All Terrain Gas Analyser System (A.T.G.A.S.)

A little something I finished putting together for a PhD student. We borrowed the chamber, but if I were to build one from scratch, I’d make the chamber a little differently, minimising the production further.

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Infographs: 2013 Australian Federal Election -The Proposed Dam Plan

I have a new page devoted to my media on the upcoming federal election.

dams

Please feel free to download these infographs and repost them elsewhere. The same goes for the posts (link or repost).

Climate discussions flat-line where they should be thriving

The climate science news, in reality, has waned in recent months, perhaps over the bulk of 2013.

Sure, the science is still trickling in but within the general media it’s really pretty much flat lined. Monckton’s last Aussie tour was a flop; a hopeful sign that his crackpot star is burning out. The “final nails” are rusted and forgotten…

Climate change is more or less left to the enthusiasts. The tone on the anti-science climate media is increasingly batty and fringe and arguably as drama soaked as any other conspiracy theory one may stumble upon for a chuckle. The lines in the sand have washed away and far fewer are selecting supposed “sides”.

Most people admit that anthropogenic climate change is real, but for the most part, the threat is trivialized by how intangible and far off it seems to the individual right here and now in a given city. The only real fight that seems to persist within the public eye is the rather extraordinary lengths we are going to, to find fossil fuels, be it fracking, offshore drilling or tar pits.

At the same time, the US president has finally joined the true dialogue of climate response policies, China is ever ramping up its activities in response to climate change and little Australia, with its massive per capita climate debt, seriously contemplates over two potential candidates for leadership; one of which goes from calling climate change “crap” to carbon trading “a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one”.

As an observer, I can’t help but sit back perplexed.

Does being the lucky country also mean the wilfully ignorant country as well? Are we so scared that changing our behaviour must mean degrading our quality of life? Of course, the longer we take to begin meaningful change the more dramatic and thus uncomfortable change will be. Being honest, this is what motivates me more than anything – I simply do not wish to impose avoidable hardship on those I care about.

Small steps earlier rather than big steps later to catch up.

Globally, financial concerns have only increased over the past five years, leaving many policy makers focused entirely on growth, with the long term impacts of climate change placed on the back-burner for future discussions. Hope and Hope (2013) have illustrated that this may be short sighted as this low growth is likely to lead to a poorer future population, thus less able to match the social costs due to additional CO2 emissions. Under the current global economic pressures, there is even more reason to attempt to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, not less, than if economies were healthier.

There  really is no justifiable reason for the lull. While anti-science groups may be giving communicators less material to respond to (I’ve argued before that this should be done sparingly in any case), we still need strong discussions on what we do now to curtail future emissions to ensure we provide our grandchildren and theirs a climate akin to that we have prospered within. There are many concerns that need to be addressed, to be sure, but climate change is still a high priority.

Furthermore, it presents opportunity for new markets and community-based behaviours that in turn could lead to financial benefits. If we simply get on with the task and demonstrate positives in changing behaviour, we will also erode the platform on which many anti-science communicators stand upon; it will be increasingly untenable to insist anthropogenic climate change is not real, uncertain or exaggerated when communities are progressing and thriving in low-carbon economies.

We never needed the momentum we drew from rebuking anti-science propaganda, but we have been doing it for so long that we have convinced ourselves otherwise. The dialogue belongs to science communicators now and we are not doing our part to assist with the necessary behavioural changes.

Confusing ignorance for the burden of proof: the key to successful anti-science claptrap

kingdom-of-anti

If it is true, where then is the evidence?

It is noble and dignified to stand firm not to an idea but the pursuit of certainty. It is humble to acknowledge the less-than completeness of our knowledge base.

Yet such an enlightened cap is too easily placed on the scalp more fitting a dunce’s cone.

Anti-science is the core kingdom of all phyla of irrationality, be it climate change “scepticism”, 911, Obama birth or moon landing truthism, creation, anti-vaccination and anti-fluoridation. A central trait of this kingdom is wilful ignorance.

Interestingly, the anti-climate-science movement has marketed itself cleverly in this regard through the tacking on of the word “scepticism” to their cause.

However, there are light years between wilful ignorance and this pretence of scepticism.

How Ignorance Differs

Whether it is the creationist demanding for the “missing link”, the climate change sceptic insisting they merely want the evidence, the anti-fluoridation advocate pleading that the science has not yet been done convincingly… whatever the anti-science angle may be; in each case the individual attempts to mask their wilful ignorance behind the burden of proof – a core scientific method.

It sounds reasonable; if the evidence is so compelling, give it to me and make me a believer.

Firstly, it is not a matter of belief, but entirely a rejection of bad belief / ideas. One accepts that all other known alternatives have been tested and found to be erroneous and thus is drawn to the pool of ideas that remain and cannot be refuted – to the best of our current knowledge.

What exposes such people for their position however is not merely that they ignore the body of scientific evidence when presented to them, not simply that they jump feverishly to the odd paper hot off the peer-reviewed press that their media outlets inform them is the “final nail in the coffin” of the given topic and not just that they continue this argument against the scientific literature completely outside of the peer-review / scientific method process; but because they do all these things simultaneously.

Choosing ignorance or to avoid scientific understanding is not scepticism of presented proof at all.

Where the Debate is Now

We have moved pass this burden in the public “debate” or better termed, conversation and are now really talking about the burden of understanding. The ball is in the court of the anti-science advocate – the burden of proof has been fulfilled – and it is not the fault of science if the enthusiast came without a racket.

Simple tests prove what greenhouse gases are and that we emit them. Only slightly more complex tests show that these greenhouse gases we emit are changing their concentration in the atmosphere. Simple tests show the world is warming. More complex tests have removed the solar or astrological radiation or other meteorological processes as the source of this change. Regardless of whether the result will be 1, 2 or 5 degrees Celsius, we are witnessing anthropogenic climate change.

Equally, the fossil record, genetics and geology all place evolution beyond a shadow of a doubt. Furthermore, Richard Lenski’s work and the body of ecological science have truly left the ball bouncing around the creationist’s court with their response little better than a Three Stooges slap-stick performance.

Again and again, the various phyla of anti-science prove that they have yet to critically review and illustrate fundamental lapses in the science, but rather attempt to pass off ignorance as valid scepticism of the body of evidence provided as proof.

This is what I spend my time writing about on NewAnthro. The anti-science advocate will not challenge the science, but offer another position instead as a competing idea and suggest that the science isn’t settled. In other words, it’s doubt mongering, it’s a sleight of hand designed to distract and confuse. Yet, I take their hypothesis, test it and show why it fails to provide a convincing argument and avoids the science completely.

Science is not about absolutes, but about drawing reasonable conclusions from the highest level of certainty available… with the error bars noted. The kingdom of anti-science instead doesn’t like the conclusion and would like something else to be concluded instead. And so all anti-science phyla ignore inconvenient evidence to pretend they stroll along the high road; sceptics surefooted on the burden of proof. Of course, the only proof they can accept acknowledges their conclusions and so they are walking backwards, down the road of dark age myth.

Building more dams will bring a bigger emissions headache

In mid February, a Coalition draft dams plan was leaked to the media. This plan suggested the potential for an additional 100 dams across Australia to help with water security and flood mitigation as well as provide hydro-power.

While this plan does not officially form part of the Coalition’s environmental strategy, Tony Abbott has thrown his support behind it, suggesting Australia needs to move beyond it’s “extreme greenism” and “dam phobia”.

One aspect of reservoirs that is not widely appreciated is that they are a source of greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the inundation of land with a storage of organic matter. If the water column is highly oxygenated, the degradation of this organic matter will produce CO2. If there is little available oxygen, methane is produced. Both are greenhouse gases.

To explore this, I combined data on Australian large dams with a recent comprehensive review of reservoir emissions within the science literature.

Initially, I used the global average surface area emission rates for the comparison, but found that the estimates were unrealistically high. This number was more than 860 million tonnes of CO2 annually. This is probably due to the poor quality of Australian soils in general, which in turn reduce productivity and lead to lower than average organic material storage and thus resultant emissions.

Instead, I used the global total emission from reservoirs (upstream only). This comes to 163 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, of which Australia is currently responsible for 2.1%, or, 3.42 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Within the dam database, 564 large dams are listed. This returns an average of 6069.15 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per dam, annually. Therefore, an additional 100 dams could provide 0.61 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually.

To provide some scale; if this sequestration was achieved through tree plantation, the annual yield required to compensate the average greenhouse gas emissions of 100 new dams would be an additional 0.55 million m3 of wood. This translates to more than 15 thousand hectares of plantation.

As this is utilising the same overly optimistic assumptions as that of my analysis of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, the real world figure would likely be much higher.

Data on Australian reservoir emissions came from the height of Australia’s recent prolonged drought, where many reservoirs were far from full and thus covered less land. Emissions downstream (that is, degasing water once it has left the reservoir) were not accounted for in the data also. Additionally, no data on greenhouse gas emissions from dam production is included within this analysis.

Lastly, with the potential for these additional dams to support a new “food bowl” in northern Australia, it is likely subtropical and tropical dams will be favoured. A review of the reservoirs studies globally found that tropical reservoirs produced more greenhouse gases than subtropical which in turn produce more greenhouse gases than temperate dams.

This difference has been suggested to be related to water temperatures, which tend to be warmer closer to the equator, which in turn, speed up the process.

For the reasons listed above, the estimate for average emissions from Australian dams derived above can be seen as conservative (it should be noted that boreal dams were the second highest emitters, due to the tendency for organic rich peat land inundation, however this is irrelevant to Australian climates).

Coupling this with my previous analysis of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, if this dam plan is implemented, this additional greenhouse gas contribution would require sequestration above the proposed 85 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation, Australia naturally experiences shifts between drier-than- or wetter-than-average years. Generally, though, Australia is an arid country. Climate change due to increasing greenhouse gas forcing is likely to reduce precipitation globally. For this reason, Australia has strong motivations to lead the path of climate change mitigation.

Should the Coalition win the upcoming September election, my previous analysis illustrated the immense scale and thus cost required to implement the Direct Action Plan. The selected path, soil sequestration, is notably less certain scientifically than other methods, such as plantation. This also comes at the expense of removing the price on carbon which in turn can be utilised to provide market based motivations to decouple carbon emissions from industrial activities and economic growth.

It is not unreasonable therefore to raise concerns about the ability of the Direct Action Plan to assist with climate change mitigation.

Alone, the draft dam plan will contribute a comparatively small greenhouse gas contribution. But by building more dams, the Coalition is making its direct action plan even more difficult to implement.

Find the full report here.

Greg Hunt’s unusually cool US winter that wasn’t

By Graham Readfearn.

OPPOSITION spokesperson on climate change Greg Hunt has been quoted across the news wires today as saying that while Australia has experienced its hottest summer on record, it’s been unusually cold elsewhere.

The story is based on an interview with ABC Radio, where Mr Hunt is commenting on a new report – The Angry Summer – from Australia’s Climate Commission. The report points out the role that climate change is playing in heatwaves, bushfires and floods.

The report comes just a week after the Bureau of Meteorology declared that Australia’s summer of 2012/2013 was the hottest on record. January 2013 was also Australia’s hottest month on record.

If you listen to the interview, Mr Hunt makes a point of saying that when considering global warming, we need to look at the long term trends rather than pick single events. Quite right.

To demonstrate this, he said that “we have had record cold temperatures in Russia, parts of the United States and China” over a similar period to Australia’s hottest summer on record.

Even in a warming world, you’ll still get record cold events – it’s just that the hot ones are outnumbering the cold ones. In Australia, for example, for every record cold temperature there’s three record hot ones. In the US, a 2009 study found record high temperatures were outstripping record colds by two to one.

I had a quick look at this unusually cold US winter which Greg Hunt alludes to. The government’s National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has all the figures. Incidentally, January 2013 is the 335th consecutive month where global average temperatures have been above average.

Final rankings for the US winter are not expected to be out for a week or so yet but, so far, the chilly winter turns out not to have been that chilly after all. In fact, the period November 2012 to January 2013 ranks 109th (with a rank of 1 indicating the coldest and 118 the warmest) in a record going back 118 years.

So there you go. As Mr Hunt says, best to check with the experts.

Click here to view the original article.

One Angry Summer… Oh, Anthropogenic Climate Change was Involved.

6883-DCCEE-Summer-Heat-Infographs_SUMMARY_v6_1MARCH-2

Sure, Australia is a country of drought and flooding rain, but not often at the same time, year after year!

Key facts:

  1. The Australian summer over 2012 and 2013 has been defined by extreme weather events across much of the continent, including record-breaking heat, severe bushfires, extreme rainfall and damaging flooding. Extreme heatwaves and catastrophic bushfire conditions during the Angry Summer were made worse by climate change.
  2. All weather, including extreme weather events is influenced by climate change. All extreme weather events are now occurring in a climate system that is warmer and moister than it was 50 years ago. This influences the nature, impact and intensity of extreme weather events.
  3. Australia’s Angry Summer shows that climate change is already adversely affecting Australians. The significant impacts of extreme weather on people, property, communities and the environment highlight the serious consequences of failing to adequately address climate change.
  4. It is highly likely that extreme hot weather will become even more frequent and severe in Australia and around the globe, over the coming decades. The decisions we make this decade will largely determine the severity of climate change and its influence on extreme events for our grandchildren.
  5. It is critical that we are aware of the influence of climate change on many types of extreme weather so that communities, emergency services and governments prepare for the risk of increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather.

Maybe weather itself must be deemed alarmist…?

Check out the report by the Climate Commission here.

There is no such thing as climate change denial

By John Cook, University of Queensland

In a sense, there is no such thing as climate change denial. No one denies that climate changes (in fact, the most common climate myth is the argument that past climate change is evidence that current global warming is also natural). Then what is being denied? Quite simply, the scientific consensus that humans are disrupting the climate. A more appropriate term would be “consensus denial”.

There are two aspects to scientific consensus. Most importantly, you need a consensus of evidence – many different measurements pointing to a single, consistent conclusion. As the evidence piles up, you inevitably end up with near-unanimous agreement among actively researching scientists: a consensus of scientists.

A number of surveys of the climate science community since the early 1990s have measured the level of scientific consensus that humans were causing global warming. Over time, the percentage of climate scientists agreeing that humans are causing global warming has steadily increased. As the body of evidence grows, the consensus is getting stronger.

Two recent studies adopting different approaches have arrived at strikingly consistent results. A survey of over 3000 Earth scientists found that as the climate expertise increased, so did agreement about human-caused global warming. For climate scientists actively publishing climate research (79 scientists in total), there was 97% agreement.

This result was confirmed in a separate analysis compiling a list of scientists who had made public declarations on climate change, both supporting and rejecting the consensus. Among scientists who had published peer-reviewed climate papers (908 scientists in total), the same result: 97% agreement.

While individual scientists have their personal views on climate change, they must back up their opinions with evidence-based research that withstands the scrutiny of the peer-reviewed process. An analysis of peer-reviewed climate papers published from 1993 to 2003 found that out of 928 papers, none rejected the consensus.

Despite these and many other indicators of consensus (I could go on), there is a gaping chasm between reality and the perceived consensus among the general public. Polls from 1997 to 2007 found that around 60% of Americans believe there is significant disagreement among scientists about whether global warming was happening. A 2012 Pew poll found less than half of Americans thought that scientists agreed humans were causing global warming.

The gap between perception and reality has real-world consequences. People who believe that scientists disagree on global warming show less support for climate policy. Consequently, a key strategy of opponents of climate action for over 20 years has been to cast doubt on the scientific consensus and maintain the consensus gap.

How have they achieved this? Hang around and you’ll witness first hand the attack on consensus in the comment threads of this article. The techniques of consensus denial are easily identifiable. In fact, if one rejects an overwhelming scientific consensus, it’s inevitable that they end up exhibiting some of the following characteristics.

Expect to see reference to dissenting non-experts who appear to be highly qualified while not having published any actual climate research. Fake expert campaigns are launched with disturbing regularity. Recently, a group of NASA retirees issued a press release rejecting the consensus. While possessing no actual climate expertise, they evidently hoped to cash in on the NASA brand.

A prominent Australian fake expert is Ian Plimer, the go-to guy for political leaders and fossil fuel billionaires. He hasn’t published a single peer-reviewed paper on climate change.

There should be many cases of cherry picking but how do you identify a genuine cherry pick? When a conclusion from a small selection of data differs from the conclusion from the full body of evidence, that’s cherry picking. For example, a common cherry pick of late is the myth that global warming stopped over the last 16 years. This focus on short periods of temperature data ignores the long-term warming trend. Importantly, it also ignores the fact that over the last 16 years, our planet has been building up heat at a rate of over three Hiroshima bombs worth of energy every second. To deny global warming is to deny the basic fact that our planet is building up heat at an extraordinary rate.

One way of avoiding consensus is to engage in logical fallacies. The most common fallacy employed to deny the human influence on climate change is the non sequitur, Latin for “it does not follow”. The onslaught of Australian extreme weather in 2013 has led to a surge in the fallacy “extreme weather events have happened before therefore humans are not having an influence on current extreme weather”. This is the logical equivalent to arguing that people have died from natural causes in the past so no one ever gets murdered now.

Finally, with consensus denial comes the inevitable conspiracy theories. If you disagree with an entire scientific community, you have to believe they’re all conspiring to deceive you. A conspiracy theorist displays two identifying characteristics. They believe exaggerated claims about the power of the conspirators. The scientific consensus on climate change is endorsed by tens of thousands of climate scientists in countries all over the world. A conspiracy of that magnitude makes the moon landing hoax tame in comparison.

Conspiracy theorists are also immune to new evidence. When climate scientists were accused of falsifying data, nine independent investigations by universities and governments in two countries found no evidence of wrongdoing. How did conspiracy theorists react? By claiming that each investigation was a whitewash and part of the conspiracy! With each new claim of whitewash, the conspiracy grew larger, encompassing more universities and governments.

A key element to meaningful climate action is closing the consensus gap. This means identifying and rebutting the many rhetorical techniques employed to deny the scientific consensus.

This article was adapted from Understanding Climate Change Denial.

John Cook does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Monckton Enjoys Lunch and Sings a Pretty Song for the AFR

It’s of no surprise to learn that the Australian Financial Review interviewed Chris Monckton, for his message is surely the sweetest lullaby to many of its readers. In the interview, titled, Lunch with the AFR | Christopher Monckton, Chris Short recorded an illuminating interview.

At least in this interview, Monckton made it clear; his is purely a political fight. Thank you very much for that.

It’s of course interesting that Monckton has taken a fondness to Chinese philosophy – a country overrun by his worst nightmare, Communists… I must actually look up on these philosophical principles to learn if this topic, unlike so many others he waxes lyrical upon, is represented correctly.

On that, Monckton makes the point that his was the last generation taught not to be credulous… Please, dear Lord, muse through my offerings on New Anthro. As a bloke half your age, I’m certain you will find many examples of a young man with a nasty habit for fact checking.

However, I’m often accused of being blind or simple… Typically by those who themselves are too blind and/or simple to actually find error in my analysis. (Anti-fluoride crusaders, I’m giving each and every one of you a high-five right now!)

He offered this little gem of irony,

“You fall into the type of errors that not just individuals, but whole societies, particularly the government classes, are falling. You have to start with logic to recognise an argument that is fallacious . . . otherwise you can be so easily led into error, as so many have.”

Indeed… He employs this understanding on numerous subjects from climate change to DDT, clearly recognising that those primed for his message will accept it at face value. Others, not primed, have proven his arguments wrong only to be called an overcooked prawn (John Abraham) or openly ignored (Peter Hadfield). In my last video on Chris, I quickly demonstrate him wrong on cooling since 1998 and to fail on basic reasoning (he honestly thinks 1°C above pre-industrial average temperatures is half way back to an Ice Age… mental, I know).

Yes, one needs to be vigilant with incoming information. Especially when misinformation is actually paid to hop around the globe to enjoy lunches with credulous journalists and perform plays of conspiracy, death and communism at ones local hall… So much for the Enlightenment.

In all, what needs most to be said about this highly amusing interview is in reply to Monckton’s only real attack on science; that of the relevance of scientific consensus.

I’ve created a video explaining what it is and how it is relevant, but for the sake of the fickle fan of Monckton whom may, purely by accident, find themselves to be reading this post and amazingly read this far before the shutters came down, I will explain it here. All scientific consensus is, is an admission by the expert community that, with all the countless research hours spent and hard won removal of all known errors subtracted, the only explanation our species can currently find draws us to a certain conclusion. That isn’t to say it’s right, only that it is the most right that our collective pool of understanding can attest to.

Revision is certainly on the cards; and this done through the critical debate by experts in the field, trained with the various formulae, background laws and theories. These trained individuals argue and critically test as part of their daily duties as researchers. This is a process generally called, “peer review.”

If, as Monckton continues to claim, he has credible, empirical evidence demonstrating fundamental flaws in our understanding in climate science and in the formulae behind our climate models, why on Earth talk to journalists and dance around on stage when this information would be of immense value within the peer reviewed science literature?

That he by-passes this process and pretends his information is of the same quality isn’t simply an unfair shortcut, but surely also an admission to its obvious weakness. The ball is in his court and the science community waits for his serve.

Lastly, Michael Mann said it best when he stated,

“ice sheets are not Republicans or Democrats – they don’t have a political agenda as they disappear”

The reality of anthropogenic climate change is not political. What we do about it is. Chris Monckton has good reason for mixing up the two.

Chris Short puts Monckton’s preference for individualism and small government as;

He acknowledges society needs some rules, as basic as the side of the road on which one should drive.

In other words, regulating the freedom of the individual so as each individual has the maximum freedom obtainable within large, complex societies made up of people with personal goals and aspirations. One could ask if an individual has the right to defecate in a river that passes through his land before becoming a major fresh water supply for a city downstream.

Clearly the answer is “no” and this relies upon an understanding of a temporal and spatial separation between cause and effect. The story is no different with anthropogenic climate change.

Until Christopher Monckton presents his arguments within the scientific literature, we can safely ignore its scientific validity and address it how he largely does himself; as a social dilemma. The science stands that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will amplify the greenhouse effect (a no brainer, really). A shift more than 4°C above the average of the Holocene is placing the global climate into another regime that is likely to be as different to the Holocene as the previous Ice Age was, which itself was around 5°C cooler than the Holocene.

Thus, we have a known cause, a fairly obvious effect (with quantified uncertainties – yet none regarding the fundamental situation) all with temporal and spatial separation. The only difference from the example I gave above is the scale.

We therefore have a need to develop regulations so that industry can maximise its prosperity within boundaries to ensure it does not encroach upon the freedom and prosperity of others (fundamentally no different to lines on a road, so that everyone can get from A to B as quickly as possible). This is not a problem with an inherent political slant, but only a question of human rights and justice. Anthropogenic climate change is akin to defecating in someone else’s water supply.

This is why Christopher  Monckton’s message hums and sooths the tender heart of self-interest. He tells them to continue as they do because no-one can see those whom would be forced to drink that cocktail downstream, so nobody can prove they will in fact do so.

He is the master of happy fiction.