Saturday, February 27, 2010

Judith Curry asks for climate sanity

Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry is one of very few senior climate scientists to reach out to the climate skeptics and outright denialists that are behind the "Climategate" scandal. Here she writes of her interest in seeing some research "sanity" prevail.

The scandal itself is of course at least eight or nine-tenths manufactured by unscrupulous denialist exploitation of minor weaknesses in some parts of both the research itself, and the way that it has been presented and defended by a tiny minority of scientists. I tend to think of it as a storm in a teacup. This too shall pass.

But what should I think about Curry's essay? Because in many ways she's quite right. We really should try to let reason prevail, and let the data begin to speak for themselves again.

That at least is my policy in my teaching. I've been teaching climate science to quite conservative youngsters for many years now, and I do find that the data speak better for themselves that I can speak for them. The majority of students in my classes are moderate climate skeptics. They usually come away at the end with a moderately deeper appreciation for the science, and are better able to understand the risks and uncertainties. It's good work, and redeeming, and I must be a good dooby, doing the right thing.

But what grips me about this whole debate is how little it really matters in the light of oil depletion and technological improvement in renewables and efficiency.

This, I think, is where it helps to be trained in engineering and economics as well as climate change. Only the interdisciplinary perspective here can really sort out the problems. But the problem is getting sorted out.

Because the new low-emissions technology in the pipeline now is just excellent. Looking better and better every month.

By the time we have another ten years of technological advancement and deployment in amorphous solar, fourth generation nuclear power, algal biofuels, green building and retrofit, hybrid-electric vehicles, smart grid technology, and even the hyped-up Bloom Boxes, we won't be worrying nearly as much about how we're going to reduce emissions any more.

No, what really matters is not so much whether we worry about this climategate scandal and restoring trust, but whether we keep up the pace of technology innovation and deployment.

Anyone who thinks we're going to want to burn coal when all these newer, cheaper, cleaner systems are available is not paying attention.

So do we need to rebuild the public's trust in climate science? Well, it would be nice. But it's not the most important thing, and it isn't going to decide the outcome. And the public is lazy and fickle. It's a lot of effort.

Newsflash: A good majority of the American public routinely doesn't trust science. On the one had we have the flat-earth anti-evolution crowd, on the other we have organic-granola crunching advocates of homeopathy. Flat-earthers can't accept climate science because they think the planet didn't evolve anyway. And while our left-leaning organic types like climate science because it fulfills their expectation that evil humans are killing Mother Gaia, and the solution is to collectivize and go back to the land, I'm not sure I want this kind of wishy-washy thinking on my side in any case.

I think at this point we could perhaps stop trying quite so hard to convince the public about climate change, and we might actually do succeed better as a result. We could perhaps even run the risk of not passing a climate bill (which would be the main reason for educating the public in the first place). If Jim Hansen is right and the advent of an El Nino means another bumper hurricane crop and another hottest year on record, that will help a bit. But I'm no longer so desperate to have people understand, to have them see what I see in the data.

Instead we could let oil price settle the issue for us. Now that the Chinese economy is back on track, demand will begin to outstrip supply again, perhaps even this year, and so all these new technologies will get a boost. A few strategically placed subsidies and research grants might accelerate the process of R & D and deployment.

The main thing would be not to build new coal-fired power plants and to phase out the ones we have. But price points can do that as efficiently as public pressure and legislation can, or more so, given how long it has taken to get Congress to even think about the issue. And coal is desperately centralized, as power goes. While the coal power itself is cheap, it's expensive to keep patching together this centralized grid that delivers the power to market, and it isn't secure. It will make a lot more sense to use the new technologies and ideas to begin to create a more decentralized grid.

Because if there's one thing the American public does agree on, it's that everyone likes a bargain.

Plus, if we really don't want to be owned by China, we need to be masters of our own technological fate. Luckily, a lot of these new patents are well-and-truly American.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crop Mobs: New idea in community agriculture

This from the NYT today.

Sounds like fun. When will Womerlippi Farm get theirs?

Hype over: Bloom Box revealed in CA

The secretive Bloom Energy Co has revealed its new fuel cell. There's even a specifications page, a price, and they are apparently taking orders. The specs are for 100KW rated output for $700,000. That's a whopping $7 per installed watt, which is about the price of the cheaper solar systems and way more expensive than wind, solar thermal, improved insulation, or coal, oil, and natural gas combustion. It uses methane for fuel, either from geological or biofuel sources, and it puts out the same amount of CO2 per unit fuel as any other methane device. It does however, have the higher overall efficiency of a fuel cell, over 50% thermal efficiency, which compares well to that of the internal combustion engine, but poorly to that of natural gas combined heat and power systems.

This is only a breakthrough if they can get the price down, and/or come up with biogas generation systems to match.

It is however, a good candidate for distributed generation of base load, so it goes on the same list as the Hyperion small-scale thorium reactor, and is a great potential contributor to grid security and grid hardening.

I don't see any mention of use for transportation. Is there something about the new solid oxide fuel cell format that prevents its use in a car or truck or train? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For Env. Sustainability class: Steve Schneider's new book

For ecological economics and energy classes on market failures, externailties, and cost benefit analysis



Teasers versus the real thing

Another mysterious story about a new energy system appeared in today's Guardian. Unlike the first, which appears to have died quietly in the foggy no-mans land of cyber news, this one may have legs.

A secretive Silicon Valley start-up firm will unveil a new fuel cell system on Wednesday. This story, which stands up to shallow verification attempts, seems kosher. I guess we'll see. Here's the link to the most detailed coverage I found.

Don't bother watching the company's video. It's just the kind of supposedly inspirational media BS that firms come up with nowadays, especially when the IPO looms.

Have none of these communications majors read Orwell? Don't they realize that this kind of mind-junk just backfires with truly independently-minded people?

So I have grave doubts as to whether this wonderful new fuel cell will come up to specs, mostly because any company that resorted to this kind of vacuous self-promotion must be at least partly composed of spivs, flim-flam men, and get-rich-quick manipulators.

The willingness that the liberal media shows for helping these types of folks succeed in promoting energy start-ups is interesting. It shows how desperate we are for the quick fix. The Guardian, once the bastion of northern British Fabianism, is one of the worst. Even my Sheffield uncle that used to work for HMG in the good old bad old days of old Labour, who has probably read this paper since 1949, has given up on it at this point.

Want a quick energy fix? Sorry. Can't help you. I don't sell drugs.

Want a medium-quick, cost effective fix, I've got one for you.

Start by weatherizing and insulating your home.

Start this weekend. Why not? You've been talking about how important energy and climate change are for years. Why not actually do something. Start small, if you have to. One roll of R 19, one can of spray foam.

Total cost forty bucks. Marginal personal and intellectual integrity, priceless.

If you don't have any manual skills of any kind, like you can't hit a nail with a hammer even one time in two (if you're another Orwellian new-speaking, mind-numbing communications major), you'll have to hire someone, and it will cost three times as much, but it will still significantly reduce climate emissions, and it will still pay for itself.

Go on! What are you waiting for? The second coming?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sheep in the sights again: Another urban shepherd story


People still aren't getting it, but the sheep (who are soon to have lambs) and I don't mind. We can play the long game. After all, we've been around for millenia, we shepherds and our sheep.

It may take years but sooner or later we'll figure out that sheep reduce climate emissions from grass mowing drastically. And that mowing is a significant source of emissions that is well worth being reduced.

And the sheep will have their day. And we will relearn to eat lamb chops and perhaps even haggis.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/21/sam-baldock-urban-shepherd-ethical

Friday, February 19, 2010

Energy and energy efficiency lab activities






As I mentioned earlier, we are teaching the new Energy and Energy Efficiency course for the first time, a key course in our Sustainability Design and Technology degree program. The course comes with a two-hour laboratory, for which we have the facilities of our primary computer-linked laboratory, the Physics lab, and the entire campus and State of Maine, wherever we have a research, service, or implementation project to go work on or go visit.

These are some recent lab activities.

Yesterday we took an in-depth building tour with Facilities Director Roger Duval, Sustainability Coordinator Jesse Pyles, and our new Rocky Mountain Institute Sustainability Fellow, Anne Stephenson.

We studied three important campus buildings: the Activities Building, the Library, and a residence hall. We looked at their heat systems and controls, the general state of their building envelope and insulation, and their windows and doors.

Two of these buildings, the Library and Activities, comprise about 39,000 square feet, and use about 15,000 gallons of heat oil per year, about 20-30% of our overall emissions (off the top of my head).

We have proposals in hand to insulate the Activities Building and fix the leaky building envelope and to put a pellet boiler system in the Library. How much of this we do depends on campus planning and grant proposals. Part of Anne's job is to sort out which of these and other projects to prioritize and perhaps bundle in one financial package.

Anne's infra-red camera also came on the trip. I hope to post some pictures from that soon.

There's also the photo of Mary climbing on the table during the previous lab to get a better turn on her screwdriver. We were assembling solar modules from solar cells. I had her get down off the table, for safety's sake, after I took this picture!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Road Not Taken premiers in DC



Well done Christina and Roman;

Hals und beinbruch!


Please join the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in presenting the US Premiere of Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller’s A ROAD NOT TAKEN. The screening will take place on Saturday, March 20 at 2:00 p.m. at the Museum. Please visit the link below for more information, including a synopsis of the film. The screening is free and does not require reservations.

http://www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org/films/show/488

Thanks and please let me know if you have any questions.

Best,
Chris

*******************************
Christopher Head
Managing Director
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Game changer

There are a handful of technologies that I teach under the heading of "game-changing." This isn't too futuristic. All are reality -- in the sense that they are under development, technically feasible as far as I can tell from the reports and my own critical insight, waiting for nothing really, except orders and demand, or for the factory to get built, or something like that.

One of the technologies I like to watch is amorphous solar PV using printing technology. And I mean printing, like newspapers or books. I follow the company Nanosolar as one example of a patent holder, but there are others. This technology has the potential to reduce the cost of solar PV to at least one tenth, and possibly even less, than its current costs. The result, widely deployed, would be that millions more buildings than present could have solar roofing and generate their own daytime power, and a surplus, for the grid.

The grid, of course, isn't ready for this, and neither are householders, so a massive investment will be needed in education and in decentralized grid management, but the potential is huge. The second factory is coming on line, 650 MW a year of cheap solar. A total of 1300 MW/year will soon be on line, the equivalent of four major coal or nuclear powered plants a year. And the patent is held by a company firmly within western democracy.

Then I study fourth generation nuclear power. Here I like to follow the fortunes of the Hyperion system. Hyperion is a US-patented, underground small scale reactor that is trucked to the factory for recycling and reconditioning at the end of its seven to ten year life. The system runs on thorium, which is secure and safe and doesn't exhibit the core-melt issue with regular nuclear power. Hyperion reactors are essentially nuclear cells, by which I mean that they might as well be batteries.

Hyperion reactors for base load, and Nanosolar power plants for peak load, would provide the core of a new electricity generation system for years to come. And the patent is held by an American company, who bought it from the US government, and who is also firmly within western democracy.

And much as I like wind power, and even though wind power is currently cheaper then either of these two technologies, even I have to admit that wind power is much more damaging to the environment than either of these. (Although wind power is far less damaging and dangerous than coal, oil, or natural gas generation, or conventional uranium or plutonium reactors. And these technologies will still take longer to deploy than the many megawatts of turbines currently planned for this year in the US, or for the North Sea by the yUKe.)

But neither printed PV nor fourth generation nuclear power, nor even wind power, can provide a liquid fuel, except by some inefficient energy transformation. And liquid fuels are the best energy system so far for transportation. Electric cars are great, and I still wouldn't say no to a plug-in Prius, if the price came down, or a Chevy Volt, and they have potential to improve city air greatly, but let's face it, the battery problem just sucks.

So when I read this article here in the Guardian this morning I got very excited. A DARPA scientist, Dr, Barbara McQuiston, is quoted as stating that the DARPA algal-based fuels program has been able to get production costs for algal biofuel down to around $2 a gallon.

This is a total game changer. If this is an accurate report, then algae-based biofuel can eventually replace diesel in a huge number of types of transportation uses: trains, airplanes, shipping, cars and trucks. The only technical difficulty will be in developing cold climate systems, and even then the difficulty can be overcome by heating tanks and fuel lines with waste heat from combustion. These are problems that Unity College students have solved, more or less, over the years with their biodiesel and grease cars.

(If one of our student enthusiasts can make a grease car that runs in a Maine winter, I'm sure Boeing or McDonnell-Douglas can make a biofuel airplane that can fly in the cold of high altitude.)

At $2 a gallon, we might even heat Maine homes cost-effectively with algal biofuel. Although there would still be a major trade-off between biofuel, and insulation and weatherization. We might still prefer to fix up our houses so they need far less heat, and then use a combination of electricity and biofuel to provide that heat.

The very great thing is, algae-based biofuel can be made carbon neutral. And the even better thing is, this is a technology developed by one of the handful of countries in the world that I actually trust.

That might be important one fine day. I don't go around expecting people, especially the people that run one-party dictatorships, to be nice to me, or either of my two countries, just because. I want them to be nice to us because they have to be, because we're more powerful and can really ruin their day if we need to.

So, with algal-based biofuel a reality, if it is, the Chinese (and Russians, and Kim Jong Il, and terrorists who want us all to kow-tow to the new Islamic caliphate, and all their ilk) can all go suck a thousand year-old egg.

And so, now, can climate deniers and the shameful companies that fund them.

If it doesn't cost us anything to switch to carbon neutrality, if a low or no carbon fuel is cheaper than a fossil fuel and runs in basically the same kind of equipment, well, all the arguments against switching diminish to nothing. If it's even slightly precautionary to switch, and it costs you less, you're going to switch, and anyone who thinks otherwise is die-hard and anti-rational beyond belief.

Which is going to be great, because of course nutcases like Monkton and his ilk are diehard and anti-rational beyond belief and now we get to watch them being so and laugh them out of court. And you know they won't be able to help themselves. It'll be better than Jon Stewart interviewing Sarah Palin.

So now I've gloated my way to these wonderful conclusions, my academic skepticism is of course lurking in the background. What can't I find confirmation of McQuiston's statement on the DARPA website? Where is the original source for this news article? Is this really true?

It'd better be.

Mickey Mouse?

I think I like this chemist Dr. Pike.

Stop funding Mickey Mouse degrees, says top scientist

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Come into my parlor...

...said the spider to the fly. The boss of Russian state-own gas monopolist Gazprom wants the yUKe to give up on offshore wind.

Anyone who takes this fellow at face value needs their head examining. With massive and extremely reliable winds in the North Sea, and effective plans to make turbine components in-country, this is one energy source that is British and will be so for years to come.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/feb/09/scrap-windfarms-says-gazprom

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The CO2 bathtub

This link is for the more serious of our Sustech and other wonks who want to learn how to model emissions. Fire up your Stella or Excel and see if you can reproduce these results.

http://www.iie.com/realtime/?p=1173

Massive UK solar subsidy announced

Do the math.

£0.41 per KWH at $1.56/pound is 64¢

That would get you a whole new world of solar panels fairly quickly. And a disorganized start on a serious smart grid/distributed power system. I guess the yUKe is getting serious about green power.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/feb/06/solar-power-bright-investment

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cold turbine won't spin? Change the oil!

Picture from today's New York Times.


The state of Minnesota bought some refurbished Techapi or Altamont turbines and placed them on some cold, cold sites.

Forgetting to switch the California-temp spec high SAE gear oil!

Duh!

But this was fun for me because it beautifully underscores my key lesson, that government and business energy planners, however white collar, need to know enough about the technology they advocate and implement to avoid stupid and expensive mistakes. Which is one major goal of our Sustech degree: creating a businessperson or government planning wonk who knows enough about the equipment to order-up the switching out of the high weight gear oil in the turbines the government program installs!

Would one of our trainee Sustech-ers, a Heidi or a Cody or a Jamie, have known this?

Hopefully, yes, particularly after the full four years. And I'm collecting a portfolio of such errors to make up lessons with. This is a great addition! Thanks, Minnesota!

It's hard to know every little thing about every kind of tech, but we need to know a good bit about each kind, and we need to know how to do an exhaustive survey of requirements before we call up an expensive installation.

And then there's good old fashioned, surprisingly uncommon, common sense.

What do you say, guys?

It's nice to learn from other people's mistakes, isn't it. Much nicer than learning from your own.

Makes you wonder if the refurbishers really went through those gear boxes the way they should have, too, doesn't it? Do you think they did do so, and just made the more forgivable mistake of put new heavy oil back in when they were done, or do you think they didn't, perhaps lying about it to the purchasers, and this is just ancient Californian oil?

I'd love to know!

Best Climate Video Ever

Someone needs to give this guy an Oscar. Or a Nobel.



Wish I could teach as well as this. I probably should have taken more drama. Just awesome work. Lively, but intellectually rigorous.

It also underscores the huge benefits of educators accessing and fully employing or even creating viral media. Here's a superbly crafted lesson available for free on the Internet. How could you not use this?

My stodgier colleagues (not just at Unity College) who look with disdain upon my blogging and viral video activities won't notice, since they don't read my blog (or anyone elses), but the educational world has changed mightily the last decade and a half that we've had the Internet widely available and piped into the classroom.

Of course, this won't end the debate between Internet skeptics and Internet advocates in education. But it's becoming increasingly moot.

The argument between users of viral educational media and non-users used to turn on quality. You used to hear things like, "students shouldn't use Wikipedia to access knowledge because Wikipedia isn't reliable" or "I don't have the time to keep up with so much stuff that's of such low quality, so I stick to print journals."

Most of this was, I often felt, at least at times an excuse for cleaving to old comfortable work habits, for not having to stretch oneself into new media, for wanting to have another coffee break rather than keeping up with one's field. And off course, folks are still saying this kind of thing even though Wikipedia has improved massively and continues to improve, and even though most of the best print journals are now on-line and some of the must useful secondary and tertiary literature media (by which we can quickly survey the print journals and keep up with the research and applied news) are now blogs and online newsletters and the like.

And so faculty would, for instance, ban Wikipedia or blogs or even web pages from research papers. The students, of course, would then pretend they didn't use Wikipedia or blogs or web pages for basic research, hiding the fact that they found the required primary printed papers by studying the links at the bottom of the relevant wikipage!

This is sort of like Mike Mullen's obviously heart-felt statement on gays in the military -- the policy makes people dishonest, and obviously so, so we should suspect it on those grounds alone.

Intellectual integrity was and is the point all along. Just because the media we use come from today's marketplace of ideas (and not yesterday's), doesn't mean to say it's definitely of low quality. And how are we to teach critical thinking and good judgment of authority in research if we ignore what's on the Internet?

News flash! Eventually everything will be on the Internet! Almost everything is now!

Students need to be able to properly judge the quality of information wherever it appears. If we tell them from the get go that information on the Internet is routinely suspect and other information is not, the message they will get is Internet bad, books and journals good.

The real message should be, all information is routinely suspect, and you, the student/academic/citizen, the user of information, have to figure out from first principles what is and isn't good information.

Luckily, the new generations of students are in many ways more skeptical than us fogies. They grew up with the Internet.

They certainly will see us coming, especially when we come at them with the same mimeographed handouts we've used for thirty years!

Ban the Internet from student research?

I'd like to ban thirty-year old hand-outs.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Some national press for UC sustainability

Jesse is in the ACUPCC Implementer, while I'm in the NYT's Green Inc.

Climategate code-cracking

I have been very sang-froid about the "climategate" controversy, I must admit. Cool as a cucumber. A long cold drink of not getting upset about this.

I think that this is mostly because I've learned to take the long view in most things: "this too shall pass," "twas ever thus," and "sufficient to the day is the evil thereof" being some of my favorite aphorisms. I need to read more, I know, get some new quotes. But these are at least retro.

I also deeply prefer not to contend with people over obviously moot issues, especially when evidence is being ignored. If someone wants to work with me using evidence to try to solve a real problem, then I'm all over that like white on rice. I never saw an analytical problem I didn't like, as long as I can take a deep breath and go back to first principles. I don't even mind employing the political science education I got as a side dish with my policy PhD in service of analysis -- trying to figure out why some people cleave to wrong information, for instance. As long as I can do it analytically.

But I don't enjoy actually arguing with people who cleave tightly to wrong information. That's a whole other ball of waxed-up-ears. The minute I realize I'm dealing with a closed mind, I back off.

Why waste my time? That's not very Zen. Smile sweetly, or at least grin awkwardly, and withdraw. The universe will deliver the proper lessons in it's own sweet time.

And I do expect climategate will blow over soon. Perhaps literally, in another major hurricane. The posse of denialists who are behind the scandal can't, like Canute, hold back the biophysical tide of ecosystem modification that is the really important evidence for climate change. Since a lot of their focus has been on calling attention to the relatively moderate global AAT increase of the last decade, trying to tell us all that "global warming has reversed" and that climatologists are concealing this "fact" from the general public (when the data series is widely available for any amateur statistician to explore), most likely this particular resolution will begin to bite this summer and into the hurricane season as a new El Nino/ENSO kicks in.

I wonder what their new bugbear will turn out to be. You know they're going to have to find one! It will be fun to see what it turns out to be.

As long as we're talking about aphorisms however, climategate is a fairly bitter cup that the worldwide community of climate scientists and mitigation policy people must now at least temporarily drink. And I do feel somewhat sorry for the several dedicated and hard-working researchers whose careers are now threatened because they took perhaps hasty action to deflect denialist bullets.

Read this Guardian page for an interesting sub-plot in the whole sorry affair that explains how these perhaps well-intended but ultimately self-destructive efforts took place.

This manufactured scandal also has made it yet more difficult to teach the basics of climate knowledge to non-majors. As an advocate, on record in multiple journals and proceedings, for the position that the academy must now reorganize to teach basic climate knowledge to non-majors, as well as basic energy security knowledge, the question becomes, how do you successfully teach basic climate knowledge in an environment where skepticism and denialism has the upper hand, for now?

This isn't just a purely academic notion. It's my daily bread-and-butter. Unity College differs from every other specialized environmental college in the country in that we possess a fairly large proportion of male students from ex-urban, low- to middle-income, blue-collar backgrounds. This demographic has been changing recently, but we still bring in around 30-50 such young men a year, primarily in our Conservation Law Enforcement program, but also in Aquaculture and Fisheries, Wildlife, and Parks, Recreation and Ecotourism.

This influx has its benefits. We have a rather decent search and rescue team, for instance. I enjoy my basic training work with these sturdy fellows each year -- an idiosyncratic legacy of a past life as a mountain rescue leader for the Royal Air Force, and the exercise keeps the pounds at bay, if not quite off altogether. When I want to put them back on, there's also an excellent annual game dinner, replete with the gory bounty of the hook-and-bullet fraternity. And our woodsman team generally cleans the table in local and regional competitions.

It defies understanding, but there are probably thousands of American students at hundreds of über-liberal environmental programs at regular colleges, or yet more über-liberal regular programs at environmental colleges, who have never eaten even the tiniest part of a north American game animal, or never split a single piece of their own wood, or for that matter heard of such a thing as a woodsman's team.

How environmentalist is that?

Indeed, I've often thought that if we could just all get our six-footer, 240-pound lumberjacks organized and teach them a few new moves, we'd have a truly superb Rugby Union forward pack, and could then take on and oh-so-sweetly destroy all our much richer, classier neighbors at what's known in Maine as the CBB.

(CBB = Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin -- the other, traditional and upscale, Maine private colleges.)

But that would just be a modified form of class warfare, and I really should lose this working class Yorkshireman's chip on my shoulder.

The problem is, these young men we bring in each year also bring in a fairly unexamined attitude about climate change and climate politics. That's putting it very mildly. And they are not particularly academic in their ways and so tend to lack critical thinking skills with which to examine their unexamined attitudes. And so now with climategate they have a bit more fuel with which to stoke their private metaphoric piles of burning books.

Fahranheit 451, redux, on a small scale, up close and personal. Anti-intellectualism. So there are some closed minds I have to argue with.

No great matter. I'm just going to have to be a bit more assiduous about getting them to examine the data themselves. The only problem is, how much time this takes. It used to take at least six weeks of a three-credit class to work through the climate evidence systematically and try to answer all the important questions that students could come up with.

Now it will take about ten.

One more hidden consequence of the scandal has been that new data coming in to the mix has been ignored in the media race-to-the-bottom to credit or condemn the various protagonists. Even my favorite climate policy bloggers, Revkin of the NYT and Monbiot of the Guardian, are pushing this silly bandwagon.

But if they would stop and look for a minute, they'd notice that it turns out that we're honing in on the question of climate sensitivity to forcing factors. This is the knotty problem of how much weight to give each of the many factors in a climate model, in order to make the best predictions. I was very interested in Solomon's new paper on water vapor, recently published in Science. And I read with great interest James McCarthy's recent decadal retrospective in the same journal, particularly the summary of information on improved model sensitivity.

This graphic here, Figure 8, which apparently comes credited to the AGU, particularly caught my eye as an effective way to highlight recent improvements in sensitivity knowledge. Look at the way the three factorial time series work together to make the fourth, the actual AAT series.

Now, that's sexy. The crude r-squared statistic for this empirical model is now 76%. To understand how little unexplained variation this really is for such a complex system, in a recent anemometry test we performed here at the college, side by side anemometers of different brands, separated by only two meters, recording the same wind speeds at the same time, delivered a crude r-squared of only 79%.

So, it's ironic, isn't it. While the denialists are currently rampant, behind the scenes the real climate scientists are actually starting to figure out how this thing works. I'm not sure readers will know how unexpected this is. There are climatologists and especially meteorologist who will go to their graves saying that the earth's climate is too complex to be modeled, but I have to say, we really seem to be figuring it out, and the models are getting to be very good indeed.

And don't you just dig the stark difference between the overall public perception of climate science and the real state of play?

'Twas ever thus, I guess. And that's a problem for all of us.

We don't expect the general public to completely understand string theory or know what a Higgs Bosun is.

But we're going to need them to understand this.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Clinton Global Initiative on the Ground in Haiti

For students who attended the recent CGI conference, or if interested...

Clinton Global Initiative on the Ground in Haiti

On Tuesday, January 12th, a devastating earthquake rattled through the small island nation of Haiti. With former President Clinton's direct involvement the Clinton Global Initiative sprang into action immediately, sending supplies, gathering funds, and developing plans for the long term economic viability of the country in the wake of such a disaster. As the brainchild of President Clinton's former advisor Doug Band, the CGI has been at the forefront of international aid and philanthropy since its inception in 2005. Based on action-oriented ideals, the CGI and its members devise practical solutions through measurable "Commitments to Action." The CGI has helped more than ten million children gain access to better education, provided forest restoration to more than thirty three million acres, granted more than one hundred and fifty million in medical research, and has provided treatment to over 30 million people for tropical diseases. By visiting the Initiative's website, you too can contribute to help the people of Haiti overcome this horrible disaster. Learn more about the Clinton Global Initiative here.