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Irregular Climate: a new climate podcast

Posted on 4 June 2010 by John Cook

There is a great new climate podcast, Irregular Climate by Dan Moutal (who also runs the Mind of Dan blog). I've become addicted to podcasts of late and have had trouble finding good climate podcasts so this new addition is very welcome. His second podcast has just come online today. In this latest entry, he discusses the New Scientist series on Skepticism vs Denialism, covers the issue of attribution (what's causing global warming) and touches on Climategate just to mention a few. Lastly, the latest podcast also includes a new feature - a 'Skeptic debunk of the week' by yours truly.

The idea with 'Skeptic debunk of the week' is each week, I pick a skeptic argument and record a one to two minute debunking. As this is the first time I've tried my hand at audio recording, I took baby steps, opting for the relatively low lying fruit of "human co2 emissions are tiny". Any feedback for future debunks is welcome - constructive criticism and suggestions on how to improve in future recordings would be much appreciated. One obvious area of improvement - I probably need a better quality microphone. Unfortunately, I can't do much about my mumbly Australian accent.

It's also worth mentioning that Dan is putting out a call for help with the podcast. Primarily, he needs a co-host to discuss climate with and also needs some help with theme music. You can find out more and get in touch with Dan here.

Lastly, I just had a look at Dan's Comment Policy and I'm quite impressed with his grounds for deleting comments:

Carl Sagan was known for saying “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. If you make an extraordinary claim (such as saying that mainstream science on global warming is wrong) then I will require extraordinary evidence. Failure to provide such evidence is grounds for your comment to be edited or deleted. And if you have some extraordinary evidence, you owe it to all of us to submit it to real scrutiny and publish it in the scientific literature.

Hmm, food for thought for the Skeptical Science Comments Policy.

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Comments 51 to 74 out of 74:

  1. Chris #14, Ned, DougB and others Great discussion gentlemen. I agree that this blog is largely self-correcting and is a credit to John Cook in its current state of 'moderation'. I was commenting on the switch in the last two topics to discussion of what was *fair comment* and this looked like the thin end of the 'censorship' wedge to me; especially if 'skeptical' arguments required a higher standard of evidence than those of 'consensus' AGW. The wrong assumption here is that all 'concensus' AGW science is good science, and that all those who disagree or find fault are maybe not so good at science and need 'extradordinary' evidence to be credible (and published). For example, I have learned a lot reading BP's detailed contributions across many topics - and his clear headed application of the first law of thermodynamics to the confusing issues of OHC and temperature, satellite measurements etc is valuable indeed. Look at BP #47 above and then his comments in the 'Robust warming of the global upper ocean' and the 'Does ocean cooling prove global warming has ended' topics and find some good data and sound science and serious fundamental questions for the climate science as revealed in the papers discussed in those topics. John, your site is probably the most credible climate science site on the net and your moderation policy to date is one of its strenghts - don't fix what isn't broken.
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  2. Ken L we can probably agree that folks making assertions of any kind may not absolutely require "extraordinary evidence" but they are still required to produce -some- evidence. In this particular case the amount and kind of evidence required to support a significant rebuttal of fundamental parts of how we presently understand our climate system to work could well be termed "extraordinary." There's an innate disparity between the position of people agreeing with the broad conclusions of such as the National Academy on this topic and those who believe those broad conclusions to be fundamentally unsound. For those concurring with the NAS, there's about 200 years of a continuous research progression leading to a broad array of findings and predictive capability including unfortunately the likely result that we're modifying the climate. Those disagreeing with that must produce a rebuttal that not only addresses the present case but comports with a plethora of long-agreed findings. Producing an effective rebuttal to what this vast cumulative research effort projects as part of our future is a very high bar to cross. Some attempts to cross this threshold may uncontroversially be judged as failures. As an example, pointing to a single graph in a paper and laughing at it without explaining why does not remotely approach the investment required to be useful. Is it censorship or suppression to dump such remarks that add simply nothing to productive discussion? I think not.
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  3. Further to the discussion of discussion, may I recommend this piece just published in Science? Nominally a book review by philosopher Philp Kitcher but as with so many useful reviews, a helpful discussion in itself. Teaser: In one of the earliest and most eloquent pleas for open discussion and debate, John Milton wrote:
    And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter.
    Two centuries after Milton, in the same year in which Charles Darwin published the Origin, John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty (2) added further arguments for the free exchange of ideas, suggesting that such exchange is vital for intellectual and social health. Although both Milton and Mill stand behind our current acquiescence in the value of extensive free discussion, both of them knew that they were opposing ancient suspicions about the viability of democracy. The political theorists and philosophers of the Greco-Roman world viewed ordinary folk as vulnerable to deception and exploitation. Allowed to determine the direction of the state, the folk would be easily seduced into believing falsehoods aligned with the interests of charismatic leaders, so that the popular voice would enthusiastically clamor for disastrous policies. Better, then, to entrust the ship of state to wise navigators, whose wisdom embraced both depth of understanding and moral integrity.
    The Climate Change Debates
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  4. What's interesting about this figure 20, though, is that-whilst the warming in the first half of the 20th century is fairly "uncontroversial" (due to the increasing solar activity at that time), the warming in the 2nd part of the 20th century (1950-1999) is controversial due to the lack of rising solar activity to explain it. Indeed, even though the 2nd part of the century was dominated by *falling* sunspot numbers (from 1979-2000). Temperatures rose slightly faster for the period of 1950-1999 than for the period of 1900-1949. This is something I think people need to keep in mind when looking at these kinds of graphs-is to remember what was going on in the *bigger picture* at the time!
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  5. Gentlemen, I was hoping to get some "Extraordinary Evidence" but as usual my comments were deleted after many of you had seen my post (#40, now replaced by chriscanaris). It is my contention that forecasts of huge increases in global temperatures by 2100 look ridiculous rather than scary. I cited figure 21 in the "Copenhagen Diagnosis" as an example of this kind of "Extraordinary Claim" but it is by no means an isolated example. The other "Hockey Sticks" in the Copenhagen Diagnosis such as figure 20 lack credibility but for quite different reasons. Berenyi Peter's critique (#47) covered some issues but he failed to mention that this chart is at odds with well documented work by historians (e.g the LIA and the MWP) and also the work of Hubert Lamb. While I am not a climate scientist, I have experience in electro-optics research and teaching so there is at least a chance that I may understand your scientific arguments.
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  6. gallopingcamel writes: It is my contention that forecasts of huge increases in global temperatures by 2100 look ridiculous rather than scary. I cited figure 21 in the "Copenhagen Diagnosis" as an example of this kind of "Extraordinary Claim" but it is by no means an isolated example This is the second time you've complained about that figure. Your first comment gave absolutely no reason at all, and the best explanation you can apparently provide now is that the figure's projections "look ridiculous rather than scary." But those projections are very clearly documented and justified, in short form by Chris above and in long form in the AR4 and elsewhere. I'm not sure why you ignore Chris's reply entirely and simply repeat your content-free complaint about this figure. Please stop playing games and wasting everyone's time, gallopingcamel. These kinds of actions really detract from the value of this site.
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  7. Marcus, along with the solar forcing, the early 20th century experienced a relative absence of volcanic forcing. John Cook has a very concise but clear explanation of this in the article A drop in volcanic activity caused warming.
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  8. gallopingcamel@55 'as usual my comments were deleted' Actually, the deletion of comments was very unusual. Even so, it's John's blog and we are his guests. Still, I felt it was a pity your comment got deleted, as I think did some others. Doug @ 53 point out 'Those disagreeing with [the consensus] must produce a rebuttal that not only addresses the present case but comports with a plethora of long-agreed findings.' I think Doug is setting the bar too high. Sometimes the 'present case' is cause to look again at 'long-agreed' findings. Moreover, I have more than once trawled through the literature in my area looking at the original papers cited as the basis for 'consensus' only to find that their conclusions do not follow from the original data. With respect to Ned @ 18, 'uncertainty in areas X, Y, and Z' may be 'a reason to throw out certainty in areas A, B, and C.' We don't throw out the laws of physics and chemistry. However, the interplay of the laws of physics and chemistry in highly complex systems leave may create far greater uncertainties. I'm sure this happens in the physical sciences often enough. It certainly is the case in medicine (not just psychiatry). Reflecting over the posts, I was intrigued to reread the other Chris' comment: 'Of course if one was to assert "The IPCC and Copenhagen Diagnosis says we're going to warm by 6 oC during this century." that would be alarmist. But they don't. These groups carefully spell out the range of likely temperature rises according to various emission scenarios and accommodating known uncertainties in the Earth surface temperature response to greenhouse forcing..... ' In fact, I think rightly or wrongly GC interpreted the Copenhagen Diagnosis as predicting 6 degrees rise this century. I confess that was my own impression from a quick perusal of the graph. Perhaps GC could have put his point less provocatively. Perhaps that is not what the graph really says - I'm happy to stand corrected.
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  9. chriscanaris writes: In fact, I think rightly or wrongly GC interpreted the Copenhagen Diagnosis as predicting 6 degrees rise this century. I confess that was my own impression from a quick perusal of the graph. Perhaps GC could have put his point less provocatively. Perhaps that is not what the graph really says - I'm happy to stand corrected. Well, if that was the source of concern, then we can all celebrate, because it was all just a misunderstanding. Like the IPCC AR4, the Copenhagen Diagnosis presents a range of projected temperature trends through 2100. This is nicely explained in the CD report text -- here are the first two bullet points at the top of the section on "The Future": Global mean air-temperature is projected to warm 2C - 7C above pre-industrial by 2100. The wide range is mainly due to uncertainty in future emissions. There is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2C unless global emissions peak and start to decline rapidly by 2020. Here's the actual figure in question. Note the range of different projections on the right side (colored lines):
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  10. Thank you Ned. ...unless global emissions peak and start to decline rapidly by 2020. There's the rub - how likely are global emissions to peak and decline by 2020?
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  11. DougB #53 ChrisC #58 I think that Doug is enshrining 'long agreed findings' and climate science in general as a 'robust monolithic narrative' when it is more like a collection of essays with a warming theme but large room for uncertainty in each of its parts. This blog is a somewhat self-select and self-correcting under John's guiding hand. Extreme and unsupported comments are either ignored by the better informed or given short schrift by the better informed. Several of the regular contributors have a strong knowledge of the theory and numbers; so the poorly equipped visitor tends to drop out quickly. I have studied many papers over the last 18 months or so and worked through the numbers and followed the arguments before I felt I knew enough to make a comment on these threads.
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  12. #50 chris at 01:06 AM on 6 June, 2010 Do you have the relevant cites? On soot this review article is available: Nature Geoscience 1, 221 - 227 (2008) Published online: 23 March 2008 | doi:10.1038/ngeo156 Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon V. Ramanathan & G. Carmichael BTW, some discussion of soot effects has already happened here. I've tried to recover the last 150 years of Kaufman's Arctic temperature history reconstruction from Fig 20 of the Copenhagen Diagnosis (ignore the red patch, please). If we take it on face value, the reconstruction either has no merit whatsoever (including its earlier parts, e.g. MWP) or there was only some fluctuation but no significant warming in the Arctic during the last seventy years of 20th century. I don't know which one is worse for the credibility of current mainstream climate story. Note that only 25% of 20th century logCO2 increase happened before 1950, therefore in theory warming in the second half should have been three times more. Provided, of course, warming is caused by carbon dioxide.
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  13. Sorry, link to Ramanathan 2008 was mixed up. Here is the correct one: Nature Geoscience 1, 221 - 227 (2008) Published online: 23 March 2008 | doi:10.1038/ngeo156 Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon V. Ramanathan & G. Carmichael In addition there is a testimonial by Mr. Ramanathan to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Hearing on the role of black carbon as a factor in climate change Thursday, October 18, 2007 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC
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  14. Berényi Péter at 03:16 AM on 7 June, 2010 Yes I know of Ramanathan's papers Peter ("Dr." or "Professor" Ramanathan rather than "Mr." - he's not a surgeon!). I was referring more specifically to the analysis of of soot and sulphur in Greenland cores for a more direct assessment of its possible contributions to 20th century forcing of Arctic temperatures. In fact I found it; it's: McConnell et al (2007) 20th-Century Industrial Black Carbon Emissions Altered Arctic Climate Forcing Science 317, 1381 - 1384 abstract So there may have been a significant contribution from black carbon to early 20th century Arctic warming. Likewise there's good evidence for enhanced greenhouse forcing and a small solar contribution to the early 20th century warming which we're "released" after a period of volcanic suppression of Arctic (and global) temperatures. Of course it's silly to fiddle about with graphs or mumerology to assess attributions when this has been done properly elsewhere (e.g. here). Your comments on the Kaufman 2009 Arctic temperature reconstruction. Of course there's always a question about the accuracy of paleoreconstructions (after all we weren't there with our thermometers 1000 years ago!). However the proxy has decent skill in matching the direct temperatures and captures around 0.8-0.9 oC of warming during the period of overlap in your blow-up. So it seems to do quite well. It doesn't capture the full late 20th century and contemporary warming determined from direct temperature measurements. There are several reasons for this including (i) the proxy data set doesn't extend temporally as far as direct measurements, (ii) decadal averaging of real or proxy data results in suppression of amplitudes during periods where the parameter is changing quickly, (iii) quite a few of the proxies used by Kaufman et al (2009) don't extend to the end of the 20th century for various reasons. You should have a careful read of Kaufman et al (2009) to look at this in more detail if you're interested. I'm not going to comment here on your last paragraph since it's illogical and construted around a false premise. However I will comment if you wish...
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  15. Yikes, I had no idea I was such a radical! So hard for me to be short, but just to sum up what I was driving at but did not explicitly state: -- It takes a very few seconds or minutes to dream up an unsupported and incorrect hypothesis while skipping the vital step of performing some simple plausibility tests based on prior research, much more time to patiently explain why such an idea is wrong. -- It takes even less time to simply repeat an unsupported and incorrect hypothesis, a fictitious popular rumor, again always requires more time to explain again why that rumor is wrong. -- Endlessly repeating the two variations I just cited means we are reliving the same day, over and over again, stuck at a point on a continuum of improvement, burning time and personal energy going nowhere. -- I submit that all of us have limits to our patience, leading those few persons here capable of making cogent contributions to progress in popular understanding of this topic to ultimately conclude they're wasting their time in endless dithering around elementary mistakes. (I do not include myself in that group of worthies; I'm a mile wide and an inch deep) To sum up, what some may call "extraordinary claims" are by another measure boring mundanity, dull and repetitious in spite of their enduring nature. BTW, it's nice to enjoy an occasional non-science related thread such as this one, where we can have meta-discussions...
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  16. chriscanaris writes: There's the rub - how likely are global emissions to peak and decline by 2020? Alas, that now seems unlikely, though I firmly believe that we could have done so if we had started back in the 1990s. Instead, we have two "lost decades". Thus the CD report's conclusion that There is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2C. The thing is, we still have to get off this merry-go-round sometime. We've probably missed the opportunity to keep warming below 2C. All that means is that it's even more essential to get to work on developing a productive, satisfying, and low-carbon civilization ASAP. The time for dithering is rapidly running out. Nobody wants to see warming of 4, 5, or 6C ... but if we can't kick the fossil fuel habit, burning coal will send us there sooner or later.
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  17. chriscanaris (#58), Ned (#59) correctly describes the range of the predictions mentioned in my original commnet. Even the best case (2 degrees Kelvin) is an "Extraordinary Claim". Skeptics are not making "Extraordinary Claims"; they are just asking the CAGW folks to produce some convincing evidence.
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  18. GC, would you mind telling me what "CAGW" stands for? I've not run into it.
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    Response: Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming
  19. #64 chris at 04:26 AM on 7 June, 2010 "Dr." or "Professor" Ramanathan rather than "Mr." - he's not a surgeon! Worse than that. Testimonial to a House Committee is an overtly political act. Of course he can do that as an ordinary citizen, but for that time the role of "scientist" is given up. And he is well aware of it. Otherwise he would never utter sentences like "The global build up of greenhouse gases (GHGs), is the most vexing global environmental issue facing the planet" which is both unrelated to the topic at hand and mixes fact with value judgment. Vexing, indeed. And yes, I agree with him air pollution should (and can) be stopped. Not for buying time, but because it's filthy. And I do mean pollution, not breathing out.
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  20. #66 Ned at 09:17 AM on 7 June, 2010 developing a productive, satisfying, and low-carbon civilization ASAP You mean nuke, do you?
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  21. BP, I mean some combination of reduced but still non-zero fossil fuels, plus a mixture of solar, wind, geothermal, tidal power, biomass, nuclear, and hydro. As discussed in the other thread, I would prefer not to dictate that in 2025 we ought to have x% of our power from nuclear, y% from hydro, etc. I'd much prefer a market-based approach, where a reasonable tax on carbon is coupled with a reduction in subsidies for all other sources. Then, each power source can be used when and where the market decides it's most cost effective. Currently, about half of my electrical supply comes from nuclear, and half from a combination of hydro and renewables. I believe <1% is from oil and natural gas. All that said, however, I admit some bias in favor of distributed power generation (as opposed to highly centralized generation). This is for purely practical reasons.
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  22. Berényi Péter writes: Worse than that. Testimonial to a House Committee is an overtly political act. Of course he can do that as an ordinary citizen, but for that time the role of "scientist" is given up. I suppose that's one way of looking at it -- a person is only a scientist during the hours when she's in the lab or the field actually doing science. Likewise, I suppose, a person who drives buses for her living would no longer be a bus driver when she's relaxing at home in the evening. Personally, I would be a bit less strict. A bus driver doesn't suddenly become not-a-bus-driver just because she's been asked to provide testimony to a Congressional committee about mass transit, and a scientist doesn't suddenly lose her or his status because the committee asked her or him to come to Washington and answer questions about science.
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  23. BP: Testimonial to a House Committee is an overtly political act. Of course [Ramanathan] can do that as an ordinary citizen, but for that time the role of "scientist" is given up. That's an absurd statement, ridiculous on its face. Ramanathan was -requested- to testify, to provide scientific advice to a House committee, he did not invite himself, did not appear spontaneously in the committee chamber. Should he refuse a request from a House committee chairman to testify? And if he were to do so, what defense would you be prepared to supply him with, when Congress begged to know what was the point of his research? Would you suggest he write back to the committee saying that providing requested scientific advice is an "overtly political act" so he must politely decline? If so, what's the point of his work from the funding perspective? How about when epidemiologists are asked to testify? Is such testimony an overtly political act? I could think of a thousand analogies, find more cases in the long record of scientific assistance to the Senate and House but it's not necessary. And what global environmental issue would you suggest is worse than GHG buildup, other than an out-of-control human population increase and attendant stress on the planet? Ramanathan's remark is in keeping with the assessment of the bulk of the scientific community, so it's hardly a political statement in its fundamentals. Oh, right, I forgot; all theory, calculations and observations tending to demonstrate that there's a problem with GHG emissions are coincidentally wrong, no matter how unlikely that may be. For the curious, here's the summary of the information Ramanathan provided to the House committee: Role of Black Carbon on Global and Regional Climate Change, Testimonial to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
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  24. As this is a "meta-thread", I think it's ok to point out this interesting article in CSIRO's magazine about the travails of climate blogging, mentioning Skeptical Science: Blogging on climate change – a job for the brave (pdf) Brave as well as preternaturally patient, I'd say.
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    Response: Thanks for the heads up, Doug, that interview was ages ago - I'd forgotten all about it.
  25. In every counry Governments and Congresses ask scientists or scientific bodies for advices on many issues, it's really common (and good) practice. In the USA Congressmen and Senators invite to testify whoever they like, expert or not they may be. Inviting a prominent scientist to testify on his field of expertise is very appropriate and he is supposed to be there as such, a scientist.
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  26. #72 Ned at 11:53 AM on 7 June, 2010 A bus driver doesn't suddenly become not-a-bus-driver just because she's been asked to provide testimony to a Congressional committee about mass transit On the other hand a judge becomes a non-judge as soon as summoned as a witness to a trial. His role is different. #73 doug_bostrom at 12:40 PM on 7 June, 2010 Would you suggest he write back to the committee saying that providing requested scientific advice is an "overtly political act" so he must politely decline? No. He could try his best to testify as a scientist by refusing to mix value judgments into his testimony, strictly sticking to the facts, acknowledging uncertainties and revealing inconsistencies. For example he could mention that his findings about black carbon are all but inconsistent with even the low end of "assumed climate sensitivity of 2 to 4 K due to doubling of CO2". It is up to the Committee what they make of a honest testimony. After all they are supposed to be grown up men. If so, what's the point of his work from the funding perspective? Nothing. There is no point of basic research from this perspective whatsoever. The only reason it is done to advance knowledge and understanding. It is an entirely different question that should society decide not to support science, that society is doomed. But it is not the concern of scientists, it is the concern of politicians (and the public). Or as Faraday told Lord Gladstone when asked about the point of his research on electricity "Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!" Darn, it happened. Of course we all know the real significance of his work was that it made possible for Maxwell to write down his equations, later discovered by Lorentz to be invariant under a weird transformation which led to the mass-energy equivalence of Einstein. As the constant c2 in that relation is so huge (8.99×1016 m2 s-2), it was only a matter of time to turn it into bombs to end the Japanese war for good, saving one and a half million American lives and seven million japs as an afterthought. You never know the final outcome of research in advance. In fact it is not even your business as a scientist.
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  27. Berenyi, is it purely a value judgment that anthropogenic warming is a serious threat or is not? Most scientists practicing in fields connected with matters influenced by climate behavior conclude that costs of a warming climate outweigh benefits by a long measure. A relatively few persons conclude otherwise, many of those quite unqualified to render a useful opinion. It is legitimate for a congressman trying to establish the broad parameters of a threat to ask a researcher whether that threat is significant and equally it is reasonable for that researcher to give an informed response to the question. Your suggestion that scientific testimony is inherently a political act and presumably thus illegitimate is silly.
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  28. Berényi Péter writes: On the other hand a judge becomes a non-judge as soon as summoned as a witness to a trial. His role is different. Actually, I disagree. He doesn't become a non-judge. That's his occupation. He may temporarily be playing a different role than he does in the courtroom, or in the office, or when giving a talk about the legal system to primary-school students. Scientists too have many different roles to play, which may include doing research, writing manuscripts and proposals, reviewing others' manuscripts or proposals, supervising students and postdocs, managing a lab or field station, teaching both formally and informally, and communicating the important parts of their expertise to the general public and/or other audiences outside the field. If a scientist I knew were called upon by a Congressional committee to answer questions in her area of expertise, I would encourage her to do so as clearly, objectively, and straightforwardly as possible. With all due respect, it seems to me that you're straining to find something to criticize Dr Ramanathan for. Surely there are more significant things we can disagree about? Or perhaps I'm mistaken and you've come around on everything else? :-)
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  29. I'm done with being disagreeable at least for this week so it gives me great pleasure to applaud Ned (#71) even though he is "Off Subject". As he points out, it makes no sense to prescribe a mix of power generating technologies. Each jurisdiction needs to figure out what works best in their situation. The trouble is that governments tend to pre-judge the issue and follow up by providing incentives for one technology over another. This "Soft Lysenkoism" is much more dangerous than the hard kind that Stalin supported. The trend toward ever larger power plants eventually becomes counter productive as gains in efficiency are offset by distribution losses. Whether it be via wind, solar, fuel cells or tiny nukes, distributed solutions have advantages.
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  30. Further to GC and Ned's remarks, some generation systems just are not suitable for certain contexts. I don't know of a single fission technology now available that would be reasonably safe to deploy in other than highly stable countries. For instance, imagine if the Americans had decapitated Iraq and instead of fossil thermal generation plants the country had been equipped w/boiling water reactors? Big mess; the generation plans were swiftly abandoned by their operators, damaging to a combustion plant but potentially catastrophic in the case of a fission generation system. Then imagine those plants being looted. Ouch. There is a depressing tendency toward monomania by various factions w/regard to energy liberation and capture systems. The fact is, if we really want to transcend caveman combustion we're going to need a plethora of technologies. Too much squabbling means too little progress.
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  31. Doug writes: The fact is, if we really want to transcend caveman combustion we're going to need a plethora of technologies. Didn't realize that we had started burning cavemen. Perhaps that's a branch of the mummy-fuel industry? More seriously, on the topic of subsidies for different fuel systems, the Financial Times has a story about a new IEA analysis that the world spends US$550 billion/year on subsidies for fossil fuels. Given all the many reasons we should be moving away from fossil fuels (not just climate change) surely we can all agree that subsidizing oil and coal is not what we should be doing?
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  32. #80 doug_bostrom at 16:53 PM on 8 June, 2010 I don't know of a single fission technology now available that would be reasonably safe to deploy in other than highly stable countries. There are reasonably safe and sustainable designs. F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E T Y of The American Physical Society April 2002 Advanced Fast Reactor: A Next-Generation Nuclear Energy Concept Yoon I. Chang Associate Laboratory Director for Engineering Research Argonne National Laboratory Argonne, IL 60439 Adapted from a talk delivered at Argonne National Laboratory on September 28, 2001 For instance, imagine if the Americans had decapitated Iraq and instead of fossil thermal generation plants the country had been equipped w/boiling water reactors? In cases like this of course the occupying power should take responsibility. See: The U.S. as Occupying Power Over Portions of Iraq and Relevant Responsibilities Under the Laws of War Jordan J. Paust Law Foundation Professor, University of Houston April 2003
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  33. doug_bostrom (#80), The fission technology we have today was born out of the "Cold War". The Uranium cycle fission was chosen precisely because it produced substantial quantities of Pu239 for bombs. If political realities had been different 60 years ago Thorium cycle fission would dominate today. Thorium fission creates only tiny quantities of Plutonium and the fissile material it does produce is U233, completely useless for bomb production because it emits gamma rays that are easy to detect and capable of destroying nearby electronics. What is being done with Thorium technology today? Not much! India is building a fairly primitive reactor; Oak Ridge National Laboratories is trying to drum up political support and projects are on the table in several countries. Here are a couple of links that will give you a glimpse of the advantages of Thorium: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHs2Ugxo7-8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor If you want to dig a little deeper I can highly recommend Barry Brook's "Brave New Climate" web site: http://bravenewclimate.com/integral-fast-reactor-ifr-nuclear-power/
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  34. Just for reference. Annex to the Hague Convention of 1907 Section III : Military authority over the territory of the hostile state Art 43. The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country. BTW, Iraq does have a site with a half finished then severely damaged nuclear plant, some cleanup job still to be done.
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  35. All of us (Doug, BP, gallopingcamel, and I) are offenders in this, but we should probably try not to wander any further afield here. A lot of this has gone off-topic and if we start getting into discussions of the Iraq war things could get ugly.
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  36. Er, before changing the topic, though, I just want to add -- Since gallopingcamel was so polite yesterday, I'd like to return the favor and thank GC for the link to Barry Brook's site ... which does have a lot to say about topics at the intersection of climate change & nuclear power. Any website that GC and I can both endorse has got to be good, right?
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  37. Just clarify, I used the Iraq war simply as an example of a situation where political instability made the type of reactors we're using today an inappropriate choice. I also would like to emphasize that I am not fundamentally opposed to nuclear power. The reactors we're using today are an engineering nightmare in terms of complexity and particularly performance demands on construction materials, a wretched lash-up, but they do have the marvelous virtue of existence. Probably the biggest liability of fission power is the disposal problem which is partly a matter of psychology and partly pragmatic. Sandia Labs has a promising solution to that, ironically born of the oil industry. Check out borehole disposal if you're interested. Barry Brooks' site is an example of finely wrought monomania, in my humble estimation. All roads of discussion though taking many reasonable and informative twists and turns lead back to a fissioning atom.
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  38. doug & co, It is encouraging to find that we can agree on something. Let's hope we can build on this. Barry Brook tolerates me even though I sometimes question the importance of CO2 in relation to climate. As you point out (#87) the problem of disposing with the long lived higher Actinides is a serious issue. Borehole disposal needs to be considered but my hope is that emerging Generation IV nuclear technologies (e.g IFRs & MSRs) will convert most of these materials into fission products with relatively short half lives (<100 years) while producing respectable amounts of electric power. In fairness to Barry Brook's monomania, he strikes me as someone who would support "Fuel Cells" or "Photovoltaic" if there was a break through in cost/performance. At this moment the economics favour coal or fission but that could change.
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  39. #88 gallopingcamel at 16:09 PM on 9 June, 2010 At this moment the economics favour coal or fission but that could change. Of course it can. And will. No one doubts solar is the ultimate solution. After all we have this huge fusion reactor nearby with a pretty steady 3.84×1026 W output. We don't even have an idea how to turn it off. On top of that almost the entire biosphere is run on solar energy for billions of years. Therefore it works. The only thing we need is a closely packed matrix of micron sized solar panels manufacturing some non-flammable and non-toxic but energy-rich chemical (like sugar) and storing it locally, interlaced with tiny networked fuel cells capable to turn it into electricity on demand. And one more thing. This surface should not cost more than roof tile and has to be as durable as pavement. It can be done, if machinery is constructed with (macro)molecular precision using self replicating desktop factories. Collateral benefit is that the obvious raw material for such technology is carbon, derived from airborne carbon dioxide saving transport costs. A rapid, perhaps catastrophic decline of CO2 due to over-exploitation is to be avoided by maintaining fossil fuel burning as long as possible. If it's not enough, lime can be used to replenish resources. However, we should still work out how to sequester the resulting huge amount of lime milk, otherwise ocean alkalinification may struck hard.
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  40. BP, plants! Of course they're not as durable as pavement but in so many ways they resemble what you describe. Self-replication, photoelectric effect, mitochondria, etc. Plants with postive and negative terminals... :-)
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  41. Thinking further about BP's concept, fossil fuels are inadvertently the end product of a process roughly analogous to what he describes, only the process was not engineered for the purpose of energy capture and storage, the concentration of chemically stored energy was pure happenstance and of course moving the energy from chemical form into a stream of free electrons is highly inefficient. The other issue is that by oxidizing fossil fuels at the rate we are we're de-sequestering a lot of carbon stuffed away over the course of eons and releasing it on a prodigious scale. So we have an example of how plants can accidentally do what we want, capture and store solar energy. Presumably we can do better if we attack the problem directly.
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  42. Not to mention that plant conversion of solar energy to something we can use is rather inefficient compared direct means (about 2%). So power density for plants is around 0.5-1 W/m2 cf 10W/m2 for solar. (Sustainable energy without the hot air
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  43. scaddenp, I'm guessing that power density for "solar" is total net considered w/average actual available insolation, taking into account climate, diurnal cycle etc.?
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  44. Yes, averaged over year. Biofuel is also after conversion to diesel. Still photosynthesis is 2% energy conversion versus solar thermal of around 20%
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  45. #90 doug_bostrom at 03:58 AM on 10 June, 2010 plants! Yes, something like that. The difference is that plants were not optimized for energy efficiency but to produce more plants like themselves. We can hack into the system, but there are limits. The same problem plagues biotechnology in general. The engineering principles behind the system simply do not allow for easy designability. Basically they are best for food production because of our design, not theirs. However, they can serve as a proof-of-concept example to the feasibility of molecular engines to be built with the ultimate precision, where each atom has its prescribed place in the structure and is held there by strong covalent bonds resistant to thermal damage. Enzymes are examples of machines like that along with DNA, microtubules and a plethora of other structures. There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom An Invitation to Enter a New Field of Physics by Richard P. Feynman, December 29th 1959 #91 doug_bostrom at 04:07 AM on 10 June, 2010 fossil fuels are inadvertently the end product of a process roughly analogous to what he describes I am not sure about that. At least the theory behind the biogenic origin of crude oil seems to be bogus. Hydrocarbons other than methane just do not form spontaneously from biological debris under moderate pressure and conditions close to thermodynamic equilibrium prevalent in the crust. The pressure and temperature needed is more like those at a depth of 150 km, the same as preconditions for diamond formation. Also, there are tiny diamondoid structures in crude oil as there are diamonds with microscopic oil inclusions. On the other hand, it is enough to subject a mixture of limestone, water and iron(II) oxide (FeO) to those pressures and temperatures to get oil (demonstrated in lab). The oil seeping to the crust may well be primordial. Hydrocarbons, next to water, are among the most abundant chemicals in the universe. However, theory of Earth formation has to be rewritten slightly to accommodate to a reductive interior of the globe. I am getting off-topic, sorry.
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  46. "Hydrocarbons other than methane just do not form spontaneously from biological debris under moderate pressure and conditions close to thermodynamic equilibrium prevalent in the crust." Huh? this is news to hydrocarbon chemists! We are extremely interested in the reaction rates for conversion of source rock material to hydrocarbons.(It feeds into basin models for guessing when and how much oil/gas is produced). To do this, experiments put the rock under pressure/temperature and we measure the production rates of product. We also use a variety biomarker/isotope markers to match oil to possible source rocks. None of this makes any sense against your statement. It appears you are linked to either bogus information or extremely old information. This is textbook stuff and the analyses are more or less routine.
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  47. Just a reference with experimental method described etc. Thermal cracking of kerogen in open and closed systems: determination of kinetic parameters and stoichiometric coefficients for oil and gas generation
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  48. #96 scaddenp at 09:42 AM on 10 June, 2010 This is textbook stuff Yes, this is a problem with textbooks. The root mystery, not explained in those books is twofold.
    1. How biological debris is transformed to kerogen in the first place? (chemical pathways instead of handwaving please)
    2. How does it get into carbonaceous chondrites?
    But it is really off-topic here. Although loosely connected to climate issues through peak oil (a marketing hyphe) and methane clathrates. You could also try to look up in those textbooks how the prodigious amount of helium makes its way to oil fields.
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  49. BP, scaddenp, I can go even more off-topic. There's not enough helium, turns out. Or that is to say, the pricing of helium was messed up to the point that we can afford to fill toy balloons with helium but many important science experiments depending on helium are now being jeopardized by the high price of the second most simple element. A complicated story leading to an even more off-topic discussion of politics and scarce resources. Maybe better not go there.
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  50. #99 doug_bostrom at 17:09 PM on 10 June, 2010 There's not enough helium Should natural gas production be suppressed to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, we'll have even less of the byproduct in the future. This perception is enough to drive prices up, no actual shortage is needed. Any widely held public misperception has its own marketing value. There are always ways to exploit it, generating marvelous revenue streams for a while. You just have to figure out how. Of course these are negative sum games more often than not, nonetheless they happen. They also tend to form metastable phases for extended periods, because huge interest groups gather behind issues like that with plenty of money to fund maintaining the particular misperception their business depends on. One would like to think truth prevails in the long run, but that may be a misperception on its own right.
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