2011 on Brave New Climate

So the year 2011 draws to a close. What a tumultuous year it was, particularly for nuclear energy! For climate change, alas, the freight train just keeps gathering steam.

For 2012, I will expect the unexpected, but also hope to see some better signs of progress towards the downfall of fossil fuels. But really, let’s be honest, that is a decadal rather than year prospect.

Anyway, to the BNC year in review. Below I list some of the most read, most commented and most stimulating or controversial subjects of the past BNC year.

1. Fukushima nuclear crisis: This was the biggest story of the year for the blog. Read about the early diagnosis and explanation, ongoing reports, some technical speculation, an essay on what we can and can’t design for,  preliminary and considered lessons learned, what the INES 7 rating means, and the need to avoid radiophobia with some common sense (and data). Another highlight is Ben Heard in his pre-decarbonisesa.com days

2. Renewables in the context of effective CO2 abatement. Some useful analyses on CO2 avoidance cost with wind, climatologist James Hansen admonishes use to get real about how effective (or ineffective) green energy has been to date at displacing fossil fuels, an adventure to energy debates in wonderland, a look at geographical smoothing, an argument that an energy strategy without nuclear does not have history on its side, Geoff Russell deconstructs the situation for India and Switzerland, and I do so for Germany.

3. More depressing climate trends. Sea ice declines and emissions rise, the cost of climate extremes, complications and realities, a plea to clean up the climate ‘debate’, why the argument of ‘no recent warming’ is statistically invalid, and a graphical review of the grim numbers.

4. The cost of ending global warming. A back-of-the-envelope calculation by Chris Uhlik, a critique of the IPCC WGIII report on renewable-dominated scenarios and their economics, carbon smoke and mirrors, a view of how nuclear energy could be the big energy player in the mid- to late-21st century, and a detailed look at some of the major technology options for sustainable nuclear fission and derivatives.

5. Why has pro-nuclear environmentalism failed? Some thoughts here, as well as a list of environmentalists that have bucked the trend, and a look back to anti-nuclear views in 1978 (and how little has changed). Moving forward, a possible route to getting the first IFR built?

6. New TCASE entries. These include assessments of the levelised cost and life-cycle emissions of various fit-for-service baseload technologies, and an attempt at a fair comparison of various first-of-a-kind builds. Although not a TCASE entry, Martin Nicholson’s superb analysis on cutting Australia’s carbon abatement costs with nuclear power must also be highlighted.

———————–

There was plenty more of course, and within the next week or two I will update the BNC post listing to include all entries for 2011, in chrological order, on a single page that can be easily searched in your web browser.

With that, I’ll bid 2011 farewell, wish you all a happy new year, and hope that 2012 is your best year yet!

19 Comments

  1. Dear Barry,

    Concentrating on the link to the phrase “statistically invalid” in your summary, may I point out that the test you start out with in that article is incorrect? Don’t feel bad, my correction is in your favour, so to speak!

    Let me try and say this as simply as I can. Given a dataset, one has some question, The question is answered by offering a model which simplifies the real-world situation to a mathematical representation which allows one to “position” what one observes in that model such that one is able to decide if what is observed fits “comfortably” in that model or not. In the model you were working with, the mathematics simplified the data to a Gaussian (Normal) distribution of slopes for the fitted straight line centered on zero. You calculated a slope of 0.010886 with an estimated standard error of 0.005534 (with 13 degreees of freedom for the error estimate). Does this observation “sit comfortably” in this model or not? The observation sits in the right tail of the (t) distribution and the probability of larger values than observed is 0.035442. Strictly, one needs three numbers to position an observation in a model (discrete distibutions refer) but the middle number can be discarded (taken to be zero) in cases like this, resulting in the summary of the the fit of the observation in the model of (0.9646,0.0354). As you can see, the observation is sitting somewhat uncomfortably in the right tail of the distribution. Note that I am not making a decision for you, I’m offering you a summary, leaving it to you (and everybody else) to decide whether the observation (summarized from the raw data) fits into the model being used or not. To see what I mean think of two other models in which the observed data summarizes down to a point with summary (0.5,0.5) in the one case and (1,0) in the other. (The three numbers in the summary – here simplified to two – always total to one.) The idea is that you would be happy that the model describes the the genesis of the data in the first case (“it fits snugly in the middle if the distribution”) – but not the second.

    Note also that I am not measuring the fit against a number like “0.05” as the software you are using suggests. Just because you have five digits on a limb does not mean that we four-digit Outer Minoriabians must apply the same arbitrary norm.

    If you have any statistician friends – a disreputable lot, so I doubt it! – ask him to look at at what I have written. Ah!, he’ll say, the bugger has done a one-tailed test, where you, Barry, did a two tailed test. Now’s your chance to twist the dagger. Ask him why in R.A.Fisher’s name (or T.Bayes, if he prefers) the evidence pointing at a _decrease_ in the trend should be pooled with the evidence pointing an increase in the trend? The question was clear: Is there an increase in the trend? In a model in which there is no trend, the observed data may be summarised as fitting somewhat uncomfortably in the right tail – (0.96,0.04) – one would have to invoke a model with positive trend to get a snugger fit. To make the point, what if the observed slope had been -0.010886 (without any other change)? The test you used yields exactly the same outcome – “Pr(>|t|) = 0.0709″ – but the summary (in the methodology set out above) is now (0.04,0.96). I can imagine a reader of this summary saying: “Not a comfortabe fit – it may even be possible that there is a decrease in the trend”.

    PS I’m a retired Statistician, so I’m having a little fun in describing statisticians as disreputable. I was the student and later the colleague of a remarkable man, IMR van Aarde (M=Mauritz), the author of “The Epistemology of Statistical Science”. Google finds this book.

    PPS The model you used assumes uncorrelated observations, something which does not fit snugly in the case of time series data….

  2. What I think has been the most promising event in the Australian energy calendar for 2011 has been the overt statement from the Energy Minister that if renewables fail to deliver by 2020, Australia must seriously consider nuclear power.

    In a country where nuclear power is actually banned, it seems clear that the public servants in the energy department are realists unlike many of the ideological members of parliament who care more about being re-elected than looking after the wellbeing of the country and the economy.

    So that’s my anti-political rant for the day. I doubt it will be the last for the coming year!

    Best wishes everyone for 2012.

  3. John Randall – yes, a linear regression and a NHT was indeed the wrong model/test to use. However, the post you refer to was commenting on what others had implied about what a regression said about these data. As such, it may have indeed come across as seeming to fit a square peg into a round hole. Your point about 1-tailed or 2-tailed tests is a good one, but as I think I made clear, I don’t favour using NHT at all, so this becomes moot (since we are then testing strength of evidence of the fitted model, not whether the slope is zero or not).

    If you want a copy of my paper in BioScience, where this philosophical objection is discussed, “Revisiting Chamberlin: Multiple Working Hypotheses for the 21st Century”, you can download a copy here: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~aknapp/ey505/Elliot%20and%20Brook%20BioSci%20Multiple%20working%20hypothesis%202007.pdf

  4. I agree Martin Nicholson. What we pro nuclear bloggers need to do is to speak to Martin Ferguson soon and assure him that the renewables [unreliables] have already shown themselves to be inadequate and too costly [look at the nonsense going on in Germany now and the stupidity of suggsting greater wind build in the SE Australian grid where in 2010, on 30+ occasions output fell to 2% of the 2000MW installed capacity] and that Australia needs to get into nuclear sooner rather than later. With respect bloggers, could I suggest that in addition to speaking to each other on Barry’s excellent blogs that you try to enlarge your audience by starting to speak to the people and the politicians as well. They’re the ones who have to be educated to an acceptance of nuclear power. Most of us already know nuclear is the way to go. Please start telling the people guys.
    Happy New Year to All.

  5. Best wishes for 2012 to Barry and all the BNC regulars … and the
    not so regulars.

    The Ferguson 2020 cut off is a long way away. 2015 should surely be time enough to judge the proof of the pudding. Some of us would say the tasting is already done and the taste is decidedly off!

  6. I agree the penny should have dropped by 2015. We’ll have had a couple of years of carbon tax with what I expect will be underwhelming results. Then we’re looking at this insane business of potentially spending billions on foreign carbon credits. I suspect that granite geothermal will still not have contributed a single watt to the grid by 2015. That won’t stop renewables asking for more time and money to ‘prove’ themselves.

    Unfortunately I think there will be unprecedented adverse weather issues in the next couple of years which should silence all but the most deranged deniers. Global conventional oil output will continue to decline and we will wonder whether still abundant gas can replace both coal and oil for long. I think Australia’s energy options in 2015 will be
    1) embrace a German style fantasy
    2) make excuses for inaction
    3) take meaningful action that includes NP.
    I give all three options an equal chance.

  7. There is sufficient ideology in the debate to ensure at least another decade (probably several) of claims that renewable energy just needs a few more subsidies and a little more time.

    On the flip side nuclear power is still too expensive and there needs to be innovation to bring down the price. The fact that prohibitions and safety regulations stifle the opportunity for innovation doesn’t change the fact.

  8. I would also like to express my best wishes for the New Year to all of you reading this post.

    I am interested in your statement, Barry, that hopes for change are decadal rather than a prospect for just the year 2012. I feel that we don’t really have a spare decade to work around. We should have a plan for widespread implementation of nuclear power by the end of the year and start design and building in the next.

    Things are not looking good for this to happen. The fossil fuel freight train is still gathering momentum. It is riding on the Japanese tsunami. World leaders seem incapable of making significant progress with their focus on their partisan needs and the inertia of the voting and the media. Decisions are made on the basis of reactions rather than on being fully informed. The current forms of democracy are about electing people to make decisions rather than dealing with the real issues.

    This brings me to a question that I have been trying to think through, this being, what needs to be done to bring about a change quickly enough to avert global catastrophe? What can slow the loss of natural habitat and resultant extinctions? What can prevent global unrest due to shortages in energy, food, water and space for living? What will make life interesting for coming generations as natural habitat is systematically removed?

    Obviously the answer to this question is unlike anything that we know currently.

    I think we need a new system of governance completely independent of current governments. It needs to be a popular movement based on informed discussion and asking meaningful questions. I envisage agreeing first on a set of guiding principles to direct discussion.

    I am convinced that with the number of people in the world that there is enough creativity to come up with solutions that take all relevant factors into account.

    There may be a need for a new kind of Internet platform. Currently effective input on blogs depends on timely response to current discussions. Comments and ideas can be easily lost amongst the volume of text posted. Moderation is good for preventing personal attacks and unsubstantiated claims. I think there is scope for a system that directs newcomers to the appropriate step in an education process that enables them to join the informed discussion.

    We need to move beyond the concept of debate if we are to make progress. Debate causes polarisation. We need people working together to find solutions rather than managing perceptions.

    I believe that if we ask the right combination of questions about the issues facing the next century and how we achieve sustainable outcomes, some solutions will become obvious. Adoption of forth generation nuclear power is one option. Realistic assistance to help developing nations, changing the market settings so that biodiversity is valued and maintained are other likely outcomes.

    Perhaps what is needed is a multi-disciplined team to design this new platform for governance. We need people who understand the energy needs and solutions (which are easy to nominate from this blog), people who understand the cognitive processes in human decision making, computing experts to develop the platform, people who understand different cultures. We need educators to develop material to bring people into the informed decision making process. We need leaders and managers who know how to bring about cultural change and make things happen. Of course, these people need the time to give from their other occupations. Thus, they will also need to be funded by donations from those who can see the potential.

    I can imagine that by the end of the year there could be a new comprehensive global movement that has eclipsed other forms of social media, and started a dialogue that is both popular and informed so that governments cannot ignore it. Movements like the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement of 2011 have recognised problems but seem to be lacking in developing comprehensive solutions. I believe this could be achieved in 2012. Does anyone agree?

  9. As the years pass, I’m becoming increasingly pessimistic about solving the CO2 emissions problem. Fukushima shows once again that when push comes to shove, fear, uncertainty, fossil fuel interests, and ignorance, in a nasty self-reinforcing toxic cocktail, rule societies decisions. Fact, numbers, and alternative based logic doesn’t swing the scepter. Journalists (perjorative deleted) and portray fear mongering images. Fossil fuel interests don’t want nuclear because it is the biggest threat to their business. Ideological organisations such as Greenpeace continue their propaganda with no heed to the science. As a result I am increasingly of the belief, that CO2 emissions will only increase for the rest of my lifetime. Our generation isn’t solving the problem; it’s all just getting worse by the year.

    I therefore pray, with great optimistic naivety, that the climate scientists are all wrong and we won’t have climate calamities this century.

  10. You are absolutely correct Geoff Russell. The “taste” has been sour for ages. Let’s bombard Martin Ferguson with that message.
    Robert Lawrence, your call for action on nuclear this year is right on the money.
    Cyril, you must be an old[er] codger like me.I’ll join you in your prayers.

  11. Thanks for the roundup, Barry.

    Further to John Newlands’ list of three possibilities, and the equality of the nuclear option, I would say that three or four years ago nuclear would not have been in that position. Since then, even including Fukushima, the needle has moved in its favour, and that Barry’s capable and engaging advocacy has been a significant part of that shift.

  12. Barry, thank you for taking the time to reply to my post. This was intended to do two things.
    1. To say that (even though a wrong thing was being done) there was something more in the top half of the link concerned, something which was in in your favour. I wanted to say this (I wanted to offer you something of value – in effect “the analysis offers evidence of warming”) because of the admiration I have for you and for what you are doing. For what it is worth, my opinion is that even if one agreed with words other than ‘a”, “the”, “and” and “otherwise” in anything (say) Christopher Monckton has to say, one has to concede that mankind must wean itself of fossil fuels. These will eventuallly be used up and, besides, extracting and using them has a massive effect on the environment – even when global warming is set to one side. There is only one alternative making sense to me; nuclear energy. (Thorium is currently nuisance waste – when it should be a massive source of energy!) From what I’ve seen in the popular press and on the internet it is unusual to see a source wich combines these two opinions – but which insists on references to support any opinion stated as a fact, to the point of deleting a post not complying with this requirement.
    2. The second part of the top of of the link I was responding to (the paragraphs starting “What does this mean?” and “Crazy stuff, eh?” convinced me that I should phrase my post the way I did. I was NOT saying: “Barry you should have done a one-tailed test, not a two-tailed test” – I was not using such language. It saddens me to see that in just about every applied science (from climate science through psychology to wildlife), papers are being published saying: “The way statisticians say it should be done is wrong and here is the correct way to do it”. I suspect you wont appreciate this but the fact that the analysis at the top of the link I was responding to offered “P(>|t|)” as though this was essential in the display (not the “P” bit but the “|t|” bit) is a clue that things will go downhill from here. In fact it can be argued that the two-tailed test is the start of a number of slippery slopes. I wanted to offer you a reference in which a statistician (he was a student of Oscar Kempthorne, http://www.amstat.org/about/statisticiansinhistory/index.cfm?fuseaction=biosinfo&BioID=8 ) is saying: Statisticians we are doing this wrong, this is how we should do it. Mauritz delighted in “Probability, Statistics, and Data Analysis” (Kempthorne and Folks, 1971) and it is a pity that his (Mauritz’s) book was published in 2009, Kempthorne having passed on in 2000. So, the second intention of my post was to offer you a second “thank you for being you” gift, a reference to a book I have a high opinion of. Replicating Earth 1000 times? Oh for goodness sake! That is surely the product of a mind like Christopher Monckton’s! Does Mauritz van Aarde have a mind like Christopher Monckton? I hope you will think not. I hope that you will see why it unnecessary to think in terms of one-tail tests vs two-tail tests when there is a framework in which one thinks in terms of “(0.96,0.04)” or “(0.04,0.96)” if that had been the observation the summary was derived from.

    So, the short verson of both my posts is: “Thank you, and, in the spirit of the season, here are two gifts!”.

  13. If 2011 was the year of Fukushima then 2012 may be the year of French politics. The French elections this year will possibly result in the election of the socialist candidate Hollande and later in the year a socialist government. Their current policy is to close about 20 Nuclear plants over the next 13 years reducing nuclear from about 75% to 50% of French energy mix. This is partly driven by Fukushima hysteria but has , i believe, major implications for not only French but European energy security and climate change policy. Firstly I find it dufficult to see how this can be achieved in practical terms. In regional terms, French nuclear provides base load back up for Germany’s NIMBY energy policy. I would think a greater reliance on Russian gas for Europe as an outcome, hardly a recipe for reducing carbon emissions, something they have struggled achieving tangible results for anyway. Given that Europe has been historically a leader in international climate change debates, I think there is potential for this election to be a watershed for international climate change policy as it will make it difficult for Europes two largest economies to commit to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. I would be interested in an analysis of this scenario from someone infinitely more qualified then myself.

  14. That is a distressing thought, Rick, that Fukushima hysteria could lead to acceleration of burning of fossil fuels, global energy insecurity and run-away climate change. We need to get reason into the discussion. The failure of anti-nuclear activists to be more concerned about the radioactive elements released from the burning of coal defies explanation.

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