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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Charts of Atmospheric CO2, Carbon Isotopes, Oxygen and Methane

 I started making charts of atmospheric CO2 in 2009, when the global average CO2 concentration was 386 ppm.  I updated my charts in 2012, at 392 ppm, and in 2017, at 405 ppm, and at the end of 2021, at 418 ppm. 

The monitoring stations are located from the far north, at 82° N in Canada to the South Pole.  Scripps Institute has managed most of these stations since the 1950s, first under the direction of Charles Keeling, and later under his son, Ralph Keeling.  I also included records from a few obsolete legacy stations that were operated by foreign governments.  I standardized my chart displays using cool colors to represent the Northern Hemisphere, and warm colors for the Southern Hemisphere.

The amplitude of the CO2 seasonal cycle varies with latitude, from high amplitude in far northern latitudes to very little amplitude at the South Pole.  The seasonal cycle is driven by seasonal plant growth and decay on lands with temperate climate, which are concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere.  Agriculture, which is also concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere, also contributes to the seasonal cycle.  I took advantage of this for my standard display, overlaying low amplitude over higher amplitude traces, so that all traces can be seen.

In general, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is growing exponentially, a fact noted by Isaac Asimov in 1959.  In 2009, I made an exponential function, beginning at the pre-industrial CO2 concentration of 280 ppm in 1800, with an eyeball-fit to the data from 1957 to 2009.  Here’s the function, and the chart beginning in 1800, updated with CO2 data through 2021.  This chart has the “hockey stick” impression that characterizes many climate-change charts.

CO2 concentration, ppm = e(n*0.001854) + 280, where n = the number of months since Jan. 1800

This function would predict that global CO2 would pass 450 ppm in January, 2032 (ten years from now), and pass 500 ppm in August, 2043.

The exponential function seems to be slightly overstating the rate of CO2 growth since 2009, so I tried an alternate formula for the forecast in coming decades, a second-degree polynomial with a least-squares fit to the global average CO2 from 1974 to 2009.  That formula is CO2 in ppm = 0.000104*x2+0.0897*x+331.66, where x is the number of months from July, 1974.  This formula predicts global CO2 will pass 450 ppm in June, 2034, and pass 500 ppm in July, 2050. 

Certainly, these forecasts are simple extrapolations, and include none of the analysis of policies and economics which should be the basis of forecasting.  But it’s worth noting that my exponential forecast from 13 years ago is pretty much right on the money, overshooting by only one or two parts per million.  The last thirteen years has seen unprecedented growth in renewable energy technologies, but so far without significant impact on the rate of CO2 growth.  Here are the two forecasts on the same chart.

The seasonal cycle can easily be filtered from the data, leaving the long-term trend at each station.  From this, it’s easy to see that the Northern Hemisphere leads the Southern Hemisphere in rising CO2.  About 90% of fossil fuel burning happens in the Northern Hemisphere, and CO2 accumulates in the far north, while dispersing to the south. 

The difference in concentration from the far north to the South Pole has been increasing as larger volumes of fossil fuels are burned each year, from about 3 ppm in the 1980s to over 5 ppm now.  The chart below shows the difference in the one-year time-averaged CO2 concentration measured in Alert, Canada, at latitude 82° North, and the South Pole. 

The amplitude of the seasonal cycle has also been increasing in the far north.  The amplitude of the cycle increased from 15 ppm to 20 ppm since the mid-1970s.  This probably reflects increased agriculture and farm productivity in the Northern Hemisphere as world population has doubled.  Previous work showed that seasonal fossil-fuel use is volumetrically inadequate to produce the change in the atmospheric CO2 seasonal cycle.

Carbon comes in two common naturally occurring isotopes, C12 and C13.  Various processes, including life processes, sort the isotopes, favoring the accumulation of one or the other isotope.  Photosynthesis favors C12, so everything with carbon derived from plants, including lumber, your mashed potatoes, you, me, and fossil fuels is enriched in C12.  Scientists use a measure of the C13/C12 ratio written as d13C , and called delC13.  As fossil fuels are burned the C12-enriched carbon in CO2 changes the ratio of these isotopes in the atmosphere, lowering the value of delC13.  DelC13 continued to fall from 2009 to 2021, reflecting a growing fraction of carbon from fossil fuels in the atmosphere. 

Carbon isotopes in the atmosphere are also affected by the seasonal cycle of plant growth on the temperate land mass of the Northern Hemisphere.  As plants grow during the northern summer, the lighter isotope C12 is preferentially removed from the atmosphere, and returned during the winter months as plants decay.

After filtering the seasonal cycle, we see that the Northern Hemisphere leads the Southern Hemisphere in falling DelC13.  As an aside, the residual fluctuations in the trend have a strong correlation to the Oceanic Nino Index (ONI), reflecting sea surface temperatures in the Pacific.

Interestingly, if all of the carbon released by fossil fuels stayed in the air, the DelC13 value would be much lower, about -13, instead of -8.5.  The measured dilution of carbon with the isotope signature of fossil fuels provides a way of estimating the volume of all carbon reservoirs exchanging carbon with the atmosphere.  Currently, the reservoirs freely exchanging carbon with the atmosphere have a carbon mass of about 5200 gigatonnes, before accounting for additional carbon in the system from new burning of fossil fuels.  That’s about 6 times the mass of carbon currently in the atmosphere.

Atmospheric oxygen is also influenced by burning of fossil fuels.  Oxygen is consumed, causing atmospheric O2 to fall.  The atmosphere is about 21% oxygen, and the decline is only about 0.08%, so there is no threat to breathing.  Still, the decline can be measured precisely.  The decline in oxygen is reported in units per meg, which is equivalent to ppm in this range of values.

After filtering the seasonal cycle, we see that the Northern Hemisphere leads the Southern Hemisphere in oxygen decline, because most fossil fuels are burned in the Northern Hemisphere.  The total volume of oxygen decline is very close to the expected consumption of oxygen considering the reported volumes of fossil fuels burned and deforestation, as reported in this previous post.

Atmospheric methane (C4) is also increasing as a result of human emissions.  Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, but has a shorter lifespan.  CO2 has a half-life of 120 years, while methane has a half-life of about 10 years.  This is why the climate scientists use the parameter GWP (global warming potential) to represent the different strength of various greenhouse gases over an effective time frame.  The GWP of CO2 equals 1, by definition, for all time intervals.  For methane, the warming potential over 20 years (GWP-20) is 84 – 87, and over 100 years is 28 – 36.  Over shorter intervals, methane is an even stronger greenhouse gas.  Currently, methane concentration in the atmosphere is about 1.9 ppm (i.e. 1900 ppb).  In absolute terms, methane warmed the earth by about 0.52 W/m2, compared to 2.11 W/m2 for CO2, for the latest year reported by NOAA, 2020.  All other greenhouse gases combined contributed another 0.55 W/m2.  Methane also has a seasonal cycle in both hemispheres with high values in the summer and low values in the winter, but I don’t know the explanation for the seasonal cycle. 

As the concentrations of CO2 and methane in the air rise, the atmosphere will absorb heat at a faster rate, leading to destructive climate change.  Temperatures and climate change will not stabilize until carbon emissions reach zero.  I will update my charts on carbon emissions when summary data for 2021 is released in the BP Statistical Summary of World Energy in July.  Apart from a small pandemic-related decline in emissions in 2020, the world continues to add CO2 to the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate.  If the world had acted to reduce emissions three decades ago, simply reducing emissions might have been a reasonable policy.  However, in our current situation, outright elimination of carbon emissions is required to avoid some level of catastrophic consequences. 

Globally, we need to reduce emissions to 50% by 2035, and to zero some time between 2050 and 2070.  I am very pessimistic that we have the public understanding or political will to reach these goals.  As Bill Gates wrote in 2021, "To avoid a climate disaster, we have to get to zero greenhouse gas emissions….The case for zero was, and is, rock solid.  Setting a goal to only reduce our emissions—but not eliminate them—won’t do it.  The only sensible goal is zero.”


CO2, CO2 carbon isotopes, oxygen and methane data, including obsolete CO2 stations

Isaac Asimov, "No More Ice Ages?" prediction and commentary on global warming,
in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan. 1959, republished in Fact & Fancy, 1962 and Asimov on Chemistry, 1974. 

Global Warming Potential,uses%20a%20different%20value.).

GWP-20 for methane = 84 to 87; GWP-100 for methane = 28 to 36 (also reported as 25)

Radiative Forcing for various greenhouse gases

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.