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Archive for December, 2008

How To Link Record Cold And Snow To Global Warming…

2008/12/17 5 comments

…in a few easy steps!

  1. If a winter is warmer than the average, claim that as evidence that the globe is warming and the climate is changing, because winters are supposed to be cooler
  2. If the following winter is warmer than the average, go back to 1.
  3. If the following winter is average or colder, claim that as evidence that the globe is warming and the climate is changing, because even if winters were initially supposed to be as cold as the average, since recent winters have been warmer than that, then an average or cooler winter is a change in climate (and it is due to global warming because everything is)

Sadly, the above is not an example of sarcasm, but the unvarnished truth of some unbelievable debate currently at play in Italy. I may (or may not) translate the whole thing, but for now I’ll simply point to the record-breaking snowfalls in Piedmont and the Vallée d’Aoste, Northwestern Italy, where :

  • the village of Balme has seen 170cm, 5’7″ of snow in just 24h (previous record in that part of the Alps: 115cm, 3’9″, again in Balme in 1933)
  • Limone Piemonte has been buried in more than 200cm, 6’7″ of snow
  • Champoluc, Vallée d’Aoste, is likely to be evacuated because of too much snow

I’ll also post quite spectacular pictures when I find the time. Couple of videos may suffice for now:

Times of Desperation (If You’re Hopeless)

2008/12/17 2 comments

Haven’t posted much of late…apart from being busy with my actual life, there is no much fun in pointing out the Emperor has no clothes, when the aforementioned Emperor keeps catching one cold after another…

Anyway, the dependable Richard Black is putting out some of his true soul in his blog at the BBC (or so it appears). He just got elegiacally desperate about “the wild Mekong“, wondering if

within a couple of human generations, Homo sapiens will be exercising its untrammelled dominance over most of the Greater Mekong, just as it does now over the Danube, Ganges and Colorado.

The species peering into forest camera traps today will then be only glimpsed in the cages of zoos and the pages of natural history books, and journalists and conservation groups will be telling their even more familiar feel-bad tale of “species in peril”.

Mr Black declared he “would love to be wrong”. I do not know if I have any argument about that. But I can make two quick points, related to each other.

First is that I can hear the lament but not much more than that. Europe itself was a forest long time ago, perhaps from Portugal to the Urals. Then people came in and changed their environment: some non-human species have lost out, others have prospered.

Despite what the WWF tries to depict, in this very day we simply do not live in sterile wastelands, and in all likelihood the Greater Mekong region won’t become one either.

Isn’t it a tad too convenient that as soon as a place like Laos gets a chance to prosper (and WITHOUT emitting CO2!!!) then we jump right in, tut-tutting and saying no-this and no-that? It’s like getting Bill Clinton lecturing against cheating on one’s wife.

Second point is that there’s lot of cultural issues behind our reasoning. One hundred years ago nature was red in tooth and claw, and extinctions seen as the way things are supposed to be. Nowadays nature is fragile in the extreme, and conservation seen as the way things are supposed to be. Who knows what will people think two generations in the future?

I have a feeling they won’t look in sympathy at anybody hoping the human race will be wiped out…and in the name of what?

Whatever angst we feel then, there’s always the chance that it will simply pass…just don’t despair. There is no point in doing that.

Double non-AGW Whammy on the International Herald Tribune

2008/12/10 1 comment

Interesting choice in the Dec 10 paper edition of the International Herald Tribune, with an Op-Ed by Jeff Jacoby (“Skepticism on climate change“) and a full-page article by James Kanter titled “EU carbon trading system brings windfalls for some, with little benefit to climate” (this one featured in part on the front page too).

Jacoby’s point is quite simple: “skepticism and inquiry go to the essence of scientific progress“, hence all the calls for skeptical voices to be silenced or singled out for insults or worse remind more of the Spanish Inquisition than of serious attempts at preventing AGW.

(By the way…could anybody – yawn – please tell Al Gore – yawn – that it is logically idiotic to state that “Climate deniers fall into the same camp as people who still don’t believe we landed on the moon“?, because – yawn – the Moon landings belong to the past and climate change belongs to the future? –  thanks!)

Kanter’s article goes at length to explain all that is wrong with the EU carbon emission trading system (“ETS”). No wonder its acceptance was suspiciously easy…:

After heavy lobbying by giant utilities and smokestack industries, who argued their competitiveness could be impaired, the EU all but scrapped the idea of selling permits. It gave them out for free, in such quantities that the market came close to collapsing because of a glut.

But in line with the original strategy, utilities in countries from Spain to Britain to Poland still put a “market value” on their books for the permits and added some of that putative cost to the prices they charged industrial customers for electricity. And they did not stop there. In one particularly contentious case, regulators in Germany accused utilities of charging customers for far more permits than they were entitled to

Rabid AGWers must be very wide-eyed people indeed, if they have allowed to happen under their watch absurdities such as the fact that the

“implementation [of the ETS] has been marked by maneuvers and adjustments to the original framework that have yielded significant cost benefits to many of the continent’s biggest polluting industries”

In other words, the first consequence of “environmental legislation on carbon emissions” has been rewarding the polluters, whole industries that frankly emit much more dangerous stuff than CO2.

Sadly, and paradoxically, little or no lesson has been learned. We are still hearing of “lofty goals”, that will be manipulated of course by the same polluters.

Looks even more lucrative than smuggling drugs, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t land you in jail…

Space Aliens May Have Destroyed Home Planet With CO2 Emissions

2008/12/09 4 comments

(an example of Do-It-Yourself climate alarmism)

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star.

Translation: Powerful life-threatening gas is so abundant on that planet, it has been detected light-years away

This breakthrough is an important step toward finding chemical biotracers of extraterrestrial life.

Translation: We have no hopes but to find only the traces of whatever life might have been there before runaway global warming

The Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, is too hot for life.

Translation: QED

[…] Previous observations of HD 189733b by Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope found water vapor. Earlier this year, Hubble found methane in the planet’s atmosphere. […]

Translation: The planet’s atmosphere is made up almost 100% of greenhouse gases! Those space aliens must have been in the SUV business big time, poor them.

Is the above justified? I say yes, and why not? Of course it’s all possible, therefore on the basis of the precautionary principle, of course we ought to behave like it were true.

Please stop breathing.

Stansted Climate Protest, or Why AGW Must Be Challenged

2008/12/08 4 comments

Major PR debacle for AGWers, one hopes, in today’s break-in at London’s Stansted Airport with thousands unable to leave for their expected destinations.

And it’s not just a matter of going home and rebook online: imagine how many pre-booked vacations have been ruined, family reunions postponed, business meetings cancelled, money wasted in giant taxi fares and expensive car parking, that will have to be paid again shortly.

Who would have guessed, of all people the climate protesters have prevented from flying a BBC journalist with plenty of AGW articles in his CV and a long-planned trip to Poznan to attend the UN climate talks. Is there a long, long ferry journey to Denmark in Mr Black’s future, one wonders?

Promises of bringing to protesters in front of a court of justice already abounds. However, in the recent past the UK Government has approved of apparently law-breaking climate-change protests, so I would’t bet anybody will be punished…

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Actually the Plane Stupid’s plain stupid initiative of today comes out handy to demonstrate why AGW has to be challenged by everybody with a sane mind: because it has been portrayed in so dire terms, that people of various critical ability will do who-knows-what excessive actions in its name.

If 80% or more of the living species are threatened by humans, surely a terrorist attack will appear fully justified in many not-even-too-deranged-minds? People have been bombing each other for decades for far less than the well-being of the biosphere. One wished nonviolence figured more prominently in the Plane Stupid declarations.

Nothing is safe from “the threat of runaway climate change”, and no rights can be considered too important for AGWers to leave it untouched: our rights to move freely, to choose how to earn and how to spend our money, to plan for a holiday, to visit parents and other relatives abroad or even on the other side of the country, not to mention the right to think if not express the opinion that AGW is a big castle made of nothing like sand, they will all disappear sooner or later, if nobody tries to insert some sense in the climate discussion.

The strange bit is that even such an authoritative AGW group like the IPCC, and avowed catastrophiliacs such as Lord Stern, do not believe overdramatic actions are needed today, or tomorrow. Rather, they all advocate something to be done in the scale of decades.

And that is even more worrying: because in spite of what is actually meant by Stern, or by Al Gore, or by James Hansen or the UK Government,  at the end of the day their choice of words will always inspire simpletons to do something very very silly at airports and elsewhere; and Governments to curtail civil liberties in the name of the Greater Good That Could Not Have Been Portrayed Greater.

Perhaps more people will wake up one day to the fact that he transformation of society into a “Moral Police State” is the only way AGW  can be stopped, or so it is implied by those that portray it as the biggest challenge to humanity, a threat bigger than the terrorism, the source of everything wrong with the world today, the thing that will burn up the world to cinder, etc etc.

All statements, by the way, that rest on very weak foundations, because extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. And we don’t have it.

Financial Crisis to Climate Negotiators: DO NOT OVER-RELY ON MODELS!!!

2008/12/02 5 comments

The ongoing financial crisis can and will teach all of us many lessons, also in terms of climate and AGW. And no, I do not mean the rather naive made-up litany visible at ClimateProgress.

I refer to something much more profound, especially since there is now evidence that even the guys at RealClimate do not fully understand what they are dealing with, when they deal with climate models (even after loving models to death).

Consensus is in fact emerging about three advices that went missing during the build-up of the financial troubles:

  • DO NOT OVER-RELY ON MODELS
  • DO NOT JUST PUSH TOWARD EVER MORE COMPLEX MODELS
  • BE SENSIBLE WHEN MANAGING RISK

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I have prepared a couple of quick lists from three recent articles on the business pages of the International Herald Tribune (full attributed quotes at the bottom of the blog; and yes, do keep in mind those are from analysts that are experts in their field indeed).

First, what went wrong. It’s evident that plenty of it directly related to the climate debate:

  • Models gave a false sense of precision. They can now be seen as educated guess calculated to many decimal places. At the time, they appeared precise, and yet proceeded to ultimately demonstrate themselves as totally off base
  • Until the crisis, the field (of financial risk modeling) enjoyed a halo of academic credibility
  • In general, there was too much focus on quantitative issues and data and models. People did not know what to do with things that cannot generally modeled as a quantifiable risk
  • Risk managers were also too busy with models and bringing up data that could not be absorbed by senior management
  • Better modeling, more wisely applied, would have helped, but so would have common sense in senior management

Obviously, the danger lies in the fact that to confuse the model with the world is to embrace a future disaster, as humans (or the climate) do not just obey mathematical rules that can be modeled.

What should be done? I wish the negotiators in Poznan had the following list in mind:

  • Understand that risk is a function of behavior more than of models
  • Consider that risk management is about making big-picture choices, not just trying to prevent losses
  • Acknowledge that risk may mean different things, like hazard, threat, gamble, chance, possibility, or opportunity
  • Accept that models are useful as points of information. They shouldn’t drive risk tolerance and shouldn’t be used to tell anybody how to manage firms (or nations)

Models getting translated to the real world of company or national policy suffer indeed from a “chinese whispers syndrome”, with the original caveat-full expert statements awfully simplified and distorted for the benefit of the business directors (or national politicians).

At the end of the day, the problem is not the models. The models are tools, perhaps the devil’s but still just tools. The problem is putting all eggs in the models basket, in financial just as in AGW terms.

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(original quotes)

(1) From In fallout from crisis, rethinking risk and human judgment, by Lynnley Browning; IHT, Wednesday, November 19, 2008

[…] to cope with uncertainty and “slippery slopes” […] “With this crisis, everybody is re-evaluating the concept of risk management,” said Richard Phillips, a professor of risk management and insurance at Georgia State University […]

The scrutiny goes beyond a dissection of the complex mathematical models created by financial engineering [and focuses] “on the overreliance on models,” said Carol Fox of the Risk and Insurance Management Society […]

Because nearly all risk-management models failed to predict or protect against the crisis, Fox said, insurers will increasingly view risk “more as a function of behavior than of models.”

Going forward, she said, insurers will use models “as a point of information, but it won’t drive risk tolerance” […].

“People have been managing the wrong risk […] ” said Peter Bernstein, a historian and the author of “Against the Odds: The Remarkable Story of Risk.” ”Risk management is about making choices, not preventing losses. […]

the financial crisis has made clear is that risk, and how one deals with it, can mean wildly different things to different companies, from gamble, hazard or chance to threat, possibility or opportunity. It can be a bucket of nasty things to be avoided, or a daring play. […]

It didn’t help matters that until the crisis, the field enjoyed a halo of academic credibility. “All these rocket scientists with Ph.D.s provided reassurance to decision makers and buyers,” said Paul Bracken, a professor of political science at Yale University.

[According to] Robert Merton, the Harvard Business School professor who received the Nobel in economic science in 1997 […] “A lot of it is straightforward things, like judgments made to accept ratings. We’ve got to get these financial engineers and quant types out of the banks and get sensible types in.” […]

“Our definition of risk became confused with obeying the law,” said Bill Sharon, chief executive of Sorms, a risk-management consulting firm. […]

Now, insurers are increasingly looking at risk management as a process applying […] to big-picture questions […].

After all, said Martin Grace, associate director of the Center for Risk Management and Insurance Research at Georgia State University, “you can have math models, but that doesn’t tell you how to manage the firm.”

(2) From When crisis hit, a global framework for limiting risk proved ineffective by Conrad de Aenlle, IHT, Wednesday, November 19, 2008

[…] Even if [The Basel II international accord on banking supervision] had been put into practice immediately, it might not have averted the crisis. Critics contend that the various models, formulas and equations used to determine asset quality provide a false sense of precision, leaving bankers and regulators with no clear idea of where they stand. The numbers that are derived amount to an educated guess calculated to umpteen decimal places.

“There has been too much focus on quantitative issues and data and models and a lack of understanding of what the main risks are in the business model,” said Peter Neu, a principal in Frankfurt for the Boston Consulting Group. “Risk managers are too busy with models and bringing up data that can’t be absorbed by senior management.”

A shortcoming of some models is that their risk projections come with a caveat that they are assumed to be accurate during normal market conditions. […]

(3) From Wall Street’s extreme sport: Financial engineering by Steve Lohr, IHT, November 5, 2008

“Complexity, transparency, liquidity and leverage have all played a huge role in this crisis,” said Leslie Rahl, president of Capital Market Risk Advisors, a risk-management consulting firm. “And these are things that are not generally modeled as a quantifiable risk.”

The miss by Wall Street analysts shows how models can be precise out to several decimal places, and yet be totally off base

The quantitative models typically have their origins in academia and often the physical sciences. In academia, the focus is on problems that can be solved, proved and published — not messy, intractable challenges. In science, the models derive from particle flows in a liquid or a gas, which conform to the neat, crisp laws of physics.

“To confuse the model with the world is to embrace a future disaster driven by the belief that humans obey mathematical rules.”

Better modeling, more wisely applied, would have helped, Lindsey said, but so would have common sense in senior management

Pass The Handkerchief

2008/12/01 8 comments

According to Italian CO2 emission calculator “Ecodieta” (in Italian) I emit around 40kg of CO2 per day. That’s double my ideal quota, apparently, even if my larger than average body frame is not considered!

Funny thing is, around half of my sinful attitude comes from having the temerity of…heating my own house!

Will I qualify for an award were icicles to lend beauty to my living room? If only, to pay all those recurring bronchopneumonia treatments…

ps the other half involves using the oven. Perhaps I should switch to heating up the frozen pizzas with the icicles.

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