Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wind follies

  • Wind isn’t an energy solution, it’s a visual placebo to make hippies feel better about themselves. 
This was such a delightful quote that I had to post both it and the original comment which points out that during the current cold snap in the UK the existing wind turbines had to be heated to prevent them from seizing: not only did the windmills not contribute any power, they drew power during the peak cold period.

The continued failing of wind power in every jurisdiction should be sufficient for any sane policy analyst to reject the imposition (sorry, progressive introduction) of feed in tariffs to subsidize such "green" energy follies elsewhere. Sadly the high price of wind and solar is still being foisted onto the public by governments caught in their thrall to an ideology that is neither progressive, green nor sustainable.

If we accept as a policy constraint that the future is indeed difficult to forecast, we should at least also accept experience and observed data as a basis for the revision of policy and as a corollary to assertive claims of dystopian certainty.

Furthermore, the science is rarely definitive and always subservient to the ideology:

  • ...climate scientists have greatly underestimated the uncertainty of proxy-based reconstructions and hence have been overconfident in their models. (Here and here)

We should also pay more attention to where and from whom, such dystopian claims originate.  For every stupid idea, there usually is a stupid, vain and privileged proponent. And, often, they are published. 

Moreover, we should also be wary of the assertive authority that peer review is used to invoke:
  • If peer review is to be thought of primarily as a quality assurance method, then sadly we have lots of evidence of its failures.
  • We have little or no evidence that peer review 'works,' but we have lots of evidence of its downside.

We get the government we elect. And governments embrace policy options they consider the public will condone.  
  • Stupid is as stupid does. Forrest Gump

  • People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. Kierkegaard

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cancun in context

Writing over at Spiked, Ben Pile supplies this excellent summary of the Cancun conference and what it reveals about the true status of concern over climate:
  • is a slow process; politics happens much faster. In the rush to get the most recent research under the noses of policymakers, those engaged in the climate debate show that climate politics exists before climate science has even got its thermometer out.
  • The trouble with evidence-based policymaking is that, when doubt about the evidence emerges, the policymaking grinds to a halt. In order to continue with the creation of environmental bureaucracies and political institutions, fresh certainty has to be supplied.
  • That’s not to say that ‘climate change isn’t happening’, nor to suggest that it won’t be a problem. However, the alarmist narrative which created the basis for international climate policy has exhausted itself. By over-stating things in the past, it created the conditions for its later embarrassment. In order to sustain the political momentum, science has had to do PR. And the effects are all too plain.
Some of the confused "victims" in all this are the many scientists who are not a part of the climatocracy but genuinely work through the scientific details of the dynamics of climate change.  They remain largely convicted about the basic science, tend to under-estimate the influence environmental alarmism has had on perception of their work and concomitantly, had placed too much faith on the authoritative nature of the IPCC as the definitive word on climate change.

As Pile states:
  • The problem is the broader expectation that science can be instructive; that ‘what to do about climate change’ can be simply read off from clear scientific evidence. The evidence isn’t clear. It is contradictory. It changes. Science is confused by the political demand for certainty, for the true story.
  • Science and policymaking are imitating the news. Rather than waiting for genuine scientific development, scientific organisations engaged in the policymaking process produce summaries of the latest speculation on demand. This speculation is intended to add urgency to the process by defeating the doubt that besets the policymaking. But it does so at the expense of a sober understanding of the climate and our relationship to it. This is acceptable under the rubric of the precautionary principle, which allows policymakers to aim to be safe rather than sorry by accepting approximations of ‘science’ in lieu of certainty. But this reveals that science – as an institution, rather than a process – is much less involved in discovery than in supplying climate politics and its bureaucracies with legitimacy.
When science adopts as a founding premise the precautionary principle it is no longer a neutral, objective search for truth. Adoption of the precautionary principle as a presumptive premise is the adoption of environmentalist ideology as the defining narrative for understanding, a predisposition for a particular political interpretation and determination of findings.  The science has become inherently politicized.

Update: so climate science becomes politicized, but why does politics need climate science as the latest symbol of environmental alarmism?  

As has been pointed out frequently over at Climate Resistance, the allure of climate as a defining narrative for politics is that it provides a moral imperative for a generation of politicians lacking a cause.

As Mick Hume writes, the ruling class are conformists without a cause, with the result that they have no real allegiance to the substance of any issue. About Nick Clegg, Hume writes:

  • one thing he is not is a traitor. To be a traitor to a cause, you first need to have one to betray. Clegg, like the other top parliamentarians of the age, is a conformist without a cause. 
  • ...this u-turn should have come as a shock only to those – many of them supposedly jaundiced journalists – who fell in wide-eyed wonder for the myths of ‘Cleggmania’ in the first place. Remember how, in the spring of the General Election campaign, the Lib Dems were supposed to stand for a new politics of honesty and principle, a fresh approach that would overthrow the discredited order at Westminster?
    His words echo those of Victor Davis Hanson about Barrack Obama. The names and places change, the meme does not.

    Tuesday, December 07, 2010

    ideas and change

    I have been reading a lot lately over at Judith Curry's site where she has a number a excellent threads ongoing and a range of viewpoints that largely seem to want to respect Judith's attempt to move beyond partisan rhetoric on climate issues.

    I also read earlier today this piece on Victor Davis Hanson's lament for the paucity of moral imperative within the contemporary ruling class. (Also discussed here).

    The connecting construct is the central role that ideology plays in how people view their world and how ideology then conditions their response and reactions to change.

    I responded to the discussion of education versus indoctrination at Judith's with this comment:

    What many do not consider about education and ideas is the role that ideology plays.  Not wanting to play with semantics, a basic definition of ideology (see Wikipedia) would suggest that:
    • ideology is a coherent system of ideas, relying upon a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis, but are subjective choices that serve as the seed around which further thought grows. According to this perspective, ideologies are neither right nor wrong, but only a relativistic intellectual strategy for categorizing the world. The pluses and minuses of ideology range from the vigor and fervor of true believers to ideological infallibility. Excessive need for certitude lurks at fundamentalist levels in politics and religions.
    From my perspective, I have long maintained that ideology functions as a filter for our ideas and thinking: it filters what we absorb, how we receive information and ideas, constructs and concepts, the data we accept, that which we reject.  At the same time, ideology is a filter through which our own communication takes place.

    Thus, logically, we can consider the extent to which people are aware of their own ideology and the role it plays relative to their education and intellectual development.  I would posit that the more more we are conscious of our own ideology the more open-minded we are -- but that too is a projection of my own ideological perspective, because I value open-mindedness I associate increased consciousness and awareness as virtues and conflate them with a positive ideological trait, open-mindedness.

    Certainly, if I want to organize a radical activist group, my ideas about open-mindedness may not be so positive and I would value certitude much more highly.

    We should not presume that all educators view education the way we as individual educators do: it is not correct to presume all scientists seek the "truth" or that "objectivity" is a value in education above all others.  These are value constructs that reflect the ideology of those proposing them.

    Many intellectuals support the proposition that all knowledge is contingent.  What we think is absolute and certain is only as absolute and certain as the knowledge we have.  Every so often an Einstein pops up and changes that presumptive knowledge.  At this juncture we are straying into both philosophy and meta-physics, and I am about as far down those respective limbs as I am comfortable...

    So, what does this have to do with climate, education and indoctrination? Everything.  People may agree on the ideas: education is good, indoctrination as bad, but then in practice, in pronouncements, in communicative practice commit an act that is for them "educational" which for others from a different ideological perspective is to them "indoctrination".
    Add in the capacity for political entities to be explicitly Orwellian in their use and misuse of language and we get the situation we have today.

    Perhaps the best we can achieve is open dialogue with tolerance and an absence of arrogance, personalization and political agendas.  Sometimes we get two of the three: rarely all three!

    To which I would add here that many educators are themselves blind to their own ideological presumptions and that academia has a long history of disputes that reflect an inability for the protagonists to find a commons with sufficiency enough to resolve their presumptions, use of language and/or ideas.

    In many ways, the art of successful politics is the ability to appeal to as wide a spectrum of opinion and ideas as possible with the same set of words, constructs and concepts.  The utility of the term sustainability in politics is due to the resonance of the term with so many varied publics.

    The issue facing climate activists today is that their mantra of AGW no longer has extensive resonance and hurriedly seeking to replace terminology is an insufficient solution for many who now view as indoctrination the ideas and facts they previously mistook as education.
    • A sullen, gloomy realization that maybe, just maybe, they got it all wrong is beginning to dawn upon the less unintelligent delegates. So the exit strategy is being quietly, hastily constructed.
    What is left is the climate version of Groundhog Day.

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    science not politics

    One of the most common complaints by skeptics is that the climate models (upon which climate change predictions rest) are not very accurate. Moreover, there is a perception that the reason for this is that basic premises reflect ideology rather than physical science.

    This perspective is given additional traction by the publication of this refereed journal paper, which concludes:
    • It is claimed that GCMs provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate change, particularly at continental scales and above. Examining the local performance of the models at 55 points, we found that local projections do not correlate well with observed measurements. Furthermore, we found that the correlation at a large spatial scale, i.e. the contiguous USA, is worse than at the local scale.
    • However, we think that the most important question is not whether GCMs can produce credible estimates of future climate, but whether climate is at all predictable in deterministic terms. Several publications, a typical example being Rial et al. (2004), point out the difficulties that the climate system complexity introduces when we attempt to make predictions. “Complexity” in this context usually refers to the fact that there are many parts comprising the system and many interactions among these parts. This observation is correct, but we take it a step further. We think that it is not merely a matter of high dimensionality, and that it can be misleading to assume that the uncertainty can be reduced if we analyse its “sources” as nonlinearities, feedbacks, thresholds, etc., and attempt to establish causality relationships. Koutsoyiannis (2010) created a toy model with simple, fully-known, deterministic dynamics, and with only two degrees of freedom (i.e. internal state variables or dimensions); but it exhibits extremely uncertain behaviour at all scales, including trends, fluctuations, and other features similar to those displayed by the climate. It does so with a constant external forcing, which means that there is no causality relationship between its state and the forcing. The fact that climate has many orders of magnitude more degrees of freedom certainly perplexes the situation further, but in the end it may be irrelevant; for, in the end, we do not have a predictable system hidden behind many layers of uncertainty which could be removed to some extent, but, rather, we have a system that is uncertain at its heart.
    • Do we have something better than GCMs when it comes to establishing policies for the future? Our answer is yes: we have stochastic approaches, and what is needed is a paradigm shift. We need to recognize the fact that the uncertainty is intrinsic, and shift our attention from reducing the uncertainty towards quantifying the uncertainty (see also Koutsoyiannis et al., 2009a). Obviously, in such a paradigm shift, stochastic descriptions of hydroclimatic processes should incorporate what is known about the driving physical mechanisms of the processes. Despite a common misconception of stochastics as black-box approaches whose blind use of data disregard the system dynamics, several celebrated examples, including statistical thermophysics and the modelling of turbulence, emphasize the opposite, i.e. the fact that stochastics is an indispensable, advanced and powerful part of physics. Other simpler examples (e.g. Koutsoyiannis, 2010) indicate how known deterministic dynamics can be fully incorporated in a stochastic framework and reconciled with the unavoidable emergence of uncertainty in predictions.
    Now cutting through the standard academic boiler plate -- there is something better, it is our approach -- the take home message is that present GCM models are not the accurate projection they are claimed to be.  A stochastic approach may yield better results, but while that might work scientifically it is a certain non-starter politically.

    A stochastic relationship is, by definition, a random process with defined probabilities.  Environmental ideology does not allow for random processes: it is entirely predicated upon the certainty of human agency upon which to promulgate its dogma of restraint and regulation.  Moreover, soci0-economic data are immune to probabilistic modeling precisely because they entail humans and free choice.

    No serious economist takes the Stern report as a valid projection of the future.  But it is necessary as an input to drive the IPCC models.  Those models are not an accurate representation of past climate trends.  The error may not be large, but the global re-organization of society has been promoted by climate alarmists on the basis of temperature changes of less than this margin of error.

    Admitting this constraint has two concomitant effects: it both restores the credibility of the science on climate change and removes its entire political imperative.

    Saturday, December 04, 2010

    Meanwhile, in the real world...

    While the UK, large parts of North America and a significant proportion of Europe is dealing with the first vestiges of severe winter in the form of record breaking cold temperatures and snowfall, the climatocracy are convening in Cancun. The sharp juxtaposition of these two circumstances have not passed unnoticed and commentators have discussed everything from:
    Which brings to question, what is the problem and how is it being framed?

    In the wake of Climategate, the collapse of contrivance at Copenhagen and the widespread recognition of this fact at Cancun, what is the real question?

    The lessons of AGW require that we must address the failure of the academy and not just a cadre of bullies indulging in expertise politics.

    At Judith Curry’s site I posted this reply within her thread on how to respond the Congress and its questions on how the fiasco of AGW evolved.

    · This point cannot be over-emphasized but often is over looked. The majority of scientists may indeed be nice people but that does not mean they are objective, exist absent of personal motives or free of ideology. The predominant ideology of most environmental scientists remains both elitist and liberal/democratic, which means they largely prescribe to an ecological meme that despite its consistent refutation is rejected by the intellectual elite who simply “know better”. So when Lomborg published his book (which, in turn, originally was an attempt to vilify Simon) his results were dismissed as being “wrong” and when that was not sufficient, he was attacked in the same manner as climate “denialists”.

    · A large part of the problem is the culture of academia and the reality that the merely competent in any field of inquiry greatly outweigh the gifted and talented. Because someone is published and published a lot is not the same as saying they are insightful, merely industrious.

    · The basic problem with the IPCC is that as a bureaucratic entity and process it elevated industry and empire building within academia and sought to equate this with academic ability and insight: they are not the same. Thus in an academic version of the Peter Principle, we had many people elevated to positions of power where they engaged in an exercise of expert politics.

    · Notice that the word “science” is largely absent in all this. That is because the whole situation was driven by ideology and politics and the science became subsumed within this.

    · The sad part is that few within the academy actually stood tall and called people out on this: those that did, myself included, found ourselves all the more marginalized. There is a reason skeptical voices within academia are older, senior or near retirement: to question the golden goose of research funding when research funds are not only a proxy for productivity but an indicator of excellence is career suicide.

    · Why do I blog? I blog for my own sanity and because it is the only alternative if one is to actually focus on policy within environment and actually question the pervasiveness of the environmentalist dogma.

    · Lastly, non-scientists are vilified for examining “science” questions. But all manner of scientists express political and policy opinions freely without ever studying or examining these areas of enquiry with any rigor. It is a most crass double standard of hypocrisy that is blatant in practice and in its acceptance as the norm.

    · Chicken and pig go for breakfast. Decide on bacon and eggs. The chicken was engaged, the pig was committed.

    · Policy analysts have nothing to lose in this discussion: career climate scientists everything. Sadly, some lost their integrity very early. Some are just discovering the consequences of not speaking up. Others still cling to the same prevailing ideology they always have and seek to dismiss all this fuss as inconsequential.

    · Last month another academic (an IPCC Nobel winner as he always mentions) sought to have the senior alumni at my university rescind its invitation to me to speak as my talk would be “improper” and “invalid” plus a whole host of other pejorative terms.

    · No the sociology at work here cannot be over stated.

    Martin Durkin makes many of these same points here.