Dust research polishes climate models

Dust particles in the atmosphere range from about one ten-thousandth of a millimetre to five hundredths of a millimetre in diameter. The size of dust particles determines how they affect climate and weather, influencing the amount of solar energy in the global atmosphere as well as the formation of clouds and precipitation in more dust-prone regions. The NASA satellite image in this illustration shows a 1992 dust storm over the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia. Credit: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Dust particles in the atmosphere range from about one ten-thousandth of a millimetre to five hundredths of a millimetre in diameter. The size of dust particles determines how they affect climate and weather, influencing the amount of solar energy in the global atmosphere as well as the formation of clouds and precipitation in more dust-prone regions. The NASA satellite image in this illustration shows a 1992 dust storm over the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia. Credit: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Dust particles in the atmosphere contribute greatly to the uncertainties remaining in today’s climate models, but principles seen in breaking glass can further reduce those uncertainties. That’s according to Jasper Kok at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado, who says that these principles can accurately predict atmospheric dust particles’ size.

Some dust particles reflect solar energy and cool the planet, while others trap energy as heat, depending on their size and other characteristics. How glass breaks is an important comparison because Kok studied mineral dust particles, which are usually emitted by wind-blown sand shattering dirt and sending fragments into the air. Kok suspected that this process, known as “sandblasting”, would cause fractures to develop in the same way that they do in other brittle materials. Regardless of their size, when such brittle materials fracture they all produce fragments with similar size ranges – and Kok found that this also held true in sandblasting. “As small as they are, conglomerates of dust particles in soils behave the same way on impact as a glass dropped on a kitchen floor,” Kok said. “Knowing this pattern can help us put together a clearer picture of what our future climate will look like.”

The smallest “clay” particles are below two-thousandths of a millimetre in diameter and remain in the atmosphere for about a week. In that time, they circle much of the globe and cool it by reflecting heat from the Sun back into space. Larger “silt” particles tend to have a heating effect on the atmosphere, but fall out after a few days. Kok notes that different global circulation models (GCMs) used to predict weather and climate change estimate that cooling clay is one-tenth to four-tenths of the total amount of dust emitted. Using both a theoretical analysis based on how brittle materials like glass shatter and measurements of actual dust particle sizes, Kok points out that the range is more like three-hundredths to five-hundredths.

This could mean that current models over-estimate the cooling effect of dust, Kok wrote in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America paper published online on Tuesday ahead of print. However most GCMs are tuned to match measurements of the overall energy flow, or radiative forcing, caused by dust in the atmosphere. Clay particles play the most important role in these measurements, so the fact that Kok finds that they are a lower proportion of all dust is likely due to greater silt emissions.

He says that this means that there is much more movement, or flux, of dust emissions to and deposition from the atmosphere than previously thought.It is more plausible that GCMs substantially underestimate the global dust emission rate,” Kok writes. “This result implies that the deposition flux of dust may be substantially larger than previously thought.” Silt particles are mainly found in the atmosphere within about 1,000 miles of desert regions.  Adjusting their quantity in computer models should therefore generate better projections of future climate in desert regions, such as the southwestern United States and northern Africa.

11 Responses to “Dust research polishes climate models”

  1. rogerthesurf Says:

    I think that we are in the grip of the biggest and most insane hoax in history, and unless the public get wise to it soon, we will all be parted from what wealth we have.

    Lets take a simple economic view of what is likely to happen.

    In the absence of sufficient alternative solutions/technologies, the only way western countries can ever attain the IPCC demands of CO2 emissions reduced to 40% below 1990 levels, (thats about 60% below todays) is to machine restrictions on the use of fossil fuels. Emission Trading schemes are an example.

    As the use of fossil fuels is roughly linear with anthropogenic CO2 emissions, to attain a 60% reduction of emissions , means about the same proportion of reduction of fossil fuel usage, including petrol, diesel, heating oil, not to mention coal and other types including propane etc.

    No matter how a restriction on the use of these is implemented, even a 10% decrease will make the price of petrol go sky high. In otherwords, (and petrol is just one example) we can expect, if the IPCC has its way, a price rise on petrol of greater than 500%.
    First of all, for all normal people, this will make the family car impossible to use. Worse than that though, the transport industry will also have to deal with this as well and they will need to pass the cost on to the consumer. Simple things like food will get prohibitively expensive. Manufacturers who need fossil energy to produce will either pass the cost on to the consumer or go out of business. If you live further than walking distance from work, you will be in trouble.
    All this leads to an economic crash of terrible proportions as unemployment rises and poverty spreads.
    I believe that this will be the effect of bowing to the IPCC and the AGW lobby. AND as AGW is a hoax it will be all in vain. The world will continue to do what it has always done while normal people starve and others at the top (including energy/oil companies and emission traders) will enjoy the high prices.

    Neither this scenario nor any analysis of the cost of CO2 emission reductions is included in IPCC literature, and the Stern report which claims economic expansion is simply not obeying economic logic as it is known in todays academic world.

    The fact that the emission reduction cost issue is not discussed, leads me to believe that there is a deliberate cover up of this issue. Fairly obviously the possibility of starvation will hardly appeal to the masses.

    AGW is baloney anyway!




    • andyextance Says:

      Firstly – could you please provide some links to back up your comments about what the IPCC wants and what kind of effect that will have on petrol rises?

      Secondly – what aspect of AGW is a hoax? The proven fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas (http://wp.me/pLahN-iR)? The measured temperature rises (http://wp.me/pLahN-cf)? The observed impacts on the environment (http://wp.me/pLahN-pn)? Or do you just mean humanity’s responsibility for the temperature rises, caused by burning fossil fuels and producing CO2 in the process? If it’s the latter, I find the graph suggested by Jessica Blois (http://wp.me/pLahN-8D) a real eye-opener. Not only does it show the close link between temperature and CO2, it shows the dramatic recent rise in CO2 levels that burning fossil fuels has caused. On this one you’re welcome to your opinion – but the facts themselves tell a strong story that’s hard to argue with.

      Thirdly – petrol prices will rise anyway. If you look at the Energy Outlook 2010 (http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/docs/weo2010/factsheets.pdf) produced by the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation that reports to 28 countries, it says that oil production peaked in 2006, while demand will grow 18% between here and 2035. That kind of situation can only bring price rises. At any rate, oil is not not the only option for fuelling transport. While there remain technical improvements to be made, electric cars are a commercial product. Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson and University of California, Davis’s Mark Delucchi have shown that a world powered just on wind, water and solar power where cars either use electric batteries or hydrogen fuel cells for propulsion is feasible by 2030 (http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf, http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/WWSEnergyPolicyPtI.pdf, and http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/WWSEnergyPolicyPtII.pdf).

      Fourthly – Transportation does contribute a quarter to a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (https://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/turbo-charged-changes-create-climate-roadkill/) , but that leaves 75-80% of the rest of the emissions to be tackled without necessarily having an impact on the family car. Furthermore, another point that Jacobson makes is that while we do need to cut CO2 emissions, there is a quicker way to slow global warming – by cutting soot emissions (http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/july/soot-emissions-ice-072810.html). While that can be done by cutting back the burning of solid fuels, making vehicles cleaner would be another way to do it.

      Finally – although I could make many more points – I think the costs of tackling climate change are well discussed in the Stern Report (http://wp.me/pLahN-pI). I don’t claim to be an expert here – perhaps you are? – but as Nicholas Stern was the Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank from 2000 to 2003, I think he’s got better credentials than any of us for that job. It’s interesting that Stern gets criticism from all sides – from those who do credit humanity’s responsibility for climate change as well as those who don’t . From that viewpoint it seems to me that he’s probably not too far off the mark if there are people on both sides who would prefer him to change his conclusions to fit with their outlook.

    • andyextance Says:

      In addition, to demonstrate how the cost of reducing emissions is discussed quite openly, last year the EU said that cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by one-fifth from 1990 levels would cost 0.32% of its GDP (http://wp.me/pLahN-7W).

  2. rogerthesurf Says:


    Thanks for your reply and I do appreciate that you have put some considerable time and thought into your comments.

    Here is a link showing the IPCC demands re CO2 emission reductions. http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/ch13-ens13-3-3-3.html
    The only countries that will have “welfare gains” will be the recipients of the proposed wealth transfers. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/awglca13/eng/crp02.pdf (pg 16)

    My background is in economics and the scenario of the price rise of fossil fuels, in particular petrol (which is used only as an example, but will include heating oil, natural gas, diesel and any other fossil fuel), is simply applying simple standard economic rules to a commodity which is well known to have an inelastic demand. http://www.investopedia.com/university/economics/economics4.asp

    Thanks for the links to Simple Climate.

    There is no doubt that there has been some change in the climate in the last 100 years, which is not surprising as the world has a history of warming and cooling, a number of those incidents have actually been recorded in historical times and also appear in proxy records.However if one wishes to look more closely into the “evidence”, all there is are some debateable correlations.

    Even if the correlation between CO2 and the current warming was absolutely certain, as I learnt in my freshman statistics class at university, correlations are never proof of anything.

    In other words there is absolutely no evidence empirical or otherwise to support the “anthropogenic CO2 causes Global Warming” hypothesis.

    The fact that the world has been warmer than the present in historical times is a disproof of the above hypothesis.
    It is this fact which is causing the dissention between scientists.

    My blog at http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com may be of some assistance for you, and be sure to visit the relevant links which are listed on the right hand side of the page.
    Bearing in mind that the last 20 years or so has not produced proof of this causation link, many now believe that the hypothesis is now disproven.

    Yes it is true that petrol prices (and all fossil fuel prices) will rise in time, for exactly the same reason as I described in my comment. Only difference is that one shortage will be precipitated by governments who will create an artificial shortage (if they have their way) and the other will be because of physical shortage of supply.

    The difference is that the second will take place over a still relatively long period of time, whereas the IPCC would like theirs to happen ASAP.

    Both shortages will cause hardship, but in the second scenario, as the price of fossil fuels rise steadily and predictably, the human population will be able to adjust, not in the least because as prices rise, other technologies will become viable and there will be no need for recession causing/accelerating government(taxpayer) intervention.

    Sorry to contradict “At any rate, oil is not not the only option for fuelling transport.” but all electric and hydrogen cars do is move the CO2 emissions from the exhaust pipe to the smoke stack.

    There is some doubt that wind energy is feasible in the short run, and both wind and solar power will always be unreliable because the wind does not blow all the time and neither does the sun shine all the time.

    Practically they can only be supplements for hydro power however which has limited expansion potential in most countries.

    Nuclear energy has some potential, but I cannot see you mentioning that anywhere.

    The emission of particulates such as soot that you mention would be in my opinion good for the atmosphere as I would classify that as real pollution, but the IPCC only talks about CO2.

    BTW I think Jacobson may have an uphill battle with his hypothesis as in my experience particulates are blamed for cooling the atmosphere. Also using a climate model will never give proper empirical evidence for anything.
    Also take note of who is funding his research.

    I think the family car (which I used as an example only) is the least of our worries. The cost of essentials such as food, housing, clothing and heating which all rely on fossil fuels are a far more serious issue.

    You may have picked up from my previous comment that I believe that AGW also benefits suppliers of fossil fuels. Especially oil.

    I’m not surprised Stern received a lot of criticism for his report. It simply is contrary to all known economic logic. I have read most of it and frankly it is one of the reasons for my interest in this side of the AGW debate.
    It also, in my mind, casts doubt on all AGW related literature coming from official sources.

    For this reason I believe it is essential that every man and woman be encouraged to view the relevant facts and not trust politicians to act for them in this matter.

    The fact that the IPCC omits any meaningful discussion on this is further concerning. The IPCC does discuss mitigation of Global Warming but this is not dealing with the cost of lowering emissions but with the cost of coping with rising sea levels and offsets etc which is another issue.

    Well the EU’s estimate is better than Sterns claim that GDP will basically be boosted, however I encourage people to think for themselves of what the effect of a serious rise in the cost of fossil fuels will do to the economy in their country or city. 

    If you wish to read about good solid economic theory and practice I recommend Milton Friedman’s book “Free To Choose” available from Penguin Books.

    What is most important, I believe, is that every individual should make up his or her mind about Global Warming based on the facts that they can glean.
    It is not neccesary to be a climate scientist to be able to evaluate the validity of the “anthropogenic CO2 causes Global Warming” hypothesis and I think my blog helps in that respect.

    What is certain to me though is, considering the fearful cost of meeting IPCC co2 emission reductions, a very good standard of proof is needed before we destroy ourselves in trying to save the planet.



    • andyextance Says:

      It’s interesting to note that one of your blogs is called “Dare I Call These People Alarmists” – I would argue that perhaps you are being alarmist with the economic scenario you paint. As you rightly point out, Stern does say that there are likely to be some benefits to moving away from fossil fuels. In particular, isn’t it simple economics to say, if fossil fuel costs rise, then renewable energy becomes more attractive? I would argue that because fossil fuels are limited, and energy demand is set to increase rapidly, there is significant motivation for investing in renewable energy from an economic standpoint alone. The investments that countries like the US are making into renewable energy therefore make sense in terms of taking pole position in this market. You just have to look at the likes of First Solar (http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/echarts?s=FSLR#symbol=fslr;range=5y;compare=;indicator=volume;charttype=area;crosshair=on;ohlcvalues=0;logscale=off;source=😉 to see how much of a success story these companies can be. When you look at recent suggestions that coal supplies may be more limited than previously thought (http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-11-cheap-coal-closer-thought.html), as well as the IEA’s outlook for oil, there is more than just a climate change argument for investing in renewable energy.

      Jacobson’s papers show how wind, water and solar alone can be used to provide power around the clock (end of page 63 in this link: http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf). I recently interviewed him and he conceded that it would be necessary to use other sources like nuclear about 0.1% of the time. I admit I’m a big fan of his at the moment: but in terms of looking where his funding comes from, the papers I cite above say quite clearly that they were “not funded by any interest group, company, or government agency”.

      Historically countries have always used differing amounts of fossil fuels in their energy mix. France is a coal-poor country – meaning that during the industrial revolution it relied more on manpower than many other countries. Today, 80% of its power comes from nuclear (which I agree the world should include in its energy mix), which suggests that delivering power using non-fossil fuel energy sources can readily be done without us destroying ourselves. If this were done, electric and fuel-cell cars would truly be clean transport options.

      A classic economic argument is to say that humans can adapt to any circumstance. While some researchers suggest that there are physical limits to what we can adapt to in terms of temperature (http://wp.me/pLahN-6J), could the same argument not be used to say that humans can adapt to a world where they cannot use fossil fuels in quite such a carefree manner?

      I freely admit that I started this blog from a personal viewpoint that humans are causing global warming, although that did waver after I started, because there are many questions to answer about climate change. However, when I began talking to the climate scientists themselves it became clear that there is very little “dissention” between them about the fact that humans are causing climate change (see http://wp.me/pLahN-9W and http://wp.me/pLahN-rg). They do differ over the details, but actually they are all pretty clear on the fact that there IS empirical evidence showing that human-emitted CO2 is causing global warming. Let’s start with CO2’s behaviour as a greenhouse gas, which was first noted by Arrhenius in 1896 (http://onramp.nsdl.org/eserv/onramp:17357/n4.Arrhenius1896.pdf). That’s pretty empirical. The graph in Blois’ entry (http://wp.me/pLahN-8D) shows that greenhouse gases are rising and the World Meteorological Organisation (http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_903_en.html) says that this is largely down to human activity. If an increased greenhouse effect is causing global warming, we should see certain patterns in the warming, like the planet warming faster at night than during the day, which is what’s happening (http://www.met.sjsu.edu/~wittaya/journals/diurnalTempRange.pdf, http://www.knmi.nl/publications/showAbstract.php?id=706). NASA recently did some modelling to add further evidence to this case (http://wp.me/pLahN-iR). Yes, CO2 levels have been naturally higher in the past, and have caused higher temperatures, but the current feeling is that one of the most dramatic periods of CO2 release (http://wp.me/pLahN-kQ) was caused by an ocean disappearing as the Himalayas were formed. Has there been anything like this that has happened during the sharp rise in atmospheric CO2 since the 1750s – other than the industrial revolution? To adopt your language: “Bearing in mind that the last 20 years or so has not produced proof of where else this warming may have come from, many now believe that the hypothesis that it is not caused by human activity is now disproven.”

      Those scientists that are dissenting are typically economists, like yourself, weathermen (http://wp.me/pLahN-iu) and physicists working outside of climate modelling. As Steven Sherwood points out (http://wp.me/pLahN-7d), it seems strange to think that anyone knows climate change better than the climate scientists whose job it is to study these things, and who therefore spend most of their lives thinking about it. If any of these guys could disprove human-caused global warming they would become famous, and get loads of money. And, as Georg Feulner points out (http://wp.me/pLahN-4h) most of them would prefer to be proved wrong and find that climate change is actually harmless. Is it really suitable to use freshman statistics to argue against professors with decades of full-time experience, who would stand to benefit if they changed their mind and who would find it easier to take if they were wrong?

      As a brief aside on particulates, sulfur particulates are typically cooling, while black carbon is warming. They come from different sources, but Jacobson feels the confusion is preventing action. I’ve got an article on that coming out soon.

      I agree with you that people should make up their own minds – but it’s important to remember that while you’re entitled to your own opinions, you can’t change the facts.

      • rogerthesurf Says:


        Thanks once again for your reply,

        As I mentioned, I have a background in economics.

        Having said that, I dont think deserve the title alarmist seeing as I am not predicting the end of the world, only pointing out the likely consequences of some proposed actions.

        As you know, I have read Stern’s report. Frankly, and I dont care about his background, it does not make sense in any economic terms that I am aware of, and I am not the only one to think so. For instance http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv29n4/v29n4-5.pdf

        It is true that there is a limited fossil fuel supply and over time scarcity must make the price rise and if we wish to retain our mode of civilisation we need to find some way of coping with this. However, TIME is the key word.

        There are various estimates of the time left until fossil fuels run out, and I take a fairly jaundiced view of the estimates having been through two “oil shocks” in the ”70’s and ’80’s where we were told that it was running out already.

        However the current estimates are about 40 years for oil, 62 years for natural gas and 224 years for coal. http://energysavingnow.com/energytoday/reserves.shtml

        If governments did nothing, and unfortunately governments have a way of exacerbating economic problems, (try reading Milton Freidman if you think that is too radical a statement), the price of fuel will rise steadily and I suspect converting coal to liquid fuel and gas will still be less expensive than any green technologies so far mooted, so the price will most likely rise and level out once this process becomes viable. (NB every rise in oil is currently reflected in just about every activity and product we consume)

        So we have at least 100 years to adjust to the rising price of energy.

        This is not to say that there will be no hardship or radical change in our civilisation.

        If the IPCC and governments have their way we have less than 20 years to curtail most fossil fuel usage. That gives us the scenario in my first comment.

        l looked at the First Solar Inc stats on your link.

        While that venture may be successful for private investors, as far as being successful in the marketplace, this little statement “The United States Department of Energy has given final approval to a $400 million loan guarantee to Abound Solar to expand production of its thin-film photovoltaic modules, a market pioneered by First Solar , the company said on Tuesday.” simply says that it is simply draining taxpayers money on a unproven and nonviable venture. Take away the guarantee and see how much your shares are worth. This is known in my part of the world as “milking the taxpayer” and very profitable it can be as well.

        “could the same argument not be used to say that humans can adapt to a world where they cannot use fossil fuels in quite such a carefree manner? ”

        I agree, it is going to happen, but the IPCC plan including wealth transfers to less developed companies is NOT the way to adjust and the scenario I first described still holds.

        Empirical evidence. I think you should do a little reading on this.

        I could not access Arhenius but if my memory serves me correctly, he demonstrated the greenhouse effects of CO2 in the laboratory.

        For your information, the limit of his empirical evidence is “CO2 shows greenhouse properties in his laboratory under these .. conditions.”

        Blois proves empiricaly that “greenhouse gases are rising”

        The WMO uses no empiricsm or logic, but is refering to a corellation of warming and greenhouse gases. This is not empirical proof, in fact if you studied statistics at freshman level, you would know that it is not proof of anything.

        Incredibly the WMO does not even try to support the hypothesis “Anthropogenic CO2 causes Global Warming”, probably because they know it fails under scientific scrutiny. Now this is not me speaking, check out this website very carefully and run through the expected process of scientific adaption of a hypothesis and see if you honestly think the rules have been followed. http://www.experiment-resources.com/null-hypothesis.html

        In our case, the Ho null hypothesis is that the earth warms (and cools) naturally.

        Our H1 hypothesis is “Anthropogenic CO2 Causes Global Warming”

        Then you do a significance test. Now find factors that show there is a 95-99% likelihood that what we see around us with regard to Global Warming cannot be due to other natural causes, which have regularly warmed and cooled the world since time immemorial and a number of times during historic times.

        The website explains the principles in a simple fashion.

        Without empirical proof of “Anthropogenic CO2 causes Global Warming” or how anthropogenic CO2 actually CAUSES Global Warming, taking into account feedback mechanisms and many other yet to be understood mechanisms that exist in the atmosphere and its interelationships with the oceans and biosphere etc., one must at least have a valid hypothesis.

        No wonder that scientists the world over are jumping up and down! If you wonder why the science does not have consensus, this is the very reason. Here is a top scientists view and there are many more like him. http://nzclimatescience.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=155&Itemid=1


        The logic in my first comment still holds, if a reduction of oil, gas and coal usage was based on conserving and sensible use of the resource, I most certainly have some sympathy, but the IPCC according to its own literature wishes to decrease our consumption more than 60%, in a short time and for all the wrong reasons.




        PS I heard on Aljazeera News that a world copper smelting conglomerate (I didn’t catch the name) is threatening to pull out of Germany because of the rising cost of energy caused by Germany’s increasing ETS. There are no easy answers right?

    • andyextance Says:

      I’d dispute the assertion that “IPCC omits any meaningful discussion” on the economics of CO2 mitigation. I quote from the executive summary of Chapter 11 (http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/ch11-ens11-es.html):

      “…there are substantial opportunities for mitigation levels of about 6 GtCO2-eq involving net benefits (costs less than 0), with a large share being located in the buildings sector. Additional potentials are 7 GtCO2-eq at a unit cost (carbon price) of less than 20 US$/tCO2-eq, with the total, low-cost, potential being in the range of 9 to 18 GtCO2-eq. The total range is estimated to be 13 to 26 GtCO2-eq, at a cost of less than 50 US$/tCO2-eq and 16 to 31 GtCO2-eq at a cost of less than 100 US$/tCO2-eq (370 US$/tC-eq).”

      A most-expensive calculation of 31 GtCO2-eq at a cost of $100/tCO2-eq does come up with the eye-watering figure of $3.1 trillion. To put that into context, the world’s current annual GDP was $58 trillion in 2009 (http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=ny_gdp_mktp_cd&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=world+gdp), and this cost calculation was done in 2007 for a target of 2030. For that 23 year period, if we make the grossly crude assumption that annual global GDP is the same as in 2009 for that whole time, total GDP would be $1334 trillion, putting mitigation costs as 0.23% of global GDP. Despite the hideous way in which I’ve put those numbers together, that’s roughly in line with the EU’s figure above, and doesn’t sound too big an ask in my opinion.

  3. andyextance Says:

    Definitely no easy answers. Some really interesting stuff here Roger, thanks. That 40 year figure for oil reserves sounds really alarming, but reading through the link I realise it’s not a strict measure of how long humans will have access to oil, as there will likely still be more found – even if it’s only around half as much as existing proven reserves, and less than we’ve already consumed. With a background as a synthetic chemist, I would much rather keep hold of all those lovely carbon atoms so we can make drugs, plastics, OLEDs and the like, than burn them. Admittedly Fischer-Tropsch chemistry is a useful way to try and get coal to substitute for oil, but you can’t dispute how used we all are to oil. Another good reason to bring on the electric car!

    As far as government investments in renewable energy go – I’m a bit bemused why a loan guarantee is milking the taxpayer. It only becomes milking the taxpayer if Abound can’t pay the loan back. We all know how difficult it has become to get credit – in the UK it’s become quite common for parents to adopt a similar practice by guaranteeing mortgages for their (adult) children. I’m guessing that most parents consider this a low-risk venture. To emphasise, Abound and First Solar are different companies. Far from being unproven and non-viable, First Solar is highly successful. It made $640 million profit in 2009, and looks set to have replicated that in 2010, despite the global financial situation. The US government is now backing Abound to mimic that success – without providing a direct investment. It might be interesting to compare this with the support the US government provided the banks around the time of Lehman Brothers’ collapse in 2008. It’s estimated that TARP will cost the US taxpayer $30 billion, according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troubled_Asset_Relief_Program). On the whole I expect that you and many other economists are very good at their jobs – but that whole thing with sub-prime lending definitely undermines your profession’s credibility when it comes to criticising climate change researchers.

    But beyond Abound’s specific case, if it becomes possible to provide renewable energy more cheaply than with fossil fuels, any government investments will prove good value. Plus, we will ultimately need to replace fossil fuels. Sure it’s a risk, but it’s one that it makes economic sense to take well before our reserves of fossil fuels run out – and that’s before you add in any consideration of the environmental costs and benefits. Whoever is the world’s leading producer of renewable energy and the equipment to generate renewable energy will be hugely powerful when fossils fuels run out. If they can make the technology cheaper than fossil fuels, they will achieve that status even before supplies are exhausted.

    On empirical evidence, first, sorry the Arrhenius link didn’t work – you might be able to get access to it from this bibliography:


    Lots more research on exactly what CO2 does there too, among other things!

    I do think that we’re on the same page here: while I freely admit my statistics is weak, we’re both talking about establishing a hypothesis, and testing it against reality. The correlation between greenhouse gases and temperatures, while not being absolute proof, is one line of evidence that they might be causing warming. The way in which the world is warming – eg more at night than in the day (http://www.met.sjsu.edu/~wittaya/journals/diurnalTempRange.pdf, http://www.knmi.nl/publications/showAbstract.php?id=706) – provides evidence to support that hypothesis. So, in fact, do all the links that I provide in the passage on empirical evidence in the comment above.

    When studying economics, did you do anything on the philosophy of science? That may be more useful here. Either way, you’re probably familiar with Popper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper) and the idea that scientific claims should be falsifiable, or possible to disprove. You have essentially asked me to falsify the claim that global warming is due to natural variation, with statistically significant data. I cannot do that personally. I also don’t know if anyone could do it. How could we? How can we test that hypothesis? If we can’t disprove it, is it science?

    However, the fact that I can’t disprove that hypothesis in that very specific statistical way doesn’t disprove the idea that humans are causing global warming. But you could disprove it by proving that – for example – CO2 is not a greenhouse gas, that humanity hasn’t been making CO2 by burning fossil fuels, that the measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere haven’t been going up.

    Likewise, if we take basic scientific principles we can provide evidence against the idea that our current global warming is natural. Here are some: 1) Solar activity – one major common cause of natural warming – has been at a minimum recently (http://wp.me/pLahN-4h) 2) The Earth is at a point in its orbital cycle where it is almost the furthest away from the sun that it could be, so we should be going through a cold climate period (http://wp.me/pLahN-92) 3) Atmospheric CO2 levels are about 25% higher than they’ve been for at least half a million years (http://wp.me/pLahN-8D) 4) Atmospheric CO2 is now 35% higher than it was in immediately pre-industrial times, and over half of that increase is since 1970 (http://wp.me/pLahN-rg). 5) Many species are unable to adapt to the current rate of climate change, meaning that such rates of are unlikely to have been seen in their evolution (http://wp.me/pLahN-jn). I consider each of these pieces of observational evidence to disprove the general idea that our current global warming is natural – even if I can’t show that in the specific statistical way you desire.

    To quote Maarten Ambaum from the University of Reading, “Next time someone shows you a “statistically significant” result, tell them: “I don’t care how low your p-value is. Show me the physics and tell me the size of the effect. Then we can discuss whether your hypothesis makes sense.” Stop quibbling about meaningless statistical smoke and mirrors.” (http://www.skepticalscience.com/print.php?n=456)

    Also, thanks for making me aware of Vincent Gray (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_R._Gray), and the group he founded. I guess he’s not an active researcher at age 89? If he was, I’d definitely talk to him – although presumably his coal industry background colours his outlook? As I say, I’ve had real trouble finding any active climate researchers publishing anything in high-profile journals who think anything other than that our current climate change is caused by humans.

    Thanks for the discussion. It’s been really valuable. I hope that some of my other readers are finding it useful too!

    • rogerthesurf Says:

      yes it is an excellent discussion and I appreciate that you are prepared to explore where my comment has taken us.

      However I would like to point out a few things from your last comments.

      “However, the fact that I can’t disprove that hypothesis in that very specific statistical way doesn’t disprove the idea that humans are causing global warming. But you could disprove it by proving that – for example – CO2 is not a greenhouse gas, that humanity hasn’t been making CO2 by burning fossil fuels, that the measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere haven’t been going up.”

      The hypothesis is severely disproved by the fact that we have had greater warmings previously when CO2 levels have been low. This is not statistics, this is verifiable fact.
      The only statistics that I have seen used in the argument that AGW is happening, is in the claims that there is a correlation between world temperatures and CO2 levels. And statistically this correlation means nothing at all.
      The only thing that is significant about a correlation is that it is a neccesary condition for a relationship. And incidently many scientists point out that CO2 rises FOLLOW warming periods. If that is the case, there is NO correlation and the neccesary condition is absent and the data is absolutely meaningless.
      This is how science works.

      In relation to First Solar and Abound, if there was currently a viable business in their activities, government assistance of any sort would not be needed. In fact there would be so many investors trying to get in on the act that governments would see fit to tax them, like they have always done with the oil industry.
      From the economic point of view, these are the indicators of a viable business. I hope the government will recoup any tax payer funds or at least not need to act on it’s guarantee, because the economics and consequences of government support in this way are really bad. BTW I think the banks you mention should have been allowed to fail as well. So long as the money supply was maintained, that would have been the right thing to do economically but NOT THE RIGHT THING POLITICALLY.

      ” but that whole thing with sub-prime lending definitely undermines your profession’s credibility when it comes to criticising climate change researchers.”

      Go easy there. Economists only give advice and the politicians and greedy bankers intent on milking the taxpayer and are responsible for this mess are certainly not economists and certainly did not heed any economic advice.

      Your link on IPCC mitigation.

      Do you read anything there about the projected cost of energy to the consumer and it’s effect on commodities and products essential for living?
      My reading of that is that they spend this money and it is “assumed” that the price of energy stays the same.
      It is all couched in obscure language, but I have spent some effort in trying to locate any meaningful commentary on the cost of energy in the IPCC literature and so far it has fallen short.



  4. andyextance Says:

    There’s certainly only one period where we’ve had warming anywhere near today’s over the past 2000 years without CO2 playing a big role – and that’s the Medieval Warm Period (MWP, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_Warm_Period). First, you must concede it’s debatable whether it was warmer than today. Second, I’d point you to this 2009 Science paper (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5957/1256, http://live.psu.edu/story/43214) suggesting that both the Medieval Warm Period and the subsequent Little Ice Age (http://wp.me/pLahN-4h) appear to have been the results of changes in large-scale physical processes such as El Niño, which were, in turn, were responding to variations in incoming solar radiation. As we’ve pointed out, we’re just coming out of a slightly extended low in solar activity – so why is it that 2010 looks set to have been one of the three warmest years on record?

    If you’re not referring to the MWP, when are you referring to? Can you provide links to your “verifiable facts”, for any periods other than the MWP?

    You’ve got a good point on the fact that CO2 rises follow some warming periods. One of the first papers (http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/1990/1990_Lorius_etal.pdf) to predict this was co-authored by none other than NASA’s James Hansen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hansen), a strong supporter of the idea that humanity is causing global warming. The key here is that CO2 and methane are released by and amplify warming caused by the Earth moving towards the sun in the course of its usual orbital cycle, over periods of hundreds of thousands of years. But once the CO2 is released, it continues the warming, as a positive feedback. We’re currently near the point of the orbital cycle when the Earth is furthest from the sun (http://wp.me/pLahN-92), so we should be seeing neither the CO2 levels or the temperatures that we have on that basis.

    Many prior periods of warming have happened, but the influence of solar activity and orbital changes loom large in all those that I know of. These factors are not in play now, so we can discount these periods as evidence against humanity’s role in causing global warming.

    On solar, presumably First Solar is paying a good whack of tax on its profits? To be fair, I don’t know how many other solar companies are profitable, but First Solar is definitely showing the way.

    On economists’ role in the subprime problems – I guess the separation between bankers and economists is murky to me. Admittedly some academic economists like Nouriel Roubini (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouriel_Roubini) warned about what would happen, but other economists working in the banking sector, like David Li (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_X._Li), have been credited with blame. On that point, are there many academic economists who speak out against the idea that humans cause climate change?

    In terms of the IPCC, I certainly didn’t read anything talking about cost of energy in what little I read of their report. I guess the sticking point is the word “meaningful”. Worth remembering that their role is to advise governments – perhaps what’s meaningful to you and me is not the same as what’s meaningful to governments? How much more severe are the energy price rises you anticipate, compared to what would happen anyway? How do you support your numbers?

    Glad you’re enjoying the discussion. It’s definitely good mental stimulation.

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