Saturday 31 December 2016

Clickbait articles dividing an already divided country even more

Yougov and The Economist just published a poll on political conspiracy theories that was designed to produce outrage and clicks on stories how stupid the other tribe is and how we rational people are above that. Secular Talk, a popular high-quality YouTube pundit, made two stories out of it: "50% Of Dems Think 'Russia Tampered With Vote Tallies' To Elect Trump" and "Nearly Half Of Trump Voters Believe Hillary Is Pimping Kids."

In the poll Americans were asked: "Do you think the following statements are true or not true?". One of the conspiracies was: "54. Conspiracy Theories – Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President."

The problem was that people could only chose between: "Definitely true", "Probably true", "Probably not true", and "Definitely not true". There was no option: "I do not know". "I do not know" would have been the rational answer. "Definitely no evidence" would be another fine option that was not available.

Especially given the lack of audits of the votes and the undemocratic active resistance of some Republican politicians against audits "probably not true" is as wrong as "Probably true". As an aside, in a democracy there should be no doubt that votes are counted correctly, every citizen should be able to follow the trail from the filled in ballot the voter put into the ballot box to the final count and audits should actually count paper ballots by hand and naturally be free/automatic.

The strangest people are those that said "Definitely true" or "Definitely not true".

The article made the story more juicy by combining the 17% of Democrats answering "Definitely true" with the 35% answering "Probably true" to "50% of Dems".

Conspiracies do exist, if there was more than one person involved in making this poll, my personal conspiracy would be that the question was crafted to produce artificial outrage, clicks and revenue.

Another conspiracy question was: "52. Conspiracy Theories – Leaked email from some of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staffers contained code words for pedophilia, human trafficking and satanic ritual abuse - what some people refer to as ’Pizzagate’."

Most of the Pizzagate Republicans (40%) said "probably true" rather than "definitely true" (9%) and again had no way to say "I do not know". Most American likely should have answered "I do not know" because they do not follow the conspiracy media that closely.

Such pedophilia conspiracies naturally exist, but in case of Pizzagate there is no evidence for it. "Definitely no evidence" would be the right answer, but that could again not be answered.

The question is also badly phrased. The hacked emails did contained the word "pizza", which is claimed to be a code word used by pedophiles. Thus if you take the question too literally you could even answer that the question is true.

These answers are sad, but no way as bad as the headline "Nearly Half Of Trump Voters Believe Hillary Is Pimping Kids" suggests. The poll is the saddest part of this story.

1. If you see a poll, check the exact formulation of the question and the answers, especially when it is not a standard question that is regularly asked and the poll is thus more likely intended to generate clicks.
2. Even reputable sources, like The Economist and Secular Talk, can be wrong.
3. large parts of the media make money manufacturing outrage. To reduce this do your due diligence before you spread an emotional story. If that means spreading less stories: fine. News is no longer scarce, quality is.

This polls was a way to produce clicks and divide an already divided country even more.

Related reading

5 things the media does to manufacture outrage.

The BBC will continue fake debates on climate science on false balance ("due weight") and fake public debates.

Believe me, the GOP needs to open itself to rational debate.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Can Trump fiddle with climate observations?

Some people worry about the Trump administration fiddling with climate data to get politically correct trends. There is a lot to worry about. This is not one of them.

Raw data

A Trump stooge could not fiddle with the raw data because there are many organisations that also have a copy. Old data can be found in the annual reports of the weather services. New data in their databases and in many archives that collect the observations that weather services share with each other, the so-called CLIMAT messages every month (for climate purposes) and GTS messages every day (for meteorology).

Nick Stokes checked how station data moves from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) to NOAA's Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN). Spoiler: it fits. The marine observations by voluntary observing vessels are less open to the public due to piracy concerns, but this is just a small part of the marine data nowadays and regional data managers can check whether everything fits (Freeman et al., 2016).

Because climate data needs to be consistent, a lot of data would need to be changed. If only a few stations were changed these would be different from their neighbours and as such identified as faulty. Thus to find any fiddling of the raw data only a small number of stations needs to be sampled.

Who fiddles the fiddlers?

The raw data is processed to estimate the global (and regional) climatic changes from it. The temperature change in the raw data and the actual estimate of the temperature increase is shown in the graph below. The actual temperature increase was smaller than the one of the raw data. The main reason is that old sea surface temperature measurements were made with buckets and the water in the bucket would cool a little due to evaporation before reading the thermometer.

Theoretically a Trump stooge could mess with this data processing. However, the software is open. Thus everyone can check whether the code produces the claimed results when applied to the raw data. The changes would thus have to be made in the open and justified.

The Trump stooge could naturally openly make changes to the code and claim that this "improves" the data processing. Whether the new software is actually an improvement is, however, something we can check. For the land station data we have a validation dataset where we know the climate signal we put in and the measurement artefacts we put in and can thus see how well the software removes the artefacts. The current homogenization software of NOAA removes these measurement artefacts well. If the software is fiddled with for political reasons, it will perform worse.

If that happens I am sure someone will be willing to apply the better original code to the raw data and publish these results. That only requires modest software skills.

Signs of clear fiddling

Apart from such audits larger changes would also be obvious because data needs to be consistent with each other. Land surface temperature, sea surface temperature and upper air temperature, for example, need to fit together. Marine temperatures from ships, drifting buoys, moored coastal buoys and [[ARGO]] need to fit together. Pressure will need to fit to wind, the circulation to precipitation, precipitation to snow cover, snow cover to reflectance, reflectance to incoming radiation and absorption. The changes in the physical climate would need to fit to the changes observed by biologists and bird spotters in nature, to changes noticed by agricultural scientists, economists and farmers in yields, to changes seen by glaciologists in glaciers and ice caps, to changes measured by hydrologists in stream flows.

It is easier to go to the moon than to fake the moon landing in Hollywood. It is easier to fake the moon landing than to make significant changes to climate data without being caught.

Destruction of data

Thus with some vigilance the data we have will be okay. What is worrying is the possible destruction of datasets and the discontinuing of measurements. Trump's election has shown that catastrophes with less than 50% chance do happen. Climate data is part of our cultural and scientific heritage and important to protect communities. Thus we should not take any risks with them.

Destroying data would put American communities in more danger, but the Trump administration may not care. For instance, Florida’s Republican government banned state employees from discussing global warming. That hinders adaptation to climate change. Republican North Carolina legislators voted to ignore sea-level rise projections, putting citizens at a higher risk of drowning, endangering infrastructure and leading to higher adaptation costs later on. Several Republican politicians have wasted taxpayer money to harass climate scientists in return for campaign contributions.

Dumpster in Quebec with hundreds of carelessly discarded historic books and documents.
The conservative Harper government in Canada committed libricide and destroyed seven environmental libraries and threw the books on the trash heap.

Also what has not happened before can happen. The radicalised Congress has shown disregard of the American public by shutting down the government. In the election campaign Trump called for violence to quell protest and to lock up his opponent. An alt-nazi will be advisor in the White House. Never before have so many banks and oil companies had a seat at the tables of power. This is the first time that a foreign power was forced to move a celebration to the hotel of the president-elect. Presidents normally do not have hotels in Washington DC that all diplomats will use to gain favours. Trump will be the first president with a 300 million dollar loan from a foreign bank he is supposed to regulate. This list could be longer than this post. Do not be fooled that this is normal.

If a Trump stooge would order the deletion of a dataset also the backups would be deleted. Thus it is good that independent initiatives have sprung up to preserve digital archives. I hope and trust that all American scientists will make sure that there are copies of their data and code on private disks and in foreign countries.

Unfortunately not all data is digitised or digitisable, many documents still need to be scanned, proxy sources such as (ice) cores and tree rings contain information that has not been measured yet or needs future technologies to measure. Some of these ice cores come from glaciers that no longer exist.

Observations could be stopped. Even if they would be continued again after four years, the gap would limit our ability to see changes and thus to adapt to climate change and limit the damages. Looking at the proposed members of the Trump cabinet, I fear that such damages and costs for American citizens will not stop them. I hope that the blue states and Europe will be willing to pick up the tab until decency is restored and is prepared to move fast when needed. At a scientific conference in San Francisco Jerry Brown, Governor of California, promised earlier this month that "if Trump turns off the earth monitoring satellites California will launch its own damn satellites." A hopeful sign in the face of Washington fundamentalism.

Related reading

The Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists has established a hotline for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees to report political meddling

How Trump’s White House Could Mess With Government Data. 538 on how the Trump administration could fiddle with other (economic) datasets and especially affect how the information is communicated

A chat with Gavin Schmidt of NASA-GISS on why climate data is mostly save and the legal protections for federal scientists communicating science

Just the facts, homogenization adjustments reduce global warming

Statistical homogenisation for dummies

Benchmarking homogenisation algorithms for monthly data

Brady Dennis for The Washington Post: Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump

Canadian CBC radio on Harper's carbon government attack on science: Science Under Siege

On the cuts to Canadian science and observational capabilities under Harper. Academic Matters: Harper’s attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy

On Harper's destruction of libraries: The Harper Government Has Trashed and Destroyed Environmental Books and Documents

In Florida, officials ban term 'climate change'

New Law in North Carolina Bans Latest Scientific Predictions of Sea-Level Rise


Freeman, E., Woodruff, S. D., Worley, S. J., Lubker, S. J., Kent, E. C., Angel, W. E., Berry, D. I., Brohan, P., Eastman, R., Gates, L., Gloeden, W., Ji, Z., Lawrimore, J., Rayner, N. A., Rosenhagen, G. and Smith, S. R., 2016: ICOADS Release 3.0: a major update to the historical marine climate record. Int. J. Climatol., doi: 10.1002/joc.4775

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Scott Adams: The Non-Expert Problem and Climate Change Science

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, wrote today about how difficult it is for a non-expert to judge science and especially climate science. He argues that it is normally a good idea for a non-expert to follow the majority of scientists. I agree. Even as a scientist I do this for topics where I am not an expert and do not have the time to go into detail. You cannot live without placing trust and you should place your trust wisely.

While it is clear to Scott Adams that a majority of scientists agree on the basics of climate change, he worries that they still could all be wrong. He lists the below six signals that this could be the case and sees them in climate science. If you get your framing from the mitigation sceptical movement and only read the replies to their nonsense you may easily get his impression. So I thought it would be good to reply. It would be better to first understand the scientific basis, before venturing into the wild.

The terms Global Warming and Climate Change are both used for decades

Scott Adams assertion: It seems to me that a majority of experts could be wrong whenever you have a pattern that looks like this:

1. A theory has been “adjusted” in the past to maintain the conclusion even though the data has changed. For example, “Global warming” evolved to “climate change” because the models didn’t show universal warming.

This is a meme spread by the mitigation sceptics that is not based on reality. From the beginning both terms were used. One hint is name of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global group of scientists who synthesise the state of climate research and was created in 1988.

The irony of this strange meme is that it were the PR gurus of the US Republicans who told their politicians to use the term "climate change" rather than "global warming", because "global warming" was more scary. The video below shows the historical use of both terms.

Global warming was called global warming because the global average temperature is increasing, especially in the beginning there were still many regions were warming was not yet observed, while it was clear that the global average temperature was increasing. I use the term "global warming" if I want to emphasis the temperature change and the term "climate change" when I want to include all the other changes in the water cycle and circulation. These colleagues do the same and provide more history.

Talking about "adjusted", mitigation sceptics like to claim that temperature observations have been adjusted to show more warming. Truth is that the adjustments reduce global warming.

Climate models are not essential for basic understanding

Scott Adams assertion: 2. Prediction models are complicated. When things are complicated you have more room for error. Climate science models are complicated.

Yes, climate models are complicated. They synthesise a large part of our understanding of the climate system and thus play a large role in the synthesis of the IPCC. They are also the weakest part of climate science and thus a focus of the propaganda of the mitigation sceptical movement.

However, when it comes to the basics, climate model are not important. We know about the greenhouse effect for well over a century, long before we had any numerical climate models. That increasing the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere leads to warming is clear, that this warming is amplified because warm air can contain more water, which is also a greenhouse gas, is also clear without any complicated climate model. This is very simple physics already used by Svante Arrhenius in the 19th century.

The warming effect of carbon dioxide can also be observed in the deep past. There are many reasons why the climate changes, but without carbon dioxide we can, for example, not understand the temperature swings of the past ice ages or why the Earth was able to escape from being completely frozen (Snowball Earth) at a time the sun was much dimmer.

The main role of climate models is trying to find reasons why the climate may respond differently this time than in the past or whether there are mechanisms beyond the simply physics that are important. The average climate sensitivity from climate models is about the same as for all the other lines of evidence. Furthermore, climate models add regional detail, especially when in comes to precipitation, evaporation and storms. These are helpful to better plan adaptation and estimate the impacts and costs, but are not central for the main claim that there is a problem.

Model tuning not important for basic understanding

Scott Adams assertion: 3. The models require human judgement to decide how variables should be treated. This allows humans to “tune” the output to a desired end. This is the case with climate science models.

Yes, models are tuned. Mostly not for the climatic changes, but to get the state of the atmosphere right, the global maps of clouds and precipitation, for example. In the light of my answer to point 2, this is not important for the question whether climate change is real.

The consensus is a result of the evidence

Scott Adams assertion: 4. There is a severe social or economic penalty for having the “wrong” opinion in the field. As I already said, I agree with the consensus of climate scientists because saying otherwise in public would be social and career suicide for me even as a cartoonist. Imagine how much worse the pressure would be if science was my career.

It is clearly not career suicide for a cartoonist. If you claim that you only accept the evidence because of social pressure, you are saying you do not really accept the evidence.

Scott Adams sounds as if he would like scientists to first freely pick a position and then only to look for evidence. In science it should go the other way around.

This seems to be the main argument and shows that Scott Adams knows more about office workers than about the scientific community. If science was your career and you would peddle the typical nonsense that comes from the mitigation sceptical movement that would indeed be bad for your career. In science you have to back up your claims with evidence. Cherry picking and making rookie errors to get the result you would like to get are not helpful.

However, if you present credible evidence that something is different, that is wonderful, that is why you become a scientist. I have been very critical of the quality of climate data and our methods to remove data problems. Contrary to Adams' expectation this has helped my career. Thus I cannot complain how climatology treats real skeptics. On the contrary, a lot of people supported me.

Another climate scientist, Eric Steig, strongly criticized the IPCC. He wrote about his experience:
I was highly critical of IPCC AR4 Chapter 6, so much so that the [mitigation skeptical] Heartland Institute repeatedly quotes me as evidence that the IPCC is flawed. Indeed, I have been unable to find any other review as critical as mine. I know "because they told me" that my reviews annoyed many of my colleagues, including some of my [RealClimate] colleagues, but I have felt no pressure or backlash whatsoever from it. Indeed, one of the Chapter 6 lead authors said “Eric, your criticism was really harsh, but helpful "thank you!"
If you have the evidence, there is nothing better than challenging the consensus. It is also the reason to become a scientist. As a scientist wrote on Slashdot:
Look, I'm a scientist. I know scientists. I know scientists at NOAA, NCAR, NIST, the Labs, in academia, in industry, at biotechs, at agri-science companies, at space exploration companies, and at oil and gas companies. I know conservative scientists, liberal scientists, agnostic scientists, religious scientists, and hedonistic scientists.

You know what motivates scientists? Science. And to a lesser extent, their ego. If someone doesn't love science, there's no way they can cut it as a scientist. There are no political or monetary rewards available to scientists in the same way they're available to lawyers and lobbyists.

Scientists consider and weigh all the evidence

Scott Adams assertion: 5. There are so many variables that can be measured – and so many that can be ignored – that you can produce any result you want by choosing what to measure and what to ignore. Our measurement sensors do not cover all locations on earth, from the upper atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean, so we have the option to use the measurements that fit our predictions while discounting the rest.

No, a scientist cannot produce any result they "want" and an average scientist would want to do good science and not get a certain result. The scientific mainstream is based on all the evidence we have. The mitigation sceptical movement behaves in the way Scott Adams expects and likes to cherry pick and mistreat data to get the results they want.

Arguments from the other side only look credible

Scott Adams assertion: 6. The argument from the other side looks disturbingly credible.

I do not know which arguments Adams is talking about, but the typical nonsense on WUWT, Breitbart, Daily Mail & Co. is made to look credible on the surface. But put on your thinking cap and it crumbles. At least check the sources. That reveals most of the problems very quickly.

For a scientist it is generally clear which arguments are valid, but it is indeed a real problem that to the public even the most utter nonsense may look "disturbingly credible". To help the public assess the credibility of claims and sources several groups are active.

Most of the zombie myths are debunked on RealClimate or Skeptical Science. If it is a recent WUWT post and you do not mind some snark you can often find a rebuttal the next day on HotWhopper. Media articles are regularly reviewed by Climate Feedback, a group of climate scientists, including me. They can only review a small portion of the articles, but it should be enough to determine which of the "sides" is "credible". If you claim you are sceptical, do use these resources and look at all sides of the argument and put in a little work to go in depth. If you do not do your due diligence to decide where to place your trust, you will get conned.

While political nonsense can be made to look credible, the truth is often complicated and sometimes difficult to convey. There is a big difference between qualified critique and uninformed nonsense. Valuing the strength of the evidence is part of the scientific culture. My critique of the quality of climate data has credible evidence behind it. There are also real scientific problems in understanding changes of clouds, as well as the land and vegetation. These are important for how much the Earth will respond, although in the long run the largest source of uncertainty is how much we will do to stop the problem.

There are real scientific problems when it comes to assessing the impacts of climate change. That often requires local or regional information, which is a lot more difficult than the global average. Many impacts will come from changes in severe weather, which are by definition rare and thus hard to study. For many impacts we need to know several changes at the same time. For droughts precipitation, temperature, humidity of the air and of the soil and insolation are all important. Getting them all right is hard.

How humans and societies will respond to the challenges posed by climate change is an even more difficult problem and beyond the realm of natural science. Not only the benefits, but also the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions are hard to predict. That would require predicting future technological, economic and social development.

When it comes to how big climate change itself and its impacts will be I am sure we will see surprises. What I do not understand is why some are arguing that this uncertainty is a reason to wait and see. The surprises will not only be nice, they will also be bad and all over increase the risks of climate change and make the case for solving this solvable problem stronger.

Related reading

Older post by a Dutch colleague on Adams' main problem: Who to believe?

How climatology treats sceptics

What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change

Fans of Judith Curry: the uncertainty monster is not your friend

Video medal lecture Richard B. Alley at AGU: The biggest control knob: Carbon Dioxide in Earth's climate history

Just the facts, homogenization adjustments reduce global warming

Climate model ensembles of opportunity and tuning

Journalist Potholer makes excellent videos on climate change and true scepticism: Climate change explained, and the myths debunked

* Photo Arctic Sea Ice by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
* Cloud photo by Bill Dickinson used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Statistically significant trends - Short-term temperature trend are more uncertain than you probably think

Yellowknife, Canada, where the annual mean temperature is zero degrees Celsius.

In times of publish or perish, it can be tempting to put "hiatus" in your title and publish an average article on climate variability in one of the prestigious Nature journals. But my impression is that this does not explain all of the enthusiasm for short-term trends. Humans are greedy pattern detectors: it is better to see a tiger, a conspiracy or trend change one time too much than one time too little. Thus maybe humans have a tendency to see significant trends where statistics keeps a cooler head.

Whatever the case, I expect that also many scientists will be surprised to see how large the difference in uncertainty is between long-term and short-term trends. However, I will start with the basics, hoping that everyone can understand the argument.

Statistically significant

That something is statistically significant means that it is unlikely to happen due to chance alone. When we call a trend statistically significant, it means that it is unlikely that there was no trend, but that the trend you see is due to chance. Thus to study whether a trend is statistically significant, we need to study how large a trend can be when we draw random numbers.

For each of the four plots below, I drew ten random numbers and then computed the trend. This could be 10 years of the yearly average temperature in [[Yellowknife]]*. Random numbers do not have a trend, but as you can see, a realisation of 10 random numbers appears to have one. These trends may be non-zero, but they are not significant.

If you draw 10 numbers and compute their trends many times, you can see the range of trends that are possible in the left panel below. On average these trends are zero, but a single realisation can easily have a trend of 0.2. Even higher values are possible with a very small probability. The statistical uncertainty is typically expressed as a confidence interval that contains 95% of all points. Thus even when there is no trend, there is a 5% chance that the data has a trend that is wrongly seen as significant.**

If you draw 20 numbers, 20 years of data, the right panel shows that those trends are already quite a lot more accurate, there is much less scatter.

To have a look at the trend errors for a range of different lengths of the series, the above procedure was repeated for lengths between 5 and 140 random numbers (or years) in steps of 5 years. The confidence interval of the trend for each of these lengths is plotted below. For short periods the uncertainty in the trend is enormous. It shoots up.

In fact, the confidence range for short periods shoots up so fast that it is hard to read the plot. Thus let's show the same data with different (double-logarithmic) axis in the graph below. Then the relationship look like a line. That shows that size of the confidence interval is a power law function of the number of years.

The exponent is -1.5. As an example that means that the confidence interval of a ten year trend is 32 (101.5) times as large as the one of a hundred year trend.

Some people looking at the global mean temperature increase plotted below claim to see a hiatus between the years 1998 and 2013. A few years ago I could imagine people thinking: that looks funny, let's make a statistical test whether there is a change in the trend. But when the answer then clearly is "No, no way", and the evidence shows it is "mostly just short-term fluctuations from El Nino", I find it hard to understand why people believe in this idea so strongly that they defend it against this evidence.

Especially now it is so clear, without any need for statistics, that there never was anything like an "hiatus". But still some people claim there was one, but it stopped. I have no words. Really, I am not faking this dear colleagues. I am at a loss.

Maybe people look at the graph below and think, well that "hiatus" is ten percent of the data and intuit that the uncertainty of the trend is only 10 times as large, not realising that it is 32 times.

Maybe people use their intuition from computing averages; the uncertainty of a ten year average is only 3 times as large that of a 100 year average. That is a completely different game.

The plots below for the uncertainty in the average are made in the same way as the above plots for the trend uncertainty. Also here more data is better, but the function is much less steep. Plots of power laws always look very similar, you need to compare the axis or the computed exponent, which in this case is only -0.5.

It is typical to use 30 year periods to study the climate. These so-called climate normals were introduced around 1900 in a time the climate was more or less stable and the climate needed to be described for agriculture, geography and the like. Sometimes it is argued that to compute climate trends you need at least 30 years of data, that is not a bad rule of thumb and would avoid a lot of nonsense, but the 30 year periods were not intended as a period on which to compute trends. Given how bad the intuition of people apparently is there seems to be no alternative to formally computing the confidence interval.

That short-term trends have such a large uncertainty also provides some insight into the importance of homogenisation. The typical time between two inhomogeneities is 15 to 20 years for temperature. The trend over the homogeneous subperiods between two inhomogeneities is thus very uncertain and not that important for the long-term trend. What counts is the trend of the averages of the homogeneous subperiods.

That insight makes you want to be sure you do a good job when homogenising your data rather than mindlessly assume everything will be alright and raw data good enough. Neville Nicholls wrote about how he started working on homogenisation:
When this work began 25 years or more ago, not even our scientist colleagues were very interested. At the first seminar I presented about our attempts to identify the biases in Australian weather data, one colleague told me I was wasting my time. He reckoned that the raw weather data were sufficiently accurate for any possible use people might make of them.

[UPDATE: In part 2 of this series, I show how these large trend uncertainties in combination with the deceptive strategy of "cherry-picking" a specific period very easily produces a so-called "hiatus".]

Related reading

How can the pause be both ‘false’ and caused by something?

Atmospheric warming hiatus: The peculiar debate about the 2% of the 2%

Sad that for Lamar Smith the "hiatus" has far-reaching policy implications

Temperature trend over last 15 years is twice as large as previously thought

Why raw temperatures show too little global warming


* In Yellowknife the annual mean temperature is about zero degrees Celsius. Locally the standard deviation of annual temperatures is about 1°C. Thus I could conveniently use the normal distribution with zero mean and standard deviation one. The global mean temperature has a much smaller standard deviation of its fluctuations around the long-term trend.
** Rather than calling something statistically significant and thus only communicating whether the probability was below 5% or not, it fortunately becomes more common to simply give the probability (p-value). In the past this was hard to compute and people compared their computation to the 5% levels given in statistical tables in books. With modern numerical software it is easy to compute the p-value itself.
*** Here is the cleaned R code to generated the plots of this post.

The photo of YellowKnife at the top is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Climate nightmares in America, dreams in Marrakesh

The voices of hate in this climate "debate" will be pleased to know that their enemy Michael Mann had "nightmares of a dystopian future — think Soylent Green or Mad Max". Mann told this Fusion for their story titled "These people are literally having climate change nightmares".

In the same story Dahr Jamail, a reporter who covers climate change, also recalls a quite dramatic nightmare: "It was simply a vision of a future Earth that was mostly barren of biological activity, one scarred by resource wars, and having seen a massive die off of humans, given we are already well into the sixth mass extinction event."

On Reddit a father wrote: "I have a 10 week old son and I'm terrified of his future. 4 years of actively ignoring climate change could mean never recovering. ... I'm just terrified." I prefer not to link to it, but someone even wrote to have suicidal thoughts because of climate change.

Climate change is a serious problem, but I see no need for such despair. We are on our way to solving the climate crisis. I do understand why people in America feel more despair being confronted daily with the most insane denial that climate change is a problem.

That is a classic nightmare. You are in a car sitting next to Lamar Inhofe behind the wheel. You see a cliff at the end of the road and try to warn Anthony Goddard that he should break. Instead Tim Delingpole speeds up because "gasoline is life", claims that cars are a product of the free market, that thus nothing can be wrong with them and Malcolm Nova turns the radio extra loud to make conversation impossible. You shout and shout, but the cliff gets closer and closer. You shout so loud that you lose your voice. The second part of the nightmare where you fall down an infinitely deep cliff is more relaxing.

Albeit it does move

My feeling is that many people are flipping out because they have the feeling nothing is done to combat the problem. Now already for over 3 decades. This is amplified by completely crazy people denying the most basic and solid facts as a way to avoid an adult conversation about solutions. If we would not act, the situation would become dire. Especially if we would react with the same denial, stupidity and anger to the problems created by climate change: New Orleans 2.0, climate refugees and conflicts over water. If that is your assessment of the situation, it is natural to be very worried.

I am more relaxed because I have the feeling we are acting. It helps that live in Germany were nearly all people are reasonable, including the conservatives. Even the people in my life who identify as climate "sceptics" are mostly reasonable. They just want so much climate change not to be happening and most are irrationally hopeful to one day find the "error", but they do not produce bullshit on an industrial scale like American blogs and think tanks.

Only the German racists deny there is a problem. It could always be even better, but Germany is part of the solution. That gives me a different perspective. I do not look at the continually increasing CO2 concentrations and temperatures, but at the enormous growth rates of renewable energy and the clear improvements in energy efficiency.

A lot is happening already. The last 3 years the emissions from industry and fossil fuels were stable, that used to happen only during world-wide recessions. That is a sign that renewable energy and energy efficiency policies and technology are starting to work. Most of the global new power generating capacity and investments are already carbon free. The next step is that also most new production is renewable, then we need to electrify the rest of the economy and use the market and technology to bring supply and demand together. It is still a long way, but I feel it is moving.

If anyone had a nightmare the last week, Donald Bannon likely had weird orange hair. Then it is important to realise that America is no longer that important. To quote myself:
The main question is whether America's refusal to act will reduce the willingness to act in the rest of the world. America by itself is no longer a major player and only emits 16% of all greenhouse gasses. Inaction in America is thus bad, but if limited to several years, and Trump is 70, a limited problem. The emissions should be zero in 2050. The danger is when this goes on for too long and when the rest of the world would be discouraged from acting or when international conflict makes global collaboration impossible.
Especially after the global climate conference in Marrakesh, we can realistically hope that the rest of the world will stay on course. The world is united to defy Trump's climate threat. The Marrakesh Action Proclamation says every country has an "urgent duty to respond". Many countries are fighting back. The French presidential candidate just threatened America with a carbon import tariff of a 1 to 3% on US goods. Sounds reasonable and is allowed likely to be technically possible by the international (WTO) trade rules. The Paris treaty can be updated so that the more climate-conscious economic power houses in the USA, such as California and New York, could join.

European Union Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said: "The world is on the brink of an energy revolution." The rest of the world may well see it as a great business opportunity that the USA is missing out on the technologies that will shape the next century in this critical moment. Maybe Trump will even speed up the international energy transition.

The oil companies ExxonMobile and BHP Billiton have asked Trump to accept the Paris climate treaty. Next to 360 other big businesses and investors. Even petrostate Saudi-Arabia has less problems with [[corporate capture]] than the US Republican party and welcomes the Solar Age.

Republican spokesman Bill O'Reilly seems to fear a backlash and said on his television show that Trump "should accept the Paris Treaty on climate to buy some goodwill overseas".

The state of the climate

But, let's take a step back. Some people worry about 4°C of warming or more with the justified nightmare scenarios that come with it. 4°C for 2100 and more afterwards is what science expects in case of no action. The figure from the IPCC report's summary for policy makers show no action in red and a very optimistic action scenario in blue.

The Climate Action Tracker expects a warming in 2100 of 3.6°C with current policies and of 2.6°C if countries stick to their Paris pledges (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions; INDCs). The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that the pledges would mean between 2.9 and 3.4°C by the end of this century. A recent study published in Nature projects warming between 2.6-3.1°C in 2100 with Paris pledges.

The big unknown is what countries will do beyond 2030. The Paris pledges do not go beyond 2030, but first countries have started defining their goals for 2050. The idea of Paris is that every 5 years the pledges become stronger if that is necessary. In that respect one should mainly look whether the next years are more or less on track.

Citizens of the world will have to demand of their governments to make these promises reality, but I feel it is fair to say that the worst worst-case scenarios are off the table. With Trump's election some of the best-case scenario's are unfortunately also less likely. I still have my personal best-case scenario where renewable energy becomes so inexpensive that the carbon bubble bursts and the Paris promises on energy are over-fulfilled without any further government action.

I might be too optimistic, but I think we already passed the point where solving the problem has become inevitable. It sounds like top economist and Bernie Sanders adviser Jeffrey Sachs shares my assessment: The transition to renewable energy has passed a tipping point. A positive tipping point.

Technological and organizational progress is going rapidly and makes energy efficient technologies and renewable energy much less expensive. The graph below shows the numbers for technological improvements from the US Department Of Energy (DOE).

And no, there is no price saturation in sight. It may look that way in the above graph because we will not get to zero; the same percentage gains at the end looks smaller because the costs themselves are lower. The logarithmic plot below shows prices keep dropping.

At the end of 2015, renewable capacity in place was enough to supply an estimated 23.7% of global electricity, with hydropower providing about 16.6%. Most important are likely solar and wind, they grow fastest and have the largest potential. At the moment they are at 1.4% of the world’s final energy consumption. That means that now the rest of the energy sector starts to notice their growth, which were the corporate resistance in the US comes from. Wind is growing by 14% every year and solar by 20%. 20% growth means doubling every 4 years, that is powerful growth. If we can keep that up that would mean: 1% (now), 2% (2020), 4% (2024), 8% (2028), 16% (2032), 32% (2036). It will likely gradually slow down, but it shows that it is possible to arrive at 100% soon, hopefully in 2050.

Mainstream environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth aim for zero CO2 emissions in 2050. The Paris treaty wants to achieve this in the second half of the century, while now in Marrakesh 47 developing countries have pledged that they would get all their energy from renewable sources before 2050.

The group Climate Mobilization pledges to fight for 100% reduction in CO2 emission in the USA in 2025. That would be fast and thus more costly. Personally I would be happy to pay that price, already for the clean air and to see less species going extinct. This mobilization could be a response to the insane radicalization of the US anti-environmental movement.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs also expects that the U.S. will become a pariah state if Trump pulls out of Paris Climate Accord. That comes on top of the power loss from having an incompetent uninterested buffoon as president, a president that cannot give security guarantees because he likes to renegotiate deals, the damage to the US from cancelling the hard-fought global agreement on Iran's nuclear power program, and the transfer of power to China if the TPP is cancelled. Let's see if wrecking the climate is so dear to Trump that he is willing to pay that price. That is probably what Bill O'Reilly fears. That could mean less fresh and joyous wars and less dead Muslims. Let's see if Trump is willing to pay this price.

We had about 1°C of warming since 1900. Thus we are about halfway to the internationally agreed 2°C limit.

It will take time to transform the energy system, this is infrastructure that is build to work for decades, and the warming would continue for some time if we abruptly stopped emitting CO2. Because of the heat capacity of the oceans we are not at the equilibrium temperature yet that corresponds to the current CO2 concentrations; like it takes time until a water kettle boils because of the heat capacity of the water.

Combustion of fossil fuels produces tiny airborne particles (aerosols), which cool the temperature somewhat, once we stop with fossil fuels this would produce a little warming (~0.2°C).

If you take these delays into account, it will be work to stay below 2°C, but it is still possible to stay below it. One reason some people are freaking out is because some speak as if this 2°C level is a brick wall. This is not true. This limit is a political compromise. If changing the energy system were easy, we would have agreed on no more than 1°C or even less long time ago. It is a compromise between the costs of a fast transition and the costs of adaptation and the damages due to climate change.

I would personally have preferred a more ambitious compromise, but there is no brick wall or cliff at 2°C. Climate change will gradually become more risky. Similarly, it would reduce the risk if we could stay well below 2°C.

Climate change is a stressor. An important one because it stresses so many things that are important to us. Like climate change itself, these problems are solvable, we just need the political will to do so. What the impacts will thus be also depends on whether humanity gets its act together. If people like Trump are in power a Mad Max scenario is a much higher risk.

Another reason to freak out can be that the media, when they are not in denial, often over-hypes problems. A sane middle seems hard to find in the USA. To improve your information diet old fashioned books are the best place to start. RealClimate, a blog by actual climate scientists, and the information resources they point to, is also good start. To see whether current stories in the media hold up to scrutiny you can have a look at Climate Feedback, a collaboration of climate scientists fact checking stories in the media.

What to do?

Much anxiety comes from feeling helpless to do something. Thus being part of the solution reduces anxiety. Join an environmental group. If only to see there are like minded sane people. Very encouraging was that I have seen many people on Reddit asking what they can do. If enough people stand up, the net effect of the Trump shock could even be positive.

The US political system is a mess. We need to get money out of US politics. Trump will make this worse. He is already packing his cabinet with lobbyists. His tax plans and deregulation will further increase inequality, increase the power of the wealthy and give them more money to corrupt the political process. I like Wolf PAC, but there are many other groups working on this. Join the Democrat party (with some friends) and try to throw the corporatists out.

Banks are starting to worry about their influence on society. Bloomberg reports: "Rise of Populism Tops Anxiety List at Frankfurt Banking Meeting." They could stop bribing US politics and stop working for corporations that do this. Until they do so, join an ethical bank; their rates are competitive. I love mine.

When it comes to climate change itself, join 350 to divest fossil fuel companies. With the renewable energy age so close and the remaining carbon budget not allowing for new fossil fuel infrastructure, the economic case against fossil fuel investments is stronger than ever. New infrastructure that would need to be profitable for decades, well after Trump is dead.

Hopefully the states, cities, private sector and citizens will pick up the pace to compensate for the counter-productive behaviour of the federal government. It is likely more productive to focus on solutions and not climate change itself. Denying climate change has become part of their identity for many Republicans. There are no arguments that could convince these people to change their public position. However, renewable energy is, for example, immensely popular with everyone, also with Republicans. There are even green tea parties against attempts of state governments to help their cronies in the utilities and make it more difficult to install solar on the roofs of homes.

If you have money, investing in renewable energy (in the USA) now will be more useful than ever. It would decrease the market for new fossil fuel infrastructure and support solar and wind companies over the Trump bump. I would be surprised if anyone would start to plan for a new coal power plant at this time. It takes a long time until it is running and would need to run a long time. Trump is 70 years old and will not be around forever and after that the investment will make losses. Maybe even before that because of cheap gas and renewables.

The energy sector is nowadays only 6% of the global economy; it is thus easier than one may think to move it. Once wind or solar is running, nothing can compete with their marginal costs. The best way would be to join or start an energy cooperative with your friends and family. That gets more people involved.

Climate change is solvable and I am confident we will. The real problem, the big problem is not climate change. It is us, as Prince EA beautifully explains below.

Related reading

Hope Jahren sure can write: What I Say When People Tell Me That They Feel Hopeless About Climate Change

Jessika E. Trancik (MIT associate professor): People are worried Trump will stop climate progress. The numbers suggest he can’t.

Luke Kemp: US-proofing the Paris Climate Agreement in Climate Policy, doi: 10.1080/14693062.2016.1176007

Informative clear overview of what happened in Marrakesh by Guardian's Graham Readfearn: Marrakech climate talks wind down with maze of ambition still ahead

Donald Trump actually has very little control over green energy and climate change.
“Market forces, not the government” are responsible for the fact that wind and solar power are replacing coal.

Chart of the year: ‘Incredible’ price drops jumpstart clean energy revolution

A view from Germany on Trump's America

Climate Denial Crock of the Week by Peter Sinclair: New Video: Report from COP22 – Still a Way Forward

* Post Apocalypse by 70023venus2009 used under a Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.
* Make Climate Great Again photo by Takver used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
* We're Still In photo by Takver used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
* Afternoon Traffic - Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen by Colville-Andersen used under a Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
* Photo train by Arne List used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Thursday 10 November 2016

A view from Germany on Trump's America

It is a dreary dark rainy cold day in Bonn. The right setting for the catastrophe that just happened in America.

German children's radio tries to explain why the adults are freaking out. They said Trump main claim was to make America great again, which everyone can read into it what they like and is a sign for his lack of clear policies. And they told the kids he denies climate change and wants to build a wall.

I guess they did not want to freak out the kids by explaining that this election may well mean that fascism returns. German kids are well informed what happened in the 1930s. They know that Hitler was very explicit about his hatred for the Jews, but did not take his antisemitic plans seriously. They know that like Trump Hitler was misunderestimated time and time again. They know that the conservatives and the corporations thought that he could help them and they could control him, while they actually helped Hitler to power.

That is the worst case scenario. The good case scenario would be George W. Bush on steroids. More inequality; Trump plans gigantic tax cuts for his billionaire buddies; the corrupt Republican Congress wants the same. Utter incompetence and less regulation for the banks will produce private gains (bank shares are 4 to 5% up) that will likely lead to another 2008-style economic recession that socializes the losses. Gratuitous deadly wars that benefit the military industry; Trump wants to increase the defense budget, surrounds himself with war hawks and likes aggressive posturing. And a federal government in the pockets of coal and oil that will try to emit more CO2 to green the planet.

Many people seem to have been surprised by Trump winning. The Huffington Post was very sure Clinton would win and attacked Nate Silver with the flimsiest of arguments and mistakes for hyping the uncertainty: What's wrong with 538? What's wrong with HuffPo when a pseudo-German knows US polling better? Also after the election Silver is still sometimes seen to have been wrong because he gave Trump 30% chance. 30% does not mean he will loose. It means that every 3 elections a catastrophe will happen.

I sometimes wonder if people make the same mistake for climate change. If the chance that they are directly affected is less than 50%, then it does not exist. It is a wonder people take an umbrella with them when the chance of rain is 30% and have a fire insurance. Maybe that is because we have more experience with rain and a longer tradition of cities burned to the ground. Even if it not certain, a chance of a huge catastrophe is a strong reason to act.

Please see the Trump presidency in the same way. By all means hope for the best case scenario, but be prepared for the worst case scenario. Do not keep an open mind about Trump, be vigilant, start organizing and informing yourself now. Read up on German and Italian history. Inform yourself what is happening in Russia and The Philippines. Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians is great book for insight into their behavior and thinking.

Make sure everyone knows about the [[Reichstag fire]] and how it was used to destroy the German democracy. A more recent US example is 9/11 and how it was used to take many constitutional freedoms away. This expansion of government power will now allow Trump to spy, jail and intimidate the opposition. People need to know this, so they can recognize the pattern and protest before it is too late.

Most of this post is aimed at progressives, I presume they read my blog most. If you are a rational conservative, like most conservatives in continental Europe, please speak up, please inform and talk to your peers. They will listen to you most. "America first" only means that the others have it worse, not that America has it good. Fascists are not conservatives, they are revolutionaries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a conservative) as a politician has to pretend she believes the good-case scenario, but makes clear she sees the danger.
Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom, and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.
The video below given an overview of the worst transgressions of Trump. The real transgressions, not the naughty words US TV concentrated on.

Climate change

Trump is not clear on most policies, but quite clear in trying to make climate change as worse as possible. Reversing any policies made under the black president, stimulating coal, no regulations on fracking and he wants to get out of the Paris climate treaty. That is actually not possible, but he can simply not do what the USA promised. Shares of Peabody Energy, world's largest coal company, almost doubled in two days after the election; okay, they were not worth much to begin with. On the positive side, Trump did hint at supporting renewable energy for reasons other than climate change.

This would make Trump the only head of state in the world that rejects climate change. By going rogue on climate America will isolate itself. China warned twice ahead of the election that Trump was not a good idea; that is unprecedented. Europe will not view this any kinder. I see the same happening in the field of international security. A president who prides himself on re-negotiating deals and ripping off his partners cannot give security guarantees. This will strengthen regional powers. Trump's presidency may well be the end of American hegemony. Hopefully the transition to a multi-polar world will be peaceful.

When it comes to climate change again a range of scenarios is possible. The main question is whether America's refusal to act will reduce the willingness to act in the rest of the world. America by itself is no longer a major player and only emits 16% of all greenhouse gasses. Inaction in America is thus bad, but if limited to several years, and Trump is 70, a limited problem. The emissions should be zero in 2050. The danger is when this goes on for too long and when the rest of the world would be discouraged from acting or when international conflict makes global collaboration impossible.

To fight climate change, the main problem in this phase is the energy transition. Here I am quite hopeful because I think we won this battle before this election, maybe even in the USA. Prices of renewable energy are dropping fast. That is partially technological advances and larger markets and partially historical low interest rates. Trump's incompetence and danger to the global economy will keep interest rates low for years to come. In large parts of the world renewable energy is already competitive without any government help, with prices dropping this region will become increasingly larger. Many of the richer US states are run by Democrats and they will continue setting efficiency standards and stimulating the energy transition, which is very popular in the population.

I could be wrong. Not too long ago I still expected that a price on CO2 emissions to compensate for the damages would be necessary to make renewable power competitive. It would still speed the transition up and the transition should go faster, but I feel it is unstoppable due to economic forces.

The Trump presidency has a nice plus for the German car industry. It was somewhat slow with electric cars, but now has a good chance to dominate this industry of the 21st century. Same for wind power and machines to produce solar panels.

The future

How bad it will be be, will depend on us.

The US media is a mess. Especially television. It is no wonder that Trump would have lost bigly had only young people voted; they are not indoctrinated by emotional one-sided sensationalist television programs. Getting rid of my TV was the best decision in my life.

It is important to build up alternative independent media. I would expect to get the highest quality from media sponsored by members, which means they do not depend on clicks, which stimulates sensationalism, and they do not depend on billionaires, which biases the reporting. Examples on YouTube for general news are TYT (partially member funded) and Secular Talk. If your (local) newspaper is decent, subscribe. Become member of The Guardian. Newspapers do a lot of the reporting. TV just rehashes their work superficially.

The US political system is a mess. We need to get money out of US politics. Trump will make this worse. His tax plans and deregulation will increase inequality, increase the power of the wealthy and give them more money to corrupt the political process. I like Wolf PAC, but there are many other groups working on this. Join the Democrat party and try to throw the corporatists out. Campaign for Sanders to clean the stable as new head of the DNC.

When it comes to climate change, join 350 to divest fossil fuel companies. With the renewable energy age so close and the remaining carbon budget not allowing for new fossil fuel infrastructure, the economic case against fossil fuel investments is strong. Infrastructure that would need to be profitable for decades, well after Trump is dead. Banking is global; everyone can help. Also divest personally, join an [[ethical bank]]; their rates are competitive.

If you have money, investing in renewable energy (in the USA) now will be more useful than ever. It would decrease the market for new fossil fuel infrastructure and support these companies over the Trump bump. The energy sector is nowadays only 6% of the global economy; it is easier than one may think to move it. Once wind or solar is running, nothing can compete with the marginal costs of renewable energy. The best way would be to join or start an [[energy cooperative]] with you friends and family. That gets more people involved.

Many more things will have to change, such as the local infrastructure and there are many more environmental problems. Friends of the Earth International is a bottom up democratic environmental group. A good place to find like minded people.

The situation for climate science will probably get hostile. Trump has vowed to defund it. His friends do their best to harass scientists. It will be hard to distinguish between meteorology and climatology for most of the research and I hope the states will be able to compensate for some of the funding. European countries may be interested in top American researchers at a bargain. Still the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund will be more important than ever.

More than about climate change, I worry about human rights, freedom and peace. America elected a bigot. Lets make sure the bigots do not conquer the public space. Only 1/2 of electorate voted. Only 1/2 voted Trump. Only 1/2 selected him in the primaries. Even of those people not all selected him because he is a bigot. After the Brexit there was a rise in violence against minorities. It is bad that so many did not mind a bigot much, but remember that the bigots willing to use violence are just a few percent of the population. We are the majority.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are more important than ever. Even if you do not want to join any organizations, please use them for information, to know what is going on before it is too late.

Related reading

The Conversation: No, this isn’t the 1930s – but yes, this is fascism.

Most people are wildly underestimating what Trump’s win will mean for the environment.

Guardian sustainable business: Trump's influence on the future of clean energy is less clear than you think.

What it would really mean if Trump pulls the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement by Chris Mooney in the Washington Post.

Climate Experts Weigh in on Trump’s Election Win, Jacquelyn Gill, Katharine Hayhoe, Ralph Keeling, Michael Mann and more.

What Trump can—and can't—do all by himself on climate by Paul Voosen in Science.

Scientific American: Trump Picks Top Climate Skeptic to Lead EPA Transition.

Vox: Donald Trump’s administration is going to be a bonanza for bankers.

The Road Ahead in Saving the Climate by Hunter Cutting.

The Guardian: Conservatives elected Trump; now they own climate change.

Friday 4 November 2016

Greens, progressives: No, Clinton and Trump are not the same

The US media is a catastrophic failure and is about to create a catastrophe this Tuesday. The focus is on personalities, mud slinging and conflict, which attract attention and are safe he-said she-said topics for the media. While there is nearly no attention for policy, which makes it harder to avoid taking a position. Sometimes single policies are contrasted with each other, but overviews are dearly missing.

As a consequence there is now a real possibility Trump could become president. Most polling aggregators see the chance of Trump winning as a few to a dozen percent.
Sam Wang at Princeton Election Consortium has Clinton with a better than 97% chance to win, Drew Linzer at Daily Kos has her with 92%, and NYT Upshot has her at 86% currently to win?
That is already much too high. Betting markets think the chance of catastrophe is 25%. Nate Silver at 538 is most pessimistic and gives a 36% likelihood. The difference seems to be that the optimistic aggregators assume that the average of all polls is unbiased, while Silver factors in small systematic problems. This sounds reasonable to me, especially this election year.

Polls do a lot of bias correction, certain groups are polled less well, for example young people. It is very hard to guess who will actually show up for the election. The people who pick up the phone may be different from the ones that do not. People may vote differently from what they say; to keep the peace in the family or because they see their preference as socially unacceptable. People who say they vote for another party than the last election often do not do so. The polls were collectively wrong for the Brexit referendum in the UK, which is similar to the Trump campaign, many bigots voting, many protest voters that do not expect their vote to count.

The increasing chance of a Trump presidency this week made the Dollar drop 1%, the NASDAQ 4$ and the S&P 500 2.6%. If you believe the chance of Trump winning is less than a fourth, there is money lying on the floor of the betting market. Do pick it up.


I just came by someone who wants to vote Jill Stein (Green party) because Clinton and Trump are both bad and Clinton has supported fracking as Secretary of State. I understand that Stein has to say they are equally bad not to look like a spoiler and that she attacks Clinton more because that is where most of her votes will come from. I would not be able to live with myself having to do that, but that is her unfortunate role in this election. That is what she was elected to do by the members and she accepted this role when she did not know yet that this would turn out this horribly.

But if you care for the environment, there is no way you can risk Trump getting elected. Trump would certainly not stop fracking. He would allow fracking without any regulation: He wants to close the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and wants to kill 80% of regulations. Whatever that means.

Trump supports coal, which produces terrible air pollution, which kills hundreds of thousands and hurts the health of many more. It is also the worst energy source for climate change. This fits, because Trump claims climate change is a Chinese hoax and wants to destroy Paris climate agreement.

Trump has promised to revert the Clean Power Plan and any other executive action on climate change, which is basically everything the USA did in the last 8 years because Republican would block any legislative action. Trump has plans to stop all research into clean energy and all climate research.

An analysis from Lux Research suggests that Trump’s policies would leave CO2 emissions 16% higher after 8 years than Clinton’s. That is a large difference on the way to zero in 2050 and will also have its influence afterwards and on the willingness of other countries to act.

One of the first supporters of Trump was the chair of the House Science committee, Lamar Smith TX2. Washington insider Smith is best know for his harassment of climate scientists in the service of his oil & gas industry donors. Likely the government harassment of climate scientists will become a lot worse when all sections of government are in Republican hands. That would be good for European science, but bad for America: there is still a lot to do predict local climatic changes, which is necessary to protect US communities.

Do we have 4 years to lose on climate change? If it is just four years; either because the entire world is on fire and international negotiations no longer work, or because the next election is cancelled.

Money in politics

Clinton was a terrible pick for the Democrats. In the time people are completely fed up with the establishment and the corruption in US politics, the DNC in their infinite wisdom selected the symbol of the establishment as their candidate. During the primaries I made the case for Bernie Sanders, he would have won this election in a land slide. But reality is what it is. There this election is similar to the climate "debate" where Americans have trouble accepting the world as it is.

Bernie Sanders himself now supports Clinton because that is currently the best choice for the progressive agenda. In my (apparently German) view, Everyone is responsible for to consequences of their own decisions. Clinton for her decisions, every eligible voter for theirs.

Unfortunately Clinton's competence and hard work can also be seen in how much money she raised and her donors are mostly not giving her money for a better world. For the companies it is an investment, they are not charities. Still Clinton wants to reverse Citizens-United, while Trump talks about corruption, but is a major corrupter himself and has no plans to stop it. Naturally he will not stop the corruption, he benefits from the system as a billionaire, that is how he stays a billionaire. His entire life has been about getting rich by conning people into thinking he has something to offer.

Trump presents himself as the anti-establishment choice, but is just as much part of it as Clinton. They went to the same parties and hung out with the same people. Trump plans to massively lower the taxes for himself and this posh peers, which will create an enormous deficit, while Clinton will raise taxes on the rich to reduce them for the middle class. A politician does not have to do everything rich donors want, also they only have two options.

This in not a normal election

Trump is a terrible human being. He wants to discriminate against every group possible. He started his campaign calling most Mexicans rapists. Projection. He wants to ban Muslims from coming into the USA, which is immoral and against the Freedom of Religion in the US constitution. The Jewish Anti-defamation league immediately protested against tbis because they understand were this leads to. Next Trump told an audience of Jewish people that they all like re-negotiating deals and put the star of David next to Clinton. There is a reason nearly no African American supports Trump. There is a reason David Duke and the KKK support Trump; they see the difference.

Trump is a terrible human being. Not for using the word "pussy", but because he "would not even wait" (for concent), as he said himself and as afterwards more than a dozen victims confirmed. His ex-wife testified in court that Trump had raped her. After the election, Trump will have to go to court for allegedly raping a 13 year old girl at one of the teen sex party of his billionaire buddy Epstein.

Trump is a terrible human being. He wants to bring back torture worse than waterboarding. Even if torture does not help, just for the sadistic pleasure of hurting a subordinate. At least he apparently knows that torture does not work, it only produces fake confessions. He wants to kill the families of suspected terrorists. The Nazis called this punishing of innocent relatives "Sippenhaft". Deeply disturbing. He admires the dictators of North Korea, The Philippines and Russia and their violent actions.

The middle class in America did not get a raise in a long time. The upper class did. A lot. The main reason is corruption. Middle class incomes rose with productivity until the Supreme Court ruled that money is speech and corporations have human rights. Trump would nominate judges like Anthony Scalia and there are many judges up for reappointment. A Trump presidency would solidify corporate power for decades to come.

The middle class will not benefit when Trump starts trade wars. He has threatened to default on the US debt. If he repeats that statement, even without doing so, that will produce an instant world recession. His enormous tax cuts for the super rich and the huge deficit that makes are both really bad for the economy.

The middle class will not benefit when Trump starts wars. He wants increase the military budget even further, although it is already 34 percent of the world total and more than the next 7 or 8 countries combined, many of which are currently allies. As an insecure uninformed and thin-skinned person who fears the Other it would only be a matter of time until he starts major wars. Clinton is hawkish, but also competent and diplomatic, which avoids wars. I would be surprised if she would kill more people than Trump and she would at least start her wars intentionally.

If America elects Trump, it will not be long until The Philippines and Russia are its only friends. And maybe North Korea. Economically Europe is a big as the USA. That the US is the main military power is our choice. That can change and a common threat will consolidate Europe. A lazy incompetent US president will not stop that.

If America lets a thin-skinned madman near the nuclear codes, Europe will build up its own nuclear arsenal to ensure Mutual Assured Destruction and a nuclear shield. In such a conflicted international situation, it would be hard to prevent Iran and other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons as well.

If America goes rogue on climate, I would expect the rest of the world to start Geo-engineering. If that hurts drought-prone US agriculture, that is a pity, but you had a choice in 2016 on the 8th of November.

Progressives and greens

Progressives and greens do not have much to win this presidential election (but a lot to lose). If you are considering voting for Jill Stein, why not instead become member of the Green party instead? Build up an organization at the local level, win local election, showcase successful politicians that can take the next step, so that in future elections the Greens have a real chance rather than only dividing the vote.

Some people make the argument that getting 5% of votes for the Green party would result in federal funding for the next election. The Green party is currently at less than 1.6% at Nate Silver's 538 and at 2.1% in the RealClearPolitics average. Single cherry picked polls can naturally be higher. The results for a small party are very noisy, especially for the Green party with many young voters who are typically underrepresented in surveys. As a consequence polling organisations put a higher weight on the few young people they do get. Thus you have to average over many polls to get a reliable average. The green party will not more than double in 4 days.

Even if they do, for getting 5%, the Greens would receive about 10 million dollar in funding for the next election. In the last election there were 120 million votes, 5% of that is 6 million votes. If the Greens pass the threshold a vote would thus be worth about 2$. A donation to the Green party sounds like a better idea in Trumpy times. A donation of 1$ would be a very good deal for the Green party.

If you are considering voting for Jill Stein and live in a swing state, please, consider swapping your vote with someone from a save state; that should be a really save state because the election is very close. Best New York. People in New York know Trump well and will never ever elect him.

There are some progressives that argue that a president Trump will destroy the Republican party. That is utter nonsense. The Republicans are authoritarians, they will fall in line, you see it happening during the general election. If Trump becomes president there will be a lot of jobs available. That works wonders in stabilizing parties. In Europe we have more parties and they thus more often fail; they do so after losing, not after winning.

Positive change does not happen due to politicians. Real positive change is the result of activism, not of elections. Politicians implement the changes that they were forced to make. Even if well intended they only have to power to do good if they are forced to.

Do fight Clinton from the day of the election on. She will be much more responsive to pressure from greens and progressives than Trump would be. She is a good listener and she is competent. Things you cannot say about Trump. Do primary her in four years if she does not change considerably.

Especially fight to get money out of politics, there are many initiatives to do so. The problem is not individual politicians, the system is corrupt and corrupting. The systems needs to change, toppling persons in the system does not change it.

This is not fun anymore. If you think Trump will not do the atrocious things he promises. Think again. No one thought in Germany in 1930 that Hitler would do the things he promised in great detail in his book Mein Kampf. It did not start with the Holocaust, it started with large rallies, it ended with the Holocaust*. In the last more-or-less free election Hitler got a third of the votes and the conservatives and Christians helped him to power.

Who would stop a president Trump? The Republicans? The police? The NSA? The military?

With all the reservations about the donations to Clinton and her hawkishness, there is also a lot to like about her as a progressive, not only when it comes to the environment, but also when in comes to reducing inequality, schools, collage tuition and social issues. Obama can explain it best.

Related reading

Trump just proposed ending all federal clean energy development. He’d end all research on solar, wind, efficiency, batteries, clean cars, and climate science, too.

A tale of two ethics. The ethic of conviction (Gesinnungsethik) and ethic of responsibility (Verantwortungsethik). Why many Germans think impractical idealism is immoral and why people holding opposite ethics may have a hard time talking with each other.

Seven climate scientists: Don’t make a choice that your children will regret.

A Trump presidency could mean 3.4 billion tonnes more carbon emissions than a Clinton one.

Every post on Trump lists too little dangers. Keith Olbermann gives 176 Shocking Things Donald Trump Has Done This Election. Still misses many important ones.

Nature News Feature: The polling crisis: How to tell what people really think.

* It is a taboo in Germany to compare anything with the Holocaust. That is said to diminish its horror. We are much more powerful than we were then. It could well end a lot worse.

** Caricature at the top by DonkeyHotey, which has a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.