Monday, January 23, 2017

Willis is about as wrong as usual

Willis wants us to know that carbon taxes, being regressive, are "cruel." So very, very cruel. This he will prove with data, because he is a Serious Person and not at all a shambolic dishonest embarrassment to the human species.

Immediately, however, we run into the problem that the numbers provided are not remotely plausible. All the numbers look far too high, but the figure on the bottom for thos making less than $20,000 a year is the standout. While poor Americans often spend more of their incomes on basic necessities like energy, the idea that they spend 40% of their income on energy is, frankly, utterly ludicrous.

To get here he cites a number of sources, fucking up in unknown ways to get answers that are wildly wrong:
Someone challenged me on this claim about energy taxes the other day, and I realized I believed it without ever checking it … bad Willis, no cookies. So of course, having had that thought I had to take a look.
The Energy Information Agency (EIA) collects data on this, with the exception of gasoline usage. I got the most recent data, for 2009. (Excel workbook). Gasoline usage figures are here from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, income averages by tiers are available here from the Census Bureau.
While he laments the loss of his cookie, I would actually offer him two small cookies here. One, he is making an effort to check his intuitions against data. Two, the places he is going for data contain good reliable information: the EIA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau.

At that point Willis' cookie supply dries up, because he has mangled the data to get a grossly wrong answer. People who make less than $20,000 per year spend an average of $1,571 dollars a year on energy (slight more if you include gas). So Willis is asking us to accept that the average income of this group is $3,900 a year, and after spend almost half that on energy they are paying for housing, food, and clothes with $200 a month.

The sources Willis cites do not provide numbers for the average income of a household in a given income bracket. Possibly he was using the means as averages, although that would not explain his numbers by itself. The Social Security administration does provide averages, fortunately:

 If you plug those numbers in you get an average income, for those making less than $20,000 per year, of $8,124. That would make the energy costs in this bracket 19% (plus a couple percent for gas), which is quite high compared to expert estimates the very poor spend about 10% of their incomes on energy, but which is less than half the number Willis somehow obtained.

I don't spend as much time chasing the nonsense on WUWT as I used to, because so much of it is repetitive and deadly boring. It's also because those that want to be informed have a much clearer understanding of the workings of ideological alternative realities than was the case when I started this blog in 2010. For reasons I would never chose, the country and the world are much more familiar with the working of denialism than they were then.

This one caught my eye because Willis is trying to be good. He's looking up good sources. He's trying to test his intuitions against the facts.

He fails because he is still operating out of a denier mindset in which he expects to find something all the experts have missed. A simple google search should have altered him that the people who study energy poverty professionally put the cost of energy in the US to the poor at, at worst, 10-20%. He should then have tried hard to figure out where his calculations went wrong.

Willis has never learned how to manage a data set, which is to say, he's never learned the art of doing a little math as you go, checking the numbers against common sense, and circling back to recheck when the answers starting coming out weird. This is basic, habitual skepticism, and the scientists I know do it so adroitly it becomes invisible and almost unconscious, a reflex. Willis clearly doesn't know that he doesn't know how to do this. Despite gestures at an appropriate method of inquiry, the cruel cold talons of Dunning-Kruger still hold him firmly in its grasp.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The last day

January 20th, 2017, marks the last day we will see for a long time -- perhaps ever -- when our nation was worthy of respect. In the coming years our leadership in the world, our moral authority, our economic and military power will all decline under this corrupt, incompetent regime.

Nevertheless, I do not despair. We will have new elections in less than 2 years, another presidential election in four. It may be that the collection of pus known as the Republican party is coming to a head so that it can finally be incised and drained.

We live in a system designed to a great extent with corrupt and incompetent leaders and stupid voters in mind. The coming years will be a race between the implosion of the GOP and its efforts to undermine democracy and free elections to the point that that implosion does not matter. If honest people step to the fight and refuse to cower in fear, I think we are likely to win this race.

The prize, I hope, will not merely be the saving of our democracy but the disgrace and dissolution of what is laughably called the conservative movement in this country, which could bring with it the potential for real substantial policy on climate among other things.

The key principle is resistance. Tyrants dissolve democracies not due their minority of passionate supporters, but due to majorities which are frightened into silence and denied the knowledge of their own strength. Do not be silenced. Do not be afraid. It's time for them to be afraid. They've grabbed a job they can't do by making promises they can't keep and the bills will rapidly come due. Then the people are coming for them.

Say not the Struggle nought Availeth
Say not the struggle nought availeth,
     The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
     And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
     And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
     Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,
     Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
     But westward, look, the land is bright.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

EnviroNews's Nuclear Nonsense

India has embarked on the construction of a mammoth 9.9GW nuclear complex, but not everyone is happy. Opining that "Dangerous Coastal Jaitapur Nuclear Power Mega-Plant Should Be Stopped," EnviroNews gifts us with this gem of misinformation:

This is wildly inaccurate. The estimate cost of this plant is $17 billion (of course we have to worry about cost overruns, but the author specifically claims this is true "No matter what the final cost ends up being.") The electricity it can be expected to generate, at a typical-for-nuclear capacity factor of 0.9, is 78 TWh/year. How much solar would it take (ignoring storage costs) to generate 78 TWh?

As it happens, India has recently constructed what is now the world's largest solar plant, a 648MW facility covering 10km^2, costing $679 million to build. At a capacity factor of 0.2, it will generate 1.1 TWh. You would need 71 of them, costing $48 billion, to generate the same amount of electricity.

But EnviroNews is not just angry about the cost, but the footprint. The cruel, cruel footprint:

2,400 acres sounds like quite a bit, and I in no way want to diminish the disruption and loss to those living on those lands. I can't speak to whether this was debated and agreed upon in a democratic way; India has a bad history of pushing people out of the way of its mega-projects, and not providing the compensation promised.

What I can speak to is the incredible hypocrisy of complaining about the footprint of nuclear power. That 2,400 acres? It's 10km^2. Haven't we seen 10km^2 in this post already? That's right, just one of the 71 solar plants required to replace this nuclear plant takes up that much room. If you replace these nuclear reactors with solar panels, a lot more people are going to be displaced.

There are other important factors not considered here, such as the 60-year operational lifespan of this design vs about 20-25 years for current solar designs. Such as the intermittent output of solar panels, requiring solar be held to a small share of the total electricity generated over a particular grid, or expensive storage be added.

I understand the people at EnviroNews are not pro-nuclear energy and are not likely to have a road-to-Damascus moment where they embrace it. But they could, at least, not completely cut loose from the facts whilst smearing it.

The reactor park is slated to engulf approximately 2,400 acres of land, and would destroy the encompassing villages of Varliwada, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Madban. The government has offered to pay villagers for the land they will lose, but only 114 out of 2,375 families affected, have claimed any money — the rest have refused the compensation as an act of protest. -
Construction of Dangerous Coastal Jaitapur Nuclear Power Mega-Plant Should Be Stopped -

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Where the climate disaster sits

The last few years have given the appearance of progress, but it's mostly an illusion. The underlying dynamic remains selfish, short-sighted governments, corporations, and individuals failing to accept the science and make a serious plan to cut carbon emissions dramatically.

The rate of CO2 growth has slowed over the past few years, but that's misleading. The slowdown is not originating from the replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy sources, rather, it is primarily the result of substituting one fossil fuel for another -- less coal, more methane. China has been the primary source of rising coal consumption for some years now, so their shift is illustrative:

US consumption in recent years tells a similar story:

This is a lot of numbers and graphs for what is essentially an old man shaking a cane in blog form, but this is important. Coal has lost 6% of total electricity generation. But 2/3 of that, 4%, went straight to the burning of methane. Renewables snagged another 2% of the total, but half of those gains were lost when nuclear bleed away 1% of the total.

The additional 1% in clean energy sources likely made less of an impact on our total emissions than the 4% shift from coal to methane.

But, you may ask, who cares? Flat emissions growth is flat emissions growth. Which is true in a sense. Less CO2 is better than more. But if you are looking for a sign humanity is starting to wake up to the danger it is in, if you are looking for "peak madness," then this plateau misleads.

There was always going to be a transition between coal and natural gas, due to the immediate health effects of coal smog, and the discovery of fraking techniques that make methane easier, and even cheaper in many cases, to extract than coal. That this transition is happening does the world some good, but it does not say that we will continue to phase out coal when natural gas is not plentiful and cheap, or that we will make serious efforts to eliminate natural gas and all other fossils fuels from our energy mix, as we must eventually do.

The picture looks even bleaker if we include not only electricity but transportation fuels, which constitute 22% of CO2 emissions today (up from 14% in 2004.) Oil dominates the transportation sector, and despite some promising signs of a beginning of a mass market in electric cars, they remain an almost infinitesimal fraction of the motor vehicles on the road today.

The Paris Agreement has inspired a lot of optimism, but as far as I can see, it's fairly small potatoes. The emissions cuts promised…well, there aren't any specific emissions cuts promised, as a matter of fact:
The contribution that each individual country should make in order to achieve the worldwide goal are determined by all countries individually and called "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs).[13] Article 3 requires them to be "ambitious," "represent a progression over time" and set "with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement" (Source: Wikipedia.)
The entire agreement could be summed up as "Global warming is bad, we'd better cut GHG emissions -- everybody do their best with that, OK?"

Having spent so many hundreds of hours on climate deniers, I am by no means scornful of the accomplishment of getting most of the world's nations to agree that there's a problem and we need to do something about it. But seriously, this agreement fails in every way to resemble the global agreement we need to stabilize the climate. Such an agreement needs the following features:

1. Binding emissions reductions.
2. Independent agency with secure funding to calculate emissions.
3. Strong penalties for those that violate the agreement or refuse to participate (i.e., a total trade embargo.)
4. Agreed upon scoring for grey areas like land use changes, reforestation, shorter-lived GHGs, and CCS schemes.
5. Some agreed-upon financial support for countries, like India, who will be asked to forgo things like burning coal which facilitated others' industrialization. (This might take the form of grants towards disaster management and adaptation projects, for example -- trillions of dollars in adaptation spending is now inevitable.)

The Paris Agreement lacks all of these things -- which is likely why so many countries have signed it and ratified it. It's the cotton candy of climate accords. Even the poor much-maligned Kyoto protocol did better.

Physically, the world keeps getting warming, the seas keep rising and the ice keeps melting. The arctic is having an anomalous winter, the antarctic an even weirder summer:

What a difference a year makes. Now climate scientists no longer have to explain why the Antarctic sea ice isn't doing the same thing as its northern cousin. They're twins! Of course, this is one more piece of evidence that the Antarctic is preparing to shed several meters of global SLR from its ice sheets, but every silver lining has its cloud, as they say.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Subjects of the Empire of Denial

Denial has conquered the United States of America. To those of us who have been fighting climate deniers for years, this is a nightmare, a sickeningly familiar nightmare where the personality-disordered trolls and con men have exploded out of the comment threads and seized the reins of a great nation.

To the average citizen, the kind of people who have triumphed in our most recent election seem disturbingly unpredictable. They are by turns abusive and wheedling. They aver a broad range of fringe beliefs, untroubled by the explicit contradictions between them. And Americans are scared. They can sense the sickness of the denier, but do not understand them, and they are all the more frightening for that. But they can be understood, and it is critical to try and understand them, and in particular to understand their relationship to factual truth.

The thing you must grasp about a denier is that they don't care one whit about factual truth. It has no purchase with them. They exist in a world of emotion and spiritualism, in which the group and the cause are all.

They are not ideologues. They are not even fanatics. Fanatics believe in things, and will sacrifice to live out those beliefs. Deniers do not sacrifice, because sacrifice doesn't feel good, and feeling good -- feeling egosyntonic, not egodystonic -- is all.

Deniers are bullies and sycophants, and everything they say and everything they do refers back to that. They talk, and think, and reason in ways that are about tribal allegiance, in-group posturing. That is the only truth they care about -- the truth of "us" and "them."

To decent people, their behavior is baffling. They assert blatant lies, which they will defend passionately, but then suddenly abandon, sneering at the fools that treated those lies as important. Others, less creative but equally performers, will profess to believe those lies, even though in reality if you required them to stake their lives or even a hundred bucks on the factual truth of, say, the notion that the world is cooler than it was in the middle ages or that Mexico will pay tens of billions of dollars to build us a wall, they would never in a million years lay money down.

You may wonder why they lie, if on some level they know they are lying. The answer is that they perform belief in the same way the Japanese would draw and release empty bows, believing the noise drove away menacing spirits. As long as they see themselves as Good and the other as Evil whatever they say that embarrasses, frustrates, distracts, or stymies their Evil opponents (intellectuals, leftists, people of color, foreigners, Jews) serves the cause of Good.

The denier's sense of truth is emotional. What feels good to him is true. What feels bad to him, what provokes guilt or embarrassment, is an evil lie, probably put there by a Jew.

The denier's sense of the world is fundamentally childish, in the way that children identify authority with reality (everything is my parents' fault.) Atavistic, the denier regards facts as an emanation of power, as an expression of his evil enemies' agency. For the denier this is a moral struggle, a conflict between good and evil, and what we term the physical reality must ultimately reflect their wishes, because they are good and God is good. God would never permit the greens, socialists, atheists, women or Jews to be right. Therefore they are not right, whatever the evidence may be in this specific case.

The existence of a cold uncaring universe which will unfold implacably according to its own arbitrary laws, regardless of what we think or believe, is abhorrent to the denier, if he can grasp it at all. Clinging to a religious mindset (the world is divided between the saved and the damned; the saved know the truth and the damned are deceived; the true struggle is the moral struggle of the True Believers to save the world) they pursue religious solutions, professing their "truth," banishing doubt with faith, and seeking out the corrupters who lead honest folks away from the truth.

It follows that the denier is supremely unprepared for victory. While the denier is in rebellion, factual truth is seen as an aspect of the oppressor's authority. By denying reality the denier fights the oppressor. Once he must deliver results requiring navigation of reality that narrative no longer functions.

His reaction to this breakdown, predictably, will be one of denial -- denial, in this case, of his own power and agency.

You may expect him to double down on stories of invisible enemies, of malignant forces which somehow still threaten the Good, despite its apparent victory over all of its rivals. Nothing will be built up, nothing will be reformed or improved, because the denier is fundamentally not creative or inventive, but rather self-absorbed and petulant. As his failures mount, scapegoating -- always a key feature of deniers relationship to the world -- will become more aggressive. The denier's search for new enemies can become a lethal delusion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

One way the world could end

It's now evident that Trump will staff the white house with belligerent incompetents, much like himself. We must now seriously contemplate, without hysteria or hyperbole, how bad things could get. Answer: pretty bad. Here's just one way it could unfold:

1. Trump's undisciplined talk on NATO persuades Putin that he can pull a Crimea with the Baltic states.

2. Trump, not strong-willed or stable at the best of times, is humiliated by this and the screaming taunts of his own party and national security apparatus that he is helpless in the face of Russian aggression.

3. The US intervenes in the Baltics, which rapid escalates into an undeclared conventional war.

4. One side or the other becomes convinced the enemy has or is about to launch a nuclear strike.

5. That side launches a nuclear attack, which is quickly reciprocated by the other.

6. The world as we know it ends.

At this point, I'm tempted to revisit the topic of the people who voted for Trump, the people who voted for a third party, or (by far the most numerous group) who didn't vote at all. But I realize that while I could happily spend the next however many years screaming YOU DID THIS, YOU ASSHOLES! YOU OWN THIS DISASTER, YOU HUMAN EQUIVALENTS OF A FRESH DOGSHIT AND HOT GARBAGE CASSEROLE! YOU BUILT THAT! such an approach is not likely to be particularly fruitful in terms of where we go from here. Just be advised that I am always, always thinking it.