Noel Schutt

The cooling zombie strikes again

I was asked for my opinion on an article “Global Cooling - The REAL Inconvenient Truth” by Keith Schaefer, so here is a quick summary.

First, this is a reprint from “Oil and Gas Investments Bulletin,” which obviously is not a neutral source. All the alleged points are either zombie ideas (dead ideas that have already been shown false, but keep moving around), or just plain misinterpretations.

The author uses a strange mix of accepting the science and rejecting other tightly coupled knowledge learned the same way. The author accepts the historical record up to several decades ago, saying, “We know this because scientists have several methods to estimate historic weather…” But for recent years his facts are incorrect. His other points are simply things that have been included in the scientific consensus for years; they alter the temperature one way or another while still leaving the end result of human caused global warming.

Here is a partial list of problems in this article:

PCKeyboardHack

As a software engineer and physicist, I spend a significant amount of time working in vim, typically the MacVim version. My years of living in vim give me a nice efficient way of editing text and code that is consistent across platforms: I even have vim installed on my WebOS phone and a popular legacy OS that I must use sometimes.

One thing about vim that takes some initial getting used to is the fact that it is a modal editor, with a ‘normal’ mode, a visual mode, and an insert mode. The normal mode is where one issues many of the time saving commands. Normal mode is reached by hitting the Escape key. If you aren’t familiar with vim, the choice of a modal editor and the Escape key to move to the normal mode seems odd. Until you see the keyboard that vi was designed on—vi is the predecessor to vim—which has the Escape key in the location that modern keyboards use for the Tab key. The now standard location of the Escape key can contribute to sore wrists, as can the wrist contortions required in other text editors.

But there is a better way! A few years ago I discovered PCKeyboardHack. Since discovering this program, one of the first things I do when setting up a computer is to swap the Escape and Caps Lock keys. This brings the frequently used Escape key down to the home row, making switches to vim’s normal mode easy, without the contortion required to reach the top left corner of the keyboard. This helps keep my wrists happy despite all of my keyboard time.

Between my brother and I, we have installed PCKeyboardHack on at least nine Macs of various ages with no issues. We both highly recommend installing PCKeyboardHack for its contribution to happy typing.

Low gliadin banana bread

A couple weeks ago, I bought some red bananas that never ripened, until they became over-ripe. So I made some of my classic banana bread. With all the anti-gluten hype recently, I decided to make a split batch, half using rye and spelt, half using my typical wheat. I don’t think there is anything to the anti-gluten fad, but I intend to share this bread with those who do. As a near-vegetarian, whole grains are an important source of protein in my diet, so I eat a lot of gluten. Spelt is a type of wheat, but it does not contain the form of gliadin that causes those with celiac disease problems. It does have more protein than the typical red and white wheat though. Rye has half the gluten as wheat, but does not have glutenin. Gluten is the protein that allows bread to rise and gives it good texture, so I wasn’t expecting the rye and spelt batch to rise very well. I had about twenty pounds of wheat left, as well as a little rye and spelt. I ground the wheat on its own, and the spelt and rye together for these breads.

I was surprised at how well the low-gluten bread rose; my other high rye and spelt breads have not risen nearly as well. The regular whole wheat batch (right) definitely rose better, but both batches tasted very good. The red bananas give the bread a very banana-y taste without using too much banana. It will be interesting to play around with whole grain banana breads instead of pure whole wheat.


See also:

Reference:

@book{
    reinhart2011,
    Author = {Reinhart, Peter},
    Publisher = {Ten Speed Press},
    Title = {Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor},
    Year = {2011}
}

Cider after first racking

Yesterday I racked and topped off the ciders I’m making from the juice I bought a month ago. All had already fermented to nearly dry.

I moved the contents of one of the three gallon carboys of D47 cider into a five gallon carboy, and added one gallon of blueberries that I froze this summer. Before adding the blueberries, I thawed them and crushed them using an applesauce making conical strainer. I topped the carboy off with a bit over a gallon of fresh juice, leaving a bit of headroom. By this afternoon, the cider was vigorously fermenting, so I switched from an airlock to a blowoff tube. I split the three gallon batch of 71B-1122 cider into a one gallon jug and a three gallon carboy. I added twenty-four ounces of frozen red raspberries and some fresh juice to the three gallon carboy of 71B-1122 cider. I chose 71B yeast for this batch, because it should mellow the acidity of the raspberries without the eighteen months of aging that was required for my last batch of EC-1118 raspberry cider.

Christmas walk

I took a walk along the high, but not quite flooded, St Mary’s River today:

Apple Juice

Yesterday I bought some fresh, unpasteurized, apple juice.

I froze a bunch of the juice, and started five three-gallon batches of cider today.

Cider in the cellar

Cider and melomel (fruit mead), aging in three gallon carboys.

From left: 2013 blueberry cider (frozen juice from last fall), 2013 crabapple cider (frozen last fall), 2012 cider (trying to save an off batch), 2012 wild black cherry melomel.

Wind power in Wells County

Apex Wind Energy’s wind farm project in Wells County will begin in the spring. The wind farm will consist of eighty-seven turbines. It looks like they will be using 1.8 MW turbines, forming a 156.6 MW farm. This means the Wells County wind farm will add 10% to Indiana’s Net Summer Renewable Capacity. With a pessimistic estimate of the capacity factor, this wind farm can be expected to replace at least 0.2% of Indiana’s coal use.

Seat Belts and Climate Change

It is common to recognize that disasters that may happen are often worth taking precautions against, just in case they do happen. This is why insurance exists, and is part of the justification for things like flood walls and maintaining a powerful military. It is also the reason why certain safety equipment is mandated. Precautions for dealing with low-probability high-impact events leads to a comparison I think should be much more prominent.1

You probably won’t be involved in a car crash serious enough that a seat belt and airbag will save your life. But if you are, the injury your seat belt will save you from is worth far more than the extra cost of the safety equipment. In fact, the damage you will be saved from is so severe that it is recognized that the cost of requiring safety equipment in everyone’s car is justified. But even individually, the cost is worth it, as can easily be shown with some cost estimates.

So, what is the cost of seat belts?2 A set of no-name replacement seat belts with mechanism (without some of the safety features) costs a bit over $250, a good quality set will be more. Even on eBay a ‘new’ airbag for a common car costs over $100, and you need several. Having higher quality equipment professionally installed will cost more, but I’ll assume you are a cheap but competent shade-tree mechanic. Given these prices, safety equipment accounts for a significant portion of the cost of a car.

What is the risk of not using proper safety equipment in your car? In the United States you have a 1.7% chance of dying in a car crash.3 But more than half of the people killed in passenger vehicle crashes weren’t wearing seat belts. Since 85% of people do wear seat belts, this means your chance of being killed in a car accident if you don’t wear a seat belt is much worse than if you do wear one. Some people still argue against seat belts, but seat belts are clearly worth using.4

This is only considering fatal crashes, the chances of being involved in a non-fatal crash are much higher. This just makes the case stronger. If you have a couple people in the car with you when you are in a minor crash, talking to a doctor for a few minutes will cost significantly more than the cost of the safety equipment. But if there is a real injury, the cost of dealing with it—and the possibility that you couldn’t recover from it—is so much higher than the cost of adding the seat belts that there is no doubt that it is worth having seat belts required on all cars.

Now compare this with anthropogenic (man made) climate change. We know it is happening and we know there will be severe consequences for continuing to cause it to happen. But in the United States the issue is often presented as in question. Most people at only familiar with the supposed debate over the existence of anthropogenic climate changes; the positions are typically presented as between those who deny any significance of man-made climate problems and those who recognize the most-likely scenarios of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). But, as I wrote last year, the most-likely scenarios in the AR4 are actually fairly optimistic compared to some of the likely outcomes. This means that many people aren’t familiar with—or discount—the less likely high-impact possibilities. But the possibility of a larger than commonly recognized impact is within the expected range for the likely scenarios and must be taken seriously. This is an example of the common mistake of looking at an average out of context of the range.

Since we are nearly guaranteed to have negative consequences—and also have a significant chance of extremely negative consequences—we must take the low-probability high-impact risks into consideration. This brings us back to the seat belt analogy. We recognize that requiring the current level of safety equipment in cars is worthwhile, maintaining logical consistency suggests that we also take action to remove the possibility of the high-damage climate scenarios. Even those who continue to discount the evidence for anthropogenic climate change and its impacts should consider it prudent to take action to alleviate the risk of the high-impact possibilities.

And this is before even considering the side benefits of the best solutions to man-made climate problems, for example: the best solutions will leave us healthier, create jobs, and fulfil our obligation to stewardship of the earth.

Of course, the analogy breaks down because you may be fortunate enough no never be involved in a car crash, but you are certain to be affected by anthropogenic climate change, and have already been affected by pollution. Now it is simply a matter of lessening the impact. This leads to an expanded version of the analogy.

Imagine you are the passenger in a pickup truck. You aren’t buckled, but there is a three-point seat belt. The passenger side airbag is switched off, but you can easily reach the switch. The brakes and steering have failed. The truck is heading toward a wall at seventy miles per hour, but you have seconds before impact. Do you fasten your seat belt and enable the airbag?


I originally published this blog entry on 2011-12-31, but decided it needed to be reworked.


  1. I don’t remember reading this specific analogy elsewhere, but it was inspired by reading a number of presentations of the risk analysis of low-probability high-impact climate scenarios.

  2. If the car hadn’t been made to take the seat belt, a conversion would be more, but that is already taken into account in the cost of the car. It is fair to ignore the development cost in this simple analogy because in both the case of passenger safety and climate change, a sufficient level of technology has already been developed that, if it is consistently applied, it will significantly reduce both problems.

  3. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 2 423 712 people died in the United states in 2007. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 41 259 people were killed in passenger vehicle crashes in 2007. This means that just over 1.7% of people who died in 2007 in the United States died because a car crash. The NHSTA also estimates that 15 147 lives were saved by seat belts and an additional 2 788 lives were saved by front air bags in 2007 alone. Of the people killed in car crashes, 14.4% were pedestrians, cyclists, or other non-passengers.

  4. For more, read a study such as “The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2000”.

Pawpaw bread

I picked a few pawpaws this year. In addition to eating a couple plain, I made some ice cream. I also made a small batch of pawpaw bread. I used an easy-to-make banana quick-bread recipe that I often use, but replaced the creamed banana with creamed pawpaw. The result is a cake-like bread:

This basic pawpaw bread is good, but I was disappointed at how little of the pawpaw flavor came through. I’ll try again next year with pawpaws that haven’t been sitting puréed in the fridge for several days, and will also add a few spices.

Pawpaw Bread Recipe

Ingredients
1 cup pawpaw purée
1/4 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions

  • Peal and remove seeds from two or three pawpaws.
  • Cream pawpaw meat along with oil, sugar, eggs, and milk.
  • Add dry ingredients and mix until just moistened.
  • Put batter in two oiled 3 x 5.75 inch pans.
  • Bake for 40 minutes at 350°F

Suggested changes to this recipe

  • I used table sugar instead of honey because I was out of honey. I prefer to use 1/2 or less cups of honey in my banana, apple, or pumpkin bread. This pawpaw bread tasted like it would be better with honey.
  • Add some spices. Banana and apple breads don’t need any spices, but this tasted like it needed something. If I find pawpaws next year, I’ll try again with a 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoons of cinnamon.

Pawpaw ice cream

There are several nearby pawpaw patches, but it has been a number of years since I have eaten pawpaws. Most years that I remember to look for them, the pawpaws seem to go from way under ripe directly to already eaten by animals. This year I checked more often, and I was able to find a few ripe ones before the critters got them.

Ripe pawpaws are have a strong and distinctive flavor, and a creamy texture. They taste good plain, but they aren’t a fruit that I want to eat several of at once, as I often do with apples and bananas. Because of the mushy, creamy, texture, I decided to make some pawpaw ice cream. My experiment turned out well, especially when paired with homemade chocolate ice cream.

The flavor of the pawpaw is strong enough that it doesn’t take much to make a batch of ice cream. I skinned the fruit and removed the seeds, then ran the meat of the pawpaw through a blender to make it even smoother. This gave me nearly a cup of pawpaw purée. I added milk, cream, and a little vanilla to the pawpaw. After fifteen minutes in a borrowed ice cream maker, I had a batch of excellent pawpaw ice cream. Mmm…

Pawpaw Ice Cream Recipe

Ingredients
1 cup pawpaw purée
2 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  • Peal and remove seeds from two or three pawpaws.
  • Cream pawpaw meat in blender.
  • Add other ingredients to blender and mix.
  • Put in ice cream maker.

Safe passing requirement enhanced in Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne finally has a law stating that the minimum safe separation between a cyclist and a passing car is at least three feet!

This is a good time to remind everyone what a safe pass looks like:

Notice the steps of the pass:

  1. Begin to move over well behind the cyclist.
  2. Pass at a safe distance. There is a minimum of three feet between the closest points of the car and the bicyclist. Don’t forget to give room for your mirrors, dual rear wheels, and trailer. On fast roads with large vehicles, the minimum safe distance may be larger.
  3. Move back into the lane well after the cyclist.

Now that the new change to the city code has been passed, the implicit minimum safe distance is now the legal minimum. The city council also made it legal for adult cyclists to use sidewalks.

Now, to pass a similar law state wide.


See also, Fort Wayne Bike Commuters: 3 foot law passed! and my safe driving around bicycles page

Not scared of the dark

How much electricity is used in the United States for lighting homes while people sleep? As I walk or drive around at night, I see many lights left on at all hours. Given the number of lights I see, I suspect they make a fairly significant contribution to residential electricity usage.

So how much energy is used by these lights?

Well, this is easy to calculate.

A 40 watt light bulb.

I must start with an estimate of the power used by these lights. I’ll assume the average household uses 40 watts worth of extra lighting while they are asleep. This is low for some houses in my neighborhood, but also allows for those of us who don’t leave any lights on. Choosing 40 watts also allows for not counting night lights for people who have a good reason to use them.

Now, there are 116,700,000 households in the USA, so at 40 watts per household, night lighting accounts for 4,668,000,000 watts of electricity that is used all night, every night. If we assume 8 hour nights, this lighting is just under 1% residential household electricity consumption. This is a lot of electricity. It is so much that it can be expressed as the number of power plants that are dedicated to providing electricity for night lights in homes.

For the conversion to the number of power plants, I’ll only consider coal power plants, which currently provide over 42% of the electricity generated in the United States, and are largely used to power the base load. There are 1,396 coal power plants operating in the United States, with a combined summer net generating capacity of 316,800,000,000 watts. This means each plant can continuously produce an average of nearly 227,000,000 watts. This means that more than 20 coal power plants are operating all night just to produce light that no one even sees.

Since no one actually uses this light, these extra twenty coal power plants aren’t actually needed. So we have twenty coal power plants that can simply be turned off without any loss to the benefits derived from using electricity they generate.

Not only can every one who is using these extra lights immediately save 1% off their power bill, turning off these unnecessary lights will have immediate quality of life benefits. By not mining and burning the over 7,000,000 tons of coal per year that is used to power these lights, our health and environment will be better than if we continue this unnecessary resource depletion.

It is important to note that the power for these night lights is part of the overnight base load on the power system. The overnight base load is one of the major hurdles in our inevitable move to a solar dominated—and completely renewable—energy system. An analogous contribution to our overnight base load is made by the many lights left on overnight in businesses, schools, and other non-residential buildings.

So, one of the easiest things we can do to improve the use of energy in the United States is to simply turn off night lights that aren’t really being used. If you don’t think there are any lights you can eliminate, consider switching to more efficient bulbs.


See my references and calculations.

Space Shuttle

Remember the good old days when the USA could launch a man into space? One year ago today our last spaceship landed.

Solar pretzels

A recent trip took me to Hanover, Pennsylvania, home of Snyder’s of Hanover and several other pretzel companies. It was good to see that Snyder’s of Hanover has installed a 3.5 MW solar farm across the road from their factory:

The solar farm is operated for Snyder’s-Lance by RMK Solar, and is expected to save 30% of the Hanover location’s energy costs at 2010 rates. It is always good to see another example of sustainable energy not only as a good moral choice, but as a good financial choice.

Are skeptics more knowledgable?

Last week I wrote that Open Access is important because it allows anyone to easily check that news articles match the science paper they claim to be reporting on. Today I was asked to comment on an article that turns out to be an excellent case study.

The paper in question was published today in Nature Climate Change. The paper, “The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks” by Kahan & alii, happens to be available on the Nature website, so anyone can read it. It is a clear and accessible paper, so you can evaluate it yourself.

Kahan & alii created a survey to determine if public’s lack of concern about the risks caused by climate change is due to a general failure to understand science or to something else. This is an interesting idea to explore. Misunderstandings of science are often attributed to not having sufficient knowledge and mental skills to properly understand the information available. Kahan & alii call this the science comprehension thesis (SCT). To test the SCT, Kahan & alii devised a survey that covered basic political leaning, basic science knowledge, and some analytical reasoning, in addition to the participant’s evaluation of the seriousness of climate change risk and nuclear power risk.

Instead of a positive correlation of numeracy and science literacy with high estimates of climate change risk, the study found slight negative correlations. That is, those with slightly better scores on the reasoning and science literacy questions gave slightly lower ratings on a 0—10 scale for the question, “How much risk do you believe climate change poses to human health, safety or prosperity?”

The survey results were sufficient to also test the cultural cognition thesis (CCT). This thesis states that the views of others in groups a person associates with have a large impact on a person’s reasoning and analysis of risks to society. The results of the study show that CCT is a better explanation of the perceptions of climate risk in the American general public than is SCT. So among those on the egalitarian communitarian end of the scale, increased knowledge and reasoning abilities is correlated with an increased evaluation of the climate change risk; while for those on the hierarchical individualist end of the scale the correlation is the opposite:

This supports the idea that knowledge and reasoning ability aren’t necessarily enough to make a person believe something counter to what a group they are in tends to believe:

For ordinary citizens, the reward for acquiring greater scientific knowledge and more reliable technical-reasoning capacities is a greater facility to discover and use—or explain away—evidence relating to their groups’ positions.

Basically, for many people peer pressure is more important than scientific evidence.

It is important to note that this study only covers the general public: this isn’t an evaluation of experts in the relevant fields. Across the political spectrum, the experts are nearly unanimous in evaluating the human impact on climate to be a serious to dire risk. This may be in the citations, but there is also the possibility that people higher on the knowledge/numeracy scale will in general provide lower estimates of risk, partially because they are better at thinking of the range of values than others are.

Phew! That’s a longer summary than I intended to write. Oh, well, on to the reporting in question.

The news article I was asked to evaluate was posted in The Register, a British Information Technology tabloid. Given the contents of the Kahan paper, one would expect a headline like, “Yale study concludes public apathy over climate change unrelated to science literacy.” But The Register mangled the story into something completely different, titling Lewis Page’s article: “The more science you know, the less worried you are about climate.” This is clearly an inaccurate representation of both what was studied and the conclusion of the study. Now, it is often the case that the headline is written by a different person than wrote the story, so the two don’t necessarily match. Unfortunately, in this case the story just continues the misunderstanding.

In addition to misrepresenting the study in his own writing, Page misrepresents the study using creative ellipses in his quotes from the article. For example, the third paragraph from the end of the journal article reads (with Page’s version highlighted):

Even if cultural cognition serves the personal interests of individuals, this form of reasoning can have a highly negative impact on collective decision making. What guides individual risk perception, on this account, is not the truth of those beliefs but rather their congruence with individuals’ cultural commitments. As a result, if beliefs about a societal risk such as climate change come to bear meanings congenial to some cultural outlooks but hostile to others, individuals motivated to adopt culturally congruent risk perceptions will fail to converge, or at least fail to converge as rapidly as they should, on scientific information essential to their common interests in health and prosperity. Although it is effectively costless for any individual to form a perception of climate-change risk that is wrong but culturally congenial, it is very harmful to collective welfare for individuals in aggregate to form beliefs this way.

But Page’s story in The Register merely quotes it as:

This form of reasoning can have a highly negative impact on collective decision making … it is very harmful to collective welfare for individuals in aggregate to form beliefs this way.

That’s quite a difference in meaning, especially when Page prefaces it with his own statement:

Given that the profs had assumed from the start that scepticism is wrong, this forced them to the conclusion that simply teaching people more science and giving them more facts and numbers is not a good idea as it will lead them into bad (sceptical) decisions.

This one sentence manages to misrepresent both the background and conclusion of the Kahan paper. But reading the quotes in Page’s article wouldn’t give any indication that this summary doesn’t represent Kahan’s work. Page goes on to claim that Kahan & alii endorse “a communication strategy on climate change which is not focused on sound scientific information.” But if you read Kahan’s paper, you can see that they endorse communicating sound science, but in a way that also takes into account the views of various groups:

As citizens understandably tend to conform their beliefs about societal risk to beliefs that predominate among their peers, communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values.

By now you should be unsurprised that this sentence forms the bulk of one of Page’s magical ellipses.

In addition to misrepresenting the Kahan & alii paper, Page repeats the “too expensive to fix” climate canard. This myth has been debunked many times. For example, in their excellent Changing Planet, Changing Health, Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber summarized the evidence that the health consequences of human caused climate change alone are more than enough to justify the conclusion that acting now on climate change is less expensive than inaction.

Page’s article in The Register is a good example of why it is important to check original sources when dramatic results are claimed. Even reading the abstract of the Kahan & alii article is enough to correct the misunderstandings promoted in The Register. Fortunately, Nature Climate Change made the entire article available online, so you can easily see for yourself what Kahan & alii conclude.

Cheap, Abundant Power: CSP

One option for cheap, abundant power is concentrated solar:

CSP is an easy, inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and renewable source of energy. It sure beats coal and oil.