Friday, 13 March 2009

Skeptical Listening

Well to kick off this post, we have the latest Skeptic's circle being published and in a different format to usual, a podcast, don't worry all you traditionalists out there, don't worry all the usual links to the fantastic posts are there too.

And it is the subject of podcasts that brings me on to much more about idea of the listening side of web2.0. While blogs are a fantastic media to bet across you point of view or just rant about what pisses you off at a given moment, we are a multi-sensorial species (if that phrase is not in the lexicon then maybe it should be) and as such we have many different ways to get you knowledge fix. Podcasts are too much work for me to take on, I can barely post weekly here at the blog, but that certainly doesn't stop me from listening to many and enjoying them greatly.

Now my tastes are quite eclectic, and so the podcasts I listen to range from


American politics and culture:
In fact if I had more listening time (listening during work is not good for productivity) I would probably listen to a much wider range of subjects.

Of course there are many others out there that you can choose from, and you can even get into the realm of video with vlogs and vodcasting, and while this is not something I have spent much time investigating, I will suggest that you check out the JREF on youtube.

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Monday, 9 March 2009

Too many cooks?

In this modern technical age this series of tubes can make keeping up with the field (which ever one it is) much easier than waiting weeks for the paper copy to be mailed to the library (it takes forever for the journals to come to New Zealand for some reason). I keep track of the latest studies by a weekly email roundup of the relevant journals (at least the ones through the American Geophysical Union).

So I get to spend some of my time on Monday perusing titles and abstracts for relevance, but every now and then is something that really catches one's eyes. This morning it was the first article in the list for the last 7 days in the Atmospheric Science section of the Geophysical Research Letters whose author list was exceedingly tedious:

Osprey, S., J. Barnett, J. Smith, P. Adamson, C. Andreopoulos, K. E. Arms, R. Armstrong, D. J. Auty, D. S. Ayres, B. Baller, P. D. Barnes, G. D. Barr, W. L. Barrett, B. R. Becker, A. Belias, R. H. Bernstein, D. Bhattacharya, M. Bishai, A. Blake, G. J. Bock, J. Boehm, D. J. Boehnlein, D. Bogert, C. Bower, E. Buckley-Geer, S. Cavanaugh, J. D. Chapman, D. Cherdack, S. Childress, B. C. Choudhary, J. H. Cobb, S. J. Coleman, A. J. Culling, J. K. de Jong, M. Dierckxsens, M. V. Diwan, M. Dorman, S. A. Dytman, C. O. Escobar, J. J. Evans, E. Falk, G. J. Feldman, M. V. Frohne, H. R. Gallagher, A. Godley, M. C. Goodman, P. Gouffon, R. Gran, E. W. Grashorn, N. Grossman, K. Grzelak, A. Habig, D. Harris, P. G. Harris, J. Hartnell, R. Hatcher, A. Himmel, A. Holin, J. Hylen, G. M. Irwin, M. Ishitsuka, D. E. Jaffe, C. James, D. Jensen, T. Kafka, S. M. S. Kasahara, J. J. Kim, G. Koizumi, S. Kopp, M. Kordosky, D. J. Koskinen, A. Kreymer, S. Kumaratunga, K. Lang, J. Ling, P. J. Litchfield, R. P! . Litchfield, L. Loiacono, P. Lucas, J. Ma, W. A. Mann, M. L. Marshak, J. S. Marshall, N. Mayer, A. M. McGowan, J. R. Meier, M. D. Messier, C. J. Metelko, D. G. Michael, L. Miller, W. H. Miller, S. R. Mishra, C. D. Moore, J. G. Morfin, L. Mualem, S. Mufson, J. Musser, D. Naples, J. K. Nelson, H. B. Newman, R. J. Nichol, T. C. Nicholls, J. P. Ochoa-Ricoux, W. P. Oliver, R. Ospanov, J. Paley, V. Paolone, Z. Pavlovic, G. Pawloski, G. F. Pearce, C. W. Peck, D. A. Petyt, R. Pittam, R. K. Plunkett, A. Rahaman, R. A. Rameika, T. M. Raufer, B. Rebel, J. Reichenbacher, P. A. Rodrigues, C. Rosenfeld, H. A. Rubin, K. Ruddick, M. C. Sanchez, N. Saoulidou, J. Schneps, P. Schreiner, S. M. Seun, P. Shanahan, W. Smart, C. Smith, R. Smith, A. Sousa, B. Speakman, P. Stamoulis, M. Strait, P. Symes, N. Tagg, R. L. Talaga, M. A. Tavera, J. Thomas, J. Thompson, M. A. Thomson, J. L. Thron, G. Tinti, G. Tzanakos, J. Urheim, P. Vahle, B. Viren, M. Watabe, A. Weber, R. C. Webb, A. Wehmann, N. West, C. White, S. G. Wojcicki, D. M. Wright, T. Yang, K. Zhang, and R. Zwaska

The paper was titled: Sudden stratospheric warmings seen in MINOS deep underground muon data and while such large experiments do warrant many people being involved, especially when using what sounds like a rather novel technique, I am not really sure that around 150 people need to be authors on the paper (No I did not count each individual name, I estimated from the 17 lines it took in the email that each had about 9 names, which is of course ~153).

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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Global warming and what we can do: Part 2

Here is the promised part 2 where I discuss some possible things we can do to deal with the global warming.

This leads us to the situation we are now in, the world is warming and our CO2 emissions are the most likely cause of it.

  • Will cutting back on our CO2 emissions have any effect?
Probably not a big effect unless we can get China and India to sign on as well.
  • Does this mean we should not try to cut back?
Certainly we should try to limit our CO2 production, any reduction is better than no reduction at all.
  • What about the technological ideas that might save us?
We have very little idea what any "geo-engineering" attempt to sequester atmospheric carbon will be able to achieve and how bad the side-effects will be, such as ocean acidification.
  • What happens if we don't cut back on the levels of atmospheric CO2?
Well the warming will probably continue to increase, we will continue to lose ice caps (this will happen even if levels do not increase, we have now lost about 10 ice sheets and new studies are showing that ALL of Antarctica is indeed warming) and begin to experience sea level rises. This will put a strain on our food production, if not through direct loss of arable land then by migrations of people from coastal areas.

As we live on a finite planet and have shown only finite growth in technological advances in the past, one should really plan to use the resources we have in a responsible manner.

We need to encourage investment in cleaner and renewable technologies that we have, as well as fund research into more such technologies. Particularly the government and the power generation industry needs to get into this as does much of the rest of industry.

Unless there is incentive to invest in new technologies and a disincentive to continue as is then things will not change. We cannot leave this up to the free market to adjust our behaviours.

Whether we cap and trade with a steadily reducing cap, or we carbon tax depends on how the proceeds are distributed, and how the incentives for new technologies are to be handled. For example IF the best way to induce investment in new technologies was by government funding incentives then this would probably be best to be funded by a carbon tax (where all of the proceeds of the tax go back into the new technologies).

Though I would like to point out that if businesses simply pass on all there new costs associated with either the cap and trade or the carbon tax straight to the consumers then the system will not work. In the case of petrol the costs should probably be passed on (as much as it pains my very limited budget to admit).

But for power generation, which is something that is very integral to our modern civilization, this is where the costs should be born almost solely by the corporations involved in the generation. If the costs are simply passed on to the consumer then there will be very little incentive for investment in new tech on the part of the power companies.

As for what we should do for China and India and the like, well clearly if they keep burning coal as they are particularly in China, we may all be completely f'ed. So the first world nations will need to help out, with incentives to use clean sources for energy, nuclear power being probably the first cab off the rank. Followed by the sharing of all the renewable technologies we have.

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Global warming and what we can do: Part 1

Oops having just gone a whole month without posting for the first time I hang my head in shame, however, I recently posted this to the NZ Skeptics group as the first part of a response to recent discussion about global warming and our response to it, a lot to the discussion was whether we should do anything at all, which partly came from the idea that since China and India weren't going to do any thing then what was the point ruining the economy. But some of it seemed a bit too much like AGW denial, so I started with the following discussion, which I will reprint below just in case there are those out there that don't know the arguments for anthropogenic global warming. The second part discussing what we can do will follow.

  • Is the globe warming?
  • Is there an increase in CO2 levels that began about the time of the industrial revolution?
  • Is this a similar pattern to what happened in most other warming periods?
NO, mostly the CO2 increase lagged behind the temperature. So this is something different than we have seen.
  • Do we know what was responsible for much of the previous warmings?
Mostly, we have a fairly good idea that much of the warming/cooling cycle is related to the Milankovich cycles of the ellipticity of the Earth's orbit.
  • Is that what we are going through now?
NO, calculations in the 70s thought that the next Milankovich cycle was going to happen soon leading to an ice age, but this was in error and now is not expected to happen for a few thousand years. NB: the next part of the Milankovich cycle is due to cause an ice age not warming.
  • What about the influence of the sun? It caused the Little Ice age in the late middle ages did it not?
Yes the Maunder minimum of solar activity did cause a little Ice age in Europe, and yes the sun spot activity has been correlated to temperature fluctuations in the past. However, the recent temperature increases have not followed the fluctuation of solar cycle length (see an ealier post here). So NO the Sun is NOT responsible for this warming! I have heard from my colleagues that there maybe some fluctuations that correlate to other space weather phenomena, but not solar driven ones. I will have to wait for that paper to come out to let you know more.

So we can easily establish that the neither the Sun nor the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit is to blame for this warming. So having ruled out the two leading causes for historic climate change we turn to other hypotheses.
  • The obvious one is that we know CO2 is a greenhouse gas, can this leading trend of increasing CO2 be responsible?
This is where the controversy comes in (everything above is pretty incontrovertible). Most climate models using CO2 as the driver for the warming, regardless of how they predict the future, are very good at reproducing the data from the past. If they could not reproduce the data from the last few centuries then they would not be used to try to predict the future.

Let me just restate that clearly, CO2 driven climate models can reproduce the recent warming that we have experienced.
  • Is this a smoking gun?
In the absence of any other credible hypothesis that can explain the data, probably, perhaps it is best to say that it is not the murder weapon but our finger prints are all over the crime scene.

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