Why I care about climate and energy

I have four children. I expect to have at least that many grandchildren one day. I anticipate the world they inherit to be one filled with technical wonders, as mine has been, and also filled with the richness of life and human history. I fully expect their lives to include consumption of energy at a rate an order of magnitude or greater than mine has been; they will travel the world, and perhaps beyond this planet, with a comfort I never knew. They will build and create in both the virtual and physical worlds, they will have freedoms and capabilities beyond our current imaginations. And I know, without a doubt, that fossil fuels cannot sustain this world I envision for my grandchildren - both because the climate and other pollution implications of that level of fossil consumption would be fatal to that future world, and simply because fossil carbon represents a finite resource whose day has been wondrous, but is passing.

Thoughts on ARPA-E award winners

The Department of Energy's new "ARPA-E" program has released the list of winners of their first round of funding for advanced energy projects (note: the link goes to the ARPA-E home page and so will surely change, there doesn't seem to be a better one yet though). A version of the following comment was posted at DotEarth along with some others.

My Letter to the APS Council on the climate change review

In my earlier story I recommended people write to an APS councillor to express their opinions on the matter. I slightly adapted my comments from that article and sent the following. Others should feel free to use some of this as a template if needed.

Dear Dr. XXX,

I'm hoping you'll be attending the Nov. 8 APS Council meeting, or able to forward this along to those who will be there. I'm very concerned about this proposal to "revise" the current statement on climate change. As an APS life member I absolutely support the statement as it stands - it's brief but extremely clear, and based on the science of the IPCC reports (the 2007 assessment in particular, where the analyses of the three working groups seem nicely echoed in the three paragraphs of the current APS statement).

Kreisler at night

And now for something completely different...

I started writing here in an attempt to open up things about my life that have been somewhat private, but in my own self-indulgence I've felt I ought to share a little more. It's not just thoughts on climate or physics or science that I'm trying to put out here. And the tone's been far too serious lately, so for something a bit lighter... Here's what I've been torturing my kids with the last few weeks, as I've taken up a bit more serious violin practice again, something I hadn't done quite as much of in many years.

The Arrogance of Physicists

First, apropos of some of the discussion below but more urgent than any of that, the council of the American Physical Society is considering revising its 2007 statement on climate change. If you are an APS member with an opinion on the issue, write immediately to one of the councillors; they need your input before the November 8th council meeting.

Improving home energy efficiency: removing recessed lighting fixtures

Last year (2008) we were starting to look at alternatives to our oil-fired burner for heating our house. The house is an almost rectangular 35x60 ft ranch a little over 30 years old, and came with a 1000-gallon buried oil tank, no longer allowed in town codes, so we knew we had to at least get rid of that some time. We finally got that taken care of a few weeks ago. How we're going to heat our house this winter we're still not quite sure. Anyway... one of the interesting options then (and now) was a geothermal heat pump system, and we had several contractors come in and give us quotes. Not cheap at all, mainly because we would have to switch from baseboard radiators to forced air, and putting in the ductwork and vents would take a lot of labor. But there's a 30% federal credit available so we may still go that route.

One more reasonable constraint on two-box empirical models of Earth's climate

One of my more recent posts on the two-box model explored the space of possible underlying models for a given empirical fit by fixing heat capacities of the two boxes and varying the heat transfer rate. Keeping the time constants positive restricts the range of allowed heat capacities considerably, while forcing fraction (x) and temperature measurement fraction (y) also provide some constraints given the expectation they must lie between 0 and 1 (and must have actual solutions). Even among solutions satisfying those constraints, there is a further condition that the results look reasonable - as pointed out there and by Lucia here, some of the solutions produce wildly different response levels for the two boxes, which seems unrealistic for systems that should roughly correspond to sub-components of Earth's climate.

How to lose money in the stock market without really trying

Buy high, sell low. Works every time. The other day I sold stock for $1800 that I had originally purchased for $12,000, and was happy to do it. Read on for the details!

Most of our "playground" investment portfolio (as opposed to the serious ones in retirement and college funds) is invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency-related company stocks. It's actually doing pretty well this year, up almost 85%. Of course, that doesn't quite make up for the 55% drop in 2008, but anyway... I'm fairly confident that these companies are doing things that are essential for the future of our nation and our world, so I'm happy to invest in them even when that investment ends up being at a loss. But Daystar Inc (DSTI) was a bit of a special case.

Physics and its mathematical abstractions

I've been discussing in some detail here a mathematical model of the response of Earth's climate to radiative forcings, trying to address some of the concerns expressed elsewhere on the need for such a model to be "physically realistic". In the case of the two-box model, a given fit of the response function to a two-time-constant decay curve could come from one of many different underlying physical models that correspond to a partitioning of Earth's climate system into two parts with different response rates. So the question has been whether any of these possible underlying physical models are in some way "realistic" or not. That essentially reduces to criteria on the magnitude of the various constants and partial outcomes in the model relative to real components of our planet.

Heat transfer in the two-box model

The following proved a little long to be just an update to the previous post; I guess one should never say never. Nevertheless I don't anticipate a need for anything more on this model.

Realistic two-box parameters and heat capacity choices for Earth's climate system

This will probably be my final post on this question - however I may append updates if other issues come up. In particular this post will look first at whether the fitted parameter values for two-time-constant fits to temperature vs forcing data for Earth's climate system have a collection of underlying physical two-box models that satisfy the basic physical constraints on such systems, and then whether the range of physical parameters in these matching models appears to correspond roughly with appropriate associated physical properties of the real Earth climate system.

CORRECTION: The following text has been modified significantly due to errors in the preceding post that nullify most of the original discussion here:

Our new garden shed

new_shed.jpgMy summer project is pretty much done. I haven't done much carpentry in the past, and found the construction process surprisingly educational. Constructing the flooring, framing, siding, roof, and putting in the window and door all had their own unique challenges in measurement, cutting, joining, etc. I still have to build some shelving and bins and put up some hooks and other devices to hold our tools - can't do that yet though as the kids have installed a couch and turned it into a play house for now. Another couple of weeks though and our new shed should be fully operational!

Perturbative two-box: applying the constraints

Continuing from the previous post, suppose we want to look at solutions where the (s) box is close to the short-time-constant (τ-) solution, and the (o) box then close to the long-time-constant (τ+) solution. That suggests setting the corresponding inverse time constants perturbatively close to τ- and τ+, respectively. Define dimensionless small numbers εs and εo as follows:

Eq. 27: αs = (1 - εs)/τ-
Eq. 28: αo = (1 - εo)/τ+

Then from the definitions of ν+ and ν- (unnumbered equation between 22 and 23 in the previous post) we find:

Two-box continued: solution space

This is essentially a continuation of the math in the previous post. The same warnings apply!

The previous analysis indicated we have 3 free variables to play with. Let them be αs, αo and Cs (the initial inverse time constants of the two boxes, and the heat capacity of the "surface" box).

Equations 9 and 12 of the previous post show a relationship between w+s and w+o depending on the α's, γ's and τ+, and equations 10 and 13 show the same relationship for w-s and w-o with τ- instead of τ+.

More two-box model: some fun with math

This will probably be painful for anybody who hasn't already been following this (which I'm sure is all but 1 or 2 readers, if that many). So skip this post unless you're really into solving systems of equations...

Playing with R trying to fit the modern temperature record to forcings

Ok, this time I'm going to start with the graph, and explain what's going on after. Seems to work for other folks... :
Global mean temperature and a fit to forcings

Moore's law and its analogues

Kevin Kelly has a great new essay up, "Was Moore's Law Inevitable?", examining a series of examples of exponential growth in technological capability from a wide range of fields - and makes the very interesting point that all these examples are "prisoner[s] of physics, the periodic table, manufacturing technology and economics" - but some of them proceed rapidly and some do not. The interesting question is why?

Transitions in information technology

I recently finished reading Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris (i.e. the Hunchback of Notre Dame). Among his many long asides and discussions setting the tone for the time (it is set in Paris of the late 1400's, well over 300 years before he wrote) I particularly noticed his remarks on the remarkable transition just beginning at the time. As he put it: "The invention of printing is the greatest event in history." The copy of his book that I read was, however, not printed on paper, but electronically downloaded from Project Gutenberg - donated to the world through a scan of the public domain 1880 version translated by Isabel F. Hapgood. If the invention of printing was clearly the greatest historical event by the 1830's when Hugo first wrote those words, the 20th century revolution in information technologies is at least the start of something far greater.

$9.50 - and just who was "Party B"?

Last night, as a holder of a few hundred shares in Sun Microsystems (JAVA is their stock symbol), I finally received voting instructions and an explanation of the proposed merger with Oracle. This is actually the second time I've had the opportunity to vote on a company's proposal to end itself through merger - the first was just last fall, when SpaceDev (SPDV stock symbol) was acquired by Sierra Nevada Corporation. In both cases it's been a somewhat mixed experience emotionally. The acquisition price has been a significant improvement on the recent market price for their shares (for Sun, the $9.50 price is significantly above the roughly $5 it was trading at a few months ago), so that's nice on the money side. On the other hand the reason I was holding the shares in the first place was because I believed the company had great potential for the future.

Some basic climate references

I recently corresponded with a colleague who has acquired a degree of "skepticism" regarding global warming. His comments to me specifically cited Freeman Dyson and Will Happer, distinguished physicists who are also well-known global-warming skeptics, and he contrasted their credentials with those of John Holdren (Obama's new science advisor) and Al Gore. The following is a lightly edited version of my response, which I'm posting here mainly as a place for some useful links on the subject.

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