The Narrative Fallacy in Weather

20 March, 2007

Looking back at my most recent posts on rainfall I note that they were motivated at a reaction to what Nassim Taleb describes as the Narrative Fallacy, the desire people have to make a post-hoc story to so all events relate with a strict cause and effect. Journalists (amongsts others) love to try and join dots and so are typical propagators of this nonsense. Recently they have been keen to link everything weather related like the drought, to global warming.

Should I worry about this though? Ultimately I think we should be acting to mitigate AGW, so is it best for us not to be criticising our “side”? I think that this kind of partisanship is amongst the worst things that can be done. Claims that are unsupported by evidence will ultimately undermine the very case they are trying to support. They are in effect crying wolf.

The stupidity of course isn’t limited to AGW alarmists, with many if not more of the skeptics running the its a cold day, it can’t be warming line. Some of these are taking the piss but not all of them. Some seem to believe its a refutation.

Ultimately it would do well if people were to remember that a particular instance is usually not a good representation of the average. Its ridiculous to ascribe meaning to every single occurrence, and even a couple of years don’t really do much to hundred year trends. Climate is long term average weather. Year to year it varies, and we are looking at long term trends not day to day heatwaves or even year to year droughts.

More on rainfall

15 March, 2007

For those unconvinced about my previous claim that, according to the BOM data, there doesn’t appear to be a drying trend on the east coast and think it might be an artifice of too broad averaging, I note that they should have a look at the trend maps found here. For example the rainfall trends from from 1900 to 2006.
Australian Rainfall trend 1900 - 2006

This shows few regions which have shown a definite drying trend over the period. One clear exception being the south west of WA, which does show a drying trend over pretty much anytime period you pick. In addition it appears that some slight trend could be evident in mid to northern Queensland.

Go and have a look at some of the different time periods on their site, the lack of a clear trend for much of eastern Australia isn’t just for the period 1900-2006. In case any one’s concerned that its because we started the comparison in a drought. Take 1910-2006, 1920-2006 or 1930-2006 and you get something similar.

Indeed its not unless you compare with the 1950’s to 1970’s that you get a really marked decrease in rainfall in most of Eastern Australia.

Drying up or typical climatic variation?

10 March, 2007

I noticed this article Big dry: no one knows why in the SMH this week, and in particular the claim that eastern Australia’s rainfall had dried up since the 1950’s. The report seems to be related to this press release announcing a new centre at UNSW studying climate change.

A priority for the new centre is to better understand the mystery of why Australia’s most populated region, the continent’s east coast, has suffered such major declines in rainfall in recent decades.

“We recently had a round-table of Australia’s leading climate-change researchers and this emerged as the biggest unknown issue and, of course, it seriously affects the largest concentration of people stretching right down the coast from Cairns to Melbourne,” Professor England said.

So I had a look again at the rainfall graphs and time series provided by the Bureau of Meteorology for eastern Australia and there is no doubt that we have been receiving less rainfall in recent decades than the 1950’s. However it also seems that we are receiving more rainfall than in the first half of the 20th century, so the question seems to me to be as much why did rainfall rise in the 50’s as why has in fallen in the 80’s and 90’s.

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Can we have nuclear power without bipartisan support?

21 November, 2006

The key sticking factor in developing a nuclear industry would seem to be the political risk. Would any company take on the risk of building a nuclear power plant while the likely alternate government is opposed to the plan?

With a construction lead time of 10-15 years, this is likely to encompass at least one change of government, and a likely 2 full rotations of the senate. Without significant financial guarantees it is difficult to see why any company would take on the risk of having a billion dollar venture, with a high likelihood of crashing down on change of government. As the report summary states on page 10:

An efficient and predictable regulatory process is an essential prerequisite for a nuclear power
industry. With its high capital costs, nuclear power is very sensitive to delays and uncertainty in obtaining approvals.

While this is mostly talking about governments altering the requirements, an opposition hostile to the very idea would seem to pose an even greater risk. This means the government initiating the deal would essentially need to tie some sort of financial guarantee into the project. While a policy reversal for the ALP once construction has begun would not be out of the question, the chance that they may decide to roll back these changes as well makes it a very risky regulatory environment.

Personally I think this is a shame, as we should have all options on the table to reduce CO2 emissions and nuclear is still one of the few viable base load power sources.

Update: Of course the political risk is not only federal but also regional, with several States already coming out and saying they would fight it in the courts, although given the recent WorkChoices decision it appears unlikley they would win according to this report.

Draft nuclear report

21 November, 2006

The draft report of the Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review has been released and is available in whole and parts here. I haven’t yet been able to read the documents, but from the summaries appearing in the news they aren’t telling us anything that wasn’t already known. In short that nuclear is more expensive than coal in Australia, and only becomes cost effective if we put a price on carbon emissions. With regards safety, it finds it to be safer than other energy industries, and poses no additional nuclear proliferation risk.

I’ll try to comment when I actually read more of the report.

Winds of change or just more hot air?

14 November, 2006

First it was Rupert Murdoch “The planet deserves the benefit of the doubt.”, then Peter Costello on insiders

I think the ground is changing. I think it is important that we bring new countries into this discussion. And I think, from Australia’s point of view, if the world starts moving towards a carbon trading system, we can’t be left out of that, that Australia has a role…

and now John Howard

JOHN HOWARD has yielded to pressure to consider a global carbon trading scheme, and business leaders say they are ready to take action against global warming.

As Brian has noted at LP, the release of the Stern review has coincided with a sudden shift in the political direction with respect to AGW policy. Previously the Australian government position has been completely intransigent on being involved with carbon trading, but with Peter Costello’s interview on insiders and now this announcement it seems there has been a large shift in government opinion. Even if this is not a complete reversal it is a serious concession that Australia and the rest of the world needs to do more.

Earlier in the year the government used a review of the tax system as a stepping stone on the way to reversing its previously stated opposition to cutting top tax rates. Here’s hoping this review is the same, a facing saving exercise before a policy reversal and not just more hot air.

The Stern Review

31 October, 2006

By now its been all over the news and some discussion at other sites. Still for my own and other’s references here I will briefly discuss some things about what it says about AGW. Firstly the full report can be seen here. As well as the full document there are long and short summaries. I hope to get around to discussing some of the meat about emissions markets and so forth later.

The main conclusion can be seen in this extract taken from the short summary.

Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world – access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms.

Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.

In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

The policy outlined in the full executive summary advocates three main policy directions as necessary to properly tackle the problem. Carbon pricing, investment in technology and measures to assist in behavioural change including labelling for energy efficiency. I’ve discussed most of these before although I have been less positive about the role of government in the technology investment.
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