BackgroundBack in February of this year, Dr. John Christy of UAH -- and guru of retrieval algorithms for estimating bulk upper atmosphere temperatures from orbit -- went to Washington. In his prepared testimony, tucked away near the end of his standard fare, he wrote something not so novel in terms of concept, but in the fact that he actually put some numbers to it:
We know from Climategate emails and many other sources that the IPCC has had problems with those who take different positions on climate change than what the IPCC promotes. There is another way to deal with this however. Since the IPCC activity and climate research in general is funded by U.S.taxpayers, then I propose that five to ten percent of the funds be allocated to a group of well-credentialed scientists to produce an assessment that expresses legitimate, alternative hypotheses that have been (in their view) marginalized, misrepresented or ignored in previous IPCC reports (and thus the EPA Endangerment Finding and National Climate Assessments).Setting aside the editorializing (which is NOT easy for me to do -- "wicked and murky science" -- really?) and extracting the the essence of his proposal from his polemic, I'm very much open to putting my tax monies where his mouth is.
Such activities are often called “Red Team” reports and are widely used in government and industry. Decisions regarding funding for “Red Teams” should not be placed in the hands of the current “establishment” but in panels populated by credentialed scientists who have experience in examining these issues. Some efforts along this line have arisen from the private sector (i.e. The Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change at http://nipccreport.org/ and Michaels (2012) ADDENDUM:Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States). I believe policymakers, with the public’s purse, should actively support the assembling all of the information that is vital to addressing this murky and wicked science, since the public will ultimately pay the cost of any legislation alleged to deal with climate.
First Some Quantifiable PerspectiveBefore shelling out 5-10% of the climate research budget, we should probably quantify the budget itself. The GAO provides a handy summary, current through FY 2014:
Federal funding for climate change research, technology, international assistance, and adaptation has increased from $2.4 billion in 1993 to $11.6 billion in 2014, with an additional $26.1 billion for climate change programs and activities provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. As shown in figure 1, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has reported federal climate change funding in three main categories since 1993:The pretty picture is not to be missed:
- technology to reduce emissions,
- science to better understand climate change, and
- international assistance for developing countries.
|Figure 1 - US Federal climate spending FY1993-2014 in constant 2014 USD|
I'm pleased to see that technology is getting the bulk of increase. At the very least, science is keeping pace with inflation, to the tune of ... oh ... let's call it an even two bill per year.
So Christy is proposing 5-10% of that for his Red Team which works out to between 100 and 200 megabucks ...
... to write an "assessment report". It's not clear from his testimony if this is a one-off deal, or if he's asking for an ongoing budget item to fund such activities.
It matters not. How can I put this charitably? Let's see. How about:
Any of our esteemed Gentlepersons from whatever (dis)United State of Americants present in the House chamber who didn't at least raise an eyebrow when Dr. Christy delivered that whopper is FIRED.... if not first taken out back of the woodshed for a tuneup and forthwith summarily barred from public service for the rest of their natural lives.
I did say it was hard for me to set aside editorializing, didn't I? Yes, yes I did. Let's call this one a mulligan.
Back on course, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics tells me that 119.3 million people work an average of 35 or more hours per week. I'll assume they all pay Federal tax on their wages, so Dr. Christy is asking for $0.84-1.68 per taxypayer for credentialed experts outside "the establishment" ...
... to produce an assessment that expresses legitimate, alternative hypotheses that have been (in their view) marginalized, misrepresented or ignored in previous IPCC reports ...... and all importantly ...
... thus [ignored in] the EPA Endangerment Finding and National Climate Assessments ...Look, I know the man is only asking me for between a 1/4-1/2 the price of a Starbucks Grande Cappuccino here. But as he himself references in his prepared testimony, the NIPCC has already been more or less doing this annually going back to at least 2009. If I wanted more of the same, I would have long since rummaged under my sofa cushions and donated the proceeds.
Sorry, but endless literature reviews providing little if any new knowledge are not science by my definition of the word. No sale.
I would be willing to fund Team Red to do some ...
Real Science™What does it mean?
Dr. Christy and I agree on the first step, forming a "legitimate, alternative hypothesis". Legitimate is a slippery word, but the Gold Standard for a viable hypothesis is that it needs to be falsifiable and testable. Whole books have been written about this. In the interest of brevity I'll leave it at that.
Real Science™ is NOT paying credentialed guns-for-hire to write 1,000 page tomes about how the vast majority of the rest of their colleagues are doing Fake Science. Neither is publishing such stuff outside the primary scientific literature without so much as a whiff of rigorous peer review.
Hypotheses are a dime a dozen. There are plenty of alternatives already floating around, I don't think it's worth even $1 million of public funds for a Red Team to compile them in a report. I want formalized testing, and peer-reviewed published science for my money, not regurgitated talking points we've already been hearing for decades.
I really shouldn't have to write more in this section, but I get a feeling that I'm being too hopeful.
A Counter-proposalInstead of diverting a 5-10% chunk away from "establishment" climate research per annum, let's increase the budget by some healthy percentage for Team Red to do some Real Science™ as described above. One quality of a scientific theory in this context is that it can be used to make useful predictions.
That means building a model. Whatever else Red Team does, one of their requirements is to build one, and it should be compatible with and as capable as whatever the IPCC are using at the time. A good present candidate is the CMIP5 specification, though CMIP6 is currently on the drawing board.
They could probably save themselves a lot of time and funds working with one of the numerous open-source AOGCMs already in use, and under constant development. However, for various reasons it's likely they would want to roll their own. So two questions are; how much would that cost, and how long would it take them to do it?
It's not an easy thing to figure out, because writing a climate simulation code isn't just a matter of writing tens of thousands of lines of FORTRAN. Someone has to feed the coders some data and maths, or they need to come up with those things in the course of their own research. Which is how it already works in the real world. Since another real-world problem is time and resource accounting, it can be difficult to figure out what your average AOGCM actually costs to develop, test, maintain and execute.
When I Googled it, one of the top hits comes from Steve Easterbrook (not to be confused with Don Easterbrook or this guy), and his bottom line all up cost for making an AOGCM from scratch, "worst case" scenario is:
Grand total: $1.4 billion.He makes some estimates for the scientific and support team (about 200 people), and about 20 years of development time. He then documents some discussions he had with people actually doing this stuff, slashed some estimates in half or quarters and winds up concluding:
Where does that leave us? It’s really a complete guess, but I would suggest a team of 10 people (half of them scientists, half scientific programmers) could re-implement the old model from scratch (including all the testing and validation) in around 5 years. Unfortunately, climate science is a fast moving field. What we’d get at the end of 5 years is a model that, scientifically speaking, is 5 years out of date. Unless of course we also paid for a large research effort to bring the latest science into the model while we were constructing it, but then we’re back where we started. I think this means you can’t replace a state-of-the-art climate model for much less than the original development costs.Right. So a quarter of $1.4 billion is $350 million. We'll call those the high and low estimates respectively. Neglecting inflation (I'm lazy), amortized across 20 years that's $17.5-70 million/yr, or 0.9-3.5% of the total $2 billion/yr US climate science budget.
What’s the conclusion? The bottom line is that the development cost of a climate model is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
So, with ModelRed (patent pending) being Team Red's main deliverable, and the estimates above including research moneys and the science staff to do them, it seems more than fair to counter Dr. Christy's presumed one-time request for $100-200 million for an assessment report with:
$100 million/year in constant 2016 dollars, guaranteed for 20 years.Which is simply 20 years of the low end 5% science budget he floated to the House.
Yes, I said guaranteed. He'd be crazy to not take it ... I've just sweetened his maximum proposed deal by a factor of five. Bbbbuttt ...
Have I Gone Bonkers?!When I first cooked up this seemingly crazy scheme I did think it was possible that I'd gone 'round the bend. Among the objections I myself raised were:
- How do we make sure they spend our money doing something useful?
- At what point do we end the charade and cut them off?
- Won't this legitimize "junk science" on the taxpayer dime?
- What if this is akin to pulling our finger out of the dyke, and they ask for and get more?
I tried to handle (1) by thinking about all sorts of performance metrics: journal articles published per year, software model milestones, etc. I handled (2) by requiring ModelRed to meet or exceed some skill metric vs. the CMIP5 ensemble. I'm still thinking there have to be some basic requirements, but as a naive lay outsider, I don't really have a clue what those would be.
That leaves (3) and (4).
For (3), with the exception of the UAH satellite team, most of the credentialed contrarians aren't doing science at all, they're just making noise on blogs or in the form of whitepapers and a smattering of studies which pass muster and find their way into primary literature. I can't think of a better way to stop the endless whining that nobody's taking them seriously than to shove wads of my cash into their mouths and tell them to shut up and calculate. Take the full 20 years before uttering another peep if they'd like. But it's not required. It wouldn't be possible, nor would it be fair.
My answer to (4) was there from the start, and still is. They get their guaranteed funds for as long as they like, so long as it is tied to matching funds to be applied toward actual CO2 mitigation. That could be a one for one matching, my initial thoughts were that the mitigation portion would be some greater multiple of one, certainly no less.
So basically, I'm proposing a trade. Team Red gets guaranteed funds with one main requirement to build a model, Team Green guaranteed funds to do ... something ... about CO2 mitigation. Team Red wants more money in the future? Fine, that's always going to be tied to a roughly equivalent match for Team Green.
What To Do With the Matching Funds?Anyone who's been reading me recently knows I'm big on replacing coal-fired power plants with fission reactors. With the estimated cost of new nuke plants now reaching into the tens of billions of dollars by some estimates (albeit, by some who are arguably opposed to building said plants), at best, $100 million/yr isn't going to make much of a splash. As R&D for next-generation plants, it might make a difference. Same for viable biofuel research. Etc.
In reality, the matching funds would be pooled with the entire US climate research budgets, and better-informed policy wonks than I would decide how to allocate it.
It also occurs to me that, while $100 mil (x2 for the minimum matching) is a drop in the bucket as far as the US Federal budget is concerned, the cost-conscious among us would surely gripe about exacerbating the deficit.
So I propose to make it a self-balancing budget line item by offsetting it with ... a carbon tax. Perhaps that could be as simple as fixed tax per gallon of gasoline sold at the pump.
I don't drive much, and my 4-cyl Honda gets rather good mileage. On the other hand, the monster truck/SUV/muscle car crowd, who seem to be the most vocal opponents to raising the cost of their already conspicuous consumption might gain some satisfaction from knowing that a tiny percentage of the fuel in their 50 gallon tank is going toward "proving" that it's ok to continue burning the stuff with reckless abandon.
Yes, this pleases me greatly.
The EIA tells me that the US consumed 140.43 billion gallons of petrol in 2015. Divided by $100 million/yr gives $0.0007 per gallon of fuel, or 3.5 cents per 50 gallon tank.
Wrap-upAm I really serious about this? Well yes, mostly. Surely any Democrat taking this proposal seriously would want bigger concessions. A 7/100th of a cent surcharge on a gallon of gas isn't much of a deterrent from using the stuff, and using to fund climate contrarians might seem like political suicide.
On the other hand, I am making somewhat of a rhetorical point out of all this (no, really?) -- I'm tired of contrarians howling about how wrong mainstream climate scientists are doing it. I'm tired of hearing about how the IPCC is not taking them seriously. I'm tired of explaining to them that the reason their ... views ... aren't being better represented is that most of what they're doing isn't science. It's generous to even call it skepticism.
Thus, it seems fair to me that I should be willing to encourage "their side" to do some science by granting them public funds to do it. I can see things playing out one of several ways:
- Team Red will try to do real science and fail spectacularly.
- Team Red will do real science well and find that Team Green wasn't so far wrong after all. They may even contribute useful stuff, which is how science is supposed to work.
- Team Red will do real science well, and against all my expectations come up with a model that better explains the observed warming, gets the thing published in Nature, earns their own collective Nobel Prize, and becomes the tip of the spear of the New Consensus.
Item (2) might have a better chance of happening than my snark would indicate. After all, we've already seen a vaguely similar precedent.
At the very least, this article serves as me raising Dr. Christy's bluff and calling. And I must say, it was fun doing it.