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Climate denial is like The Matrix; more Republicans are choosing the red pill

Posted on 19 July 2017 by dana1981

Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt wants to hold televised ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ climate science ‘debates.’ The idea is that a ‘Red Team’ of scientists will challenge the mainstream findings of ‘Blue Team’ scientists. That may sound familiar, because it’s exactly how the peer-review process works. But climate deniers have lost the debate in the peer-reviewed literature, with over 97% of peer-reviewed studies endorsing the consensus on human-caused global warming, and the few contrarian papers being flawed and failing to withstand scientific scrutiny

So Scott Pruitt is trying to put his thumb on the scale, giving the less than 3% of contrarian scientists equal footing on a ‘Red Team.’ John Oliver showed how to do a statistically representative televised climate debate (so brilliantly that it’s been viewed 7.4m times), but it’s probably not what Pruitt had in mind:

Climate ‘Red Teams’ are a concept that the fossil fuel-funded Heritage Foundation tried four years ago, calling its 2013 ‘NIPCC report’ part of the group’s “Red Team mission.” But much like climate contrarian research papers, the NIPCC report was riddled with errors and long-debunked myths.

The name also evokes images of the red and blue pills in The Matrix, in which characters could choose to remain in the Matrix (denial) by taking the blue pill, or accept reality with the red pill. In this case the colors are reversed, but the concept is the same – by choosing the red team, Pruitt and company are choosing the soothing comfort of denial over the harsh reality of human-caused climate change and the threats it poses.

Fortunately, it seems like a growing number of Republican leaders are choosing the red pill.

Department of Energy bucks Trump on coal

In April, Trump’s energy secretary Rick Perry ordered a 60-day study of the nation’s electric grid to determine whether policies promoting renewable energy growth are undermining its stability by crowding out “baseload” power from sources that are always readily available (ie don’t rely on intermittent wind or sunlight). Perry’s memo specifically called out “regulatory burdens introduced by previous administrations that were designed to decrease coal-fired power generation.” He put Travis Fisher in charge of the study, who previously worked for the fossil fuel-funded Institute for Energy Research, where he published a report calling renewable energy policies “the single greatest emerging threat” to the US power grid.

In short, it appeared as though the Trump administration was putting together a biased report to support its pro-coal agenda. But a draft of the report was leaked to Bloomberg, and it didn’t follow the administration playbook. The report was drafted by career staffers at the Department of Energy, who are experts in the field and apparently didn’t bow to any potential administration pressure for pro-fossil fuel conclusions. The draft is now under review by administration officials and may change as a result, but the leaked draft ensures that the public sees the experts’ conclusions.

The report concluded that many recent baseload plant retirements “are consistent with observed market forces,” often being taken out of commission due to “low natural gas price-based electricity prices, low electric demand, environmental regulations, state policies, and competition from renewables”. Most of the coal and natural gas baseload plants that have retired are old, inefficient units that were no longer cost-effective. Increased energy efficiency has also curbed American electricity demand. The report concluded that environmental regulations and renewable energy subsidies “played minor roles” in accelerating baseload plant retirements compared to those other factors.

Most importantly, the draft report concluded that the electric grid remains reliable:

Most of the common metrics for grid reliability suggest that the grid is in good shape despite the retirement of many baseload power plants … The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards

Republicans like clean energy

These conclusions are consistent with the opinions of grid operators – including in red states where wind supplies a significant fraction of electricity (including Perry’s home state of Texas) – that renewables are not undermining grid stability. They’re also consistent with a major Department of Energy-funded two-year study published in 2012, which concluded:

renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States

It’s unclear why Perry thought his 60-day study would overturn the findings of that two-year report, or many other similar studies. Even some Republicans from states that benefit from cheap wind energy were critical of the report. For example, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote to Perry:

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Comments 1 to 18:

  1. The IPCC preocess is huge, and has already settled these questions. This weak, watered down red / blue version of the IPCC process makes no sense at all.

    The absurd red blue team idea is  a stacked panel out of proportion to the real weight of opinion. It's a last desperate attempt to find a contrived process that will maximise opportunity for mischief and missdirection.

    The Republicans must be desperate to be prepeared to go to such extreme lengths to deny the science and reports on coal. The only reasonable conclusion is it's their is their politics, beliefs, and vested interests in business as usual. 

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  2. I first thought of this old cartoon on one of the other threads, but it also fits here.

    An Inconvenient Truth

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  3. The people in the cartoon have rather long noses. Reminds me of the legend of pinocchio, whos nose grew longer every time he lied.

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  4. I wonder how the pushers of Red/Blue Teaming would respond to demands that:

    • before each topic of 'debate' the fullest summary of facts that fit into a 10 minute showing get presented. And the IPCC process would apply to determining what gets presented (with the major American and International science organizations specialists in climate science peer reviewing/validating what is presented)
    • A panel of specialist/information accessing people 'verify in real time every statement making a claim' before the discussion/presentation moves forward. After each stated claim there would be a delay until a 'green light confirmation citing/showing the sources of confirmation' or 'other light and correction with sources shown' occurred (this would be expedited if the points of claim are presented to the review group in advance of the 'debate')

    Misleading marketing/debating/tweeting works because it is not instantly shown to be incorrect to everyone. There are likely to be some people who have made-up their minds so firmly with made-up thoughts that even that type of presentation would fail to change their minds. But it certainly would help those who genuinely want to better understand what is going on. And resistance to doing the presentation in such an open, honest and transparent fashion should also help people better understand what is going on.

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  5. The red/blue format, whilst nowhere near reasonable presentation of science, might backfire in Scott Pruitt's face.

    If it reaches an audience that is currently anti-science and convinces a measurable fraction to change their stance, the result might start a landslide.

    Yes, I know... I'm an optimist.  But whatever we have been doing in the 38 months since the Colbert U-Tube clip hasn't got the train to the end of the platform. let alone travel to the destination.

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  6. Never heard of this paper, New Insights on the Physical Nature of the Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect Deduced from an Empirical Planetary Temperature Model, by Ned Nikolov* and Karl Zeller

    Deniers crowing about this latest CO2 slayer. Anyone have any critique of what they're doing?

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  7. There was an interesting article today in the Los Angeles Times by Bjorn Lomborg called "We're handling climate change all wrong". I am curious what anyone's take is on this.  Sorry, I don't have a link to the article.

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  8. The Lomborg article is here.  HIs argument is that since Claifornia only emits 1% of the world CO2 any actioon will have no effect and is a waste of time.  He claims that since electricity rates go down when solar generates power that solar power is impractical (I wonder why lower costs to customers qualifies as a  failure to compete).  He suggests more research into new green energy (he does not suggest any technology that might be better than current technology) and doing nothing until those new technologies are developed.

    lomborg cartoon

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  9. supak@6: I didn't look at the paper, just the journal its in.  According to Desmog " 'Environment Pollution and Climate Change' is being led by a climate science denier who is advising... the Heartland Institute... Climate scientists have told DeSmog that anyone considering publishing in the “pseudo journal” should steer clear or risk damaging their reputation... After just two issues, the journal has published six papers claiming to refute the science linking human activity to dangerous climate change"  That's the danger with many online journals: no peer-review, its just pay-to-play.  Potholer54 has an instructive recent video (26.7') that focuses on this danger and how to spot sham journals like this one.

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  10. supak@6: I did look at the paper.  I'm not qualified to peer-review it, but have a couple observations: " the atmosphere does not function as an insulator reducing the rate of planet’s infrared cooling to space as presently assumed [9,10], but instead adiabatically boosts the kinetic energy of the lower troposphere beyond the level of solar input through gas compression."

    How do you adiabatically pressurize an atmosphere?  The authors admit sunlight and IR energy are streaming throughout it, and convection is obvious: so what is adiabatic about that?  Also, the term 'adiabiatic' is a thermal ideal: it doesn't exist anywhere, even in the most ideal of laboratory conditions.  There's no way it could exist for something as plugged into the Universe as an atmosphere.

    "the... absorption of thermal radiation by certain gases [in the lab]... does not imply an ability of such gases to trap heat in an open atmospheric environment."  Yes, it implies exactly that.  

    "This is because, in gaseous systems, heat is primarily transferred... by convection... rather than radiative exchange."  I've taken classes in combustion (long ago): if you do not include radiation in your modelling equations, you will absolutely reach the wrong conclusion.  Just because convection is larger doesn't justify simply ignoring radiation.

    "If gases of high LW absorptivity/emissivity such as CO2, methane and water vapor were indeed capable of trapping radiant heat, they could be used as
    insulators."  But Eunice Foote studied greenhouse gases in 1856 specifically because she observed how hot it got under the moist air that precedes a storm: "The high temperature of moist air has frequently been observed.  Who has not experienced the burning heat of the sun that precedes a summer's shower?"

    Maybe your authors need to get out more.

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  11. Bjorn Lomborg, like many others, has a long history of trying to create the best possible 'Poor Excuses' for not needing to rapidly reduce the global burning of fossil fuels.

    His 2007 book "Cool It" made economic assessments similar to other denier-delayers. They basically try to Excuse Less Acceptable Behaviour by making claims about the economics. But what they essentially do is try to justify why a portion of current day humanity should be able to prolong their ability to get personal benefit from:

    • an activity that future humans cannot continue to benefit from (even the most fortunate ones) because it is the burning up of non-renewable resources, so it is undeniably unsustainable.
    • an activity that is undeniably damaging in many ways, not just the challenges and extra costs created for others, particularly the future generations, by the generation of massive amounts of excess CO2.

    They go further than that fundamentally undeniably unacceptable marketing action. They deliberately compare the 'costs to others as they figure it' to 'the costs and lost opportunity to the portion of the current generation who have to correct their ways to reduce the costs and challenges cretaed that others will face - as they figure it'. They then try to claim that if 'the costs to not make problems for others' are greater than 'the costs imposed on others' (all as they figure it), then the ones behaving less acceptably are justified. Of course they understate the future costs because they completely ignore anything they cannot quantify as an action required by the more fortunate (they count building high sea walls at "their cities" based on the low estimates of near term sea level rise - not the longer term sea level rise - and ignore flooding of land less fortunate people live on. They also overstate the 'costs' of correcting the behaviour of the ones who benefit from behaving less acceptably. And they completely ignore all the other costs of burning fossil fuels (they just look at the climate costs - as they figure them)

    And the worst of that group actually discount the future costs at the highest rate they can get away with because that is a common business practice when comparing alternative project options that a busines could take. That discounting is only legitimate if the same person faces the current and future costs/benefits of the action.

    In a proper evaluation there should be no 'costs or challenges or reduction of resources available to others' created by a pursuit of benefit by someone. Clearly, 'being proper' would not suit 'their interests'. Reduction of 'impacts on others' is what is required regardless of claims that the reduction of harm to others is 'small'.

    So I consider Byorn to be clearly in the group of people to be read/aware of, but only in order to be on alert for the shifting types of thinking and misleading marketing being developed by those who want to deny the unsustainable/unacceptability of the ways that so much of the so called advanced nations' economic activity has developed. They could also be called Anti-Correct People because they fight against actually correcting things that clearly need to be corrected (including resisting correcting their thinking regarding climate science and the changes it points out need to happen for the benefit of the future of humanity).

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  12. supak@6: Final observation: when moist air moves over you before the clouds, and you start heating up, what happens to the barometric pressure?  It goes down, exactly in the wrong direction if this 'adiabatic compression' theory of greenhouse warming were correct.

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  13. Supak @6, the research you quote appears to be claiming adiabatic air pressure, analogous to compression, causes recent global warming. 

    They are wrong. Heres a good explanation from Dr Roy Spencer (of all people). I only have a very general sort of knowledge and memory of gas laws, but can get what they are saying.

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  14. I went after the very first sentence of (Nikolov Zeller 2016) refered by supak@6, so extraordinary this sentence is:

    A recent study has revealed that the Earth’s natural atmospheric greenhouse effect is around 90 K or about 2.7 times stronger than assumed for the past 40 years

    Said "recent study" is listed as the first citation therein, so I followed it wandering who on Earth could have inspired those two fellows with such revolutionary knowledge. That reference goes to (Volokin ReLlez 2014) which states that:Earth’s total ATE (Atmospheric Thermal Enhancement) is ~90 K, not 33 K, and that ATE = GE + TE , where GE is the thermal effect of greenhouse gases, while TE > 15 K is a thermodynamic enhancement independent of the atmospheric infrared back radiation.

    They define the "Thermodynamic Enhancement" as "regolith heat storage and cosmic background radiation on nighttime temperatures".

    So "regolith heat" being internal planetary energy source, the above claim would obey the energy conservation and Stephan Boltzman law only if their "cosmic background radiation" component was ~2 times stronger than GE component (i.e. 90K-33K = 57K), which is absurd given that we know cosmic vaccum is glowing at 3K. So, they invent the absurd "adiabatic pressure boosting" to develop fantasies of an alternative universe where temperature is something else than the measure of total kinetic energy in the system.

    The interesting part is that Volokin and ReLlez are the fictional characters created by Nikolov and Zeller (but associated with the real company Tso Consulting Limited in UK) as explained by the authors in erratum to it : "to guarantee a double-blind peer review of our manuscript".

    Funny, how two fabricators succeed delivering their delirium by inventing sock puppet authors they can then cite in support of their alternative reality.

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  15. chriskoz @14, I think you have misinterpreted Nikolov and Zeller (2014).  Their full equation for planetary temperature with no atmosphere (Tna) is give by equation (14) {(4a) in Nikolov and Zeller (2017)}, and does indeed include terms for the Cosmic Ray Background Radiation (Rc), geothermal heating of the surface (Rg) and regolith heat storage (ηe).  However, they state:

    "Similar to Eq. (10), here one can also safely assume R c  = 0.0 if S o > 0.15 W m−2 and R g  = 0.0 in most cases. This reduces Eq. (14) to (11a) with the regolith thermal enhancement factor..."

    They then give equation (16) as the reduced form without either the (negligible) effect of the cosmic background radiation or geothermal heating, and it is the equivalent of equation (16) {equation (4b) in Nikolov and Zeller (2017)} that is used in Nikolov and Zeller (2017) (which also discusses the reasons for ignoring geothermal and background microwave heat sources).  In both papers they give the threshold at which Rc and Rg can be ignored as an insolation >0.15 W/m^2, ie, nearly a hundred thousandth of that at Earth.

    The regolith thermal enhancement factor represents storage of incoming solar energy by surface rocks (the regolith).  Heat storage and conduction in the outer rocks is in fact an important factor and is responsible for maintaining night time equatorial temperatures on the Moon at around 100 K, rather than around 2 K as per the background radiation.  So, while I cannot confirm their treatment of it, I can confirm that it is a legitimate factor.  It is negligible on Earth only because of the far greater heat transport by ocean and atmosphere - factors neglected in the hypothetical Tna which assume no ocean, atmosphere, or surface ice, or vegetation (and that albedo is consequently equivalent to that of the Moon).

    Where I can say emphatically that Nikolov and Zeller are in error is in their attribution of the cause of the extra 90 K of surface warming they find.  To begin with, the calculation of the effective radiative temperature {(Te), Equation (3) in Nikolov and Zeller (2014) and Nikolov and Zeller (2017)} assumes the surface temperature to be equal at all points.  That is not the case on Earth, which would require near infinite thermal conductivity for it to be the case.  As unequal temperatures allow the radiation of more thermal energy for the mean surface temperature, that means the greenhouse effect causes more than 33 K warming to the Earth's mean surface temperature.  That is, part of the additional 90 K warming estimated is due to the GHE.

    The largest part of it, however, is due to the thermal transfers by atmosphere and ocean that greatly restrict the temperature extremes on Earth, and reduce them still further in the upper troposphere.  Needless to say, it is not due to a "pressure induced thermal enhancement".

    Curiously, there is a pressure induced thermal enhancement of a type involved in the surface temperature of planets with atmospheres.  It is, however, a component of the greenhouse effect.  In particular, in planets whose atmospheres are optically thick enough, the surface temperature is a function of the altitude of the temperature of effective radiation to space, and the adiabatic lapse rate.  The adiabatic lapse rate is, in turn, largely a function of the pressure gradient in the atmosphere.

    As has been explained ad nauseum to a variety of deniers, however, adiabatic processes can explain the slope of the thermal gradient with altitude, but a slope by itself does not explain the temperature at any particular location.  To explain the temperature, you need the temperature of a point on that slope.  That point is the effective altitude of radiation to space.  With no greenhouse gases, the point of effective radiation to space is the surface, resulting in no thermal enhancement.  With greenhouse gases, that point is lifted above the surface with a consequent enhancement of temperature.

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  16. Lomborg's logic: If you are driving your car on a one hundred mile trip, the first mile is only 1% of the distance, so it's not worth bothering to drive that mile. The second mile is also only 1% of the distance, so don't bother driving that mile either. And so on.

    Therefore, your best method of travel is to wait patiently for someone to invent teleportation, so you can arrive at your destination instantly.

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  17. BBHY@16,

    A better explanation of the absurdity of Lomborg's claim about the irrelevance of California acting to curtail its 1% of global total trouble making is: California's 40 million people are 0.53% of the total global population of 7.5 billion. So their 1% is double the average per-capita impact. And there are some people in California doing far more impact than others. So the largest trouble-makers in California are more than twice as bad as the global average and the global average has to be reduced to zero. A very good way to get to zero is to focus on scaling back the impacts of the bigger trouble-makers.

    Looking at the Wikipedia presentation of USA states per-capita CO2 impacts, the impacts of California are actually far lower than most states (not a big fan of Wikipedia as a reference but this information presentation was quick to validate). So in a way, Bjorn is correct. The reduction of the per-capita impacts by other states should be the focus. But responsible national leadership will clearly be required for that (regional Winning leadership is clearly failing to care). California can only strive to Lead by Example (and they should be admired if they truly effectively reduce the impacting by the highest impacting portions of their population - like shutting down their dirty oil production).

    And a better analogy than a journey of 100 miles is a condominium community that has developed the nasty habit of everyone pooping outside rather than face the costs of connecting to a community sewage treatment system and paying per-unit for their waste. And some members of the condominium are doing far more pooping than others, but all of the pooping outside has to stop. Bjorn is arguing that the households that comprise 0.53% of the population but contribute 1% of the outside pooping should not act to reduce the amount of popping outside done by the biggest poopers in their households. It is true that there are other housholds that per-person poop a lot more. But that is no excuse for 'The Leaders of the households in the California portion of the condo group' to not reduce the outside pooping done by the biggest poopers in their housholds.

    An even better analogy to the global situation is a community of people that poops outdoors in the communities that are far away from them. That is the way many of the wealthiest in the supposedly most advanced or fastest advancing nations have been behaving since 1972 when the Stockholm Conference made it undeniable that the wealthy needed to stop sloppily harvesting non-renewable resources and gobbling them up for personal benefit (reducing the resources avaialble in the future) and pooping their damage results all over the world, piling up bigger problems that future generations would have to try to dig out of.

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  18. Thoughts on Bjorn Lomberg.

    His environmental scepticism has consistently been shown to be discredited and badly informed. Hes an economist not an environmental scientist. Although this doesnt automatically mean he is wrong, it means he does not bring much formal training to books on the environment.

    I have had some trouble reconcling this climate sceptics scepticism with his involvement in some worthy looking social causes and advocacy. Normally people active in these sorts of areas are receptive to climate science.

    It is staring us in the face. Lomberg is a leader in the Copenhagen Consensus Center's advocacy for data-driven smart solutions to global challenges. This means he has a vested interests in resources going into his consultancy on multiple projects, rather than climate mitigation.

    I also think it's essentially cynical of Lomberg to attack Californias efforts on emissions. They are not the only place making an effort, and it has not hurt their economy. Like the comment above we have to start somewhere.

    Ideally we want all countries to move equally in tandem, but its not happening. I would be more impressed with Lomberg if he gave us some ideas how we could better get everyone to move on the issue. Anyone can be a critic or sceptic, theres nothing easier. But I think his priorities are his consulting work, not climate change.

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