Motes and beams

The Oz and Andrew Bolt have a tag team attack on me today (Google it if you want). Most of it consists of quotations, with lots of ellipses, that are meant to show me as a dangerous radical. I can’t say I’m too upset by that – from their perspective, it’s a fair assessment. But Bolt also repeats his claim that I made a factor-of-5 error in my estimate of the impact of Australia’s current 2020 target on global temperatures.

This is a striking piece of chutzpah, given that this estimate was made in the process of correcting a calculation by Bolt, which was out by two orders of magnitude. But it has finally provoked me to clear up some of the confusion on this. The starting point was this post by Bolt who used a calculation by Damon Matthews that each tonne of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere changes the equilibrium temperature by 0.000 000 000 0015 degrees, that is 1.5*10^-12 in scientific notation. Noting that the carbon price is expected to reduce emissions by 160 million tonnes per year by 2020, Bolt made the calculation that the emissions avoided in the year 2020 will reduce equilibrium temperature by 2.4*10^-4 or 0.00024 degrees, and treats this as an estimate of the impact of the policy.

This is an amazing howler on Bolt’s part. He’s only counted one year of emissions reductions for a policy that is supposed to permanently reduce emissions. I made the very quick calculation that, if the policy stays in place until 2100 and that the 2020 reduction in emissions was maintained over this period, the number used by Bolt would imply a reduction of 0.02 degrees. I did another rough calculation that came out the same way.

Bolt came back with a lower estimate by Roger Jones, who suggest that the policy would reduce temperature by only 0.004 degrees, lower by a factor of 5 than my estimate, but higher by a factor of 20 than Bolt’s silly calculation.

At this point I slipped up. As a result of a misunderstood conversation with Roger, I gave an incorrect explanation for the discrepancy. Roger subsequently advised that he had made his calculation using a standard modelling tool called MAGICC. I finally got around to downloading MAGICC, and trying it out, so I can now give an explanation for why our estimates differ. There are three main points

(1) The most important factor is that we are estimating two different things. MAGICC produces estimates of the temperature change by 2100, but the atmosphere takes a long time to reach equilibrium. For reductions in CO2 emissions spread out over the rest of this century, the change by 2100 is only about half the long run equilibrium change.

(2) Estimates of the sensitivity of the global climate to changes in CO2 concentrations vary. The most common measure is the equilibrium temperature change for a doubling in atmospheric CO2. Until recently MAGICC used 2.6 degrees as the default, on the low side of most estimates. I used 3.5, which gives a value around 30 per cent higher

(3) Finally, while it’s obviously silly to assume, like Bolt, that the policy is in effect for only one year, it’s not entirely clear how we should project its impact into the future. That depends on baseline projections of emissions from which to calculate percentage reductions. My simple estimate takes a constant reduction over 80 years, which is probably a bit on the high side. If you assumed that emissions were going to decline anyway over the second half of this century, the effect of the policy would be reduced, perhaps by half.

Those three factors, taken together, would account for the discrepancy in the two estimates. I don’t claim that I’ve got them exactly right and there may be points I’ve missed. But for someone like Bolt to pontificate on a subject like this, when he is incapable of avoiding or correcting even the most absurd errors, brings to mind Matthew 7:3-5.

A couple of minor points

First, Bolt’s behavior in crowing about a minor mistake on my part, while ignoring his own total absurdity, is par for the course among delusionists. A while back, there was a major scandal (it even got a “Gate”) over the fact that the thousand-page IPCC volume on the impact of climate change included an erroneous claim about Himalayan glaciers. But delusionists get away with far sillier stuff on a daily basis. For example, Christopher Monckton, until recently Bolt’s favorite source of scientific evidence[1] used Gavin Menzies 1421 to argue that the retreat of polar icecaps was nothing new, since the great Chinese fleet had taken the Arctic route on the return journey from discovering America.

Second, as Cut and Paste notes, I said when I took up the Climate Commission position that I’d try to refrain from polemics with people like Bolt. I haven’t stuck to that as well as I might have, and now I think it’s totally pointless. So, from now on, I plan to give as good as I get and, if possible, a bit more.

fn1. He was, after all, Thatcher’s science adviser, if only in bizarro world.

41 thoughts on “Motes and beams

  1. John

    Matthew 7:3-5 is apposite, but Matthew 7:6 even more so on the futility of debating the likes of Bolt.

    Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast
    ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them
    under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

  2. Every time you write anything on the chimera of climate change, be sure to mention what a good tax payer funded earn, your considered opinion brings you.
    PS ever made a dollar that was not off the back of hardworking Mums and Dads taxes?

  3. Kris – care to volunteer to put your finger in front of a CO2 laser? It works on the same principle that dams heat in the atmosphere – which you assert the molecular excitation and shortwave radiation relationship can’t exist because tax.

    This could be so easy to settle, how about it?

  4. Re 3: What has the issue of being paid for the Government got to do with discussion of climate change. This sort of argument invites the riposte that spokespersons against climate change are benefitting from payments by the coal and gas industry. The she benefits, he benefits exchange gets us nowhere – the issue is what does the evidence say? Climate change is here, its happening and we need to deal with that reality.

  5. PS ever made a dollar that was not off the back of hardworking Mums and Dads taxes?

    Gotta hate all those useless parasites making a dollar off the backs of hard working mums and dads (but not hard working childless folk apparently).

    You know, like service personnel, teachers, paramedics, fire fighters, police, public servants (you know, the ones who manage to process those emergency payments to people affected by natural disasters). Oh, and especially those CSIRO scientists, bludging off us mums and dads while making up fake science to get grants (whilst simultaneously generating billions in revenue off the backs of patents they’ve developed).

    I totally hate all those guys.

  6. Yes, but addressing climate change has ramifications for the industry lobby, anything which impacts on the industry lobby is an attack on capitalism, attacking capitalism is communist, and government is communist by default. Therefore any agency or individual which receives any amount of public money in any way is a committed Bolshevik who will only lie.

  7. Tim,this tax funded fellow JohnQ, who I just now heard of, disparages Mums and Dads who pay tax in a recent post of his You have to give the devil his due and take him at his words. After all to quote scripture in his vain, ‘you shall know them by their words’

  8. There is something epic about this tale; Jason was required to plough a field and sow it with dragons teeth from which sprang an army that he had to defeat. An impossible task by any measure until Jason threw a jewel into the midst of the soldiers, who then slaughtered each other leaving Jason to walk free.

  9. As a hard-working Dad, I’m pretty put out that so many of my tax dollars that went into Kris’s education seem to have been completely wasted. Pay it back Kris! 😉

  10. @Kris
    “Tim,this tax funded fellow JohnQ, who I just now heard of…”

    If Kris was bona fide, and a thinking person, he would be tolerated, if not respected, on this blog whatever his views. However, by posting this garbage, I suggest to everyone else that he needs to earn the right to be heard, and should be ignored until he changes his attitude. He shouldn’t be encouraged with a response.

  11. But it has finally provoked me to clear up some of the confusion on this.

    A noble effort but I suspect the “he said she said” style saga will be like some hill billy feud where at some future date nobody really recalls who fired first. The mutual animosity just cuts too deep.

    In defence of John Quiggin the account of events he has given above is roughly similar to the one given by John Humphreys shorty after the event. Including the criticism of Andrew Bolt’s original numbers.

    So whilst I’m generally in Bolts corner on many of the issues that he champions, I think the actual sequence of the debate as given above by John Quiggin is pretty much accurate.

    In summary I think Andrew has over reached by making a criticism of character in relation to admitting errors. John Quiggin can be stubborn but when he is clearly wrong on the facts (as opposed to wrong in his conclusions about the facts) he is pretty open to admitting it. As for ideology we all know that John Quiggin leans way to the left and if I was PM or a minister I’d never, ever give him any job of significant policy influence. But that said it is hardly surprising that birds of a feather flock together.

  12. As for ideology we all know that John Quiggin leans way to the left and if I was PM or a minister I’d never, ever give him any job of significant policy influence.

    It’s interesting that you bring ideology into an argument over scientific data.

    Terje, why do you think it is that out of tens of thousands of scientific discoveries and theories in the last few centuries, the only ones that cause outbreaks of anger and denial confined almost exclusively to the political right are evolution and climate change?

  13. Your right Kevin1,
    even if my voice is heard, it should be ruled out and said ‘ not to have been heard’ That is today’s tax payer funded leftist debate standard and all I can do is embrace it

  14. Its a trap to argue about the specific numerical affect of national emissions reductions on global temperature and seems to be the intent of these denialist claims so that whatever the actual number it will still seem insignificant. Focusing on national contributions of such a tiny amount creates the justification for business as usual. It would be an error to believe that the argument will be won by facts alone, most people are not moved by reason but the denialist audience are particularly hostile to reality that conflicts with their core beliefs and realistically most will never change their opinion. Perhaps a more productive approach would be to view this issue in terms of national interest and morality. Emissions reductions are inevitable, one way or another, and given Australia’s high per capita emissions we need to start sooner than most, and doing so now while we can, should reduce the long-term costs. Arguing that we should not begin to reduce our emissions until other countries do is of course often disingenuous but from a moral perspective calling for other nations to enact policies has no moral virtue because we have no effect on other nations policy whereas we have the possibility of actually changing our own government’s policies. The organised denialists are courtiers to power and with time will fade into moral insignificance.

  15. It’s interesting that you bring ideology into an argument over scientific data.

    I didn’t. Andrew Bolt did. I merely responded. But perhaps you didn’t bother to read the Andrew Bolt article than John Quiggin reacted to. In which case you wouldn’t have this context. Which is hardly my fault. In fact it’s kind of your fault.

  16. @TerjeP
    Merely responded by taking a swing at Quiggin for leaning left. Hardly your fault. I imagine you fell on the keyboard and it just came out like that.

    I’m much more interested in your thoughts on why it’s only evolution and climate change that gets the right all worked up about science.

  17. Man, some threads for some reason really bring out the blowhard babbling bumper-sticker soundbites of the right wing. It’s very difficult to have a meaningful debate when they start with the whole “Sigh, us poor oppressed marginalised conservatives” bit.

    Mum and dad taxpayers, ZZZZZZ.

    The right-wing list of approved professions that add value to society (FYI – professor isn’t on the list), ZZZZ.

    Claims of being shut down by the authoritarian left, ZZZZ.

  18. It’s sad. We have a sufficient sample of Kris to conclude that he (I assume) is

    (a) A lot smarter than Gina Rinehart
    (b) A lot dumber than the average reader or commenter at this blog

    Gina can rely on (b) to mobilise political support for keeping her in the manner to which she is accustomed.

  19. I’d try to refrain from polemics with people like Bolt. I haven’t stuck to that as well as I might have, and now I think it’s totally pointless. So, from now on, I plan to give as good as I get and, if possible, a bit more.

    Good move – all power to you!

    First step is NEVER link to any Murdoch rubbish. Cut and paste the necessary text, only an idiot is incapable of finding the offensive/offending piece if they really wish to give his phone-hacking-scum enterprise “clicks”.

    Murdoch never links to other sites unless he is dispatching his winged monkeys to defecate all over them.

  20. @John Quiggin
    Has there ever been a prior example of a major shareholder suing their company for supporting an activity performed by an employee in accordance with the official company goals?

  21. @John Quiggin
    Not sure. I often wonder if those throwaway ad hom posts are from people who can be smarter, but are more interested in disrupting a discussion than adding to it.

  22. Kris asks: “ever made a dollar that was not off the back of hardworking Mums and Dads taxes?”

    Kris, you are asking this question on the wrong media site. You should ask this question of Bolt’s accountant and Bolt’s ultimate boss’ accountant and your own accountant, assuming you have one. Enron’s accountants, the proverbial Wall Street bankers’ accountants, Obeid’s accountants ………….. are other relevant addresses.

  23. “ever made a dollar that was not off the back of hardworking Mums and Dads taxes?”

    Actually Kris, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve made more private sector dollars than you have. I’m a well-selling author (last book translated into 8 languages), columnist, investor, consultant etc. If you want to play BSD, send me your last tax return and I’ll compare notes.

  24. Prof Q, there’s another problem with your maths… it is premised on the idea that the policy will actually reduce emissions by 160 million tonnes per year even though the modelling of it suggests that’s not the case. The modelling released with the carbon-price predicted that emissions in Australia would actually increase until at least 2026. It’s true that there might be millions of tonnes of “offsets” bought, but as these aren’t covered by a cap it’s pretty hard to say the result is a net-reduction in emissions. So although you’ve done the maths better than Bolt, and I agree with you on most things, his number might be closer to the ‘truth’ when all is melted and washed away…

  25. @alexiinbogota

    I can’t comment too much on this as the Climate Change Authority is undertaking some new modelling on these issues in the course of recommending caps and targets for 2020. But I agree these are serious concerns that need to be addressed.

  26. That 160 Mt emissions reduction assumes ‘business as usual’ which if I recall was 1.2% compound growth. Year 2000 emissions were 558 Mt so 5% of that is 28 Mt. In other words the real 2020 target is just 530 Mt which is about where I think we’re at now. In other other words bugger all.

  27. Thanks for so quickly working me out. You have me pegged right,my intelligence is not in the same league as those who gave us comments 1 and 4 on this thread.
    But obviously you have the wit to appreciate the depth of Adams and Garry’s contributions to this blog. It’s beyond me.
    Go Flash Go !!

  28. Kris, I don’t think you’ve added anything except to point out the bleeding obvious. John works at a university. Adam and Garry were expressing good-natured support. What’s to think about? You contributed a snide remark about someone you don’t know – based on what? IIRC, in the article you’re referring to, John was not disparaging “Mums and Dads” whatever the hell that could mean anyway, he was disparaging those who would falsely seek to use the phrase “Mum and Dad investors” to garner public support. It is not anyone here who is playing you for stupid – it is the newspapers columnists you choose to read.

  29. “It is not anyone here who is playing you for stupid – it is the newspapers columnists you choose to read.”
    Could not agree more Nick! And these columnist get published, according to the Limited News line up last night at the ABC, because freedom of speech allows anyone to sprout any lies or blatant commercial interests, because people pay for it and consume such ‘fast news’. Thus, the ‘Kris’stans’ in this world suffer the intellectual equivalent of obesity and are highly adviced to pay more attention to their extent and selection of media consumption, otherwise it may render their lifestyle and world they live in unsustainable.

  30. @TerjeP

    I suspect the “he said she said” style saga will be like some hill billy feud


    Take back what yer said about mah maw, yew gosh-durn, cotton-pickin’ Liburmah-tarian! And geddawf mah lay-und!

  31. Well the standard is still above that of Gerard Henderson against whomever (most recently, Mark Latham).

  32. Following a recent comment from Tim Flannery it has become pretty clear in my mind on how global warming will progress. Flannery pointed out that a key element in the process is the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. Spot on.

    So Global Warming at this stage does not appear in the form of day time temperature so much as it does in humidity. With the warming oceans humidity rises in the tropical band which extends further poleward. Tha humidity releases its energy and moisture content in the increased storm activity and at night. The temperature rise is most evident in the average night time temperature. The other dynamic, I believe, is in the rate of atmospheric circulation, ie evidenced in the Hadley Cell performance.

    The Polar ice is under attack in the Northern Hemisphere from intensified atmospheric activity largely, and in the South by intensified ocean current activity. Each affecting the weather in different ways, the common factor being an increased movement of colder water and air towards the equater to provide a seamingly contradictory array of weather events.

    I had to endure a tyrade from a Monktonite who claimed to have temperature records going back to the year dot, And I have no doubt that he did. But it was in pondering his claim that I realised the significance of Flannery’s comment. The increased energy in the atmosphere is in the form of humidity which does not necessarily affect the daytime temperature, but it does have a huge impact in the rarely mentioned night time temperature. Where it is most dramatically and visibly evident is in weather event intensity which even the most indolent of news feeds are recognising as being a significant change from the past, ………………. Bolt excepted.

    As they say in aviation, first and foremost concentrate on flying the plane, don’t be distracted by the blaring alarms. The Bolts, Joneses and Monktons are nuisance alarms announcing the presence of stupidity in the system. Turn them off.

  33. @BilB
    It’s a common fallacy that global warming must result in steadily higher atmospheric temperatures – disappointing that understanding of basic physics is so poor.

    Increased retained energy in the atmosphere causes increased oceanic evaporation, and is also expressed as more energetic weather – furthermore, laws of thermodynamics determine that energy must flow from hotter to cooler regions, ie, from equatorial towards polar, and this explains the apparent shift of seasonal weather patterns to higher latitudes experienced in both northern and southern hemispheres.

    We (warmists) have been understandably cautious about attributing local changes in weather to global warming, but maybe it’s time to be a little bolder, and to start pointing out changes which are consistent with warming. The southward shift of Qld’s monsoon is a good example.

  34. @Sancho
    ” Yobbo’s easy to mock, but he’s not actually a troll: he represents the quality of thought that underpins the IPA……He actually comes out to comment at blogs where the majority opinion is against him”

    Oh please – providing “quality of thought”? So far 10 entries on this thread, all throwaway lines delivered with contempt, like you hear shouted out in the front bar.

    And his bravery? Obvious answer is that some people just get their rocks off on verbal biffo, hence no attempt at a coherent argument.

    @John Foster
    My previous request for you to clarify apparent contradiction is withdrawn. I now see that you were quoting the Yobbo but didn’t include quote marks, so it appeared to be your own view. Apologies.

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