Friday, July 21, 2017

The joy of meh over California climate law

I've been following but not talking about the runup to California's recently re-enacted climate legislation, authorizing more action from now to 2030 and removing the legal uncertainty that existed in the previous law over cap-and-trade.

I didn't know what to say about the bill supported by the mainstream environmental groups as part of a deal with industry and Western States Petroleum Association, versus alternatives supported by harder-line enviros. People who knew more than me about what was going on seemed torn (although they eventually lined up one way or another) while people who knew less were very confident.

The good thing about it is that the choice in California was between striking a compromise that still ended up as probably the strongest legislation of any state, versus taking a risk on something stronger that might fall apart. That's not the choice on tap in most other states.

Everyone has biases. The mainstream environmental bias is to make deals, and the hardline bias is to reject deals. I'm pretty amazed that WSPA took the deal - it's going to be hard for them to argue in other blue states in the West that they should accept nothing after having accepted this. That to me is an important gain.

Regardless, this is what we've got, and now executing on it is the important thing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Keeping Up With the Times Part I

So some pro-tohedgehog (hate to meet the amateur type) has a post on why people don't trust science, with a nice little Socratic dialog.  Only problem is that pro has not yet emerged from hibernation and things have changed or never were.  Let Eli playfully fisk this with instructions for the whiners

Imagine this hypothetical, but potentially very real, conversation with a non-academic:
1: “This research paper has been published, and therefore is scientifically valid.”
Well usually scientists say something like there is a huge number of papers out there on this point, and if they think that a publication is chancy will let you know but whatever
2: “But it’s paywalled, I can’t access it. How do I know it’s valid?”
There are a number of things a bunny could do.  In Climateball Speak do your due diligence.  First search for it on Google Scholar.  You can search under the name of the author or the title of the paper or whatever.  Then look to the far left hand corner.  Often there is a link to an on line open version

If that does not work, why then you click at the bottom on All xyz versions.  That usually only pops up links only to abstracts, but it sometimes brings up a copy of the paper.  For the example above there are two other links to pdf versions. That's another win.

If not send a nice Email to the corresponding author (usually shown by a superscript, something or other in the on line journal abstract which you find by clicking on the title of the paper) who will, in IPCC speak, very likely send you a copy.  If you are really old fashioned send a re-print card.   It will amuse them if they are as old as Eli, it will confuse them otherwise.  Win-win.

Don't start your Email by accusing the corresponding author of being in the pay of whomever you are venting on that day.  The text of the reprint card is not a bad place to start.

Go to the authors' (all of them, sequentially) web pages.  Authors often list their publications with links to open copies held locally, or to preprints of same.  Only takes a moment

Let's say this doesn't work.  Well you could go to a local university library and try and find the paper.  If it is more than a cup of coffee away, you should check the catalog to see if they have the journal and what you need to get access.  If you are nice they will IPCC level very likely let you in, you may have to show ID, and depending on the circumstance let you use their on line services as well as look in the stacks.  These days with smart phones you don't even have to buy a copy card.  There are, of course, local rules.  Eli has been using this method for years where he lives because his place did not have subscriptions to and he has a nice little deck of copy card.  Here is the policy at the University of Maryland College Park
Catalog Visitors can search the University Libraries catalog from on or off campus, regardless of one's affiliation with the university.

Databases On campus, anyone can access the databases without restriction. Off campus, only currently registered UMD students and currently employed faculty and staff can access the site-licensed databases.

Photocopying and Printing in the Libraries

Photocopying and printing are available for a fee. There are no coin-operated photocopiers or printers in the University Libraries, so visitors will need to purchase a Photocopy Card in order to copy/print. Ask at any library Information & Reference Service Desks for prices and information on obtaining a card. Library computers

Visitors are invited to use public library computers, but first must obtain a guest account. Please note that guest accounts are not compatible with Mac computers that boot only into Mac OS. Apply at any campus library Circulation Desk.

Photo ID is required. Acceptable forms of identification include driver's license, state-issued ID card, passport, military ID, school ID, or other institutional ID with photo and unique identifying number. Library computers are available to users on a first-come, first-served basis. 
Pay attention to local rules, by experience, UK university libraries are much more difficult to get access to but the British Library has an on demand service which delivers electronic copies for £5.35 each. 

You could go to your local town, city, state library and ask for an interlibrary loan or a photocopy, you could even pay the charge to rent or buy the paper (horrors).

But let us say that none of that works for you.  In a pinch, of course there is always sci-hub but as with Kodi add ons there are issues oh my there are issues and more issues.  In this sort of thing Dr. Ruth has good advice.

UPDATE:  Read the comments after reading the post.  The Ever Helpful Bunnies (You know who you are) have added a number of additional ways to get what you want. 

Finally a word about publication policies.  Granting agencies the world around have in the past decade required that publications their work sponsors be openly available, often after a six month to a year period.  Publishers have responded by charging different amounts for publications that are immediately open as opposed to those that are open after embargo.

Some publishers (even reputable ones) have gone to a completely open publication model with costs covered by either the authors or by the granting agencies or their institutions

So yes Virgina, if you can't get a copy of a published paper you are not trying very hard.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Rumination on Energy Costs

So Eli returns from vacation with a report from Ethon who has taken up Twitter on the economics of energy sources.  To put it simply, nuclear and hydro are very long term investments, efficiency, wind and solar are investments and fossil fuels are an addiction.

The first thing to understand is that each of these is subsidized.  The second is that proponents of each of these thinks all the others are subsidized and their favorite is not.  That's another post.

The cost of fossil fuels is pretty much the cost of the coal, oil and gas, although, of course, there are infrastructure costs, but a reasonable estimate (and Eli is the most reasonable bunny you could ever meet, as a colleague just wrote, reasonably insane perhaps, but reasonable nonetheless) .  To be more exact the cost of the fuel is about 70% of the total cost and a portion of the capital cost is the infrastructure to move the fossil fuel to its final resting place before it goes up in smoke (e.g. pipelines, railroads, ships, etc).

The competition, efficiency, nuclear, hydro, solar and wind are capital intensive.  For practical purposes, efficiency is 100% capital, an upfront cost.  At least in theory people weigh the cost of money vs. the money they save, and that depends on the interest rate.  That's theory.  As a practical matter people and businesses are very reluctant to invest even with payback periods of a year or two.

That explains the role of regulations and subsidies, to get people to do what they rationally should do but irrationally won't.  Good examples of this are, for example, power companies paying or subsidizing compact fluorescent bulbs so they didn't have to build more power plants, or building code insulation requirements, or fleet mileage, etc.  Each of these can be played but each of these has a rational effect.

Nuclear, hydro, wind solar are the opposite of fossil fuels with about 70% up front capital cost and 30% operating costs (close enough).

Nuclear to start, comes in large lumps and has a long time between when you issue the bonds to build, spend the money to build and the plant comes on line and starts trading electrons for cash to pay the bonds.  This can only be done by governments, or with guarantees from the government.  The most successful example is France, which took a political decision in the 1960s/70s to go nuclear for electrical generation and provided the resources to do so to EDF which is 85% government owned.

Big hydro is pretty much the same story with the add on that the lake behind the dam covers a lot of ground which requires eminent domain seizures.

So it is pretty clear that nuclear/hydro build out is best suited to places with strong, stable (gotta last more than a decade, let's not talk about the proliferation risk) and well funded central governments, China, France, Russia, maybe India.  The US could do it, but the  free market folk and the NIMBYs would never allow it. (Caveat:  Folk have been talking about small nukes for almost as long as fusion.  Eli is a show me bunny)

Wind and solar are distributed.  The generating facilities are small and inexpensive, Eli could even affords some rooftop solar, and even industrial strength wind and solar are cheap as compared to hydro and nuclear, well within the reach of your local source of electrons.  But, of course, the wind don't always blow and the sun is on a fixed schedule.

However, a big enough network can bring power from where the wind is blowing, the sun shining and there are work arounds like thermal/hydro storage.  Still, as the Bunny agreed in 2006

In a Science Policy Forum article entitled "A Road Map to US Decarbonization", (available in part in the Energy Bulletin) Reuel Shinnar and Francesco Citro point out that while nuclear is well suited to support baseload electricity generation, solar is ideal for handling peak demand, being most available, when most needed, during the hot days.
Moreover, we still have a decade or two where baseload could be handles by gas turbines which have spin up times under 30 minutes, and for those times when there is excess wind/solar, why free markets were made for bunnies who know an opportunity when they sniff it

oh yeah, Russell has a special on offer over at Real Climate

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Trump caught by his defamation of women he assaulted

Last fall I suggested both Trump and his campaign could and should be sued by the women he called "liars" when they accused him of assault. Trump also claimed he'd sue for defamation, that was just another lie of his.

So he has been sued, and is trying to wriggle out of it. We'll see what'll happen - the idea that defamation is legally-protected "hyperbole" won't go far, but the problem of suing in state court is a little more serious. The argument is that federal courts are supervised by the executive branch's co-equal, the Supreme Court, to prevent shenanigans while state courts are not. My understanding though is that it's usually not hard to find some reason to file a state law claim in federal court, so this is at most a delaying tactic.

Another issue is that only one woman has sued Trump so far out of the dozen or so he defamed (obviously suing a vindictive millionaire president is not an easy thing to do). A case would essentially come down to credibility - Trump has zero and could be torn apart in court, but you still need a significantly-more credible plaintiff. Playing the numbers game would help, but there's still time for others to bring their own suits.

I've got mixed feelings about the plaintiff lawyer being Gloria Allred. I consider it a strike against a lawyer to be one who hogs the limelight as opposed to lawyers who put the client in front while the lawyer concentrates on winning the case. OTOH, among Trump's many lies is that he doesn't settle suits - he settles them all the time. Allred as a great publicist could help make the downside for Trump sufficient that he settles. Again, we'll see what'll happen. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Hoisted by my own petard

This picture of nothing is what used to be my favorite and most-convenient gas station, just a week or so ago. I doubt it'll be replaced by a gas station.

I stand by an argument I made four years ago that EVs will do more than become more convenient as they gain market share - they will create a virtuous cycle of making gas vehicles less convenient because the market supporting the gas engine infrastructure, like gas stations, will shrink.

In my case, there's another gas station almost as convenient as this one, but it only takes debit cards that aren't convenient for me. Others are a little further away, but the point remains that the convenience is decreasing. Gas stations are disappearing around the country - maybe EVs have only played a marginal role in that so far, but I expect they'll play a bigger role in the future, and still the balance between gas and EVs keep shifting.

I think in many or most two-car households, having at least one car be an EV is more convenient than two gas vehicles - you choose the EV for as many trips as possible and charge it up when you park or at home, and waste less time going to gas stations. As 200-mile EV range and fast-charging become standard, and as gas stations keep disappearing, the relative convenience will keep moving towards EVs and the virtuous cycle will accelerate.

UPDATE:  some good comments, as usual.
  •  I agree that increased fuel economy has reduced gas demand and gas station numbers, and that in turn reduces the convenience of gas engines. By itself though it's not a virtuous cycle, except to the extent that gas mileage improves further. Absent further improvement, there should be a stabilized point where the number of stations balance with the new, lower demand.

  • I also agree that factors making land more valuable for uses other than gas stations are the primary motivators so far in reducing station numbers, particularly in dense urban cores. While extraneous, this also reduces gas engine convenience. Like increased gas mileage, it only reduces convenience up to a point as opposed to being a virtuous cycle.

  • Fernando's right that gas stations will (and have) reacted to find non-gas ways to boost sales. As they go further in that direction though, they'll have fewer pumps or no pumps, and the inconvenience will still increase. 

  • Gas engine repair and maintenance will also become less convenient - EVs need less maintenance and different equipment, so fewer mechanics will train on gas engines. Those repair bays will get replaced with expanded coffee shops and (possibly) electric charging stations.

  • While EVs have only a small impact so far on gas demand, they can affect what's happening right now based on people's expectations of the future. Take for example a family business that owns a dozen gas stations, with the parents nearing retirement and kids deciding whether to take over versus having a very different career. Those kids may well be concerned about what EVs will do to the business in 10-15 years (and should be) and tell the parents to sell instead. Anyone else thinking of a 10-year investment knows there's a risk that EVs will significantly hurt the resale value. These EV effects on gas stations are happening now.

  • Not an expert on this, but I'm guessing that ultimately there's not much long-term future for stand-alone EV charging stations replacing gas pumps, except on interstate highways. As EV range gets further and further above 200 miles, and as fast chargers become ubiquitous at work, shopping, and home, there just won't be a need except on highways where lots of people are traveling long distances.

  • And finally, the above is mostly predictive rather than policy-related, but if the virtuous cycle is real then it does have policy implications. Aggressive long-term EV targets are achievable and should be pursued because there's a virtuous cycle effect we have barely experienced yet that will make them work. Outright bans on gas engine sales like those proposed in the future for Norway and elsewhere will be politically feasible because the writing will be on the wall concerning EV superiority.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Team B, Red Teaming and Steve Koonin

The Trump administration has been pushing the idea of a "Red Team" to re-examine the EPAs endangerment finding.  As Eli has pointed out, this is not a Red Team effort but a Team B attempt.  Red teams bring in experts in the field who have not been involved in a specific report to critically evaluate it.  Team B was a group run by Richard Pipes to exaggerate Soviet capabilities in the mid-1970s in order to justify an arms build up by tearing down CIA analysis.  Team B brings in ideologues to write a report that conforms to the ideology of those who commission their work. 

Joshua Rovner, in his book, Facixing the Facts, National Security and the Politics of Intelligence"points out where the Pipes Team B exercise went

The actual intelligence picture was irrelevant.  Team B simply assumed that Moscow was actively seeking any technology that would allow it to gain a decisive strategic advantage
 And Team B's imagination was quite fertile 
The Team B exercise corrupted the estimative process in ways that were wholly predictable.  The theoretical benefits of competition were lost because the composition of Team B was lopsided, because the panel spent as much time criticizing the intelligence community as it did evaluating the Soviet threat, and because the outside group relied on open sources.  The administration was warned of these problems in advance but did not intervene to insulate the NIE process from political bias.  On the contrary, it allowed the exercise to proceed in order to satisfy domestic political imperatives.
 There is much more at the link detailing the disastrous errors in the Team B report but the worst outcome was Star Wars, as the following Reagan administration used it as justification for the Star Wars build out. 

So let the bunnies count the ways that this administration's EPA administrator will build out his Team B
  • The membership of Team B Climate will be lopsided
  • Team B will spend as much time criticizing the IPCC and National Academy reports as evaluating the threat from climate change
  • Team B will rely on open sources, lord help us, like Watts Up With That, Curry's Climate Etc.
Any bunny thinking not, well Eli has a few carrots to wager on each proposition.

History Commons has a long discussion of Team B's fantasies including
Lack of Facts Merely Proof of Soviets' Success - One example that comes up during the debate is B’s assertion that the USSR has a top-secret nonacoustic antisubmarine system. While the CIA analysts struggle to point out that absolutely no evidence of this system exists, B members conclude that not only does the USSR have such a system, it has probably “deployed some operation nonacoustic systems and will deploy more in the next few years.” The absence of evidence merely proves how secretive the Soviets are, they argue. 
Climateball players have seen this before, and indeed, the run up to the Iraq War featured exactly the same playbook (see History Commons).

Brad Plumer points to Joseph Majkut at the Niskanen Center wondering what could be wrong with such an exercise.   Now Brad is a reasonable guy and the Niskanen Center is reasonable as real conservatives can be, but when Eli points out that the pawn is poison Majkut replies
Koonin, of course, is the apparatchik who tried to hijack the APS's drafting of their statement on climate change which required, amongst other things, that wiser heads on the drafting committee step in and Koonin huffing off in full regalia.  Eli has written several brilliant posts on the entire farrago but there was one thing that he missed coming from early on in the process, February 2013, which shows what Koonin was up to
The type of statement APS should make – simple & declarative or one that incorporates many details – needs consideration. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is also due to report on climate change in 2013; using their review as a trigger for an in-depth look at the APS statement is appropriate.

Commentary: J. Trebes agreed that using the IPCC review as a trigger is appropriate. Using it as a scientific basis for our statement will mitigate scientific argument within the APS. S. Koonin cautioned that APS should create its own statement and make its own judgment, separate from the IPCC report.
And he tried, oh my how he tried.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Russia, China, and cyber acts of war

I've been dumbfounded by the willingness/denialism of Republicans and of parties in other democracies to be the manipulated tools of the hostile Russian government. Apparently, rabid nationalism can be turned on and off as circumstances warrant.

OTOH, until recently I've been moderately less-exercised about what the Russians had actually done. Hostile countries steal secrets, so that level of espionage is standard activity. They also selectively release stolen secrets, leavened with lies, to weaken their opponents, so there's nothing out of line in that Russian behavior. What's out of line is that it actually contributed to their preferred candidate's success in the US, with little political blowback during the election (or afterwards).

Maybe this specific kind of election interference should be considered worse than it is normally considered as espionage, but the limited reprisal Obama has appeared to authorize seemed appropriate.

One thing that is different is the more recent news that Russian tried to do more than steal information and spread lies, but appear to have made a serious effort to hack the election systems. What I've read is that was more of a recon than an actual attempt to change the results, but it is different from everything else they did.

Everything else is normal espionage that requires a normal level of retaliation. Hacking an election to stop the elected candidate from getting office is overthrowing the American government, and it's an act of war. I think it's equivalent to an assassination attempt. Maybe it's not overtly violent, but unless you're a pacifist, there are things that are equivalent or worse than violence, and overthrowing democracy is one of them.

An act of war doesn't require a declaration of war in response, it just requires a proportionate response. Hacking the medical records of senior Russian officials and changing their medical prescriptions strikes me as a proportionate response.

I don't know if that needs to be done now (and won't anyway given that the Russian candidate now runs our country) but should be the guide for the future, and communicated to Russians for purposes of deterrence.

The one other factor that I haven't seen discussed is how Russian and Chinese behavior seem so different. China is our real, long-term rival. Putin's incompetence has used up half of the time Russia has to transform itself before oil becomes useless, and there's zero likelihood he'll now start a transition. China, on the other hand, is not engaged in these kinds of political attacks on the US, and that's interesting from a foreign policy perspective.

Seems like China is treating us a potential future enemy - its massive hacking of our systems are designed to crash those systems if it needs to in the future. Russia is treating us as a current enemy. Different tactics, requiring different responses from us.