Rome Didn't Fall in A Day.

Objective Truth Exists, and is Accessible to Everyone.

All Human Problems can be Solved with Enough Knowledge, Wealth, Social Cooperation and Time.

Photo: Rusty Peak, Anchorage, Alaska


Thursday, October 14, 2021

George Will: Willful Ignorance About Climate Change


The Washington Post recently published an op-ed on climate change by aging political commentator George Will.  (August 12, 2021,, too bad about the paywall).  Will’s commentary appears to be drawn exclusively from a book by noted climate-change denier Steven Koonin.  George Will has been a climate-change denier since at least 2007, holding forth on a variety of ideas which were either false at the time or have been subsequently debunked. 

There are very basic errors of fact throughout Will’s current column.   His talking points seem to drawn from the early 1990s, and he is oblivious to the quantity of definitive data about the climate that has been gathered over the past 30 years.

Will begins by saying, “There is a low ratio of evidence to passion in today’s exhortations to combat climate change.”  Ridiculous.  Climate change is probably the most intensively studied scientific topic in history, with tens of thousands of scientific reports written by thousands of scientists.  Over the last three decades, scientists have implemented monitoring systems specifically designed to measure the impact of greenhouse gases on the global climate.  We are closely measuring incoming energy from the sun; energy radiating from the earth into space according to wavelength, measuring the impact of greenhouse gases; the temperature and heat content of the oceans to 2000 meters, the temperature of the air from the surface to the stratosphere, the mass of the ice caps, the area, thickness and age of Arctic sea ice, the melting of continental glaciers; the temperature of the ocean surface; global changes in sea level; the CO2 and methane content and isotope chemistry of the atmosphere, etc.  Considering all of these data, the IPCC 6th Assessment Report reaches a clear conclusion: that warming of the global climate due to human activities is an unequivocal, established fact.

The early draft of Volume I of the IPCC 6th Climate Appraisal runs over 3500 pages, written by about 300 authors.  The full report, when completed, will involve about 700 authors.  The US Fourth National Climate Assessment weighs in at over 1500 pages by 300 scientists from 13 US government agencies.  These follow on three decades of earlier reports with contributions from thousands of scientists, representing tens of thousands of scientific papers.  There is not a lack of evidence regarding climate change.

Will repeats the hoary comment that the climate is always changing, which is completely irrelevant.  The point is that the climate is rapidly changing now due to human emissions of greenhouse gases, and we know it.  This self-induced fiasco will cause substantial harm to people and nature in coming decades, and has already begun.  Past changes have no bearing on our problem. 

Will complains that science has limited ability to disentangle human and natural influences in the climate changes during the Little Ice Age (1450 – 1850), or in the cooling period from 1940 – 1980.  Will is misconstruing lack of data for a lack of understanding.  Using Will’s reasoning, if a doctor is unable to diagnose the cause of death for King Francis II of France (1544 – 1560), why would anyone go to a doctor today?  The answer is obvious; it is because the doctor looking at today’s patient has MRI images, blood chemistry, and a host of other diagnostic medical tools.  Similarly, the instrumentation for earth systems implemented in the past 30 years allows us to clearly diagnose what is happening to the climate now.

Will states that sea level has been rising a few millimeters a year for 20,000 years, and cites a source which denies that sea level has been rising over the past century, or that melting of ice-sheets is currently higher than in the past.  These points are patently false.  Sea level rose sharply at the end of the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, but stabilized about 5000 years ago.  In the past 5000 years, sea level has risen only about a meter, rising at a rate of about 0.2 mm/yr to the present (Lambeck et al, 2014; also R. Rohde, Berkeley Earth, from other published data).  Sea level is a proxy for climate, and stable sea level implies a stable climate in the last five millennia.  According to satellite measurements, the current rate of sea level rise is now 15 times faster than the past 5000 years, and accelerating. Continuous coastal sea-level measurements dating from the 1800s also verify the acceleration of sea-level rise.  Melting ice accounts for about 60% of that rise, with thermal expansion of the warming ocean accounting for the rest.  Will’s point in the same paragraph, about relatively little change in the average warmest temperature in the United States is cherry-picking the various parameters (change in lowest temperature, change in average temperature, change in winter temperatures, etc.) to find the parameter with the least change, in a deliberate attempt at obfuscation and distortion.

Sea level stabilized about 6000 years ago, meaning that climate also stabilized after deglaciation following last ice age. 

Will disputes media reports that hurricanes are increasing in number and intensity.  The concern about hurricanes is not about what has happened thus far, but what will happen as climate change advances.  The sea surface temperature is rising.  Hurricane strength and frequency are driven by higher sea surface temperatures and will inexorable become stronger and more frequent in the future.  Scientists are not correlating hurricane strength to greenhouse gases and making an extrapolation; scientists are forecasting stronger hurricanes because they understand how things work.

Hurricane wind speed versus sea surface temperature, modified from Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth.  Higher sea surface temperatures will inevitably mean stronger hurricanes.  Sea surface temperatures are inexorably rising.

Will attempts to deflect responsibility for rising CO2 from the developed world to the developing world, citing plans to increase fossil-fuel power production in India and China.  In this, Will is neglecting the 150-year history of fossil-fuel use by industrialized countries, which have brought us to the brink of climate disaster, where we stand today. 

Will concludes by referencing a “previous UN report” (not cited) which projects minimal economic harm from climate change.  There is no indication of when this report was written, or my whom.  But that report does not reflect the views of the climatologists of the IPCC, or US scientists who wrote the 4th National Climate Assessment.  The IPCC 1.5 Special Report states: “Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C.” (Summary for Policy Makers, section B.5.)  Likewise, the United States’ Fourth Climate Assessment (2018) states: “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth….Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.” 

George Will is misguided and uninformed about climate change.  Will has read one discredited book by one discredited scientist, who is not a climatologist, instead of the well-documented publications from respected institutions of science.  Will’s column is part of the general celebration of ignorance and lies which characterize the Conservative movement, on issues from the treatment of COVID-19 to the 2020 election loss by Donald Trump.  George Will’s column on climate change is a classic example of Willful Ignorance. 


George Will’s recent column.
Will’s former statements about climate change.
IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C.
IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Volume I, The Physical Science Basis, 2021.

Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume I, Physical Science 2017.
Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States, 2018.
Lambeck et al, Sea level and global ice volumes from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene, 2014.
Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth, Holocene Sea-Level Chart, 2005.
Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth, Tropical Storm Wind Speed Versus Water Temperature, 2017.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Global Warming, Natural Cycles and Unicorn Farts

 "The suggestion that natural causes are contributing to global warming is entirely speculative.  If someone proposes that natural causes are warming the earth, they need to identify, observe and quantify the specific process that is occurring.  It may be true that unicorn farts, rather than greenhouse gases, are warming the earth over the past century.  But the burden of proof is on the unicorn advocates.  They need to find the unicorns, observe and measure the heat generated per unicorn fart.  They need to demonstrate that unicorn farts are sufficient to account for a significant portion of global warming, and to either discredit the physics of greenhouse gases or to identify a previously undetected heat sink on the scale of the global ocean to account for the displacement of greenhouse gas heat.  They also need to demonstrate that unicorn farts are delivering heat to the surface of the ocean and cooling the stratosphere.  The notion that “we just don’t know what is warming the earth” is not a viable statement.”

I recently had a call with a staffer for Alaska’s more conservative U.S. Senator.   I had made a trip to DC, and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation will usually make time to meet with constituents who travel 3350 miles from home.   I had sent meeting requests to both Senators, and the moderate Senator’s staff contacted me, and we had a good discussion of climate change.  The more conservative Senator’s office contacted me after I sent a complaint comparing their non-responsiveness to the moderate Senator.  In my call with the staffer, I discussed the points on my agenda:

1) That we needed to cut CO2 emissions 50% by the year 2035 and to zero by 2050, to avoid a climate disaster. 

2)  Achieving those cuts will be very difficult and costly.  Real climate solutions need to be affordable, scalable, timely, environmentally acceptable, and technologically mature.  There are no currently viable solutions, as global upscaling of renewable energy runs into problems with increasing costs and timeliness. 

3)  We cannot count on negative emissions technologies to provide a climate solution due to similar issues with global scaling of these technologies. 

4)  Historically, the United States disproportionally contributed to the climate crisis, and we will be held responsible, accountable, and liable for damages to other nations in the future. 

5)  Because we are disproportionally to blame, we are morally obligated to lead the world in reducing emissions. 

6)  In the case of south-central Alaska, replacing our fossil-fuel electrical generation will require about 1000 new wind turbines, plus short-term and seasonal energy storage.  Powering a full fleet of electric vehicles will require at least another 1000 wind turbines, and replacing space heating by fossil fuels will require at least another 1000 wind turbines, all to be accomplished by 2050.  For reference, building an 11-turbine wind farm near Anchorage required a decade of planning and two years of construction.

7) A carbon tax is the best way to meet emission reduction goals, starting small, and increasing until renewable energy or carbon sequestration is commercially justified.

The staffer listened politely to my sermon, at points offering small interjections.  He commented that the Senator sponsored legislation to reduce the permitting obstacles to building more wind turbines.  I responded that it was a nice ideological gesture, but the real problem in building more wind energy wasn’t permitting, it was the availability of capital.  The great majority of cost for fossil-fuel generation is in fuel expense, which is spread out across the life of the power plant.  The great majority of cost for renewable energy is in capital, which must be funded up-front.  The staffer added that it was an exciting time for renewable energy; and that there was much interest and activity in Congress for doing more.

At the end of our conversation, I took issue with one of the Senator’s canned response letters regarding climate change.  The Senator’s previous position was that we don’t know how much of climate change is due to human greenhouse gas emissions, and how much is due to natural factors.  I said that was false.  “It is?” questioned the staffer, sounding surprised.  “Yes”, I replied.  “That’s complete bullshit.  All of climate change is due to human influences; one hundred percent.  There are no natural processes or cycles that are adding heat to the earth to the degree and over the time frame that we have observed global warming.”  Shortly afterward, we concluded the call. 

In retrospect, I wasted a good opportunity to provide a real explanation to someone who could make a difference in forming policy.  In the fashion of introverts everywhere, here is what I should have said. 

Global warming is by now a well-quantified problem.  The physics of greenhouse gases has been understood for 125 years.  The physics of global warming has been well-quantified since the 1980s, when satellites began measuring incoming solar radiation, and outgoing radiation was measured at the surface, and at various altitudes up to the stratosphere, and later by satellites.  What was happening to that heat was still somewhat uncertain in the 1990s, but in the early 2000s instrumentation was devised to measure the temperature of the ocean to a depth of 2000 meters, and to monitor the mass of the polar ice caps, Arctic sea ice, and continental glaciers.  The system of measuring surface temperatures was also improved with the addition of satellite observations.  Considering all of this information, we now have twenty years of comprehensive measurements for the earth’s heat budget. 

The first point is that heat from greenhouse gases is fully sufficient to account for the heat now appearing in earth’s heat sinks, with an imbalance of only a few percent.   If a natural source of heating existed, it would raise another problem – what is happening to the heat from greenhouse gases?  In order to validate a natural source of heat, either the physics of greenhouse gases needs to be overturned (which isn’t going to happen), or we have somehow overlooked a heat sink on the scale of the global ocean.  This also is extremely unlikely. 

A second point is that any alternative explanation of global warming must also explain the pattern of heat flow.  Observations show that the oceans, which absorb more than 90% of the heat from greenhouse gases, are warming from the surface downwards.  This implies heating at the surface, either from increased solar radiation or by conduction from the atmosphere.  We have forty years of satellite observations of the solar radiation, conclusively proving that the solar radiation is declining slightly, not increasing.  Any speculative natural process for global warming must necessarily deliver heat to the surface of the ocean, from the atmosphere.  This rules out any speculative heat source involving ocean currents or cycles.

A final point is that there are no known natural systems adding new heat to the earth over the past five decades.  Geologists, oceanographers, and meteorologists have done a pretty good job over the past 200 years, identifying the processes operating on the earth's surface.  No process that would add new heat to the planet's surface, over the time that global warming has occurred, has been identified.  Natural systems do have some cyclicity that affect the global climate.  Ocean cycles generally operate over periods of a decade or less, not over the multi-decade time scale that we observe heat appearing in earth systems.  But one important thing to note is that these natural cycles are zero-sum; they redistribute heat but don’t add new heat to the earth.  As noted above, solar radiation varies according to the eleven-year solar cycle, but there is no continuing warming persisting beyond those cycles. 

The argument that natural causes are contributing to climate change is entirely speculative.  If someone is proposing that natural causes are warming the earth, they need to identify, observe and quantify the specific process that is occurring.  It may be true that unicorn farts are warming the earth, rather than greenhouse gases.  But the burden of proof is on the unicorn advocates, to find the unicorns, observe and measure the heat generated per unicorn fart.  They need to demonstrate that unicorn farts are sufficient to account for a significant portion of global warming, and to either discredit the physics of greenhouse gases or to identify a previously undetected heat sink on the scale of the global ocean, to account for the displacement of greenhouse gas heat.  They also need to demonstrate that unicorn farts are delivering heat to the surface of the ocean, and cooling the stratosphere. 

The notion that “we just don’t know what is warming the earth” is not a viable statement. 


Written testimony of climatologist Zeke Hausfather to the US House Committee on Space, Science and Technology, , p. 13, 3/12/2021

“Our best estimate is that approximately all of the observed global mean surface temperature warming since the 1950s is due to human emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Natural climate “forcings” such as changing solar output, variations in the Earth’s orbit, and volcanic activity would have likely led to a slight cooling over the past 70 years in the absence of human influences on the climate.”  

IPCC 6th Assessment Report, Headline Statements from the Summary for Policymakers, 8/9/2021 (draft)

“A.1 It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” – Policy-makers’ Headline Statements, first line. 

“Human influence on the climate system is now an established fact:…It is unequivocal that the increase of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) in the atmosphere over the industrial era is the result of human activities and that human influence is the principal driver of many changes observed across the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere.” Pg. TS-8

“Table TS.1:  Synthesis:  Warming of the global climate system since preindustrial times], Observed Change Assessment – Established Fact; Human Contribution Assessment – Established Fact.”  Pg. TS-33.

‘Less than 1% probability’ that Earth’s energy imbalance increase occurred naturally, say Princeton and GFDL scientists, Liz Fuller-Wright, 2021.

“[Shiv Priyam Raghuraman] and his co-authors used satellite observations from 2001 to 2020 and found that Earth’s “energy imbalance” is growing….’It is exceptionally unlikely — less than 1% probability — that this trend can be explained by natural variations in the climate system,’ said Raghuraman.”

Anthropogenic forcing and response yield observed positive trend in Earth’s energy imbalance, Reghuraman et al, 2021.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

2020 Climate Review; Global and Alaska

 Unsurprisingly, the global climate in 2021 continued to warm and to experience climate-related disasters.  Global air temperature tied 2016 as the warmest year on record.  Oceans continued to warm, and marked the warmest year on record.  Oceans absorb about 95% of heating from greenhouse gases, and thus have a more consistent increase in temperature.  

According to Carbon Brief, CO2 emissions in 2020 fell by about 7% compared to 2019, due to economic cut-backs during the Covid-19 epidemic.  Nevertheless, average atmospheric CO2 ended the year at about 413.5 ppm, a rise of about 2.5 ppm over 2019 (ESRL/NOAA).  That rate of increase is not significantly different than the previous decade.  For reference, pre-industrial levels of CO2 were about 280 ppm.

Alaska had a relatively mild 2020 in terms of climate change, cooler than recent years, with temperatures in the range of temperatures of the 1980, but still warmer than earlier decades.  There were fewer climate-related wildfires, and the warm-water "blob" in the Gulf of Alaska did not develop during 2020. Nevertheless, the long-term trajectory of climate change in Alaska is still clear.

 Low soil moisture results in dry plants, which cause wildfires to burn hotter and faster.  Low soil moisture also causes dead undergrowth, which provides fuel-loading to forests, increasing fire danger.
Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth prepared the chart above.  Annual averages of precipitation and temperature during the California fire season are shown in a color spectrum ranging from cool to warm colors representing 20-year intervals.  The chart shows a slow progression toward warmer temperatures, with the most significant change in the last twenty years.  Note that the ten largest wildfires, and the ten most destructive wildfires all occur in the warmest & driest quadrant of the chart.  The amount of change in the past 40 years is dramatic, and sobering if these trends continue over the next 40 years.

Alaska had a relatively moderate year regarding climate events in 2020.  Nevertheless, the long-term trends remain.  NOAA published a report card indicating that changes in the Arctic are likely to be permanent.

 The chart shows temperature change since 1945.
Arctic temperatures are rising two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, as a consequence of feedback factors from loss of snow and ice.  This effect was predicted in climate models by the Jasons' report in 1979.  Note also that air temperatures over land has warmed more than the oceans. 
Oceans absorb about 95% of heat retained by greenhouse gases.  The absorption of heat, and evaporative cooling, keeps air temperatures over oceans lower than over land.  Therefore, air temperatures over land are increasing faster than the global average, which is inconvenient, because we live on land.
Alaska temperatures clearly show the impact of Arctic amplification.  North Slope temperatures in the fall season have been sharply higher since the mid-1990s, due to early loss of Chukchi Sea ice.

Thunderstorms have become measurably more frequent near Fairbanks since about 1990.  The state's biggest wildfires typically occur near Fairbanks, and are most often caused by lightning.
Alaska's climate continues to change rapidly, and future decades are likely to bring serious, detrimental change. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Doug's Laws

 A few months ago, I posted a reply on social media, with a comment that I called "Doug's Law #271". 
"There’s a precursor event to every disaster, if anyone is paying sufficient attention."  A friend, taking me seriously (big mistake) asked to read the other 270, which of course, didn't exist.  

After a little thought, I decided it would be worthwhile to make a list of life lessons and insights.  Some of these might seem cynical, obvious or trivial.  As another friend often says, your mileage may vary.  But for what it's worth, here's the list of Doug's Laws.

1)  All human problems can be solved with enough knowledge, money, social cooperation and time.

            -  Modified from David Deutsch.

2)  On a beach made of white seashells, the dark shell is the prettiest.  On a beach of dark seashells, the white one is the prettiest.  Beauty involves rarity.  

      The sunset is beautiful because it is brief and different than the other colors of the day.

3)  Objective truth exists and is generally accessible to everyone.

4)  Progressive risk-taking always ends in disaster.

Examples of progressive risk-taking include, “We’ve taken chances before, and it’s always worked out all right”, or “We have launched successfully twenty-four times; what can go wrong?”, or “You didn’t get pregnant the last time”.

You can fit a car through a narrower space than you expect until you can’t.

You can go farther than you think on a tank of gas until you can’t.  This is especially important in small airplanes.        - FAA Accident Report, circa 2009

5)  You have to learn to cooperate when paddling a canoe.

6)  We should judge God according to standards of reason and justice.

                - Modified from David Deutsch.

7)  The existence of war causes me to question the existence of nations as an organizing principle for humankind.

8)  Kindness is best, and most needed, when it is completely unexpected.

9)  I live in the Middle Ages, a time of war, disease, superstition and ignorance.

The Middle Ages will end when humankind is no longer organized into nations, when infectious disease is conquered, when most people no longer believe in religion and when education provides understanding, instead of belief and knowledge.

10)  Humans are a uniquely improbable, intelligent and capable species with no known analogs in time and space.  There is no evidence of another sentient and capable species in the 4.5 billion year history of earth.  There is no evidence of another sentient species in the galaxy.  We should make the most of our abilities.  We have the opportunity to become something more than we are today.

11)  It’s critically important to know when the rules have changed.

 Most Jews in 1930s Europe didn’t realize that the rules had changed.

12)  Three out of six people are completely honest.

  Two out of six will bend the rules to their advantage.

  One out of six people will cheat.

                - From experience as an internal auditor, an unscientific sample.

13) The great ethical debate of the next century will be what rights to give to sentient machines. 

The great ethical debate of the following century will be what rights to give to sentient humans.

14)  Justice delayed is injustice.

15)  You can’t mop the floor clean with dirty water or a dirty mop.

16)  Ends and means are the same.  There are no good ends achieved though bad means.

                                - Modified from Jacob Bronowski.

17)  No one is solely responsible for their own success.  Everyone is helped by other people along the way, and by the schools and institutions that enable them to succeed.

No business is solely responsible for its own success.  Every business is only successful because society has created a landscape of fair opportunity, physical and commercial infrastructure and a legal framework that enable the business to succeed.

Successful individuals and businesses have a responsibility to pay forward a portion of the profits of their success, so that others can also succeed.

18)  Anything worth doing requires practice.

19) You improve what you measure.

                 - Ralph Dartez

20)  You can’t write unless you have something to say.

Decide what to say before you write.

21)  Say the most important thing first.

                   - Ed Buchwald

22)  Anything you write will be improved by an editor.

                       - Renee Frazee

23)  If you don’t have a better idea, it’s time to shut up.

24)  Explanations matter.

Science is a matter of finding explanations.  An explanation is the identification, observation, measurement and communication about some process that changes physical reality.  Explanations follow the structure of language, with objects, actions and descriptive modifiers.

                - Synthesis and expansion after David Deutsch, Jacob Bronowski and Ed Buchwald.

25)  Empiricism isn’t science; it only works within the range of previous experience.  A good explanation has reach; it works outside the bounds of prior experience and extends to unexpected domains.

                        - Modified from David Deutsch and Jacob Bronowksi.

26)  People think and identify in dualities: Pepsi or Coke, Communism or Democracy, mountains or seashore, truth or falsehood, good or evil, Republican or Democrat.  Reality is more complicated.

27)  Scientists come in two types, experimentalists and theoreticians.  Consider Aristotle vs. Plato, Galileo vs. Newton, Michelson vs. Einstein, Edison vs. Tesla.  Neither can progress without the other.

28)  I’ve noticed a clear dichotomy in how people think.  It corresponds to whether they fit the “sensing” or “intuitive” types in the Myers-Briggs personality system.  The sensing individual only believes what he’s seen and doesn’t look for underlying causes.  The intuitive individual seeks to understand what he hasn’t seen and expects underlying causes.  This distinction seems to represent the some of the biggest differences in human outlook.

29)  There is a hierarchy in the ways that people comprehend the world: Belief, Knowledge and Understanding.  Belief and Knowledge fail more often than Understanding.

30)  People hate to let go of knowledge they learned as a child.

31)  Anyone or of sufficient intelligence should be able to independently derive the golden rule.

Some animals are sufficiently intelligent.  Some people are not.

32)  People who don’t give respect don’t deserve respect.

33)  Democracy and free enterprise only work in a society with high integrity and regard for truth. This is concerning for the United States in 2020.

34)  Rome didn’t fall in a day.

35)  Anyone who can’t face the world without a gun is either a bully or a coward.

36)  Being a manager is largely about being a life counselor.

37)  At any given time, one out of ten people is in an existential crisis, and has told somebody about it.  Another one out of ten people is in crisis but hasn’t told anyone yet.

38)  Being a manager is like being a custodian.  You stay at the office after everyone else has gone home and clean up the mess that people made during the day.

39)  Always learn the name of the custodian and thank them by name.

40)  Always greet people by name.

41)  People who think like dogs make great employees. 

        People who think like cats wind up in prison.

42)  Every small child is a genius in terms of learning, memory and creativity.

43)  Every small child instinctively understands that this moment will never come again.

44)  Amateur music is good training for life; you learn to appreciate the good notes and ignore the bad ones.

45)  It’s always darkest just before you stub your toe and fall down the stairs.

46)  People are at their greatest risk of a tragic accident when they are on vacation or having fun.

47)  The enjoyment of a bit of food is often inversely proportional to its size.

48)  Get rid of commas and extra words whenever you can.

49)  When you’re hiking up a mountain, most of the way you can’t see the top.

50)  Always minimize the weight you are carrying when hiking.  You will enjoy the hike much more.  But in dry country, always carry enough water.  You can make that a life metaphor if you like.

51)  It’s best to start hiking uphill and come down on the way home.

Also, start biking, canoeing or kayaking into the wind, and return with the wind at your back.

52)  Always check the gas when you start an engine.

53)  People consciously and unconsciously signal their status to other people.

One of our strongest signals is gender identity.

54)  Women usually wear mittens.  Men usually wear gloves.

 Nothing they say about it explains the dichotomy.

55)  If it’s important, write it down now.

56)  The more hours I spend outdoors, the better I sleep.

57)  For every proverb, there’s an equal and opposite proverb.

For every piece of advice, there’s an equal and opposite piece of advice.

                        - Steve Robbins (son).

58)  A good question carries with it the key to its own solution.  – source unknown

59)  When a reporter asks you for a comment, they’ve already decided what you are going to say.

60)  No reporter is really your friend.

61)  Propaganda works.  Confirmation bias is a very powerful force.  Confirmation bias combined with propaganda forms a feedback loop leading to unreasonable denial of truth.

62)  Most people are not interested in seeing both sides of an issue.

63)  Most politicians only know how to get elected and have no idea how to govern.

                - Peggy Robbins (Mom, b. 1926)

64)  It is impossible for a politician to remain completely independent of the interests of his campaign donors.  This is the reason for campaign finance reform.

65)  When there’s only one way to say the truth, that’s how you have to say it.

66)  Truth is necessarily an approximation, operating over a given domain, and with a degree of uncertainty.  But uncertainty does not mean falsehood. Objective truth (not absolute truth) exists.

67)  Art is the deliberate creation of something that produces an emotional response in another person. Art is an intentional form of communication.  Art requires an artist and an audience.

68)  The personality of a dog usually says something about the personality of its owner.

69)  Everyone working a full-time job deserves to earn a living wage.  A living wage is enough to comfortably raise a family. 

70)  A dog’s owner will never understand that the dog’s behavior toward its family is different than the dog’s behavior toward a stranger.

71)  All cats are alike, which is why tigers like to sit in boxes. 

        Since all cats are alike, it’s worth remembering that the biggest cats would eat you.

72)  Every database has errors.  The larger the database, the more errors there are.

73)  Every question from a vice-president begins with “what” or “how”.  Every question from the president begins with “who”.

74)  The potential return from cutting costs is one-fold.  The potential return from growth is unlimited.

75)  There is value in redundancy.  Redundancy provides resiliency, optionality, innovation and quality control.  These benefits usually outweigh the costs.

76)  There is value in diversity – of people, of systems, of approaches to problems.  Like redundancy, diversity provides resiliency, optionality, innovation and quality control.  

77)  Every system has friction and inefficiencies.  A rigorous program of eliminating inefficiencies may impair the primary function of the system.

78)  The benefit of a risk decision should first be weighed against the impact of the potential loss, without regard to probability.

79)  There’s a precursor event to every disaster, if anyone is paying sufficient attention.

80)  The most common cause of failure for risk models is correlated risk.  This was the cause of the financial crisis of 2008.  The second most common cause is neglected experience.

81)  “You only think you’ve found the endpoint.”    – Vic Beghini, President of Marathon Oil.

        In any distribution there’s always a possible realization beyond what you have sampled.

        In any situation, it’s possible for things to be worse.  (Note: Beghini was right.)

82)  Variables in one dimension have a normal distribution.  Variables in multiple dimensions (either physical dimensions or the product of one-dimensional variables) have a skewed, log-normal distribution.  The greater the skew, the more likely the variable is of a higher dimension.

83)  Most real-world distributions are log-normal in the middle, but distorted on the tails.  Distribution tails may be truncated by physical limits or fattened by some parameter outside of basic model.

84)  No one can properly assess very low probability or very high probability events.  This is partly due to sampling theory and partly due to uncertainty about distribution tails.  Strategic planning for these events should focus on scenarios rather than probabilities.

85)  Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swans represent events outside of the previous range of experience.

86)  Truly random events happen in streaks.

87)  There are more ways for things to go wrong than right.  This accounts for the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (entropy), Murphy’s Law, and Dostoevsky’s aphorism about happy and unhappy families.

88)  It is in the nature of the human brain to sometimes make mistakes.  Thinking is a statistical process, involving thousands of synapses modulating thousands of others.  The process is generally correct, but not always.  –  after Jacob Bronowski, Daniel Kahneman

89)  Today’s geologists will spend the first half of their careers trying to get carbon out of the ground.   We will spend the second half of our careers trying to put it back.

                            - Me, circa 1990

90)  Regarding Climate Change, if we all do a little, we will only do a little.  Large scale solutions are needed.                         - modified from David MacKay

91)  Climate Change solutions need to be efficient (affordable) scalable and timely.  As of today, no such solutions exist.  -  Dr. Charles Hall, SUNY, circa 2009

More than a decade later, we are only a little closer to efficient, scalable solutions, and we are running out of time.

92)  Progress is non-linear, advancing quickly after a breakthrough, but at a diminishing rate.  In fifty years, we went from the Sopwith Camel to the Boeing 747.  Fifty years later, we’re still using the 747.  Maintaining the pace of human progress requires breakthrough ideas.

93)  Risk factors are not all equal.

The risk on an oil prospect is calculated as the product of several component risks – source rock, reservoir rock, seal, trap, and timing.   However, the risks are not of equal scope.  The lack of a source rock condemns a basin; lack of reservoir, seal or poor timing condemns a play; lack of a trap condemns only a prospect.  Risk factors occur in a natural hierarchy and should not be regarded as equal in developing an exploration program.

94)  The main criterion for judging prospects should not be the chance of success on the exploration well, but the probability that if the exploration well is successful, the project will be successful.  Delineation risk should be managed during the prospect generation and selection process.

95)  A good prospect should have five elements.  These elements constrain delineation and development risk.  (AKA Robbins’ Rules.)

        >  A prospect should be simple.

        >  A prospect should be big (enough to be clearly economic if successful, and have a meaningful commercial impact to the company).

        >  A prospect should be seismically visible.

        >  A prospect should have a laterally continuous reservoir.

        >  A prospect should be developed according to a conceptual model.

96)  Every list in a business presentation starts with the author’s personal agenda, followed by several things that everybody knows and ends with the boss’s personal dogma.  (See list above.)

97)  The productivity and wealth of a nation depends on its energy usage and level of integrity.  

Per capita GDP correlates very well with an index weighting energy usage by 2/3 and integrity (from Transparency International) by 1/3.

98)  Your reputation is your most important asset.

                - Steve Robbins (father, b. 1923)

99)  No one can ever take your education away from you.

                   - Steve Robbins (father, b. 1923)

100)  Buying and holding a low-cost stock index is the most effective investing strategy.  This is due to several simple truths: 1) you can’t time the market, 2) a broad portfolio performs best, 3) gains on held stocks compound without tax, and 4) you will minimize management fees.

101)  If you have an investing idea but aren’t sure that you are right, do half of what you originally considered.  This prevents inaction.

102)  My grandfather dropped out of school at fourteen and started a real estate business with his older brother.  He retired at the age of 89.  He said that 75 years in real estate had taught him three things.

1) Every house has cracks.

2) Every house eventually sells.

3) Something is only worth what someone else will pay you for it.

        When I became older, I wondered if he meant this to be an analogy to people.

1) Every person has flaws.

2) There’s a suitable partner for every person.

3) Your value as a person is measured by what you provide to others.


Human values inform the decisions and behavior of individuals and societies.  There are first-order core values, and second-order values which logically follow from core values or the intersection of core values.

The following is a list of my values.

103)  Empathy – Kindness, Compassion, Human Understanding, Care, Generosity

104)  Truth – Honesty, Integrity, Accountability

105)  Equity – Fairness, Justice, Respect, Diversity, Human Dignity, Opportunity, Democracy, Shared Prosperity

106)  Service – Work Ethic, Humility (do the little things),  Productivity (produce more than you consume).

107)  Progress – Science, Exploration, Technology, Physical Understanding, Globalism, Economic Development, Social Development, Peace

108)  Responsibility – Ethics, Family, Community, Care and Provision for Future Generations, Care of Nature for its own sake

109)  Liberty – Individual Freedom, Self-determination

110)  Self-regard – Courage, Reputation, Self-reliance, Challenge, Legacy


111)  Values I Reject: Faith, Patriotism, Nationalism,


112)  The creative personality is one that looks on the world as fit for change, and on himself as an instrument for change – Jacob Bronowski. 

113)  Creativity is a deliberate process used by clever people to solve problems, or for the pure joy of creation.  There are m9any similarities between technical creativity and artistic creativity.

114)  Creativity begins with deep expertise in a field.

115)  The next step involves reframing the problem or the paradigm.  A good question carries with it the key to its own solution (Law #54).

116)  Creativity often involves inversion of some part of the problem – or asking what would happen if you try exactly the opposite of what you’ve been trying to do.

117)  Visualize the problem from different vantage points, or before and after a process.

118)  Abstract thought (visualization) should alternate with analytical thought (measurement and calculation) in an iterative cycle.

119)  Depending on the problem, multiple solutions may be generated and evaluated before selecting an optimal solution, by some criteria.

120)  The creative work may come as a single inspiration, or a set of incremental innovations.

121)  The final step of any creative process is the realization, through publication, construction or performance of the creative enterprise. – Betty Edwards


122)  Avoid back-lighting.  Put the subject of the photo in the best light, and focus on the subject.

123)  Try to achieve a range of brightness in the subject.

124)  Underexpose the photo; never overexpose. For landscapes, set the light setting by focusing on the sky.

125)  Check the background for distracting elements.

126)  Check that the horizon is horizontal.

127)  Never put the subject in the middle; follow the rule of thirds.

128)  Direct movement, facing and gaze toward the center of the photo.

129)  In landscapes, put an object in the foreground to create depth in the photo.

130)  Find complimentary colors.

131)  Look for patterns diverging or radiating from a point; look for repeating shapes or patterns at different scales.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

California Wildfires, Climate Change, and Lisa Murkowski Message #12


Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and James Hubbard, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, recently produced a session of the Senator’s podcast, talking about the extraordinary wildfire season in the Western US.  These public servants failed to acknowledge man-made climate change as the ultimate cause of the fire intensity.  Increased fire size and intensity were clearly forecast in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Impacts report in 1990, thirty years ago.  The causes of increased fire intensity were clearly identified in that report: higher temperatures and drought, leading to low soil moisture, dry plants and deadwood, increased fuel loading and increased lightning strikes.  Every contributing factor identified in the 1990 report has been realized and today’s wildfires are larger and more intense as predicted.  To neglect the explanation for that intensification is irresponsible.  Murkowski and Hubbard failed to inform the public, not only about what happened in 2020, but to warn the public of future risks as CO2 emissions and climate change continue unchecked.

Murkowski’s Message #12

In September of 2020, California was wracked by some of the largest and most destructive wildfires in its history.  Senator Lisa Murkowski, in her role as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, met with James Hubbard, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, to discuss the crisis.  Senator Murkowski posted audio of the twenty-minute interview as #12 in her series of Murkowski’s Messages, available here: 

I listened to the entire discussion. There is practically no mention of climate change, although Murkowski and Hubbard danced around the topic, with Murkowski making a passing reference to “the changing climate”.  However, they quickly brushed that idea aside and focused instead on overstocked fuel conditions in the forests.

Undersecretary Hubbard noted the persistence of abnormal fire conditions in the western states, with Hubbard saying, “…it has been developing for a long time, and it’s certainly going to be with us for a long time….We can expect this kind of fire behavior for some time to come.”  Hubbard also noted the significance of high heat and low humidity in intensifying the fires, and stated “This is unusual, but I think we will see more of it.” 

For her part, Murkowski dismissed the idea of seeking causes for the intense fires.  The Senator said that others were asking, “Why are we seeing so much?  What can be done?  Who is responsible, and who is to blame?”, but these were not questions she wanted to pursue.  In my view, this is deeply flawed.  On the contrary, these are exactly the questions we must answer if we want to avoid even worse wildfires in the future.

Incredibly, this talk by the Senator and the Undersecretary avoided all mention of human-caused climate change, which is the most significant factor in causing the disastrous Western wildfires.  Let me be clear – the dry and hot weather conditions of recent years in the West are due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, principally CO2 from human use of fossil fuels.  Hot and dry weather cause low soil moisture, dry plants, and more deadwood.  Low soil moisture causes excess fuel in the forest, and causes fires to burn hotter and faster.  As Undersecretary Hubbard acknowledged, these conditions are strikingly different from the past and will persist a long time.  In fact, these conditions will persist as long as elevated CO2 in the atmosphere persists.  Levels of atmospheric CO2 will inevitably increase in coming decades, worsening the wildfire problem in the West.  We are not likely to return to the CO2 levels and climate conditions of the 20th century for another century or more. 

Forecast of Increased Wildfires, 1990 IPPC Impacts Assessment

For thirty years, we’ve been warned repeatedly that human-caused climate change will result in more destructive wildfires.  Beginning in 1990, each report of the ICPP (Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change, a UN agency) has warned about the increasing danger of wildfires.  The series of National Climate Assessments produced by the United States have also highlighted the danger. 

The 1990 IPCC Impacts Assessment lays out in explicit detail how and why wildfires are becoming worse, depending on geography.  Temperatures are higher, and some areas are subject to drought; these cause a number of second-order changes that intensify wildfires.  Later IPCC reports provide even more area-specific forecasts.  Here are a few quotes from IPCC 1990 Impact Assessment:

  • "Losses from wild-fire will be increasingly extensive" (Policy-Makers Summary, p. 2)
  • “Fire damage is expected to increase with the susceptibility of forests.  Even if precipitation remains roughly the same, increased temperatures will lead to increased evapotranspiration and thus drier sites.  Warmer drier sites could have a higher incidence of severe fires, especially where stands are in a state of decline because of climatic changes” (p. 2-25).
  • “…blocking high pressure patterns, more lightning strikes and increased fuel loadings are a dangerous combination causing more and larger fires" (p. 2-25).
  • “Wildfire frequency and severity is expected to increase throughout most of the unmanaged lands because of the projected increases in available fuel as primary productivity increases and because of the increased amount of dead fuel accumulating as a result of increased mortality” (p. 3-19).
  • “In those forested areas where there is a decrease in soil moisture, drying of forest fuels will be enhanced, thereby increasing the amount of available fuel”  (p. 3-20).
  • Increased fuel loading resulting from climate change was forecast to cause a three-fold increase in the number of fires greater than 1000 hectares in the Sierra Nevada (p. 3-20). 

Temperature, Precipitation and Fires in California, 2000 – 2020

Dr. Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth compiled temperature and precipitation data for the California fire season from 1895 to 2020.  The animation of the data can be found on Dr. Rohde’s Twitter page, and is quite striking.  The trend of increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation across the decades is quite evident in his chart, with 19 of the years from 2000 to 2020 occurring above the midpoint in temperature, and 12 of those 20 years occurring in the hot and dry quadrant of the chart.  The last two decades have also seen the largest deviations from normal conditions of the preceding century. 

Dr. Rohde also posted the ten largest fires and ten most damaging fires in California’s history on the chart, by year.  The year with the farthest excursion from normal temperature and precipitation, 2020, also had the worst fire record.  Other years with bad fire records, 2017 & 2018, were among the years with the farthest excursion from normal.  It’s worth noting that all of the large and destructive fires occurred in the hot and dry quadrant of the chart.

Figure 1.  California temperature and precipitation, 1895 – 2020, with the ten largest fires and ten most damaging fires.  Chart created by Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth, and used by permission.

Low soil moisture is a consequence of high temperature and low precipitation.  Most of the years since 2000 have been marked by persistent drought conditions in the west.  The USDA published nationwide maps of drought conditions, which have been seasonally persistent in the American West since the year 2000.   National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), a department of NOAA, publishes maps of soil moisture over the lower 48 states.  Relative soil moisture is shown as a percentile map with respect to historical conditions.  Maps of drought conditions and soil moisture show persistent conditions that predispose the West to high fire activity since the year 2000. 

Figure 2.  Drought conditions, week of September 15, 2020, USDA map.

Figure 3.  Soil Moisture Percentile (relative to history) September, 2020, map from NCEP, NOAA.

Of course, California was not the only place on earth to experience severe fires in recent years.  Dr. Rohde also prepared a similar chart of temperature and precipitation for New South Wales, Australia.  Although Dr. Rohde did not include fire statistics on this chart, the decadal shift in temperature and precipitation is clearly apparent on this chart. 

Figure 4.  New South Wales temperature and precipitation, January – October, 1900 – 2019.   Chart created by Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth, and used by permission.

In Alaska, Senator Murkowski’s home state, wildfires have also been larger and more damaging.  Lightning initiates most of the wildfires in the state.  It follows that increased thunderstorm activity results in more fires.  The location of the state’s largest recent fires, generally north and east of Fairbanks, corresponds with the highest summer temperatures and increased thunderstorm activity.  This information is documented in communications by Rick Thoman, climatologist with the International Arctic Research Center (IARC), Fairbanks. 

Figure 5.  Alaska Wildfire Acreage, Season Total, 1950 – 2019.  Chart by Rick Thoman, IARC.

Figure 6.  Fairbanks Alaska, Annual Days with Thunder, 1952 – 2020.  Chart by Rick Thoman, IARC.


It’s clear that the scientific forecasts of wildfire intensity in 1990 were correct.  The processes causing more intense wildfires are higher temperatures and lower precipitation, which lead to low soil moisture, dry plants and more deadwood.  Higher temperatures and low precipitation in California and Australia are predictable consequences of human emissions of greenhouse gases, which continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.  The conditions which lead to large, fast-moving and destructive wildfires didn’t “just happen”, and will worsen in coming decades. 

Senator Murkowski and Undersecretary Hubbard failed the public by not discussing the actual causes of the wildfires in their public communications.  Explanations matter, and causes matter.  Senator Murkowski’s questions -- “What can be done?  Who is responsible, and who is to blame?” – are pertinent questions.  Human emissions of CO2 are responsible; consumers of energy are to blame.  And the best thing to do is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, significantly and quickly.   

The physical processes of climate change are well-established, proven science.  We’ve known how it works for over 120 years.  We’ve had pretty good estimates for how much temperatures would change, depending on how much CO2 was in the air, for almost as long.  The forecasts of more intense wildfires, made 30 years ago, have been entirely accurate.  At this point, in 2020, it is important for our public leaders to acknowledge man-made climate change as the ultimate cause of intense wildfires, and to give a credible warning that the situation will only get worse as temperatures continue to rise.  Senator Murkowkski and Undersecretary Hubbard have done the public a disservice by neglecting to address the cause of 2020’s extraordinary fire season, and to give a warning for the future.  It’s time for them to address the public truthfully.


Murkowski's Message #12

Arrhenius, 1896, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature on the Ground

Arrhenius, 1906, The Probable Cause of Climate Fluctuations,%20final.pdf

Climate Change, The IPCC Impacts Assessment, 1990

Forest Fuels   

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

University of California Cooperative Extension

California chapter of the Society of American Foresters

Soil Moisture maps

Drought Maps

Australia's Climate in 2019

Australia’s climate in 2019

  • Australia's warmest year on record, with the annual national mean temperature 1.52 °C above average
  • Both mean annual maximum and minimum temperatures above average for all States and the Northern Territory
  • Annual national mean maximum temperature warmest on record (2.09 °C above average)
  • Widespread warmth throughout the year; January, February, March, April, July, October, and December all amongst the ten warmest on record for Australian mean temperature for their respective months
  • Significant heatwaves in January and in December
  • Australia's driest year on record
  • Nationally-averaged rainfall 40% below average for the year at 277.6 mm
  • Rainfall below average for most of Australia
  • Rainfall above average for parts of Queensland's northwest and northern tropics
  • Much of Australia affected by drought, which was especially severe in New South Wales and southern Queensland
  • Widespread severe fire weather throughout the year; national annual accumulated Forest Fire Danger Index highest since 1950, when national records began