Monday, July 24, 2017

Issues with bat/wind turbine study, worse reporting, and awful Op-Editing

(Maybe worth emphasizing this is Brian writing, not Eli or John.)

A new study gives some reason to believe that wind turbines have secondary effects on bat mortality compared to other anthropogenic factors like intentional killing, accidents, and the imported fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome. You'd have trouble knowing that though after reading the bad reporting in Scientific American and worse Op-Editing by a Manhattan Institute 'scholar'. To be fair to the secondary reports, the study itself could've done a better job discussing its results.

Disclaimer time! I'm not a scientist, let a alone a bat specialist, maybe I'm off. Regardless, said specialists probably will get something useful from the study, but it's broader public effect isn't so great.

So, problems with the study:

1. It is not a study of bat mortality. It's a study of Mass Mortality Events (ten bodies or more). If you don't know the relationship between MMEs and overall mortality (and apparently we don't), then you don't know the importance of MME causes to bat conservation. Aside from one throwaway sentence (that many bat species are gregarious and therefore likely to have MMEs) this issue isn't discussed. There's also no discussion of habitat destruction except when the destruction creates MMEs, when habitat destruction is likely far more important than any other factor.

2. Actually, it's not a study of MMEs, it's a study of reported MMEs. In other words, nobody went out and did transects in places with bats to survey for MMEs - this study just looks at reports of MMEs however they came to be, creating a significant bias because what gets reported is not even an attempt at a random survey of MMEs. This is not well-acknowledged in the study, with an important exception saying wind turbine reports are biased higher because of mandatory reporting requirements that don't exist for other causes. Subsequent reporting on this study by others omits this disclaimer.

3. Worst of all IMHO is they included qualitative reports of MMEs (i.e. reports of "many" dead bats) and they did not adjust measured mortality quantitatively for the number of deaths in each MME. So a MME of 10 bats counts equally in their study with one killing 10,000 bats (and they acknowledge some MMEs at that level and higher). I think this is worst of all because it seems like something they could actually fix, while the first two problems are limitations they couldn't fix but could have acknowledged more readily.

Related to this last flaw of what MMEs were considered is that they excluded MME reports of food markets and of bat imports. My cynical take is they excluded those categories because they'd overwhelm the others and highlight the problem of selection bias for reported MMEs. They say they excluded food market reports because it's been studied elsewhere, an explanation that doesn't make sense when surveying relative causes of mortality.

Disclaimer time again! I didn't read the supplements which might give some defense against my criticism, but they weren't attached to the Google Scholar link. I supposed I could've been more industrious and contacted the authors, but I also think these flaws should've been addressed in the study itself.

Anyway, some props to the study for disclosing its limitations even if they could've highlighted them and done things differently. Below are the key category results IMO - they disclose and then ignore the figures in parentheses, we will do the opposite (and note the study includes other categories that aren't relevant to this post):

Category                          Total MMEs (and order of magnitude for maximum number carcasses in single events per category)

Intentional killing           205 (10x5)
Accidental                         66 (10x4)
Wind turbines                  281 (10x2)
White Nose Syndrome   266 (10x4)

What I take from this is that of these four categories, wind turbines kill the fewest bats - by two or more orders of magnitude. Contrast this with the study abstract that says

 Collisions with wind turbines and white-nose syndrome are now the leading causes of reported MMEs in bats.

Scientific American takes that to mean

wind turbines are, by far, the largest cause of mass bat mortality around the world

And Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute:

wind turbines are now the largest cause of mass bat mortality. 

People who don't read the original study (Bryce doesn't even link to it) are unlikely to catch the importance of the qualifier "mass," or that they're measuring events and not the numbers of bats killed in mass events. Even with all that, Scientific American's "by far" is completely wrong. Bryce gets many other things wrong or exaggerated in his anti-wind jeremiad.

One wrinkle to this is that the study shows a large change in MMEs since 2000, with far fewer of other categories while nearly-identical, large numbers of MMEs occur from wind turbines and White Nose Syndrome (maybe 37% of events from turbines and 36% from WNS). That still doesn't change the fact that WNS kills bats by two orders of magnitude more, nor that there's a reporting bias to show more wind turbine MMEs.

I'm not rejecting that turbines killing bats are a concern (my idea btw is to put high-frequency, very short distance sonar warning noisemakers on problematic turbines), just how it's being discussed. The study does mention climate change as a future and present-day impact on bats. Bryce somehow omits that.

What this all needs is perspective.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

How is A not B?


As part of another post not finished, Ethon took a look over at the nameless one's twitter feed where he has posted a talk.  Now, not to be snarky, but it appears that the nameless one has really put his hand on the problem with discussing climate change, and, it is summarized in one slide, to which Eli asks how is A not B


This may not be the point that the nameless one was trying to make, prescribing more interchange amongst the sides, but Eli asks who blocks more honest bunnies than the nameless one?

And why was he not struck by the contrast?  Also for Fernbach et al.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The joy of meh over California climate law

I've been following but not talking about the runup to California's recently re-enacted climate legislation, authorizing more action from now to 2030 and removing the legal uncertainty that existed in the previous law over cap-and-trade.

I didn't know what to say about the bill supported by the mainstream environmental groups as part of a deal with industry and Western States Petroleum Association, versus alternatives supported by harder-line enviros. People who knew more than me about what was going on seemed torn (although they eventually lined up one way or another) while people who knew less were very confident.

The good thing about it is that the choice in California was between striking a compromise that still ended up as probably the strongest legislation of any state, versus taking a risk on something stronger that might fall apart. That's not the choice on tap in most other states.

Everyone has biases. The mainstream environmental bias is to make deals, and the hardline bias is to reject deals. I'm pretty amazed that WSPA took the deal - it's going to be hard for them to argue in other blue states in the West that they should accept nothing after having accepted this. That to me is an important gain.

Regardless, this is what we've got, and now executing on it is the important thing.


UPDATE:  Steve makes a good point in comments - prior law requires 40% reductions in GHGs by 2040, so WSPA had little leverage as opposed to facing potentially-crippling regulation. I had known about that, but stupidly overlooked it when thinking about tradeoff choices for this post. Still, California has backed off on regulatory approaches in the past (e.g. Zero-Emission Vehicles), and the precedent for other states still applies.

My other beef about this is I haven't seen reported what the new cap and trade price floor and ceilings are going to be, other than they're low. I even quickly skimmed the law's text and couldn't figure it out.



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Keeping Up With the Times Part I


So some pro-tohedgehog (hate to meet the amateur type) has a post on why people don't trust science, with a nice little Socratic dialog.  Only problem is that pro has not yet emerged from hibernation and things have changed or never were.  Let Eli playfully fisk this with instructions for the whiners

Imagine this hypothetical, but potentially very real, conversation with a non-academic:
1: “This research paper has been published, and therefore is scientifically valid.”
Well usually scientists say something like there is a huge number of papers out there on this point, and if they think that a publication is chancy will let you know but whatever
2: “But it’s paywalled, I can’t access it. How do I know it’s valid?”
There are a number of things a bunny could do.  In Climateball Speak do your due diligence.  First search for it on Google Scholar.  You can search under the name of the author or the title of the paper or whatever.  Then look to the far left hand corner.  Often there is a link to an on line open version


If that does not work, why then you click at the bottom on All xyz versions.  That usually only pops up links only to abstracts, but it sometimes brings up a copy of the paper.  For the example above there are two other links to pdf versions. That's another win.

If not send a nice Email to the corresponding author (usually shown by a superscript, something or other in the on line journal abstract which you find by clicking on the title of the paper) who will, in IPCC speak, very likely send you a copy.  If you are really old fashioned send a re-print card.   It will amuse them if they are as old as Eli, it will confuse them otherwise.  Win-win.

Don't start your Email by accusing the corresponding author of being in the pay of whomever you are venting on that day.  The text of the reprint card is not a bad place to start.

Go to the authors' (all of them, sequentially) web pages.  Authors often list their publications with links to open copies held locally, or to preprints of same.  Only takes a moment

Let's say this doesn't work.  Well you could go to a local university library and try and find the paper.  If it is more than a cup of coffee away, you should check the catalog to see if they have the journal and what you need to get access.  If you are nice they will IPCC level very likely let you in, you may have to show ID, and depending on the circumstance let you use their on line services as well as look in the stacks.  These days with smart phones you don't even have to buy a copy card.  There are, of course, local rules.  Eli has been using this method for years where he lives because his place did not have subscriptions to and he has a nice little deck of copy card.  Here is the policy at the University of Maryland College Park
Catalog Visitors can search the University Libraries catalog from on or off campus, regardless of one's affiliation with the university.

Databases On campus, anyone can access the databases without restriction. Off campus, only currently registered UMD students and currently employed faculty and staff can access the site-licensed databases.

Photocopying and Printing in the Libraries

Photocopying and printing are available for a fee. There are no coin-operated photocopiers or printers in the University Libraries, so visitors will need to purchase a Photocopy Card in order to copy/print. Ask at any library Information & Reference Service Desks for prices and information on obtaining a card. Library computers

Visitors are invited to use public library computers, but first must obtain a guest account. Please note that guest accounts are not compatible with Mac computers that boot only into Mac OS. Apply at any campus library Circulation Desk.

Photo ID is required. Acceptable forms of identification include driver's license, state-issued ID card, passport, military ID, school ID, or other institutional ID with photo and unique identifying number. Library computers are available to users on a first-come, first-served basis. 
Pay attention to local rules, by experience, UK university libraries are much more difficult to get access to but the British Library has an on demand service which delivers electronic copies for £5.35 each. 

You could go to your local town, city, state library and ask for an interlibrary loan or a photocopy, you could even pay the charge to rent or buy the paper (horrors).

But let us say that none of that works for you.  In a pinch, of course there is always sci-hub but as with Kodi add ons there are issues oh my there are issues and more issues.  In this sort of thing Dr. Ruth has good advice.

UPDATE:  Read the comments after reading the post.  The Ever Helpful Bunnies (You know who you are) have added a number of additional ways to get what you want. 

Finally a word about publication policies.  Granting agencies the world around have in the past decade required that publications their work sponsors be openly available, often after a six month to a year period.  Publishers have responded by charging different amounts for publications that are immediately open as opposed to those that are open after embargo.

Some publishers (even reputable ones) have gone to a completely open publication model with costs covered by either the authors or by the granting agencies or their institutions

So yes Virgina, if you can't get a copy of a published paper you are not trying very hard.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Rumination on Energy Costs


So Eli returns from vacation with a report from Ethon who has taken up Twitter on the economics of energy sources.  To put it simply, nuclear and hydro are very long term investments, efficiency, wind and solar are investments and fossil fuels are an addiction.

The first thing to understand is that each of these is subsidized.  The second is that proponents of each of these thinks all the others are subsidized and their favorite is not.  That's another post.

The cost of fossil fuels is pretty much the cost of the coal, oil and gas, although, of course, there are infrastructure costs, but a reasonable estimate (and Eli is the most reasonable bunny you could ever meet, as a colleague just wrote, reasonably insane perhaps, but reasonable nonetheless) .  To be more exact the cost of the fuel is about 70% of the total cost and a portion of the capital cost is the infrastructure to move the fossil fuel to its final resting place before it goes up in smoke (e.g. pipelines, railroads, ships, etc).

The competition, efficiency, nuclear, hydro, solar and wind are capital intensive.  For practical purposes, efficiency is 100% capital, an upfront cost.  At least in theory people weigh the cost of money vs. the money they save, and that depends on the interest rate.  That's theory.  As a practical matter people and businesses are very reluctant to invest even with payback periods of a year or two.

That explains the role of regulations and subsidies, to get people to do what they rationally should do but irrationally won't.  Good examples of this are, for example, power companies paying or subsidizing compact fluorescent bulbs so they didn't have to build more power plants, or building code insulation requirements, or fleet mileage, etc.  Each of these can be played but each of these has a rational effect.

Nuclear, hydro, wind solar are the opposite of fossil fuels with about 70% up front capital cost and 30% operating costs (close enough).

Nuclear to start, comes in large lumps and has a long time between when you issue the bonds to build, spend the money to build and the plant comes on line and starts trading electrons for cash to pay the bonds.  This can only be done by governments, or with guarantees from the government.  The most successful example is France, which took a political decision in the 1960s/70s to go nuclear for electrical generation and provided the resources to do so to EDF which is 85% government owned.

Big hydro is pretty much the same story with the add on that the lake behind the dam covers a lot of ground which requires eminent domain seizures.

So it is pretty clear that nuclear/hydro build out is best suited to places with strong, stable (gotta last more than a decade, let's not talk about the proliferation risk) and well funded central governments, China, France, Russia, maybe India.  The US could do it, but the  free market folk and the NIMBYs would never allow it. (Caveat:  Folk have been talking about small nukes for almost as long as fusion.  Eli is a show me bunny)

Wind and solar are distributed.  The generating facilities are small and inexpensive, Eli could even affords some rooftop solar, and even industrial strength wind and solar are cheap as compared to hydro and nuclear, well within the reach of your local source of electrons.  But, of course, the wind don't always blow and the sun is on a fixed schedule.

However, a big enough network can bring power from where the wind is blowing, the sun shining and there are work arounds like thermal/hydro storage.  Still, as the Bunny agreed in 2006

In a Science Policy Forum article entitled "A Road Map to US Decarbonization", (available in part in the Energy Bulletin) Reuel Shinnar and Francesco Citro point out that while nuclear is well suited to support baseload electricity generation, solar is ideal for handling peak demand, being most available, when most needed, during the hot days.
Moreover, we still have a decade or two where baseload could be handles by gas turbines which have spin up times under 30 minutes, and for those times when there is excess wind/solar, why free markets were made for bunnies who know an opportunity when they sniff it

oh yeah, Russell has a special on offer over at Real Climate



Sunday, July 09, 2017

Trump caught by his defamation of women he assaulted

Last fall I suggested both Trump and his campaign could and should be sued by the women he called "liars" when they accused him of assault. Trump also claimed he'd sue for defamation, that was just another lie of his.

So he has been sued, and is trying to wriggle out of it. We'll see what'll happen - the idea that defamation is legally-protected "hyperbole" won't go far, but the problem of suing in state court is a little more serious. The argument is that federal courts are supervised by the executive branch's co-equal, the Supreme Court, to prevent shenanigans while state courts are not. My understanding though is that it's usually not hard to find some reason to file a state law claim in federal court, so this is at most a delaying tactic.

Another issue is that only one woman has sued Trump so far out of the dozen or so he defamed (obviously suing a vindictive millionaire president is not an easy thing to do). A case would essentially come down to credibility - Trump has zero and could be torn apart in court, but you still need a significantly-more credible plaintiff. Playing the numbers game would help, but there's still time for others to bring their own suits.

I've got mixed feelings about the plaintiff lawyer being Gloria Allred. I consider it a strike against a lawyer to be one who hogs the limelight as opposed to lawyers who put the client in front while the lawyer concentrates on winning the case. OTOH, among Trump's many lies is that he doesn't settle suits - he settles them all the time. Allred as a great publicist could help make the downside for Trump sufficient that he settles. Again, we'll see what'll happen. 


Monday, July 03, 2017

Hoisted by my own petard

This picture of nothing is what used to be my favorite and most-convenient gas station, just a week or so ago. I doubt it'll be replaced by a gas station.

I stand by an argument I made four years ago that EVs will do more than become more convenient as they gain market share - they will create a virtuous cycle of making gas vehicles less convenient because the market supporting the gas engine infrastructure, like gas stations, will shrink.

In my case, there's another gas station almost as convenient as this one, but it only takes debit cards that aren't convenient for me. Others are a little further away, but the point remains that the convenience is decreasing. Gas stations are disappearing around the country - maybe EVs have only played a marginal role in that so far, but I expect they'll play a bigger role in the future, and still the balance between gas and EVs keep shifting.

I think in many or most two-car households, having at least one car be an EV is more convenient than two gas vehicles - you choose the EV for as many trips as possible and charge it up when you park or at home, and waste less time going to gas stations. As 200-mile EV range and fast-charging become standard, and as gas stations keep disappearing, the relative convenience will keep moving towards EVs and the virtuous cycle will accelerate.


UPDATE:  some good comments, as usual.
  •  I agree that increased fuel economy has reduced gas demand and gas station numbers, and that in turn reduces the convenience of gas engines. By itself though it's not a virtuous cycle, except to the extent that gas mileage improves further. Absent further improvement, there should be a stabilized point where the number of stations balance with the new, lower demand.

  • I also agree that factors making land more valuable for uses other than gas stations are the primary motivators so far in reducing station numbers, particularly in dense urban cores. While extraneous, this also reduces gas engine convenience. Like increased gas mileage, it only reduces convenience up to a point as opposed to being a virtuous cycle.

  • Fernando's right that gas stations will (and have) reacted to find non-gas ways to boost sales. As they go further in that direction though, they'll have fewer pumps or no pumps, and the inconvenience will still increase. 

  • Gas engine repair and maintenance will also become less convenient - EVs need less maintenance and different equipment, so fewer mechanics will train on gas engines. Those repair bays will get replaced with expanded coffee shops and (possibly) electric charging stations.

  • While EVs have only a small impact so far on gas demand, they can affect what's happening right now based on people's expectations of the future. Take for example a family business that owns a dozen gas stations, with the parents nearing retirement and kids deciding whether to take over versus having a very different career. Those kids may well be concerned about what EVs will do to the business in 10-15 years (and should be) and tell the parents to sell instead. Anyone else thinking of a 10-year investment knows there's a risk that EVs will significantly hurt the resale value. These EV effects on gas stations are happening now.

  • Not an expert on this, but I'm guessing that ultimately there's not much long-term future for stand-alone EV charging stations replacing gas pumps, except on interstate highways. As EV range gets further and further above 200 miles, and as fast chargers become ubiquitous at work, shopping, and home, there just won't be a need except on highways where lots of people are traveling long distances.

  • And finally, the above is mostly predictive rather than policy-related, but if the virtuous cycle is real then it does have policy implications. Aggressive long-term EV targets are achievable and should be pursued because there's a virtuous cycle effect we have barely experienced yet that will make them work. Outright bans on gas engine sales like those proposed in the future for Norway and elsewhere will be politically feasible because the writing will be on the wall concerning EV superiority.