Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Moving to WordPress

I'm moving this blog to WordPress. The new link is No particular reason other than because I can.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Extreme Events

Roger Pielke Jr has a great posting which comments on the testimony of Michael Oppenheimer from Princeton University and coordinating lead author of the IPCC special report titled Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming of the US House of Representatives. He takes issue with Oppenheimer's assertion that "assignment of cause for the damaging outcomes of such extremes" is a relatively new field.

Pielke says:
In suggesting that this is a "new" field he notably avoids discussing a large body of literature such as on tropical cyclones (in the US, Australia, China, India, Latin America, etc.), floods, European storms, Australian bushfires, etc. where peer reviewed work has explained damage trends solely in terms of increasing societal vulnerability. Why is it so hard for IPCC authors to acknowledge any of this literature?

I like that. Good question.

I'm going to dig out my text books to find out when this field of extreme events became "mature", but in the 1970's we learned all about environmental "extreme" events like flooding in my undergraduate and graduate courses in Hydrology. We learned that the probability distribution of many extreme events could be reliably be modelled using the Gumbell Distribution. For homework, we gathered data on "extreme" floods, wave heights, etc. and plotted those events on Gumbell Distribution probability paper (we didn't have Excel in those days). The data usually lined up in a straight line which enabled us to extrapolate to longer periods of time than for which we had data. For example, we could take fifty years of real data on maximum river levels and use that data to extrapolate to the 100, 500, or even 1000 year flood. That would then provide a basis up which to design flood control structures. I learned at my first corporate job that Gumbell distribution also worked well with maximum ocean wave heights.

All that before the IPCC existed to tell us what we don't know.

How to Give a Version of the Truth

This is a posting I've been thinking I should write for quite some time. I'm prompted as I again saw this graph of CO2 in parts per million, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since the 1950's, used this week at the Royal Society of Edinburgh by the Lord Kreps.

The first graph is as published by NASA where they show vertical scale from about 315 to 400 parts per million. The second graph, based on "cherry-picking" the annual numbers, is on a scale from zero to 400 parts per million.

When one is told before seeing this graph that we have a problem with carbon and then we see the first graph, the concern is pretty much "proven" without discussion. If one were shown he second graph would not be more difficult to support the "problem" assertion? Neither graph shows the "ideal" number of carbon molecules we should have in parts per million, probably because nobody knows.

All this reminds me of that great book "How to Lie with Statistics".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Facing Up To Climate Change

This evening I attended the Royal Society of Edinburgh's lecture on "Facing Up to Climate Change" presented by The Lord Krebs Kt, FRS, FMedSci, Principal, Jesus College, University of Oxford. He's also a member of the House of Lord's Committee on Climate Change.

His message was clear

: the climate is changing--the proof is clear: rise of sea level, flooding, ocean acidity, etc. It's going to get hot, and hot is bad (extreme weather, uninhabitable regions of the world, etc.) And all this is caused by mankind.
: the science proving this "fact" is settled and beyond reproach, discussion, and "denial". (He said CRU was "exonerated", and he frequently used the word "denier" for those who do not agree with this assessment.)
: the key to solving this "problem" is to change mankind's behaviour to stop the climate changing.
: government's role is to ensure people to change their behaviour--probably via non coercive methods, e.g. psychological, because to do otherwise is politically impossible.
: buying "stuff" (consuming) does not lead to happiness and if mankind stops "unethical consumption", the horror of climate change will be prevented.