Comments: Sonny Bono's Brother, Cui

LAUNCH DRYICE TO THE MOON, sequester CO2 safely for the long term. Use Cap And Trade to pay for it.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 21, 2011 12:29 PM

First, Mike Meyer, the idea of permanently removing carbon from the biosphere and shipping it to the moon (with what fuel, exactly?) is ludicrous. It would be much better to sequester carbon on the ocean floor (see 'methane clathrate'), but even that is way sillier than just stopping the burning of fossil fuels, which is really not that difficult, if we summoned a few ounces of political will for it.

Second: you usually don't have to pay to earn a PhD in the sciences, you get paid a stipend. A meager, meager stipend.

Posted by saurabh at September 21, 2011 01:30 PM

that link to the corporate PR expose is cool- i love the story of the protest against plastic bottle usage being astroturfed by the paper carton industry- reminds me of Clerks, where the guy sparks an indignant protest against the tobacco industry, but they find out he's a chewing gum sales rep

Posted by frankenduf at September 21, 2011 01:51 PM

Second: you usually don't have to pay to earn a PhD in the sciences, you get paid a stipend.

I was referring to the tens of thousands of dollars in debt people rack up starting in their undergraduate years.

Posted by John Caruso at September 21, 2011 01:57 PM

saurabh: I should have thought of that, after all THAT'S where ALL our waste products and radioactive water ends up. AND the fishin's great there too.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 21, 2011 02:49 PM

Yes, it’s terrible that Cockburn doesn’t agree with global warming, no doubt Cockburn remains today one of the greatest threats to our existence. By your own logic you aren’t qualified either.

Posted by rob payne at September 21, 2011 03:45 PM

This is NOT related to this post.
BUT for those who missed a great documentary about non-violent resistance against occupation, it is available for 24 hrs for free. It is a MUST WATCH documentary.


Budrus will be made available for free online for 24 hours at
http://mubi.com/films/budrus on September 21st, 2011,
the International Day of Peace.

here

Posted by Rupa Shah at September 21, 2011 04:41 PM

Clicking on your links, I can't help sensing that there are parts of this post where you're being sarcastic without being ironic, somehow. Or mixing your messages. Or something. For the moment I think I'll stick with "something."

Posted by godoggo at September 21, 2011 05:41 PM

I like the part in the link about "spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected".

I read the Spencer paper that one of the comments mentioned - and I thought, "Really? That's a pretty simple model for a complex thing." But I have been known to think that on other occasions, too.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at September 21, 2011 06:05 PM

There is one consideration related to the global warming issue that few if anyone ever discusses which is how will the implementation of preventative measures against global warming affect the poor. An obvious example is the poorest minorities in the United States who can only afford an older car in poor condition. They depend on said vehicle to go to work etc., all the same things middle class people use a car for. Now if that car cannot pass a smog test it is more than likely they cannot afford to have it brought up to standard much less purchase a better car. This is perhaps a poor example but it illustrates my point which is as usual the poor could be pushed aside in the headlong rush to address global warming based on a computer model. It seems to me that the whole issue of warming is the purview of white middle class people with little regard for the poorer segments of society.

Personally, I am all for doing something about global warming, not because I am convinced that a computer model is good science but because I think that clean air and water is extremely important. But it should be done in a manner that doesn’t leave the poor and destitute out in the cold just to make the white middle classes happier.

Posted by rob payne at September 21, 2011 09:39 PM

Head, meet ass; I think you two are going to be inseparable!

LOL

Posted by cemmcs at September 21, 2011 10:12 PM

rob payne: AGREED.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 21, 2011 10:13 PM

rob payne: It seems to me that the whole issue of warming is the purview of white middle class people with little regard for the poorer segments of society.

Nope, that's exactly backwards--it's the poorest people in the world who'll suffer the most from climate change (both in developed and developing nations, though it'll be worse in the latter):

The world faces increased hunger and water shortages in the poorest countries, massive floods and avalanches in Asia, and species extinction unless nations adapt to climate change and halt its progress, according to a report approved Friday by an international conference on global warming.

The poorest parts of the world, especially Africa and Asia, will be hit hardest, says the summary from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued Friday after a long, contentious editing session.

Poor countries argue that they will suffer due to global warming caused by greenhouse gasses produced in the rich industrial world.

And as that last sentence points out, the irony is that it's the richest countries in the world (and the US in particular) that are by far the most responsible for global warming.

Posted by John Caruso at September 22, 2011 12:01 AM

The word "stochastic" is so effing sexy. More, plz.

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 22, 2011 12:22 AM

saurabh: As far as launch fuel, 2H2+2H2O2 produced on site with electricity generated by renewables. Lift off and initial boost useing a magnetic rail launch system.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 22, 2011 12:33 AM

And yeah, stipends are meager, but I'll take a just-over-the-poverty-line stipend over the fine arts ain't-got-no-job-prospects debt, any day.

The Ga Tech station was broadcasting some public radio discussion on climate science this morning-best discussion I've heard so far, actually. The very real roadblock that is private interests was actually presented as such.

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 22, 2011 12:38 AM

John Caruso,
I don’t disagree, but what I meant by purview of the middle class is that those are the people who seem most enthusiastic about containing global warming without giving much thought to the poorest. I didn’t mean to imply that the middle class would be most affected. Also I do believe that global warming exists, I’m just not convinced that we are causing it. It’s obvious with the melting of the ice caps; kind of hard to miss yet the earth has gone through several ice ages which means that it goes through periods of heating as well. Borings in the arctic ice have shown that the earth can cool quite rapidly and unexpectedly so the trick is to discern between human action and the actions of the natural world. I don’t have much faith in computer models because it seems to me they are fraught with uncertainty. As the old saying goes, garbage in garbage out when it comes to computer programs.

I still recall what a physicist said regarding the Big Bang theory, he said that even though he felt the Big Bang was likely the correct theory he argued in favor of the Steady State theory not because he felt it was correct but because he felt that in science it was better to have some dissent, part of the rigors of the scientific method. I was greatly impressed with that. To me that is good science, it’s the way it should be.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 01:22 AM

Huge, longtime tinyR fan and don't want to rock the boat. but ... have you heard about the atlas thing? Daily Mail Guardian

a top & famous atlas changed their map of Greenland, with the new data gratuitously wrong, falsely showing how the island is losing lots of ice, when it is not (the global-warming guy who might have been the adviser disavows the map and calls it "rubbish").

I have questions. What was the motivation of those who put this in the book, specifically destined for libraries, meaning for schoolchildren's minds?

You say they are not after money (like those in the pay of the oil industry). But isn't this straight-up evidence there's some imperfect motivation in the mix?

Posted by HM at September 22, 2011 02:00 AM

By the way this was just in the news today:

http://www.examiner.com/civil-rights-in-portland/carbon-dioxide-irrelevant-climate-debate-says-mit-scientist

… Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT has published a paper which proves that IPCC models are overstating by 6 times, the relevance of CO2 in Earth’s Atmosphere. Dr. Lindzen has found that heat is radiated out in to space at a far higher rate than any modeling system to date can account for…

…Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT’s peer reviewed work states “we now know that the effect of CO2 on temperature is small, we know why it is small, and we know that it is having very little effect on the climate.”

Apparently this is based on data from the Terra satellite.

More here:

http://news.yahoo.com/nasa-data-blow-gaping-hold-global-warming-alarmism-192334971.html

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 02:09 AM

'No. . .it's all about . . . a neverending cycle of dishonesty and megaprofit."

It's not?


Posted by N E at September 22, 2011 06:27 AM

"Borings in the arctic ice have shown that the earth can cool quite rapidly and unexpectedly so the trick is to discern between human action and the actions of the natural world. I don’t have much faith in computer models because it seems to me they are fraught with uncertainty. As the old saying goes, garbage in garbage out when it comes to computer programs." Honest question, because I'm sort of a rere: What's the garbage in this instance?

The climate change hullabaloo had my support when I found out that polar bears don't have anywhere to stop after swimming, so they drown because they weigh almost as much as my Toyota. That's fucking sad, and if it takes more than that to change someone's mind about treating the planet so badly they're probably not worth turning things around for, anyway.


I think the trick of discerning has already been dissected to its components like a 1230859374 times by now. It's time to get moving. Has anyone seen e^2 on PBS?

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 22, 2011 07:11 AM

amanda - i haven't seen the documentary series you mention

http://www.pbs.org/e2/

just to express a semi-informed opinion - whether or not global warming is being produced in whole or in part by carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, i don't think there is a reasonable prospect of substantially reducing carbon dioxide emissions by regulatory means in the foreseeable future, however long that is. price increases for fossil fuels might make a difference, however.

In the meantime, THIS is the future; you got to LIVE it, or LIVE WITH it. Until you get out of the way.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at September 22, 2011 08:18 AM
http://news.yahoo.com/nasa-data-blow-gaping-hold-global-warming-alarmism-192334971.html

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

Yow, Rob, you should be more careful about what you put credence in. That article is the equivalent of some right-wing psycho announcing their discovery that, I don't know, all of Iraq's WMD have been located in Iran and Obama has known about it the whole time because he wants to destroy America. The editor of that publication resigned out of embarrassment for having published it.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at September 22, 2011 10:27 AM

Hi Jonathan,

I guess that's why I didn't see it any where else. But I still think some dissent in science is a good thing. Glad to see you are back and well. I missed your posts.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 11:13 AM

Not coincidentally, the Spencer/Braswell paper was cited by the right-wing psycho I quoted at the top of the posting. Here's a longer quote of his letter:

Did you ever think that many of the scientists could be in error? I guess not. The falsifying of data probably didn't enter your little minds. Perhaps the data was changed to get more grants? Follow the money. If that doesn't convince you of being skeptical try this:

Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA’s Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.

You see this over and over: denialists sieze on any paper that makes sensational claims, long after it's been shown to be in error--despite the fact that they treat even minor flaws in any paper that affirms global warming as a reason not only to dismiss the paper but the entire phenomenon. Which is suspiciously like the point of the posting, if you think about it.

Rob: ...what I meant by purview of the middle class is that those are the people who seem most enthusiastic about containing global warming without giving much thought to the poorest.

The point of me citing that article is that if global warming is going to hit the poor the hardest--as is pretty obvious from Katrina, to mention just one example--then addressing it is in fact a way to help the poor. And also:

Will backroom deals among rich nations lead to death and devastation for poorer ones? That's the fear of negotiators from world's most impoverished countries—a bloc known as the Group of 77, or G77—especially after an early draft of proposed negotiating text was leaked to the media on Tuesday. It outlined a weak agreement that required fewer emissions cuts from wealthy nations. In the conference's first flashpoint, G77 negotiators stormed into a main hall in the middle of the busy conference center. "We will not die quietly," they chanted.

"We have been asked to sign a suicide pact," declared Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the G77. The proposed levels of warming that the draft would allow mean "certain death for Africa," he said. The group also slammed the proposed levels of funding from rich nations to help developing countries adapt to climate change and curb their own emissions. "Ten billion dollars is not enough to buy us coffins," charged Di-Aping, according to reports from the scene.

The G77 isn't just "white middle class people", but they're very enthusiastic about avoiding the chaos, death and destruction that's headed their way thanks to emissions from the (largely white and middle class) rich nations. Like I say, you have it backwards: much of the white middle class (and upper class) doesn't care very much since they won't suffer very much, while the poor around the world are passionately trying to save their countries and their lives.

Posted by John Caruso at September 22, 2011 12:21 PM
Also I do believe that global warming exists, I’m just not convinced that we are causing it. It’s obvious with the melting of the ice caps; kind of hard to miss yet the earth has gone through several ice ages which means that it goes through periods of heating as well. Borings in the arctic ice have shown that the earth can cool quite rapidly and unexpectedly so the trick is to discern between human action and the actions of the natural world.

Rob, it's plain that your understanding of this issue is extremely limited. Don't you think people have considered these issues? Especially extremely basic issues like the Ice Ages? Which, incidentally, are mostly caused by period isolations of the Earth's orbit called Milankovitch cycles which are well understood.

The use of the term "computer models" to describe the base of anthropogenic global warming is a perjorative description made popular by denialists. People find computers confusing and difficult to work, therefore a "computer model" couldn't possibly be correct.

In actuality, the argument is pretty basic: we know the earth is warming at a sudden and alarming rate. That this coincides with our advent and industrialization is clue enough (by, let's say, Occam's razor), but in addition, it's well-known that carbon dioxide produces a greenhouse effect responsible for warming the planet, and it's also well-known that the amount of CO2 we've put into the atmosphere is enormous (we've increased the concentration by 35%, well out of the range of the past few million years. It's also clear, from isotope ratios (and simple math based on how much we're burning) that this increase is the result of our fossil fuel consumption. There are no other competing explanations for what produced this warming that can explain its degree, rate of onset, or pattern. QED.

This is a broad field, with tens of thousands of investigators, all of whom are investigating in detail and with as much rigor as they can muster all of the vague doubts you can come up with. If you doubt me, go and read; all of the questions you raised are extremely basic and can be readily answered. The ONLY way to continue to doubt is to remain ignorant.

As to the poor being victimized, and this being the purview of the middle class: yes, the middle class is more acutely concerned about this issue, because they're better educated, usually, and as you demonstrated it requires a degree of technical awareness and exploration to understand the argument. However, the argument that we shouldn't stop the *catastrophic warming of the planet* because poor people can't afford new cars seems extremely misguided. Technology moves quickly; many of the poorest people in the world are now equipped with cell phones. Ten years ago the hybrid car came out; now you can get a hybrid in decent shape for a few grand. Etc.

And, as John points out, poor people - that is, the vast majority of the world - will be differentially negatively affected. If you're really concerned about the poor, you'll be most interested in fighting global warming. Alas for the poor Americans who need to drive their gas-guzzling cars, but they need to get off it anyway, in case you haven't noticed the ballooning price of oil thanks to its declining availability.

Posted by saurabh at September 22, 2011 01:40 PM

John Caruso,

I understand your points. I was talking about mostly people in the states where it does seem to me it is the purview of white middle class people. Who else has even the time to worry about global warming, certainly not the poor who are scrambling just to survive? I doubt they ever think about it.

Saurabh,

Well, my knowledge of global warming is likely limited but since when are Ice ages well understood? Everything I have read says that they really don’t know why ice ages occur. They have some theories but that’s about it. You and other proponents of global warming as caused by man seem to have a huge problem telling the difference between theory and proven fact.

Computers scare people? I’ve been using computers since they were DOS based and have never seen anyone scared. As for computer models being accurate one has to only see the huge errors in predicating the weather based on computer models to see that they are not terribly reliable. Even with their weather satellites they often get it wrong, and I have worked on the design of several satellites including the GOES weather satellite.

The arguments presented here are really about legitimacy. Who is legitimate? For example you want to see me as a stupid ignorant moron who has no legitimacy and cannot understand words with more than three letters in them. I say to you that the biggest fraud perpetrated is that of legitimacy.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 02:32 PM

mistah charley, ph.d. :

> LIVE it, or LIVE WITH it

What does this mean?

Posted by The Hon. Chester A. Catherwood at September 22, 2011 03:01 PM

Regarding the ice age, it depends on what scale you're talking about. As far as I understand it, on the scale of relatively recent history (the last 400,000 years) and the ebb and flow of glaciation, Milankovitch cycles have strong explanatory power.

As for computer models being accurate one has to only see the huge errors in predicating the weather based on computer models to see that they are not terribly reliable. Even with their weather satellites they often get it wrong, and I have worked on the design of several satellites including the GOES weather satellite.

There are many things that are difficult to model with computers; this does not mean that everything is difficult to model with computers. Weather is a particular egregious example of a chaotic system. Also, my point was that it does not require you to believe in a computer model in order to appreciate the argument being made about anthropogenic global warming.

I don't want to see you as a stupid ignorant moron, since I know that you're not from my long history of reading your comments, I'm merely saying you don't seem to be very well-read on this subject. If it comes to a matter of legitimacy, surely the overwhelming majority of climate scientists would carry the weight?

As to the poor "never thinking about it", (1) they surely do and (2) there are many things that people don't think about that are nevertheless going to be huge problems for them.

Posted by saurabh at September 22, 2011 03:59 PM

I was talking about mostly people in the states where it does seem to me it is the purview of white middle class people.

I'm not confident that I can detect the race or income of people who're talking (or even just thinking) about this issue, though I also don't see how it's relevant. But if you choose to judge this based on race and social status, I'd guess that the proportion of "white middle class people" is far higher among climate change deniers than among people who take it seriously (like the populations of the G77 countries)--and I'd also guess that most of them are from the Western countries that are both the most responsible for global warming and the least threatened by its worst effects.

People around the world who're facing (and experiencing) climate-related catastrophes, regardless of their race or income level, don't have the luxury of being skeptical about global warming.

Posted by John Caruso at September 22, 2011 04:03 PM

John,

Tell me this, is global warming as caused by humans a fact or a theory. There is only one honest answer.

Nobody here is denying global warming exists. It obviously does. The point of contention is what is causing it. You believe it is people, I shall reserve my judgement until it is proven one way or another.

Saurabh,

You admit that weather is poorly predicted by computer models. Isn't global warming weather?

On the point of legitmacy just look at the U.S. and the so called international community. Legitimacy is given by one group to another when it suits their purporse, ergo the U.S. and its little cadre of ass kissers in euorpe are legitimate while Palestine is not. Legitimacy is a fraud.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 05:29 PM

The ARMY knew about global warming being caused by "industrial activity"(their term, not mine) in 1952, enough to report it to Mechanics Illustrated. I find it disheartening and sad that it took THIS LONG for the REST of the world, good ole USA included, to match the knowledge and ASTUTE observations of The U.S.Army.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 22, 2011 05:48 PM

On a PERSONAL note, thems that drive cars, deep down, really don't care and are probably better off thinking its just some kinda new iceage.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 22, 2011 06:03 PM

Rob,

The way you use the words 'fact' and 'theory' deserve clarification, then. What constitutes a 'fact' in your mind? What constitutes 'proof'? In science, there is no definitive standard of 'proof', there are only degrees of confidence.

You admit that weather is poorly predicted by computer models. Isn't global warming weather?

No. By analogy, when I turn on my tap, I can't predict the turbulent path the water will take, or how it will spray out of the nozzle, but I can predict that it will go down. Similarly for many stochastic phenomena, I can understand broader features of any system (e.g., how much energy goes in and out of it, what its components are, how much those components contribute to its energy balance, etc.) without being able to answer specifics about minutiae.

On the point of legitmacy just look at the U.S. and the so called international community. Legitimacy is given by one group to another when it suits their purporse, ergo the U.S. and its little cadre of ass kissers in euorpe are legitimate while Palestine is not. Legitimacy is a fraud.

This seems to be a non-sequitur. So, there are no legitimate or credible voices you would agree to listen to on this question, because you don't believe in the notion of legitimacy. I am assuming you're not inclined to do the necessary research yourself. So what are you waiting for? You've reserved judgment - until when?

Posted by saurabh at September 22, 2011 06:11 PM

Saurabh

You come up with a theory, then you need to prove it. So you develop an experiment that either proves or disproves your theory. Then other scientists will conduct the same experiment and if they get the same results it is accepted as a fact.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 06:17 PM

Also, China is the worst for Co2 emissions with the U.S. and the European Union second, and India is the third worse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 06:45 PM

Yes, I wrote about that in 2007 when China's yearly emissions first surpassed those of the US, and I also wrote about how that extremely misleading information would be misused. To summarize: China's total yearly emissions are now higher than the US's, but a) their per capita emissions are still far lower (10,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per person in China vs. 42,500 pounds per person in the US) and b) the increase in Chinese emissions is in large part due to the export of US manufacturing--and therefore carbon output--to China.

That's just looking at current yearly output, but if we're going to talk about responsibility for global warming we have to consider cumulative output--and by that measure the US far outrtrips any other country on the planet. And the disparity is even higher if you add in other developed countries.

(I don't get why you're even going down this road--what's the point of downplaying the US's responsibility for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if you don't believe it has anything to do with global warming anyway?)

About using the difficulty of weather prediction as a strike against anthropogenic global warming, as Jon said, yow. Not understanding the difference between weather (which is highly variable and difficult to predict) and climate (which is far more stable) is one of the most basic mistakes AGW deniers make. If you're not clear on the distinction and how it relates to climate change research, you might want to look into it.

Posted by John Caruso at September 22, 2011 07:24 PM

Still, China pollutes more, I only mentioned it because you claimed the west polluted more. I see by your link that this was measured from 1902 to 2002 though I would be interested in where they got their data for 1902 and how it was collected. But this is also misleading as China wasn't manufacturing much in 1902 certainly not by today's standards.

I noticed you didn't answer my question.

The climate is anything but stable. Climates change all the time so I don't agree that it is a bad analogy. In fact the whole history of the planet is one of constant change. The earth is quite dynamic.

Now, tell me if global warming is a theory or a scientific fact. Like I said there is only one answer.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 07:55 PM
You come up with a theory, then you need to prove it. So you develop an experiment that either proves or disproves your theory. Then other scientists will conduct the same experiment and if they get the same results it is accepted as a fact.

Okay, so by 'theory', you mean a hypothesis. Your presentation of the way the scientific world works is mistaken; in reality, science is extremely argumentative and difficult, and it is rarely the case that a single experiment is capable of answering the broader questions posed. It usually requires many more experiments and follow-up to clarify and confirm that your theory (that is, the explanatory model you've come up with to explain the outcome of your experiment) is correct. Also, in science, there is really no such thing as a "fact" - there is the current body of theory, and there's the understanding that at some point in the future, when our understanding is clarified, it will be replaced with a more compelling theory with greater explanatory power. "Fact", then, is just the best explanation available to us at a given time.

By this standard, anthropogenic global warming should be called a fact, attested to by a body of literally thousands of scientific papers. The IPCC report from 2008 (http://www.ipcc.ch) is a pretty comprehensive review of the best of these; chow down.

The climate is anything but stable. Climates change all the time so I don't agree that it is a bad analogy. In fact the whole history of the planet is one of constant change. The earth is quite dynamic.

The position of the sun in the sky is also anything but stable, but it does behave in a predictable manner, and that is what science attempts to do: make observations and develop a theory to explain them, and predict future observations. This can be done for climate. It is being done for climate. The best available evidence suggests that humans are warming the planet.

Posted by saurabh at September 22, 2011 08:34 PM

Saraubh,

Right, no such thing as a fact. LOL. So, there is no such thing as gravity. Okay, we'll move on from here.

Is anyone here willing to answer my question? Fact or theory? Yes or no. Without any meandering self contradictory caveats. Yes or no. Simple enough.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 08:50 PM
So, there is no such thing as gravity.

In point of fact, yes. The theory of gravitation best known to you was developed by Newton, Galileo, etc. in the 16th and 17th century; before then the prevailing theory was, I think, the Aristotelean one, that objects have a natural tendency to move down. Please don't confuse the observation - what goes up must come down - with the theory that explains it. The observation has been there for all time - it is with the explanatory theory that science concerns itself, and in that domain, there is no "fact", other than what is so well-accepted it has become indisputable. But, as we saw with Newton, a better theory can replace the indisputable, as general relativity came to replace Newtonian mechanics.

So, to summarize:
300 BC: 'Gravity' is the tendency of all objects to move to the center of the universe.
1700 AD: 'Gravity' is the force produced by mass that acts at a distance to attract other masses.
2000 AD: 'Gravity' is the change in acceleration due to the warping of space-time by the presence of mass.
2400 AD: ????

Posted by saurabh at September 22, 2011 09:00 PM

Yes or no.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 09:29 PM

Ain't no scientific facts, baby.

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 22, 2011 09:33 PM

Cool, then global warmiing isn't a fact.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 10:09 PM

Rob: I only mentioned it because you claimed the west polluted more.

No, I said "it's the richest countries in the world (and the US in particular) that are by far the most responsible for global warming." I'm referring to cumulative emissions, which is the only measure that matters when we're assessing responsibility for the amount of CO2 still in the earth's atmosphere.

The climate is anything but stable.

Nope, and this is one of the most basic facts about this topic. Again, you might want to read references like this to understand the difference between weather and climate, and why the latter is predictable even though the former isn't.

To answer your question: global warming is a fact. The anthropogenic nature of global warming is a scientific theory--just like evolution, relativity and plate tectonics--and like those other scientific theories it's accepted so widely because it's supported by the available evidence (and ongoing observations are only adding more support). It appears to me you don't understand what a "theory" is in science or how the usage differs from the everyday sense of the word; you can take a look at this for an explanation (or you can just re-read what saurabh's been saying rather than dismissing it out of hand).

To return to the point of the posting: why do you think 97-98% of climate researchers attribute global warming to human activity, and in paper after paper provide more evidence for that conclusion? Are they all mistaken? Are they lying? Do you believe--like Cockburn and the nutball I quoted at the top of the posting--that they're just "grant farmers" pushing bogus theories to make some money? If it's the latter and I was goring your ox, that would at least explain the hostility in your first comment.

Posted by John Caruso at September 22, 2011 10:11 PM

John,

Thanks for an honest answer. Yes, I know the difference between climate and weather and your link is a good one. And yes I understand what Saurabh said and am familiar with it. I have read a lot of books regarding science the best one is called “Lonely Hearts of the Universe” which contained the history of modern astronomers which reveals all of the inside fighting that goes on in the science community.

If my original comment was hostile it’s because your post seemed rather hostile to me. And frankly regardless of what is true about global warming or not I like Cockburn’s columns and find them very informative.

I do understand what a theory is, what a ridiculous comment. Science is always correcting itself as new facts come to light. Duh.

But none of you argue very well. Your main theme is if everyone else is jumping off a cliff then we should do the same. Not very convincing. If you want to fall back on word games that is your own affair but again, word games are unimpressive. I’m not interested in logic games my only point has been that global warming is theory, you say it is a fact. We don’t agree. As far as dismissing things out of hand it seems to me that is what happens when anyone dares storm the citadel of global warming, the immediate reaction is usually loud and overwhelming. Frankly global warming seems much more like a religion than good science to me.

Posted by rob payne at September 22, 2011 10:47 PM

Religion or science, facts are the polar icecaps ARE melting, its getting hotter every year with the attendant increase in various storm activity. Something IS going on. One need not believe in freighttrains to get crushed by one. Now if rob wants to thing its a new iceage, the what the hell does it matter? He won't stop driving a fossil fuel vehicle or turn off the light to his world. It wouldn't matter even if he did, his neighbors won't, his city won't, his country won't, U&I won't. Saurabh suggests getting OFF fossil fuels is the answer, and it most likely is. BUT WHO'S GOING TO DO THAT? It will take the WHOLE world in lockstep at this point in time to make a difference, at least a WHOLE major nation to lead the way to start change.
Ask YOURSELF what did I PAY for my car/truck? Am I willing to take the loss and park it for the good of the world? Can I talk my friends and neighbors to do the same, especially in light of OUR TAX dollars just now saving GM from bankruptcy? How about my city, state, country, can I talk them all into parking their vehicles and turning off the lights in their homes and businesses? I'd bet NO, even on JUST YOUR OWN outfits. Its a technological problem solved by giving up technology and that's not gonna happen.
That which I proposed at the first post IS A BANDAID, that's ALL it could ever be. YET I don't see ANY other bandaid out there and CERTAINLY NONE here.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 23, 2011 12:35 AM

Rob, if you understood what a scientific theory is you wouldn't be acting as though "global warming is just a THEORY not a FACT" is any more of a devastating blow than "evolution is just a THEORY not a FACT". We're not playing word games with you; we're explaining that the distinction you seem to think is so meaningful is based on a misunderstanding.

If my original comment was hostile it’s because your post seemed rather hostile to me.

My posting will definitely sting anyone who subscribes to the asinine notion (like Cockburn and the person I quoted in the posting) that climate scientists are just grant farmers spouting crackpot theories because they're out to make a buck. You didn't answer my question about it, so I don't know if that describes your view, though I certainly hope it doesn't.

...my only point has been that global warming is theory, you say it is a fact. We don’t agree.

You said "I do believe that global warming exists" and I said "global warming is a fact"; that doesn't look like disagreement to me. The problem is that you're using "global warming" to mean two different things, which is why I answered both the question you asked and the question you apparently intended. To repeat: global warming is a fact, whereas the anthropogenic nature of global warming is a (well-supported) scientific theory.

Posted by John Caruso at September 23, 2011 12:39 AM
As far as dismissing things out of hand it seems to me that is what happens when anyone dares storm the citadel of global warming, the immediate reaction is usually loud and overwhelming.

That's because the attackers are usually repeating the same bullshit arguments about volcanoes and solar variation, or some thinly-baked stuff about cosmic rays. It's like bringing pitchforks and hay bales to a tank battle. There is a ton of actual experimental evidence backing this theory up. Are you disputing all of that?

Posted by saurabh at September 23, 2011 04:13 AM

Saurabh -

What's your opinion on the relationship between climate and cosmic rays? I'm curious about this.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at September 23, 2011 09:51 AM

Fire and Ice


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost
1920


=====================

P.S. With regard to the interpretation of poetry, the Hon. Chester A. Catherwood asks me what is meant by "THIS is the future - you got to LIVE it or LIVE WITH it"?

The Firesign Theatre published this line in the very late 1960s - 1971, to be specific - on their lp "I Think We're All Bozos on this Bus".

In my view, it is similar to "be in the world, but not of the world," advice sometimes given to believers and seekers.

An interesting Bible-based discussion of the latter point can be found at

http://www.bible-knowledge.com/in-world-not-of-it/

Posted by mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at September 23, 2011 10:15 AM

The propaganda engine that started the denial of anthropogenic climate change is of recent vintage, compared to the climate science itself which goes back to circa 1850 (~160 years).

That climate denial propaganda engine was spawned in organs of the tobacco denial lobby when they lost that "war on lungs", and then had to seek work elsewhere.

Posted by Dredd at September 23, 2011 11:24 AM

Aaron:

I'm not well-read on the subject at all, but: the cosmic ray/cloud nucleation stuff is very interesting, as is the possibility that it's a significant mechanism for climate variability. Cosmic ray flux goes up and down with the solar wind - high wind blows cosmic rays clear of earth, producing fewer clouds and a warmer planet - low wind lets them through, producing more clouds and a cooler planet, meaning cosmic ray flux is a multiplier for solar irradiance. But that just makes cosmic rays a proxy for solar activity, which has been decreasing since the latter part of the last century, while the temperature is increasing. So it doesn't seem to explain much of modern observed warming.

Posted by saurabh at September 23, 2011 12:09 PM

Saurabh -

Yeah, that's about my level of understanding, too. Except that it isn't clear to me 1) that the cosmic ray flux from which the sun is shielding us is itself constant or uniform, and 2) that the sun's thermal output is necessarily directly linked to the reach of its magnetic shielding. Could they be inversely related instead? Perhaps these things are known, but it's my impression that there are many open questions in the areas of cosmic ray physics and solar magnetohydrodynamics. (I think the word makes it obvious.)

I believe that a 1-point change in the percentage of cloud cover (changing the albedo) would produce about the same amount of radiative forcing as the human-contributed CO2 increment, which makes me wonder a little bit. This would not be a big change at all - hardly noticeable. The confusion gets worse when I look at the IR spectral graphs for global warming gases, which show very clearly the overlap between CO2 and H2O. This leads me to wonder whether CO2 concentrations might be a lagging, rather than a leading, indicator of temperature changes driven by changes in the albedo.

Which is just a long way of saying, I don't find the cosmic ray stuff outlandish. I really ought to dig through the IPCC documents to see what they have to say on the topic. However, I've been spending my spare science-time reading about radiation, so I don't want to engage in a climate change discussion.

I've looked at the IPCC web site, and it seems excellent and very informative. Some day I will read it closely. If anybody else wants to let us know what the IPCC has to say about cloud nucleation by cosmic rays, I'd be much obliged.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at September 23, 2011 01:02 PM

Aaron, there've been quite a few essays at RealClimate discussing cosmic rays and their effects on global warming--you can use this search as an index. And I found this on the IPCC web site (you can do a site-specific search of ipcc.ch for more if you're interested).

Posted by John Caruso at September 23, 2011 05:23 PM

Speaking of how industry manipulates science: http://www.ijsaf.org/archive/16/1/lotter1.pdf

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 23, 2011 06:08 PM

(if anyone should happen to read that, which you definitely should because I think it would be approachable even to non-science brains, the second part can be found, obviously, by just substituting in a "2" for the "1")

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 23, 2011 06:16 PM

"On a PERSONAL note, thems that drive cars, deep down, really don't care and are probably better off thinking its just some kinda new iceage."

Mr. Meyer, I think you should watch e^2.

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 23, 2011 06:31 PM

btw, Design: e2 on Netflix.

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 23, 2011 06:45 PM

I think you should have used the term "grant miners" rather than "grant farmers" because Grant Miner played Keef the Drug Dealer in Suburbia.

Posted by godoggo at September 23, 2011 06:55 PM

Unfortunately I was choosing my phrase based on Cockburn, so these were all the options I had:

Like I say: unfortunately.

Posted by John Caruso at September 23, 2011 08:56 PM

Amanda Rex: VERY interesting report on Monsanto. I don't have a Netflix account but I'll keep an eye for that movie. I STILL stand by my oinion that YOU referenced.
YOU have ably refuted John Caruso's stance about the honesty of scientists and their data. It is possible the data has been tampered with in the cause of money.
The U.S. Army was reporting on industrial activity and atmospheric warming in 1952. The Army LIES, I've been there, believe me BUT I think they were being straight forward on this matter back then. Its the PILE of evidence that's convincing AND the unusual atmospheric activity.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 24, 2011 01:05 PM

I think what the paper I linked more supports than refutes what Mr. Caruso is saying. If any data has been falsified, it's been to the advantage of industry. Did you read the whole thing?

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 24, 2011 03:06 PM

Yeah, Mike appears to have misunderstood the point of the posting. I wouldn't have included the "how else could you possibly profit" link (among other things) if I were claiming all scientists are honest.

Posted by John Caruso at September 24, 2011 03:49 PM

Bottom line, Caruso, is you are no expert on the topic, you aren’t a scientist, and if Cockburn isn’t qualified because he isn’t a scientist than you aren’t either. That was my original point and one that is quite true. If you didn’t like it, too bad, it’s your own medicine.

Yow Jonathan Schwarz, do you have your little mirrors ready for orbit? How’s your undying support for the democrats? You aren’t in any position to yow anyone.

Mike Meyer,
Very clever, but scientists have been saying we are still coming out of the last ice age, and have said that no ice on the polar caps is actually the norm for planet earth.

Posted by rob payne at September 24, 2011 04:19 PM

rob payne: Granted, it could be the end of the last iceage and the melting is part of that situation. I KNOW that I don't know for sure either way. I CAN extropolate that WE won't be happy and living well with the results.
For years I fished and shrimped in the Gulf of Mexico. I also worked on the rigs for Chevron in Southwest Pass. I've seen that polution from both sides and got paid for it by both sides. I've seen enough to know there is NO easy solution, enough to CONVINCE ME WE are sufferng a manmade problem.
WE got nukes leaking, WE got smog, rampant development eating up aeriable lands, rain forests disappearing, oceans of oil slicks, coal fired powerplants lighting up WHOLE continents, crowded skys with space junk falling out of them. So yes, I think industrial activity is a root cause of the problem.

Amanda Rex&John Caruso: How climate scientists are paid or not paid, whether they are compromising data or not is really a secondary question meant to detract from finding solutions. WE end up lost in the conversation and FAIL TO TAKE ACTION.

The water's getting hard to drink
We've mangled up the countryside
The air will choke you when you breathe
We're all committing suicide
But its alright
Its promise false
You keep playing 'til your body rots
We'll strip the earth of all that's green
And then divide her into parking lots
But
There's
Nothing
You and I can do
You and I are only two
What's right or wrong is hard to say
Forget about it for today
We'll stick our heads into the sand
We'll pretend that all is grand
And hope everything turns out OK.---Steppenwolf

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 24, 2011 07:14 PM

That's certainly a nice poem. And I think you're right: How climate scientists are paid or not paid, whether they are compromising data or not is really a secondary question meant to detract from finding solutions. Which is precisely what I think Mr. Caruso is getting at here, and why I believe the only "myth" of climate change is that perpetuated by industrial giants unwilling to alter their business models/abide by environmental regulations. Though, as you've correctly stated, regulations won't get us out of the mess we're in now-that's too little, too late. My point, though, is that failing to abide by environmental regulations was the likely initial motivation behind the objections (considering that your reason for bringing this up to me earlier is due to having read this on my Twitter page). What I can't figure out, excluding the work done by the propaganda machines we refer to as network news stations, is why people who don't make millions of dollar a year are subscribing to the obviously false notion that climate change is a scientific conspiracy. It benefits them very little to side with big business on this matter, just like practically every other issue we're currently faced with.

Posted by Amanda Rex at September 24, 2011 10:56 PM

Amanda Rex: One need not convince the American Voter about the problem nor how WE got here, one need only convince them of a SOLUTION. Educating Americans is uphill at best and impossible at worst. SELLING Americans SOMETHING is as easy as apple pie and happens EVERYDAY.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 25, 2011 02:16 AM

Mike Meyer,

Absolutely, we do have manmade problems, all those things you describe are like crimes against nature. We have done a terrible job of taking care of this planet. From the gold mines in California where miners polluted the land and water with mercury that is used to separate gold and silver from ore to the horrible mess we made of the Gulf of Mexico. It makes me ill just to think about it. Well said, Mike.

Posted by rob payne at September 25, 2011 03:39 AM
Bottom line, Caruso, is you are no expert on the topic, you aren’t a scientist, and if Cockburn isn’t qualified because he isn’t a scientist than you aren’t either. That was my original point and one that is quite true. If you didn’t like it, too bad, it’s your own medicine.

By my reading John never said this - he said Cockburn fulminates against global warming without a real argument, and that his writing is not very thoughtful; I don't think he disputed his qualifications or suggested that non-scientists can't talk about this stuff. He proposes Monbiot, a non-scientist, as alternative reading to Cockburn.

I don't get your angle, rob. You're opposed to this theory without any real basis; you don't seem interested in exploring the technical argument, you aren't willing to trust the opinion of experts in the field, and you don't seem inclined to change your mind for any reason. Why are you so committed to hating this thing?

Posted by saurabh at September 25, 2011 08:10 PM

By my reading John never said this - he said Cockburn fulminates against global warming without a real argument, and that his writing is not very thoughtful; I don't think he disputed his qualifications or suggested that non-scientists can't talk about this stuff.

Your reading is essentially correct. And of course I'd never suggest that non-scientists can't talk about this stuff. The fact that Rob was operating under that misimpression does at least explain his otherwise baffling initial comment, though.

To summarize my point here: I'm not saying it's unreasonable for anyone to question anthropogenic global warming, but that making a centerpiece of that opposition the money-grubbing self-interest of the 97-98% of researchers working in the field who attribute global warming to human activity--even as you fail or refuse to recognize the far more plausible (and in fact well-documented) self-interest of the small number of credentialed global warming denialists--is ludicrous. My article really should be acceptable both to people who accept and people who reject the scientific consensus on global warming, because all it does is to satirize one of the most intellectually bankrupt denialist arguments. Cockburn was literally a footnote to this posting, and I mentioned him only because he's made this asinine slur a centerpiece of his attacks.

And I'm as confused as you are about why Rob seems "so committed to hating this thing". It's strange to me since it's so different from what I've seen from him in the past here.

Posted by John Caruso at September 25, 2011 11:28 PM

Saurabh,
Because even the fellow you mentioned, Milankovitch, says that while he believes that Co2 levels are adding to the global warming that the main engine for warming is that we are coming out of the last ice age. That makes sense to me, Occam’s razor and all that. So if the main engine of warming is the receding ice age there really isn’t anything to be done other than we could clean up our act but we aren’t cleaning our act up. We should but we aren’t. There are lot of things we could be doing regarding pollution but under Obama’s leadership we seem to be moving away from taking care of our environment. Obama was the guy who cleared the way for the drilling site that recently polluted the Gulf of Mexico. He waved the usual environmental impact study and the results were spectacularly bad. And what does it matter what Cockburn thinks or what I think? I’m nothing, nothing at all, my opinion matters about as much as a bug smashed on a windshield. Mike Meyer’s last comment is the best and most intelligent comment in this thread.

I wrote about Obama’s complicity in the Deep Horizon spill here if you care to read it.

http://rob-payne.blogspot.com/2010/05/thumb-in-plum.html

John Caruso,

That’s fair enough; I wrote the above to Saurabh before I saw your last comment. I don’t know, John, I guess I’m just a grumpy old bastard. I generally enjoy your posts, John, and I’m not really sure why global warming irritates me except that when I see everybody going in the same direction I become very suspicious. As an old economist once said, when you see everyone running in the same direction you should run the other way because those are the sheep going to the slaughter(like the housing bubble). Not that that necessarily means global warming falls into that category but when everyone agrees on something I find myself objecting or at least wondering about it. Historically speaking the majority has often been the most wrong while the people who are sidelined as kooks seem to get closer to the mark. Or recall that at one time most scientists believed in the Steady State theory until the Big Bang came along with the discovery of the background hiss that proved that the Big Bang was the most correct view, at least until something else comes along.

Posted by rob payne at September 26, 2011 12:03 AM

Cockburn would have done everybody involved a great favor if he had limited his critique to the very real hijacking of global warming issues by the nuclear industry and other assorted neer-do-wells. If they get their way, we will likely have global warming, with all of its damaging impacts on the world's poorest, together with other evils that will likely impact (who else?) the poorest the worst. Given the current imbalance of power in today's global political economy, I fully expect awful plans such as cap-and-trade to both fail to meaningfully address carbon emissions and guarantee that the cost of such non-meaningful programs are paid mostly by the world's weakest.

I say this as someone who accepts anthropogenic global warming as the most likely explanation of how and why our climate is changing right now. Also as someone who thinks Cockburn often has very many useful things to say.

Posted by Rojo at September 26, 2011 12:38 AM

@John Caruso -

Thanks for those links; I especially appreciated the clear summary of recent CERN results on RealClimate.

AD

Posted by Aaron Datesman at September 26, 2011 11:59 AM

Well, I'm into lunar expansionism and WE're gonna need a LOT-O-CARBON while WE're there, therefore--

LAUNCH DRYICE TO THE MOON, sequester CO2 safely for the long term. Use Cap&Trade to pay for it.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 26, 2011 12:45 PM

Rojo, you write: “Cockburn would have done everybody involved a great favor if he had limited his critique to the very real hijacking of global warming issues by the nuclear industry and other assorted neer-do-wells.”

My guess is that Cockburn’s global warming denial stems entirely from his long-standing antipathy to the nuclear power industry, which he sees as the hidden instigator of climate-change anxieties. Cockburn is indeed properly seen not just as a global-warming denier, but as a "by any means necessary" anti-nuke zealot.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone in allowing knee-jerk anti-nuke convictions to override any commitment to science. The rhetorical strategy he uses—a know-nothing rejection of the scientific consensus as a tissue of propaganda put out by grant-hungry academic hacks—is quite common on the anti-nuke left, even on this noble blog. It’s a handy way to dismiss out of hand the academic fields of radiation science and nuclear risk-assessment when their findings contradict the alarmist dread of nuclear power.

Smearing advocates of nuclear power as industry-suborned “neer-do-wells” intent on “hijacking” the global warming issue is another common tactic used to marginalize dissent from the anti-nuke line. It’s a false caricature of the many left-wing environmentalists like me who support nuclear power because we believe that the evidence shows it to be 1) the best way to decarbonize the energy supply, and 2) safer by orders of magnitude than our current fossil-fueled power system, which kills hundreds of thousands of people every year from air pollution.

Just as Cockburn’s obfuscations play into the hands of fossil-fuel interests, so do ill-considered anti-nuke policies—as evidenced by the success of Greens in Germany and elsewhere in forcing a shut-down of nuclear plants. Germany is already bringing old coal plants out of retirement to make up the electricity shortfall (http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/ElectricPower/8288380) and is planning to build new ones, because wind and solar can’t pick up the slack. That means more CO2 and more lethal air pollution.

Caruso’s critique of Cockburn and the global-warming deniers is spot-on. I hope we can generalize it. Let’s base the debate over energy policy, including nuclear power, on a thoughtful consideration of the scientific evidence, instead of paranoid smear tactics.

Posted by Will Boisvert at September 26, 2011 02:04 PM

Its a shame Cockburn has loaned his otherwise crdible voice to the climate change denier trust, although, if we unfuck ourselves for a moment, it becomes clear his motives are not thiers. He makes importatn points about global warming concerns drowning out every other (wrt environment) and makes the very reasonable point that this isnt a good or helpful thing. he also makes the very true point that the hysteria is now being largely directed by interests who are no freinds of the environment (nuclear power ) and thats the weridly misanthropic wing of the environmentalist movement are using it to call for 0 growthy policies for miserably oppressed Latin and African nations who have never hd anything but 0 growth, except when theyre being ruthlessly exploited by speculators from the same rich, western countries that the neuroticly misanthropic greenies tend to come from

Posted by marc at September 26, 2011 03:12 PM

"It’s a handy way to dismiss out of hand the academic fields of radiation science and nuclear risk-assessment when their findings contradict the alarmist dread of nuclear power."

When the "academic field" of "nuclear risk-assessment" assured me that Chernobyl and Fukushima were near impossibilities, the "academic field" of "nuclear risk-assessment" lost some credibility in my eyes.

One might note, as well, that much of the radioactive pollution that came out of Fukushima was from the so-called "spent" fuel pools. This raises, yet again, the issue of where we are going to store all of the radioactive waste from nuclear plants (assuming the waste is not siphoned off towards nefarious uses).

This question, of how we are going to deal with radioactive waste safely for THOUSANDS of years is not worked into the actuarial tables of those that claim nuclear power as an economical alternative.

So excuse me if I suspect that those pushing the nuclear angle to the global warming question are either cynically pushing the interests of the nuclear industry for profit motives, to the detriment of the rest of us, or naively convinced by the cynics, to the detriment of the rest of us.

I also oppose nukes because they are necessarily enablers of weaponization. This is what the US implies when it rails about Iran's IAEA-compliant nuclear energy program, because it's true that such a program helps in a weaponization program, but the problem is, any nuclear energy infrastructure helps in a weaponization program. I doubt the Iranians, if they actually built nuclear bombs, would act any more irrationally than the Israelis, with their arsenal of some hundreds of nukes, but it is true that nuclear energy provides the infrastructure for building nuclear bombs.

Posted by Rojo at September 27, 2011 06:27 AM

@Rojo;
Yes Rojo; nuclear risk assessments aren’t always right, although the actual safety record of Gen-II nukes like Fukushima, one meltdown every ten thousand or so reactor-years, isn’t too far from predictions. (Chernobyl-style RBMK reactors were predicted ahead of time to be unsafe by Western experts, so nuclear risk-assessment flagged that from the get-go.) But then, climatology isn’t an exact and error-free science either. Dismissing nuclear risk assessment out of hand that way is like dismissing climatologists’ predictions of global warming every time there’s a snowstorm.

You write that much of the radioactive pollution from Fuku came from spent fuel pools. Can you quantify that claim, with references? I’m pressing that point because much was made of that possibility in the press, but subsequent investigation of the fuel pools has shown that the spent fuel rods were not badly damaged. I believe it’s just not clear at this point how much, if any, of the radioactivity came from spent fuel pools. (In principle, even if uncooled they should be much less dangerous than the reactor cores, because they are nowhere near as hot; they just don’t have much heat energy with which to melt the cladding and volatilize and disperse the radionuclides.) I’d be interested in any figures you have on that.

Nuclear waste for longer-term storage is sealed in giant concrete and steel casks, and the plan is to eventually bury it under hundreds of feet of rock in the desert. Will that be absolutely safe for thousands of years? Impossible to say, although it’s also impossible to come up with a plausible scenario for just what harm will come of it. I should also note that the radionuclides with very long half-lives of tens of thousands of years are not very dangerous, because they are not very radioactive—the longer the half-life, the less radioactivity per unit time. It’s mainly Cesium-137, half-life thirty years, that’s the serious radiological threat, and that’s gone in a few hundred years. Medium-term waste storage has had an excellent safety record for fifty years and counting, so it’s plausible to anticipate safe storage of waste for the crucial first few centuries.

Waste storage isn’t a problem just for nuclear power. Coal plants emit many tons of radioactive waste every year which just sits out in the open in slag heaps. They also emit huge quantities of toxic mercury, which will be in the environment forever. Wind turbines and solar farms use tons of toxic rare earth metals; how will that be disposed of for eternity? No other energy source is forced to deal ahead of time, or cost into its pricing structure, the externalities of long-term waste. Nuclear power is unique in the extent to which it does in fact make provision and pay for the responsible control and disposal of its waste.

The nuclear proliferation issue is largely a red herring. Building commercial nuclear plants is the worst conceivable way to get weapons-grade bomb material. The fissile material that emerges from a commercial nuclear plant is so dilute and gunked up with bizarre isotopes that building a bomb from it is impossible. It can’t be used without massive, hideously expensive refinement and enrichment, so it’s much easier to start from scratch with raw uranium. The easy way to get plutonium is from a tiny, cheap research reactor that’s easily hidden from Israeli fighter-bombers, not from a $5 billion commercial nuke; that would be like buying an aircraft carrier in order to knock over a liquor store. The only element of a nuclear infrastructure that actually does help in building a bomb is an enrichment plant, but countries can and have built those without a commercial power plant to go along with it. Nations that want the bomb won’t be appreciably helped by having a commercial power plant, and those that don’t have a commercial power plant will find easier avenues to getting a bomb. And this issue is, of course, utterly irrelevant for nations that already have nuclear weapons, like the United States.

Before dismissing pro-nuke leftists as industry shills and dupes, people should really read up on the subject—with an open mind!

Posted by Will Boisvert at September 27, 2011 10:55 AM
Can you quantify that claim, with references? I’m pressing that point because much was made of that possibility in the press, but subsequent investigation of the fuel pools has shown that the spent fuel rods were not badly damaged.

Can you specify with references who was responsible for that "subsequent investigation"? Because I'm not inclined to believe a self-investigation by TEPCO. They did nothing but lie about the accident.

Also, don't you think it's a problem that you're having arguments on three fronts? There are three *major* problems with nuclear power that, if not successfully navigated, have the potential to produce widespread harm. Disseminating this technology across society, making the society dependent on it, is a terrible idea.

Meanwhile, the square footage of my house draws enough solar power to supply my house and the surrounding five houses, at almost no risk. That seems a much safer and better alternative, don't you think?

You've never made clear what your angle is, Will; your singular devotion to this issue really makes me suspect that you have some professional attachment to nuclear power. Can you at least lay your cards on the table?

Posted by saurabh at September 27, 2011 12:27 PM

saurabh: Aw, come on, what's a few thousand years when it comes to actuaries? Will here is a true believer 'cause sometimes it PAYS to believe.

Posted by Mike Meyer at September 27, 2011 01:47 PM

@ Saurabh

Right, Tepco, which is doing the cleanup at Fukushima, sent robots in to film the fuel pools; the videos showed that the fuel rods were not badly damaged. I think that's the only clear evidence anyone has for the state of the fuel pools. If anyone has other evidence about the state of the fuel pools and radioactity releases from them, maybe they could share.

Which Tepco lies about the Fukushima accident are you thinking of?

Posted by Will Boisvert at September 27, 2011 03:44 PM
Which Tepco lies about the Fukushima accident are you thinking of?

How about not telling anyone for almost a month that one of their units had melted down? That's a pretty big lie... They seem far more concerned with control of information for their own sake than they do with accurately assessing what's going on. Not to mention that they have a well-documented history of data falsification going back many years prior to this incident.

As for more data on the spent fuels, what about this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUsANlcRbWY

Posted by saurabh at September 27, 2011 06:24 PM

On the Fukushima fuel pools:

Thanks for the ref. I’m working off of the transcript of Gundersen’s video talk, here. (http://fairewinds.com/content/newly-released-tepco-data-proves-fairewinds-assertions-significant-fuel-pool-failures-fukush).

Arnie Gundersen opens his talk by stating that an NRC staff report concluded that the spent fuel in the pools was largely undamaged. He disputes that by pointing to recent sampling data (from Tepco!) that show high concentrations of Cesium-134 and Cesium -137 in the fuel-pool water. The data show 110,000,000 becquerels of radioactivity for each nuclide in the Unit 2 pool. He states that the amount of radioactivity in pools 1 and 3 are similar, but they are substantially less; only a fifth as high in pool 1. In pool 4, the concentration of these nuclides is about 2,000 times lower than in pool 2. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/images/handouts_110825_02-e.pdf). (Note that the data he cites are in line with previous analyses of the spent fuel water that were available to NRC staff when they filed their report; Gundersen isn’t actually reporting anything new here.)

So what should we make of these data? Gundersen claims that the presenc of substantial amounts of Cs-134 and Cs-137 indicate that they leached into the fuel-pool water from damaged fuel assemblies. That’s quite possible. It’s also possible that some or all of the Cs came from the reactor cores instead. They spewed a lot of Cs, some of which could have been deposited in the spent fuel pools. Gundersen aknowledges that that is a possible mode of transmission when he says that the traces of Cs in pool 4 might have come from Cs emitted from the other units.

Note that pool 4 had the most radioactive fuel and the freshest, and therefore the hottest, because the unit 4 reactor’s fuel assemblies had been temporarily deposited there. So we might have expected pool 4 to have been most at risk of boiling its water away and melting the fuel and spewing, which is the main danger with spent fuel. Instead, it was the other fuel pools that show the most contamination, by a factor of a thousand. On the other hand, reactor 4 did not suffer a core meltdown and spew—because the reactor had no fuel—while units 1-3 did. This pattern may support the conclusion that the Cs contamination in the fuel pools came mainly from the reactor meltdowns, not from the spent fuel in the pools.

Also, there’s the question of the quantity of radioactive material released from the pools into the surroundings. We just can’t tell how much was released solely on the basis of the Cs found in the pools, so we don’t know how much the fuel pools contributed to the spew as a whole. Maybe it was a lot, maybe little or none.

So, the evidence Gundersen cites isn’t a smoking gun. The Cs may indicate spewing from damaged spent fuel, but it might not. We won’t be able to tell until the reactors are in cold shutdown and they can do a thorough investigation.

Posted by Will Boisvert at September 27, 2011 10:51 PM

@saurabh;

On Tepco’s lying:

You’re right, Tepco was fined for falsifying safety data several years ago, so that has to be factored into any assessment of their honesty.

On the other hand, they’ve been under a microscope since the tsunami, which tends to inhibit outright lying. You claim that they were lying in not owning up to an actual meltdown in the plant for a month after the tsunami. But maybe they just weren’t sure whether there was a meltdown or not. After all, they were dealing with pitch-black, blown-up industrial installations that no one could get inside of because of the radiation. I don’t think anyone could have known for certain the state of the reactors under those conditions.

To substantiate your claim that they lied about the meltdown, you have to show that they knew the reactors had melted down and then subsequently hid that information from the public, or said that they had not melted down. Can you show that? If not, then we’re probably dealing with error and uncertainty--which is understandable under the circumstances—and not deception. And why would Tepco lie about something as important as that, knowing, as any idiot would, that under the glare of public scrutiny the truth would come out anyway?

We do have to rely on Tepco for much of the information about the disaster, because they are on the spot. Gundersen does, for example. We should look at Tepco’s information critically, but we do have to look at it. To dismiss it all out of hand means we have nothing at all to go on except biased conjecture.

Posted by Will Boisvert at September 27, 2011 10:57 PM

On solar power:

You write that your house gets enough solar power for you and five neighbors, so why not just use that?

Do you have a solar power system on your house? If so, what do you do at night or on cloudy days? How well does the system work in the winter? Do you have backup batteries, and if so, what provisions have you made to safely dispose of them? Or do you just draw power from the grid when the sun isn’t out? Where does that electricity come from? And how much does the system cost—with and without subsidies?

The problem with solar is its intermittency and unreliability. It works great at high noon on a sunny midsummer’s day; not at all during a sultry midsummer’s night when you might like to use air conditioning, or on cloudy days—especially a string of cloudy days—or in winter when days are short and the sun, if it shows at all, hugs the horizon. In Germany, with the world’s largest installed solar PV capacity, the solar “capacity factor”—the kilowatt-hours produced divided by the number that would be produced if the panels ran at full capacity 24/7/365—is about 12%. In winter, Germany is lucky if its solar panels generate at 5% of their rated capacity. (Nuclear plants typically have CFs of 90%, the best in the business.) So to run Germany off of solar panels in the winter, without blackouts, you would have to overbuild your capacity by a factor of 20 and more.

It turns out that compensating for that unreliability is a headache—a monumental, insanely expensive headache that no one really knows how to cure. Running a power grid off of solar PVs would require many-fold overbuilds of capacity, and vast geographical dispersions of solar farms with redundant high-voltage power lines to shuttle the electricity across continents, and pharaonic electricity-storage schemes, and many-fold overbuilds of a whole additional, redundant, unreliable wind-based electricity system, or—the most popular solution--just backing the whole tangle up with gas- and coal-power—and thus perpetuating the problem of greenhouse gases that solar was meant to solve in the first place.

And solar is actually not so good for the environment. It uses about ten times the building materials per kilowatt-hour generated as nuclear does. Then there’s solar’s land-hunger. Roof-top solar panels are abysmally inefficient even by solar’s standards, because they don’t track the sun. To do that, you need solar panels mounted on servo-motors out in open fields—you have to cover hundreds of thousands of square miles with the things, which in aggregate is a tremendous destruction of natural habitat. And, saurabh, you have to figure out how to dispose of the toxics associated with solar; solar can’t shrug off the waste it generates any more than nuclear can.

If you think solar is a no-brainer, you just haven’t crunched the numbers. On sustainability, preservation of habitat, CO2 abatement, cost and reliability, nuclear compares well to solar and every competing technology. And it’s demonstrably safer, by orders of magnitude, than the energy system we have now, which kills hundreds of thousands of people every year from air pollution. If we were to switch to a fully nuclearized system, we could save 99 out of every 100 lives that are currently lost to energy production.

Nuclear makes a lot of sense when you look into it.

Posted by Will Boisvert at September 28, 2011 12:47 AM