Right Policy, Wrong Reasons

July 13, 2022
From USEPA

The New York Times reports today that Joe Manchin, the Democrat I love to hate, is pulling out all the stops in his attempt to eliminate subsidies for electric cars in Pres. Biden’s economic recovery plan. Could it be because he is deeply beholden to the fossil fuel (coal and petroleum) interests that wield tremendous power, I wonder? No need to spin conspiracy theories: it’s just how politics works.

But, strangely, for his own selfish and wrong reasons, Fossil Manchin is actually pursuing the right policy, I think. Or, I should say, the right lack of policy. Because many in our society are gripped by hysteria over the spectre of climate apocalypse, there is a frenzy to shovel money to things that they think will ameliorate the situation. As the Times says:

But a fast transition to electric vehicles is exactly what scientists say is needed to quickly and sharply cut the emissions that are dangerously heating the planet. Pollution from transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Let’s just step back and assume that we have a long-range goal of reducing the carbon footprint of our economy, and jettison this absurd notion that the entire global industrial plant can go green in twenty years, but for the interference of troglodytes such as the Koch family and Manchin. No, it’s going to take a long time.

As the EPA chart shows, transportation does in fact account for the largest share of USA green house gases (ghg), just ahead of electricity production, 27% to 25%. Note well: electricity production is required to run electric vehicles, and for a very long time, much of that energy is going to be produced by fossil fuels.

The EPA report from which the graph is taken also includes this:

Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes. Over 90% of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which includes primarily gasoline and diesel.

Electric trucks are not at all viable, nor is it likely to power large cargo ships in the near future. Planes are out of the question despite the vaporing of Elon Musk and others I have heard, while diesel trains are good candidates for electrification. Just think about the last time you rode an urban metro system. And recall that all of this discussion is about the USA only. Granted, we here in the States are car crazy, but we are only one country. So, to address a problem that requires a long-term solution, we are supposed to rush to massively subsidize EVs in the USA, which would result in a minimal overall reduction in GHG production, unless the government decreed the elimination of gasoline cars, and magically created green energy sources to suddenly supply the needed charging energy.

Our American obsession with cars has many, many deleterious social and economic impacts: traffic deaths of passengers and pedestrians; air pollution; noise pollution; insane congestion; lost time to commuting; destructive urban sprawl; and, finally, production of GHG. The way to reduce ALL of these negative consequences is to reduce our reliance on cars and trucks, not to convert the current fleet to electric vehicles. That will do nothing for most of the impacts, and the reduction of GHG will be partially offset by the scramble to increase energy sources.

But, but…BUT…climate armageddon is coming SOON! We have to do SOMETHING!

When you are operating under that sort of hysteria, it’s impossible to make sound policy decisions. We should be directing subsidies to mass-transit and buses so that people have an attractive alternative to using their cars. We should be reducing the use of trucks as a freight carrier (dangerous, polluting, noisy, and destructive of roadways) and developing our ability to move goods with trains, the way we used to do it before cars became the dominant non-life form on our city streets. And subsidizing hybrid cars, not to mention mandating better mileage in gasoline powered cars, would go a long way towards reducing fuel consumption and GHG production without the need for new energy sources.


I’m a believer…

December 11, 2021

Alas, Innumerancy!

December 7, 2021

Sea Level Rise in New York

December 2, 2021

That Precautionary Principle

October 10, 2018

football

Long ago, when it was still acceptable to voice doubts about computer projections of the climate apocalypse, people often answered critics who mentioned the uncertainty in the predictions by citing “The Precautionary Principle.”  This self-evident axiom of risk management means that if the consequences of a low-risk, uncertain event are so catastrophically awful, we are prudent to act as though the event will happen.  So, even if the predictions about climate change are not very certain, the impacts on us if they turn out to be true are so horrific, we might as well not argue, and just assume that they are correct.  Case closed.

When I first began to track the issues related to climate change more than twenty-five years ago, that was pretty much my point of view, but after a lot of thought, discussion, and experiences at conferences, I have modified my view to one of rather harsh skepticism.  I’m not going to discuss that process here:  I just want to dispose of this supposedly common sense precautionary principle (PP).

First, a little story:  My sister has an old friend that she has known for many years who suffered significant brain damage a long time ago when he fell and struck his head.  He is severely impaired these days, as though he had been the victim of a stroke.  He was quite robust and healthy when it happened; he just slipped on the ice one winter and banged his skull.  A fluke accident with terrible consequences.  Could happen to anyone, right?

Now, this sad event the befell my sister’s friend was forseeable.  After all, everyone knows that you can slip and fall on the ice, and many of us have done it, although with consequences that ranged more towards embarrassment than disability…but it could happen to us, even if we are not old and frail.  It happened to my sister’s friend!  The chances are not zero.  If you do research on it, you might find that they are not even considered trivial, so this is my question.  Given that the consequences of this accident, with a probability notably above zero, are so life-shattering, why don’t we all walk around wearing football helmets in the winter when there is ice on the ground?  It would seem to be a perfect and unassailable application of the precautionary principle.

The reason that we don’t wear helmets is that we all make our own calculations, knowingly or not, and assume that the risk is so vanishingly small that we need not worry about such a “fluke” happening to us.  We are totally unpersuaded by the logic of the PP.  Some people are so foolish as to never wear seat belts despite the much stronger statistical evidence in their favor.  We might think those people are nuts, but still not don the helmet in icy weather.

In the end, we are left with nothing but data, and our judgment about how powerful a case it makes for taking action.  The PP is simply a way of trying to shut down consideration of the data and the possible courses of action by asserting that only one alternative is possible and logical, but in practice, nobody reasons that way when they actually have to make a choice.


Mad Science/Journalism Experiment

October 10, 2018

madexperimenter

In the wake of the new IPCC special report, the NYTimes declared (emphasis added) in its editorial today:

…the world must utterly transform its energy systems in the next decade or risk ecological and social disaster, attention must be paid….

The panel said a mammoth effort is needed, beginning now and carrying through the century, to decarbonize global energy systems. The next 10 years are absolutely crucial: Emissions will have to be on a sharp downward path by 2030 for any hope of success. Greenhouse gases must be cut nearly in half from 2010 levels. Renewable energy sources must increase from about 20 percent of the electricity mix today to as much as 67 percent. The use of coal would need to be phased out, vanishing almost entirely by midcentury.

Okay, so there we have it.  A clear and stunning prediction of doom, the End Times of the Climate Apocalypse are nigh!  2030 is not so far off, and a very large proportion of the readers of this post (all three of you!) are likely to be around then to test the propositions pronounced in the editorial.

My prediction is that in before 2030, if people are still excited about this issue, we will see articles about how new studies have put off the day of reckoning to 2040 or 2050, the standard moving the goalposts routine.  Or, they may declare that the delay of crisis is due to the heroic (unspecified) reductions in GHG accomplished as a result of their indomitable advocacy.  If I am wrong, I won’t be happy!  😦


Hot Time, Summer in the City…

September 11, 2018

Capture

click here for larger image

I just cannot stop thinking about this graph that appeared with this article in the NYTimes recently.  The piece discussed how the number of hot summer days, those above 90 degrees F, are projected to increase in the future, and it allows readers to enter their town and date of birth to see how the weather has changed between then and now.

Hmmm….  Well, we all know that climate is always changing, and we all know that it is warmer now, in general, than it was 100 years ago, but beyond that what does this article and its interactive graphic tell us?

I imagine that a lot of readers misinterpret the data plot and believe that it represents the rise in temperature in NYC over the recorded period:  my experience is that most readers of these articles in the Times are not too concerned with details of data and data presentation.  In fact, it is more accurate to say that the chart shows the number of “above 90-degree F days” in NYC over the period.  That is, a count of days, not temperatures.   Except that it doesn’t show that…  On the left there is some text that says that it shows the “average number of days above 90-degrees F.”  What does that mean?

If we look at the data point for the year 2010, we find a value of about ten days.  Ten days above 90F in 2010?  You could easily check the record to see if that is accurate. But the text says that ten days is the “average number” in 2010.  In that year, there were either ten days above 90F or there were not ten days.  An average does not enter into the discussion.  That would be as if we said that June, on average, has thirty days.

The confusion is eliminated when we read the FAQ and Methodology document to which a link is provided at the end of the article:  How many people do that, do you think?  We learn that the data plot shows a twenty-year moving average of the above 90F days for each year.  For example, for the year 2000, the number of above 90F days for 1990,1991, 1992…2000…2008, 2009, 2010 are added up and and divided by twenty-one (there are twenty-one years’ values) and an average is obtained.  For 2001, the same process is used, but the summed years begin with 1991 and end with 2011.  Moving averages are often used to smooth out the data curve:  in this case, without doing it the plot would be very “spiky” with sudden changes in the number of above 90F days from year to year.  Smoothing the data gives a better idea of the trend, but it is good practice to make clear up front that you have done so, which the authors of the piece do not do.

On the other hand, what about the years 2008 through 2018?  For example, take the year 2015:  we get a twenty-year moving average by summing the data from 2005 to 2015, and adding that to the data for 2016 to 2026…  Oops!  There is NO DATA for the years after 2017!!  The kindly scientists at the Climate Impact Lab of Columbia University have used model data, simulated data, or shall we say, created data in place of actual historical data.  They do, obliquely, note this fact in their FAQ and Methodology text, but you’d never know it by looking at the graph.

Consider this:  their models show temperatures rising and above 90F days increasing, so the tendline after 2017 is rising.  But unlike the rest of the graph, that is NOT actual recorded data.  For all we know, the data record during that period is flat, or perhaps moving downward.

And speaking of flat data records, at least in NYC, the period from 1990 to 2017 (keeping in mind that the data for 2008 to 2017 is not actually the historical data) looks pretty much horizontal, i.e. constant, not increasing.  But sure enough, we can be completely confident that the upward trend that begins…next year, will come about.

Well, we cannot be completely sure because the Climate Lab also tells us – they are honest, if not forthcoming – that the results plotted here represent the data range that two-thirds of the models project.  I’m used to hearing the IPCC and other outfits talk about high or very high confidence in projections, i.e. a 90 or 95% confidence interval, but here we have a “just likely,” …mebbe… confidence interval of 66%.  Of course, this is simply a statistical sample of modeled results, described with the unspoken assumption that the models are correct, or nearly correct, or more correct than not correct… 🙂  If all the models share a few assumptions and parameters that later are disproved, then the fact that 66% predict this is hardly something to inspire confidence.  This, by the way, goes for all the climate projection models.

It would be nice if this graph for NYC were to be published every year in the NYTimes.  Then we could see each year how accurate the projections actually were.  Instead, this plot will be forgotten, and next year there will be a new batch, showing the rise in this or that frightful metric after the fateful year at hand.

Of course, it could happen exactly the way they are claiming it will.  We shall see…!


Facts Matter..?

December 12, 2017

FACTS-MATTER

I like to flatter myself that I am an independent thinker, i.e, I think for myself.  One of the problems with that tendency is that I sometimes find myself in disagreement with people with whom I agree most of the time.  This slogan, in the button above, is one of those instances.  I dislike it intensely.

The first reason I dislike it is that everyone knows that facts matter – even Trumpy and Roy Moore.  Even Kelly Anne Conway, she of “alternative facts” fame.  The disagreement is over what is, and what is not a fact, and how important some facts are compared to others.  Science and history have their methods for resolving these questions, techniques in which our present administration is uninterested because they pose inconvenient questions, but the importance of facts is not really at issue.

One of the unpleasant aspects of being a dissenter is that you are opened up to condemnation when you disagree with the prevailing view, what Flaubert called “received wisdom.”  I may agree with my friends 95% of the time, but when that 5% comes up, out comes the “Facts Matter” button!

The other reason I don’t like this slogan is that it presumes that the speaker has all the facts, i.e. THE FACTS.  Much of the time, these days, the slogan is deployed regarding Trumpy’s lying and misstatements about politics,  history, economics…well just about anything, and the newspapers, e.g. the NYTimes, are held up as proof that he is wrong.  Well, I like the NYTimes and read it daily, but memory is short.  About fifteen years ago, it was telling us breathless stories about the vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, remember him?  There were no WMDs.  I knew it then, and so did lots of other people.  The paper did apologize, years later, but why assume that they have the facts simply because they happen to be in the right all the time about Trumpy?

It’s a lot of work to cross check sources, read up on issues, track the positions of people to see if they lie about their past statements, and so on, but hey, you want a democracy, that’s what you have to do.  You want knowledge, you have to work for it. Relying on Breitbart or the NYTimes as the oracle of The Truth is the lazy way to ignorance, though of the two, naturally you’ll do better, most of the time, with the NYTimes.  That’s based on my personal research.  🙂

And just FYI, the NYTimes still maintains the same low standards of journalism they displayed in their coverage of the WMDs in Iraq when they “report” on climate science.  Facts matter, but you’ll look long and hard for them in their coverage.  Just sayin’.  🙂

 

 


New Age Prophet

January 4, 2015

28CONV-superJumbo

I rouse myself from my leisured sloth to comment on the latest pronouncement by the prophet of doom, Naomi Oreskes.  Today the New York Times, that newspaper “of record,” has seen fit to give her a lot of space to continue her attack on the scientific method:  Playing Dumb on Climate Change.

Ms. Oreskes has a Ph.D., and is a professor at Harvard, so she is instantly given credence as a reliable expert, but her work, on which I have commented extensively, is pretty much at the level of hack polemic as far as I am concerned.  From her sylvan altars – doesn’t she just look the part of the serious, concerned, and not to be trifled with Mother Nature? – she makes some of the most outrageous pronouncements to be heard from the academic realm on the topic of global warming.  Okay…let’s see what she said this time.

Her gripe is that scientists are too conservative about the risks of global warming – they should be ringing alarm bells, as she does, warning us of the horrors to come and pushing for the solutions that she supports.  Note that there is significant scientific controversy about many of the claims that Ms. Oreske makes, e.g. that recent extreme weather events are clear evidence of the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels, and that her argument is, therefore, neatly circular.  It amounts to this:  scientists who are not screaming about the coming End of Days are too conservative, period!

She goes on to discuss a central notion of the scientific method:

We’ve all heard the slogan “correlation is not causation,” but that’s a misleading way to think about the issue. It would be better to say that correlation is not necessarily causation, because we need to rule out the possibility that we are just observing a coincidence.

This is typical of her method.  She doesn’t say that correlations always indicate a clear causal chain, but she doesn’t want to rule it out, either. Who would?  But she wants to make it seem that scientists that won’t jump on the bandwagon of this or that theory simply because they are not more than 95% sure that the correlation is not chance are missing essential risks.  But how do you decide when to jump on, and when not to?  When she thinks you should?  When you’re scared enough to ignore evidence and jump to conclusions?

She’s very worried about Type 2 errors:   being too conservative and missing causes and effects that are really there.  I would ask, too conservative for whom or what?  Here we are moving from the realm of science to that of policy and politics.  It is certainly true that when one creates policy, the scientific standard is too strict – policy makers cannot always wait for better information.  But then, one must make a case for the preponderance of risk warranting action now, rather than later.  Ms. Oreskes won’t do that:  she simply avoids having to make the case by attacking the scientific method.  Circularity again.

The dilemma that this opinion piece presents us with is obliquely indicated by Ms. Oreskes here:

When applied to evaluating environmental hazards, the fear of gullibility can lead us to understate threats.

Clearly, we can make the converse argument that lack of caution can lead to overestimating threats, wasting money, disrupting lives, ordering medical tests with high likelihood of false-positives…all sorts of bad stuff.  She doesn’t consider this.  When we face this obvious fact, we are back at Square One:  Ms. Oreskes, prove your case with facts!  This is exactly the discussion she seeks to short-circuit.  Because she knows she’s right.  She sees.  She is a Prophet.