El Nino – Am I A Prophet?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:00 pm

I’m putting this on the blog rather than on Facebook (though it will get mirrored) because Facebook is too ephemeral. I want to be able to come back and find it if I’m right. And if I’m wrong, I want to be accountable in that others can come back and find it.

We’re hearing a number of reports that this might be a strong El Nino year. Here’s one of the more recent, more Australian-focused ones: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/droughtthreatening-el-nino-event-increasingly-likely-bureau-says-20140325-35fua.html

It’s by no means certain that it will, yet, but here’s my prediction: if there is a strong El Nino, this year will be the hottest global year on record. Hotter than 1997 – the year of the last strong El Nino. It will be hotter by some distance.

Why do I say that? The apparent ‘pause’ in global warming, based on surface temperatures, hasn’t been a pause at all. The heat has still been accumulating, it has just been accumulating deep in the ocean. The El Nino phenomenon occurs because the currents are such that heat from deep in the ocean is released into the atmosphere… and there’s more there than ever before.

This is a simple, testable prediction, based on understanding what is going on with global climate. Note the included ‘if’ statement: *if* there is a strong El Nino, this will be a record hot year. If not, all bets are off.

Let’s see what happens…


Up Here’s For Thinkin’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:02 pm

Here’s a graph I made and posted here a while ago:

The post in question is here: http://www.bravus.com.au/blog/?p=1911

Sorry about the lack of labels – x-axis is years, y-axis is million square km of Antarctic sea ice.

These data are for Antarctica, but the Arctic picture is similar. Why do I bring it out?

Because the claim ‘Arctic ice is growing at record rates’ is being bandied about to ‘debunk’ climate change.

Yes, the extent (area) of the ice is growing fast for part of the year. The onset of winter runs for a finite time in the year. And if you look at the graph above, you will note that the minima are getting smaller quicker than the maxima – there is a lot less ice in summer, and a little less in winter.

That means that, to get from the new lower minimum to the new also-lower-but-not-as-dramatically maximum, in the same amount of time, of course the ice extent has to grow faster – maybe even at record rates.

It also means, of course, that to get from the maximum to the new ever-lower minimum at the beginning of summer the ice is also shrinking at record rates… but that stat doesn’t get bandied about at all by the (and I use the term quite wrongly) ‘skeptics’.

Doesn’t mean the ice is actually expanding over time – quite the reverse. The total ice is shrinking, and markedly so. This is not evidence against climate change, but for it.


And if the money won’t, maybe the ice (or lack thereof) will

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:49 pm


If the science won’t convince ’em, maybe the economics will

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:24 pm

Small-minded, isolationist policies just won’t work. If Australia doesn’t move (or moves backward, as T. Abbott plans but likely can’t deliver), there is sufficient political will internationally to introduce tariff mechanisms to force the issue. Better to be masters of our own destiny.



George Lakoff on Sandy, Climate Change and Systemic Causation

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:44 am

George Lakoff was one of the authors of the book ‘Metaphors We Live By’ that has been hugely influential on me. He is, in many ways, a public intellectual. Something of which our society could definitely use more.

Here’s his excellent, thoughtful article on the relationship of Hurricane Sandy to climate change. http://www.salon.com/2012/10/31/hurricane_sandy_global_warming_pure_and_simple/


I don’t believe in Gaia theory

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:28 pm

… the notion that the biosphere, or even the earth, as a whole can be considered as a single great organism. Some versions of it even credit Gaia with a sort of consciousness.

But one could be forgiven for seeing Hurricane Sandy, aka Sandy-Athena, aka Frankenstorm, as a note:

Um, no-one mentioned climate change in any of the three presidential or the one vice-presidential debates. Here’s a little aide memoire before the election – love Gaia

The tragic irony, though, may be that Gaia’s political calculation is terrible: stopping people voting in the North-east is much more likely to help the guy who will do more to exacerbate than ameliorate climate change.


An Emissions Trading Scheme is the *Cheapest* Way

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:27 pm

…to cut emissions, and a carbon price is the second cheapest. Due to political pressures (and, to be honest, a failure of nerve on the part of Labor), Australia is now committed to 5 years on the second-best solution before moving to the best one.

Or, if people decide to elect Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, they can have the very worst of all possible worlds: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/carbon-change-can-be-cheaper-than-we-think-20110613-1g0ba.html

These are not fiddly matters at the edges: Abbott’s approach costs up to $1000 for each tonne of emissions saved, versus a carbon price of $29 or so a tonne. The gap is immense, and even Malcolm Turnbull is saying Abbott’s ‘direct action’ policy is essentially opening the tax-payers’ chequebook for unlimited expenditure for little real gain.

I’m actually not really posting to make political hay: more to note that we know what will work, it won’t be particularly painful and the pain can be avoided, and we need to move now.


Ross Gittins reminds us of the bleedin’ obvious (we need the reminder)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:20 am



Follow the Evidence

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:45 am


It’ll be very interesting to see Muller’s results when they’re published, but the strong concurrence between a whole new data set and the three already showing warming (NASA, NOAA and HadCRUT) is pretty telling.


Truth and the Postmodernist

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:42 am

I’ve talked about myself as a postmodernist here, claiming that all grand narratives (meaning frameworks) can be deconstructed in terms of their internal logic, and therefore truths are contingent, situated in time and place and culture, rather than absolute. (Or, slightly more carefully, that if absolute truths exist we have no direct access to them.)

And yet… it really annoys me when people don’t tell the truth!

Discussions around climate change recently on a forum. (Yeah, I know…)

One person claimed repeatedly that the world is cooling, not warming, and is cooler now than it was in 1979.

My response:

temperature graph

(I’d already addressed this blatant lie here)

Another posted a scurrilous text floating around the web that the Iceland volcano negated all carbon dioxide reduction efforts so far, and that the Mt Pinatubo eruption released more carbon dioxide than all human activities ever.

On the second point I noted that Mt Pinatubo released 43 million tonnes of CO2 while human activities release 27 billion tonnes every year. On the wonderfully named Eyjafjallajoekull volcano, this link shows that its net result was a *reduction* in emissions: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/planes-or-volcano/

Of course, none of the ‘skeptics’ (and ain’t *that* a misnomer!) has taken a step back and said “Oh, apparently I have been misinformed…” They’ve just ignored the refutation and moved on to reporting the next lie…

My point here is not to rant about dishonest people, or to make points about climate change, but to explore my own philosophical positions.

On the one hand, I’m a convinced postmodernist. On the other, the truth matters to me.

Perhaps (and I know this is a pretty superficial analysis) part of the truth is encoded in the statement: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.” There could be different units and different ways of measuring, but no grand narrative (with the possible exception of insanity or mendacity) can make Mt Pinatubo’s emissions exceed those of human activity. The universe insists on some things…



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:13 pm

Conservative Christians tend not to believe in climate change. But they do believe extreme climate events are Signs of the End. Cannot freakin’ win with these people. THE WORLD can’t win. REALITY can’t win.


Where’s the climate change?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:50 am

Well, it’s where it always was: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDTUuckNHgc (YouTube video, about 9 min)

I’ve posted one of these ‘Climate Change Crocks of the Week’ before, and this one – from January 2010 – is just as informative. By way of update, 2010 is on track to be the warmest year ever, globally. Yes, even if today is cold where you are.


Bad News and Good News

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:24 am

First, one of the candidates for Australian Prime Minister – election coming up this Saturday – believes warming has stopped:


I’m not a one-issue voter, and there are plenty of other reasons to oppose him anyway, but this level of plain disconnect from reality in itself disqualifies him for the job in my opinion.

On the other hand, though:



Latest review of the scientific consensus on climate change

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:13 pm

There was a good review done a few years ago by Naomi Oreskes about climate scientists’ views in relation to climate change. Here’s the newest one, published this month: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107.


“Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed here support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

Folks, there’s no controversy.


Energy Futures

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:29 am

(repurposed forum post)

Finally got around to the promised post on energy solutions and futures.

First up, even if we leave aside the issue of climate change entirely, fossil fuels are finite resources.

(Barring a few fantasies about endless renewal from currently on-going natural processes (someone posted a link on that here a while ago and I emailed the scientist who did the original research and she was very definitive that its a tiny source and definitely not the source of the reserves we’re using now)).

So whether we start cutting down on our use now or in a couple of decades, we will definitely have to cut down some time.

What I’m suggesting here is that we get a head start.

I’m absolutely, 100%, not talking about decimating economies and standards of living, anywhere in the world. The goal of this approach is humanitarian, definitely, but that goal is not zero-sum. It is to extend to those in the developing world the lifestyle and health benefits that those of us in the developed world have gained on the back of the massive gift of cheap energy we got from fossil fuels. At the same time, it is to guarantee our own lifestyles into the future, because without action they are unsustainable.

It was the world’s inheritance, and we’ve spent most of it. I’m not about guilt for that, but I am about the responsibility to use that boost to now offer benefits to those who missed out in the first rush (which is really not much more than a century old).

So please leave aside your fantasies of the ravening socialist horde coming to force you to live in a cave. They’re just that, dark fantasies.

First point: Any approach needs to be multifaceted. Fossil fuels, particularly oil, gave us ‘magic-bullet’ solutions to all sorts of problems from powering cars, planes and trains to lubricating their moving parts and generating electricity. We don’t get it that easy again.

Second point: Any solution for the foreseeable future will still have both coal and oil as components. That’s one reason it’s important to conserve them. (The other is petrochemicals like plastics: our descendants will be aghast that we burned something is incredibly useful as petroleum.) It’s a fantasy from the green side to think we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels entirely in the near term.

But what we do need to do is make huge steps to replace them as the mainstays of our energy use. Here are several possible facets of a solution:

  1. (this one is related to climate change, the rest are not) Coal reserves are huge – much greater than oil. There are dirty approaches to converting coal into gas or oil, but they are wasteful and expensive. A better approach is to use the coal to produce electricity, then the electricity to produce hydrogen for a hydrogen economy (see below). This all works and is all proven technology right now. The other piece of the picture is carbon sequestration: the benefit of burning coal in a power station versus burning it in a vehicle is that it’s a lot easier to capture the emitted carbon dioxide and store it underground. That way we can keep using this valuable resource without completely trashing our environment. (Coal is also a very ‘dirty’ fuel in terms of things like the sulfur that causes acid rain: the sequestration process can capture these too.)
  2. A hydrogen fuel cell economy. Hydrogen is an energy transport technology, not an energy production technology, but it’s clean and powerful. In cars it would be adsorbed onto metal hydrides in tanks, with *less* explosion and fire risk than tanks of gasoline. Hydrogen itself would not need to be transported in tankers, because it could be made in fuel cells in filling stations, using electricity: and we already have electricity infrastructure. It’s better than battery for cars because no charge cycle is required – you can just drive in and fill up as you do now – and also because it doesn’t require heavy, environmentally costly batteries. To his credit, President G W Bush pushed hard for the hydrogen economy.
  3. Nuclear fusion is the long term solution. It’s probably 40 years away at the moment, but that could be shortened with increased research funding. Despite the word ‘nuclear’, fusion produces no radioactive waste, and the fuel supply is essentially limitless. Fusion would in many ways create an energy utopia, with enough for all our terrestrial needs many times over, and enough hydrogen for a dramatically expanded space program too.
  4. Nuclear fission is an essential part of a short term solution. I know this is an issue on which I part company with many of my fellow ‘greens’, but I think it’s unavoidable. Opposition to the waste and risk of fission was the principled position 20 and 30 years ago, but that was before (a) massive improvements in plant safety, (b) dramatically better approaches for waste handling and storage and (c) before we knew about the real environmental costs of fossil fuels. I am really, truly actively suggesting the building of many more fission power plants all around the world. It’s not a perfect technology, but it’s a crucial part of the bridge to get us to fusion.
  5. Renewables. All of these draw on solar power to some extent (except tidal, which draws on the gravitational force of the moon). A calculation I made recently for a textbook chapter I’m writing:

    The solar energy reaching the top layers of earth’s atmosphere is about 1400 W per square metre. Of that energy, only about 40% makes it down to the earth’s surface – the rest is reflected back to space (about 30%) or absorbed by the atmosphere, heating it directly (the remaining 30%).

    So take the 40% that makes it to the surface: 560W/sqm. Imagine that’s only over half the earth at a time, so make it 560W/sqm over half the earth’s total land surface area (because collecting the solar energy over the oceans is tougher, although hydroelectricity actually does that) of 150 million square metres, and you get 42 billion watts – about 3 times all human energy use on earth. And that calculation is conservative at all levels.

    1. Hydroelectricity: dams, lots of them. And yeah, greens tend to stop dams being built to protect environments and species. We can do some of that, but we have to build dams. They have the added effect of protecting fresh water reserves, another essential infrastructure for humanity.
    2. Solar, both photovoltaic and concentration forms. Scalable, ubiquitous, and cheaper and more efficient all the time. New approaches are being developed all the time, and putting in the research will help to deal with the current problems. If every new house was, as a matter of course, roofed with solar panel material, that in itself would be an immense change. Creating huge solar farms in otherwise unusable land like areas of outback Australia and African deserts also has a lot of potential.
    3. Wind. It’s a myth that wind farms kill birds. They are noisy, but that’s partly a technology issue, and there are plenty of uninhabited windy places. In Holland they put them out to sea.
    4. Tidal. Only works in some places, but useful.
    5. Wave – an immense untapped resource.
    6. Geothermal – useful in some regions.
    7. Ocean thermal – using cold deep water and warm surface water with a heat pump.

    All of these can be used to generate electricity, feeding into a hydrogen economy. None of them is a magic bullet due to issues like day/night, windy/not windy and so on, but they don’t need to be if we work toward a complementary set of solutions rather than rubbishing them individually because they don’t provide a complete solution.

  6. Ones I’ve forgotten. Please feel free to add your own!
  7. Ones that haven’t even been invented yet, but could be if the basic research was done. Computers have revolutionised our lives, but were really invented within the lifetimes of some of those who post here. The next big thing may be hiding just around the corner. That’d be great, but we shouldn’t and don’t need to rely on it, because we already have all of the proven technologies outlined above that, if combined, could solve this thing.


School is in

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:32 am

(sorry – 4th climate post in a row – all loosely linked)

So, this guy says:

Global Warming? New Data Shows Ice Is Back
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 11:55 AM
By: Phil Brennan

Are the world’s ice caps melting because of climate change, or are the reports just a lot of scare mongering by the advocates of the global warming theory? Scare mongering appears to be the case, according to reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that reveal that almost all the allegedly ‘lost’ ice has come back. A NOAA report shows that ice levels which had shrunk from 5 million square miles in January 2007 to just 1.5 million square miles in October, are almost back to their original levels.

Moreover, a Feb. 18 report in the London Daily Express showed that there is nearly a third more ice in Antarctica than usual, challenging the global warming crusaders…

Go to the National Ice Center archives and punch in whatever year you are interested in. You can see that ice fluctuates dramatically and that this year is actually a pretty stable one.


So I took him at his word. Went to that site. Collected the data on maxima and minima for the last 20 years (1989-2009 – 2010 data not finished yet!)

Made this graph:


Serious Stuff (and a little silliness from me)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:09 am

A story from the Courier Mail newspaper: Dire climate change warning to Australia.

Co-chair of the three-day conference, and director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Jean Palutikof, said science tells us climate change is happening faster than we thought.

Professor Palutikof warned the window to adapt and prepare is smaller than anticipated and said it is too late to mitigate our way out of the problem.

So it’s probably very juvenile of me to be delighted that the scientist’s name is probably pronounced something like ‘pollute-e-cough’.


Publicola sums it up

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:33 pm

‘Publicola’, a commentator on the Salon web site, talking about some of the defiant climate skeptic responses to the story I posted below, sums up the evidence nicely:


  • The Earth has warmed significantly over recent decades, to what may be the highest level in 2,000 years or more.
  • Anthropogenic greenhouse gases including CO2 — which is generated mostly by fossil fuel burning — warm the Earth. Without greenhouse gases including CO2 the Earth would be covered in ice from pole to pole.
  • The atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by more than a third since the dawn of the fossil fuel era, to the highest level in at least 800,000 years.
  • There is a strong correlation between said CO2 increase and said recent warming.
  • Known natural forcing agents of past global warming – including changes in orbital cycles, increases in solar radiation, and natural increases in atmospheric CO2 – cannot explain said recent warming. Neither has any scientific theory to explain the bulk of said recent warming other than AGW survived scientific scrutiny.

Those are all scientific facts. Which is to say:

The scientific evidence supporting anthropogenic global warming is overwhelming.

Bravus readies himself for the flood of retractions and apologies from climate skeptics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:26 am

Newspaper retracts “climategate” story, months too late

From Salon:

The Times of London published utterly untrue stories about the “climategate” emails; now they regret the error

So, I’ll be waiting…


Why I reckon Rudd will still win the election

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:04 am

The polls for Australian PM Kevin Rudd (prior to yesterday’s Federal Budget) seemed to be in free fall:

Since the previous poll a month ago, Mr Rudd’s approval rating has nosedived 14 percentage points to 45 per cent, while his disapproval rating has skyrocketed 13 points to 49 per cent. (from the Sydney Morning Herald/Nielsen poll)

There are a number of issues in this, but this particular huge drop was related to his decision to postpone the Emissions Trading Scheme, intended to address climate change:

The poll finds 58 per cent of voters still support an ETS. Only 30 per cent oppose it.

Mr Rudd once called climate change ”the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation” and his decision to shelve the policy polarised the electorate – 43 per cent supported the delay, 45 per cent opposed it and 13 per cent were undecided. (ibid)

The reason for the delay was basically that he could not get the legislation past the Senate, and the only solution would have been to trigger a ‘double dissolution’ of Parliament, bringing on an election immediately. Presumably he’s chosen to avoid that in the hope of being able to get some ‘runs on the board’ by later in the year when the election is required to be called.

Two things make me confident that we’ll still have a Labour government after the election. One is that although Rudd’s popularity has dropped, that of Tony Abbott, the Opposition leader, has not really risen. Mr Rudd is still the preferred prime minister by a relatively large margin: only the really rusted-on conservatives really like Abbott.

The other is that I think the disapproval of Rudd is hiding two separate groups. One is the aforementioned rusted-on conservatives: who would not approve of Rudd even if he personally showed up at their houses with a cheque for a million bucks.

The other is that large proportion of the Australian populace that cares about climate change. They are very angry that, after proclaiming that climate change was ”the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation”, Rudd has ended up allowing political considerations to force him into inaction.

But where can those voters go? If their issue is climate change, and even if the impulse to punish Rudd is strong, Tony Abbott is definitely not the alternative PM they’d choose. He is on record as calling the science behind climate change ‘absolute crap’ – a statement from which he has since resiled. But he was telling schoolkids as recently as this week, on no evidence at all, that it was warmer in Christ’s time than it is now. He pays lip service to climate change because he wants to woo that nearly 60% of voters, but his true views (on this and other issues) keep sneaking out.

So although the polls look bleak for Rudd, I reckon there’s not a huge amount to worry about. Of course, that assumes the voters in general are smart enough to come to this same conclusion about Abbott and climate…