## `The Age of American Unreason`

Note this special “Updated Post-Election Edition” of this excellent book was not updated with 45‘s ascendency, but, rather, that of President Barack Obama.

Published by Penguin-Random-House, it is one of the favorite things I’ve read, and I don’t often read about politics or political history.

Forboding quote. Remember, this was written in 2009:

If, as I will argue in this book, America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism — as opposed to the recognizable cyclical strains the past — the virulence of the current outbreak is inseparable from an unmindfulness that is, paradoxically, both aggressive and passive. This condition is aggressively promoted by everyone, from politicians to media executives, whose livelihood depends on a public that derives its opinions from sound bits and blogs, and it is passively accepted by a public in thrall to the serpent promising effortless enjoyment from the fruit of the tree of infotainment. Is there still time and will for cultural conservationists to ameliorate the degenerative effects of the poisoned apple? Insofar as the weight one’s will is thrown onto the scales of history, one lives in the stubborn hope that it might be so.

It is ironic that this is being posted on a blog, and that the blog’s author is employed by a company which obtains much of its revenue from “a public that derives its opinions from sound bits and blogs”. Still, in the same way that some saw the foreshadowings of the 1987 market crash(*), an anniversary which was just celebrated today, it is the responsibility of those inculcated in the rough process leading to catastrophe to cry out the dangers.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

That’s by William Butler Yeats, who “Being Irish, … had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy”.

This is Professor Susan Jacoby with a more recent look. Let’s just say Silicon Valley’s computing and Internet revolution does not survive unscathed.

(*) Some, in fact, profited.

## Sources of Massachusetts Electricity

See CarbonBrief for more details and other states.

Posted in electricity, electricity markets, Massachusetts | Leave a comment

## How hard can completely off grid living be?

Not a recommendation, but a sketch of what’s possible.

And it’s also a sketch of how much The Commons provides.

## Ørsted: love means nothing without action

The H-field is measured in amperes per metre (A/m) in SI units, and in oersteds (Oe) in cgs units.

Ørsted.

## miscellany

This is an assortment of bits and pieces I’ve wanted to blog about, but, given the ever increasing Pile of Matter Important sitting over there in the corner, I probably won’t. Maybe I’ll come back to them. I have left this post completely Uncategorized.

First, my blog post of a couple of days back on gun statistics made me wonder, in contemplation, whether the number of mass murders could be used as a surrogate for Readily Available Violence, and, failing that, number of firearm suicides and homicides. Whichever measure is used, the little project I wanted to do, and still may someday, is to try to fit that to a Bass diffusion model for product introduction. Now, in practice, this would be basically repeating Jim Duggan’s work with Bass diffusion using deSolve, albeit on death data, but it would let me play with deSolve for a bit, which I’ve long wanted to do, and would let me see how hard estimating coefficients in Bass diffusions actually are. What’s the product here? Well, it’s not deaths. I felt that if I could back out the growth rate of such a product and then, say, match it with estimates of gun availability that might take a step in establishing a(nother) causal link. But, we’ll see.

Second, and speaking of things causal, out of some frustration with what passes as acceptable time series study these days (see also), and the tendency to throw lots of data at algorithms which “thrive on noise”, I whimsically chased down Kantz and Schreiber’s Nonlinear Time Series Analysis (2nd edition, 2005 reprint, Cambridge University Press), as backed by the R package nonlinearTseries. I’ve written about Professor George Sugihara and colleague’s convergent cross mapping before, but never delved into this approach to things any further. There is an update of the field by Bradley and Kantz from 2015, which appeared in Chaos, but I was mostly interested in seeing how practical this kind of stuff was. I had read reports here and there that naively done CCM was unstable, but I want to see. I’ll let you know what I learn.

Third, I have a large stack of technical papers to read, some work-related, mostly statistics- and climate-related, with an emphasis upon oceanography and engineering. This includes things like T. L. Thorarinsdottir, P. Guttorp, M. Drews, P. Skougaard Kaspersen, and K. de Bruin on “Sea level adaptation decisions under uncertainty” from 2017, Benjamin Fish, Lev Reyzin, and Benjamin I. P. Rubinstein on “Sublinear-Time adaptive data analysis”, and Martha W. Buckley and John Marshall on “Observations, inferences, and mechanisms of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation: A review”.

Fourth, I’m inching through a chapter of O. C. Ibe’s Elements of Random Walk and Diffusion Processes, specifically, his 9 on “Fractional Calculus and its Applications”. I want to understand that, and things like Hosking’s 1981 paper on “Fractional differencing” (from Hydrology), but I’m also intrigued with the possibility of using Levy walks (Ibe’s Chapter 8) to search Bayesian posteriors and do other kinds of stochastic optimization. In fact, I’ve outlined a paper along those lines, but I need to master some mathematics first before I’m ready to proceed.

Happy holiday weekend everyone. I know there’s been a lot of racial inconsideration for indigenous peoples and the like, and I try to act to what the best current sense of how to respect peoples is, but it’s easy to trip on labels. Sure, labels can hurt people’s feelings. But, in my training and world, what you name something has no effect on what it is or how it behaves. And I’m concerned that an overemphasis upon Proper Naming is a step down the path of acting as if there’s any substance to Grounded Theory, or as if there’s any validity in something I read by a Trump supporter a day ago, that because they won the Presidency, they could now dictate what constitutes truth.

Posted in scholarship | 1 Comment

## Will the Climate `play nice`

An explanation by Dr Jørgen Peder Steffensen, a down-to-earth one, about climate bifurcations. He’s hardly the only scientist that has warned about this. Dr Wally Broecker famously said:

The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.

(Hat tip to Yale Climate Connections)

## Solar PV

And that does not include any governmental incentive payments from utilities. These were:

## “Azimuth Backup Project (Part 5)”, upcoming presentation by Prof John Carlos Baez

Thanks to everyone, especially to The Team, to Professor Baez, to the Funders, and to University of California, Riverside.

I don’t identify the Team because some don’t want to receive public accolades, and I don’t feel I should acknowledge some but not all.

## statistics

(Update, 5 October 2017)

That’s from The Economist.

What’s odd about the rate of increase in size of casualties is that, typically, if a process is stationary and is “typical”, for instance, governed by a Generalized Extreme Value distribution of Type II or Fréchet: You don’t get records broken even at a constant rate. Interarrival times are longer and longer for succeeeding breaks of records. In this case, time between new records is shortening.

The following figures are from:

 D. Hemenway, S. J. Solnick, “Children and unintentional firearm death”, Injury Epidemiology, 2(1), 2015 December.

 M. Siegel, C. S. Ross, C. King, III, “The relationship between gun ownership and firearm homicide rates in the United States, 1981–2010”, American Journal of Public Health, 103(11), 2013 November.

Update, 5 October 2017

(Click on figure to see a larger image, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)

This is what I mean about guns being a public health hazard. And here are some ancillary facts:

Firearm deaths from all causes just about match deaths from motor vehicle per year, about 11 per 100,000 population each.

Drug poisoning deaths, all sources (including opiods) are 16 per 100,000 per year.

Cigarette smoking in all forms, including vape, and including secondhand smoke and affects on kids causes 150 deaths per 100,000 population per year.

There are 13 suicides per year per 100,000 population and of those 7 per year per 100,000 are firearm suicides.

There are 10 homicides per year per 200,000 population. Of those 7 are firearm homicides. Naturally, these include all terrorist attacks, which are completely negligible.

So, yes, smoking causes way more deaths than motor vehicles or firearms. Drug deaths cause a bit more per year. Most firearm deaths are suicides. And firearm deaths as homicides are half of the rate of suicides.

Accordingly, since guns are twice as likely to be used to kill yourself rather than be the device of your demise by someone else, you’re better, all things being equal, not having a gun.

Oh, and don’t smoke.

Childproof safety locks for guns were proposed as far back as Mr D. V. Wesson. Yet 2-4 year olds have the highest rate of firearm deaths for such deaths under 11 y.o. Indeed, firearm deaths are about children killing children. Parents vastly underestimate if and how often their children have handled their guns. U.S. police officers are 30x more likely to be killed by a civilian than an officer in Germany.

It’s possible to make progress on this if it is viewed as the public health problem it is. There is clearly a cultural component. 97% of all child deaths are with a boy holding the gun. It begins by collecting information. 140 pieces of information are collected for each motor vehicle death.

## What does it really mean for an electrical grid to be resilient?

(Slightly updated 2nd October 2017 to add a link to the Brattle Group’s report on the myth of baseload generation.)

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has recently called for `baseload` coal and nuclear plants which are no longer competitive in the electricity marketplace to receive subsidies so they can remain in operation. He argues this is necessary in order to provide continuity of service of the electrical grid, which he deems to be a matter of national security. He argues the very conventional line that such baseload power is essential for continuity. Unfortunately, his own Department of Energy disagrees with his assertion, even if that report was apparently overruled. There is more coverage of what the draft study said here. And Brattle Group agrees. Full report is here.

But what is continuity of energy supply? Secretary Perry describes it as:

A reliable and resilient electrical grid is critical not only to our national and economic security, but also to the everyday lives of American families. A diverse mix of power generation resources, including those with on-site reserves, is essential to the reliable delivery of electricity — particularly in times of supply stress such as recent natural disasters. My proposal will strengthen American energy security by ensuring adequate reserve resource supply and I look forward to the Commission acting swiftly on it.

But facts are that baseload generation has nothing at all to do with reliable provision of electricity to American families. Far more important is a resilient transmission and distribution network. According to international measures, backed by a Congressional Research Service report which dates from 2012, the United States grid, nationally, is one of the least reliable electrical grids in the world, down more minutes per year per person than any other (“SAIDI”, see definitions) and more frequently (“SAIFI”, see definitions), in terms of numbers of incidents:

Table 2. Comparison of International Reliability Indices
Country SAIDI

SAIFI
United States 240 1.5
Austria 72 0.9
Denmark 24 0.5
France 62 1.0
Germany 23 0.5
Italy 58 2.2
Netherlands 33 0.3
Spain 104 2.2
United Kingdom 90 0.8
Source: Galvin Electricity Initiative, Electric Reliability: Problems, Progress and Policy Solutions.
See
http://www.galvinpower.org/sites/default/files/Electricity_Reliability_031611.pdf

Note the comparison isn’t entirely fair to non-U.S. grids because, as the CRS Report notes, their definition of a minimum outage to be recorded is 3 minutes whereas the U.S. standard is 5 minutes.

Worse, consider the present plight of Puerto Rico, post Category 5 Hurricane Maria. Their grid, belonging to utility PREPA, has 80% of its transmission and distribution network down. It doesn’t matter if it can generate. There is no way of getting that power to their consumers.

National Grid gave a presentation at a Southern New England Meteorology Conference where they showed a graph giving projected total system time-to-repair as a function of maximum wind speed in Massachusetts. Their graph echoes well known empirical studies (see figure from that article below). They concluded that a repeat of the 1938 hurricane in Massachusetts would see a time-to-repair of 8 months.

• Improving reliability and resilience through efforts such as strengthening distribution poles and wires, improving flood protection, managing vegetation, and burying distribution lines, where feasible.
• Increasing system flexibility and robustness through energy storage or creation of microgrids. Grid modernization, smart meters, and synchrophasor technology can enable faster recovery from hurricane damage.

.
.
.
Preparing for severe weather events requires a balanced process. It is not economical to build transmission and distribution systems that can withstand every extreme, but infrequent, weather event. Developing rapid restoration capabilities can be more appropriate. It is important to balance increased system hardening with provisions for faster restoration.

The outage isolation process for many U.S. grids now is labor intensive and antiquated, in fact it is almost laughable. This has been known for a long time.

And the same smart grid which isolates outages, directs workers so their time and efforts are efficiently used, and sometimes even restores power itself can also manage and balance inputs from variable sources of generation, such as solar PV and wind.

So, Secretary Perry, the only kind of national and economic security you are talking about is to the wallets of coal and nuclear owners and stockholders, not electrical security for Americans.

If such subsidies are implemented, the end result will be an acceleration of grid defection by corporations and households, and a quickening of the utility company death spiral.

Hey, maybe that’s a good thing!

## Memorial for Reverend Edwin Arthur Lane, 30th September 2017

As tranquil streams that meet and merge and flow as one to seek the sea,
our kindred hearts and minds unite to build a church that shall be free —

Free from the bonds that bind the mind to narrow thought and lifeless creed;
free from a social code that fails to serve the cause of human need:

A freedom that reveres the past, but trusts the dawning future more;
and bids the soul, in search of truth, adventure boldly and explore.

Prophetic church, the future waits your liberating ministry;
go forward in the power of love, proclaim the truth that makes us free.

Who was Ed Lane?

## The work of Alec Bogdanoff and Carol Anne Clayson on the ocean surface boundary layer

Drs Carol Anne Clayson and Alec Bogdanoff examined evaporation from the ocean surface and energy exchange at the boundary layer of the ocean surface, respectively.

(The above is from Dr Carol Anne Clayson’s personal research page.)

This work is done at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It is related to a recent discussion at the blog … And Then There’s Physics.

## ‘Near classified information’ and the militarization of environmental degradation

EPA Anti-Leak Campaign

EPA employees are currently receiving instruction in “unauthorized disclosure training,” teaching them not to leak classified or near-classified information. This training is part of a government-wide eradication effort following National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s memo to agency heads on anti-leak instruction earlier in the week. Agency spokeswoman Liz Bowman had said in an email last week that, “EPA is developing training to support the White House’s request.”

Some are concerned that the focus on leaks will hurt morale and inhibit normal public communication of sometimes critical information. Others observe that EPA employees broadly seem more willing to talk to reporters. In comments to E&E News, a longtime EPA employee says, “Look, we have an administrator with staff who don’t even want to talk to those of us who have dedicated our lives to the agency and the public good. The public trusts us to protect the planet and their health, and I am going to honor that trust by staying true to the EPA mission.” Another longtime EPA employee said, “What’s concerning to workers is that [the Trump appointees] have no respect for the rule of law and could do anything to retaliate, even though it’s illegal. That’s why there’s a chilling effect.”

(As reported in the 25th September 2017 Policy News newsletter of the Ecological Society of America, of which I am a member.)

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience, Yale University Press, 1998.

The right to know, amplified at Wikipedia

We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.

— J. Robert Oppenheimer, writing in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, quoted by Dr Lawrence M Krauss

Secrecy in science does not work. Withholding information does more damage to us than to our competitors.

— Edward Teller, in Proceedings of the International Conference on Lasers, 1987 (1988), F. J. Duarte (ed.), p. 1165

There are a number of levels of classification in the United States government bureaucracy. These range from military classifications, Unclassified, For Official Use Only, Confidential, Secret, and on up, to various kinds of compartmentalized information, classifications which respect the participation of the United States in NATO, and oddball classifications, such as at the Securities and Exchange Commission, controlling the embargo of information like interest rate increases before they are announced. The statutes and court rulings are pretty clear: In order to classify a piece of information, anyone charged with protecting it must be provided with a copy of a book or document, titled roughly, Classified Document Control Guide, which defines specifically which aspects of something are classified and which are not, and what the levels of classification are. These need to be specific — so people originating classifications know how to mark specific paragraphs in classification level — and they need to be unambiguous. Unknown to most, even some practitioners, it is a crime to classify information at a level higher than it needs to be. Diminishing empires and bureaucracies being what they are, this is seldom prosecuted. There is also supposed to be a declassification timetable attached to each piece of classified information. And there is, at least in principle, a place in government where all these pieces of classified information are tracked.

From time to time there have been attempts at creating flavors of Unclassified information, such as Unclassified But Sensitive, or Administrative Sensitive. My last briefing on these subjects, from attorneys, indicated these flavors were indefensible in court, that there was no provision under the Espionage Act under which they could be enforced, and while Presidential Executive Orders could be issued to make life uncomfortable for people who breached things like Unclassified But Sensitive, in the end, there was no defensible “damage to the United States done” and, so, a violation could not be properly prosecuted under the Act. But I’m no attorney, and perhaps things have changed, in both directions. There are, for example, now Whistleblower Protections embodied in law.

So the idea of EPA personnel being briefed on the protection of “classified information” in the context of the EPA’s work, or, amazingly, “near classified information” is striking. And it has implications. It means that, in essence, objecting to the procedures and policy which a Presidential administration enacts which might, in the opinion of a government employee, be in violation of the law and, therefore, of the Constitution of the United States, can, in principle, be prosecuted with all the heavy apparatus of military secrecy and of the Espionage Act, emboldened as it has been with counter-terrorism emphasis.

There’s always been a hint of this in the wings. J Edgar Hoover of the FBI distrusted any demonstrators for any reason, wiretapping Martin Luther King, and, through the actions and inactions of his agents, causing the death of people protesting for civil rights, including people who in practice and statement were thoroughly committed to non-violent means. It is widely believed, and in some cases documented, that environmental protestors have also been targeted for at least scrutiny, and that this information has been improperly shared with companies targeted for non-violent demonstrations.

So, to me, the idea of briefings forbidding the revelation of “near classified information” is the opening of a gambit which could end in it being declared un-American and illegal for people to not use or burn fossil fuels. That is a big stretch, I know, and extreme, I know, but the idea of imposing some kind of military discipline upon an agency which exists to review and operate in as much a spirit of transparency as it can is a gross violation of the public trust and of the public’s right to know. EPA employees report that Administrator Pruitt has armed guards, and that no one is allowed to record or take notes or cell phones or computers when they meet with him. Apart from that being fundamentally in conflict with the operation of an agency which, by statute, is required to be open and available, there is such a thing as the Government Records Act, and all meetings at the highest levels are supposed to be recorded, at least for posterity.

Accordingly, these reports are alarming, at least. Does the EPA have an Judicial Advocate office like military services do? I do not believe they do.

Maybe they should.

And perhaps, in addition to expressing concerns about policy, environmental organizations and advocates ought to be concerned about governmental process.

Update, 2017-09-26, 18:06 EDT

What `near classified` involves is described here. It turns out `near classified information` is `controlled unclassified information`. Information is classified if its release does harm to the United States. But the memorandum in question creates a new category of information `United States Government information`, a category which suggests that there is information which is the property of the United States government and no one else, no matter how it was derived. It also fails to answer the question of exactly who is harmed should such information be revealed? Is the United States harmed? If so, why isn’t the information classified? If the United States is not harmed, are officials harmed? Why should they be protected, or their deliberations shielded from public scrutiny? If officials are not harmed, are they inconvenienced by revelations? If officials are not harmed, is it that there’s a desire there be no deliberation regarding these issues?

So what exactly is this `controlled unclassified information` about? Is it possible to prosecute someone for revealing it? Under what statute?

## Energy efficiency of homes in real estate listings hits the big time

You want to sell that house, right? You want to buy a house? Why oughtn’t the recurring costs of operating a home be a factor?

Especially it’s energy costs. U.S. homeowners spend an average of over \$2000 a year on energy costs. That’s not because electricity and energy prices are high. That’s principally because many homes are not built efficiently, are not inspected for energy efficiency, and because they use antiquated systems for heating, cooling, and supplying hot water.

Do you think a developer or a real estate agent is going to point out that a home is a lemon as far as energy use goes? No, they’ll probably put down people who have solar panels (“They’re so ugly”) or air pump condensers around their home (“Just think of what that does for resale values!”). Well, it’s wrong. A long-running study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that homes with solar panels sell for about 4% more than matched pair controls without solar, or about US\$3.80/Watt of installed solar panels.

Energy efficiency measures improve home values as well, as can be seen at UtilityScore. Now, for the first time, energy efficiency scores are available to many candidate buyers who check listings at Redfin, Hotpads, or RealEstate.com. Details and explanations are available here, and advantages for buyers who check listings at these premium sites detailed here.

So, are you considering selling a home in Westwood or Wellesley or Dover or Weston or Waltham, Massachusetts? Are you considering building one? Check out what high efficiency energy measures can do for you, solar PV on your roof or property, and air source heat pumps for heating, cool, and even providing hot water. And for the value of your home. See how.

## Andy Skuce

Source: Andy Skuce

## POWER MOVE: Brought to you by Siemens and The Atlantic

HOW ON-SITE ENERGY SOLUTIONS CAN HELP SAVE THE GRID

RE:THINK ORIGINAL SIEMENS

The traditional power grid is under tremendous pressure. In many places, infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Extreme weather and cybersecurity are constant concerns. These challenges threaten entire communities and businesses, from hospital networks to manufacturing plants and university systems. Technology now offers more solutions than early energy pioneers could’ve fathomed as they designed the central grid some 150 years ago. There are now more ways to support and complement the grid than ever before. It’s time to tap into these innovations.

Some utilities like our own Eversource and National Grid sometimes claim that adding additional variable energy, like renewables, without adding additional natural gas capacity is a recipe for grid unreliability. More than the possibility of brownouts mid-winter, however, is the threat of disruption due to storm events, whether tropical, nor’easter, or snowstorms. Florida Light & Power reportedly spent US\$3 billion preparing for Hurricane Irma, and, yet, they still suffered major outages. To the end customer, it doesn’t matter if the outage results from a brownout, or because the utility has an unreliable distribution network.

Spatially distributed renewable energy, sometimes backed by storage, demand response and efficiency measures can solve these problems. ISO-NE reports that their forecast shows flat or lower demand, whether regular or peak, no congestion, and more solar.

New England has been plagued by a growing reliance on natural gas — a problem that was especially exposed during the 2014 polar vortex — but the region’s grid operator said slowing demand growth, with the helped of energy efficiency, is mitigating worries about meeting peak needs.

“The region has reached a turning point in addressing several key challenges to system reliability,” the grid operator said in its annual system planning document. “New England increasingly relies on natural-gas-fired generation, which can expose the region to significant energy supply, reliability, and price issues. … The integration into the New England system of energy efficiency and variable energy resources, including wind and PV, also help address fuel-certainty issues” …

Without new solar and energy efficiency, ISO New England said annual and peak demand would both be rising, at 1% and 1.3% annually, respectively.

(From Utility Dive.)

From Siemens. Like our EV charger:

## Results of short literature search on impacts of climate change upon ecosystems and bird or animal migration patterns, from the journals of the Ecological Society of America

I decided to do a quick literature search on the impacts of climate change upon ecosystems and migration patterns. I could have kept the list private, but why not make it public?

Not all these articles are purely about the intended subject. As is often the case, the search snagged some articles which are unrelated on the face of it, but look interesting, so I kept them.

• @article {FEE:FEE1516,
author = {Michalak, Julia L and Withey, John C and Lawler, Joshua J and Case, Michael J},
title = {Future climate vulnerability – evaluating multiple lines of evidence},
journal = {Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment},
volume = {15},
number = {7},
issn = {1540-9309},
url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/fee.1516},
doi = {10.1002/fee.1516},
pages = {367–376},
year = {2017},
}
• @article {EAP:EAP1607,
author = {Rohr, Jason R. and Brown, Jenise and Battaglin, William A. and McMahon, Taegan A. and Relyea, Rick A.},
title = {A pesticide paradox: Fungicides indirectly increase fungal infections},
journal = {Ecological Applications},
issn = {1939-5582},
url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/eap.1607},
doi = {10.1002/eap.1607},
pages = {n/a–n/a},
keywords = {Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, agrochemicals, pesticides, biocontrol, parasite, chytrid fungus},
}
• @article {FEE:FEE1502,
author = {Beever, Erik A and Hall, L Embere and Varner, Johanna and Loosen, Anne E and Dunham, Jason B and Gahl, Megan K and Smith, Felisa A and Lawler, Joshua J},
title = {Behavioral flexibility as a mechanism for coping with climate change},
journal = {Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment},
volume = {15},
number = {6},
issn = {1540-9309},
url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/fee.1502},
doi = {10.1002/fee.1502},
pages = {299–308},
year = {2017},
}
• @article {ECY:ECY1820,
author = {Stuble, Katharine L. and Zefferman, Emily P. and Wolf, Kristina M. and Vaughn, Kurt J. and Young, Truman P.},
title = {Outside the envelope: rare events disrupt the relationshipbetween climate factors and species interactions},
journal = {Ecology},
volume = {98},
number = {6},
issn = {1939-9170},
url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecy.1820},
doi = {10.1002/ecy.1820},
pages = {1623–1630},
keywords = {climate change, climate variability, community assembly, no-analog climates, priority effects, restoration, site effects, year effects},
year = {2017},
}
• @article {ECS2:ECS21782,
author = {Sylvain, Jean-Daniel and Drolet, Guillaume and Thiffault, Nelson and Beguin, Julien and Hébert, François},
title = {A conditional probability index to quantify the amplitude and the direction of spatiotemporal changes in communities},
journal = {Ecosphere},
volume = {8},
number = {4},
issn = {2150-8925},
url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1782},
doi = {10.1002/ecs2.1782},
pages = {e01782–n/a},
keywords = {biochange index, biological communities, conditional probability, directional change, diversity index, environmental gradients, similarity index, species composition, species richness, temporal change},
year = {2017},
note = {e01782},
}
• @article {ECS2:ECS21565,
author = {Culp, Leah A. and Cohen, Emily B. and Scarpignato, Amy L. and Thogmartin, Wayne E. and Marra, Peter P.},
title = {Full annual cycle climate change vulnerability assessment for migratory birds},
journal = {Ecosphere},
volume = {8},
number = {3},
issn = {2150-8925},
url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1565},
doi = {10.1002/ecs2.1565},
pages = {e01565–n/a},
keywords = {adaptive capacity, annual cycle, climate change exposure, climate change vulnerability, climate sensitivity, migratory birds, migratory connectivity, non-breeding season},
year = {2017},
note = {e01565},
}
• @article {EAP:EAP199773753,
author = {Dale, Virginia H.},
title = {THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LAND-USE CHANGE AND CLIMATE CHANGE},
journal = {Ecological Applications},
volume = {7},
number = {3},
publisher = {Ecological Society of America},
issn = {1939-5582},
url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/1051-0761(1997)007[0753:TRBLUC]2.0.CO;2},
doi = {10.1890/1051-0761(1997)007[0753:TRBLUC]2.0.CO;2},
pages = {753–769},
keywords = {climate change, relation to land-use changes, forests, affected by climate change, global circulation models, global models of vegetation change, greenhouse gases, sources of, human-induced climate change, land-cover changes, land-use changes, non-climatic causes, land-use change and climate change, modeling carbon flux},
year = {1997},
}
• @article {FEE:FEE2013119465,
author = {Staudinger, Michelle D and Carter, Shawn L and Cross, Molly S and Dubois, Natalie S and Duffy, J Emmett and Enquist, Carolyn and Griffis, Roger and Hellmann, Jessica J and Lawler, Joshua J and O’Leary, John and Morrison, Scott A and Sneddon, Lesley and Stein, Bruce A and Thompson, Laura M and Turner, Woody},
title = {Biodiversity in a changing climate: a synthesis of current and projected trends in the US},
journal = {Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment},
volume = {11},
number = {9},
publisher = {Ecological Society of America},
issn = {1540-9309},
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## `Insurance companies should collect a carbon levy`

Governments juggle too many interests to drive global action on climate change. But the insurance industry is ideally placed. With annual premiums amounting to between US\$4 trillion and [US]\$5 trillion, or about 6% of world gross domestic product (GDP), the industry’s future profitability hinges on limiting the risks of climate change …

The costs of climate-related damage will grow as the world warms. For the United States, the impact on agriculture, crime, storms, energy, human mortality and labour will cost around 1% of GDP for each 1°C increase in global average temperature [1]. If a similar picture holds worldwide, each 1°C rise will cause about [US]\$1 trillion of extra damage per year. For present temperatures above the 1980–2010 average, this equates to about 0.4% of world GDP — damages that are growing at around 0.1–0.2% per decade [1,2] …

Two other trends add pressure. Commercial banks, investment funds, university endowments and pension funds are shifting their portfolios away from fossil fuels and towards low-carbon options. They are driven by the fear that trillions of dollars of carbon-intensive assets could be ‘stranded’ as they become unburnable [4]. If assets lose value, so will companies and their investors, including insurance firms …

Instead, we propose a levy managed by the insurance industry to fund adaptation and the low-carbon transition (see ‘Energy levy’). Like a carbon or energy tax, it would have the advantage that the revenues go solely into adaptation and mitigation, not government or individual spending. It would have the same value internationally, be led by business and be set by an objective measure. We believe that the levy could be paid voluntarily. Large petroleum companies have called for a realistic carbon price to increase the pace of low-carbon investments; an insurance levy would be equivalent. Companies that pay up will attract good publicity and may reduce the risks of future litigation. Governments could legislate that it must be paid, as the United Kingdom has done with Flood Re ….

`Energy levy`

[1] Hsiang, S. et al. Science 356, 1362–1369 (2017).

[2] Clarke, R. H. Predicting the Price of Carbon (Predict Ability, 2016).

[3] Maynard, T. & Granger, N. The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance — Issues & Practice,
37, 318–339 (2012).

[4] Fabian, N. Nature, 519, 27–29 (2015).

## A lesson for Boston

There was a time a decade or two ago when society could have made a choice to write off our massive investment in a fossil fuel-based economy and begin a policy driven shift towards a cleaner renewable infrastructure that could have forestalled the worst effects of climate change. But the challenges of collective action, a lack of political courage, and the power of incumbent pecuniary interests to capture the levers of power meant we did not. The bill is now coming due.

That means that many of our great, low-lying coastal cities are what we call “stranded assets.” GreenBiz founder Joel Makower defines a stranded asset as “a financial term that describes something that has become obsolete or nonperforming well ahead of its useful life, and must be recorded on a company’s balance sheet as a loss of profit.” Makower was talking about Exxon and other companies that built their businesses on the combustion of climate changing fossil fuels, not cities. But the concept easily transfers from businesses built on carbon to cities threatened by carbon’s impact …

… When the irrational exuberance about the value of coastal real estate pops and thousands of buyers collectively mark down those assets, it will make the housing bubble of ten years ago look like a small blip.

The consequences will reverberate through the economy, through society and through the political landscape. Depending on what Hurricane Irma does, we could get a sobering preview of what that will look like. We have already seen the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, a city that was also built on the flawed founding assumption of permanence. Houston’s city planners and businesses also ignored warnings as far back as 1996 that climate change would bring exactly the kind of disaster they city is currently suffering today. It’s hard to blame them. We’ve all ignored the warnings.

We can’t anymore. Business leaders and politicians need to begin wrapping their heads around the big idea that climate change may mean huge financial losses in the world’s great coastal metropolises.

## 2.6 GW of green power

Google: “Renewable energy is boosting economies”.

## On the responsibilities of scientists

On 4 September 2017, I added a blog post here titled “On the responsibilities of engineers”. Scientists have responsibilities, too. And I am delighted to say that the National Academies have just demonstrated a proud example of how such responsibilities should be pursued.

On 18th August 2017, the Department of Interior “directed” (actually, “informed”) the Academies that “…it should cease all work on a study of the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mine sites in Central Appalachia.” It gave reasons, but the basic facts are that the Academies will proceed to pursue this study, despite the Department’s request.

As the statement from the Academies states,

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

I enclose the full text of the Academies’ statement below, obtained from their Web site. The study in question is described here. The Academies held their fact-finding public, open meetings in Hazard and Lexington, Kentucky, on 21st and 22nd August 2017.

## How to Describe Numbers

Source: How to Describe Numbers from the Stats With Cats blog.

## On the responsibilities of engineers

A recent tour of Titanic Belfast with my son, Dave, and pondering the responsibilities of engineers with respect to Big Constructs, like defending a city against floods, or advising on the ramifications of deploying geoengineering, and worrying about the tendency of scientists and many engineers to self-censor, led me to think about Space Shuttle’s Challenger and Columbia, again. As always, the definitive work is the comprehensive report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). Related, and very good, is the talk given by Professor Sheila Widnall of and at MIT regarding the CAIB and the accidents, included below.

But the best single write-up, before Professor Widnall’s summary, is by William Langewiesche in The Atlantic. An excerpt:

But Gehman was in some ways also naive, formed as he had been by investigative experience within the military, in which much of the work proceeds behind closed doors, and conflict of interest is not a big concern. The Columbia investigation, he discovered, was going to be a very different thing. Attacks against the caib began on the second day, and by midweek, as the board moved from Shreveport to Houston to set up shop, they showed no signs of easing. Congress in particular was thundering that Gehman was a captive investigator, that his report would be a whitewash, and that the White House should replace the caib with a Challenger-style presidential commission. This came as a surprise to Gehman, who had assumed that he could just go about his business but who now realized that he would have to accommodate these concerns if the final report was to have any credibility at all. Later he said to me, “I didn’t go in thinking about it, but as I began to hear the independence thing’You can’t have a panel appointed by NASA investigating itself!’ I realized I’d better deal with Congress.” He did this at first mainly by listening on the phone. “They told me what I had to do to build my credibility. I didn’t invent itthey told me. They also said, ‘We hate NASA. We don’t trust them. Their culture is no good. And their cost accounting is no good.’ And I said, ‘Okay.'” …

By the end of the second week, as Gehman established an independent relationship with Congress and began to break through the boundaries initially drawn by NASA, it became clear that O’Keefe was losing control. He maintained a brave front of wanting a thorough inquiry, but it was said that privately he was angry. The tensions came to the surface toward the end of February, at about the same time that Gehman insisted, over O’Keefe’s resistance, that the full report ultimately be made available to the public. The caib was expanding to a staff of about 120 people, many of them professional accident investigators and technical experts who could support the core board members. They were working seven days a week out of temporary office space in the sprawling wasteland of South Houston, just off the property of the Johnson Space Center. One morning several of the board members came in to see Gehman, and warned him that the caib was headed for a “shipwreck.” …

At the caib, Gehman, who was not unsympathetic to NASA, watched these reactions with growing skepticism and a sense of déjà vu. Over his years in the Navy, and as a result of the Cole inquiry, he had become something of a student of large organizations under stress. To me he said, “It has been scorched into my mind that bureaucracies will do anything to defend themselves. It’s not evil—it’s just a natural reaction of bureaucracies, and since NASA is a bureaucracy, I expect the same out of them. As we go through the investigation, I’ve been looking for signs where the system is trying to defend itself.” Of those signs the most obvious was this display of blind faith by an organization dependent on its engineering cool; NASA, in its absolute certainty, was unintentionally signaling the very problem that it had. Gehman had seen such certainty proved wrong too many times, and he told me that he was not about to get “rolled by the system,” as he had been rolled before. He said, “Now when I hear NASA telling me things like ‘Gotta be true!’ or ‘We know this to be true!’ all my alarm bells go off … Without hurting anybody’s feelings, or squashing people’s egos, we’re having to say, ‘We’re sorry, but we’re not accepting that answer.'”

Now, I don’t want to minimize how hard it is to be an engineer some times, particularly when you know something’s not right, and it needs a decision. Often, bad news is dampened, and the approach to a problem may involve cultural clash.

In the case of Columbia, NASA and the United States got lucky: Columbia was an R&D vehicle. The other Shuttles had been declared “operational”, and, so, they did not even have flight data recorders on them, victims of the Agency’s overly aggressive declaration of success.

Posted in aeroautics, engineering, NASA | 1 Comment

## ‘Nuf said: Ensembles as descriptions of Bayesian space-time posterior densities

(UPDATED, 2017-09-09, 12:38 EDT)

Click here to see just the latest update.

An exercise in the appreciation of ensemble models. By the way, many of these charts were obtained courtesy of my subscription at Weather Underground. They are, as far as I know, public domain. Unless otherwise specified, these are United States GFS ensemble members.

Note how the ensemble members converge towards one another as boundary conditions for a forecast become more and more certain. Also note how forecasted tracks distant in time can suddenly diverge from one another when new information is presented.

Update, 2017-09-02, 14:45 EDT

Update, 2017-09-03, 11:31 EDT

robertscribbler has a very thoughtful post on prospects for Hurricane Irma.

The ensemble model projections are looking far from safe.

Update, 2017-09-04, 12:20 EDT

Update, 2017-09-04, 20:08 EDT

Update, 2017-09-05, 23:37 EDT

Oh, oh. A continuity argument might say there’s non-zero probability on trajectories between the principal mass indicated by the white average, and the extreme rightmost ensemble member. The westernmost trajectories look like they are being discounted.

Description of the above: The 12Z September 5, 2017, track forecast by the operational European model for Irma (red line, adjusted by CFAN using a proprietary technique that accounts for storm movement since 12Z), along with the track of the average of the 50 members of the European model ensemble (heavy black line), and the track forecasts from the “high probability cluster” (grey lines)—the four European model ensemble members that have performed best with Irma thus far. Image credit: CFAN.

Update, 2017-09-06, 10:39 EDT

Update, 2017-09-06, 12:25 EDT

Update, 2017-09-06, 17:21 EDT

Update, 2017-09-07, 08:34 EDT

Hereinafter, ensemble model plots will just be appended, without a heading just like the above. The date of the ensemble graphic can be noted in their upper left hand corner.

Here is the most recent ensemble from ECMWF rather than GFS, courtesy of Weathernerds.org (*):

Two things are interesting about the ECMWF Hurricane Irma ensembles in contrast with the GFS ensembles:

• The ECMWF ensemble lines are more symmetric about its median or spine, especially early in the projections.
• The far-field projections, in the more distant future, continue that pattern of symmetry, whereas GFS ensemble members seem to “go crazy”, each in their own way.

This suggests to me two possibilities. First, it’s possible that the ECMWF ensemble set also would, in principle, behave like the GFS ensemble, but are being actively regularized. Or, second, GFS has many special cases, and asymmetries and far-field divergences are due to where these special case differences begin to dominate in contrast with the ECMWF which seems to be structurally more uniform, differing in degrees. I do not know which of these two explanations makes better sense or, if, there might be a third. And note that ECMWF ensemble does have a member where the hypothetical future Irma heads out far into the Atlantic in contrast with other members.

Alas, the constraints have not improved much:

Finally, a solid west coast of Florida preference on the track:

Both models now show a clear left-coast-of-Florida rake by Irma. I wonder how much being partly over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters is going to help maintain the hurricane’s strength?

(Click on images to see larger figures, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)

It’s interesting that this update from the GFS ensemble shows the density bifurcating into an along-the-west-coast-of-Florida run and down the middle of the Florida panhandle:

(*) I’d like to support Weathernerds.org with a cash donation, but they don’t seem to have a link on their page for doing that. Also, their server seems (understandably) loaded right now.

## Houston, forward

For the purposes of this post, let’s pretend climate disruption does not exist (!). Let’s pretend Hurricane Harvey had no climate component, and that Hurricane Harvey was just another, big storm afflicting the fortunes of the U.S. Gulf coast. The village and eventually city of Houston has long had a relationship with the Buffalo Bayou, including extreme floods in the early half of the 20th century. (In fact, the first flooding was experienced shortly after the village was established in 1836.) These were contained by a major flood control project, but, in recent years, the long term lessons of that effort have been forgotten, and Houston has expanded beyond sensible development, sensitive to the risks such development entailed. In recent years, flooding has been repeated, such as the event of 1994.

I’m emphasizing Houston’s failure to listen to Nature, not only to put recent events in perspective, but to underscore how, as Professor Robert Young of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines has repeatedly pleaded, such ignorance of the loud assertions from Nature have been repeatedly ignored along U.S. coasts, especially in the aftermath of extra-tropical storm Sandy. People continue to rebuild where they were located before and, in fact, the laws of the United States and politicians of all parties, including ones, like Senator Schumer of New York and Senator Warren of Massachusetts, continue to defend and support the need for federal bailouts of property owners who are thereby shielded from the risks their location of property have embraced, creating tremendous moral hazard, in economic terms. Houston is far from unique. Professor Young attended and spoke at a symposium on Boston’s coastal future, and he was not complimentary regarding the plans he heard.

The consequences of this failure are playing out in the news, before our eyes, in humanitarian tragedy, in business loss, in what we’ll see as biological and chemical contamination across wide swaths of property, and in terms of environmental destruction of habitat and of life. It is tragic.

This post goes farther, however, and tries to argue that what would make this tragedy permanent is if the critical underlying lesson were lost, the “model solution“ which President Trump touted abandoned, and if Houston were simply rebuilt as it was, consistent with the pattern of failure we have thus far seen elsewhere. In this instance, if such rebuilding occurs, it will be an incredibly expensive fail, because it is likely to be undone, and soon.

But, despite precedent, I am optimistic. I think the experience of Hurricane Harvey could be the beginning of a change in how Americans build their homes. I think it could be the beginning of a new found realization that, for many reasons, we need to learn how to coexist with Nature, not try to conquer Her. The latter eventually fails. And I hope the lessons are appreciated by the people who are promoting a sea wall around Boston. That will simply never work, if for no other reason than that we do not really know how high to build such a sea wall.

The government and the public are tired of spending. As Professor Young relates, much of the monies spent by the federal government benefit very few — and often very wealthy — individuals, even through mechanisms like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Financial exhaustion might be one reason.

Professor Young is not the only expert sounding the alarm. Professor Amir AghaKouchak of the University of California at Irvine is quoted in the Washington Post:

“Always when there is a hurricane, you have compounding effects of ocean flooding — surge — and terrestrial flooding …” Harvey, he said, is a prime example of how these two factors work together to create the perfect storm, producing catastrophic coastal flooding when they occur at once. And now, he said, we need to pay more attention to the way these factors work together when we’re estimating flood risks for coastal regions — before disaster actually strikes. Scientists tend to focus on one flood driver or another when conducting flood hazard assessments for any given area — evaluating either the risk of terrestrial flooding, which occurs inland as a result of excess precipitation and overflowing rivers, or of surging ocean waters. But in many coastal areas, where rivers run out to meet the sea, both factors play a major role in the risk of regional flooding. Focusing on only one or the other can run the risk of underestimating the likelihood of a major flood.

The work of Professor AghaKouchak and colleagues is reported at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bloomberg reports how the present outcome is the result of bad city planning. I have heard calls now, as during Hurricane Katrina, to focus upon the humanitarian response, that anything else is ‘politicizing the tragedy’. But, as Professor Young again pointed out, during his presentation at Harvard’s HUCE HUBweek in 2015, the trouble is that without the immediacy of the tragedy, the United States seems to lack the political will to do anything about these problems. Moreover, we seem to only be able to focus on one thing at a time, and as Hurricane Harvey recedes into memory, eclipsed by threats from North Korea, or racist behavior of police in Akron, Ohio, the public is distracted, with its famously short attention span. Possibly recognizing this, some of my colleagues, progressive environmentalists, try to roll up a big ball of activism, combining environmental problems with racial and social justice, so people can focus on something. The trouble with that, as Professor Young points out, is that in doing so, the set of people who agree strongly on all these issues together is much smaller than, say, the set who might agree on having to do something regarding flooding and city planning, and, so, an opportunity for a critical discussion and consequent action is lost. In fact, this is expressible mathematically:

$|S_{1} \cap S_{2} \cap \dots \cap S_{n}| \le \min{(|S_{1}|, |S_{2}|, \dots, |S_{n}|)}\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,[1]$

where $S_{1}$ is the set of people interested in issue 1, $S_{2}$ is the set of people interested in issue 2, $\dots$, and $S_{n}$ is the set of people interested in issue $n$.

But there’s money being lost in Houston, not only from damage to retail and nearby refineries, but because those same companies cannot operate if their people cannot get to the facilities or have a place nearby to live. It is possible that the painful lessons of Hurricane Katrina were learned, and things will be different. Let’s hope so.

I am hopeful.

But I know if they are not, there will soon be another Hurricane Harvey-sized flooding disaster, perhaps not at the coast, perhaps inflicted by an old hurricane-as-tropical-depression or perhaps inflicted by a nor’easter, which will bring the memory back. And, as thick-headed as our United States polity appears to be, eventually the message will get through.

The Economist this week (2nd September 2017) also highlights the perverse incentives some government policies have which make the effects of flooding worse.

(The above is from the Darmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. They manage an online database of flood events from around the world.)