Is the answer to the democratization of Science doing more Citizen Science?

I have been following, with keen interest, the post and comment thread pertaining to “Democratising science” at the blog I monitor daily, … and Then There’s Physics. I think the core subject being discussed is a little different from my interest, but it’s all the same big ball of thread. I posted a very long, historically-oriented comment there, wondering and somewhat rhetorically asking what has changed in the United States to make its relationship with Science appear so different?

I write this hear to spare ATTP the need to moderating that additional discussion and because, frankly, it belongs here as a major and different new thesis.

I got into Science as an amateur. Sure, I had a big advantage, because my dad was a Professor of Chemistry at a small liberal arts college in New England. That gave me a mindset, somewhat offset by my parents’ fierce conservative Catholic views, and access to resources, such as a computer I could learn to program in FORTRAN while in Sixth Grade. Both the inevitable conflict between Science and conservative Catholicism and the access to computing dominated my life, in its search for values, and in the perspective I’ve had about almost everything.

But there was Astronomy, my first scientific love. It was neat: You could do it on your own, with a telescope, or someone else’s, and cameras, and even binoculars, and what you learned and gathered and saw was limited by your patience, in New England, your tolerance of cold winter nights with clear skies, and the book-learning you did about the sky, the stars, the constellations, the Main Sequence, spherical trigonometry, the Equation of Time, magazines, and from fellow enthusiasts, skywatchers, stories of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, telescope builders, and the similarly inclined. For those of us who found Mathematics intriguing, there was the inklings and draw of the mysterious Calculus. It was incredibly empowering for a young person, a nerd, to be able to understand these patterns in a Universe, most of which was so far away.

And then, NASA, and the exploration of near Earth space, and the Moon, and Mars, and spacecraft, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena …. I got reports about Surveyor III, complete with how these experiments were designed, how the arm spaces were mapped for sampling, how resistance and density in the soils of the Moon was measured by monitoring the back-EMF in the robotic arm used to trench on the surface, how non-orthogonal coordinate systems were natural, and not that intimidating.

And now, way off most people’s radar screens, there is this thing called citizen science. It’s this hobbyist science and the kinds of lyceum-oriented science I wrote about in my comment at ATTP, and it is turned into a real thing. That oughtn’t be surprising. Guy Stewart Callendar was a citizen scientist, even if he was a trained steam mechanisms engineer. Facts are, some people want to do science, and are willing to pay for the privilege and training. Some just devote their spare time, skills, and mind. In any case, it is a serious thing, despite some prejudice shown it by some professionals.

Now, I’m a practicing statistician. Professionally I work for Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, MA. My formal training is that of a software engineer (more than simply a title, with Dijkstra and Meyer as heroes), steeped in numerical analysis and quantitative methods, and that of a test engineer, by professional circumstance. That role led me to re-embrace and indulge in Statistics, which eventually became my life. Predominantly, although not entirely self-taught, I have served many clients and, if I were to identify what I do that brings them the most value, I’d say it is rigorous and unflinching integrity in sources and methods, as well as some facility with picking up applicable if new methods, and teaching their use.

However, outside of work, my biggest scientific and technical efforts lie in the support of furthering this citizen science, whether at the Azimuth Project, which, for other that the Azimuth Data Backup effort has been fairly peripheral, or trying to understand the fresh water hydrology of the Town of Sharon, Massachusetts, using time series of precipitation, well levels, water depths, and water flows in a clutch of areas streams. I have been grossly remiss in my pursuit of the latter, both to that project and to myself. It has not been without reason: Struggling to advocate for sensible energy policy in Massachusetts, educate locally on climate risk and disruption, helping to lead others in this direction, arguing for the moral imperative that climate mitigation deeply is.

But I am wrapping things up, and doing Science and Statistics in its support is the only sane thing I can do to respond to the utter craziness of policy erupting like the pus of a breached boil from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To the degree it pertains to my comment at ATTP, this article neatly sums up both, I think, the opportunities and the issues which might impeded democratization as a practical matter. Clearly, assessing and filtering results from the efforts of citizen scientists is valuable and even essential statistical effort and project, and everything I do from the data collected in support of Sharon’s water concerns is intended to further the efficacy of such contributions. But the deliberate and considered evaluation of methods for assessing citizen science inevitably draws attention, as Kosmala, Wiggins, Swanson, and Simmons point out in their article, to the variability and measurable subjectivity of professional scientific assessments, especially in the field. Part of the difficulty is that, for whatever reason, field scientists generally do not see the necessity of calibrating themselves, even if some of these have been done and reported.

Sure, professional science is indispensable, and the results from the hugely interdisciplinary field of Climate Science are indisputable, an “emerging scientific truth,” as Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson refers to them. But here are some observations:

  • A lot of Science is best learnt by doing, not merely studying.
  • Scientists teaching and working in the field is probably the best symbolic and practical way of breaking down barriers between concepts of Science as Ivory Tower, and Science as relating to Everybody.
  • The funding scene is such that, if citizen science can be exploited for scientific gain, everyone wins.
  • The prejudice in peer reviewed journals against research based upon data collected from teams of citizen scientists really needs to be revisited and highlighted. Sure, there’s every reason to be skeptical, and Statistics offers ways of assessing that. But don’t flinch if we statisticians ask the same from the professionals.
  • A person does not need to believe in something to be skilled in collecting useful and pertinent data. Accordingly, there’s a role for nearly everyone in the scientific enterprise, no matter what their views.
  • Science is a Big Tent. In fact, it’s probably the biggest tent there is. Doing it breaks down barriers. Doing it gives perspective. Doing it can be an almost Buddhist exercise.

So, my answer to scientific democratization is doing more citizen science, and encouraging the re-creation of lyceums and popular scientific societies.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, astronomy, astrophysics, biology, citizen data, citizen science, citizenship, data science, ecology, education, environment, evidence, life purpose, local self reliance, marine biology, mathematics, mathematics education, maths, moral leadership, new forms of scientific peer review, open source scientific software, science, science education, statistics, the green century, the right to know | Leave a comment

`Letter to Lamar Smith’

On Ed Hawkins’ blog.

The Committee on Science, Space & Technology of the US House of Representatives conducts regular evidence hearings on various science topics. On Wednesday 29th March, there is a hearing on “Climate science: assumptions, policy implications, and the scientific method”. The following letter, summarising the scientific findings of Fyfe et al. (2016) and Karl et al. (2015), has been submitted as evidence to this hearing.

The broader context is that the Committee Chairman, Mr. Lamar Smith, has previously discussed the findings of Fyfe et al. (of which I was a co-author), claiming: “A new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Nature, confirms the halt in global warming”. This statement is incorrect, and motivated the clarification on what Fyfe et al. actually says.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, anemic data, anomaly detection, Anthropocene, Ben Santer, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, BEST, carbon dioxide, changepoint detection, climate, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, Climate Lab Book, climate zombies, dependent data, environment, fossil fuel divestment, geophysics, global warming, greenhouse gases, Humans have a lot to answer for, Hyper Anthropocene, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, meteorology, MIchael Mann, Our Children's Trust, physics, science, smoothing, statistical dependence, the right to be and act stupid, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets, time series | Leave a comment

Chesterton’s fence, ecological sensitivity, and the disruption of ecological services

Hat tip to Matt Levine for introducing me to the term Chesteron’s fence:

Chesterton’s fence is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. …

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

[from G. K. Chesterton‘s 1929 book The Thing, in the chapter entitled “The Drift from Domesticity”].

That’s from Wikipedia. I think Mr Levine’s use of it is the flip of what it actually means.

To summarize: Put very simply: don’t destroy what you don’t understand.”

This sounds good, almost like the Precautionary Principle, but there are two points worth quibbling about:

  • What is the standard to achieve “understanding” sufficient to enable destruction of the fence? How does that get judged? Clearly, the answer is that it needs to be quantitatively done. That’s what math is for. I don’t think asking a bunch of people their opinion is a good way, which is why I dislike justifying climate change science using an opinion poll among scientists. Climate disruption is real because it’s very basic physics. Period.
  • The parable presumes that an overt action is the only way something can be destroyed. If water is slowly but constantly added to a tub, even if the tub has a huge capacity, it will someday overtop and flood, and the repercussions of that flood are not directly attributable to an event or action or decision to achieve those repercussions.

There’s a section I like from a textbook by M. W. Hirsch and S. Smale (Differential Equations, Dynamical Systems, and Linear Algebra, Academic Press, 1974), in their discussion of dynamical systems relating to competing species (Chapter 12, Section 3):

Note that both populations are positive at p. Suppose that some unusual event occurs, not accounted for by our model, and the state of the ecology changes suddenly from v_{0} to v_{1}. Such an event might be introduction of a new pesticide, importation of additional members of one of the species, a forest fire, or the like. Mathematically the event is a jump from the basin of p to that of (0, b).

Such a change, even though quite small, is an ecological catastrophe. For the trajectory of v_{1} has quite a different fate: it goes to (0, b) and the x species is wiped out!

Of course in practical ecology one rarely has Fig. H to work with. Without it, the change from v_{0} to v_{1} does not seem very different from the insignificant change from v_{0} to a state near v_{2}, which also goes to p. The moral is clear: in the absence of comprehensive knowledge, a deliberate change in the ecology, even an apparently minor one, is a very risky proposition.

[From page 273, emphasis added.]

That’s figure “Fig. H” from Hirsch and Smale, 1974, page 272. Explanatory annotations in red and green added by author of this blog. Click on image to see a larger figure, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.

A critical and pertinent point to this idea and the overflowing tub model mentioned above is strong evidence for systematic disruption of ecological services due to global environmental and climatic change which, in the words of author Raúl Ochoa-Hueso, “… higher-trophic-level organisms being more sensitive to disturbance due to more complex links with other ecosystem constituents.” Higher-trophic-level organisms is ecology-speak for creatures like us. Value of these services are known to be signficant, if imprecisely. While additional work is recommended, the practice has advanced sufficiently to be the basis of management policy. (If that link ever goes dead, you can retrieve a copy of the report here.) What’s clear, however, is that loudly blundering into the woods, stomping on everything in the way is rather unwise.

That’s from xkcd. I’ve referenced their work before.

Posted in dynamic generalized linear models, dynamical systems, ecological services, ecology, Ecology Action, mathematics, mathematics education, maths, XKCD | Leave a comment

The first really scary really stupid anti-science prospect from the Trumpistas

They want to shut down and defund DSCOVR:

DSCOVR’s cameras are intended to monitor changes in earth’s climate and weather patterns, from ozone and aerosols to temperature and deforestation. One of the scientists involved in developing the satellite told Air and Space Magazine that it would “be like having a thermometer for the whole planet.”

The Deep Space Climate Observatory is an American satellite that sits in a special orbit between the earth and the sun, about 1.5 million kilometers away from us. That distance allows it to capture unique images of the entire earth. Today, US president Donald Trump said he wants to shut down those cameras.

DSCOVR, as it is known, will still have a mission: Giving an early warning of solar weather events that could potentially cause damage back on earth, like power outages or interrupted communications.

But the satellite’s two other observation tools, one a camera that takes images across 10 different levels of the visual spectrum, the other a radiometer to measure radiation on earth, will apparently be shut off. (NASA hasn’t responded to a question about how, exactly, that would work.)

What you can see right now.

Their data portal.

This is nefarious because it is a step towards deliberately blinding the United States to data which could be used to monitor climate status, effectively destroying an incredibly expensive asset which takes essentially no money to operate. The only reason this kind of action would be pursued is entirely ideological. The resource is globally important, but it is so important that others will step in and provide the information, except, by all rights, they should sell that information to us.

I am not at all surprised, but I hoped this bunch of bumpkin yahoos would not go this far. And, despite protestations to the contrary, I blame this entirely on Americans who voted for and continue to support 45.

Postscript, 2017-03-17, 09:38 EDT

Upon further consideration, this attempt to shut down EPIC on DSCOVR is not as scary as it is just rock-dumb stupid.

First, DSCOVR cost $340 million to design, build, and launch, so, essentially, the Trumpistas are tossing that into the landfill. Moreover, it’s not like the science will stop. It’ll continue to be done by other countries, as mentioned above, and, as it turns out, by the United States, but using the much more expensive method of obtaining the same data by flying aircraft to collect it. The instrument costs less than $1 million a year to operate, extract and interpret the data, and archive it for public consumption.

Second, by looking to surgically remove this specific instrument, the Trumpistas and their allies like Imhofe have acknowledged not only the significance of climate change but the human responsibility for it. In fact, this action on its own, setting aside for the moment the many others this administration is pursuing, suggests the fossil fuel allies of Trump are terrified that their investments and time are at significant risk, and they are completely desperate to blind, interfere, and make difficult not only the climate science enterprise, but when, as Dr Stephen Chu says, “The [climate] s___ starts hitting the fan,” the ease with which fingers will be pointed at the fossil fuel industry, and people like Imhofe, not to mention Trump and company.

So, this is a kind of a victory … Somebody let the drunk junior high kids into the NASA control room, and they are going to trash the place. And, as I wrote above, it’s those somebodies who are responsible for this.

What does Trump think scientists are going to do? Beg?

Ah, yes, making America dumber again. Remember how they paid off in the 1950s with Sputnik? “Go ahead: Make my day.”

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, anti-science, astronomy, astrophysics, civilization, climate, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, energy flux, geophysics, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, ignorance, meteorology, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, obfuscating data, oceanography, radiative forcing, risk, science, science denier, Spaceship Earth, the problem of evil, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization | Leave a comment

Proud to be a member of the American Meteorological Society

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

Here is the link to the AMETSOC official statement, cited in the letter. AMETSOC is hardly the only such professional scientific organization to do so.

I am also a proud member of the American Statistical Association, in fact, and of ESA and AAAS as well.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, atmosphere, being carbon dioxide, Bill Nye, Carbon Worshipers, climate, climate change, climate disruption, climate education, Climate Lab Book, David Archer, Donald Trump, ecology, environment, environmental law, geophysics, global warming, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, meteorological models, meteorology, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, Our Children's Trust, Principles of Planetary Climate, Ray Pierrehumbert, science, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, The Weather Channel, The Weather Company | Leave a comment

Papers of the day

Tehran, Iran; Texas and Maryland, USA; Finland and Norway. Helsinki, Finland, Ospoo, Finland, and Oslo, Norway. Well, one out of three isn’t too bad.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, approximate Bayesian computation, Bayesian, civilization, computation, denial, education, engineering, evidence, free flow of labor, physics, science, science education, statistics | Leave a comment

Yes, I will be marching for Science in Boston

Like many, including Eli Rabett, I will be marching for Science in April, on Earth Day. My march will be part of the Boston march.


Because Science has been and is my life, and it always has been, and there is little else, apart from my relationships with those I love, which provides me as much meaning and purpose. No religion has ever provided that meaning, and no religion ever can.

And because it needs support.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, astronomy, astrophysics, Carl Sagan, climate, Climate Lab Book, ecology, Eli Rabett, engineering, fluid dynamics, geophysics, hydrology, marine biology, meteorology, physics, population biology, Principles of Planetary Climate, reason, science, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, theoretical physics, thermodynamics, WHOI, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, XKCD | Leave a comment

“Greenland, CO2, and more worries” (Jim White, 2017)

Posted in climate, climate disruption, dynamical systems, Hyper Anthropocene, Jim White | Leave a comment

A repost of some Laughin’ Fool Blues.

Link | Posted on by | Leave a comment

What I’m reading …


Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, ecology, economics, environment, ethics, evidence, humanism, Hyper Anthropocene, indigenous peoples, science, science education | Leave a comment

“Oh no, not again” (from ATTP)

Response to a paper by Hermann Harde, from Ken Rice at And Then There’s Physics.

Dr Rice cites two other responses as well:

I’ll add one of my own. Eli Rabett addressed Harde’s claims backin 2011. Moreover, Professor Ray Pierrehumbert himself posted a comment there regarding Harde’s work, on 3 May 2011, saying:

As David Benson kindly explains, all is explained in Chapter 4 of Principles of Planetary climate. I’ll also add (for people who want the 6-page version) that my Physics Today article is all the refutation Harde needs. The fact that the AIRS observed spectra of Earth’s outgoing radiation exactly matches the computation done by the line-by-line code (which in turn validates the band-averaged codes used in GCMs) makes it impossible that Harde’s calculation can be right. If he thinks he has a case, he has to show that he can reproduce the AIRS spectra — also the similar CO2 features one sees in the Mars TES observations, etc.


The Harde paper and work confuse what you’d see if you were riding on a particular CO2 molecule with what’s the average CO2 concentration in atmosphere and other reservoirs. One might go out of atmosphere to a reservoir, but there’s another from that or another reservoir to take its place. It makes several other mistakes as Drs Rice and Schmidt indicate. Can’t get a handle on any of this without looking at the entire Carbon Cycle. Harde has a picture of the reservoirs in his paper, but makes a mistake in his equation “(8).” I don’t think he cares. His major point is to rebutt IPCC assertions, not illuminate science. The IPCC does not do original science. Harde’s criticisms should have been directed at the original works from which these IPCC presentations were derived. Had he done so, his paper would probably not have been accepted, because those original works have long been accepted and used. We’ll see what happens with his paper in the sequel, but it’s somewhat of a mystery how this stuff gets out there, or why. (Well, maybe the why is not so difficult to understand …)


The above is a reproduction of Figure 3 from C. Le Quéré, et al, “Global Carbon Budget 2016,” Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 8, 605–649, 2016.

This kind of thing is why, unfortunately or not, the general public cannot be expected to understand these questions without a good grounding in science and what are, perhaps, the less popular fields, like physics and some maths. The courtroom or Congressional committee techniques of stacking up supposed experts does not work here(*).

(*) Actually, some statisticians have found courtrooms to be wanting as means of ascertaining truth, too.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, atmosphere, being carbon dioxide, Carbon Cycle, carbon dioxide, chemistry, climate, climate disruption, climate education, Climate Lab Book, David Archer, diffusion, diffusion processes, fossil fuels, geophysics, Global Carbon Project, greenhouse gases, ignorance, physics, Principles of Planetary Climate, Ray Pierrehumbert, science, science education | Leave a comment

On engaging with science denial

(Updated, Tuesday, 21st February 2017)

I have, over time, engaged with quite a few science deniers, primarily on the issue of abrupt climate change, its human origin, and options for curtailing it. Note I specify abrupt climate change because, while climate does change over the long eons of geological history, what is of interest to humanity is major change on the scale of generations of people. That rate of change is rare in geologic history, even if it has happened before.

I also engage with people who misrepresent renewables energy technology, principally wind and solar, but that matter is a concern for elsewhere. Readers of this blog have seen plenty of my opinion and writings about that.

Ironically, the job of dealing with climate and science deniers has gotten much easier of late, because, simply, they are so ridiculous and adamant, possibly because they feel empowered by the Ignoramus-in-Chief occupying the West Wing and his minions.


First, they have transitioned and moderated their opinions. While there are some who continue to proclaim that there is no climate change occurring, this is an increasingly rare opinion. It is increasingly rare, because it is increasingly indefensible, even over the short term. People can believe their eyes.

Second, denier opinions have then transformed to: (1) climate changes on its own over time, and this time is judge another one of those; (2) it is changing, but there is no credible evidence people have anything to do with it; (3) it is changing but it will be good for us; and (4), per Rex Tillerson, it is changing, and the change will do harm, but we need lots of (fossil fuel) energy, so we’ll just need to deal with it as “an engineering problem.” Whichever.

Third, there is the set of people who misdirect, claiming that none of the, in their words, so-called science can be trusted, because the outcome is the necessity of a “command economy,” and that is unacceptable, so the science cannot be true. Apart from the fact that this is a rhetorical fallacy called argumentum ad consequentiam, or “appeal to consequences,” it is not at all clear that a “command economy” is the proper tool for dealing with mitigating climate change. Steep carbon taxes seem to be favored by economists, and these are probably more efficient.

Fourth, recommendations by scientists regarding the urgency of mitigating climate change through emissions reductions have been ignored (in the United States) for fifty years. The United States and the world has continued to emit during that time. Indeed, emissions have greatly increased. Consequences of emissions are beginning to be felt. Our scientific understanding of the processes have been improved. Nevertheless, in the United States, in both major political parties, climate change and its consequences is not taken with the seriousness and severity it deserves to be taken. So, there are and will be consequences. Despite other serious problems posed by the Trump administration, it is unlikely a Clinton administration would have done anything seriously enough to achieve where the United States needs to go on climate change mitigation through emissions reduction, if only because she would have had a hostile Congress.

So, while I will point out facts about climate change to science deniers, and point out the costs of both inaction, and of trying to reverse the situation should they be wrong (*), in the end I declare something similar to the following:

You are doing the experiment, so it does not matter whether you believe the outcome will be one way or not. I know what the outcome will be, as do most scientists, but if you don’t accept it, that’s really not my problem. What is your problem is to consider that, if you are wrong, who will help you fix it, how will you fix it, and where will you get the astronomical sums of money needed to pay for the fix? If you shut down climate science, and funding for scientists, at NASA, EPA, and NOAA, and elsewhere, you’ll be pushing this talent and knowledge out of the country or into private industry. You’ll have no touchstone for where you are, and, if/when things begin to happen, you’ll not know why, or how to begin to address it, in the short term or the long term.

(The text below was updated with a footnote.)

So, I say, go ahead: I do not care. You’ll see soon enough what your denial of scientific reality will lead you. And, I’ll laugh and laugh at your loss of wealth, and the harm that will come to you and your children and your companies (**). And I’ll cry for the millions of innocents who are harmed by your folly and evil and greed, even if they had nothing to do with the cause. That’s okay: I am not a Christian or a theist. I am a physical materialist. I associate with a Unitarian Universalist congregation, which “Stands on the side of love,” but, as the Reverend Fred small says, loving sometimes means being justifiably very angry. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote and spoke, “Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none.”

Justice is not simply something that history arcs towards. It is written into the very fabric of the physical universe. And violations of balance, of sustainability, of fairness bring with them their own penalties. Natural justice will be seen. It will be violent. It will be overwhelming. It will be completely and entirely deserved.

So, go on. You bore me with your foolishness.


(*) And, no, there is no technology in the future that can improve this, even if it reduces the costs of removing CO2 from atmosphere by a thousand times, Mr Tillerson.

(**) (Update, 21st February 2017) When I have written “I’ll laugh and laugh at your loss of wealth, and the harm that will come to you and your children and your companies” elsewhere, I have been criticized for being heartless and too absorbed in this issue to have perspective, or be willing to discuss this. I feel I have plenty of justification for my attitude and remark, especially here, where I follow that with “I’ll cry for the millions of innocents who are harmed by your folly and evil and greed, even if they had nothing to do with the cause.” However, readers should know that, to people familiar with the scale of the excess energies involved, driven by the excess 4-5 W/m2 that atmospheric greenhouse gases are providing, should not underestimate the severity and scale of the threat. That position might be considered “alarmist” by some, but by some fraction of the scientists who know these matters, it is isn’t extreme enough, because the standard telling discounts innumerable feedbacks which each have the potential of amplifying forcing, and causing it to run away. There is a big feedback, well known, already: Water vapor. A warmer atmosphere holds more, and water vapor is itself an extremely potent greenhouse gas, even if it condenses when it reaches sufficient height and sufficiently low temperatures, unlike, for instance CO2

As for the “laugh and laugh” part, well before the Age of Trump, particularly during the Age of Tillerson at Exxon, when Exxon was (still?) funding climate denial, climate scientists were receiving death threats and threats against their families. A reader need only read the comments section at Amazon for Stephen Schneider’s Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate or especially Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines and the material in these books to see the level of hatred and violence and threat marshalled against normally mild-mannered, intellectual geophysicists and glaciologists. This is why the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund was founded.

When Trump was elected, I saw science deniers write comments about how all scientists having anything to do with climate research would be rounded p and convicted en masse of treason. At least I am only laughing. But readers and deniers should know that, as in the case of use of nuclear weapons, the primary segment of the population which will be hurt by all of this will be children. This is why James Hansen is so supportive of Our Children’s Trust. And all this, despite availability of easy-to-read and clear online documents detailing how this all was discovered and how long ago, or a history of the science.

I have considered this all a long time, and I am increasingly of the conviction that climate disruption as a concept not only challenges many Americans on economic and political grounds, that is, what they imagine will be needed to address the global problem were it, to them, real, but that they are running away from guilt. Embracing the reality and threat of climate change means their comfort and wealth is primarily the cause of the upcoming suffering and pain of the rest of the globe, and that is simply inconsistent with their world view and the view of themselves.

Unfortunately, however way you look at it, this is correct and true.

While I and my family have benefitted from all this as well, readers of this blog know that we are doing everything possible to rectify our hurt of the climate, from having a zero Carbon house, to selling our Disney Vacation Club membership because we cannot see flying for something as frivolous as vacation to be warranted, as well as having some concern about the near-to-mid-term value of those properties, primarily because of salt water intrusion in Florida. We campaign and push our neighbors, our towns, to work towards lowering their emissions — hopefully someday zeroing them. And we work to prepare them for the consequences of climate disruption which will be here sooner than many imagine.

It is my fervent hope that we can limit the damage to what we’ve bought into as of today. But we’ve known 50 years, certainly 20-30 years, and have, as a globe and as the American people, done very little. There is quite little to expect rationally. Sure, renewables will eventually dominate. But we are treading on Nature’s schedule, not the schedule of economies. And there is a chunk of climate damage committed to and is irreversible, with much, much more to come if we do not rapidly go to zero emissions.

It does not help when people frame climate science as some kind of political movement. And, if they do, I will, as I wrote, laugh at them when they personally suffer from their foolishness, for the same reason why one laughs at a schlemiel. (Think George Constanza.) Because those who do, are.

Posted in Anthropocene, climate change, climate disruption, Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, climate zombies, denial, George Constanza, Hyper Anthropocene, liberal climate deniers, MIchael Mann, personal purity, Stephen Schneider | 1 Comment

Important update on my relationship with Dana-Farber and its Jimmy Fund Walk

See an important update.

No more walk.

I completely misjudged them.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A new feature: Technical publications of the week

I’m beginning a new style of column, called technical publications of the week. While I can’t promise these will be weekly, I will, from time to time, highlight technical publications I’ve recently read which I consider to be noteworthy. I am going to read them all again.

My professional emphasis, recently, for Akamai Technologies, has been on the plethora of adaptions of random projection methods (see also), generally based upon direct application of the Johnson-Lindenstrauss lemma or its several improvements. Many of these are collected under the rubric of locality sensitive hashing or LSH.

A first paper is called Earthquake detection through computationally efficient similarity search, and is by C. E. Yoon, O. O’Reilly, K. J. Bergen, and G. C. Beroza, and appeared in 2015 in Science Advances. It also has supporting online material. Using a technique for audio fingerprinting by Baluja and Covell, the authors develop fingerprints for earthquakes and convert these to signatures using LSH. These were used to assess classification accuracy of uncatalogued and catalogued earthquakes relative to a manually identified set for the Calaveras Fault in California, comparing performance to that obtained through the well-known but slower and more computationally expensive technique of autocorrelation, as well as the catalogue.

Yoon, O’Reilly, Bergen, and Beroza report very promising results, despite the great reduction in computation needed. Of greater interest to me is fitting the LSH into a larger signal processing task, including prefiltering and then interpreting results afterwards. They document the progress of a canonical data science project, offering the finished product, but strongly suggesting the pitfalls and backtracking they needed to undertake to bring it to success. That kind of experience is instructive for both students of data science, and the managers that expect results from these investigations.

Second, two papers applying LSH to health-related time series, with nice discussion of engineering tradeoffs for these applications:

Third, a paper, C. Luo, A. Shrivastava, “SSH (Sketch, Shingle, & Hash) for indexing massive-scale time series,” NIPS Time Series Workshop 2016, which offers an LSH-derived technique for preconditioning problems of time series comparison and lookups using dynamic time warping resulting in a net improvement of speed.

Fourth, not a paper, but an interview, from Dr Stephen Chu:

Posted in Anthropocene, big data, climate change, climate disruption, data science, data streams, earthquakes, geophysics, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, Locality Sensitive Hashing, LSH, MinHash, numerical algorithms, numerical analysis, random projections, seismology, subspace projection methods, SVD, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets | 1 Comment

Zeke Hausfather regarding Baselines and Buoys

Zeke Hausfather at And Then There’s Physics regarding Baselines and Buoys.


Posted in American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, anomaly detection, Anthropocene, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, BEST, climate, climate data, climate zombies, denial, geophysics, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, NOAA, oceanography | Leave a comment

Ductless Minisplits in Blizzard, 2017-02-09

(Updated, 11th February 2017, 16:15 EST)

We heat and cool our home with Fujitsu `ductless minisplit` air source heat pumps. But this is New England, and it’s winter. A common question is how do they do under winter conditions?

Well, today we are treated to the increasingly rare Massachusetts blizzard, a nor’easter:
(You can see much larger versions of these images by clicking on them,
 then using your browser Back Button to return to this blog.


The storm producing this looks like this in EarthWinds:

It’s fed by excessively warm and moist conditions off the Northeast coast, themselves due to radiative forcing from fossil fuel emissions:

We have three minisplits. They are working fine. During a blizzard a little care needs to be taken to be sure snow does not pile up and cover the fan or the vanes which do the heat exchange, and sometimes these need to be brushed off. However, if the splits are operating at full, their built-in defrost does a pretty good job of taking care of this. They’ll continue to operate down to about -15℃ whereupon the heat pump will simply shut down. Below -12℃, efficiency drops markedly. This is a rare event, and is becoming increasingly rare. Right now, it’s about -8℃.

Should that occur, we crank up our now-off-and-orphaned oil furnace for the short time we need it, and shut it down when reasonable temperatures return.

And, should power from the grid go off — the power we’ve sent them during generation by our solar panels for the remainder of the year — our backup emergency propane generator kicks in, and can power essential elements of our house, including the oil furnace, but not the minisplits. Again that is a very rare event.

The generator (above) also needs snow kept clear from it.

By the way, here’s another shot of our beloved Rock Meadow Brook marsh, replete with Canada Geese, sheltering, and occasionally erupting in a burst of honks.




Update, 2017-02-11, 16:15 EST

The photos above were taken just at the beginning of the blizzard. It’s good to have an after-the-fact set to compare, and to illustrate a feature of the Fujitsu minisplits. Here they are in their post-blizzard conditions.


Now, the heat exchange on the ductless minisplits happens when air passes over a fine array of thin fins at the backs of the units. The fans in the front draw air across the fins, and either heat is dumped into the air, for cooling, or extracted from the air for heating, as now. The feature of air source heat pump technology is that this heat can be extracted down to the -15℃ temperature mentioned above. All air temperature have some heat in the air, and it has nothing at all to do with differential temperature between the interior of the house and the outside.

However, in the case of inclement frosty weather, it is possible for snow to build up on these fins, interfering with their ability to exchange heat. Accordingly, because the Fujitsu units are designed to operate under such conditions, when it is present, they undergo a periodic defrost. You can see such frost on the fins of minisplit number 3:


I was fortunate enough to be outside when a defrost began on unit 3, and you can see the ice melting and puddling below the unit here:
Click on the image to see a close-up. (Use your browser Back Button to return to the blog.)

Minisplits 1 and 2 had already gone through such a defrost, and their fins were clear:




Naturally, this costs energy — electrical energy — but over the year it is not needed very often, and, so, the efficiency of the heat pumps, averaged over the year, remains a big win. Here’s a report from Sisler Builders in Vermont regarding their experiences.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, atmosphere, attribution, being carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide, CleanTechnica, climate, climate change, climate disruption, demand-side solutions, efficiency, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, marginal energy sources, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, meteorological models, meteorology, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, New England, NOAA, nor'easters, oceanic eddies, oceanography, open data, open source scientific software, risk, the right to know, water vapor | Leave a comment

Net energy consumption at Westwood Studios, after solar generation, with zero Carbon house, and, now, Chevy Volt

I don’t have time to offer much in the way of explanation or comments here, but here’s the status of consumption per day, in Kilowatt-hours.

Update: I should have provided some context.


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

Note that Eversource still owes us money:

And we’ve also earned by selling Solar Renewable Energy Credits (“SRECs”):

SRECs, by the way, were conceived by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Update, 2017-02-09: Google Earth images our solar panels

This is from May of 2016.


Posted in adaptation, American Solar Energy Society, Anthropocene, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BNEF, bridge to somewhere, Buckminster Fuller, clean disruption, CleanTechnica, decentralized electric power generation, decentralized energy, demand-side solutions, distributed generation, efficiency, electricity, electricity markets, energy utilities, green tech, Hermann Scheer, Hyper Anthropocene, investment in wind and solar energy, ISO-NE, local generation, local self reliance, microgrids, Sankey diagram, solar democracy, solar domination, solar energy, solar power, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, the energy of the people, the green century, the value of financial assets, Tony Seba, zero carbon | Leave a comment


Painted signage on the side of a delivery truck parked outside a neighbor’s home deliverying oil made me curious about this, so I checked out their Web site.

Here is what I found:
(To see larger figure, click on image and user browser Back Button to return to blog.)

I have heavily censored the image from the page to leave out the company name and trademarked references to products, and I will not provide a direct link to the Web site.

Note in particular the need for a reader of the page to be careful and critical with its statements:

  • “A mixture of heating oil and biofuels …” While the proportion is not specified, the advert later appeals to the language of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Biofuels Act to suggest there is 5% biofuel in this product. A search on the Web for the product, which unfortunately I cannot link, again to protect a trademark, indicates there are three grades of this product, and the highest grade has no more than 20% biofuel.
  • “… [I]s chock full of benefits! … [M]ade from soybeans (and other renewable resources) …” Blather.
  • It … significantly reduces particulates and greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Sorry, this is a flat out lie. It’s oil. It cannot. Even natural gas is cleaner.
  • “… [I]s extremely pleased to deliver this environmentally-friendly product to you.” No doubt.

What’s next? Environmentally friendly DDT?

Posted in Anthropocene, being carbon dioxide, biofuels, bridge to nowhere, carbon dioxide, clean disruption, CleanTechnica, climate business, climate change, climate disruption, climate economics, economics, energy, environment, false advertising, fossil fuels, global warming, greenhouse gases, greenwashing, Hyper Anthropocene, regulatory capture, rhetoric, sociology, supply chains, the tragedy of our present civilization | Leave a comment

`Environmental science in a post-truth world’ (Lubchenco and Kammen)

Jane Lubchenco is a Professor at Oregon State University, and was administrator of the U.S. NOAA from 2009 through 2013, the U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean at the State Department from 2014 to 2016, and the president of the Ecological Society of America from 1992 to 1993. She recently wrote about her current perspectives on environmental science. Here are excerpts.

… Just when, thanks in part to US leadership, the world finally began to make tangible progress in addressing climate change, the US elected a President who labeled climate change a hoax and whose Cabinet nominees leave little doubt that climate denial will continue. Equally problematic are the blatant disregard of facts and lack of respect for others and for civil discourse that were painfully evident in the US elections and around the world. So pervasive was the dismissal of “truth” that the Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 “Word of the Year”, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”

[T]ake heart! I believe we can rise to this occasion with the boldness, energy, and creativity it demands. Not in a knee-jerk fashion, but one that responds to some of the underlying causes of our current dilemma. We must engage more vigorously with society to address the intertwined environmental and social problems that many have ignored, to find solutions, and to help create a better world. We must truly listen to and address the reasons why a post-truth world has emerged.But we cannot do so from lofty perches above society; we must be more integrated into society. It is no longer sufficient for scientists in academia, government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or industry to conduct business as usual. Today’s challenges demand an all-hands-on-deck approach wherein scientists serve society in a fashion that responds to societal needs and is embedded in everyday lives. Humility, transparency, and respect must characterize our interactions.

Dan Kammen of U.C. Berkeley says more along these lines:

Posted in Akaike Information Criterion, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, being carbon dioxide, Buckminster Fuller, climate, climate change, coastal communities, coasts, ecological services, ecology, environment, environmental law, evidence, global warming, Humans have a lot to answer for, Hyper Anthropocene, ignorance, Jane Lubchenco, marine biology, mass extinctions, population biology, population dynamics, quantitative biology, quantitative ecology, risk, science, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, T'kun Olam, temporal myopia, the tragedy of our present civilization | Leave a comment

A letter to 45

I received a link to this letter regarding the 27th January 2017 White House Executive Order on visas and immigration from the American Meteorological Society. I am also a member of the American Statistical Association, the Ecological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Except for the IEEE, which is still trying to figure out what to do, each of these organizations signed this letter. [Added 2017-02-02.] The IEEE issued a separate statement later.

See below.






Update, 2017-02-02

And, the IEEE chimes in:

IEEE President Karen Bartleson today released the following statement in response to concerns expressed by IEEE members around the world:

“IEEE, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Incorporated, believes that governments of all countries must recognize that, in a world of increasing global connectivity, science and engineering are fundamental enterprises, for which openness, international collaboration, and the free flow of ideas and talented individuals are essential to advancement.

“Every country benefits from attracting, and competing for, the best and brightest scientists and engineers from around the world to study, teach, conduct and collaborate on research, innovate new technologies, and start commercial endeavors. Science and engineering lead to enhancements in quality of life and ultimately build economic prosperity and security. All countries should develop and maintain immigration and visa policies that encourage, facilitate, and protect the ability of people, from around the world, to engage in these types of science and engineering activities.

“Diversity is an important and valued strength; IEEE is committed to the realization and maintenance of an environment in which scientists and engineers, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or nationality, have the right to pursue their careers without discrimination. Science, engineering — and humanity — prosper where there is freedom of movement, association, and communication.”

Posted in Adam Smith, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, citizenship, compassion, criminal justice, Donald Trump, economics, education, evidence, fear uncertainty and doubt, free flow of labor, Joseph Schumpeter, politics, the value of financial assets | Leave a comment

`Message from Sally Yates to Justice Department lawyers before she was fired’

The story.

On January 27, 2017, the President signed an Executive Order regarding immigrants and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries. The order has now been challenged in a number of jurisdictions. As the Acting Attorney General, it is my ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in these actions. My role is different from that of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which, through administrations of both parties, has reviewed Executive Orders for form and legality before they are issued. OLC’s review is limited to the narrow question of whether, in OLC’s view, a proposed Executive Order is lawful on its face and properly drafted. Its review does not take account of statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just. Similarly, in litigation, DOJ Civil Division lawyers are charged with advancing reasonable legal arguments that can be made supporting an Executive Order. But my role as leader of this institution is different and broader. My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts. In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful. Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired on 30th January 2017. I applaud her.

Posted in atheism, Donald Trump, dump Trump, ethical ideals, justice, secularism, UU, UU Humanists | Leave a comment

The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project, in association with ClimateMirror

(Updated the afternoon of 3rd February 2017.)

The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project, operating in association with ClimateMirror, is being funded via the Kickstarter available at this link.

Give what you can. Thanks!

See our goal statement.

This is all about The Right to Know.


More coverage at Climate Denial Crock of the Week.


Why 2.0.

Why 3.0.

Update, 2017-01-20, 14:59 EST

All references to `climate change’ have been removed from the Web site of The White House.

Update, 2017-01-20, 18:11 EST


Also see an article in MIT’s Technology Review.

Update, 2017-01-20, 21:19 EST

An article in The New York Times.

Update, 2017-01-25, 0102 EST

“Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources”

We are now in active Internet information war.

Update, from 0400, 25th January 2017

From Reuters (hat tip to Benjamin Rose):

Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the climate change page from its website, two agency employees told Reuters, the latest move by the newly minted leadership to erase ex-President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives.

The employees were notified by EPA officials on Tuesday that the administration had instructed EPA’s communications team to remove the website’s climate change page, which contains links to scientific global warming research, as well as detailed data on emissions. The page could go down as early as Wednesday, the sources said.

“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” one of the EPA staffers told Reuters, who added some employees were scrambling to save some of the information housed on the website, or convince the Trump administration to preserve parts of it.

The sources asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

A Trump administration official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The order comes as Trump’s administration has moved to curb the flow of information from several government agencies who oversee environmental issues since last week, in actions that appeared designed to tighten control and discourage dissenting views.

The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.

The page includes links to the EPA’s inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, which contains emissions data from individual industrial facilities as well as the multiagency Climate Change Indicators report, which describes trends related to the causes and effects of climate change.

Update, 2017-01-25, 14:45 EST: We mattered

EPA staff told to ‘stand down’ on axing climate page

See also the reports of an underground EPA.

(Click image for a larger picture. Use browser Back Button to return to blog.)
Hat tip to Climate Denial Crock of the Week for image.

Update, 2017-01-03

We have our first evidence of Web site alteration, at the EPA.

Also, here are links to some recent articles about this effort and its context:

Hat tip to Professor John Baez.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, citizen science, civilization, climate, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, climate education, climate justice, Climate Lab Book, cynicism, denial, Donald Trump, education, EIA, ethics, evidence, fear uncertainty and doubt, forecasting, fossil fuels, Global Carbon Project, global warming, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, NASA, NOAA, open data, open source scientific software, rationality, reason, reasonableness, risk, science, science denier, science education, smart data, statistics, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, UU, ``The tide is risin'/And so are we'' | 1 Comment

Gas leaks along the pathway of the newly built West Roxbury Lateral transmission line

(This blog post was updated 19th January 2017 with a correction to the interpretation of the leak data. The correction was offered by Professor Phillips. The blog author is responsible for the original misunderstanding. Apologies for any inconvenience.)

The West Roxbury Lateral (“WRL”) has long been the subject of protest, opposition, and conflict regarding the roles of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, in providing electrical energy and heat to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Well, Professor Nathan Phillips of Boston University who has had a major role mapping natural gas leaks in pipes in Boston has recently imaged a portion of the newly built WRL, this part at its entry into the Town of Dedham. He has produced the following image, and released it on Twitter:

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

Note the figure does not show the amounts quantitatively, but clearly as the pipeline goes on to the east, the baseline leakage tracing its path is “normal.” The leaky section clearly is not.

Professor Phillips submitted the following comment regarding this data:

I just have one clarification, which is that we aren’t making the claim that the WRL pipeline itself is leaking, but that there are leaks along its route, likely from the existing low pressure distribution system. But we don’t know for sure. The issue is that there is new pavement and sidewalks overlying old leaking pipes – a huge wasted opportunity and already, a new roadway is punctured by patches.

And he offered this record of the data gathering:

This is the route of a brand new transmission pipeline, which only went into service a month ago or less. As Professor Phillips says this was a “missed opportunity“ because, while the trench was open, the companies should have taken the opportunity to repair existing pipelines.

Posted in anomaly detection, Anthropocene, bridge to nowhere, corporate litigation on damage from fossil fuel emissions, energy utilities, environment, ethics, evidence, explosive methane, fossil fuel infrastructure, fossil fuels, gas pipeline leaks, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, methane, Nathan Phillips, natural gas, networks, pipelines, public utility commissions, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets, ``The tide is risin'/And so are we'' | Leave a comment

Alpha Male Wolves, from Carl Safina

The wolves of Yellowstone have some surprising lessons on being a man.”

By Carl Safina.

And about his recent book.

Posted in being carbon dioxide, Carl Safina, climate change, Humans have a lot to answer for, karma, wolves | Leave a comment

You really can’t go home again: An update of “Getting back to 350 ppm CO2 …”

I have made an important update to an earlier post here, Getting back to 350 ppm CO2: You can’t go home again.

The message, essentially based upon recent work Tokarska and Zickfield on one hand, and by The Global Carbon Project on the other make the calculation of geoengineering through clear air capture of CO2 far more pessimistic than even the whopping cost numbers were before. (Thanks to Glen Peters for pointing me to the annual budget of Carbon compiled by the Global Carbon Project.)

See the post, but, in short, I forgot to account for CO2 “dissolved” in oceans and terrestrial ecosystems which will come back into atmosphere in order to restore pCO2 equilibrium once atmospheric concentrations are reduced.

You really can’t go home again ….

This all also reminds me of something I have written before. Forget the monuments, and the civilization, and the going to the Moon or Mars, and the libraries. In the long run, humanity’s legacy to Earth and the Universe will be the Carbon Dioxide we are emitting into the climate system. No other single action we can imagine doing in the foreseeable future will have such a widespread or a long-lasting impact. Right now, we are Carbon Dioxide.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, Anthropocene, bridge to nowhere, Buckminster Fuller, Carbon Cycle, carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide capture, Carbon Worshipers, clear air capture of carbon dioxide, climate, climate business, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, climate economics, David Archer, diffusion, diffusion processes, ecological services, Eli Rabett, engineering, environment, fossil fuel divestment, fossil fuel infrastructure, fossil fuels, games of chance, geoengineering, geophysics, Glen Peters, Global Carbon Project, global warming, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, Principles of Planetary Climate, Ray Pierrehumbert, science, Spaceship Earth, Susan Solomon, Svante Arrhenius, the tragedy of our present civilization, Tokarska and Zickfield, Wordpress, zero carbon | Leave a comment

Why scientific measurements need to be adjusted

There is an excellent piece in Ars Technica about why scientific measurements need to be adjusted, and the implications of this for climate data. It is written by Scott K Johnson and is called “Thorough, not thoroughly fabricated: The truth about global temperature data.”

I like his example of well levels very much:
(Click on image for a larger figure, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)

Mr Johnson writes:

… In fact, removing these sorts of background influences is a common task in science. As an incredibly simple example, chemists subtract the mass of the dish when measuring out material. For a more complicated one, we can look at water levels in groundwater wells. Automatic measurements are frequently collected using a pressure sensor suspended below the water level. Because the sensor feels changes in atmospheric pressure as well as water level, a second device near the top of the well just measures atmospheric pressure so daily weather changes can be subtracted out.

If you don’t make these sorts of adjustments, you’d simply be stuck using a record you know is wrong.

This is the kind of thing that’s learned in Physics and Chemistry classes in high school these days. (Well, at least AP Physics and Chemistry, not to mention Statistics.)

Mr Johnson provides a nice sketch of the several datasets use to estimate Earth surface temperature data. There’s a similar story which attends sea-surface temperatures, which has its own dramas, also describe here, from water inadvertently heated by ship’s engines, which Mr Johnson mentions, to thermal bias and microcode errors in measurement instruments.

These are experimental adjustments, made for good reason. There are also statistical adjustments which can improve representations of datasets, like smoothing, which I have written about earlier.

But the point is, many people, encouraged by a sound-bite-oriented media, don’t know about or understand these complications, and so it is easy for people like Representative Lamar Smith to prey on their ignorance. Is it his fault? Partly. But it’s also the fault of a public which embraces representative democracy but doesn’t “want to go to school and learn their lessons” well enough to be able to fulfill their responsibility.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, Canettes Blues Band, citizen data, climate data, data science, environment, evidence, geophysics, GISTEMP, HadCRUT4, mathematics education, meteorological models, obfuscating data, open data, physics, science, spatial statistics, Tamino, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, Variable Variability | Leave a comment


Posted in Anthropocene, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, CleanTechnica, decentralized electric power generation, decentralized energy, green tech, Hyper Anthropocene, Joseph Schumpeter, Mark Jacobson, Sankey diagram, solar democracy, solar domination, solar energy, solar power, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, the energy of the people, the green century, Tony Seba, zero carbon | Leave a comment

`Moving forward on climate change and sustainability`

From WGBH, and hat tip to Environmental Justice TV, includes Dr Gavin Schmidt speaking, who I was especially interested in, and whose talk begins here:

Interesting that Dr Schmidt has some gentle criticism of the PBS program NOVA.

Whole talk is here:

Also includes comments from Miles O’Brien, Nigel Purvis (“Climate of Optimism”),

This was posted in February 2015.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, bridge to nowhere, Buckminster Fuller, carbon dioxide, climate, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, Ecology Action, environment, Equiterre, fossil fuel divestment, Gavin Schmidt, geophysics, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, investment in wind and solar energy, Kevin Anderson, moral leadership, NASA, physics, science, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets, zero carbon | Leave a comment

Our daily electricity consumption since May 2016


(To see a larger figure, click on image, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)
Posted in Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BNEF, decentralized electric power generation, decentralized energy, demand-side solutions, distributed generation, efficiency, electricity, electricity markets, energy reduction, energy utilities, engineering, evidence, fossil fuel divestment, green tech, grid defection, Hermann Scheer, investment in wind and solar energy, John Farrell, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Anderson, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, local generation, local self reliance, Mark Jacobson, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, microgrids, RevoluSun, Sankey diagram, solar democracy, solar domination, solar energy, solar power, Spaceship Earth, stranded assets, sustainability, the energy of the people, the green century, the value of financial assets, Tony Seba, utility company death spiral, zero carbon | Leave a comment

Okay, Jan, so what’s your view on climate change?

It’s heading towards year’s end, so it’s natural to think about perspective.

In a post from last July, Joseph Heath asks semi-rhetorically, “Why are [proposed] carbon taxes so low?” and, then, he and commenters go on and answer that, essentially, the cost of damage is discounted to the present to obtain estimates of the Social Cost of Carbon.


Except that none of these methodologies I see incorporate the full cost of perhaps someday needing to not only decarbonize but to do clear air capture of carbon dioxide and sequestering it (effectively) permanently. They are making estimates of damage from climate disruption.

However, the costs of clear air capture includes an up-front cost of decarbonizing first, since capture is doubly and triply more expensive if we continue to pollute.

See my blog post where the estimate for one such exercise puts the price at US$1800 trillion in constant 2010 dollars. Even if not only is there no inflation in the price, but one additionally applies a discounting rate of 4%, after 100 years that’s still US$3.6 trillion. Worse, the scenario is sensitive at when we start, where we want to reduce to, and whether or not emissions are first zeroed, let alone invoking a technology we do not yet have. This is why my view has now aligned strongly with those of Glen Peters and Kevin Anderson.

I also, and personally, am very pessimistic about the wealthy nations (OECD) of the world doing enough, fast enough, in changing their behavior and their economies to make a significant difference. And I say that despite being extremely enthusiastic about the potential of zero Carbon energy technology, especially solar.

The OECD countries will eventually do it, because:

  • They will, as Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson repeatedly points out, begin to lose their wealth.
  • They will begin to suffer the collapse of parts of the extended supply chains upon which their entire societies, economies, and culture depend. This may not be an original idea, but it makes sense. The risk exposure to an extended supply chain is much higher than a short one. This is simply a military idea, not only a mathematical one.
  • Federal programs (in the United States at least) to fund rebuilding along coasts and inland, and to repay people in drought and desertifying agricultural areas to basically remain in place will be insolvent by 2025.
  • As climate changes, and the biosphere continues to adapt, both to its change and humankind’s continued growth,  ecosystem services will begin to disappear at an ever quickening pace, costing us agriculture, in health, and ultimately in economics (Gaylord Nelson).
  • It is possible that, if a truly unusual environmental event occurs, incontrovertibly tied to climate disruption on its face, that economies will suffer a profound Minsky moment, something that won’t be good for anyone. Such would happen, here, not because of any cyclical reason but, rather, because the markets had not fully priced in the damage of a key portion of their economies, the burning of fossil fuels and related emissions.

What kind of substantial things am I doing?

  • We have decarbonized our house, for the most part, including most recently a Chevy Volt.
  • I have divested nearly all of my retirement and personal investments from fossil fuels, and I have a significant investment in solar and wind energy development.
  • I am selling my interest in the Disney Vacation Club timeshare program of the Walt Disney Company, both because I only see the future of Florida as deteriorating  both from an investment and quality of visiting perspective (groundwater). Also, visits to Florida on holiday demand flying, which is the fastest means of pumping harmful carbon dioxide into atmosphere a body can, and at an altitude at which it is especially harmful. (There are no reasonable train schedules.)
  • I am a vegetarian.
  • We compost, all year round, and, due almost entirely to the efforts of my wonderful wife, Claire, grow a good deal of food in our own garden.
  • Our holiday gifting and celebrations are small scale, and tend towards services, not things.
  • We do not use fertilizer or any insect sprays or weed killers on our property. We have a battery-powered lawnmower.
  • We advocate for environmental change, and limiting suburban sprawl, and protest where necessary.

And, while I will engage with people online and elsewhere stating and shouting incorrect things regarding the environment, or climate science, or zero Carbon energy, or who is responsible for all this, I am disengaging emotionally, because it does not matter. Science and engineering facts, on the other hand, do matter, and are worth defending with some ferocity. These are the only hold we have on reality, as opposed to a so-called reality TV show.

And I am sorry that the people who, at least initially, are being hurt and harmed by climate disruption are people who have the least responsibility for the problem. I cannot control people in my world so they begin shed the behavior sets responsible. I can entice them with the wonders and efficiencies of zero Carbon energy. And while climate justice is important, I fear it can be counterproductive compared to, say, campaigns to boycott use of fossil fuel energy. Pursuing climate justice might be simply a nice, and very white way of soothing piqued consciences, and stops further progress where it is more important.


Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment…. Humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe.

R. Buckminster Fuller

Hat tip to … And Then There’s Physics for the motive to write this post.

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