"It is the unhappy fate of the scientist today that he must play the role of Cassandra in the body politic, sending his fellow men to bed with nightmares in the hope to be heard in time."

- Arthur von Hippel, in "The Molecular Designing of Materials" (h/t @upbeatprof)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Texas Drought Video

From the LA Times. H/T Joe Romm.

 

Can you imagine...

Can you imagine the US federal government taking out advertisements like this:


?

Apparently there is some precedent.

Good advice or not, it seems unimaginable that this was uncontroversial during the "greatest generation". It shows how quickly ideology changes, among other things.

McKitrick's Plan

I appreciate people sharing the broad outlines of how they think we ought to handle the carbon situation. I am not entirely serious with the proposal I have outlined; there is much that I like about it and I hope it can be salvaged, but so far nobody has pointed out what I think is its fatal flaw. We'll get back to that shortly.

Meanwhile, while we're on the subject, a couple of folks have raised McKitrick's plan, which bases a carbon tax on the instantaneous global mean surface temperature (or, according to one correspondent, the equatorial mean).

The equatorial mean, of course, is plainly silly: why pick the least temperature-sensitive spot to measure the anthropogenic damage, unless you were looking for a way to pretend it away.

There is some appeal to the idea, though; the idea is to find a measure of global change that is independent of the scientific theory, such that people who don't have any faith in the science could agree to it, and to use that measure to calibrate the response.

In practice McKitrick's idea seems either ignorant or disingenuous. I cannot take anybody who proposes it seriously, because they still remain firmly in the class of people who "don't get it".

Let's leave aside the usual confusion about "global warming", which is a symptom of anthropogenic climate change, not the disease. We can reduce global warming in a literal sense to zero easily enough with additional aerosol releases, but this will not avoid massive climate change.

Even if global temperature were the a complete measure of anthropogenic climate change, the problem is that it's a delayed measure. The ocean and sea ice take a while to respond; the land ice even longer; and the clathrates (we hope) still longer than that. (*) What this means is that the temperature we see now is the temperature we bought in the past; some of the response is delayed, and some of it is greatly delayed. This is part of what I would call a basic policy-level understanding of the science. If you miss that point, you don't know enough about what is going on in the climate system to venture a serious policy.

I like the idea that the policy should adjust to the evidence. But the idea that the instantaneous temperature is a measure of the sensitivity is a mark of denialist-influenced confusion. Unfortunately there simply is not a simple metric of how deeply in trouble we are. I think the basic idea is not unreasonable on its face, but the measure we use needs to account for the delays in the system.

We could apply something like this to the trillionth ton constraint. If the system is less sensitive than we think, we can loosen the constraint. The trouble is that is the system is more sensitive than we think, there is very little time to tighten the constraint. There is realistically no more time for dawdling, since even the trillion ton limit carries plenty of climate risk on present evidence. We should shoot for that now; shooting for two trillion and realizing the right goal is one trillion is no good if you find yourself already committed to a trillion and a half.

(*) These can be regarded as exacerbating feedbacks from the point of view of the atmosphere system, or slow modes from the point of view of the whole coupled climate system.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Working Backwards

The idea of planning is this. If you have to achieve something by a certain time, start with that time and work backwards to see what was necessary to achieve the goal.

Some goals are impossible, to be sure. The goal of maintaining the status quo is impossible, at least insofar as energy infrastructure is concerned. It cannot be done, whether that pleases you or not. That which is unsustainable will not be sustained.

But people don't like change. So the optimum path to the future is the one which causes the least change. For instance, on the carbon front, we cannot keep emitting substantial net amounts of carbon into the air. In fact, we run plenty of risks at the trillion ton total. So planning is looking at stopping at a trillionth ton, and identifying what has to happen between today and that future. Of the possibilities raised, we have to somehow settle on the least implausible one; which has to be among those which threaten people the least.

I understand most people are worried about the politics of it: how to convince people that change is necessary.

But I think we are being hopelessly unclear about what change that is.

Let's be clear about this much. What needs to happen for us to not go past the trillionth ton, so we can peak below 500 ppmv and revert eventually to the neighborhood of 350 ppmv with a reasonable effort?

Clearly, an international agreement needs to happen. But an agreement to do what? By when? We need to be specific. So far, we are proposing nothing at all. The advocates of the status quo are ahead of us. Their suggestion is unworkable, but it's easy to imagine.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pricing the Externality

So, if we stop emitting at around the trillionth ton of C, I am told by no less than Jim Hansen, the ocean will absorb enough CO2 to get us back down to 350 ppmv before the system equilibrates to the peak forcing. That is, we probably won't need to scrub CO2 out of the free atmosphere, which, jobs or no, would definitely be a negative kick to well-being. Whereas if we keep going beyond that, we probably will; that's a terrible legacy to leave.

So, instead of arguing about which nation gets to emit what, and gets to trade what, I propose that we simply divide the atmospheric carbon dump evenly among those now living. So you have 65 tons of CO2 left to you, and I have 65 tons left to me, and so do Michael Dell and Sandra Bullock, to pick a couple of rich local people at random. Now Michael Dell will get through those 65 tons in a jiffy, no doubt. But being rich, he can bid for more on the open market. Some person in Baluchistan with no intent to use his 65 tons can happily sell some of them to Michael Dell. (These are NOT units of fuel. These are the rights to units of CO2 emissions.)

Conceivably, we can adjust the cap if the denial squad is right: if the sensitivity is low we can allocate more emissions. But the principle that eventually come of the carbon has to be left in the ground still stands. We cannot release all of it. So the sooner we agree to the principle of a hard cap, I think, the better.

A very low-friction electronic marketplace will be easy to set up.

Consider some of the advantages of cap and trade at the individual level. Externalities are clearly priced. People not using their allocation are directly rewarded. International negotiations are avoided. No blame accrues to past behavior; no nation gains a competitive disadvantage. The windfall goes not to the fuel producers, but to the poorest people in the world; a natural income transfer. So much for the crocodile tears for the underdeveloped. We use the emissions cap explicitly to support them in a transition to a market economy.

Most of all, it's simple and it's fair. You can explain it to people. There are advantages all around. Did I miss something?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Great Rationing

We need to begin by acknowledging that our problem has no precedent.

It appears that polite and reasonable pursuit of a transition to sustainability has failed in the face of a sort of twisted unnatural malice accidentally written into law. We are at the mercy of a tyranny of the "fiduciary responsibilities" of the officers of the large corporations that have made the miracle of modern life possible and are increasingly making the doom of the future ever more enormous and inevitable.

These blind and monstrous corporate "responsibilities" dominate the life of the advanced countries and they (and their odd echoes in China) influence many other countries.

The conventional modern view of the world has it that while economic freedoms cross all borders, all other freedoms are contingent, local, tied to geography, that is, tied to a particular nation-state and a particular sovereignty. Thus, we have international governance for trade, but not for, say, immigration, or for that matter, for freedom or for preservation of our environment.

Persons who inhabit the "wrong" nation-state are accorded limited and contingent rights. In America's incredible legal tangle, these rights as accorded to any individual may be entirely self-contradictory as well as capricious: until recently "illegal" immigrants who are now in danger of expulsion for a traffic stop were encouraged to get drivers' licenses and bank accounts and even home mortgages!

So, if there is any future to the world, the homebodies who haven't seen much of it are overrepresented in making the necessary decisions! And it is the political "responsibility" of their elected representatives to maintain an environment favorable to their own nation in competition with all others, as well as responsive to the aforesaid "fiduciarily responsible" corporate monsters.

Looking at the CO2 picture in particular, (and other global issues may have similar features) the trouble is that there may be no solution that can possibly satisfy the major players (The G7, the BRICS, southeast Asia) individually that can actually resolve the problem that the trillion-and-first ton of carbon is probably going to be emitted, and then some.

It's little wonder when you think about it. In round numbers there are 7 billion of us and we have 450 billion tons left to allocate among us. That leaves you and your half share of all your descendants 65 tons of carbon to play with, or 240 tons of CO2.

Now the US has been holding pretty steady at 19 tons per capita. That means if 1) you don't want to cross the trillionth ton boundary (close to the 2 degrees C line) and 2) you are American and 3) you don't want to use more than your fair share and 4) you don't want to change anything until the last minute, you will have to go cold turkey on carbon emissions in twelve years. No car, no electricity, no heating fuel, no imported food, nothing. Your share of what's left of the atmospheric sink will be used up at that point.

Will the world hold us to this? No, they won't. The world is as addicted to American excess as America is. The whole crazy system is currently based on the Chinese lending us the money we paid them to buy stuff they made for us that we don't need so they can afford to build stuff for themselves that they don't need. Somehow if we do this, there is food on the table, and if we don't, there ain't. To those who believe in the Invisible Hand, this must be reasonable because it is happening.

Anyway.

I am beginning to suspect are past the point where we can rely on our governments to fix this situation.

Certainly the corporations won't help.

The Breakthrough Institute keeps telling us to hold our collective breaths for a deus ex machina solution, but it's getting mightly late for our savior to arrive in the form of, say, a safe, scalable backyard nuclear plant or a sunlight to algae to oil process. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the quick fix if it's there to be had, but we really are talking about an enormous scale. I'm reminded of the avatar in the Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the World, who arrived to late to save anything at all.

Getting back to governments, it begins to look as though the COP cannot work. Governments are beholden to too many interests to behave as sane participants in a shared effort. Everyone is thrilled to let the Chinese and the Yanks share the blame for business continuing as usual. Perhaps our successors will be wiser than we are, but time is very definitely running out.

My modest suggestion is that we work toward a global consensus among the populations of all the countries, and not among the diplomats; further, that allocations will be designated at the individual, not the national level, and that all resulting rules will apply to individuals.

So, suppose each person alive today gets an allocation of 65 tons, and is free to sell it on the open market. That way, poor people who are carbon frugal get an income source, and rich people get to keep using carbon-based energy for a while as the cost goes up. Most of the buyers will presumably be industrial...

I can see several problems with this approach but it has some advantages 1) simple 2) arguably fair 3) market based 4) enforces a strong cap. It would also light a fire under private sector research into carbon free alternatives a lot better than a few DoE grants would.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Scary Peak Oil Video

Thanks to Dennis at Samadhisoft, here's an Australian TV piece on peak oil.



I think it's an excellent example of communication of complex issues to a mass audience.



I like how the rich imagery is interwoven with interviews with major players and with various versions of an actually informative infographic. This is good public communication of bad news*.

* = (Except that "Houston, we have a problem" is sort of getting a bit trite around these parts, but I guess we Texans weren't the taaaget odience, roit?)

Thoughts on Avoiding Doom

"Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do. We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way."

- Aldous Huxley in "Island" via Willard




"Ulysses knew that the sirens’ enchanting song could lead him to follow them, but he didn’t want to do that. At the same time he also did not want to deprive himself from hearing their song – so he asked his sailors to tie him to the mast and fill their ears with wax to block out the sound – and so he could hear the song of the sirens but resist their lure. ... It seems that [Ulysses'...] ability to exert self-control is less connected to a natural ability to be more zen-like in the face of temptations, and more linked to the ability to reconfigure our environment (tying ourselves to the mast) and modulate the intensity by which it tempts us (filling our ears with wax)."

- Dan Arielly, via Andrew Sullivan



"Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity.

Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.
We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence."
...
"Our call is for fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity for present and future generations."

- The Stockholm Memorandum via RealClimate



Appealing to reason is clearly necessary and clearly insufficient
. We must reject calls to ignore detailed, careful rational argument, but we also have to dedicate the whole of our humanity to the required fundamental shift; this requires something other than mere ordinary scientific discourse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More Yucks from the Denialati

This is a new prototype of chutzpah, replacing the man who kills his parents and then pleads with the court for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan.

Go. Look. I am not making this up.
Dozens of think tank cosponsors and hundreds of scientists will gather in an effort to “restore the scientific method” to its rightful place in the debate over the causes, consequences, and policy implications of climate change.

The theme of the conference, “Restoring the Scientific Method,” acknowledges the fact that claims of scientific certainty and predictions of climate catastrophes are based on “post-normal science,” which substitutes claims of consensus for the scientific method. This choice has had terrible consequences for science and society. Abandoning the scientific method led to the “Climategate” scandal and the errors and abuses of peer review by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The scientists speaking at this conference, and the hundreds more who are expected to attend, are committed to restoring the scientific method. This means abandoning the failed hypothesis of man-made climate change, and using real science and sound economics to improve our understanding of the planet’s ever-changing climate.
So apparently science has been politicized, and the Heartland Institute is here to rescue us. (With economics, yet.) Priceless.

Oh and also:
The event is open to the public. Federal and state elected officials can attend for free.
Boy, oh boy, free tickets for elected officials! That's the way to keep politics out of science. Yupperoo. Yessireebob.

Apparently climate denial is over and has been replaced by a hilarious farce. I can't wait for this!

Morano's Email

Somebody really ought to be collecting Morano's charming missives somewhere; he really doesn't seem to understand the web very well. Anyway, after many months of declaring victory in his inimitable style, his latest delightful and elegant discourse seems to have an air of desperation to it. So for those of you not privileged to be on his mailing list (which includes all his previous targets such as your humble correspondent), check it out:
NAS/NRC's Ralph Cicerone is copied on this email. For latest go to www.ClimateDepot.com

Climate Depot's Round up on National Research Council's media hyped political science scare report

See how the best 'science' politics can manufacture is produced -- Media loves NRC's politically manufactured 'science'


Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - By Marc Morano - Climate Depot


Repulsive: National Research Council Chaired by Corrupted Warmist Ralph Cicerone: Turned Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study used to lobby for climate bill rcicerone@nas.edu


Flashback: MIT's Lindzen Slams: 'Ralph Cicerone of NAS/NRC is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov't wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide'


WaPo: 'Inevitable complex deniers willfully ignorant recalcitrance cynical catastrophic planetary damage drastic Republican...' -- '...preeminent rising seas spreading deserts intensifying storms loom significant risks caused by human activities'

'The Wash. Post wants candidates to be quizzed on what they would do about 'the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms' -- But natural disasters, topographic changes and population booms and busts have always occurred and will continue to occur. None of these phenomena can be scientifically tied to manmade emissions of CO2. So they are simply irrelevant sideshow issues'


Media hyped National Research Council panels are 'highly politicized and often stacked, with no climate skeptics included -- Report is more of an exercise in political rather than climate science' -


Media hyped National Research Council (NRC) report exposed: 'NRC report is the opinion of a mere 21 authors - nearly all of whom had a longstanding record of global warming activism' -- 'Far from providing objective, expert proof of a global warming crisis, the NRC report provides objective proof that - despite their grandiose-sounding names - the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council are more interested in political agendas than objective, fact-based science'


NRC predetermined outcome of report: 'Of the first eight names, only one appears to be a climate scientist. The others are engineers, lawyers, and public policy types'


USA Today touts NRC report -- Compares Climate Change Skeptics to Birthers


WaPo calls debate over! 'Climate change denial becomes harder to justify' -- 'Deniers are willfully ignorant, lost in wishful thinking, cynical or some combination of the three' -- Wash Post: 'Every candidate for political office, including for president, should be asked whether they disagree with the scientific consensus of America's premier scientific advisory group, and if so, on what basis they disagree; and if not, what they propose to do about the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms that, absent a change in policy, loom on America's horizon'


Arctic Study Countered: 'Studies have found that Arctic temperatures have fluctuated, and are now around the same level as they were in the mid-1930s' -- 'Scientist Igor Polyakov of the International Arctic Research Center at the U. of Alaska, Fairbanks tracked Arctic temp records from latter part of 19th century until current decade, and found that 1930s marked the warmest time during that period'


As Hillary Clinton works against global warming in Greenland, some there don't mind it


New NAS climate report; Same ol' same ol' junk science

Background on NAS/NRC's Ralph Cicerone:


MIT's Lindzen: 'Cicerone of NAS is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov't wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide'


The National Academy of Sciences is Hertsgaard's evidence for climate fear: For Shame: NAS Pres. Ralph Cicerone Turns Science Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study is used to lobby for global warming bill


This is 'science'? NAS's Ralph Cicerone goes political -- Urges nations to reduce emissions at UN climate talks rcicerone@nas.edu


The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is Mark Hertsgaard's strongest 'evidence' for climate doom?!

For Shame: NAS Pres. Ralph Cicerone Turns Science Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study is used to lobby for global warming bill


rcicerone@nas.edu


MIT's Lindzen: 'Cicerone of NAS is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov't wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide'


Cicerone's Shame: NAS Urges Carbon Tax, Becomes Advocacy Group -- 'political appointees heading politicized scientific institutions that are virtually 100% dependent on gov't funding'


Cicerone's Shame: NAS engaged in 'bureaucratic attempt to cook the books'


MIT's Dr. Richard Lindzen's 48-page Congressional Testimony: 'Increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming' -- 'Data is being analyzed with aim of supporting, rather than testing models'

'Incontrovertibility' belongs to religion where it is referred to as dogma...Cicerone [of NAS] is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov't wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide...We should stop accepting term, 'skeptic.' Skepticism implies doubts about a plausible proposition. Current warming alarm hardly represents a plausible proposition.'


Cicerone's Shame: NAS Urges Carbon Tax, Becomes Advocacy Group -- 'political appointees heading politicized scientific institutions that are virtually 100% dependent on gov't funding'

'This is the same kind of foolishness that led the IPCC to overreach in proposing climate policies'


Meteorologist Joe D'Aleo of IceCap.Us: 'NAS was established by Abraham Lincoln but under recent appointees and Pres. Ralph Cicerone it has become a joke'

NAS is now 'an advocacy group for government policy not a trusted impartial agency for science issues'


For Shame: EPA chief Lisa Jackson cancels Democrat fundraising appearance -- only after media reports

Cicerone's Shame -- Morphs NAS into IPCC: 'It's time to pull the plug on public funding for these [NAS] science-fiction writers'


For Shame: NAS Pres. Ralph Cicerone Turns Science Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study is used to lobby for global warming bill


Clueless USA Today: 'Still skeptical? Could this be a tough week for climate skeptics?' Why? 'Multiple U.S.-funded reports and data all say same thing: global temperatures are rising'

Climate Depot Response: 'More government funded propaganda reports from science political hacks like NAS Chief Ralph Cicerone only prove that the global warming movement has learned nothing from Climategate. The more scientists turn to political activism, the more their 'cause' becomes a joke.'


President of National Academy of Sciences Cicerone, says UN IPCC responsible for public losing confidence in climate science


This is 'science'? NAS's Ralph Cicerone goes political -- Urges nations to reduce emissions at UN climate talks


Marc Morano
ClimateDepot.com
CFACT
1875 Eye Street, NW
Fifth Floor
Washington, D.C. 20006
202-536-5052
Morano@ClimateDepot.com

I like how report A can't be trusted because it's all insiders and report B can't be trusted because it's all outsiders.

But this isn't entirely a joke. "Pulling the plug" on NAS because you don't like consensus scientific opinion is, um, perhaps an ever so slightly maladaptive strategy?



Quote of the week is relevant, restated here for future reference (h/t Brian Dupuis):
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'

- Isaac Asimov via Ed Brayton

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This is brilliant

Among other things, this is only the second piece of advice on improving environmental messaging that I've seen that makes sense to me and gives me hope, the first being Bruce Sterling's blobjects talk.

It's Jason Scorse pitching What Environmentalists Need to Know About Economics



Update: Posted in a hurry last night. Lots of doubts arising in the light of day. Still, I think there is much of value here.

Lou has some thoughts too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

For the Misleading Headline File

Body of article:
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri said the general observation that climate change was bringing about an increase in extreme weather events was valid but scientists needed to provide much finer detail.

"Frankly, it is difficult to take a season or two and come up with any conclusions on those on a scientific basis," Dr Pachauri said.

"What we can say very clearly is the aggregate impact of climate change on all these events, which are taking place at much higher frequency and intensity all over the world.

"On that there is very little doubt; the scientific evidence is very, very strong. But what happens in Queensland or what happens in Russia or for that matter the floods in the Mississippi River right now, whether there is a link between those and climate change is very difficult to establish. So I don't think anyone can make a categorical statement on that."
Headline:
Summer of disaster 'not climate change': Rajendra Pachauri

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Internet Contributes to Polarization

Does this count as "ironic"?



Personally, I found Facebook unusably irritating until I discovered the "Most Recent" feature which turns off its purported helpfulness and just provides you with a temporal sequence of everything you asked for.

Yes, this is relevant. We do this filtering to ourselves. Our web services are only too happy to oblige.

Do Submerged Nations Exist?

Sovereign states are so burned in to the way humans conduct business nowadays, and the affiliation to one's own state so burned in as a cultural norm, that it's difficult to imagine any alternative. Of course there are numerous contradictions built in to this model, but in its pervasiveness, defenses have been erected around all of them. But over time, new challenges may arise. One is the fundamental connection between sovereignty and territory.

We don't consider the possibility of sovereignty without territory, but if a state becomes completely submerged, does the overall nation-state system retire that state, and if so, how?

Surely, I have thought. I'm not the only person whose thoughts have wandered in this direction. Indeed, it turns out that some people have been thinking about this in some detail.

13 May, 2011 - Climate change is posing new challenges to international law.

Maritime zones, uninhabitable states and climate exiles are just a few of the new consequences caused by climate change. These will affect many states, including small island developing states and low-lying coastal states.

International law must evolve to address these new threats. Lawyers globally have raised many potential solutions for each of these challenges. What now remains is to muster the political will necessary to turn potential solutions into reality.

Read FIELD’s new paper ‘Receding maritime zones, uninhabitable states and climate exiles. How international law must adapt to climate change.’

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ironic Weather

I heard of someone not getting a writing job because they were unable to adequately define "irony". I hope it isn't true. That's a difficult challenge. Someone quick on their feet might say "That's a hard one but it sure would be ironic not to get the job because I couldn't define one of my favorite words."

I don't know if weather can be ironic. But if it can, it's ironic that the great Texas drought of '11 has spread into the bayou country, which is about to get a special delivery of pretty much every drop of water missing from Texas.



We finally got a decent rain this week, in fact exceeding the daily local record in Austin (ho hum, right?). In fact, the majority of our rain for the year to date fell on Thursday. Much of Texas got this bit of relief. And though it's perhaps silly for the governor to issue a solemn proclamation to that effect, this plea for prayer seems poignant to me.
May 12 (Southwest Farm Press) – The Texas Farm Bureau board of directors, meeting in its regular quarterly session at its headquarters in Waco, Texas, issued the following statement of urgency:

As wildfires in Texas continue a rampage across more than two million acres, another major disaster is gripping the Lone Star State. Dry weather has a stranglehold on all but a small portion of Texas.

Almost the entire state is officially classified in drought—much of it as extreme or exceptional. The seven-month period from October of 2010 to April of this year is officially the driest on record. May is usually our wettest month. Except for a few isolated areas, rain has refused to fall.

Texas farmers and ranchers are in an extremely critical situation as we prepare for June and the hot summer months. Crops are shriveling in the field. Pastures are burning. Many farmers likely will have little or nothing to harvest. Some ranchers already are selling their herds.

The irony is that Texas farmers and ranchers entered 2011 with great hope. Crop and livestock prices were high. Texas agriculture was looking forward to a great year. Instead, we’re facing a situation that could be more devastating than the drought of 2009, when farmers and ranchers suffered direct losses of $4 billion. …

What will help most is steady, abundant moisture. Farmers and ranchers ask all Texans to join us as we pray for rain.
The above quote is from Desdemona Despair, who also provides the following particularly alarming official drought map.

For scale, the driving distance from westernmost Texas to easternmost Texas (857 mi) is a little bit more than the distance from Land's End to John O' Groats, or from Lugano to Messina, or just a tad below the driving distance from Sacramento to Vancouver BC, or Windsor ON to Chicoutimi QC, or Philadelphia PA to St Louis MO. All of which in turn are below the driving distance from South Padre island in sothernmost Texas to the northwest corner of the Texas panhandle (924 mi or 1487 km). In other words, big, almost subcontinental.

Strike Three?

Will Louisiana endure yet another astonishing and enormous disaster? I sure hope not but the signs are that it may. This is the third strike even if you don't count the recent extremist politics of the south which are particularly unsuited for Louisiana's peculiar geography. A place that is in danger of physically falling apart and dropping into the ocean, you'd think, would have more enthusiasm for government.



Anyway, enough time for a postmortem if/when the Mississippi dies (long live the Atchafalaya)! I've seen several consistent versions of the story; as usual I am willing to take Jeff Masters as definitive.

America's Achilles' heel: the Mississippi River's Old River Control Structure

There's apparently a whole lot of industrial infrastructure between Baton Rouge and the Gulf that relies on a whole lot of water coming by. If the Big River reroutes itself above Baton Rouge, it will totally destroy the communities it rolls over and damage a lot of petroleum infrastructure. Masters points out that it will have a huge impact on the areas that lose access to the flow as well.

Louisiana was not a wealthy place before Katrina, not to mention not historically well-governed, and of course the present economic turmoil helps nobody. It's a bit mind-boggling to imagine the worst case scenario for the next few months. I hope it doesn't happen, but it might.

Update: David Brin, coincidentally the author of the quote of the week above, says to let the river go. Good luck with that one.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dew

An interesting item from my email.

One technical question: does a decline in the diurnal temperature cycle imply less fog and dew in general? Could this have a widespread economic and/or ecological impact?

There are a few studies here and there but I couldn't find anyone taking a global perspective. (This ties in with some explicitly confused expectations about coastal fog in the western US that Roger Peilke Jr. raised some months ago; there seems to be disagreement on which direction it is going and which way it is supposed to go.)

Anyway, just one of many things to think about raised in this context:

'Where Have All the Seasons Gone?'

Delhi Platform, along with the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union
(GALU) and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), has just
published a 48-page report 'Where Have All the Seasons Gone? Current
Impacts of Climate Change in Gujarat'. It focuses in particular on the
impacts of climate change on small and marginal farmers, and on
agricultural workers in parts of Gujarat.

A summary of the report is pasted below.

Anyone interested in the full printed copy, please contact us at
delhiplatform@gmail.com. Those in Delhi are welcome to come to our
meetings in Coffee House in central Delhi, where you could also pick
up a copy.

In solidarity,

Nagraj Adve, and others,
Delhi Platform

SUMMARY OF THE REPORT

Global warming has finally begun to get the attention of the world in
the last few years, though a sense of urgency and a commensurate
response is still lacking where it is needed most. With that, there
has been a plethora of attempts to study and analyze it at the macro
level. However, there has been a relative lack of detailed studies of
the impacts on the ground, particularly in India. We need to
understand better how people across gender, caste and class divides in
different regions and ecosystems are being impacted by climate change;
if and how they are responding; and which responses are effective and
which are not. Many players need to take part in efforts in this
direction, because to address the issues meaningfully, participatory
response, at the local, regional, as well as the global level, is
essential.

This report reveals the already considerable impacts of global warming
on small and marginal farmers, and on agricultural labour in northern
and eastern Gujarat. A joint team comprising activists of Delhi
Platform, of the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), along with
the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union (GALU), Bandhkaam Mazdoor
Sanghatan and Disha, visited villages in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha
districts in northern Gujarat and the predominantly adivasi Dahod and
Panchmahal districts in eastern Gujarat in late-November, early
December 2010. This report is based on our conversations with
residents in villages there; discussions with activists; interactions
with those knowledgeable about Gujarat’s social structure, agriculture
and water systems; and on relevant primary data and secondary
literature.

Residents in villages told us about a range of climate change effects
in recent years (presented in chapter 1). These date back from about
half a decade to a slightly longer 15-20 years. They include a rise in
winter temperature and a consequent loss of dew (atmospheric moisture)
for the winter crops; irregularity in rainfall; delays in the main
southwest monsoon and a decline in rains in June; more intense
rainfall events, a lot of rain in fewer days; patchiness in rainfall
over a region; and a rise in summer temperatures and heat. Many of
these reported changes are in keeping with changes elsewhere in India;
some, such as the loss of dew, we were hearing for the first time.
Secondly, whereas people in villages had expectedly a clear idea of
changes in rainfall and other climatic patterns, there was very little
awareness about why it was happening or that anthropocentric global
warming was to blame.
The impacts of climate change on small and marginal farmers (chapter
3) have been varied:

a. Warmer winters have meant reduced moisture for their winter crops,
maize, wheat, tuar dal, etc, due to the absence of dew, resulting in
sharply reduced yields or farmers even having to leave their lands
fallow. Those without access to well water in eastern Gujarat are
particularly hard-hit by this, and they typically tend to be from the
poorest households.

b. Warmer winters are also resulting in the increased incidence of

pest attacks in both regions. Consequently, farmers are being forced
to incur a further burden of higher input/pesticide costs.

c. Irregular rainfall events are harming agriculture in different

ways. For instance, the production of cotton and other crops such as
groundnut and potato was devastated in 2010-2011 due to excessively
and unprecedented rains until late November. These extensive rains,
very likely caused by climate change, extended for hundreds of
kilometres beyond Gujarat, to southern Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh,
Maharashtra, Rajasthan, etc.

d. The extraction of groundwater by farmers has accentuated greatly

with the increasing cultivation of market-driven cash and
water-intensive crops, and by climate change. This has resulted in a
sharp fall in the water table, particularly in northern Gujarat. As
this intensifies, it has serious implications for the farm economy
generally, in particular for poorer farmers directly and landless
labour indirectly through the reduced demand for labour.

e. Milk production – which is central to household economies,

particularly among poor households, both in eastern Gujarat but
particularly in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha – is getting hit due to
thermal heat stress faced by local and hybrid cow breeds. The
availability of fodder, free or at least inexpensively, has
diminished, putting more pressure on households least able to cope
with it. This also affects the fat content in the milk, thereby
reducing the price at which milk can be sold.

f. Food security of the poorest households have begun to get hit as

yields of food crops such as maize, wheat and pulses have begun to
suffer, wiping out possible short-term gains from Green Revolution
strategies.

Our visit reconfirmed our long-held view that the impacts of global
warming are being felt most by those least responsible for it. For
small and marginal farmers, crop failure due to climate change can be
a disaster and can plunge them into a cycle of debt, or into forced
migration to factories or construction work in western and south
Gujarat. For sharecroppers (bataidars) and agricultural workers in
Gujarat (and elsewhere in India), the impacts of climate change
(discussed in chapter 4) means a serious loss of work and wages. In
North Gujarat for instance, the damage to the cotton crop meant a loss
of about 30-40 days’ work per agricultural worker, or about Rs 4,000
per worker, a big setback to households in which more than one member
engages in agricultural labour. It meant migration, but thousands of
workers made that journey to find no work at the end of it because the
crop had been damaged there too. To the best of our knowledge, this is
the first time that impacts of climate change on agricultural workers
in India are being presented in a published report.

Climate change cannot be viewed in isolation from social processes.
The capacity to absorb the impacts of climate change is crucially
dependent on two factors in any agrarian setting: land ownership and
access to water. A third factor, in parts of Gujarat, is animal
husbandry, given its centrality for household economies. The social
structure and land ownership, the extensive tapping of groundwater in
northern Gujarat and its relative absence in adivasi areas of eastern
Gujarat; the development of milk cooperatives and the interconnections
between these three elements of the agrarian economy are discussed in
chapter 2, along with some recent developments, such as the decline in
groundwater, policy variations in electrical supply over the last 20
years, the development of contract farming more recently, and how
north and eastern Gujarat differ in many of these.
What might be the way ahead? A concluding chapter (chapter 5) suggests
that our responses would need to be at different levels. It mentions
specifics such as compensation for workers due to loss of work, and to
farmers for loss in crop yields, and possible sources for such
compensatory payments. Regarding cushioning the impacts of, and
adapting to climate change, NREGA has a considerable role to play in
the better distribution of water and electricity, in developing and
maintaining ponds; check dams; development of grasslands, revival of
forests, water harvesting, etc.

The chapter also discusses crucial wider questions that the issue of
global warming revives, without which no meaningful long term solution
is possible. Two such central questions are equity, and, connected to
it, reviving the notion of the commons. Land reforms are central to
any notion of equity in an agrarian setting. But what would equity
mean in the context of access to water, and more specifically,
groundwater? It would include snapping the link between access to
land, capital and technology, and access to water. How does one have
arrangements in place at the community level that ensure that even the
landless and the poor have a right to water? To understand better
these and related questions, we briefly discuss some earlier struggles
in Maharashtra and elsewhere around equitable distribution of water.

Climate change is only one among a range of ecological crises that
humanity has created and needs to tackle with urgency. Global warming
draws our attention, once again, to man’s relations with nature and
relations within human society. It forces us to rethink our entire
development trajectory itself. The need to tackle global warming hence
needs to be made part of a larger struggle for equity. In that longer
struggle, reports such as the one that follows below, can at best, but
we hope, play a small part.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

30 Day Precip Anomaly: Mississippi & Ohio Rivers



http://water.weather.gov/precip/

For those from far away, the bright magenta area denotes over 8" or about 20 cm anomaly, and the area with that large of an anomaly is clearly larger than the area of Great Britain and comparable to that of France. It's almost entirely in the Mississippi watershed and this water will shortly present challenges to the complex flood control system around New Orleans.



Food and Oil Over Longer Times

NOTE (Update): This article should be read as a follow-on to "Why is this?" The question at hand is whether food costs are actually dominated by petroleum costs.



I claim no prior expertise in this matter. Indeed, I am confused; I had thought that natural gas prices, not oil prices, would drive costs of agricultural commodities. But the latest spike in petroleum has not been matched by natural gas.

So far we have seen a wide variety of opinions proffered: one is that the coincident recent price spikes are indeed coincidental.

That all commodities move together to some extent remains plausible from where I am sitting. Does anyone have some input on that?

Here are real commodity prices and real oil prices over a longer time span. There is some question as to when we are looking at paleo-agriculture. Certainly oil prices in 1870 are irrelevant.




I had a harder time finding traded food prices, but this one comes from Phil Trans Roy Soc, so I think we can take it as reasonably authoritative, but it predates the recent glitch





It's crucial to note that vulnerability of the poorest states to food prices is relatively new. Before urbanization of the third world, bulk food was not a market commodity for poor people; communities grew their own staples. So taking this history too far back doesn't really speak to food security in the sense of the organization of global society.

The results, taking these particular plots at face value, are equivocal. We see a very close match between oil spikes and food spikes since 1960, but there is a price spike which clearly has some other cause around 1950.

The food price chart is from Jeremy Grantham, with a hat tip to Keith Kloor. I found a number of similar oil price charts via google images; this representative one is via "Supply Chain Digest".

It looks to me like there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that the current price rise is tied to the oil price rise. The alternative theories:
  • Direct forcing by oil prices
  • Speculation yielding common pressures across commodities
  • Increased middle classes in China bidding prices up for animal feed over human use
  • Increased biofuel demand
  • Crop damage due to widespread climate disruption
I had been inclined to #3 as the primary forcing, reinforced by #5. But the synchrony of the oil and food prices is striking enough to pull my attentions back to the first two possibilities.

It matters a great deal, I think, which causes are at work. I had been one of those less concerned with peak oil, but if the first possibility holds we really are in a bad way.

Again, we have to separate out the oil price and the energy price. energy prices have been stable except for petroleum, which is mostly about fueling mobile heavy equipment. Certainly mobile heavy equipment is important to modern farming, but I would not have anticipated that the fuel costs would figure so prominently. I can't think of any other basis for the first.

If it's just speculation, we have an entirely different sort of problem, which amounts purely to a regulatory issue and not to a real-world physical problem at all. That would hardly be unprecedented, but if that's true, why is this not a prominent issue?

Color me confused.

Update: Some recent numbers for agricultural fuel consumption in the US.

From here: US farming in 2005 was worth 127 billion dollars.

From here, a gallon of gasoline is 114 K Btu. Treating diesel and gasoline as roughly equivalent, we have 637 trillion/114 thousand = 5.6 billion gallons of liquid fuel. Even at $4 per gallon this amounts to only 1/6 the total price. So at first pass the food price is overreacting to the fuel price by a factor of about 4.

Possible confounds: meat double counting: a good fraction of agriculture is for animal feed rather than directly for humans. This will increase the fuel intensity dramatically for that sector. Non-food components, especially forestry, accounts for a significant fraction of GDP and is low energy use. Luxury foods, perhaps not counted in the FAO index, which will produce a high GDP per unit of energy because they are labor-intensive and/or high-profit.

So, we have a dollar's worth of food containing at least 18 cents worth of liquid fuel at present prices, only 9 cents at 2005 prices, at the moment the farmer sells to the distributor. This does NOT count the energy input into the fertilizer or heavy equipment or other items purchased by the framer.


Update
via Rust Never Sleeps in comments:

"The energy costs of common foodstuffs range widely, due to different modes of production (such as intensity of fertilization and pesticide applications, use of rain-fed or irrigated cropping, or manual or mechanized harvesting) and the intensities of subsequent processing. The typical costs of harvested staples are around 0.1toe/t* (*ton of oil equivalent per ton) for wheat, corn and temperate fruit, and at least 0.25 toe/t for rice. Produce grown in large greenhouses is most energy intensive: peppers and tomatoes costs as much as 1 toe/t. Modern fishing has a similarly high fuel cost per kilogram of catch. These rates can be translated into interesting output/input ratios: harvested wheat contains nearly four times as much energy as was used to produce it, but the energy consumed in growing greenhouse tomatoes can be up to fifty times higher than their energy content.

These ratios show the degree to which modern agriculture has become dependent on external energy subsidies: as Howard Odum put it in 1971, we now eat potatoes partly made of oil. But they cannot simplistically be interpreted as indicators of energy efficiency; we do not eat tomatoes just for their energy, but for their taste, and vitamin C and lycopene content, and we cannot (unlike some bacteria) eat diesel fuel. Moreover, in all affluent countries, food's total energy cost is dominated by processing, packaging, long-distance transport (often with cooling or refrigeration), retail, shopping trips, refrigeration, cooking and washing of dishes - at least doubling, and in many cases tripling or quadrupling, the energy costs of agricultural production."(Smil, Energy, 2006. pg. 152)


More in Smil 2008 Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems.

Very much the sort of thing I was looking for, thanks.

I still don't understand why food prices should be as sensitive to gasoline prices as the last few years would seem to indicate. I presume the basket used by the FAO is not heavily processed, since we are mostly interested in what food for the poorest people costs. It seems everything besides mobile farm equipment and trucking can easily have substitute energy sources.

But if farmers and truckers have to compete with the whole market for tractor fuel, prices should indeed go up, if not quite as steeply as we see. Obviously, demand for grain is inelastic, and will perversely increase as the price goes up (and demand for meat goes down). Ultimately, food is what we need and everything else is what we want. That food should be cheap enough that we throw a good fraction away is bizarre...

Tying it Together

Just a thought tying our two current topics (global food security, extreme events) together with another common theme, market economics.

Robin Hanson points out maneuvers by large players to push out small players in aviation and previously in entertainment. The entertainment one seems particularly egregious because it violates both the principles of the left (watch out for the little guy) AND the principles of the right (allow the market to allocate resources).

There's no direct market manipulation in climate change, of course, just a desperate preservation of a market failure that evolved inadvertently (the climate externalities of energy). But consider the big guy/small guy implications if we are in kick-world and not nudge-world. Individual crops will fail.

Consider this year. Much of the upper midwest is a month behind because of flooding; given their short growing season this is a serious impact; meanwhile we in Texas and the Greater Texas Area (really there's not an accepted name for the southern semi-arid plains; following on the cloying example of Chicago radio stations perhaps we should call it Texasland) are entering the summer drier than we usually leave it. It's hard to imagine North America pulling its weight in crop production this year.

This is really bad for the family farm; a spectacularly bad couple of years can ruin a farmer. But it is good news for agribusiness (in the same way that peak oil is terrific news for oil companies); a business which owns agricultural property in many climate zones has only advantages of scale in nudge-world. But in kick-world their advantages become huge: they are immune to the failure of particular corps in particular places because some other place will have a bumper crop, and in the event of a shortage, the unit price will go up yielding them more profit.

Now, I for one come from many generations of city and town dwellers. My ancestors were not allowed to own land. Any sentiment I have about rural lifestyles is purely Holywood-driven. In practice I know less about it than almost anyone I know. But apple pie on the windowsill and high school football teams going into the next county on an old school bus and fishing in the stream and all that even has some secondhand sentimental appeal for me. For people to whom it is real, having it threatened is serious business, and that explains part of the intensity of their opposition to many public policies that I think are necessary and even exciting. But they are hosed, you know. It's not liberalism that is squeezing them, though they certainly notice the pinch at tax time. It's corporatism, and to a great extent, the corporate-inspired spin on their beliefs.

If under climate change kick-world wins out over nudge-world, it will be all the worse. Individual farms will be at a severe disadvantage versus agribusiness. If I did have any attachment to farming I would look at forming tight financial cooperatives across very wide regions. American farmers are especially advantaged in this strategy since their country spans so many climate zones.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why is this?

Why is this?

I see it here being flogged bit by a biofuels interest group, but I'm not sure I'm going to take their word for anything.

UPDATE: Broken hotlink. Here is a similar image via http://globalrfa.org/industry-issues/food-vs-fuel



So what does this mean? We see that oil at $25 leads to food at 90 while oil at $100 leads to food at 180. Consider the simplest formula

food = G + H * oil

Then G = 60 (fixed cost) and H = 1.2 (units per dollar in oil price)

So at the baseline, non-energy costs of production are 2/3 of the total while at the peak they are 1/3. Any further increases will track the fuel prices even more closely.

The breakdown of the food index is here.

The question I have is why there is so much energy in food. The claim that it is about shipping is very unconvincing. This volatility must be a severe stress for poorer countries where food dominates the household budget. How hard would it be to break this link? If fuel continues to rise, can some of the energy be subsituted by human labor?

How much of this energy link traces to the manufacture of artificial fertilizer? Presumably that is not shown, because the fertilizer is made using a natural-gas based process, and gas prices have not risen. But that means an even bigger slice of the cost of food is just fossil fuel, right?

Can we feed the world without artificial fertilizer?

Can we feed the world without carbon emissions?

Is there a trend in Atlantic Hurricanes?

Image via Wikipedia ; unattributed.

The denialists are mocking the idea of anthropogenically forced increase in Atlantic hurricanes, never mind tropical storms in general.

You could in fact plot "landfalling hurricanes in the US" and get a much noisier plot wherein there is a "robust decline", the idea that this counts as evidence against anthropogenic forcing being quite disingenuously implied.

But my point again is that (Update: perhaps) the system is getting wobblier. Suppose you take the event "over 15 Atlantic hurricanes named storms" as a matter of interest. These are the darker of the swans. The number of instances is too rare to extract a statistical trend, but that null result does NOT mean that such events aren't more likely than they used to be. And what of "over 25 Atlantic hurricanes named storms". We only have a single event. It's quite recent. But it's been followed by more or less ordinary seasons, and extraordinarily few US landfalling hurricanes (currently we are in a record three year gap since the last, and counting).

Now, just for the sake of argument, imagine that hurricanes pretty much go away for thirty years, and then suddenly come back in greater force than ever, with year after year competing with 2005 for a few decades. Then imagine they drop down to an unprecedented low, with no Atlantic tropical storms for a long while. Projecting this trend onto CO2 would yield nothing.

Yet it is not out of the range of the plausible, because several features of the atmosphere have to align for a strong tropical storm year, and each of them is subject not only to monotonic forcing but to wobbles as the system gets larger and larger transients. In other words, the entire complex behavior, by hypothesis, might be forced. The absence of a trend is not enough to say that it is not anthropogenic climate change.

Admittedly, this gets us in the quandary of what evidence to accept as supportive and what to reject. Certainly, explicitly predicted outcomes provide stronger support for the details of the science than complete surprises. Some people are still stuck in hypothesis testing mode, which I think is starting to get a little bit crazy. We can only test hypotheses that way. We cannot use that approach to establish that changing the radiative properties of the atmosphere is safe.

My claim is that we need to get our thinking out of nudge-world. This is not a "nudge":



(A bit out of date; please mentally extend the green line about to about 394 for today, and probably no less than 500 by the time we are done; perhaps more. I believe the chart is from Hansen's group but I found it here, courtesy of an oil company btw.)

I don't understand why people don't anticipate some ringing in a system that gets kicked this hard.

Update: A real meteorologist speaks on the subject. Less systems theory and philosophical handwaving, more details. Scary enough, but I still see signs of nudge-world thinking.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Black Birds


I find that the whole way this tornado discussion is going is disturbingly missing the point.

There is no compelling evidence that tornados are becoming more severe or more common, or for that matter, less severe or less common. There is no compelling modeling evidence that amounts to a meaningful prediction either way. So what should you say when you get hit by a tornado? You say "Dang! Shoulda moved to California when I had the chance." At least until the earthquake comes.

Does that mean that climate change had nothing to do with your tornado? Of course not.

This is a twenty-first century weather event. Everything is in a substantially changed and substantially changing context. Does it mean your bad fortune is "attributable" to climate change? Not in any reasonable sense of attribution. Unless, that is...

Unless your tornado happened to be part of an extraordinary subcontinental-scale tornado outbreak.




Now, this sort of outbreak event is not entirely unprecedented either, though it seems to be emerging as the single most severe instance in the satellite era.

But it's a, forgive me, black swan of a sort. One thing about really really severe events is that you can't do statistics on them. They are too rare to form a large enough collection to draw conclusions.

But you may have a flock of shouldn't-be-black stuff. Black doves. Black, um, pelicans. Black seagulls. Black other stuff. I'm not much on this bird business, but the thing is, although you know these things exist, and you know they are too rare to extract a trend, you shouldn't be seeing any of them very much.

Hot summers in Moscow. Year after year of flooding on the Mississippi. Huge tornado outbreaks. At what point do we get to look at the collection of weird events and say something is going on?

Let me admit, first of all, that there are all sorts of statistical warning signs associated with this question. Selection bias, observer bias, post hoc definitions. Our intuitions may well be misleading us.

On the other hand, there is the question of rolling a thirteen. The more we disturb the climate, the more excursions it will make into unfamiliar territory. As we perturb the climate, as it wobbles around more and more, it will more and more often hit these weird peaks.

Perhaps local events like tornados will show no trend, but tornado outbreaks, when they happen, will be more severe. The ocean, after all, is further from equilibrated with the atmosphere and with space. Air masses will encounter each other in unfamiliar ways. Perhaps strange things will happen. Perhaps (and I am not being Eli-style coy here, perhaps not) they already are happening.

The fact that the trend in tornados or strong tornados is too noisy to say very much doesn't change the fact that we just had an epic event, and that just about everywhere seems to be in a run of anomalous seasons. Are we enjoined from thinking about this for some reason? Maybe it's a misimpression, but maybe not.

Coupled GCM runs are expensive and not really mature. Atmosphere-only GCMs give us quasi-equilibrium responses and the atmosphere alone is strongly damped. But the bulk of the energy is in the ocean, which is a dynamic system with all sorts of bounce in it. What happens when you kick the ocean? You get wobbles on a decadal time scale. And what does this do to the atmosphere? Well, you're smarter than I am. You tell me.

The thing is, I see lots of people, some who ought to know better, buying into this sort of thinking, this instance from Revkin quoted by Kloor at the link above, emphasis added:
But that’s a meaningless assertion without asking whether there is evidence of a meaningful influence — meaning enough of a nudge to the atmosphere that the contribution from greenhouse gases is relevant to policy and personal choices, in this case in tornado zones.
No, no, no! The idea is not: radiative imbalance causes warming everywhere which nudges the climate a bit. So many people think like this but it is wrong. Radiative imbalance pushes the climate around so much that eventually it changes enough to restore the balance. Almost surely surface warming is part of that. But a lot else is part of it.

In my opinion, people have it backwards, though, as to which is the nudger and which the nudgee. Forced climate change causes global warming as a response, not the other way around. And a lot else changes too. Talking about "nudges" is so massively wrong. The global mean surface temperature is very stable. It takes a hell of a kick to move global temperature as much as we are moving it, and the climate system is responding directly to the kick, not to the temperature change.

So what I think we should expect is changing climate on the time scale of the memory of the upper ocean, roughly a decade. And this process will accelerate over the lifetimes of anyone now living. The whole concept of "climate" weakens under the circumstances. And the more we disrupt the system on a large scale, particularly the more carbon we spew, the more and the bigger the black birds we will see.

This is why I'm baffled by arguments that start from the slightly more energetic and moist air columns. That would make sense if all else were equal, in other words, on nudge-world. But there is no reason whatsoever that I can see to expect all else to be equal.