Monday, March 22, 2010

Money for Energy

Money for Energy

Here's my response to BNC on RAE report:

If we don't expand electricity to adequately cover declining use of fossil fuels, then we will have an energy disaster. To understand what that means you have to look at the key consequence of the Industrial revolution. When energy became cheap then (skill-weighted) labour became the scarce resource and wages rose to give our current prosperity, while energy prices were driven to the floor. Once there is a shortage of energy you go back to (or at least towards) the normal condition of mankind, where wages are driven to the floor because labour is not the scarce resource. Of course once labour costs go down then so do a lot of your costs of building and running energy production. So you get to a balance point, similar to a supply-demand balance point. We don't want to go there, and with nuclear power we don't need to. However it does mean that you can't be simplistic when talking about costs: they will be driven down if they have to be.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Interglacial Crash

Interglacial Crash

In the last Interglacial the sea level rose steadily, and other indicators confirm that it kept getting warmer. Then at the end there was a relatively quick change. Sea level started falling at 1cm per year: which is a lot of ice building up somewhere. I've never heard of a climate simulation that demonstrated this crash. Well here's a picture of the current heat anomaly that I've nicked (the link to) from John Baez's Diary:

If the sea gets warm (and big) leading to lots of moisture [notwithstanding the silly predictions of warming leading to drought] then you get a lot of snow. Then maybe at some point the CO2 negative feedback starts to kick in [and they must exist: to claim otherwise is to claim that the previously stable CO2 level was an unstable equilibrium], CO2 drops but the water remains warm. Then maybe the sun goes quiet or there are a few big volcanoes in a row ["year without a summer"]. The snow persists and reflects. All seems too easy...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Direct impact of CO2 on flora

Direct impact of CO2 on flora?

Plants survive with difficulty in low rainfall areas. Without thinking much one would assume that the plants that are there would do better if there was a bit more rainfall. Nothing could be further from the truth. The plants that are there are adapted to the harsh conditions. If the conditions got wetter they would be out-competed by plants suited to the new conditions.

Which suggests the question: What is the direct impact of rising CO2 on plant communities? Presumably those best specialized for the normal 280ppm are finding those genes less useful, and are being outcompeted by plants which have other advantages but which had been held back by less effective adaptation to the previously prevailing low levels of CO2.

We do know one effect of rising CO2. Plants open pores to let in CO2, which lets out moisture. As CO2 levels rise plants can open their pores less, and thus survive in drier conditions than previously.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Are the facts neutral?

Are the facts neutral?

Responding to John Baez's latest, March 13, Diary entry (March 2010 diary):

It would be nice if the facts as presented were neutral and spoke for themselves. We would then have quite enough trouble understanding the implications of the facts and making correct, or at least reasonable, policy responses. The trouble is that once the facts have impact on public policy then we find lots of people who want to influence public policy for good and bad reasons. The engines of disinformation start running flat out on both sides of the debate. When people start looking for facts to support an argument, rather than to discover the truth, then they quickly do so.

Democracy needs an extra arm. It needs an open, vigorous, well-funded investigation of the facts on matters that relate to important public policy. It needs to evaluate the people giving evidence as well as the evidence itself, so that those who have made fraudulent or disingenuous claims about the facts are not allowed to waste everyone's time. It needs to have the powers of a Royal Commission (not sure what the American equivalent is), to acquire evidence and interrogate witnesses, and particularly to overcome the tendency of the sides in a debate to ignore each other's points. Most particularly the lead investigators need to be good mathematicians. They also need to have a good track record of being able to change their mind. They should be people whose prior recorded opinions on public policy have been measured rather than strident, and once they get the job they should keep those opinions to themselves.

To help the public understand why we need mathematical expertise just to understand the facts, it would be nice if Mathematicians would stop arguing about what Mathematics is about, and get behind this simple definition:
The subject matter of Mathematics is: how to think clearly about problems.
This would also encourage everyone to get as much maths as they can. It would also act as a good guide to educators about what should be taught [In particular Mathematics does not have facts the way other subjects do, though one does have to learn its language].

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On the small difference between big n...

On the small difference between big numbers

A comment on BraveNewClimate:
Well if we have trouble talking sensibly about the small difference between two very big numbers then we’re not alone. We get it all the time in discussion of company and national accounts. If you say that revenue doubled then that means a lot, but may not tell you anything about net profit. On the other hand it is meaningless to say “profit doubled” since profit is often close to zero in a bad year (indeed often negative in a bad year: and then doubling would have no meaning that ordinary folk would understand). [A change from 10% profit to 20% profit is best seen as a change from 110 to 120, rather than a doubling.]
This came from a Hansen comment that was (apparently) meant to mean that ice loss from Antarctica had doubled in 5 years. Even if Antartic Ice is constant over a longer term it is likely to go up and down. Get close to the beginning of a down period and get a small number. Then further into the period get a bigger number. Then make an announcement that sounds like we're in an exponential explosion.