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

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Canada Green Party Revives Social Credit Movement in Canada

Huffington (Canada) reports
The Canadian Medical Association endorsed basic income this past summer and nearly 200 physicians signed a letter to Ontario's health minister calling for a pilot project because "income is the great divide when it comes to Canadians' health."

One of Canada's loudest proponents of basic income has been former Tory senator Hugh Segal. In a HuffPost blog in 2013, he wrote that we can't let "the ideological conceit that a rising tide lifts all boats obscure the hard reality that many Canadians have no boat or access to anyone who has ever had a boat."

The Liberal membership, meanwhile, passed a priority resolution last year calling for the party to "design and implement a Basic Annual Income." However, there is no mention of it in the Liberal's just-released election platform.

The federal NDP have been mum on the subject throughout the campaign, preferring instead to discuss a $15 minimum wage for federal workers — though there have been murmurs that Alberta's NDP government might give it a trial run with support from the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton.
The Green Party, however, has made basic income one of the most important planks of their platform, tying it to their anti-poverty efforts and their elder care strategy. Dubbing their version the "Guaranteed Livable Income" (GLI), the Greens would use "a single, universal, unconditional cash benefit delivered through the tax system" to replace the current complex system of federal and provincial support.

The Greens would then give every Canadian a regular GLI payment and set a minimum income level just above the poverty line. After that point, the GLI would be gradually taxed back until it was eliminated at a ceiling of, say, $60,000.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May:
It's just that as people make more, they get into the range of being tax-paying citizens. It's a good thing to give it to everyone because we eliminate income splitting that Stephen Harper brought in and generally only benefits families that are better off. This is a program that ensures that everyone can live with dignity.
It is very efficient because it costs a lot of money to check up on single mothers to see if she moved in with her boyfriend. It makes much more sense to give everybody a cheque so that you have no economic poverty anymore. People who receive that money are spending that money, they are happy to go out and make more money.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

No Place To Go But Up

I have a longish article on Medium about the future of transportation. It's written from an Austin-centric point of view, and I do think Austin should be the first to try this.

But if you want to try it where you are, more power to you!

My point is that when the roads are full, you have to build alternative transportation off the roads, which means either below them or above them. It's not as if elevated rail were really a new idea.


(Purportedly a view under the Baltimore el, pre-1950)

It turns out that elevated bikeways aren't novel either! (more at the link)

And there's another co-benefit: an emerging car-free commons.
The solutions to our problems lie in alternative lightweight transportation on alternative route networks that minimally intersect with the existing road network and as much as possible are human-powered or externally powered (like electric trains). The best way to achieve this is by putting trains and bicycles above the car traffic. This offers an opportunity to develop delightful above-grade pedestrian and recreation facilities as well.
Blegging for Medium.com likes, please and thanks! I sweated over this piece, and it doesn't target my usual audience.





Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Kiribati Bails Out



The low-lying island nation of Kiribati (formerly "Christmas Island") is buying real estate on the larger Fiji Island and planning to move everybody out, on account of, well, you know, water.
The country's outgoing president Anote Tong said the accelerating effects of climate change meant he had given up dealing with the day-to-day issues to concentrate on finding creative solutions for his low-lying country.

He told a climate change conference in Wellington those include building up the atolls, floating islands and buying land in Fiji.
Mr Tong said he had also tried to motivate the 100,000 strong population to prepare and adapt themselves for what he calls migration with dignity.
(Image of failed Kiribati seawall via indaily.com.au)

On unlinking work from sustenance

I think we need it to be possible to get rich from working, but we need to make it impossible to get desperate from not working.

Hat tip to Dan Olner who points to a cogent argument for what I will persist in calling social credit or creditisme [sic], by Paul Mason on the Guardian.
A low-work society is only a dystopia if the social system is geared to distributing rewards via work. 

The automation revolution is possible, but without a radical change in the social conventions surrounding work it will not happen. The real dystopia is that, fearing the mass unemployment and psychological aimlessness it might bring, we stall the third industrial revolution. Instead we end up creating millions of low skilled jobs that do not need to exist.
The solution is to begin to de-link work from wages.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Should We Stop Breathing?

If CO2 CAUSES climate change, and we EXHALE CO2, what happens if a billion people (like CHINA) stop exhaling for a minute? A measurable effect?


Lung capacity is about 3 L according to Lung Volumes and Capacities
Exhaled air contains about 100 times the concentration of carbon dioxide that inhaled air does, or about 4% CO2 by volume via Carbon dioxide comparison between inhaled and exhaled air

So the amount of CO2 sequestered in the lungs of a billion people is 4 % of 3 billion liters or 120 million liters at roughly 1 atmosphere pressure. At 2 g / L (What is the density of carbon dioxide (CO2) at STP if 1 mole occupies 22.4 L?) we get the lungs of China holding 0.002 * 1.2e8 = 240,000 kg.

The entire atmosphere has 5 x 10^18 kg total, of which 0.04% is CO2 so that amounts to 2 trillion kg.

So the fraction of the earth's CO2 in a billion lungs holding their breath is
240,0002,000,000,000,0o0 = about a tenth of a part per million. If they held it forever, they would be uncomfortable, but the effect on CO2 would be so tiny as to be hard to measure.

As a global warming question this is sort of misguided, because CO2 breathed out balances carbohydrates eaten - there is no new net carbon injected into the system. That is, it seems to confuse fluxes and reservoirs, or as economists call it, stocks and flows. In fact, breathing contributes nothing to global warming at all, if food is produced in a carbon neutral way. It makes more sense to look at the carbon footprint of food production than of breathing, though in practice that is quite substantial, perhaps 10% of the total. This link says 9%: Agriculture Sector Emissions

I am sure you are responding to somebody who snarkily suggested we stop breathing. In fact, this boils down roughly speaking to whether we stop eating. If somehow we could live our lives otherwise the same without eating, we'd reduce our emissions by around 10%, and the accumulation in the atmosphere would be somewhat slowed. It's probably not a promising approach, though. But that's all about agricultural practices, not about agriculture itself. It's probably still possible to feed the earth's population entirely in a carbon neutral way.

What is pursuing a PhD in Climatology like?

What is pursuing a PhD in climatology like?

There few departments that have "climate" in their name.

Among the closest is the program at Wisconsin from which I attained my doctorate, the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (formerly Meteorology). So there's a strain of physical climatology that emerges from the meteorological and oceanographic traditions. You'll learn more than you want to know about the nuts and bolts of weather prediction, but you'll get a feel for how the physics of the system works.

The other strain of physical climatology emerges from earth science. It is more focused on paleoclimate and thus on how climate changes in nature. There's a lot of very interesting information about past climate buried in rock formations. Emerging from this discipline is an interest in more recent paleoclimate proxies - corals, tree rings, mud deposits, and ice sheets - which contain information on the intermediate time scale (a few thousand years) and which seem to attract more than their share of howling from the sidelines. (People who want to think our current changes are in large part due to nature want to see more variability in the millenial record and less variability in the century record. You may think this is an odd way to approach science, but that's veering off topic.)

Related, and probably the richest climate-related field of study for the mathematically adept nowadays, is computational science. Unfortunately, for institutional reasons the connections between the computational science community and climatology are relatively weak. But if you're very strong both intellectually and in terms of ambition, that's an angle that would be worth pursuing.

This is all what might be called "working group I" stuff. That's the IPCC nomenclature, where there are three working groups. People working on impacts (group II) and on economics (group III) are often broadly called "climatologists", but I am not in a position to help you with this and I assume this is not what you are asking about.

The material is fascinating, but at least when I did this the pedagogy was week. I think the textbooks have improved somewhat, but you'll still have to be something of an intellectual self-starter. As far as paving the way to a secure job, the importance of the topic is no guarantee.

In the US in particular, one political party is increasingly hostile to climate science as a community. Even if the most extreme elements there do not succeed in shutting it down, the political overlays on the funding make things both unsteady and somewhat ill-organized from the top down. It's certainly not a great situation. Those suggesting the field is rolling in money are simply unfamiliar with how it goes. Funding in the US has been unsteady and not showing long-term growth though it bumps up and down with the political winds.

So as with any career path, much depends on your aptitudes, your interests, and your goals. There are many drawbacks to a career in climate science, including being forced on a daily basis into a conscious awareness of how badly the planet's future is being bungled, which isn't exactly fun.

If you're not much interested in saving the world, it was a much better gig when it was a pure science that nobody cared about. It's not the healthiest scientific community you can imagine, which is understandable given all these pressures. But if you can associate yourself with a top-rank professor at a good program, all of these concerns will be secondary while you are a student, as there is a lot to learn and it's intrinsically beautiful and satisfying material.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Open science good, FOIA snooping bad.

Open science good, FOIA snooping bad. It’s not complicated. But it’s not easy.

By me, on Medium:

Keep Your Damn Lawyers Out of My Notebooks

Helicopter Money

Social Credit (*) is mocked here as "helicopter money" here; based on this article it certainly seems likely that the Swiss proposal to go all in on a guaranteed non-means-tested universal income will be excessive and will backfire.

(* Historically in Canada this idea was called "social credit", which remains the name I prefer. Unfortunately the idea was premature and also it  picked up some cultural baggage by appealing to unsophisticated and xenophobic rural voters. But I think it's clear that "helicopter money" is not intrinsically a bad idea.) 

Work and wealth have to be connected, but work and survival with a reasonable level of dignity should not. And as machines end up doing all the substantive work, they increasingly cannot.

An otherwise thriving society based on the artificial necessity of enormous amounts of pantomime work has been tried before, I think, on Easter Island. It did not end well.

A good press report on a good attribution study

For a change. Lots of English-language sources for this, and it's not clear which to link to. It's originally from Agence France-Presse. Here it is on Yahoo.

Rather less successful is this piece from the BBC on the same research, but it's still relatively good on the spectrum of this sort of reporting.

Because I'm trying to cover this ground myself in my book project, I'm trying to understand why I like some reports and so thoroughly dislike others.

For one obvious thing, though, the NPR report isn't actually reporting any science, just a bit of off-the-cuff speculation. But it's not that I am opposed to off-the-cuff speculation, as I intend to do some of my own.