Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowed in

Two feet of snow have cost me two days of my Christmas vacation, and possibly three. After 24 hours and three cancelled flights at Dulles airport, here I am, sitting in a hotel room, waiting to go back to the airport tomorrow to see if I can get on standby.

I've lived in the DC area for a little over two years, and haven't seen more than an inch of slush, much less snow, in my time here.  Everyone I talk to says this is the most snow they've seen in 20 years.

And of course, the irony of the whole thing is that President Obama is flying back from the Copenhagen summit on global warming.

So the question is, how unusual is the snowfall?

Well, according to the New York Times:
Officials in Washington said the storm was likely to produce the area’s heaviest snow since February 2003, when about 16 inches fell on the region.
2003 was also the sixth warmest year on record.  2009 is tied for the second warmest.  The moral of the story is, heavy snowfall can occur even in the presence of global warming.  Don't let the weather fool you.

Friday, December 18, 2009

30 million Nickelback albums and the decade from hell

The two-week-long climate summit in Copenhagen is escalating to a frantic climax - and a possible deal on CO2 emissions. With the world's fate for maybe the next 10,000 years hanging in the balance, each headline out of the Danish capital carries world-shaking importance.

And yet this headline tops them all. It's the most disturbing news I've read in QUITE a while:

Billboard names Nickelback top band of decade

No, that's not a typo. In the 60s (and all time) we had the Beatles. Led Zeppelin ruled the 70s. Even the desert of the 80s produced U2 and several cult favorites like the Pixies (I'm excluding MJ because he wasn't a "band"). The 90s gave us Nirvana and Radiohead. And in the 2000s... Nickelback? Here's the scoop:

Nickelback is the top group of the decade, according to Billboard magazine.
Rapper Eminem has been named the top artist of the decade, and 'N Sync garnered the title album of the decade for its bestselling No Strings Attached (2000).

Nickelback was the highest-ranking band of the decade, only finishing behind solo artists Eminem, 50 Cent, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Nelly and Usher, for overall impact and importance.

Despite a distinct lack of critical acclaim, the rock band formed in Hanna, Alta., has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. In the last decade, it released The State (2001), Silver Side Up (2001), The Long Road (2003), All the Right Reasons (2005) and Dark Horse (2008), which has garnered them a 2010 Grammy nomination for best hard-rock performance for the track Burn It To The Ground.

"We've just accepted that we're never going to be the critics' darlings, and we're OK with that," frontman Chad Kroeger told Billboard in 2007.

Yes, Joe Lieberman is pulling the plug on the public option, Republicans are stalling climate legislation and threatening the fate of the next 20 generations to walk the planet, but Nickelback has sold 30 million albums??? That's what I'm most worried about.

Nickelback is like diarrhea of the ears - when the music starts, you know it's not gonna be good, and they just keep drawing it out. They don't so much play their guitars as bang on them repeatedly - Kurt Cobain's grunge was musical, even melodic, but Nickelback just grunges through each painful song as if drawing a jagged blade out of a wound. There's no creativity in lyrics or melody - it's like a 5th grader wrote all their songs. In short, Nickelback is terrible.

At least I'm not the only person whose sanity remains. The story continues:

But it's not only music reporters who disagree with Billboard magazine's assertion.

Readers of the U.K.'s Word Magazine recently voted Nickelback the worst band in the world, with Kroeger and company locking down an impressive 20 per cent of the vote. Looks like not everyone is a fan of greasy, bleached hair and enlightening, philosophical song titles such as Something in Your Mouth and S.E.X.

Sample lyrics: "Maybe in the parking lot / Better bring your friend along / Better rock together / Than just one at a time / S is for the simple need / E is for the ecstasy / X is just to mark the spot / 'Cause that's the one you really want."

From top group of the decade to worst band in the world — only Nickelback could be so polarizing.

A recent Time Magazine cover story labeled the 2000s "The Decade from Hell," and it wasn't kidding. Over the past ten years, we were shocked by 9/11, lost George Harrison to cancer, became mired in two wars, continued emitting CO2 unabated, finished off eight years of wage and employment stagnation with the worst economic collapse in 70 years... and bought 30 million Nickelback records.

In many ways, the last decade culminated America's century-long march toward vapid consumerism: an America in which quantity and price trump truth and beauty, in which the driving force behind all life seems to be the goal of squeezing the maximum number of units out of the smallest set of resources. In the victories of both Bush and Obama, the last decade also encapsulated the tension between New and Old Americas, between educated elites who take pride in sophistication, and "everyman"-types who eschew artful (one might say "snooty") tastes.

Nickelback seems to embody these mass ideals pretty well, having managed to squeeze 30 million albums worth of product out of their limited musical capital. Fitting that the worst band in the world would be the top band of the decade.

Of course, just because music has mass appeal doesn't mean it's bad. The sign of a TRUE artist is one who can create sophisticated art that still appeals to the Everyman (if you have to take a class to appreciate a work of art, it's not great art). If you'd like REAL music, read my post about the anniversary of John Lennon's assassination. Or go download some Arcade Fire at Lala. In fact, do that right now.


Hope: I'm not the only one

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Global cooling at Sarah Palin's house

The latest NOAA global temperature data is up.  According to the National Climatic Data Center, "The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for November 2009 was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.9°C (55.2°F). This is the fourth warmest such value on record."

So much for global cooling.

But besides confirming the continuing march of global warming, I think the data helps  explains Sarah Palin's confused op-ed in the Washington Post last week, in which she used her years of scientific training to eviscerate the science of global warming.  Check it out:

Also note, this is the first post-Climategate NOAA data, so with all the scrutiny, presumably any "fraud" would have had to have been corrected.  Surprise: it still shows warming.

UPDATE: Apparently NASA uses a different dataset, and its data shows this November to be the WARMEST November on record.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm about to become an Exxon Mobil shareholder...

... and that's a good thing.  I think.

Yesterday's big energy news was Exxon Mobil's $31 billion acquisition of natural gas producer XTO Energy.  In the New York Times:
In the biggest energy deal in years, Exxon Mobil said Monday that it agreed to buy XTO Energy, a domestic producer of natural gas, in an all-stock deal valued at $31 billion to increase its holdings in unconventional resources in the United States.

The deal includes the assumption of $10 billion in debt.

The purchase allows Exxon, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, to expand in shale gas, an area that has seen tremendous growth in the last few years. It will give Exxon the equivalent of about 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout the United States.

“XTO is a leading U.S. unconventional natural gas producer, with an outstanding resource base, strong technical expertise and highly skilled employees,” Rex W. Tillerson, Exxon’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“XTO’s strengths, together with Exxon Mobil’s advanced R.&D. and operational capabilities, global scale and financial capacity, should enable development of additional supplies of unconventional oil and gas resources, benefiting consumers both here in the United States and around the world.”

In recent years, energy companies have discovered large reserves of natural gas tightly trapped in shale rocks in Texas, Colorado, and Wisconsin, as well as in the Northeast. The discoveries have led to a gas drilling boom that has greatly expanded domestic resources, while also raising some environmental concerns.

As a *small* shareholder in XTO, I'll get about 0.7 shares of Exxon Mobil (XOM) for every share of XTO when the deal closes in Q2 of next year.  But as someone who cares deeply about climate change, how should I feel about having a financial stake in the success of a company so reviled by environmentalists?

On the one hand, Exxon spearheaded much of the faux science that is behind many of the climate denial myths that persist to this day.  Simply put, without Exxon's efforts in the 90s to cast doubt on climate science, we would probably already have passed climate legislation.

On the other hand, my stock in XTO jumped 15% yesterday, and the bullish news for natural gas boosted my stock in Chesapeake Energy (CHK) by 6% .  And hey, Exxon's going to go about its business regardless of whether I take a stand by not purchasing shares in it, so might as well profit from Exxon's success, right?  At the very least, now no one can say that financial concerns are driving my beliefs about climate change (although full disclosure, the other 90% of my stocks are related to clean energy).

And actually, I have less cynical reasons for being enthused by Exxon Mobil's $31 billion bet on American shale gas.  Because ultimately, I think it signals that Exxon Mobil is finally getting on board with America's clean energy future.

The important point is that generating electricity from natural gas emits half the CO2 as burning coal. Putting a price on carbon (through cap-and-trade) would make it comparatively more expensive for utilities to continue burning coal, and many would switch to natural gas.  Demand for gas would surge, lifting currently-depressed gas prices - as well as profits for gas producers.

I'd originally bought Chesapeake and XTO earlier this year after reading a series of ClimateProgress articles arguing that shale gas would prove a "game changer" in the climate debate, bridging America's dirty energy present with its clean energy future - at a cost much lower than current economic models predict. Now Exxon Mobil agrees with me. 

How does this affect cap-and-trade's chances of passage?  All you have to do is check out where these unconventional shale gas reserves are located:

Most of that pink and purple is over Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio - big coal states with key swing votes on the climate and clean energy bill.  The prospect for natural gas development in their states should dampen these Senators' concerns about hurting the coal industry.  Same goes for Arkansas and Louisiana, where there are also big shale gas plays.  Exxon clearly believes there's a future for these huge gas reserves.

And this isn't the first investment in clean energy Exxon has made - back in July, the company announced a plan to invest $600 million in a venture to produce fuel from bio-engineered algae.

This of course doesn't make up for Exxon Mobil's past misdeeds.  While I'm holding on to my XOM stock, I won't start buying gasoline at Exxon Mobil gas stations any time soon.  Still, any investment in cleaner technologies is welcome.

Random note to close out the post: many Wall Street analysts seem to think Exxon overpaid for XTO - mainly because natural gas prices are still abysmal.  Last time I checked, buying low was a good thing.  Yet more evidence that few people on Wall Street understand business beyond the next quarter's earnings report.

Bottom line: if you think cap-and-trade will pass, time to start stocking up on gas stocks.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Climate of Hypocrisy

UPDATED (1/23/2010) with suggestions from the comments
For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him?
-Job 27:8-9
Deniers of climate change like to castigate Al Gore and others for the supposed hypocrisy of preaching the benefits of CO2 reductions while flying on jets, living in big houses, etc.  I won't defend the big house (although Gore did respond to accusations by installing renewable energy onsite), but there's no problem with jetting around to climate conferences, because those trips result in net CO2 reductions.

But those are technicalities.  The real problem with gloating over climate activists' small specks of hypocrisy is that it ignores the hypocritical planks inherent in the philosophical underpinnings of opposition to CO2 reductions.  Here are some ways in which deniers are hypocritical (feel free to add suggestions in the comments):

1. They profess that markets can solve all problems while simultaneously preaching that businesses will never be able to adapt to higher energy prices.

2. They argue that siting problems (e.g. urban heat island) render temperature data useless, while simultaneously arguing that adjusting for those problems constitutes scientific fraud/ fudging the data.

3. They say they support free markets, but oppose cap-and-trade (the free market solution to climate change).

4. They advocate skepticism and oppose proclamations that "the science is certain," while simultaneously claiming certainty that all climate science is one big hoax.

5. They argued that averting a 1% chance of catastrophic terrorist attacks justified spending $100 billion a year on the Iraq war, but oppose investing billions of dollars per year in averting a much higher risk of catastrophic climate change.  (see this Tom Friedman article)

6. They said the US did not need a permission slip from other countries to go to war in Iraq, but don't want to act on climate change until poor countries have done so.

7. They claim that the US temperature record is unreliable when it reports warm temperatures, but have no problems using the US temperature to report cool temperatures.

8. They say it is arrogant and "elitist" for climatologists to defend their science, but have no problems with the arrogance of laypeople questioning a science they have never studied.

9. They support subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power but not for renewable energy.

10. They claim to believe in property rights, but don't stop polluters from sending their CO2 onto other people's property (or the common property of the atmosphere).

11. They call themselves "conservatives" but oppose efforts at conservation.

12. They claim humans are not wise enough to intervene in the economy without causing unintended consequences, but have no problems with humans massively intervening in Nature by pumping CO2 into the atmosphere (WAG).

13. They say it's unwise to make decisions off of uncertain climate models, while basing their own predictions of economic doom off of uncertain economic models (WAG).

14. Humanity adding ~15Gt/year (net) to ~3000Gt baseline atmospheric CO2 is "pissing in the ocean" but spending 0.1% of GDP per year on reducing emissions will precipitate world-wide economic collapse (anonymous).

15. They removed regulation from banks in the name of free markets, then spent trillions of dollars to rescue banks because they were too big to fail.  But they refuse to spend smaller amounts on the greater damage of climate change, even though it's more important that the planet not be allowed to fail (anonymous).

16. They say 30 years is too short a time to conclude there's a global warming trend, but base their own claims of "global cooling" on a 10-year trend (Tony O'Brien).

17. They say scientists don't respect skepticism or disagreement, then point to disagreements between scientists as evidence of conspiracy or that the science isn't "certain" (Tony O'Brien)

18. They say CO2 can't affect climate, but also use the argument that CO2 must be saving us from an ice age (Tony O'Brien)

19. They demand more science/research before we can make a decision, then oppose funding for that research (Tony O'Brien).

20. They never criticise each other even when taking opposite sides. Just ignore the discrepancies and charge ahead. When one argument looses traction recycle an old one, e.g. they say it's the sun causing global warming, and when the sun cools down they say it's cosmic rays (Tony O'Brien).

21. Denier Willis Eschenbach falsely accuses Australian scientists of fraud for "blatantly bogus" adjustments of temperature data - without ever contacting the scientists to ask why the adjustments were made, or even mentioning their previously-published explanations.  Then, when The Economist calls him out, Willis whines, "the Economist did not contact me before publishing an article full of false accusations, incorrect assumptions and wrong statements." (WAG)

22. They accuse university scientists, small renewable energy companies, and Al Gore of manufacturing "alarmism" for money, while ignoring the far greater financial incentives of the giant fossil fuel industry to manufacture doubt, denial, and delay. (WAG)

23. They call their opponents "alarmists", but warn of impending economic doom should we try do anything to counteract AGW (anonymous). [I particularly like this one - I'm going to dedicate a whole post to it soon.  In the meantime, here's a previous post to help visualize what "economic doom" looks like.]

24. They promote nuclear power (and pooh-pooh small scale "roof-top" photovoltaics), while decrying government control over anything else (anonymous).

25. They plead for balance and respect of dissenting opinions, and yet they continually insult people who disagree with them. (Steve Carson) [e.g. "Leftists, Communists, eliteists snakes that prey on our children in their quest to take over the world."]

26. They say, "You can't trust proxy data so the hockey stick is wrong," but then they claim "Loehle's reconstruction shows the Medieval Warm Period is warmer than today!" (Prof. Mandia) [One of my favorites]

27. Denier S. Fred Singer: "From the very beginning, the IPCC was a political rather than scientific entity, with its leading scientists reflecting the positions of their governments or seeking to induce their governments to adopt the IPCC position."  But then: "A reviewer of IPCC reports, Singer now shares the 2007 Nobel peace prize with Al Gore,” according to materials announcing his keynote speech at a one day conference 'Have Humans Changed the Climate?,' hosted by Roger Helmer, a British conservative member of the European Parliament." (Prof. Mandia)

28. They claim that temperature data that shows warming cannot be trusted because it has been fraudulently adjusted, but then use that same data when it shows temporary cooling to say that "observations prove the models' predictions wrong." (WAG)

29. They say climate scientist have a "bad scientific attitude", never criticising each other. And when there is a scientific discussion they claim it proves that "the science is not settled". (Anonymous)

30. They demand full disclosure of data and code from scientists who agree with the IPCC's conclusions; and yet, when asked for their code or data to replicate denier studies, they try every weasel way to avoid sharing code and data (see Scafetta's dodging at RC) (True Skeptic)

31. They challenge the scientific consensus and demand empirical "proof" that it is correct, yet at the same time insist that they don't have to prove anything themselves.  "I'm just asking questions!"  (Rumble) [Here's where the proof is]

32. They oppose government regulation to control CO2 emissions, improve fossil fuel efficiency, encourage energy conservation and encourge research into and development of renewable energy, because that would be "too much government intervention in people's lives." Yet by and large they are the same people who will pass laws to prevent/regulate abortion, gay marriage. (Anonymous)

33. Climate change deniers demand unequivocal proof that CO2 is causing dangerous global warming, even though they are unable to present any evidence at all that it is safe to allow atmospheric CO2 levels to continue to rise indefinitely. (RF Shop)

34. They do not trust the reliability of modern instrumental records, citing poor calibration and inadequate coverage, but are quick to point to anecdotes of Vikings or of other early Europeans as evidence that the entire planet was warmer in preindustrial times. (Mike G)

35. They claim proxies are also unreliable during modern times when they show dramatic warming in agreement with the instrumental record, yet denialists use them to show with great certainty that it was much warmer at various points in Earth's history, back to several million years, or that CO2 was much higher at certain times in the past to high degrees of precision. (Mike G)

36.They say instrumental measurements are unreliable for measuring surface temperatures and as evidence of such, deniers point out that the measurements are being corrected constantly. Then they say that it is much more accurate to measure temperatures from 200 miles up by converting microwave measurements to temperature and then attempting to filter out signals from each layer you're not interested in. The constant corrections for computational errors and orbital drifts are not evidence against reliability in this case. (Mike G)

37. They say it's disingenuous to point to extreme weather events (Hurricane Katrina, wild fires, etc.) as evidence of warming, but crow joyously over every cold weather event ("it's snowing in Texas!).  (WAG)

38. They point to the "decline" in tree-ring proxy data as evidence that Michael Mann is covering up cooling temperatures, but criticize proxies as unreliable when they show past temperatures cooler than today's (and when temps look warmer in the past, they accept the proxy data as reliable again). (WAG)

39. They say the US can't act on greenhouse gas reductions until other countries agree to, and then fly to Copenhagen to try to prevent other countries from acting (WAG)

40. When climate scientists don't speak publically about their work they are accused of hiding in their ivory towers'. When they do talk publically they are accused of politicising science. (Anonymous)

41. When climate scientsits don't respond to attacks and smears they are again accused of hiding in their ivory towers', when they do defend themselves they are accused of circling the wagons and promoting the party line. (Anonymous)

42. Deniers claim that projections of warming can't be trusted because (they think) scientists made doom and gloom predictions of global cooling in the 1970's. However they accept the claims that regulation will be ineffective and/or economic suicide despite the fact that the think tanks and lobbies that are pushing those predictions also made (incorrect) doom and gloom predictions that phasing out CFCs and leaded gasoline would be ineffective and/or economic suicide. (Anonymous)

43. Deniers claim that anthropogenic global warming is a partisan, political line rather than legitimate science, and then argue against it by citing talking heads and press releases from industry front-groups, or "free market" think-tanks. (Wheels)

44. Taking as gospel truth sources which up until that moment they had previously castigated as never to be trusted (e.g. last year's Pravda article claiming the Sun was the cause of GW) (Sergei Rostov)

45. Criticizing AGWers [people who accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming] because of their political and/or religious leanings while complaining they are being criticizing solely because of their political and/or religious leanings. (Sergei Rostov)

46. They say that we know nothing about clouds and subsequently they say that clouds can explain the warming trend. (Jesús)

47. They say there hasn't been any warming, but later they explain the warming with mechamism different than CO2. (Jesús)

48. They explain the warming with mutually exclusive theories (eg. cloud albedo, sun, ocean currents...) (Jesús)

49. They criticize climate advocates for "wanting to send us into a technological dark age," even though they themselves advocate the use of 19th century energy production technologies over innovation and research. (WAG)

50. They favor the UAH satellite data and say it is the most accurate - until that data also shows warming, and they start looking for errors in it. (WAG)

51. They claim the peer review process is broken and yet cite (the occasional) peer reviewed studies as proof when it suits them - trumpeting the fact that it's peer reviewed! (Anarchist)

52. Uber-denliast and oil-funded Senator Inhofe uses arguments from paleoclimate to 'disprove' global warming yet is also a Young-Earth creationist who belives the earth was created around 6000BC - well before the data he cites. (Anarchist)

53. They claim to support "good science" and technological process while citing people whose ideas retard technological progress - e.g. who don't belive in evolution and an expert in the made-up field of 'Orgone Energy' (this is energy from your libedo! As seen in the Cato Institure Ad featuring 'Dr' James DeMeo (Anarchist)

54. They claim that they are sticking up for liberty and against big government while opposing the development of markets and technologies that would lead to micro-generation and so free us from centralized production energy that requires state regulation (Anarchist)

55. They have no problems judging with absolute certainty a body of work in which they have no hands on experience, and yet accuse climate scientists of arrogance and elitism (WAG).

If you have more suggestions, leave them in the comments.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
-Matthew 7:3-5

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The history of global warming science: where did the conspiracy start?

New York Times science writer Andy Revkin has been getting a lot of flak for his overly-balanced reporting of the climate crisis. Maybe so, but he's helped put up an awesome interactive graphic on a timeline of global warming science since 1820 (click here to go to the interactive version):

One thing that's useful about the graphic is that it helps you visualize just how much climate science falls within the timeframe of the "Climategate" emails, and is therefore even potentially impacted by it.  The answer?  Not much (1996-2009 highlighted by the red box):

And considering that the emails involve just a handful of scientists, that red box should be much shorter, just a horizontal sliver.

So my challenge to those who believe global warming is a hoax, a vast conspiracy "faking millions of points of data, in thousands of scientific papers, in dozens of different scientific fields, and cross-matching them so that they all tell a story that's 180 degrees opposed to reality, AND making sure no one blabs about it": Find where on the timeline the conspiracy began, going through from start to finish.  I've provided a link to an open-access deck on where you can easily do so - just follow the link and leave a comment.  If I don't get any responses, I'll take the silence as proof that I'm right.

If there's a conspiracy, it has to have started somewhere.  Was Joseph Fourier hatching a secret Marxist conspiracy in 1820 when he first hypothesized the greenhouse effect (when Marx was 2 years old)?  Did the hoax begin in 1859 with John Tyndall, who first discovered that CO2 trapped heat radiation?  Or maybe Svante Arrhenius was the first to realize the potential for riches from climate alarmism, and therefore in 1896 calculated that halving CO2's concentration would lead to global cooling (or perhaps it was his colleague, whose suggestion that burning coal would increase CO2 led Arrhenius to calculate fossil fuels' potential to cause global warming).

Or perhaps the conspiracy began when noted Communist Richard Nixon proposed the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1970 to falsify climate data - nine years before the first National Academy of Sciences prediction of 1.5-4.5 degrees C of warming (on second thought, maybe bringing up Nixon isn't helping my case).  

Or maybe the real conspiracy began on Oct. 21, 1983, when in response to two of the earliest scientific studies on global warming's dangers, Ronald Reagan's science advisor coined the use of the word "alarmist" to describe climate science:
Tonight President Reagan's science adviser, George A. Keyworth 3d, sharply criticized the E.P.A. report and praised the National Academy's. He called the environmental agency's report "unwarranted and unnecessarily alarmist."
"There is no evidence to indicate that the gradual rise in carbon dioxide in the air would have environmental effects pronounced enough to require near-term corrective action," Mr. Keyworth said.

Of course, here's what the Academy's report actually said:
William A. Nierenberg, chairman of the academy's carbon dioxide assessment committee, which prepared the report, said in an interview: "We feel we have 20 years to examine options before we have to make drastic plans, In that 20 years we can close critical gaps in our knowledge."

That was 26 years ago.  If you have conspiracy theorists among your friends or families, send this post to them - maybe they can spot the beginning of the greatest hoax of all time. Otherwise, call your Senators and tell them to support climate and clean energy legislation, and to support the President's efforts to get other nations on board at Copenhagen.

The United States does not wait for a permission slip from other countries before doing the right thing.


Pork barrel spending on skeptical climate research?  Earmarks from Alabama 

What do Climategate and the Simpsons have in common? Skeptics hit "Rock Bottom"

Hope: I'm not the only one

I've been listening to John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" and "Imagine" on repeat for the last couple of days.  It was, after all, 29 years ago today that Lennon was murdered outside his New York apartment - a day I still have trouble coming to grips with, though it happened five years before I was born.

I won't even try to say something new about a man who's one of maybe five or six 20th Century pop musicians who will still be a household name 200 years from now (I'm thinking the others would be Paul, George, Ringo, Elvis, and maybe Michael Jackson and Sinatra) - not that I could do him justice in a couple hours writing a blog entry.  In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll on the 100 greatest Britons of all time.  John Lennon ranked #8, three spots below Shakespeare.  (Paul McCartney was #19, right ahead of Alexander Fleming, whose discovery of Penicillin is credited with extending human life expectancy by eight years.)  When five years ago I visited the street in London where Abbey Road Studios is located, it had almost the feeling of a pilgrimage.  And I'm not the only one who felt that way: the Abbey Road street sign apparently has to be replaced every few days because so many people have signed it.

Imagine a life without the Beatles - it's not something I'd like to do.  I got my first CD on my 10th birthday - it was the Beatles Anthology 2.  That was the end of my life not knowing the Beatles, though John had been dead for 15 years already.  At my 5th grade talent show, while other kids danced to Ace of Base and "This is How We Do It," three friends and I did Sgt. Pepper (I was Paul).  Soon, I'd discovered my dad's old Beatles vinyls; growing up in an era when rock music was the symbol of rebellion, he probably never expected that he'd be able to share the same music as his son.  Twenty years from now, when the mass public has finally expunged "Party in the USA" and autotune from its collective memory, my own kids will still be asking me who the Walrus was, and debating whether Revolver is better than Abbey Road.

I can't describe what makes the Beatles' music so great, ingrained as it is almost into my identity - thankfully, there are plenty who can do so better than I can.

Nor can I add anything new to the tomes explaining how the Beatles' greatness transcended their music.  They'll be forever linked with the optimism and descent into heartache of the 60s - and in many ways, they follow the arc of the Baby Boomer generation, with Lennon as its prophet.  

In the Beatles were captured the essence of youth: both its dynamic energy and passionate frustration with existing order. Paul embodied its boyish yearning: the thrill of love, the anxiety and anger of heartache.  He was perfectly balanced by John's somewhat darker tendencies, and even greater ambition to experiment and push the bounds of what was known.  Though less given to Paul's romantic tendencies, John dreamed no less about love; for him, it was a revolution - not just individualistic love in the romantic sense, but a love for all mankind that recognized our connectedness beyond individual interest.  Indeed, the Beatles established popular music as something which was more than something to nod your head and shake your hips to, but as an emotional force which could cause you to think and dream about the world differently.

Above all, the Beatles represented a willingness to imagine.  With youthful inexperience came the freedom not to be constrained by knowledge of what hasn't worked in the past.  They didn't wait for experience, but took on the world in their 20s.  And they urged others to do the same, regardless of what world leaders' experience told them was "realistic" to hope for.  What else from a band who was rejected by their first label audition with the words, "Guitar groups are on the way out"?  The executive's "experience," likely driven by marketing data, resulted in the worst blunder in the music business's history.

But as the 60s wound down, the dream began to crumble.  The Beatles' own troubles with each other mirrored the global turmoil of 1968-69: an escalating war, violent protests in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon on the promise of a return to "law and order."  As the United States seemed to spiral out of control, driven by the restlessness of a Boomer generation at the height of its energetic anxiety, so too did the Beatles.  Though their music continued to peak, their personal relationships deteriorated.  Until finally, in 1970, they broke up, turning the final page of the last decade.  As if youthful energy had rent itself apart.

In the 70s, as the United States wrestled with its identity between the passion of idealism and the security of paycheck, home, and order, Lennon and McCartney similarly drifted apart.  While both continued to churn out top-notch music for several years (Lennon more so), Lennon eventually retreated from his creative work for a five year househusband hiatus, while McCartney contented himself writing silly love songs.  And just as Lennon was about to return to public life to launch a new album, even seeming close to reconciling with McCartney, Mark David Chapman snuffed it all out with five shots in Lennon's back.

So John Lennon's murder wasn't just when the music died, as Time's cover put it at the time - Chapman's bullets also finished off the era of youthful idealism over aged realism, of love over lust for gain, of widespread yearning for something more to life than a secure march to retirement.  After all, Ronald Reagan was elected just one month before Lennon's assassination.  Together, the two events sealed off a shift in America's vision for itself - from one which sought a brotherhood of Man, to one which equated lofty liberty with an atomized pursuit of material gain for oneself and immediate family unit.

I feel that yearning for meaning over materialism, for connectedness over the isolation of unfettered individualism, in my own generation.  And we've got our own issues that will put those values to the test.

This week, the world's leaders in Copenhagen will have to decide whether narrow self- and national-interest outweigh the shared interests of the brotherhood of Man. They may despair that current realities make it impossible to meet climate targets, and fail to seize the opportunity.  If leaders think that, they should remember a Decca Records executive who saw the "reality" that "guitar groups are on the way out," and missed the opportunity to sign the most successful musical group of all time.

In my life, I'll never see the Beatles reunite to perform together.  But I can imagine.  And I can imagine a future that's different from today's.  I can imagine a world where we place greater value on the priceless than on the output of factories; where we act not out of a sense of what hasn't worked before, but out of hopeful urgency for what must now be done.  And I'm not the only one.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pork barrel spending on skeptical climate research? Earmarks from Alabama

Andrew Sullivan weighed in on “swifthack/climategate” yesterday morning. There’s nothing interesting in the post except for this assertion:

Scientists are as prone as anyone to taking part in "informational cascades," particularly when they are being funded by granting agencies that reward those who continue in an established line of inquiry (can you imagine funding going to a scientist who found a climate counter-trend?) and when they are trying to publish in peer-reviewed journals whose editorial staff refuse to consider papers that do not come up with the expected results.
It's a constant meme that scientists exaggerate claims of global warming to win research grants, but actually, it's pretty easy to imagine skeptic scientists also winning funding. In fact, two of the most vocal skeptics, Drs. Roy Spencer and John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), recently had $1.8 million earmarked for their research by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) in the FY 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations bill (p. 144).
Of course, it's not exactly breaking news that Spencer's and Christy's research is funded by the US government. On his website, Roy Spencer makes pains to point out that "Dr. Spencer’s research has been entirely supported by U.S. government agencies: NASA, NOAA, and DOE. He has never been asked by any oil company to perform any kind of service. Not even Exxon-Mobil." (Funny that deniers don't think that government funding biases him - that only happens to the scientists they disagree with.)

What's interesting here is how the funding this time around comes from an earmark - one of only two climate research earmarks in the above appropriations bill. And it seems as though the earmark's author has in mind a very specific outcome for the research he's sponsoring. Here’s the press release from Sen. Shelby’s office:

The University of Alabama in Huntsville Climate Model Evaluation Project - $1.8 Million
This project will directly address the cost of energy for manufacturing, industrial, and residential electricity. This research will show how effective potential policies will be in impacting the climate and how confident one can be in their achieving the intended outcome. The University of Alabama in Huntsville will examine and evaluate climate model simulations to determine the level of performance these models achieve so that policymakers may develop a better understanding of the reliability of these forecasts.

“Given the tremendous burden that any climate change legislation would place on the U.S. economy, it is imperative that any steps are taken only after achieving reasonable certainty that they will produce the benefits necessary to justify the associated costs,” said Shelby. “Information gained from the Climate Model Evaluation Project will be of great benefit to policymakers, ensuring that they are better informed as climate legislation is debated."
Now it's possible that Shelby is just bringing research dollars home to Alabama, but he could have chosen any project at any state university. From the statement above, it's pretty clear why he chose this project: Sen. Shelby is opposed to climate legislation, and was looking for hired guns to make the case that there's not enough certainty about global warming to justify the costs of abating it; it's no coincidence he picked these two scientists to receive helpings from the pork barrel. Indeed, Drs. Spencer and Christy have long been darlings of the denialist community, publishing satellite data which for years showed little to no warming (although after correcting for errors, even their data now show a warming trend, albeit a smaller trend than other data show). If you want to "examine and evaluate" and poke holes in pesky climate models, these are the guys you want doing it. 

What this means, of course, is that the UAH scientists' vocal skepticism about climate changed has not prevented them from winning research dollars, as many deniers would have you think it would. Far from it - after years of telling conservative politicians what they want to hear, they've won a powerful patron in the US Senate. A small Alabama newspaper described it this way:

This might seem a little ironic, but taking the fight to global warming alarmists can be done with aid of the federal government.
None of the seven Alabama congressmen, four Republicans and three Democrats voted in favor of the cap-and-trade legislation that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, so it’s probably safe to assume based on their votes, the global warming issue isn’t a huge concern for the constituency in Alabama.
One of the tactics used by colleges and universities to secure grant money for research has been to apply for it under the guise of using it to achieve a better understanding of global warming, or climate change. However, the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) managed to get in on this with the help of Sen. Richard Shelby.

UAH is the home of Dr. Roy Spencer, a leading global warming skeptic and is also known as the official climatologist of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. And with your tax dollars, for better or for worse, Shelby has managed to secure money for Spencer and his colleagues to conduct research on global warming – some $1.8 million for the Climate Model Evaluation Project.

Here's where it could get more interesting. Because a project with an identical goal as the UAH project is mentioned in the East Anglia emails, and it reveals Dr. Christy was corresponding with a former oil industry PR man to try to win funding for it. In the email to two Energy Dept. officials in the Bush administration, Christy describes how he would like to use his satellite data to vet climate models, and how past requests for funding had been rejected:

From: John Christy [_mailto:john.christy@xxxxxxxxx.xxx_]
Sent: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 9:16 AM
To: Strayer, Michael
Cc: Salmon, Jeffrey
Subject: Climate Model Evaluation

Dr. Strayer:

Jeff Salmon is aware of a project we at UAHuntsville believe is
vital and that you may provide a way to see it accomplished.

This is pretty clearly an introduction - Salmon had passed along Strayer's contact info to Christy to help him win research funding for the "vital" project. Strayer seems like an innocent bystander, but who is this Jeff Salmon anyway? According to

Prior to moving to DOE, from 1991-2001 he was Executive Director of the George C. Marshall Institute, a key actor in the global warming disinformation campaign. In 1998 he participated in the development of a now-notorious oil industry-sponsored plan to wage a campaign against the mainstream science community on global warming. Before that, he was senior speechwriter for Dick Cheney, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense.
The purpose of the 1998 campaign was to

Recruit a cadre of scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science and to train them in public relations so they can help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap the sun’s heat near Earth... Victory will be achieved when… recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the "conventional wisdom."
So a man responsible for much of the disinformation out there about global warming is the same person who was helping Christy navigate the DOE in his search for funding. What was he hoping to fund? The email continues:

As you
know, our nation's energy and climate change policies are being
driven by output from global climate models. However, there has
never been a true "red team" assessment of these model
in the way other government programs are subjected to hard-nosed,
independent evaluations. To date, most of the "evaluation" of
models has been left in the hands of the climate modelers
themselves. This has the potential of biasing the entire process.

It is often a climate modeler's claim (and promoted in IPCC
documents - see attached) that the models must be correct because
the global surface
temperature variations since 1850 are reproduced (somewhat) by
models when run in hindcast mode. However, this is not a
experiment for the simple reason that every climate modeler
saw the
answer ahead of time. It is terribly easy to get the right answer
for the wrong reason, especially if you already know the answer.

A legitimate experiment is to test the models' output against
variables to which modelers did not have access ... a true blind
test of the models.

I have proposed and have had rejected a model evaluation
project to
DOE based on the utilization of global datasets we build here at
UAH. We have published many of these datasets (most are
satellite-based) which document the complexity of the climate
system and which we think models should replicate in some way,
to aid in model development where shortcomings are found.
These are
datasets of quantities that modelers in general were not aware of
when doing model testing. We have performed
a few of these tests and have found models reveal serious
shortcomings in some of the most fundamental aspects of energy
distribution. We believe a rigorous test of climate models is in
order as the congress starts considering energy reduction
strategies which can have significant consequences on our
Below is an abstract of a retooled proposal I am working on.

If you see a possible avenue for research along these lines,
let me know. Too, we have been considering some type of
with Oakridge since the facility is nearby, and this may be a way
to do that.

John C.

Understanding the vertical energy distribution of the Earth's
and its expression in global climate model simulations

John R. Christy, P.I., University of Alabama in Huntsville


Sets of independent observations indicate, unexpectedly, that the
warming of the tropical atmosphere since 1978 is proceeding at a
rate much less than that anticipated from climate model
Specifically, while the surface has warmed, the lower troposphere
has experienced less warming. In contrast, all climate models we
and others have examined indicate the lower tropical atmosphere
should be warming at a rate 1.2 to 1.5 times greater than the
surface when forced with increasing greenhouse gases within the
context of other observed forcings (the so-called "negative lapse
rate feedback".) We propose to diagnose this curious phenomenon
with several satellite-based datasets to document its relation to
other climate variables. We shall do the same for climate model
output of the same simulated variables. This will
enable us to propose an integrated conceptual framework of the
phenomenon for further testing. Tied in with this research are
answers to fundamental questions such as the following: (1) In
response to increasing surface temperatures, is the lower
atmosphere reconfiguring the way heat energy is transported which
allows for an increasing amount of heat to more freely escape to
space? (2) Could there be a natural thermostatic effect in the
climate system which acts in a different way than parameterized
convective-adjustment schemes dependent upon current
assumptions of
heat deposition and retention? (3)
If observed atmospheric heat retention is considerably less than
model projections, what impact will lower retention rates have on
anticipated increases in surface temperatures in the 21st

This last paragraph probably gives a sense for what Sen. Shelby's $1.8 million in pork spending is going to fund: "evaluating" climate models using the UAH satellite data that are so prized by the denial movement. The motive? "We believe a rigorous test of climate models is in order as the congress starts considering energy reduction strategies which can have significant consequences on our economy." Which is code for, "we want to cast doubt on climate models so Congress never passes energy reduction strategies."

In other words, it's possible that Christy was receiving help on the inside - not from a climatologist or a bureaucratic grunt, but from a PR professional who had previously led climate science disinformation campaigns on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. I'm making some conjectures here, but we at least know that Christy sought help from Salmon, and that Salmon made introductions for him. 

It's long been known that the fossil fuel industry has funded junk science against global warming. But Spencer and Christy have made pains to distance themselves from the carbon lobby. Remember, Roy Spencer's website states bluntly that "He has never been asked by any oil company to perform any kind of service. Not even Exxon-Mobil." But now we find out that in 2007, an ally of the oil companies was helping skeptics at UAH to secure funding for research. What happened after that letter is anyone's guess, and who knows what role Jeff Salmon played in follow up. But two years later, your tax dollars are being earmarked for vocal skeptics to “evaluate” climate models, by a US Senator who fears climate legislation will “place a tremendous burden on the U.S. economy.” And remember, Jeff Salmons is still in the DOE.

I don't really have a problem with my tax dollars going to fund skeptical research. It's good to have the models subjected to analysis by devoted skeptics - if even Christy and Spencer can't find anything wrong with them, it strengthens the case further (so I guess we ought to be watching for what comes out of UAH in the next year or so).

My point is simply this: the myth of the climate scientist raising alarm to generate research dollars is officially busted. The fact is, there are plenty of politicians who want this global warming business to just go away so they don't have to ask their constituents for sacrifices. Meaning there are plenty of government dollars to go around for research skeptical of climate change - if only there were enough scientists to take advantage of it. As I've argued before, every conceivable material incentive should be pushing scientists away from the consensus, given the number of people desperate to believe that global warming is a hoax. Getting research grants from oil companies or think tanks, selling books, getting time on talk shows – it’s all easier when people are looking for a viewpoint, and you’re one of the few people who’s got it. And yet, 97% of climatologists have refused to buck the consensus, despite the vast economic rents to be earned by doing so.

Pork barrel spending for skeptical climate research? Who’s feeding at the trough now?