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Climate Science Is Not Settled By Steven E. Koonin


...The idea that "Climate science is settled" runs through today's popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future...The crucial scientific question for policy isn't whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. Geological and historical records show the occurrence of major climate shifts, sometimes over only a few decades. We know, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth's global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries. The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

Rather, the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, "How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?" Answers to that question at the global and regional levels, as well as to equally complex questions of how ecosystems and human activities will be affected, should inform our choices about energy and infrastructure. But—here's the catch—those questions are the hardest ones to answer. They challenge, in a fundamental way, what science can tell us about future climates.

Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole.

  • For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere's natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.

  • A second challenge to "knowing" future climate is today's poor understanding of the oceans. The oceans, which change over decades and centuries, hold most of the climate's heat and strongly influence the atmosphere. Unfortunately, precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades; the reliable record is still far too short to adequately understand how the oceans will change and how that will affect climate.

  • A third fundamental challenge arises from feedbacks that can dramatically amplify or mute the climate's response to human and natural influences. One important feedback, which is thought to approximately double the direct heating effect of carbon dioxide, involves water vapor, clouds and temperature. But feedbacks are uncertain. They depend on the details of processes such as evaporation and the flow of radiation through clouds. They cannot be determined confidently from the basic laws of physics and chemistry, so they must be verified by precise, detailed observations that are, in many cases, not yet available.

  • Beyond these observational challenges are those posed by the complex computer models used to project future climate. These massive programs attempt to describe the dynamics and interactions of the various components of the Earth system—the atmosphere, the oceans, the land, the ice and the biosphere of living things. While some parts of the models rely on well-tested physical laws, other parts involve technically informed estimation. Computer modeling of complex systems is as much an art as a science...For instance, global climate models describe the Earth on a grid that is currently limited by computer capabilities to a resolution of no finer than 60 miles. (The distance from New York City to Washington, D.C., is thus covered by only four grid cells.) But processes such as cloud formation, turbulence and rain all happen on much smaller scales. These critical processes then appear in the model only through adjustable assumptions that specify, for example, how the average cloud cover depends on a grid box's average temperature and humidity. In a given model, dozens of such assumptions must be adjusted ("tuned," in the jargon of modelers) to reproduce both current observations and imperfectly known historical records.

    We often hear that there is a "scientific consensus" about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn't a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences. Since 1990, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has periodically surveyed the state of climate science. Each successive report from that endeavor, with contributions from thousands of scientists around the world, has come to be seen as the definitive assessment of climate science at the time of its issue...Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is "settled" (or is a "hoax") demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences....Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about "believing" or "denying" the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity's deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort. Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.

    Dr. Koonin was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama's first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. His previous positions include professor of theoretical physics and provost at Caltech, as well as chief scientist of BP, BP.LN +0.42% where his work focused on renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.

Weekend Economists Talk Like Pirates September 19-21, 2014

In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day, are we contemplating life on the Spanish Main? (In the days of the Spanish New World Empire, the mainland of the North and South American continents enclosing the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was referred to as the Spanish Main.

How about Malaysia, the scene of contemporary piracy, which sends out these tips:

What To Do (if kidnapped by pirates)

If you do run into some unlucky trouble, keep the following in mind:

  • The pirates may in fact NOT have a talking parrot.
  • Remember that each kidnapping situation is different, so what you’ve seen on TV may not apply to you.
  • Attempt to relate to the kidnappers by speaking their language (if you can), this may help build some kind of rapport.
  • Keep track of time. You may be held for a considerable amount of time, so its best not to become confused about the time of day.
  • Maintain your dignity.
  • Build a rapport with anyone who is captive with you. They may be useful for an escape and so that's a friend you want to keep!
  • Attempt to maintain your physical condition. Just like when you’re chained to your office chair, its important to keep your legs moving.
  • Attempt to maintain your mental health. Daydreaming, running through daily routines - these activities will help you keep hold of your grip on reality.
  • Take notes on your captors and where they are holding you. This information may be valuable when you have been rescued or are able to signal for help.


The Pirate with a Parrot Conceit has its roots in Hollywood, of course:

In Real Life, it is not known if many pirates actually kept parrots for pets. Parrots are high-maintenance animals that serve no benefit on a ship (unlike, for example, cats, which keep the vermin population down). However, there are records of the occasional (non-pirate) Caribbean sailor keeping parrots and even monkeys as pets, so it's not too unlikely. The whole concept of a pirate and his parrot companion likely started with Treasure Island. And parrots in Real Life do naturally prefer to stand on a person's shoulder. It's also worth noting that at a certain point of time pet parrots commanded huge prices in Europe, so it is not inconceivable for a sailor wanting to settle down to trade in several parrots as a retirement benefit of sorts, probably leaving one to himself — which is probably where it all started.

Expect some amount of Misplaced Wildlife. Cockatoos, for example, come from Australia and Indonesia, and would be far less likely on the shoulder of a Caribbean pirate than a macaw or Amazon of Central and South America. Then again, most animated parrots are some strange conglomeration of psittacine characteristics rather than realistic; macaw-shaped and colored, Amazon-sized, with a cockatoo crest.


As Escapist as this may seem, we are contemplating first and foremost the pirates that roam Wall Street, the City of London, and points beyond.

"The Pirate of Wall St." Cover for Argosy, May 16, 1931

billboard courtesy of Occupy Wall St

Dame Julia Polak obituary AN AMAZING LIFE-STORY


The scientist Dame Julia Polak, who has died aged 75, was a leading figure in the field of histochemistry, the study of chemical components in cells and tissue. After receiving a heart and lung transplant in her mid-50s, she embarked on a remarkable second career developing laboratory organs for transplantation.

As a histochemist, Julia pioneered the use of a technique known as immunohistochemistry to make peptides – amino acid compounds – visible under a microscope. It is now routinely used in labs all over the world. She was able to show that peptides were located within nerves; a highly original finding. She further demonstrated that these peptides were actually present in the little granules that the nerves release when they are activated and by which they control other tissues. This meant that nerves talk to each other by means of peptides. While she first found this in the gut, bladder, lung and heart, she later showed it was also true of the brain itself. These were fundamental discoveries that contributed enormously to our current understanding of how the body's hormones and nerves work together – and how the brain works...

One of Julia's scientific collaborators was the surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, who sent her samples of lung tissue from his transplant patients. Julia herself had respiratory difficulties as a young child, which steadily worsened with age. By the age of 56 her illness was so serious that she could no longer climb the stairs and she was finally diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. Yacoub persuaded Julia that her only chance of survival was to have a heart and lung transplant, a very high-risk procedure at the time. He performed the operation in 1995, and after a year spent recovering she made a remarkable return to her lab, where she was determined to take on a new and far bigger scientific challenge.

Julia knew that she had been lucky to find a matching donor, with lungs that could fit in her slight frame. She was also aware that others had died waiting for transplants, and she made it her mission to find a solution. A chance encounter with Larry Hench, a material scientist at Imperial, introduced her to the field of tissue engineering – the idea of growing new organs in a laboratory – and this set her on a quest to create artificial lungs. Julia quickly recognised that such a huge scientific challenge could not be solved by any one scientist, or even one specific discipline, so in 1998 she and Hench set up the centre for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine at Imperial, based at Chelsea and Westminster hospital...


Weekend Economists Boldly Go...Again! September 12-14, 2014

Yes, it's 48 years since we caught a glimpse into the world of Star Trek, and yet the ideas and ideals of Star Trek are as fresh and untried as ever.

No need to adjust your screen. Those are not the original actors, but a plucky band of wannabes, who produce seriously authentic new episodes for the World Wide Web called "Star Trek Continues".

Star Trek has seen its share of fan-made series and films. So even though mega-fan Vic Mignogna has decided to go where other men have gone before, he's taking it to a whole new level with Star Trek Continues, which picks up right where The Original Series left off.

Life-long Trekkie Athena Stamos interviewed Vic (best known for his proliferous voice acting work and acting as Captain Kirk), Grant Imahara (best known from Mythbusters and playing Mr. Sulu) and Chris Doohan (James Doohan's son, who is playing Scotty). They talk about how they captured the look and feel of the beloved Original Series and how they avoided the pitfalls that fan films often fall into. Plus Chris recounts some hilarious mishaps as a troublemaking child on the hallowed Original Series set. So sit down, pour yourself some Romulan Ale, and check it out... http://www.craveonline.com/tv/articles/193387-star-trek-continues-cast-interviews VIDEO INTERVIEW AT LINK


Believe it or not, there are serious economic considerations in the Star Trek Universe.

The Star Trek Economy: (Mostly) Post-Scarcity (Mostly) Socialism By Matthew Yglesias


I greatly enjoyed Rick Webb's efforts to piece together how the 24th century economy of the United Federation of Planets works, but I don't think he has it quite right. Dual-hatted as Moneybox columnist and Star Trek completist author, I want to delve into this a bit. Webb is essentially struggling to understand how to meld the apparently post-scarcity, post-currency, socialistic economy with the concrete reality that on various occasions you do see what appear to be small business owners:

There is absolutely, obviously, still private property in the Federation: most obviously Joseph Sisko’s restaurant in New Orleans and Chateau Picard, evidencing that not just small possessions are allowed but that the land itself is still privately owned. One could argue that these aren’t really Sisko and Picard’s to own, but they are routinely referred to as “his” restaurant and vineyard so we gotta go with Occam’s Razor here and assume they do, in fact, own them.

It's important to pay attention to the specificity of these cases. Chateau Picard is essentially a heritage vineyard, deliberately eschewing modern production techniques to deliver the authentic French wine experience. The same is true, in a more down-home way, of Sisko's restaurant in New Orleans. If you think about the modern economy, highly efficient highly rationalized food service firms (Olive Garden or TGI Friday's) exist along side organic locally-sourced farm-to-table operations.

The central conceit of Trek is that technology gets better and better, so things that are mass produced and rationalized get cheaper and more abundant. So there's a post-scarcity economy where anyone can replicate any kind of consumer goods he wants. Webb sees a welfare state, but I actually see something different. It's simply that energy is abundant enough that people have unrestricted access to consumer-grade replicators. Under the circumstances nobody needs to work to survive and there's really no point in maintaining a cash economy. But by definition improved technology can't increase the efficiency of historical production techniques. If the promise of Sisko's is a home-cooked New Orleans meal, then Sisko's can't partake in the post-scarcity economy. Similarly, you can replicate wine in unlimited quantities but a Chateau Picard vintage is by definition a scarce commodity. People appear to operate these businesses for roughly the same reason that Starfleet officers cruise around the galaxy—for a sense of personal fulfillment rather than enrichment. The Federation has clearly acted so as to prevent the existence of any kind of meaningful banking system, and though various mediums of exchange seem to be floating around there isn't enough stuff for sale for people to really focus on it as an issue...

Michael Hudson: Losing Credibility – The IMF’s New Cold War Loan to Ukraine


By Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, who publishes regularly at his website. His latest book is “The Bubble and Beyond”

In April 2014, fresh from riots against the kleptocrats in Maidan Square and the February 22 coup, and less than a month before the May 2 massacre in Odessa, the IMF approved a $17 billion loan program to Ukraine’s junta. Normal IMF practice is to lend only up to twice a country’s quota in one year. This was eight times as high.

Four months later, on August 29, just as Kiev began losing its attempt at ethnic cleansing against the eastern Donbas region, the IMF signed off on the first loan ever to a side engaged in a civil war, not to mention being rife with insider capital flight and a collapsing balance of payments. Based on fictitiously trouble-free projections of the ability to pay, the loan supported Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, long enough to enable the oligarchs’ banks to move the money quickly into Western hard-currency accounts before the hryvnia plunged further and was worth even fewer euros and dollars.

This loan demonstrates the degree to which the IMF is an arm of U.S. Cold War politics. The loan terms imposed the usual budget austerity, as if this would stabilize the war-torn country’s finances. The financings obviously were devoted mainly to rebuilding the army. The war-torn East can expect to receive nothing even nothing even though its basic infrastructure has been destroyed for power generation, water, and hospitals. Civilian housing areas that bore the brunt of the attack are also unlikely to profit from the IMF’s uncharacteristic generosity.

A quarter of Ukraine’s exports normally are from eastern provinces and sold mainly to Russia. But Kiev has been bombing Donbas industry and left its coal mines without electricity. Nearly a million civilians are reported to have fled to Russia. Yet the IMF release announced: “The IMF praised the government’s commitment to economic reforms despite the ongoing conflict.” No wonder there was almost no comment in the news or even the business press!...The IMF’s Articles of Agreement forbid it to make loans to countries that clearly cannot pay, prompting its economists to complain at their Washington meeting that their institution was violating its rules by making bad loans “to states unable to repay their debts.” One official called its Debt Sustainability Analysis, “‘a joke,’.... In practice the IMF simply advanced however much a country needed to pay its bankers and bondholders, pretending that more austerity would enhance the ability to pay, not worsen the debt trap, while Kiev also used the loan for military expenses to attack the Eastern provinces...Ukraine’s main problem is that its debt is denominated in dollars and euros. There seems only one way for Ukraine to raise the foreign exchange to repay the IMF and NATO creditors rounded up to help Westernize the economy: by selling its natural resources, headed by gas rights and agricultural land...


STILL 1.4 Million Fewer Full-Time Jobs Than in 2008


Yves here. Despite his many faults, Bill Clinton at least recognized that the first responsibility of a Democratic president is to create jobs. Of course, Obama is a Democrat in name only, but until recently, just as the nobility understood its duty was to protect the peasants, the powers that be understood that providing for enough employment at at least adequate wages was one of their major responsibilities. Sadly, the idea of having responsibilities is sorely absent among today’s elites.

By Lee Adler of the Wall Street Examiner

Let’s cut to the chase: There were 1,446,000 fewer people working full time in August 2014 than in August 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey (CPS).

Full Time Employment Measures

That’s after an increase of 210,000 full-time jobs in August. That’s the actual count, not the seasonally adjusted abstraction. So we have to compare that with past Augusts to get an idea if its any good or not. August is a swing month, sometimes up, sometimes down. The average change over the prior 10 years, which included a couple of ugly years in the recession, was -63,000. So this number wasn’t bad. It was slightly better than August of last year and 2012, but come on….

It’s still 1.4 million below 2008? In 2008, the economy was in full collapse mode. The Fed has expanded its balance sheet by $3.7 trillion since August 2008 and there are fewer full-time jobs now than then? Remind me again what that $3.7 trillion has bought!

QE Stimulates Stock Market Bubble

Since August 2009, near the bottom of the recession, the US economy has added 6.25 million full-time jobs, a 5.5% increase. That amounts to $588,000 in Fed QE per added full time job. But that’s ok. It’s been great for bankers, securities brokers, and hedge funds. While the number of full time jobs increased 5.5%, stock prices soared 175%. It’s all good!

Or not. I have argued for a long time that the Fed’s policies have rewarded financial engineering at the expense of job creation. The Fed has made it profitable for corporations to borrow free money to buy back the stock options that they issue to their executives rather than investing in expanding their businesses and creating jobs. The Fed’s policies have enabled corporate executives and their financial enablers to conduct a massive skimming of the US economy and wealth transfer at the expense of everybody else. By promoting this behavior, not only has Fed policy been ineffective in stimulating real growth, it has been a moral outrage, decimating the middle class and robbing the elderly of their life savings as they’re forced to consume principal.

The result has been that growth in full time jobs barely keeps pace with population growth. The ratio of full-time jobs to total population was 48.4% last month. That’s finally above the August 2009 reading of 48.2%. August 2009 was the bottom of the recession. At the bottom of the 2003 recession, before the housing bubble took off, this ratio was at 52%. In terms of a recovery in the number of jobs that might support a family, the Fed hasn’t supported recovery, it has suppressed it.

MrScorpio, these people don't love America!

If we were a nation full of people who loved it, we wouldn't have 90% of the problems we have.

What we have are people who love putting down others, stealing everything from the less powerful, emulating the more powerful, and violence.

There is no demonstrable love of America, at home or abroad.

It was the love that foreigners had for America that kept America alive through most of the 20th century. Now even that idealism has been killed by the PNACers at the State Dept, the Chicago school of economics, the NSA, CIA, FBI and all the alphabet agencies, and numerous wars for corporate interests that overthrew other people's attempts to build their own nations into something like what was good in ours.

No, it's only FDR Democrats who give a care, and we are few and far between: the first generation is dying off, the later generations are getting sidetracked and defeated by this very corrupt culture.

Weekend Economists Celebrate Peace Like a River September 5-7, 2014

Yes, today we combine contemplation and celebration of the life and art of Joan Rivers, who left us for that distant shore

Joan Alexandra Rosenberg (née Molinsky; June 8, 1933 – September 4, 2014),
known by her stage name Joan Rivers

With the first (and if there's any faithfulness in that region, the last and only needed) declaration of Peace between the citizens of Ukraine and their minorities/civil war/closest neighbor and largest trading partner, source of winter fuel...(good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. Brightly shown the moon that night, though the frost lay cruel, when a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel....)

{We highjack this thread to Xmas because it is unbearable outside--over 90F, heat index of 99F, 60% chance of thunderstorms (bet we don't get them)...this is the hottest day of the summer, and the pool closed Monday, of course}...

ahem....oh, yes, Peace in Ukraine, for the nonce at least.

Ukraine ceasefire 'agreed for east of country' at Minsk peace talks


News reports say ceasefire due to come into effect at 1600 GMT (5.5 hours ago as I write), although fighting reported on ground near port city of Mariupol...A ceasefire for east Ukraine has been agreed during talks in Minsk between Ukrainian government representatives and separatist leaders, according to news reports from the Belarusian capital. The agreement came shortly after loud booms of artillery were audible in the city of Mariupol, which Kiev's forces are defending against a possible rebel onslaught.

The former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma began talks at a hotel in Minsk on Friday with leaders from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk "republics", in the presence of officials from Russia and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Interfax reported that the ceasefire was due to come into effect at 6pm local time (1600 GMT). The official Twitter account of the Donetsk rebels said: "Representatives of the Donetsk People's Republic, the Luhansk People's Republic, and Ukraine have signed a ceasefire protocol."

Poroshenko had reportedly told the BBC on Friday he was "absolutely not confident" that any ceasefire would hold, but said he and Ukrainian forces were doing everything possible to achieve peace....MORE

Ah, yes, Poroshenko, the Chocolate King...what a leader! in case anyone had a doubt of my meaning...

We will wait in anticipation of word from our correspondent on the ground in Kiev (sorry, Matt, I just can't memorize the new spelling that fast....)

How America’s Largest Worker Owned Co-Op Lifts People Out of Poverty


Before Zaida Ramos joined Cooperative Home Care Associates, she was raising her daughter on public assistance, shuttling between dead-end office jobs, and not making ends meet. “I earned in a week what my family spent in a day,” she recalled. After 17 years as a home health aide at Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), the largest worker-owned co-op in the United States, Ramos recently celebrated her daughter’s college graduation. She’s paying half of her son’s tuition at a Catholic school, and she’s a worker-owner in a business where she enjoys flexible hours, steady earnings, health and dental insurance, plus an annual share in the profits. She’s not rich, she says, “but I’m financially independent. I belong to a union, and I have a chance to make a difference.”

Can worker-owned businesses lift families out of poverty? “They did mine,” Ramos said. Should other low-income New Yorkers get involved in co-ops? She says, “Go for it.” New York City is going—in a big way—for worker-owned cooperatives. Inspired by the model of CHCA and prodded by a new network of co-op members and enthusiasts, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council allocated $1.2 million to support worker cooperatives in 2015’s budget. According to the Democracy at Work Institute, New York’s investment in co-ops is the largest by any U.S. city government to date.

Cooperatives are businesses owned and controlled by their members on the basis of one member, one vote. Given enough time, worker-owned cooperatives tend to increase wages and improve working conditions, and advocates say a local co-op generally stays where it’s founded and acts as a leadership-building force.

“There is no greater medicine for apathy and feelings of living on the edges of society than to see your own work and your voice make a difference,” says a report on co-ops by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies in New York.


I will pencil that in

How's the mail been?

Are there bonafide Russian troops invading Ukraine? or is it more of the same old convict by accusation we've been subjected to here?

Honestly, it's a war against truth, more than anything else, truth and property rights.
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