Friday, February 26, 2010

Atmospheric Science Made Simple

Here's a neat way to understand the issue of CO2 "saturation" in the atmosphere as well as the general mechanism of the "Greenhouse effect" and whether or not water vapor has a positive or negative feedback when it comes to Global Warming. You can download the PowerPoint Show with the atmospheric science part of my presentation to the Philo Club at The Villages, FL, along with an audio narrative, here. That show with a script is here. You can also download the PowerPoint Show with my complete talk contrasting Cap&Trade with a Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax here.

The above chart shows the absorption spectrum for CO2, assuming levels from 100 ppmv (lowest level of CO2 in the ice core record) to 200 ppmv to pre-industrial levels of about 300 ppmv to current levels of around 400 ppmv and projecting up to 500 ppmv which is where we will be in around 50 years unless we curb our carbon emissions or the Earth cools a bit.

The "hot pink" area around 10μ is where the Earth's long wave infrared radiation peaks. Notice that going from 100 ppmv to 200 ppmv almost doubles the amount of absorptivity, and increasing CO2 to 300 ppmv almost triples it. However, at 300 ppmv, the 15μ band is 100% absorbed, so increasing to 400 ppmv has little additional effect as does further increase to 500 ppmv. I have never seen "CO2 saturation" presented this way. [Get an animated version with audio narration here.]

The above chart shows how the "Greenhouse Effect" works. Rays from the Sun that strike light-colored surfaces reflect the energy back to space. Rays that strike dark-colored surfaces are absorbed, warming the Earth. Warm surfaces emit all wavelengths in all directions. Some rays pass through the atmosphere back to space. Others are absorbed by CO2 gasses that re-radiate in all directions. Radiation that comes back and warms the Earth is called the “Greenhouse Effect”. [Get an animated version with audio narration here.]

The effect of water vapor in the atmosphere is controversial. IPCC models assume it has a positive feedback effect, meaning the more water vapor in the atmosphere, the more warming. Others, including me, believe the net effect of water vapor is negative, moderating warming.

The above chart tells why. All clouds do warm the earth according to the "Greenhouse Effect". In fact, for night clouds, that is the only effect. However, there are fewer night clouds and the Earth is cooler at night, so the warming effect is moderated. Daylight clouds also warm the Earth a bit by the "Greenhouse Effect", but they also reflect incomming Sunlight back to space and cast a cooling umbra on the Earth. The net effect of daylight clouds is therefore cooling. Rain, snow, thunderstorms, wind, convection and so on also have a net cooling effect. AAs we all know, clouds are formed when water evaporates from the surface of the warm Earth. The "heat of vaporization" removes heat from the Earth and the warmed water vapor takes it higher up in the atmosphere. When water vapor condenses to droplets, the "heat of condensation" (equal to the "heat of vaporization") releases the heat into the clouds where some escapes by radiation to space, a net cooling effect. Some radiation comes back to Earth as "Greenhouse Effect". Thunderstorms suck warmed air from the surface to high up in the atmosphere, returning cooler air, a net cooling effect. Rain or snow cools the Earth when it falls to the surface.

Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that water vapor, the key element along with the Sun in driving weather, has a generally net cooling effect. Thus, the fact that more water is evaporated as the Earth warms, has a negative feedback, and moderates Global Warming. [Get an animated version with audio narration here.]

Ira Glickstein

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cost-Effective Health Care Compromise

President Obama has mounted a new full-court press this week to finally pass a version of the Senate Health Care bill, using the "nuclear option" if necessary.

It seems he is assuming that the televised summit conference between Democratic and Republican politicos this Thursday (25 February) will fail to reach a bipartisan compromise. I hope a cost-effective compromise can be reached, but I am not sanguine.

If there is no compromise, the plan is for the Democratic-controlled House to pass a version of the bill already passed by the Senate (before Sen. Ted Kennedy passed away). Then the Senate, by a simple majority of 51, can confirm it and it will become law. I hope this "nuclear option" is not attempted. I do not believe it will work because anyone who votes for it and is up for re-election this year will understand that he or she faces a high probability of being defeated.

Here is my outline for a bipartisan compromise, based on my previous postings here and here, partially based on Democrat David Goldhill's reasonable proposals in his 2009 piece in The Atlantic. This is a very serious plan that I think has a chance of gathering bipartisan support.

1) Universal digititized patient data, securely accessible by any doctor chosen by the patient. This part should be easy to sell to President Obama and both political parties and all medical specialties. It has been technically feasible for a decade and it is past time we do it.

2) Mandatory Catastrophic Insurance coverage for all that would cover only medical costs incurred in any one year of over $50,000 or a chronic condition that incurs costs of over $5,000 per year for ten years. That coverage would include a voucher for a basic checkup once a year. The government would subsidize coverage for those who could not afford the relatively low premiums for catastrophic coverage. Goldhill estimates a yearly premium of $2,000 for this type of coverage. (By comparison, my wife and I are paying around $10,000 each if you include our out-of-pocket insurance and Medicare costs plus the contribution of my former employer and of government Medicare funding.) This is an approximation of the universal health insurance that President Obama and the majority party favors in a cost-conscious form that should be palatable to the minority party.

3) Nationwide competition by health insurance companies certified in any state to sell insurance in any other state. This will provide far more competition and bring down costs. This will be an easy sell to most members of the minority party but may be resisted by the majority party that is obligated to state health care regulators and to insurance companies that have near-monopoly positions in some high-cost states.

4) Mandatory Health Savings Accounts for all that would be tapped into for actual medical costs incurred, but would remain the property of the owner of the account (you, or your heirs) if not fully expended, as proposed by Goldhill. Employers and employees/retirees would pay into the Health Savings Accounts the difference between what they are currently paying for comprehensive insurance and out-of-pocket medical costs now and the lower cost of Catastrophic-only insurance. (For example, my wife and I would see about $8,000 per year for each of us pass into our Health Savings Accounts.) Young, healthy families with low medical expenditures would see their Health Savings Accounts grow by thousands of dollars per year, accruing as savings to prepare themselves for the likely increasing medical costs as they age. Those not so fortunate, who incur medical costs, would expend the funds in their Health Savings Accounts until the accounts were tapped out, and would then pay the remainder out of their pockets and savings, until they hit the catastrophic limits and then Catastrophic-only insurance would kick in. This is a further approximation of the universal health insurance that President Obama and the majority party favor in a cost-conscious form that should be palatable to the minority party.

The point would be to make the recipients of health care more conscious of the actual costs. Instead of calling an ambulance for every event, they would be more likely to drive the injured person to the hospital or use public transit if possible. Instead of accepting the first doctor's advice for expensive medicines or tests or procedures (that may be in the doctor's self-interest - he or she may have a boat payment due) they would be more likely to shop around for lower-cost options. That would drive down the costs of medical care for everybody and make the providers more responsive to their customers, who would be the actual recipients of health care rather than the government and insurance companies.

5) Tort reform to eliminate high malpractice premiums and defensive medicine with unnecessary tests that add up to 10% to costs. This will be a hard sell to the majority party that is in the pocket of trial lawyers, but it is an absolute necessity for support by the minority party.

6) Outcome-based reimbursement to eliminate costly surgery and medications that do not yield comparative effectiveness based on quality-adjusted life years. Though President Obama earlier seemed to favor an approach of this type, it will be a hard sell to the minority party. Some politicos in both parties who originally proposed it have backed away due to the onslaught of opposition based on "death panels" and "pulling the plug on granny".

7) No denial of insurance based on pre-existing conditions or boosting of premium costs due to illness. Given (2) and (4), anyone who has complied with the mandatory coverage requirement, which would be partly subsidized by the government for those who cannot afford it, would be protected from subsequent denial of coverage or premium increases based on illness.

Ira Glickstein

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Should NASA be trying to scare us over the temperature rise?

[From Rick] A couple of weeks ago, our local news pumped a NASA GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies - Hansen's group) news release regarding 'Yet Another Temperature Record.'

My first thought was - HEY - why is this newsworthy? If the temperature has been gradually warming since the last ice age, then EVERY year is likely to set new temperature records. It reminded me of the newscaster that said on election night last year "70% of the votes have been counted and that number is expected to go higher!" I wondered how often they went lower!

But then I thought some about the appearance of the graph as NASA formatted it. What I decided to do was make a little video about that which is here:

[Click on arrow to play video] It will take 2 minutes of your remaining life to watch this and I can't guarantee it will be worth it, but it IS a different point of view.

In putting this together, I noted that the temperature records for Central England (available through Hadley Center but the website I used is either down at the moment (or taken offline as a result of Climategate). The Wikipedia entry is here.

So what I was wondering was - if CO2 didn't begin it's sharp rise until the mid 20th century, can that be picked out of the temperature record.
In NASA's chart - MAYBE - you will see that there is a recent trend that MIGHT fall outside the uncertainty in NASA's graph. However, if you also look at the Central England chart, it might not be so obvious. Especially since similar long term rises in the record have occasionally exceeded the slope of recent rises. Even back to pre-industrial times - well before any significant CO2 rise!

Perhaps you will disagree.

Another note - I have not done ANY 'corrections' to the NASA mean temperatures. There have been numerous suggestions of either inappropriate, inadequate or unnecessary corrections to the temperature record (esp. urban heat island and siting corrections). Depending on your take, these might well remove the remaining datapoints that fall outside the error bars in the plots. If this were done, I think that ANY CO2 footprint would be very hard to justify, EPA and IPCC notwithstanding!

What do I believe? Results of experiments where a hypothesis may be isolated and tested, preferably, but those are difficult to come by in climate science. I rarely believe models unless they are validated (even though creating and validating models was a significant part of my career) - it's just too easy to create 'results' without accurately documenting the assumptions and starting conditions required to simulate the models.

I imagine that CO2 does have an impact on the climate - and I doubt it will be measured anytime soon. Until then I think that political action (e.g. cap and trade) falls somewhere between
Unwise and Folly!

I'd appreciate hearing if you find the video to clarify your understanding or to trigger any new insights for you.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Exercise in Bed

Something different for this Blog

Easy exercises you can do in four minutes flat in bed. Energize yourself for the day. Relax yourself for some solid sleep every evening. If you do this every morning and evening for 120 years I guarantee you will live long :^)

I've recently written a Google Knol Exercise in Bed - Do Your 4's that describes some easy exercises I have done almost every day for the past six or seven years.

Why not give them a try?

Ira Glickstein

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Brain White Matter Connections for Intelligence and Creativity

[From Joel. Source of Brain Image] We're all familiar with the close associations that memories have that are stored in the brain. We have rapid access to words that rhyme, synonyms and antonyms. We have rapid and easy access to words that are associated with experiences in our lives. However, some researchers believe that the "white matter" (as opposed to the "gray matter") of our brains makes longer connections between various areas and controls intelligence and creativity. A crossword puzzle exercises the short gray matter connection. Here's a puzzle which exercises the white matter.

We have a significant amount of memory which deals with music. We have a significant amount of memory which deals with philosophy. Let's see if we can exercise the links between the two areas. Select an associated pair from music and philosophy. An example would be "Que Sera, Sera" and the concept of stoicism as advanced by Marcus Aurelius. Another would be "I want a girl, just like the girl that married dear old Dad" and the Freudian doctrine of psychology.

I found that having been immersed in preparing for this presentation for a month or so, there was a after effect or "habit." Picking up the mail the other day, I saw and heard a bluebird. Immediately, the song "Bluebird of Happiness" sprang to mind. Then the phrase "life is no abyss" from that song arrived. This was followed by Pascal's "Man constructs obstacles so that he cannot see that he is marching toward an abyss."