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Wrong-speed dating

Last year I posted a series of articles about statistical issues surrounding radiocarbon dating, a subject that is important in its own right but also directly impinges on the climate debate because of the way in which it informs our knowledge of past climates and the carbon cycle.

However, it looks as though a new paper in Earth and Planetary Science Letters is going to extend the debate still further, arguing that radiocarbon dating falls down badly in samples that are over 30,000 years old. According to an article in the South China Morning Post,

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Minor drying in Iran causes farmers to flee Syria

The origin of the claim that the Syrian refugee crisis is partly caused by climate is a paper by Kelley et al in PNAS. This has picked up quite a lot of media attention, yesterday's Independent  article being just the latest.

Kelley et al is a bit odd though. Consider at what they found. In the top panel of the following figure, they claim to have found a significant drying trend. They are using a significance level of P <0.05. (Questions, questions: why do they calculate trends since 1931 when they have data going back to 1900?)

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Greenpeace warns of ice age dangers

Greenpeace are fond of telling us that the planet is going to fry because of our evil addiction to fossil fuels. How then to explain their submission to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which maintains a register of issues and potential problems with the nation's nuclear waste repositories?

The long-term effects of glaciation on repository safety could be very serious, potentially involving a large release of radionuclides due to glacial flushing from a damaged repository zone. Future glaciations could cause faulting of the rock, rupture of containers and penetration of surface and/or saline waters to the repository depth.

Surely some mistake?


Desperate Dana - Josh 345

The Emma Thompson Newsnight interview made it to the Guardian. The writer Dana Nuccitelli (ironically an employee of Tetra Tech who have interests in the Oil and Gas industry) explains that Emma Thompson was wrong but in the right sort of way, unlike other people who are wrong in the wrong sort of way.

Unhinged. Why would we ever trust them to tell the truth about anything?

Cartoons by Josh


What's in a name?

One of the ideas that has been kicked around the green community for a while is to persuade the WMO and national met offices to name storms after prominent global warming sceptics.

As climate change continues to create more frequent and devastating storms, we propose a new naming system. One that names extreme storms after policymakers who deny climate change.

Now, with a certain air of innocence, the Met Office is suggesting that the public might like to suggest names for major storms that head our way this winter.



More Syria shamefulness

The ambulance chasers are still, rather disreputably, hovering around the fringes of the migrant crisis. Today I came across a cartoon that again seeks to link the 2007 Syrian drought to climate change. Entitled Syria's Climate Conflict, it opens with the 2007 drought and then moves on to the displacement of people thereafter, before moving on to the uprising itself, describing its beginnings in the southern city of Daraa and the spread to Damascus before asking whether maybe climate change had something to do with it. A scientivist type is on hand to insinuate that it did.

If you take a look at the cartoon though, you will notice something odd: there is not even a vague insinuation that the climate in Syria has changed. There has been a drought of course, but Syria is nothing if not a country prone to drought. So where is the climate change? It is so transparently an attempt to use a weather event to advance a climate argument that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the authors are not just playing fast and loose with the facts.

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Destroy the planet to save the planet

A new paper in Nature (some readers may prefer to discount the paper on those grounds alone) finds that efforts to abate emissions of two key greenhouse gases that are emitted as industrial wastes have managed to create incentives to produce more of them.

Carbon markets are considered a key policy tool to achieve cost-effective climate mitigation1, 2. Project-based carbon market mechanisms allow private sector entities to earn tradable emissions reduction credits from mitigation projects. The environmental integrity of project-based mechanisms has been subject to controversial debate and extensive research1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, in particular for projects abating industrial waste gases with a high global warming potential (GWP). For such projects, revenues from credits can significantly exceed abatement costs, creating perverse incentives to increase production or generation of waste gases as a means to increase credit revenues from waste gas abatement10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Here we show that all projects abating HFC-23 and SF6 under the Kyoto Protocols Joint Implementation mechanism in Russia increased waste gas generation to unprecedented levels once they could generate credits from producing more waste gas. Our results suggest that perverse incentives can substantially undermine the environmental integrity of project-based mechanisms and that adequate regulatory oversight is crucial. Our findings are critical for mechanisms in both national jurisdictions and under international agreements.

Oh well done Gaia lovers, well done. It seems that we have to destroy the planet to save the planet.


Temperature questions

The current El Nino is rousing our green friends into a frenzy as they anticipate all the lurid headlines they will be able to generate at Paris (this is, admittedly, before the year is actually finished, but that has never been much of a concern to the tree hugger).

But questions keep nagging away. If surface temperatures are blipping upwards, why does the pause continue in the satellite record? That's what happened in the 1998 super El Nino.

Similarly, 1998 was hot here in the UK, but the current El Nino seems to have had negligible effect on the British Isles. Indeed, if anything, the opposite.


Unbalanced - Josh 344


On Wednesday the BBC's Newsnight interviewed Emma Thompson on the newsworthy topic of left wing activists protesting about drilling for oil in the Arctic. And refugees. And voting for Jeremy Corbyn.

Emma clearly did not have a clue what she was talking about - even Richard Betts, from the Met Office, said she was wrong (good on you, Richard). Ed Hawkins, Climate Scientist, also tweeted "what Emma Thompson said was scientifically inaccurate & implausible." 

Sadly Emma had not got the memo on coal not being the 'dirtiest' fuel. It isnt, biofuels and wood burning stoves are worse - the Guardian is not very keen on them either.

Newsnight's Emily Maitlis suggested Emma get herself arrested. Hmm.

Cartoons by Josh

[Update: added Ed's Tweet]


On Syria and climate change

Never a man to let a good crisis go to waste, Barry Gardiner MP is trying to use the deaths of Syrian migrants to advance his climate change agenda. If we want to understand the crisis, he says, we must look beyond Assad and ISIL to the weather and the "ruined farmers" - hundreds of thousands of them apparently - who left Syria's wheat belt for the cities. We learn, moreover, that 2010 was during the longest drought in Syria's records.

Now take a look at a graph of Syrian wheat production (data from here).

Tells a rather different story doesn't it? You can see that the drought wasn't actually in 2010 at all, but rather in 2007/8 and, although rainfall remained sub-par thereafter, by 2009 wheat production had recovered to near normal levels and remained there for several years.

Perhaps there is more to this than meets Mr Gardiner's eye.


Gauges versus satellites

There is a fascinating post at No Tricks Zone on sea level rise, focusing particularly in the difference between the (heavily adjusted, short-term) satellite record and the (relatively pristine, long-term) tide-gauge data. The former is over 3mm per year, while the latter is much lower.

Author Dave Burton has been trying to reconcile the two numbers and has drawn a blank:

It is not possible to torture the tide-gauge data into yielding a globally averaged rate of relative sea-level rise anywhere near 3.3 mm/yr.

The upshot is that the satellite record might be as much as double the correct figure, or at least the relevant figure for coastal planning purposes. I wonder what figure is used for assessing the economic impacts of climate change?


In BBC world, only anti-capitalist opinions are valued

The BBC's new logoThe BBC's love of anticapitalist campaigners knows few bounds and there's a smashing example this morning in the shape of Matt McGrath's article about the UN climate talks. McGrath is riffing on the developing world's demands for "compensation for extreme weather events that they link to large scale carbon emissions".

Demonstrating an almost heroic ability to ignore the elephant in the room, McGrath manages to overlook the almost complete absence of any increase in extreme weather than might affect the developing world. East Pacific hurricanes for example. Or drought. Or flood.

But if McGrath cannot bring himself to note such inconvenient facts, he can always bring himself to find out what anticapitalist campaigners have to say. In his article, there are quotes from two of them:

  • Julie-Ann Richards is a climate campaigner for Oxfam, whose campaigners are generally anti-capitalists, according to this insider.
  • Harjeet Singh is from Action Aid, described here as "the most anti-capitalist of all the major development charities".

No other opinions seem to have been sought.


A Prime Review - Josh 343

Ruth Dixon's excellent book review of "Why are we waiting?" by Nicholas Stern is well worth reading. You can download a pdf version here.

As the cartoon notes, the question 'Why are we waiting?' has already been answered by David Cameron. But today we read that Naomi Klein disagrees with Stern - Naomi thinks the only solution is a 'public uprising' to end capitalism.

Something they might like to sort out before Paris, eh.

Cartoons by Josh


The wisdom of the man in Whitehall

Yesterday came the news that another major power station is to close. Eggborough is a big 'un, its 2GW coal-fired capacity meaning that it generates as much as 4% of the UK's supply. According to the operators, electricity prices have now fallen so far that they cannot operate profitably.

Many might wonder whether this is a big deal or not. After all, businesses close all the time - markets have always weeded out the weak and old and uneconomic. But as the operators also point out, we are on the verge of blackouts this winter because of a lack of supply. Ofgem thinks they can avoid this, but only because the government is paying to have diesel generators on standby and because it is going to pay major industrial users to switch off when margins become unbearably tight.

So Whitehall has managed to get us into the situation where we are going to replace (relatively) efficient coal-fired stations and a productive population with inefficient diesel generators and (potentially) people standing around waiting for the power to come back on.

Such wisdom is not seen every day.

Thank goodness.



Polar bears walk on water?

Polar bears are remarkable creatures, but I bet you don't know just how remarkable they are. Scientists tracking some of these majestic beasts in the Southern Beaufort sea using radio-collars have determined that some of them spent the whole of the month of August in an area in which there was almost no sea ice!

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