lost art …

NORMAN DOIDGE: That can be recovered.

KERRY O'BRIEN: ... but a lost art that was lost in the way we learnt, which you connect to the plasticity of the brain.

NORMAN DOIDGE: Most definitely.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Does mainstream science take it as seriously as it should?

NORMAN DOIDGE: I would say that mainstream neuroscience is now smitten with neuroplasticity as the new revolutionary paradigm that is giving us great insights in the levels of activity that are going on in the brain. And an example of it is just the following amazing fact: that when you think thoughts or learn something, you actually turn on genes inside the nerve cells in your brain to change the number of connections between those cells. You can double them in a matter of hours between nerve cell A and nerve cell B. So, what we've discovered with neuroplasticity is that consciousness can direct genetic expression, and neuroscientists are looking at all the sort of points along that trail from consciousness, ultimately to structural change in the brain and altered behavioural expression as one of the chief tasks right now.
- Kerry O'Brien speaks with Norman Doidge

Sunday, October 17, 2010

crises of capitalism (David Harvey)

This talk contrasts five different mainstream theories of the economic crisis with David Harvey's Marxist analysis. He build the talk around the rhetorical device of a question which the Queen asked the London School of Economics: How come you guys didn't see the crisis coming?

The very entertaining RSA ( (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) artistic animation enhances the presentation considerably.

ethical consumption debunked (Zizek)

I love the way this Slavoj Zizek talk is animated by RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and some of his argument about how post 1968 capitalism offers redemption for the consumer through ecological sound purchases is spot on, too.

Some snippets, just phrases:
... the anti consumerist duty to do something for the environment is included (in your purchase)

Starbucks coffee ethics ... good coffee karma

... through a consumerist act you buy your redemption of being a consumerist
He then quotes extensively from Oscar Wilde in a polemic against all charity. Some of that was challenging but overall I wasn't so supportive of that section. It is one thing to expose phony "ethical consumerism" but I don't think all efforts to reform the system from within are misguided. "One laptop per child" is a good example of reform from within initiated by philanthropists which empowers the recipients.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Capital chapter one (Laurence Miall's blog)

Capital by Karl Marx, Chapter 1 - blog by Laurence Miall

Laurence writes in an entertaining (and self deprecating, not claiming to be a Marx guru) manner replacing Marx's commodities of linen and coat with the more modern examples of gasoline, iPads and cat kibbles.

I think his summary of the most difficult chapter of Marx could be improved by a deeper analysis of the value form. I cite some references below which I found particular helpful in coming to grips with this. Here are some extracts from Laurence's article with comments:
para 10: “David Harvey really saved my pea brain from total meltdown here. It turns out that value is socially necessary labour time. This is to say that what gives a commodity value is the labour that went into it”
This is true but incomplete in that it is limited to the magnitude and substance of value. Value also has a social form  (the capacity to be exchanged as an equal with another commodity) as well as a substance (embedded abstract labour) and magnitude (socially necessary labour time).
para 11: “And lastly, what gives my cat kibbles their exchangeability is the fact that they hold value: their value is that they provide a use-value for somebody else (in this case, for James, because he can feed my yummy cat kibbles to his own cats)”
This mixes up value and use value in a way which muddies the concept that value is a historically contingent social form, a social construct which eventually took on the form of money. In another type of society (pre or post capitalist) the cat kibbles would not have value at all. Imagine a society where your neighbor James just took the cat kibbles (no exchange) and that wasn’t regarded as theft. There is enough cat kibbles for everyone, no scarcity. Without exchange there is no value.
para 22: “Furthermore, the quantities are pretty arbitrary too. What makes 20 pounds of linen the basis of comparison? Why not 50 pounds? Or one pound?”
Those quantities in the general value form are not arbitrary. They are equivalents of socially necessary labour time required to produce those various commodities.
para 28 David Harvey quote: “People under capitalism do not relate to each other directly as human beings; they relate to each other through the myriad products which they encounter in the market.”
An issue which I found difficult to understand in Marx – in the same sense that Laurence qualifies Harvey’s quote - was Marx’s use of the word social in phrases like “socially necessary labour time” and in the commodity fetishism section, particularly the phrase “… material relations between persons and social relations between things”. My understanding now is that the use of the word social here relies on:
  • a restricted sense of social to mean exchangeable on the market – not social in the more general sense of human social interaction
  • the historical transformation of things into social forms, eg. products of labour become commodities, which as well as having use values are exchangeable (and hence social in that restricted sense)
So, appreciating value as a historically contingent social form I think adds a deeper dimension to Marx's analysis as well as helping to fathom out some of the ways in which he expresses himself.

Marx, Karl: The Value-Form: Appendix to the 1st German edition of Capital, Volume 1, 1867 (link)
Rubin, Isaak Illich: Essays on Marx's Theory of Value, esp Ch 12: Content and Form of Value (link)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Geoffrey Canada

I've been participating in a discussion with Tom Hoffman about the Harlem Children's Zone and Geoffrey Canada's role in the Waiting for Superman video (which I haven't seen in full). I wrote this initially as a comment on the thread but it became too long for blogger's word length restriction, so I am publishing it here. I knew a little about Geoffrey Canada from past discussions and initially updated my knowledge by watching this 2008 video interview with Charlie Rose:

I also watched the Oprah Education Panel Continues the Discussion After the Show (link), featuring Geoffrey Canada and some others, which was fascinating. (The Charlie Rose interview provides a better look at Canada's overall world view and the reasons he has formed a political alliance against "big labour"; might be worth summarising in more detail at some stage)

No one raised the fundamental question which is that the problems of social class cannot be solved within a system which by its nature and day to day activity continues to generate those problems on a greater scale than any solutions within that system. Canada was not critical of government and praised Obama's "Race to the Top". Nor can such a big nation wide problem be solved by philanthropy as Tom points out, the pockets of Gates and Zuckerberg (Facebook entrepreneur who has become a recent education philanthropist) are miniscule compared to what is required nation wide. Also Canada buys into the great American empire rhetoric which is populist and misleading when it comes to solving this problem for America as a whole. His empire rhetoric is more apparent in the Charlie Rose video.

Nevertheless, Canada's analysis of educational problems for the disadvantaged and what to do about it are correct. High expectations, early intervention, build parental support into the package, longer school day, teacher accountability (even though we might argue about how to do that). This is along the same lines (progress without progressivism) of the scheme proposed and now being implemented by Noel Pearson in Cape York, Australia for the most disadvantaged Australians. Pearson is not so dependent on philanthropy because Australia differs from the USA in that respect but he has ended up allied to what is regarded as the "right" because they are more practical than "correct". That political alliance seems to go with solutions within the system too.

IMO you can't really polemicise in an all round manner (black and white, they are bad and we are good) against people who are trying to help the Disadvantaged in the here and now and at the same time describe yourself as "progressive". Because what progressives do is help the Disadvantaged. Part of the logic flowing from this is criticism of the Union, since the role of the Union is to protect working conditions. If you are working very long hours on moderate pay for the sake of the kids then that is not what Unions are on about. This part is tricky because good teachers do work long hours on moderate pay for the sake of the kids.

Davis Guggenheim, the film director of Waiting for Superman also made An Inconvenient Truth. The parallels here to me are striking. Identify a real problem but through exaggeration completely muddy the waters about a real solution on a macro level.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the battle for the high moral ground of education

The Wrong Conversations

Will's blog is about learning innovation using the read/write web. This particular blog advocates caution in dealing with the political encroachment of the education standards juggernaut on teachers. This struggle is reaching fever pitch in the USA with the release of Waiting for Superman which pushes for Charter Schools sponsored by wealthy philanthropists and its promotion on pop shows such as Oprah.

Will Richardson: involvement in political struggle drains energy from innovative learning
Tom Hoffman: a defensive, vigorous, noisy political struggle by teachers is essential, if this is lost then all is lost
Gary Stager: presents an alternative plan for a more just distribution of educational resources, The Stager Plan
Scott McLeod: firing bad teachers is not the solution but it is something that progressive educators do have to support (amongst other good points)
Stephanie Sandifer: Where is the student voice?
Brian Crosby: After a decade of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) primary teachers are scared, so scared they don't even want to know what is happening politically to education

My thoughts:
I can discern not two but at least three or perhaps four distinct positions here.
(1) innovative learning using technology
(2) public schools have failed to meet the needs of the Disadvantaged including basic numeracy and literacy, Charter schools and derivatives of Teach for America are the answer
(3) defence of public schools for the public good, teacher rights and strong unions to support those rights
(4) The Stager Plan

All points of view can and do claim the high moral ground. In reverse order:

The Stager Plan fails the Hegel / Engels test. Although everything that exists deserves to perish it won't actually perish until the social reason for its continued existence is eliminated. Everything that exists also exists for a reason. A revolution in schooling cannot eliminate class society; class society can only be eliminated by a revolution in society. In other words The Stager Plan sounds fair but it ain't going to happen unless a lot of other things happen first.

Teachers have a right to sanity and reasonable working conditions. I can see some merit in Teach for America public service but it's never going to scale successully. By the organisations own admission the inductees have only to work like slaves for 3 years as a stepping stone to a "higher" career.

Tom Hoffman's suggestion for noisy protest is good but is that going to happen at a time of economic crisis that isn't going away? At such times people who are fortunate enough to be still working become more insecure and less liable to protest. Unless things become really bad - another Depression - when you reach the point that a huge minority have little to lose by really vigorous protest.

The critics of public school have a point, more often than not public schools do fail the Disadvantaged. The more you are disadvantaged the more they are likely to fail you. This doesn't mean that Charters promoted by the wealthy will necessarily do any better (for the Disadvantaged), although a few will if they are put together in the right way. Damaged kids bring their damage to school in such a huge way that any repair of that damage, by the school system, is usually only partial. As already stated superman and superwoman don't scale.

Computer technology can be used for innovative learning (either Papert constructionist style or Richardson et al read/write web style) or they can be used to do the data crunching required for standardised testing and league tables. From a teaching point of view the former requires high knowledge levels (epistemological use of technology). From a political point of view the latter is very attractive as a ready means of measurement and control of teachers. So, we shouldn't be surprised that the latter use is gaining ascendancy.

Teaching is a profession whose advocates can appeal for legitimacy to the the noble aspects of the human spirit, the desire to learn new things. From the point of view of the ruling class this makes teachers hard to control. Hence when computer technology produces the data which offers the opportunity to control teachers they are bound to use it for that purpose. That is one of the main goals of the capitalist class, to control its workers.

All sides will continue to claim the high moral ground.

Noteworthy link:
It's not a revolution unless someone gets hurt
I think it is becoming increasingly clear that our current system of education is going to go away. There are simply too many societal pressures and alternative paradigms for it to continue to exist in its current form
- Scott McLeod

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

climate: the triumph of the blogosphere

As well as Judith Curry's excellent climate blog, Climate etc I just discovered that Richard Tol, economist, has a climate blog too: IPCC5 KEY ECONOMIC SECTORS AND SERVICES

He is an IPCC author who is critical of many aspects of the IPCC and has a wicked sense of humour to boot, for instance:
I would add two things, though. Firstly, Pachauri apparently does not trust IPCC authors and editors to be mature enough to say sensible things to journalists. Most of us have PhDs, after all, and many are full professors. We might just slip into juvenile language and compare people to Hitler, accuse them of practicing voodoo, or recommend they rub asbestos in their faces. Better to leave communication to the IPCC leadership, who would never say such things
- Letter from Pachauri
Rajendra Pachauri is Chair of the IPCC.

The blogosphere is maturing as more expert people who have become impatient with formality, bureaucracy and who have a desire to widen the democratic process come on line. My other favourite climate blogs are Pielke jnr and Pielke snr.

Monday, September 27, 2010

critique of crisis theory

blog: A Critique of Crisis Theory (from a marxist perspective)

I like the approach and admire the research effort of this blog. The author, Sam Williams, has spent many years studying political economy and is systematically addressing the many and varied interpretations of Marx on crisis theory. He points out that Marx's analysis was unfinished and of course much has happened since Marx's death. His goal is to fill in some of the gaps in Marx's crisis theory as a guide to younger people who will make the future.

Read these sections for starters:
About Me and This Blog
The Problem: Marx Didn’t Leave Us a Completed Crisis Theory

These writings are built on the foundations of “Capital,” a work that at least in Germany is becoming a bestseller once again. But “Capital” itself, though it lays the foundation, is not a book about the periodic crises capitalist production goes through. Nor is there a section within “Capital” dealing with such crises, as is generally the case with works that popularize the theories of “Capital.”

Since Marx and Engels put so much emphasis on crises in the Communist Manifesto and other works, this omission at first seems surprising. Marx had planned to crown his economic work with a book on the world market, the state, competition and crises. As is well known, Marx did not have the time to write this work. It is, of course, impossible for any other person to write the work Marx might have written if he had had the time.
Of course, you will have to read a fair bit of the original Marx and probably some interpretations of his theory of value as a precursor to understanding the issues discussed on this blog.

Update (28th September): Note the Anti Duhring reference to overproduction (in The Problem: Marx Didn’t Leave Us a Completed Crisis Theory) - that markets can't keep up with continually expanding production which is compelled by the capitalist system - and Sam's implied disagreement with "Marxists" who don't grasp that overproduction is still the key to understanding crisis:
Indeed, many—perhaps today most—Marxists largely disagree with Engels and Marx as well, and deny that industrial overproduction is the essence of the cyclical economic crises that mark the concrete history of capitalism from 1825 onwards
My own study still has some way to go but I look forward to reading Sam's efforts to sort out the issue of whether the current crisis is due to overproduction or financialisation of the economy, an issue which I don't yet understand.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is there an education crisis in your country?

Some thoughts on reading
SCHOOLWORK by Nicholas Lemann
How there can be and NOT be an educational crisis in the US by Mark Guzdial

Three reasons why you might say there is an education crisis in your country:

1) We aren't as good as Finland. Your country is falling behind other countries on the international PISA test scores (link)

Finland envy is relatively new because PISA tests, the technical ability to compare educational achievement in different countries is relatively new. What does it mean? My guess is that Finland as a society values education and social equality higher than other OECD countries. For example, to become a teacher in Finland you need a Masters Degree and they are more generous in their treatment of Disadvantaged students and cater better for their needs at a younger age.

So, if your country is not like Finland there are grounds for saying there is an education crisis. If you are near the top of the PISA list then you might claim there is not an education crisis.

2) The gap b/w the knowledge rich and the knowledge poor is increasing, there is a long tail of educational under achievement for the Disadvantaged. For example, Australia does alright on the average PISA scores but we do have a long tail of disadvantage.

This one is driven by social class and a sense of social justice or fairness. Australian education is quite unfair because the children of poor people who live in low socio economic areas end up being grouped together in school classrooms. It doesn't matter how good the teachers are, these classrooms can't compete - other things being equal - with the children of wealthy parents who end up being grouped together in Private schools which have a completely different classroom environment.

So, if you can access the wealthy Private schools or the few elite government schools (the way it works in Australia) there is no education crisis but if you can't then there quite possibly there is a crisis in your classroom.

3) There is a perception that desired education goals (however they are defined) are not being matched with desired educational attainment. eg. declining enrollments in maths and science courses, with maths and science being seen as desirable by observers and not particularly desirable by many students. Or you might think computer programming skills or some other computing skills are really important in today's world and be frustrated at how poorly these skills are lagging in education systems.

(update 27th September: This section could be much expanded especially in a qualitative sense.
eg 1. Alan Kay has argued there is not a real computer science.
eg 2. The current economic crisis reveals that the real science of political economy has been suppressed in higher education for many years - a great evasion of past findings has been occurring
eg 3. the global warming issue has revealed that there is a crisis within the culture of science and how it connects to the politics of policy formation

So, if you can complete any old course and get a job there isn't a crisis. But if you are worried about the education system delivering a good education to all citizens based on your view of high quality education then there is.

Conclusion: Education crisis doesn't really exist on a country by country basis. update 27th SeptemberRather the education crisis is a barometer of an underlying crisis in social class and depth of awareness of knowledge development issues in your country. Finland is on top because there is less class division and a more caring attitude to the disadvantaged.

Education crisis exists on the basis of social class and your attitude towards knowledge. The education crisis is a class crisis and an epistemological crisis. It really depends on your point of view of the sort of society you see as desirable, so it cannot be measured "objectively".

Lemann downplays the crisis because his outlook is middle class, the crisis does not directly touch him the way it touches the disadvantaged. Guzdial, from his perspective in computer science and epistemology, acknowledges a crisis of sorts but there is no reference to the importance social class in his article.

maths education crisis in Australia - the long tail of underachievement
curriculum reform will not improve education without quality teachers

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Australian: carbon tax better than a crazy-quilt

You have to take notice when the Economics Editor of The Australian (aka the right wing mouthpiece of Rupert Murdoch and his unsavoury fossil fuel loving fellow travellers) calls for a carbon tax:
A general carbon price - most likely a carbon tax - is needed if only to counter the crazy-quilt risk from the balance of power Greens and country independent
- Worried about big slugs? Try a carbon tax
The reasoning goes that with all the inefficient climate change induced indirect taxes happening there is a need to rationalise the whole process.

some features of the crazy-quilt:
- "green car" subsidies to the motor vehicle industry
- uncertainty pushes up prices
- an initially low C tax is better than an expensive ETS
- renewable energy costs more, so a 20 percent target by 2020 is expensive
- Labour's failed home insulation scheme was indirect and disastrous
- ditto for Labor's "cash for clunkers" promise
- Independents such as Windsor are promoting rural protectionism, which can't survive in the long term
- low income earners could be compensated for increased electricity prices

superwoman crashes

I noticed when watching the Waiting for Superman movie trailer (link) that it was made by the same people who made An Inconvenient Truth. Hard hitting documentaries that oversimplify complex issues and then hit you over the head with a baseball bat.

Michelle Rhee promised to crash through and reform schools in Washington D.C. who were failing disadvantaged kids. She was given unconditional backing by Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Fenty has now lost his bid for re-election, which was widely viewed as a referendum on Rhee.

Diane Ravitch points out (Why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty Lost) that Fenty was supported by white voters but lost the black vote. The media has blamed teacher unions but as Ravitch insists black voters can think for themselves.

So, the people who Rhee was going to help have turned against her. This to me is a vote against the notion that changing inequality and poverty in society can be fixed exclusively at the school level. Social class cannot be turned around in class, it's a wider social issue. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't try and good teacher do their best. But it does mean we have to face the wider social reality. Kids come to school and do not leave their baggage and damage in a blue bin at the gate. (thanks pat thomson!)

In her article Ravitch links to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll which shows that the Obama / Arne Duncan policies on school reform, which include elements of the Rhee approach such as sacking Principals in schools which are judged to be failing, are losing favour.

However, this article also points out (scroll down to the Bright Spots subheading) that the public still supports improving the quality of teaching and some form of merit pay. People want reform and school improvement but not excessive crash through draconian approaches that target teachers as the only problem in school achievement. I notice a quote there from Barnett Berry who has been studying the issue of how to reform disadvanted schools for years:
“There is far more interest in supporting teachers than firing them or paying them on the basis of test scores,” said Barnett Berry, the president and chief executive officer of the Hillsborough, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality. “It doesn’t mean the American people don’t want a results-oriented profession. They do. I think they are more tuned in with the needs of the field than some of the policymakers who are making the rules and regulations.”
Related: Staffing high needs schools (outlines Barnett Berry's ideas in more detail)

Update: Grading 'Waiting for Superman' The introductory paragraphs are spot on:
Here's what you see in Waiting for Superman, the new documentary that celebrates the charter school movement while blaming teachers unions for much of what ails American education: working- and middle-class parents desperate to get their charming, healthy, well-behaved children into successful public charter schools.

Here's what you don't see: the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse); charter school teachers, like those at the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles, who are unionized and like it that way; and noncharter neighborhood public schools, like PS 83 in East Harlem and the George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, that are nationally recognized for successfully educating poor children.

You don't see teen moms, households without an adult English speaker or headed by a drug addict, or any of the millions of children who never have a chance to enter a charter school lottery (or get help with their homework or a nice breakfast) because adults simply aren't engaged in their education. These children, of course, are often the ones who are most difficult to educate, and the ones neighborhood public schools can't turn away.

You also don't learn that in the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are—gasp!—unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and healthcare, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results at school.

In other words, Waiting for Superman is a moving but vastly oversimplified brief on American educational inequality. Nevertheless, it has been greeted by rapturous reviews.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

helpful climate change overview

It is not as sexy to be a doubtist (white flag) rather than an alarmist (green flag) or denier (red flag). Doubt.

But quite possibly climate scientist Judith Curry presents a superior overview of the science of climate change than the way IPCC findings are presented to us. I found this exchange (starts here) on her blog helpful:

Bart Verheggen:
My major issue though is this:

For the remainder of this century, what natural forcing or variability could plausibly rival the relentlessly rising anthropogenic forcing in magnitude? Is there evidence at all for that being plausible? If so, is that evidence really as large as the evidence showing that greenhouse gas forcing will exceed the likely bounds of natural variability (if it hasn’t already)? Or alternatively, so you really believe that an equal portion of the climate change over the next 90 years will be caused by natural variability versus caused by natural variability/forcing?

I haven’t seen any plausible evidence for such.
Judith Curry:
Bart, the issue for the 21st century is this. NOBODY in the IPCC has tried to actually predict 21st century climate change. What they have done is conduct scenario simulations for adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the next century. They do NOT predict 21st century solar variability or volcanic eruptions. They do a poor job at simulating the observed modes of natural internal climate variability (e.g. the multidecadal ocean oscillations).

So what the IPCC simulations basically say is that, if the solar and volcanic forcing remains fairly neutral in the 21st century, then CO2 warming will dominate and they provide specific projections for these scenarios. The elephant in the room is that no one is predicting the natural variability for the 21st century (we don’t know how to do it, basically).

So even if we knew the CO2 sensitivity perfectly (which we don’t), we don’t know how to estimate the natural variability piece, which could be smaller, equal to, or larger in magnitude than the greenhouse forcing. If equal to or larger in magnitude, then during some periods greenhouse warming will be cancelled out by natural variability and in other periods greenhouse warming would be the same sign as the natural variability.

We already know what the natural variability looked like in the 20th century, no big surprises but still an unexplained increase between 1910-1940 and decrease between 1940 and 1970. We have no idea what 21st century natural variability will look like, but already we are seeing surprises from the sun re sunspots. So this is why I bumped up the size of the white for the 21st century.
and in a follow up comment from Judith:
IMO, too much emphasis and focus has been given to greenhouse forcing, and insufficient focus on natural variability and land use changes
The two candidates (apart from volcanic forcing) are solar variability and the natural internal variability of the coupled ocean atmosphere system, e.g. the multi-decadal and longer oscillations such as the NAO, PDO, etc. Not to mention abrupt climate change, which has been documented in the past to occur without any obvious external forcing.
NAO = North Atlantic Oscillation
PDO = Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Friday, September 17, 2010

not a triple crisis IMO

update 20th Sept: For the full dialogue b/w me and steve see comments 13, 18, 21, 22, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32, 55, 56 at Can capitalism save the planet?

I left a comment on Steve Keen's blog in response to his recent talk at the Can Capitalism Save the Planet? forum. I only watched the first 9 minute video on his blog (link). I didn't like his triple crisis scenario that economic crisis, peak oil and global warming will combine to create a disaster by mid Century. This is a departure from Steve who up to now has focused on debt deflation and the instability of capitalism developing the ideas first advanced by Hyman Minsky. In response to another complaint in the thread Steve linked to a pdf (A comparison of Limits of Growth with 30 years of reality) by Graham Turner which argues that the Club of Rome Limits to Growth scenarios are being validated.

My comment is #13:
I had a quick look at the Graham Turner paper you linked to. I don’t believe that a computer model at this stage of their development could accurately predict a catastrophe by mid century.

You promoted a triple crisis view in your talk – economic crisis, peak oil and global warming. Each of those issues has its own complexities and specifics. But the computer modelling aspects of the global warming thesis is not its strong point. I read James Hansen’s book and he does not base his dire predictions on computer modelling -he specifically says they are not reliable enough yet – but relies much more on paleo-climate evidence. In light of this how anyone could say that a computer model will predict trends 100 years into the future is beyond me.

You create a bit of dilemma for those who want to discuss this further. Your blog is about debt deflation but in your talk the triple crisis theme was strong. I think the evidence for capitalisms instability is overwhelming but the other issues require extensive discussion in their own right and in how they connect to the economic crisis.

In your response to johnyh I think the issue you are missing is that there is not a linear relationship b/w the science of peak oil and global warming to the policy actions that might be taken in response to that science. The issue is not so much that the science is wrong (although I don’t think there is a consensus on these issues) but that alarmism at the policy level may not be warranted in response. In that respect I would argue that those issues are quite different from the economic crisis
update 18th September: Steve has replied to me as follows, comment #18:
I agree my talk does create a bit of a dilemma for this blog, so I’ll relax my resistance to discussing global warming here for a short while; but I’ll start by putting my position in perspective, in particular about the role of computer modelling here.

We need a bit of a perspective on what that particular computer model–World 3 and its developments that generated the results in Limits to Growth–were actually doing, and what I have come to agree is a fundamental blindspot in the human psyche (I think Sirius here first put this to me), our inability to grasp the impact of exponential trends.

If there is a fixed resource–say land area–and our use of it is growing exponentially and doubles every ten years, and after 100,000 years we have grown to the point where we are consuming 50% of the land, then in 10 years time it will run out.

If we somehow manage to increase the amount of this resource, or say improve our efficiency of use of it by a factor of four, that will buy us another 20 years. A thousand-fold increase in efficiency will buy us an extra century.

So the model was not as such trying to “predict trends 100 years into the future” as to say that IF exponential trends of usage continue THEN given the feedback between exponential trends and fixed inputs, a crisis will occur sooner rather than later. The models also acknowledged that we could perhaps improve our efficiency of usage of fixed resources (though not as a “magic bullet” but as another exponential trend over time), and that if we did and we reduced other factors as well exponentially (pollution) while reduced some pressures to sub-exponential growth (population), we could probably sustain an indefinitely improving standard of living.

That was written in 1972, and almost 40 years later it is manifestly obvious that we haven’t done any of that (save a continuing tapering in population growth which is still nonetheless growing); if anything we’ve increased the intensity of our exponential loads on the planet.

So the models were not so much a prediction as a warning that we had better come to understand the dilemma of exponential growth on a finite planet sooner rather than later. I don’t think there is much doubt that we have failed to do that, and the “climate sceptic” position, though it’s not consciously trying to refute that proposition, is in effect delaying us coming to terms with it.
My reply back to Steve #21:
Thanks for relaxing the guidelines.

I agree that there are always limits to exponential growth and that not everyone understands exponential growth. However, peak oil is not a problem given that we have long term energy alternatives, such as nuclear. The real problem here is the lack of R&D being devoted to energy alternatives. Nuclear would also solve the problem of excessive CO2 entering the atmosphere.

The real problems here are economic (nuclear is still more expensive than fossil fuels) not environmental.

I tend to agree with John McCarthy (progress and its sustainability) that in the case of energy supply the limit is roughly a billion years since nuclear can supply our energy needs for at least that time and in the case of population it “will eventually be limited by a sense of crowdedness rather than by material considerations”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

categorisation of uncertainty

Interesting essay and comment thread about Doubt on climate scientist Judith Curry's new blog.

She proposes an Italian flag model inviting participants to cast their percentages wrt focus questions or hypotheses on their opinions about evidence for (green), evidence against (red) and uncertainty / unknowns (white):

She outlines a couple of hypotheses, one from the IPCC and one of her own about climate in the 21st Century and provides her own percentage estimates in the different categories for these. Her position is even handed in attributing climate change equally to human and natural factors with the uncertainty (white area) being dominant in her judgment.

Her main aim is to emphasise the uncertainty of much of the science in contrast to the name calling between "alarmists" and "deniers" that spoils much of the debate.

Roger Pielke snr left a comment there drawing attention to his hypotheses 1, 2a and 2b, which is an alternative way forward for the discussion. I have blogged about the Pielke snr hypotheses earlier

One of the critical comments, from Dan Hughes, concluded:
I don’t get the litmus-test question or the Italian-flag approach. I think we need to get a much better handle on many of the critically important aspects. While a top-down problem can be specified based on very little truly understood information, and even mis-information, and even not-applicable information, successful solutions are always, and I do mean always, based on extremely well-understood bottom-up information
I think that's correct from a scientific point of view but Judith is making an attempt to at least dampen down an acrimonious discussion which has got out of hand.

I left a comment there drawing attention to other ignorance categorisations, which I have blogged about in the past:
Five Orders of Ignorance
we don't know what we don't know

Actually, my main thought wrt the Italian flag categories was that it could be applied to other areas outside of climate science, such as political economy. In response to this focus question:
Will the current economic crisis develop into something akin to the Great Depression?
My guesses on this one are:
Green (evidence for): 20 percent
White (unknowns, uncertainties) 60 percent
Red (evidence against) 20 percent

I say guesses because the distinction b/w evidence and belief is not clear to me. Evidence is evidence that you believe in.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

wild rivers notes

The key issue on wild rivers is the choice between pristine wilderness for the benefit of urban greenies or managed development for the benefit of the indigenous australians. This basic difference in outlook is the main  thread which runs through the debate.

On what principles should the future of Cape York be based? Marcia Langton outlines the difference between the extreme environmentalist position and the managed development position:
In the context of Cape York, some conservationists argue that the only sustainable types of activity are those that preserve the ecological value of the region. This is an extreme interpretation of the concept of sustainability, which in the mainstream usually encompasses three tenets: environment, economy, and equity. These tenets are viewed along a continuum, where meeting the needs of the present does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (see Brundtland Report, UN, 1987).
- - Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
I have read a lot of Noel Pearson - particularly on the broad issue of the way forward for Australian aboriginal people. Do a search on this blog for "noel pearson" and you will find quite a few articles. I have heard him speak once and he is a brilliant and inspirational orator.

Recently, my assumption that noel pearson was progressive was challenged wrt his stance on the wild rivers issue.

Dave Kimble left this comment on my blog (link):
Your argument assumes that Noel Pearson has progressive views - he does not. He, like Abbott and Katter, wants to see indigenous land strip-mined for bauxite, instead of it being kept in its current pristine condition, which offers so much potential for "green development" - development that doesn't destroy the land.

The only developments that might be knocked back by Wild Rivers legislation are those that would damage the water catchment. Do you seriously think the local communities want to damage their sacred land?

Strip-mining is old-fashioned conservative thinking. Progressive thinking is very much in line with indigenous ways - loving the land and caring for it. That is why Greens have always supported Native Title and indigenous rights.
I'm not an expert on wild rivers or law or the details of Queensland politics and I live far away from Cape York but I am willing bit by bit to develop my understanding of these issues further. Based on my reading from afar here is my response to the points raised by Dave:

1) On the assertion that Noel Pearson supports destructive mining:
Asked about mining in the area, Mr Pearson said each case had to be assessed on its merits and there was potential, if strict environmental conditions were met, for mining to benefit local communities.

"We have to preserve the ability of these communities to develop economic enterprises in the future," he said.

"There is no road out of poverty without an economic base."
- Green group backs Wild Rivers review, January 14, 2010
I agree with Pearson here

The issue of mining is further complicated by the fact that the wild rivers legislation does not ban mining in the first place. There is a loop hole.
The tragedy of the whole situation is that current mines are exempt from Wild Rivers legislation.

So Rio Tinto, which takes 80 per cent of water from the Wenlock River can continue to do so, even when it is declared a wild river.

And there is no blanket ban on mining for the future.

Wild Rivers has a provision for mining "if it is of state significance".

A May 2009 newsletter from Tress Cox lawyers about the implications for mining and petroleum activities says mining activities which exist at the time of a declaration are not affected until they are renewed or amended, that the Aurukun and PNG Gas projects are exempted, and that amendments to the act in 2007 "opened the door for certain mining activities to proceed if the Minister provided consent"
- - Rivers of tears, September 19, 2009
As for bauxite mining which Dave is worried about it is going ahead anyway, the wild rivers legislation has exempted it, as pointed out by Noel Pearson to a Senate committee:
I pointed out that the vast areas around Weipa -- bauxite mining leases held by Rio Tinto and proposed to be given to Chinese government company Chalco -- were exempted from Wild Rivers laws precisely because the Queensland government would never have obtained Rio Tinto's agreement. Rio would never agree, so its area gets exempted from Wild Rivers.

Meanwhile, the state imposes Wild Rivers on the blackfellas. Which of the two kinds of landowners is actually doing anything that might affect the environmental health of rivers on western Cape York?
- Cape York Aborigines go into a divided wilderness, April 10, 2010
2) On the assertion that "The only developments that might be knocked back by Wild Rivers legislation are those that would damage the water catchment"

That isn't what I am reading.
Aboriginal traditional owners do not want large-scale environmental destruction in their river basin areas, such as dams, but the wild river gazettals are a terminal threat to their economic future and will deny them the right to the most basic improvements on their land. It is likely that they will not be allowed to build boat ramps
- Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
Points taken from another article which lists 23 complaints about the wild rivers legislation:
11. Wild Rivers places unreasonable restrictions and bans on economic opportunities including animal husbandry, agriculture and aquaculture in “high preservation zones”. There have been no studies of the possible economic impacts.

12. Government declared High Preservation Areas on Indigenous Lands without prior advice to the landholders and without consultation with landholders.

13. The burden of Wild Rivers falls much heavier on Indigenous land holders than non-Indigenous landholders. Most Cape York non indigenous landholders hold limited purpose leases such as for cattle grazing
- Why they’re wild about wild rivers by Michael Moore
Another article from the grass roots:
On the Department of Environment and Resource Management website and on that of the Wilderness Society, which proposed the Wild Rivers move, assurances are given that native title will not be affected, but Bruce says this is not so.

He joined his mother, and Aunty Martha Koowarta, the widow of the late John Koowarta, in Cairns on September 9 to hear Professor Greg McIntyre SC speak to JCU students about native title, and ask him about the effect of Wild Rivers on their rights.

Greg was the lawyer for the high profile Mabo case and that of the late John Koowarta versus the Bjelke-Petersen government.

He says there is a special provision for protection of native title rights in Wild Rivers legislation but that it is vague.

He believes Wild Rivers will have a severe impact on native title rights because it takes away indigenous people’s choice as to what they can do with their land.

"If an area is declared wilderness, the indigenous people won’t have the right to make decisions about the land," Greg says. "It also converts common law into a licence regulatory regime."
Any applications for development would have to be made through the Integrated Planning Act.
"There are processes of approval with local authorities and state-wide planning schemes," Greg says. "There’s a high level of complexity."

For Dorothy Pootchelunka, a Wild Rivers declaration, which has placed a blanket high preservation zone on her homeland and which she personally was not consulted about, means she may not be able to continue making baskets and selling them to galleries around the country.
A weaver, Dorothy has always made the baskets and other traditional accoutrements such as mats and feather flowers for traditional ceremonies.

She learned the art of weaving from her grandmother and she now teaches it to the young girls at the arts centre in Aurukun.

Dorothy is now afraid she won’t be able to gather the materials in the bush such as dyes and roots necessary for her trade.

"It would appear it would be a problem because there are stringent controls on the taking of vegetation for commercial purposes," Prof McIntyre says.

It’s not the only way Wild Rivers could affect Dorothy.

She currently lives in Aurukun but she would like to eventually return to Cape Keer Weer, where her family is from, to live out the rest of her days.

There she may want to build an outhouse, but the building of outhouses now has to be applied for under Wild Rivers legislation.

"Outhouses are areas where families could go and stay and have access to their traditional lands," Bruce says.

"They might put in a market garden so they could grow fruit and vegetables, very low impact stuff."
- Rivers of tears, September 19, 2009
There are some other issues here too

The ability of the Queensland government to get it right:
The gazettals will not deliver what the public expects: good management of the river basins and protection of biodiversity. On the contrary, these measures will leave these rivers unmanaged and at further risk of degradation. Just as detrimental to the marine and riparian biodiversity of the cape are the recreational fishermen, who are able to enter these vast areas fully equipped with large refrigerated trucks, use dynamite in the rivers, leave waste along the rivers, and who often leave fires alight that turn rapidly into bushfires that burn out thousands of hectares. The Wild Rivers Act and gazettals will do nothing to prevent this environmental destruction.

It has been the case for almost four decades that none of the conservation areas in the cape has been adequately managed by the Queensland government. The National Parks and Wildlife Service would have one or two rangers based at some of the national parks, but their ability to manage these vast areas is severely limited.
- Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
Who actually understands the area better, the aboriginal people or The Wilderness Society?
The Wilderness Society would have the Australian public believe that the cape is a wilderness where the Aboriginal population and local graziers are a threat to pristine environments. The photographs they use of the beautiful wetlands, riverways and coastlines are usually on Aboriginal land where Aboriginal rangers patrol to ensure that recreational fishermen, poachers, smugglers and drug dealers, and drug plantation operators do not establish camps and conduct their illegal activities. The rangers have been reporting the activities of such types to the authorities for more than 20 years. Most of these real-life situations on the cape are not part of the Wilderness Society story about the fantasy land they describe as a wilderness.

The Wilderness Society members do not live in the cape. Nor do they depend on the cape for their livelihood, lifestyles and traditions. And they never will. They are playing with thousands of people's lives by remote control.
- Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
another reference:
Red tape adds insult to injury by Peter Holmes a Court, who took the trouble to visit Cape York and inquire.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

when the right is progressive and the left is conservative

Right crucial to Aboriginal reforms
Read the whole thing. It's a masterly example of Noel Pearson's optimistic threading of the policy needle as a result of his deep understanding of Australian politics.

Noel Pearson points out that Bob Katter and Tony Abbott are crucial to and supportive of indigenous rights. This goes against the general trend of "progressive" media opinion that Bob Katter is a loony who hates gays and delivers death threats to his enemies at airports and that Tony Abbot is a die hard conservative catholic with no genuine feelings for social justice. On the other hand it is Labour and The Greens who have formed an alliance which denies aboriginals their basic rights to use the land in Queensland.

About Bob Katter:
Bob Katter is a pioneer of the transformation of the Right. He was a member of Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland government with which Aboriginal people had so many bitter disputes. But Katter initiated the very reforms in land title and housing that we are pursuing today. Katter was 25 years ahead of his time.

In recent weeks Katter has been driven by conviction and passion, having taken the unique step of elevating indigenous policy to the top of his list of political priorities. It was a great moment when Katter said at his press conference on that chaotic Tuesday that "indigenous affairs was a very burning question for me".

"My reputation and my history was staked upon what happened there and I'm not going to walk away from it."
About Tony Abbott:
Abbott understood at an early stage that our argument was that Aboriginal disadvantage is not different to disadvantage in the non-indigenous mainstream, but is an extreme case of the effects of passive welfare and substance abuse epidemics....

The other big question where we need to achieve bipartisanship is a national settlement between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Abbott's private member's bill to overturn the Queensland Wild Rivers legislation is one example of the fact that Aboriginal rights is not a clear-cut Left v Right issue, where the Right has no positive contribution to make.

It was heartbreaking to us that the Labor Queensland government made a deal with the Greens about a conservation regime that is being enforced without the consent of the traditional owners.

Abbott's bill would restore traditional owners' property rights that were infringed by the Wild Rivers legislation...

Last year I wrote a Quarterly Essay explaining our education policies, which aim to make sure that all students in Cape York become fully numerate and literate in English, and receive high-quality secondary and tertiary education.

But I also wrote that for the sake of Australia's soul, contemporary forms of Australia's own indigenous languages and cultures must survive and develop.

The most encouraging reply to my essay came from Abbott. He wrote: "Pearson has the capacity to surprise both his backers and his critics. His call for a longer school day so that Aboriginal children can receive a sound general education is a challenge to the political Left. His bigger challenge, though, is reserved for the Right. Pearson wants the longer school day also to accommodate serious, sustained teaching in traditional Aboriginal culture and language.

"The challenge," Abbott continued, "for those who have been Pearson's philosophical fellow travellers up till now, is to accept that biculturalism, at least for Aboriginal people, is a worthy object of Australian government policy and is worth paying for [my emphasis]. Because it is unique to our country, support for Aboriginal culture is a responsibility of Australian government.

"In his final scripted speech as prime minister," Abbot concluded, "John Howard acknowledged how far he'd come in his attitudes to Aboriginal issues. Undoubtedly, his late flowering friendship with Pearson was a key factor in his personal journey from resistance to engagement. Over the years, Pearson has prompted quite a few conservative Australians to a change of heart. He's now inviting us to go a little bit further than the former prime minister was prepared to, but it's a project that we should be ready to support."

Pielke snr: global warming halted 2004-2008

If you only have time to read one paper that provides an overview of Pielke snrs position then I recommend this one:
Have Changes In Ocean Heat Falsified The Global Warming Hypothesis? – A Guest Weblog by William DiPuccio, May 2009 (link)

Most of the angst against Dr Pielke in this Skeptical Science thread is based on his statement that "global warming halted on this time period" (2004-08). I would say that one of the roles of scientists is to identify better measurement tools - in this case the Argo system for measuring ocean heat in joules - and to base their analysis on those tools. This is what Dr Pielke has done. He has not concluded that global warming or increased CO2 in the atmosphere is not a problem but that the ocean heat measurement findings illustrate that our understanding is still quite limited.

Pielke snr:
If the ocean data is further corrected for the period 2004 to 2008, I would, of course, change my conclusion.

The more important issue, however, is the recommendation that upper ocean heat content in Joules be used as the primary metric to monitor global warming.(comment 15)
If climate change deniers take some of his statements out of context to promote their cause that is a separate issue. Climate change is not the same thing as global warming. It would be a sad day if scientists censored themselves because their scientific finding might be cherry picked by others with different agendas.

The main issues that seem to arise from this analysis are:

  • Some tools are better for measuring global warming than other tools. The best available tool we have at the moment is the Argo measurements of ocean heat content, measured in joules. The reliable data from this device begins in 2004.
  • Ocean heat warming as measured by Argo indicates that global warming has halted since 2004
  • Hansen's GISS model and the IPCC models are not accurate
  • We still can't accurately predict the future of climate but the tools are getting better and our ability to do so will improve in the future

Pielke snr:
Thus since 2003, there has been little if any global warming as diagnosed using ocean heat content. Since ocean heat content change has been shown to be a robust metric of global warmng and cooling ... the IPCC models clearly are not accurately predicting this global climate metric on this time scale (sea level budget over 2003-08)
Possibly the underlying reason why some people are annoyed with Dr Pielke is that he questions the reliability of IPCC models and so destroys the myth of a consensus of all scientists speaking with the same voice on the issue of global warming. Since many people find it difficult to differentiate b/w the science and politics of global warming they criticise Pielke for what they see as the political implications of his scientific analysis because they believe that there is a linear relationship between scientific findings and political action.

I went through a number of relevant post on Pielke snrs blog and wrote these brief summaries. This might be helpful for those too busy to do all the reading to see how the argument has evolved

Comment On Weblog Titled “Josh Willis On Climate Change: Global Warming Is Real” April, 2008 (link):
 Pielke criticises Willis for not facing up to the implications of his data. Global warming has not occurred in the atmosphere over the past four years, the computer models are wrong, if ocean heat is in the deeper ocean then it is not available for warming.

New Information From Josh Willis On Upper Ocean Heat Content, May 2008 (link)
Technical discussion of uncertainty of ocean heat data. Pielke links (but the link is broken) to Climate Science weblog in support of his belief that "The analyses performed by Josh Willis and colleagues should be the gold standard used to monitor global climate system heat changes"

Is There Climate Heating In “The Pipeline”? MARCH 5, 2009 (link)
By “unrealized warming in the pipeline”, they mean heat that is being stored within the ocean, which can subsequently be released into the atmosphere. It is erroneous to consider this heat as ”unrealized warming”, if the Joules of heat are actually being stored in the ocean. The heat is “realized”; it would just not be entering the atmosphere yet
Have Changes In Ocean Heat Falsified The Global Warming Hypothesis? – A Guest Weblog by William DiPuccio, May 2009 (link)
This one provides a great overview of the challenge provided by ocean heat measurements to the IPCC "consensus" of monotonic heating caused by AGW:
... the current lapse in heat accumulation demonstrates a complete failure of the AGW hypothesis to account for natural climate variability, especially as it relates to ocean cycles (PDO, AMO, etc.). If anthropogenic forcing from GHG can be overwhelmed by natural fluctuations (which themselves are not fully understood), or even by other types of anthropogenic forcing, then it is not unreasonable to conclude that the IPCC models have little or no skill in projecting global and regional climate change on a multi-decadal scale. Dire warnings about “runaway warming” and climate “tipping points” cannot be taken seriously. A complete rejection of the hypothesis, in its current form, would certainly be warranted if the ocean continues to cool (or fails to warm) for the next few years
Comment On EPA Response To Reviewer Comments On Ocean Heat Content, Dec 17, 2009 (link)
Jim Hansen's GISS model was accurate for an earlier time frame (ten years or so preceding 2003) but is not accurate in light of the ocean heat data since then. The EPA is in a state of denial of the scientific facts.

Further Comments Regarding The Concept “Heating In The Pipeline”, MARCH 9, 2009 (link)
Critiques an argument at Brave New Climate that we ought to slow down the reduction aerosols in the atmosphere on the basis that climate change is a bigger threat than the detrimental health effects due to aerosols. The BNC argument is based on incorrect "missing heat in the pipeline" thinking.

Further Comments on The Inadequate EPA Response To Reviewer Comments On Ocean Heat Content, Dec 23, 2009 (link)
Further technical discussion to demonstrate that heating has not occurred to the extent claimed by the EPA

Comment From Josh Willis On The Upper Ocean Heat Content Data Posted On Real Climate. Dec 29, 2009 (link)
The data for ocean heat change is much less reliable before 2004 than after 2004, when the Argo system became the dominant source of information.

My View Of The Terminolgy “Heating In The Pipeline”, Jan 5, 2010 (link)
The basic issue is whether the term “heating in the pipeline” refers to heat that is sequestered for a period of time deeper in the ocean only to reappear later in the atmosphere, or if it refers to a continuing assumed radiative imbalance until the atmosphere warms.

I do not conclude that the first perspective is an error in the physics, but it is not, in my view, what is meant by the terminology “heat in the pipeline”
Continued Misconception Of The Concept of Heating In The Pipeline In The Paper Vermeer and Rahmstorf 2009 Titled “Global Sea Level Linked To Global Temperature”, APRIL 13, 2010, (link)
Further misleading uses of the phrases “heat in the pipeline” or “unrealized heat”

Is There “Missing” Heat In The Climate System? My Comments On This NCAR Press Release, APRIL 16, 2010 (link)
Reprint of email exchange between Pielke and Trenberth about different studies and whether there is missing ocean heat below 700 metres.
Trenberth’s [and co-author, NCAR scientist John Fasullo], however, are grasping for an explanation other than the actual real world implication of the absence of this heat.
  • First, if the heat was being sequestered deeper in the ocean (lower than about 700m), than we would have seen it transit through the upper ocean where the data coverage has been good since at least 2005. The other reservoirs where heat could be stored are closely monitored as well (e.g. continental ice) as well as being relatively small in comparison with the ocean.
  • Second, the melting of glaciers and continental ice can be only a very small component of the heat change (e.g. see Table 1 in Levitus et al 2001 “Anthropogenic warming of Earth’s climate system”. Science).
Thus, a large amount heat (measured as Joules) does not appear to be stored anywhere; it just is not there.

There is no “heat in the pipeline” [or "unrealized heat"] ...
Further Feedback From Kevin Trenberth And Feedback From Josh Willis On The UCAR Press Release, APRIL 19, 2010 (link)
Further detailed discussion b/w Pielke, Trenberth and Willis about the reliability and implications of ocean heat measurement. Trenberth and Willis argue the case against placing too much reliability on this data and Pielke snr argues the case for.

Some further references recommended by Pielke snr (peer reviewed papers):

Sea level budget over 2003-2008: A reevaluation from GRACE space gravimetry, satellite altimetry and Argo (link)

Assessing the globally averaged sea level budget on seasonal to interannual timescales (link)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

consistency is not always a good thing

The psychological desire for consistency can lead to irrational shouting if not moderated by an internal censor which regularly checks other viewpoints and arguments. It also helps if we understand that what we think we know represents only a small fraction of what we could know.

I like alan kay's idea of the unsane, the mental state where our ideas don't fit reality, the map doesn't represent the territory. We like to think of ourselves as mostly "sane" and contrast that with a few "insane" personal moments or the more permanent state of a few unfortunates. But the "unsane" idea makes room for a different self perception. What if more often than not we are unsane? (our human condition "from space")

Legal Eagle: Climate change, scepticism and elitism
I’ve thought long and hard why people get so dogmatic on this issue. In my experience, it tends to generate “threads of doom” on blogs like few other issues (apart from Israel/Palestine or abortion). I find fervid “believers” of either extreme a little scary. When I first got interested in this topic, I visited a few blogs run by “climate change sceptics” and “climate change believers” and I was really freaked out. Basically, they just shouted at each other in a way that was not conducive to dialogue. I was scared to even contribute to either side.

I think people get so aggressive about the position they’ve taken on climate change because they have a desire to be consistent. In Influence at page 57, Robert Cialdini says:
A study done by a pair of Canadian psychologists uncovered something fascinating about people at the racetrack: Just after placing a bet, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down that bet. Of course, nothing about the horse’s chances actually shifts; it’s the same horse, on the same track, in the same field; but in the minds of those bettors, its prospects improve significantly once that ticket is purchased. Although a bit puzzling at first glance, the reason for the dramatic change has to do do with a common weapon of social influence. Like the other weapons of influence, this one lies deep within us, directing our actions with quiet power. It is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.
Once people have bet on a particular horse, they become convinced that the horse will win (whether it be the “sceptic” horse or the “believer” horse). But the fact of the matter is that neither position is certain. I think that many people on both sides could do with standing back a little and taking it a bit less personally...

Roger Pielke snr elaborates

wrt, my previous post (the most reliable measure of AGW), I didn't explain that I read the Pielke snr paper because of a dialogue between him and a guest writer, gpwayne, at Skeptical Science, a site which focuses on review of peer reviewed papers about global warming . Subsequently, The Skeptical Science dialogue has become more interesting since in a follow up post by gpwayne Pielke snr has robustly joined the conversation and posted several comments to the thread. The relevant post is Pielke Sr and scientific equivocation: don't beat around the bush, Roger. Pielke snrs comments are # 15, 26, 35, 40, 48, 49, 64, 66, 83, 86, 94, 100, 109, 114, 115, 156, 157, 160, 167, 171, 173, 186, 194

Here are some extracts, the SUBHEADINGS are mine

A simple analog is a pot of water on the stove. When the burner is on, heat is added in Joules per second which results in the temperature increasing. By measuring the total heat of the water in the pot at any time, we can diagnosis the average rate of heating between sampling times. This integrated assessment is much more accurate than seeking to measure the heating rate itself.

In terms of the climate system, the heating rate is the global average radiative imbalance (which is made up of the radiative forcings and feedbacks). The difficulty of monitoring the fluxes, as contrasted with the integrated heat changes, is discussed in a series of weblog posts involving Kevin Trenberth and Josh Willis on my weblog...

"[T]here are several major reasons that the assessment of the earth system’s heat budget is so valuable.

• The earth’s heat budget observations, within the limits of their representativeness and accuracy, provide an observational constraint on the radiative forcing imposed in retrospective climate modeling.

• A snapshot at any time documents the accumulated heat content and its change since the last assessment. Unlike temperature, at some specific level of the ocean, land, or the atmosphere, in which there is a time lag in its response to radiative forcing, there are no time lags associated with heat changes.

• Since the surface temperature is a two-dimensional global field, while heat content involves volume integrals, as shown by Eq. (1), the utilization of surface temperature as a monitor of the earth system climate change is not particularly useful in evaluating the heat storage changes to the earth system. The heat storage changes, rather than surface temperatures, should be used to determine what fraction of the radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere are in radiative equilibrium. Of course, since surface temperature has such an important impact on human activities, its accurate monitoring should remain a focus of climate research (Pielke et al. 2002a).”

The recent data (2004-2008), according to Josh Willis, is quite robust in showing no global annual averaged upper ocean warming.

On the issues, you seem to be assuming that climate change is synonymous with global warming. Global warming, however, is a subset of climate change.

"Global warming" occurs when Joules accumulate within the climate system, of which the oceans is the largest reservoir for heat changes within the climate system.

I agree that other climate indices have changed (e.g. Arctic and Antarctic sea ice), but these are not direct measures of global warming. ...


... the statement such as "there was no global average warming in the upper ocean from 2004 to 2008" are consistent with his analysis. If they find an error, of course, that would need to be changed, but until it is, it is a robust, peer-reviewed scientific finding.

I still feel you are missing my main point. With all of the remaining unresolved uncertainties and systematic biases in the land surface portion of the multi-decadal global surface temperature trend ... we should move towards the more appropriate global warming metric of heat which is Joules, most of whose changes occur in the ocean. The ocean below 700m does not seem to be a major reservoir for this heat, as discussed in the web posts I sent in my first Comment.


Even with the remaining issues with the quantitative accuracy of the ocean heat content measurements, it should become the primary metric to diagnose global warming and as a measure to compare with the IPCC models. Until about 2004, the comparisons between the GISS model and the upper ocean heat content changes, for instance, were quite good ...

Since 2004, however, the model predictions have not been as good. Perhaps, this is a short term effect associated with natural variability. If so, we should see a resumption of heating rates that were seen up to 2004. This comparison with models, as a test of their accuracy, is the basic scientific method of hypothesis testing.

# 40
The statements that "global warming halted on this time period' and "global warming of upper ocean halted on this time period' both are correct ... (for the time period 2004-2008)


... to conclude that I have ever not been concerned about the addition of CO2 and how it affects the climate system misrepresents my perspective. I am particularly concerned with respect to the biogeochemical effects of added CO2 ...


This does not mean that future global warming will not occur. However, to better understand the climate system, we need to understand why this halt occurred. Moreover, we need to see if in the coming years the heating will be amplified so as to catch up to the model predictions.

From all of the available evidence, time slices for today compared with 50 years ago clearly indicate that the upper ocean is warmer at present. Also, the OHC time changes is by far (~80%) the largest reservoir of global warming and cooling and can be used to diagnose the annual average global radiative forcing in Watts per meter squared.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

the most reliable measure of agw

A broader view of the role of humans in the climate system

Roger Pielke snr makes the point that ocean heat, measured in joules, is the most reliable measure of global warming. The ocean is the largest reservoir of heat change on Earth.

Temperature is not such a good measure. There is a time lag between radiative forcings and temperature, in the oceans or in the atmosphere. Unlike heat content temperature does not involve mass and so temperature is not an accurate measure of heat storage.

The study by Joshua Willis shows no significant change in ocean heat content over the period 2003-2008. Four years is a relatively short period of analysis but this finding does raise questions about our level of understanding and does contradict projections by the IPCC and James Hansen.

Pielke snr argues that regional factors such as drought, floods and hurricanes are independent of global radiative imbalance. However, these events are influenced by natural changes (El Nino,etc.), human alteration of the atmosphere, landcover and aerosols. These factors are regional, not global. The regional factors are more important than the global factor of increase in greenhouse gases.

Humans are altering the climate but the change is more diverse and complex than depicted by the IPCC. Policies that focus exclusively on CO2 reduction to control the climate are misguided. The IPCC is too radical about CO2 and too conservative about other ways in which humans are altering the climate.

chess win

I won the City of Adelaide chess competition. Details here, including links to the games. In the game I lost to Bob Cowley I had a dead won position but forgot to press my clock and lost on time! On the other hand I was lucky against Fedja Zulfic and Edgar Mdinaradze, who missed winning chances in games which fluctuated.

I could write this up from the perspective of learning a particular and competitive skill, if anyone is interested in that side of it. It might be useful from these points of view:
  • those wishing to improve their chess
  • the role of chess computer programs such as Fritz or Rybka and online chess websites, which is the new thing I had to come to terms with
  • the spin off of improved learning in one domain to improved learning in another domain
Apart from that winning is good for self confidence, but sadly in competitive games like chess one person winning means the other person doesn't. But there is learning involved here too, the learning which comes from losing - and I am no stranger to that!

the problem with Labour

The problem with Labour is that its rhetoric of social justice is never matched by deeds. Noel Pearson understands these issues. The whole article (Failed party in search of a purpose) demonstrates that:
  • this is not a recent problem, that John Button analysed it in 2001 but was ignored
  • that Pearson understands the dialectical method, the clear identification and inter penetration of opposites, and applies it in this speech to concepts such as leadership and social justice
Extract from Noel Pearson's 2010 John Button Oration at the Melbourne Writers Festival:
Today Labor is more sparing in its deployment of these two words: social justice. While social justice is still part of Labor's intra-mural pieties - a useful rallying cry for the true believers in front of the nation at large - the concept is muted and liturgical.

If Labor were to say what it was about, why could it not simply say that it was about economic prosperity and social justice? The truth is that it cannot. And the problem is not with the notion of economic prosperity: plainly, Labor stands for it and everyone is clear on its meaning.

It is the social justice part of this formula that Labor could not sustain. It could not because the notion of social justice is completely elusive and has for too long remained undefined by those who say they were and are all for it. Both the end state of justice and the means by which that end state is supposed to be achieved is utterly undefined.

And all attempts to cobble together a definition of what contemporary Labor politicians mean when they deploy the words social justice would just confirm to their liberal conservative opponents that Labor has in mind yet another great socialist project that will end in waste and tears.

How is it that a concept that has travelled with the social democratic project through such a long and storied history has ended up so equivocal? Why does every attempt at articulation sound like someone either sincerely wanting or insincerely promising utopia?
- Failed party in search of a purpose
update: full text of Noel Pearson's 2010 John Button Oration - "Nights when I dream of a better world: Moving from the centre-left to the radical centre of Australian politics" (link)