2019: A year in review

The end of another year, so time to do another round-up of this year’s posts. My main impression of 2019, unfortunatey, is that the climate debate is moved from disagreements with people who either deny climate change or the need to do anything, to disagreements between people who broadly agree. Maybe we’re simply incapable of not finding something to fight about. In the spirit of trying to be positive, I’ll try to make 2020 a year where I find reasons to agree with people.

Anyway, below is my summary of 2019.

My most read post in January was one about what bothers, and confuses, me about climate change, which probably still applies. There was also an interesting discussion about the Hawkmoth effect.

In February we had a discussion of survivor bias (an issue I need to think about a little more) and also highlighted how difficult it was to have common ground with those who don’t even seem to accept the basis for the discussion.

March saw me attempt a Bayesian climate sensitivity analysis, but also saw the beginnings of the now infamous RCP8.5 debate. There was also one of Willard’s interviews, this one with Jonathan Gilligan.

April was a quiet month. My most active post was one about whether or not STS was trivial, and we also saw the second part of Jonathan Gilligan’s interview.

May was also a quiet month, with a brief discussion of the impact of 4oC of warming and a discussion of why models aren’t really failed hypotheses.

June saw a recursion of our discussion of Kooninisms, a joint post with Eric Winsberg about extreme weather event attribution, and Willard’s interview with Rachel, who played a key role in developing the moderation policies here.

The key post in July was one that discussed a silly Scientific Reports paper, my responses to which received quite a lot of media coverage.

The dominant issue in August was the continuing discussion about RCP8.5, which I found rather frustrating.

September was quite active, with a discussion of Solar radiation management, two posts about Pat Frank’s nonsense, and an open thread about IAMs.

In October I highlighted how I was stepping outside my comfort zone, and we had quite an active discussion of the economic impacts of climate change.

November included a post about methane, an issue that I think is still not all that well understood. It was also the 10th anniversary of Climategate.

Post in December were dominated by the never-ending RCP8.5 debate, which I think illustrated that people can have different perspectives and don’t also get the difference between stocks and flows.

There you have it, my quick review of the blog’s 2019 posts. Some topics I found quite interesting to write about, and that I hope some found interesting to read. I hope everyone has a good New Year and all the best for 2020.

You ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out – A year in Stoats, which reminded me that I should really have thanked everyone who commented, and all those who lurk. So, a belated thank you to everyone.

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27 Responses to 2019: A year in review

  1. verytallguy says:

    Happy New Year!

  2. vtg,
    Thanks, Happy New Year to you too.

  3. izen says:

    We live in interesting times…

  4. Happy New Year, which is nowadays a 25 hour long global party.

    I should really have thanked everyone who commented, and all those who lurk

    Always a pleasure to talk to intelligent people with a passion for understanding the world.

  5. Jon Kirwan says:

    I’m mostly a lurker, but have said something once or twice. But I can’t think about any of this. I’m just excited by my Christmas gifts:


    Johnson et al. (2018, MNRAS.480.1696) suggest that the V-band will be flat pre-SN, but to counter this Johnson, Rui et al. (2019, MNRAS.485.1990R) argue from Hubble observations that the progenitor to SN 2017eaw in NGC 6946 might have dimmed by about 30% a year before its explosion. Morozova et al. (arXiv:1912.10050) tried to model this idea. They found that injecting some energy at the base of the envelope (conjectured as a violent convective core motion prior to core collapse at the end of the core helium burn phase, finding that the subsequent weak shock could drive off some matter and result in an outburst of luminosity with perhaps a subsequent appropriate dimming about a year before the explosion.

    So I’m jazzed. Even if it turns out to be nothing more than an extreme but otherwise normal quasi-periodic change in brightness, it is still fun to wonder about.

    My only problem is that if this doesn’t return to “more of the same” in a few weeks’ time (say, end of January latest) then I’m going to start worrying a lot more about quantitative guestimates of the possible X-ray and UV flash. Which means more papers to read and more code to borrow from others and/or write.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Happy new year from a Left Coast state!

  7. Chubbs says:

    Happy New Year! The big story to me in 2019 was how warm it was in a meh enso year, capping a 5-6-year post-hiatus spike of roughly 0.3C. Who would have predicted that?

  8. Happy New Year. Do you have any interest in posting about Betelgeuse? I would be interested in your thoughts.

  9. Tom,
    Happy New Year to you too. As far as Betelgeuse goes, it’s clearly a massive star that is near the end of its life. It will soon go supernova, but that could still take 100000 years. That it is dimming might be a signature, but these types of stars are naturally variable, so it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily about to go supernova. The thread below by Mark McCaughrean was quite interesting.

  10. Picked a bad time to give up on twitter! ;o)

  11. Jon Kirwan says:

    Tom, I think it’s unlikely to be anything except, as I wrote, “nothing more than an extreme but otherwise normal quasi-periodic change in brightness.” Guinan (whom I’ve been writing to, recently, and he’s responded several times over the last few days) wrote in the Astronomer’s Telegram #13365 that:

    “Analysis of the last 25-yrs of V-band and Wing TiO and Near-IR photometry shows a dominant ~425+/-10 day period as well as a long-term ~5.9+/-0.5 year period. The current faintness of Betelgeuse appears to arise from the coincidence of the star being near the minimum light of the ~5.9-yr light-cycle as well as near, the deeper than usual, minimum of the ~425-d period.”

    So, that’s probably what it is. Just the same, it’s also fun motivation to dig into research papers such as:


    And then wonder a bit.

    We’ll soon see. It will either move back off of its unusual dimness and back within the recent range of variation and this will all be nothing more than an interesting diversion…. or else it won’t and we may enjoy a rare experience. If nothing significant happens in the following year, or at most two years, then it’s very very likely it is still well within in the core helium burning stage (a long lived phase for RSBs) and we just experienced only a quasi-periodic change in the V-band that gave us something fun to think about and perhaps to theorize a little over. Maybe a few papers will develop.

    But…. maybe… Well, it’s nice to wonder.

  12. how about a post on the phsyics of the Aussie fires to start 2020? I am having trouble wrapping my head around the scale of these fires. There is also the physics issue of winds of a fire picking up a fire engine and dropping it on a firefighter. How does that happen?

    My cousin tells me that my concern with climate change is just like her concern and involvement with pet rescue in the Pac NW. Also having trouble wrapping my head around that equation.

    Keep up the good work.

  13. David B. Benson says:
  14. Steven Mosher says:

  15. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: You could use this article by David Roberts as a jump-off point for your first OP of 2020.

    The sad truth about our boldest climate target by David Roberts, Energy & Environment, Vox, Jan 3, 2020

    Roberts article prompted Kevin Drum to write this commentary about it…

    https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2020/01/yes-1-5-degrees-celsius-is-long-gone-as-a-climate-change-target/Yes, 1.5 Degrees Celsius Is Long Gone as a Climate Change Target, Commentary by Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Jan 3, 2020

  16. angech says:

    SMB “how about a post on the physics of the Aussie fires to start 2020? I am having trouble wrapping my head around the scale of these fires.”
    Australia today is considered to be the most bushfire prone of all continents. (Bradstock 2010).
    In Australia’s southeast, fires are common in the heathlands and dry sclerophyll forests, typically occurring about every 5 to 30 years, with spring and summer being peak fire season (Clarke et al. 2011; Bradstock et al. 2012).

  17. Nathan says:

    This report (from 2007) details the expected increase in FFDI (Forest Fire Danger Index) in 2020 due to increasing temps. Their ‘High’ estimates were for 2020 were for a 0 – 10% increase over 1990 levels and by 2050 was 10-30%.

    Click to access fullreportbushfire.pdf

    This report from the Bureau of Meteorology in Dec 2019 details the FFDI since 1950.

    To my eye, it looks pretty close to for the ‘High’ Estimate of 10%. Accumulated FFDI of 2300 in 1990 to slightly more than 2500 in 2019.

    Click to access scs72.pdf

    Is this a climate change signal?

  18. John Hartz says:

    Speaking of the Australia bushfires, Michael Mann penned this op-ed on the ground in Australia…

    Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now, Opinion by Michael Mann, Comment is Free, Guardian, Jan 1, 2020

    What’s happening in Australia is heartbreaking and downright depressing.

  19. angech says:

    Mann “When we mine for coal, like the controversial planned Adani coalmine, which would more than double Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions, we are literally mining away at our blue skies.”
    There is the problem, just what are Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions?
    Australia claims to have been decreasing its emissions [may or may not be right].
    None of the Adani coal will be burnt in Australia, It will bring modern living conditions to millions of Indians instead. Also boost their manufacturing output leading to more goods and services for Indians at home and people around the globe.

    So my questions start with this.
    What are Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions?
    Is it what is actually used in Australia [let’s say decreasing].
    Is it what it consumes that has been made by Fossil fuel elsewhere but is really due to the Australian consumer demanding products?
    Should it be what Australia digs up and exports to be burnt as Prof Mann suggests?
    In which case the Australian fingerprint [and American] are much bigger than listed per country.
    Does it include Australia off shore and overseas [BHP, RIO] coal oil and gas mining?

    We enjoy our opulent lifestyle though we do not acknowledge it off the coal, oil and gas fields, not the sheep’s back any longer.
    I cannot imagine many people voluntarily giving up their loves of comparative luxury.
    I see it hard to deny others their chance.
    How is it possible to overcome human nature?

  20. David B. Benson says:

    In the previous century I went as far south in New South Wales as Pebbly Beach and the next beach to the south. All burning now…

  21. Mal Adapted says:


    I cannot imagine many people voluntarily giving up their loves of comparative luxury.
    I see it hard to deny others their chance.
    How is it possible to overcome human nature?

    Well, Doc, answering that question requires answering these first:

    Why can’t you imagine that paying for your own marginal emissions costs might not require you to “give up” your comparative luxury, or at most a little? Why do you think internalizing the marginal climate-change cost of fossil carbon will deny “others” their chance to enjoy the benefits of cheap energy? And what do you think “human nature” is?

    IMHO, what’s hard is teaching those “others” about hierarchical causation and the tragedy of the commons. What’s hard is not so much granting them their chance at prosperity, as persuading them to pay a little bit more for short-term prosperity that doesn’t cause long-term climate damage. What’s hard is explaining to them that it’s also their chance not to cause GMST rise of about 3 °C within their grandkids’ lifetimes, and to avoid the costly consequences thereof. What’s hard is explaining to them that it’s their chance not to rapidly increase their aggregate cost of “adaptation” in lives, homes and economic growth, if they don’t choose to develop by transferring fossil carbon to the atmosphere. OTOH, from that perspective it looks like an easier problem – just make sure they have access to carbon-neutral energy with which to develop!

    Residents of the so-called developed world face the same comparatively stark choices, after all. Educated “first world” adults need only understand that “voluntarily giving up their loves of comparative luxury”, by democratically chosen collective action to internalize the marginal social cost of carbon in the energy market, will slow the rise of aggregate social costs immediately, and cap private costs before 2100 by driving the transition to a carbon-neutral global economy. In a simple, logical narrative, the transition will create immediate comparative winners and losers, and some net aggregate cost while higher fossil carbon prices work their way throughout the global economy; but the net aggregate benefit will soon become positive, and the only permanent losers will be investors with stranded fossil carbon assets. I’m frankly not convinced that’s all beyond the grasp of a governing plurality of Americans, or Australians either. I’m for not dragging our collective feet. How about you, Doc?

  22. angech says:

    Mal, thank you for your considered and thoughtful reply.
    I am not against a cleaner and less fossil fuel world.
    There will be a collective world outcome from the input of everyone to the degree that their inputs count.
    The more people who can see your argument or whom you can persuade to agree with it , the more likely it is to come true.
    The necessity of all of us trying to coexist on this planet suggests yours is one of the better alternatives. The practicality means it will probably be achieved, by compromises, forced not reasoned.
    All the best.

  23. Joshua says:

    angech –

    > How is it possible to overcome human nature?

    Your evaluation of “human nature” needs some due diligence.

    History is replete with societies making sacrifice for the sake of the larger community – especially when it also improves their own personal circumstance.

    You’re asking the wrong question. The more interesting question is why you’re constantly asking the wrong questions.

  24. dikranmarsupial says:

    “How is it possible to overcome human nature?”

    by making a rational choice to do so. We are not complete slaves to our evolutionary inheritance, that is why we are homo sapiens, but it takes effort.

  25. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I cannot imagine many people voluntarily giving up their loves of comparative luxury.
    I see it hard to deny others their chance.”

    and yet (y)our inability to voluntarily give up our comparative luxury itself denies others their chance (particularly future generations and people in distant places). That is why people get into denial of the science as a means of resolving the dilemma.

  26. dikran says: “…our inability to voluntarily give up our comparative luxury itself denies others their chance”

    our species is capable of impressive indifference to the suffering of others. It’s out there at one end of the empathy scale, but the folks who fall at the end of the spectrum don’t realize they are unusual in the level of their indifference. I don’t know if you can reason with them if your own evaluations of things are based on mainstream levels of empathy or at the higher end of the empathy spectrum.

    It was a hard year watching the “leader of the free world” function from the empathy-free zone. Maybe we will do better in 2020, but the early days are not auspicious imho.

    All my best to those of you here who post in good faith and with a modicum of empathy.

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