Archive for December, 2008

Views on Climate Change

30 December 2008

From what I’m reading, there are at least three ways to approach the issue of climate change.

1, The scientific approach–used mainly by boring people with degrees that require a lot of math proficiency. They use their math skills to produce factual, cross-referenced data. Typically, they hesitate to provide dramatic statements or prognostications lest they be wrong, for other such people with math skills are out there waiting for them to draw an unsupported conclusion. It’s nerd-eat-nerd in science.

This approach leads to the publication of studies with sexy titles such as this from the December 2008 issue of Journal of Climate: “Springtime Intensification of the Great Plains Low-Level Jet and Midwest Precipitation in GCM Simulations of the Twenty-First Century.”

In case you’re still waiting for your copy to arrive, here’s the abstract:

Simulations from 18 coupled atmosphere–ocean GCMs are analyzed to predict changes in the climatological Great Plains low-level jet (GPLLJ) and Midwest U.S. hydrology resulting from greenhouse gas increases during the twenty-first century. To build confidence in the prediction, models are selected for analysis based on their twentieth-century simulations, and their simulations of the future are diagnosed to ensure that the response is reasonable. Confidence in the model projections is also bolstered by agreement among models, in a so-called multimodel ensemble, and by analogy with present-day interannual variability. The GCMs agree that the GPLLJ will be more intense in April, May, and June in the future. The selected models even agree on the reason for this intensification, namely, a westward extension and strengthening of the North Atlantic subtropical high (the Bermuda high) that occurs when greenhouse gas–induced warming over the continental United States exceeds that of the subtropical Atlantic in the spring. Accompanying the changes in the GPLLJ are springtime precipitation increases of 20%–40% in the upper Mississippi Valley, which are closely associated with intensified meridional moisture convergence by the jet, with decreases to the south, which results in reduced moist static stability in the region. The simulated differences in the Midwest circulation and hydrology in the spring for the twenty-first century are similar to the observed moisture balance and circulation anomalies for May and, especially, June of 1993, a year of devastating floods throughout the Mississippi Valley. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Scintillating stuff, huh? But SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE wades through this stuff in order to use it, inflate it, twist it, or deny it for ideological purposes. And this is where the whole issue becomes interesting.

I know just enough, which is actually extremely little, about science to go with the nerds. The scientific method is self-correcting and eventually reaches some sort of conclusion, usually a tentative conclusion, e.g. gravity is just a theory.

But others are not so interested in tentative conclusions since they already have the answer. They just need to support that conclusion with whatever they can scavenge from the true nerds. And this leads to the second viewpoint.

2. The ideological approach–used mainly by people with agendas be they right, left, religious, or whatever.

Would you suspect that an outfit named the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) might have an agenda?

Would you suspect someone who constantly refers to a former Vice President as Algore might have an agenda?

Those who frequent CEI and the Hoover Institute will say that sites such as RealClimate obviously have an agenda too. True. But the RealClimate agenda is to support science not politics or economics or religion. They get into some pretty nasty and obscure arguments. It’s actually quite rare for them to just say, “Amen.” So this bounces them back to advocates of the scientific approach. But, of course, some will say that science is just godlessness, and man should BELIEVE. We could go on and on here, but I’d rather not.

And that leaves the third approach.

3. The REAL free market approach–used by people who might make or lose REAL money if climate change is happening.

This approach often includes ideologues, but there’s an important difference. These folks are talking about here and NOW matters, not distant or theoretical implications. This isn’t about taxation or socialism or God. This is about BUSINESS.

A couple of years ago, I decided that when insurance companies and farmers started freaking out about climate change the issue had passed from theory to something close to certainty.

I saw the first news stories a few years ago. Now the headlines are now coming more and more often. Here are two from today.

This is from Bloomberg: “Natural Disasters Cause Higher Losses in 2008, Munich Re Says”

Here’s a pertinent section:

“Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes,” management board member Torsten Jeworrek said. “2008 has again shown how important it is for us to analyze risks like climate change in all their facets and to manage the business accordingly.”

This is from Western Farm Press: “Researchers Say Global Warming to Have Devastating Impact on Certain California Crops”

Now that’s the sort of headline that should get the attention of someone whose living comes off a crop of oranges or grapes.

Of course, this article features research and projections done by Stanford researchers and Michael Mastrandrea of the Woods Institute for the Environment. Science nerds!!

As I see it, this means the scientific approach wins 2-1.



News Flash! Virginity Pledgers Demand Do-Overs

29 December 2008

OK, I’m stretching the news here.

However, a disturbing study published in the journal Pediatrics details how the sexual behavior of teenagers who vowed to preserve their virginity differs from other teenagers in only a couple of significant ways. Not good ways either.

You can find articles on the study here and here and all over the news.

They all report basically the same thing. Here’s the WebMD line:

Teenagers who take virginity pledges are no less sexually active than other teens.

But, of course, pledgers were less likely to use birth control measures. You know, if you, like, don’t, uh, PLAN it or anything, it doesn’t, uh, like, count.

What got me though was that by the end of this five year study 82 percent of the teenagers who’d pledged to abstain now said they’d NEVER taken any such oath.

I know we live in a do-over, reset, replay, reboot society, but this troubles me greatly. What is going on here? Moral relativism caused by hormone overload? Thirty second memory storage?

I’m actually betting on lack of long term memory. And THAT scares me.

As an afterthought, I wonder how many of those who didn’t pledge remembered they didn’t. The articles don’t mention that info. Might be nice for comparison.


Handbasket Report — Baltic Dry Index 12/24

25 December 2008

Oh, surprise, surprise. The Baldry is down again.

The archives here show the sinking of international trade, so this is just an update. Seeking Alpha has a good recap of what’s happened lately. Here’s the final paragraph:

A decrease in the demand for raw goods from China’s build out and exports from the United States’ weak dollar came to a halt. If this index begins to trend higher then this would be a good sign of economic recovery.

Here’s another article at “Investing In Shipping At Low Tide”:

Oil is plumbing new depths close to $32 a barrel, the global economy is on its knees and freight rates have been plummeting over the past few months as a result. On Christmas Eve, the shipping industry’s benchmark Baltic Dry index posted its fifth consecutive drop, falling 1.3% to 774 points. Not a cheery market context for investors, but some are sniffing opportunity.

Opportunity, yes. Good opportunity, maybe? I hope so, but I couldn’t help but notice the plentitude of qualifiers in this commentary. “Good chance.” “If.” “Might.” “Could.” Absolutes are there, of course. My favorite is this line: “But if there is a recovery next year, shipping is sure to feel the benefit.” Now there’s an example of good safe writing.

But for me, the key point was this:

It is unlikely that there will be much joy for shipping bulls if the rest of the world economy does not perk up, with Asia a particularly important hotspot for the industry. How China fares will be crucial: the country’s recent slowdown has given many economists a fright, and the effectiveness of the government’s stimulus efforts will be under close inspection in the new year.

China again. So you are betting on China making a speedy recovery? How about US?

If you’re a visual type, click for a neat graph.

View the full BALDRY chart at Wikinvest

And, hey, have a Merry Christmas.


I Think the World is Run by C Students*

24 December 2008

Before I head off into the abyss of family celebrations, I have one question for you to ponder. What do you think would be the greatest obstacle a 12 year old high school graduate would have to overcome to get scholarships?


* Al McGuire

Global Cooling — What Oughta Be

22 December 2008

On the right, on our list of recommended books, is the title Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum. Nice little primer on how several factors create climate cycles that affect the earth. And quite thought provoking in a presentation of the reasons why we aren’t going into the global cooling cycle that the history of the earth suggests we should be going into.

And now a study from U Wisc-Madison lends support to the thesis presented in this book. I won’t tell you more. I know you won’t want a spoiler. Read about the report. Read the book.

What oughta be and what is. Oh well.


Handbasket Report: Grocery Edition

20 December 2008

Went to Target today to add to my pantry. Mine had been 1/3 depleted through food bank donations, so I looked for a wide range of items.

Almost everything has a much closer expiration date than I’m used to. April? Really? This suggests at least three possibilities- that stores are using up whatever meager warehouse stocks they had, that consumers have slowed buying to the point that turnaround dates are catching up, and certainly that manufacturers are not making new goods. None of these makes me want to go out and buy a Chevrolet.

Prices are higher than they were at Thanksgiving, despite rumours of deflation. Yes, I am using the European spelling for the drama. These are dramatic times.


Global Cooling

20 December 2008

I keep reading posts and editorials from people who say that the past couple of years indicate the earth is not warming and is in fact cooling. These folks are, I guess, examples of a typical American hostility towards history, research, and perhaps sense.

Here’s a list of the EARTH’S TOP 10 WARMEST YEARS

1- 2005
2 – 1998
3 – 2002
4- 2003
5 – 2007
6 – 2006
7 – 2004
8 – 2001
9 – 1997

(Since 1880)
(Source: National Climatic Data Center)

Hey, 2007 was only the fifth warmest. Global cooling for sure.


Man of the Year — 2008

15 December 2008

My vote goes to Tomás de Torquemada, a man of dedication and singular purpose:

In 1490 Torquemada staged a famous show-trial, the LaGuardia trial. This involved eight Jews and conversos, who were accused of having crucified a Christian child. No victim was ever identified and no body was ever found; nevertheless all eight were convicted, on the strength of their confessions which were obtained through torture. They were burned at the stake.

No wait, Torquemada died in 1498.

Second choice: Vice President Dick Cheney

As support, I offer this Dec. 15, 2008 news story:

“Guantanamo Should Stay Open, Waterboarding OK: Cheney”

In it, Cheney says,

“I was aware of the program [of torture–my term, certainly not his], certainly, and involved in helping get the process [of waterboarding] cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do.”

He continues, saying, he “supported” the technique of simulated drowning. Then, “ABC asked him if in hindsight he thought the tactics went too far.”

Cheney said, “I don’t.”

His Inquisitional fervor shines through, doesn’t it? Whatta guy!


Dirt, Real Dirt

13 December 2008

With my head full of deflationary scenarios and empty store shelves, I’ve started planning next year’s garden, hoping to expand to new raised beds.

Unsurprisingly, my Internet garden search combined with my current interest in economics and I ran across this article: Dirt as a Growth Industry

This was not news to me. Remember than UN guy who said we needed to increase food production. (Ha!)

No soil. No food. No food and worrying about deflation becomes less of an issue.