Monday, March 31, 2008

Wot the f#@k is going on here?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What is CO2?

Stumbling around the internet tubes and I came across this site: Greening Australia. Well made site. Very pretty. Lots of good stuff about climate change.

Well, not quite.

See if you can work out what's wrong with this statement:

Plants and trees absorb CO2 for their biomass and then convert it to oxygen through photosynthesis. This process is known as the 'Carbon Cycle' and without it life on earth could not exist.
Plants don't convert CO2 to O2, they convert CO2 to sugars, the O2 comes from water (H2O) through a separate (though linked) process.

But wait, there's more.

This process is known as the 'Carbon Cycle' and without it life on earth could not exist.
What the ?!?! The carbon cycle is actually:

...... the biogeochemical cycle by which carbon is exchanged between the biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere of the Earth.

The cycle is usually thought of as four major reservoirs of carbon interconnected by pathways of exchange. The reservoirs are the atmosphere, the terrestrial biosphere (which usually includes freshwater systems and non-living organic material, such as soil carbon), the oceans (which includes dissolved inorganic carbon and living and non-living marine biota), and the sediments (which includes fossil fuels). The annual movements of carbon, the carbon exchanges between reservoirs, occur because of various chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes. The ocean contains the largest active pool of carbon near the surface of the Earth, but the deep ocean part of this pool does not rapidly exchange with the atmosphere.
I'm all for simplifying science and communicating it to the masses but when you can't even get basic high school biology correct - that's a problem. When you're trying to set an example - that's an even bigger problem.

Rant over.

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Earth Hour

Along with everyone else in our street we ‘celebrated’ Earth Hour last night. We turned all our lights off, lit a few candles, drank a little wine and did not much.

So did I really support it though? Well, yeah – kinda half heartedly at best.

I’m just not sure Earth Hour is worthwhile. I know – it’s about symbolism, and symbolism has its place and can be very important. Witness the recent apology by Prime Minister Rudd to the stolen generations.

As per usual, the wingnuts misrepresented and misjudged the situation. No honest person believed the entire point of Earth Hour was to reduce electricity generation and consumption for that one hour. We can expect ignorance and a large dose of stupid from that thankfully minor section of the population and they didn’t disappoint.

So what’s the problem?

I think Earth Hour is too easy.

It allows people to undertake a minimal and mostly painless activity that isn’t at all representative of an effective strategy to combat global warming. It reinforced the point that altruistic individual action is the solution, when it clearly isn’t.

Economists model individual human behaviour as that of the selfish maximiser. Sure, not everybody is, no one considers themselves that way, but a majority of people are a majority of the time.

If we rely on people being nice to stop global warming we’re well and truly screwed.

The only effective strategy is hitting the hip pocket. Carbon has to cost for everyone. Governments have to enact laws that ensure this is the case.

The recent petrol price hikes provide a fine example of how effective this strategy is. Oil prices skyrocketed. People bitched and moaned at the petrol companies and the government. Still do. Car companies built decent fuel efficient small cars instead of crap. People bought them instead of large and relatively inefficient cars. Car makers that couldn’t adjust (Mitsubishi in Australia for example) went broke. End result – many people are paying a similar amount (adjusted for inflation) to run their cars as they would've a couple of years ago, and their lives aren’t really the worse for it. Sure, their cars have a little less space and power, but they’ve the added benefit that they’re easier to drive and park, and there might even be a few less speed-related car accidents in the future.

The problem I have with Earth Hour is it’s akin to a few people going out and buying a big fast V6 instead of a big fast V8 and going “Look at me! I’m onto something here”. Everyone else still buys their V8s, some feeling a little guilty, some not. Up the fuel prices and all that changes.

Needless to say, a symbolic act by the people that made governments comprehend that real and effective action just might not be political suicide, well, that’d be something.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Teh Great Outdoors

I grew up in what mostly outsiders refer to as the 'outback'. In my case, that was anything west of about Roma I guess. Nowadays I live in the city but pop out to the SA nether regions once or so a year. Here's a few more images of the Flinders Ranges I took over Easter. If you're visiting Oz - make sure you get there.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

An Aussie Easter Image

Here's the wonderful Wilpena Pound illuminated by the glow of a full moon (click on the image to enlarge). I've a few more shots I'll put up of this amazing area in the next day or two.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lesson 3

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bolt caught deceiving (yet again)

This is quite funny. According to Andrew Bolt, evil cherry-picking scientists are saying heat-waves such as the current one we are undergoing in Adelaide could become more common in a warmer world. This a a tewwible crime!

And just to prove he's shooting for dux of the class in the Nexus 6 School of Denial, he's followed lesson 2: Make shit up.

Bolt displays this image to prove that it's actually really, really cold somewhere else in the world. According to Bolt: near New York right now.

Unfortunately for the screachy one, the image is from North Eastern Canada in 2004.

Poor Bolty.

UPDATE: In a stunning move, Bolt has recanted his entire post, apologised to the CSIRO for smearing their good name and humbly prostrated himself in front of his readers and begged for forgiveness for his deception of publishing a 4 year-old Canadian photo as a counterpoint to the record current Adelaide heat-wave:
Readers say the above image sent by Janek was from Japan, or Canada, or somewhere else not enjoying Adelaide’s bit of heat.

What a twat. Admit you screwed up ya tosser!! It's an old photo, probably taken in winter, from an area that snows a lot. Kind of like saying Milli Vanilli proves 21st century Rock is dead!

However, Bolt, true to form, just digs a little deeper in the snow:

But for those wanting a newer picture, here’s one of the Ottawa garages crushed by Canada’s huge snows:

How would the CSIRO spin this?
I dunno, Bolty. Perhaps they'd look at the temperatures for Ottawa this month. Perhaps they'd compare them to historical temperatures for the month of March. Maybe, just maybe, they'd opine that Ottawa's March temperatures haven't been extreme, either up or down, at all.

One thing I would be reasonably sure of though, they wouldn't be stupid enough to confuse high snowfall with low temperature.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Northern Lights

Here's some pics I took of the Northern Lights projections in North Tce, Adelaide:

Plenty more below the fold.

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Fark, it's hot (part III)'s still going. Definitely uncharted territory now - by far Adelaide's (or any Australian capital city's) longest ever heat-wave (Days > 35C/95F) . 15 friggin' days and counting - thankfully, tomorrow is expected to be the last scorcher. Good on the Fireies for sorting out the amazingly few fires that have occurred over the past few days. The arrest of one of the major Hills arsonists last year seems to have had a rather positive effect.

Looking forward to a cooler Easter - pubs must be near out of beer now. Could be riots ;)

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Scholarly wingnut

Andrew Bolt is perhaps the most scientifically challenged of all the Australian bloggers who commit a fair portion of their posts to climate change (and that sure is saying something, though to be fair, Tim Blair ain't exactly Arrhenius either).

But it's good to see he's being studying hard at the institution known as none other than the Nexus 6 School of Denial. Ever a committed, if slightly dim, student, Bolt took a whole five days to adapt the lessons learnt from this particular cartoon to the Adelaide heat-wave situation.

The CSIRO’s global warming alarmists talk up a hot burst in Adelaide:

CSIRO principal research scientist Kevin Hennessy said the current heat wave was consistent with predictions of future extreme temperatures.

If a week of hot weather in Adelaide is evidence of global warming to the CSIRO, what does the CSIRO think three months of colder weather around the whole globe prove?

“Cherry-picking” hardly describes this.

Nothing if not predictable is the angry little fella.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Solar bollocks

Some one's gotta wack-a-mole. Good on Mike Lockwood for doing the deed (yet again). Unsurprisingly, solar variation, cosmic rays, unicorns etc. are not the major cause of recent warming.

To help nail down the effect of solar radiation, geophysicist Mike Lockwood of the University of Southampton, U.K., examined data available since 1955 on the monthly average output of the sun, including sunspots, magnetic activity, and cosmic-ray variations. Then he compared those data, month by month, with average global temperature records, as well as El Niño- and La Niña-induced weather cycles and the atmospheric effects of major volcanic eruptions. The result, Lockwood and colleagues report in two papers published online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, is that for the past half-century, the sun has exerted only a small influence on climate--about 3% compared with the warming influence of greenhouse gases and natural climate cycles.

Lockwood says a key advantage of his approach is that he relied on hard data rather than computer models. "One problem that crops up [in the climate discussion] is that scientists use complex models that nonspecialists don't understand and therefore don't trust," he explains.

Lockwood's research represents "a solid look at whether global temperature increases are being driven by changes in the brightness of the sun," says geophysicist Dáithí Stone of the University of Oxford in the U.K. The work suggests that "there is basically no way that this can be the case," he says.

Colour me shocked!

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Fark it's hot (Pt. II)

Today we beat the record for the longest heat-wave of any Australian capital city (Marble Bar's 160 day record ain't under any threat though). Many are starting to freak out a little as 30 knot winds started today and are predicted to last for a couple of days yet. Fires are already happening. People are shitting themselves that a repeat of the horrific Ash Wednesday fires may be on the cards. We just bought our first house in the Adelaide Hills so we're a little apprehensive at the moment. Chances are all will be OK, but the likelihood that this will become a once every few years event, rather than a once in every 50 year event, is a little worrying.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lesson 2

Fark, it's hot here!

rAdelaide, ma' base, hit the record for the longest heat wave (days above 35C) in 121 years of recorded temperatures yesterday, the ninth scorcher in a row. Not that amazing, you may think, as there have been eight other occasions of eight day heat waves (the most recent being in 2004). Here's the thing though, temperatures are not expected to dip until at least next Wednesday, meaning we are looking at a doubling of the previous record. Goddamn!! And it's not even summer any more here! So what have 'teh evil climate larmists' got to say:

Bureau of Meteorology South Australian regional director Andrew Watson said Adelaide was entering a new era of high temperatures.

"Twenty years ago the same meteorology would not have produced the same temperatures," he said. "We are very confident that this is correlated to a general warming of the atmosphere."

National Climate Centre climatologist Blair Trewin said a 14-day record would place Adelaide "off the scale" of Australian temperature records. "It will go down as one of the most significant prolonged heatwaves anywhere in Australia," Dr Trewin said.

Beer haulage trucks will need armed guards Mad Max style soon.

Anyways, I think we can be fairly confidant about what'll happen next: wingnuts will claim that the surface stations are broken and we're actually undergoing a frigidly cold snap, thus disproving global warming. I'd put money on it if I were a betting man.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lesson 1

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Times Online Top 50 Eco Blogs

The chaps at Times Online have voted yours truly's little home as one of the top 50 eco blogs getting around at the moment. Good on 'em (though I suspect they'd might have wanted to take it back if they had of known I'm quite partial to things like GMOs and nuclear power stations - hahahahah!!!).

Anyways, pop over there to see who else makes the cut.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Rejected. Pt. II

In part I we looked at the Margin of Error (MOE) of the Brown et al. survey of climate scientists. Assuming a random sample, the poll displayed a range of opinion among climate scientists concerning the position set forth by the IPCC. Even taking into account the fairly large MOE, the poll indicates a lack of complete consensus. There are, however, a number of other sources of error which in my view would and should prevent any half-decent journal publishing the poll in its present from (E&E would jump at it, I'm sure).

According to Harris Interactive, other common poll errors include:

- Non-response errors
- Errors due to question wording or order
- Errors due to interviewers
- Weighting errors

Let’s look at the first error as it would possibly apply to the Brown et al. poll.

Of the 1807 people who were contacted, 140 responded. From what I understand of political polls, this is an average response rate. Did the sampled persons differ, as a group, in any meaningful way in their preferences and attitudes to those who did reply?

Quite possibly.

The authors analyse this problem in their paper:

On the coverage and responses, there are large discrepancies between the numbers of responses from various countries. The lack of response from China, along with the number of ‘message failure’ automated response, suggest that few, if any, of the scientists in that country received the email. This is interpreted as a function of a server error or malfunction. The relatively large responses from the United States and the United Kingdom are, at least in part, a function of the language in which the poll was constructed (although almost all climate change research is in English); no translations were made; all enquiries were in English. It should also be noted, though, that the Global community of scientists involved in climate related disciplines is heavily skewed, with a large proportion of the work taking place in US and EU academic and state institutions. Therefore, though the language bias is likely to have suppressed the level of response from countries where English is not the common language, the international range and proportion of responses is interpretable as broadly representative of the community as a whole.
OK, so far, so good. But...
One consequence of the diverse and relatively low response rate from countries other than the USA and, to a lesser extent, the UK, however, is that no statistically meaningful international comparisons can be made at this time, though a comparison of scientific opinion from those who responded within the USA and in `other countries’ collectively is possible.
If no statistically meaningful international comparisons can be made, according to the authors’ own opinion, why is the following in the main body of the paper?
In addition, responses were broken down by country of response. By applying a numerical value to the responses it is possible to see interesting differences between opinions within the USA and outside, in particular in EU countries. The mean score was 5.0, (where 5.0 means agreement with the IPCC WG Report). In the USA, the mean response was 4.8, compared to 5.2 in all other countries, and 5.6 in EU countries. The scientists based in the USA who replied to the survey are slightly more in disagreement with the Report than scientists outside, and scientists based in the EU (with particularly strong signals [5.9] from a small sample coming from Germany), tend to be more ‘alarmed’ than in other countries. Another small response, from Mexico, showed anomalously large concern, scoring 6.3).
Gawd, at least put standard deviations in!!

Most importantly, the lack of replies from whole demographic groups not only serves to invalidate the comparison between these groups, it potentially invalidates the entire survey.

James Annan sort of gets it here:
Of course the main weakness is in the response rate of ~10%: that leaves open the possibility that the 90% non-responders were either all firmly supportive of the IPCC and saw the poll as a bit of irresponsible trouble-making that didn't justify a response, or all so thoroughly alienated and marginalised by the IPCC that they don't have the energy to grumble about it. Personally, I think the first of these is much closer to the truth, but it seems we will never know for sure.
But then completely misses the mark:
Of course, all surveys suffer from this problem to some extent. I bet all the current polls on Clinton vs Obama have enough refusals to completely dominate the result, were they all to end up on one side of the fence. Yet you don't see reports saying "Clinton 22%, Obama 24%, and the other 54% slammed the phone down".
Just having people refuse isn’t necessarily the problem. It's only a problem if those people refusing would have answered, as a group, differently to those who did reply. As I said in Pt. I, Australian polls, often with high refusal rates, are generally extremely accurate, with the final election results usually falling with the MOE of most of the big polls (It helps a lot that we all have to vote so the survey can be compared directly to the results – unlike the US).

The problem with this specific poll is that not only have entire countries been skipped, it's entirely likely that the S. Freds and the Pat Michaels would have been far more likely to respond. A statistically significant denial of the IPCC position (on the 'it’s all overblown' side, of course) would help them propagate the 'consensus is dead' meme they work so hard in spreading (As an aside, why is it that denialists never seek to kill the 'IPCC consensus' by showing that many scientists and their peer-reviewed papers clearly believe that the IPCC is being far too conservative? It’s almost as if consensus-breaking only works one way. Disingenuous or dishonest? You decide.)

On its own, the non-response error is possibly not fatal – but the errors are sure starting to add up.

More in Pt. III.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rejected! Conspiracy? No! (Pt. 1)

A recent paper submitted to EOS and Nature Precedings by Fergus Brown, James Annan and Roger Pielke Sr. was summarily rejected (Roger’s bold, not mine). The paper, published on RPJ Sr.’s site, concerned a poll, carried out by the authors via email, that demonstrated a range of opinion among main-stream climate scientists concerning the ‘IPCC consensus’. Unsurprisingly, most thought that the IPCC WG1 report was pretty much correct, some thought it was too conservative and some thought it went too far. No one denied global warming.

So, what’s the problem?

All of the authors are switched on people who know their climate science. But when it comes to polling their expertise leaves a little to be desired of, and it shows in their paper. It shouldn’t be published in its current form. Not because of a conspiracy. Not because its conclusions are necessarily wrong. It’s just that the mostly ignored potential statistical errors made the conclusions just as likely as not invalid. Simple as that.

Now, I’m not an expert in polling myself. Far from it. However, avidly reading the excellent Possum’s Pollytics during the run up to the recent Australian Federal election, I got a bit of a feel for the subject (If I ever did get around to doing the best blogs of ’07, Possum would have won it by a country mile). When you do a poll, there are some things you have to do to have it taken seriously, and some things you really shouldn't do. In my always humble opinion, the Brown et al. survey falls well short.

Unfortunately, the consequence of the rejection means that Roger is alluding to a cover up and the denialist blogosphere has latched on and started screaming. As always, it would have been far better if some reason from the reviewer/s had been given for the rejection, and a chance given to fix the errors.

So what’s the problem?

Part 1 of this post will look at the most obvious.

Don’t publish a poll without ‘teh MOE’. It’s the good ‘ol Margin Of Error and it needs to be there. Otherwise, the poll looks amateur. Using a certain confidence interval (the most common is 95%), you can easily calculate the percentage of the entire population, as represented by your sample, that will give the affirmative for a particular answer (though you’ll be wrong 5% of the time, hence the 95% interval!). The formula for a 95% confidence interval is 1.96 *sqrt((p(1-p)/n)) when p is the popn % that gave the affirmative to that particular answer and n is the sample size.

So let’s look at the Brown et al. sample. To simplify, I’ve taken the no. of people who supported a particular answer and half the no. of people who split between the two answers on either side (The total still = 100%).

57% of people ticked answer no.5. n = 140, therefore the MOE= 8.2%. So the percentage of the population of climate scientists GIVEN A PERFECTLY RANDOM SAMPLE who would answer yes to no.5 is likely to be between 48.8% and 65.2%, with a 5% chance that the true percentage lies outside of these values. I’ve plotted the MOES for all the answers below:

As you can see, if the sample taken was perfectly random and no other errors were introduced (A proposition that is highly unlikely, which I’ll cover in Part 2), it’s likely that there isn’t a ‘100%’ consensus of scientists that support the IPCC position. However, a poll with a simple MOE of around 8% is just not considered overly valid. Most political polls in Oz come in with a MOE of around 3%, and I suspect a reputable journal would want something similar before they’d publish it.

It’s important to note that this is separate, though related, issue to the ‘low’ response rate. Put simply, the sample size is too small. 1000 people can give a fairly accurate representation of 100 million voters, 140 people can't give an accurate representation of even a few tens of thousands of climate scientists (or less).

Yes, there probably isn't a perfect consensus. Can that be quantified by the survey? No.

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