Is the 2 °C World a Fantasy?

This news feature article in Nature this week concludes something that’s  been clear for a while now — the IPCC  is  not even considering any plan of action that can keep global warming down to 2 degrees Celsius.

While  its clear that 2 degrees is inadequate to mitigate what will  effectively be permanent  damage, it is  now equally clear that the world’s leaders won’t  consider any plan of action which keeps the earth below 2  degrees.  In fact, it seems that they will not even commit to any binding agreement whatever to take  any actions, instead making non-binding commitments.

Obama, Oil, and Lip-Service to Democracy

I think that the United States should promote Democracy, and our “elected” leaders say they also value it.  Noe however that when it comes to actually paying respect to Democracies, its instructive to look at how Hugo Chavez and King Abdullah were greeted by the White House upon their deaths.

King Abdullah “had the courage of his convictions” while Hugo Chavez was mentioned only in so far as “the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principals and the rule of law”.  Its too bad that we don’t value those things when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

This is of course driven by power and oil.  Both are important oil producing countries, but one collaborates with the United States and the other does not.


More Guns, Less Crime? (Probably Not)

There’s  an interesting article on the correlation between gun  availability (as in “Right To Carry –RTC laws) and crime.  The first answer is “Its Complicated”.  While the results are complicated, the  paper makes  two important points:

  • No matter the model specification, they can find no evidence to support the “more guns, less crime” claim.  On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the effects of RTC laws on crime are positive, meaning that adopting RTC laws appears to result in crime increases.  This effect is strongest and most consistent for aggravated assault.
  • “Different models yield different estimated effects”: while no model shows that RTC laws decrease crime, the impact of RTC laws varies from model to model.  In some models, RTC laws are associated with substantial and statistically significant crime increases across multiple crime categories.  In others, the extent of the crime increase is more modest, or observable only in one crime category.  In other words, the results are not robust to model specification.




US needs harm-reduction approach to drug use

Treating drug abuse as a health issue rather  than a law enforcement issue would reduce costs and increase productivity.  This  paper argument argues that this is the case for incarceration reasons:

The rate of federal inmates incarcerated for drug offenses hovered at just under 50 percent in 2011, and in 2013 the Obama administration’s budget asked for $25.6 billion to fight the drug war, $15 billion of which was directed toward law enforcement. In addition, by some estimates, state and local governments spend a combined total of $51 billion per year on drug-related law enforcement efforts, which suggests they have a lot to gain by investing in treatment options.

A harm-reduction approach recognizes the permanence of drugs in society and, instead of trying to eradicate drug use, focuses on minimizing harm associated with drug use for the individual and society,” she said. “This encompasses a variety of objectives, including preventing individuals from using drugs, treating individuals who want to stop using drugs, preventing drug use where it increases the chances of negative outcomes such as driving while on drugs, and helping individuals who want to continue using drugs do so in a way that does not further compromise their health or the health of others.” This last objective is often achieved through needle-exchange programs intended to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and is more controversial than other policies.




Lake Baikal is Awesome, but Warming

This is bad news on both the Global Warming and ecological diversity fronts.

From the article:

Lake Baikal is home to more species than any other lake in the world, a large proportion of which are found nowhere else on Earth.2 Rapidly rising lake temperatures and ecosystem changes since the 1940s—both linked to global climate change—could fundamentally change the lake.6,7

  • Since 1946, the surface waters of Lake Baikal have warmed by 2.1° F (1.2° C).7 The annual ice–free season has lengthened, and the thickness of the ice has decreased by an average of 30 inches (12 centimeters) in the same time period.8
  • Rising lake temperatures since 1979 are linked to a 300 percent increase in blooms of algae, which form the base of the lake’s food chain.7

Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest, oldest,and most voluminous lake—equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes combined.2 These qualities have given rise to a phenomenal ecosystem that hosts more species than any other lake in the world. Of its 2,500 animal species, half are unique to the lake.3 One–third of the lake’s plant species are also found nowhere else on Earth.4 Most notably, the lake is home to the Baikal seal, the only seal in the world that lives exclusively in freshwater.5

Lake Baikal has undergone dramatic warming and ecosystem changes that could disrupt its biological systems.2,6,7 Since 1892, winter temperatures in the region around Lake Baikal have warmed by 0.5° F (0.3° C) per decade, making this one of the most rapidly warming regions in the world.6 The surface waters of Lake Baikal have also warmed by 2.1° F (1.2° C) since 1946.7 The ice–free season has lengthened by nearly three weeks since 1869, and ice thickness has decreased by an average of 30 inches (12 centimeters) since 1949.8

Both water temperature and ice conditions help determine the types of microscopic plants and animals—known as phytoplankton and zooplankton—that compose the base of Lake Baikal’s food chain.9 The lake’s phytoplankton include species of plants known as diatoms that are both unusually large and unique to the lake.9 These diatoms have a burst of abundance in the spring when the lake is still covered by clear ice with almost no snow cover.2

Where Does Sea-Level Rise Come From?

One of the unsolved problems of climate change over the last 25 years has been matching up the actual sea-level rise to the expected sea level rise, based on observations and projections of melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

This article in Nature purports to match up the ice melt and sea rise levels much more accurately than previous attempts.  The news is not good.


 the IPCC has decided that researchers finally have a good enough handle on ice behaviour in Greenland and — to a lesser extent — Antarctica to forecast how ice sheets will respond, at least provisionally, says Don Chambers, a sea-level researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. The latest estimates add between 3 and 21 centimetres to the predicted sea-level rise by 2100, although tens of centimetres more are possible, according to the most recent IPCC report draft.

The end result is set to be a much higher forecast for sea-level rise than in 2007. Direct comparisons are difficult because the latest report uses different time frames and emission scenarios, but the leaked draft puts the range of estimates between 28 and 97 centimetres of rise by 2100. That is still not as high as semi-empirical estimates, but process-based results are edging upwards — and the difference is narrowing. “I consider it something of a vindication,” says Rahmstorf.


Game Theory, Evolution & Cooperation

With a new analysis of the Prisoner’s Dilemma played in a large, evolving population, they found that adding more flexibility to the game can allow selfish strategies to be more successful. The work paints a dimmer but likely more realistic view of how cooperation and selfishness balance one another in nature.

“It’s a somewhat depressing evolutionary outcome, but it makes intuitive sense,” said Plotkin, a professor in Penn’s Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences, who coauthored the study with Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab. “We had a nice picture of how evolution can promote cooperation even amongst self-interested agents and indeed it sometimes can, but, when we allow mutations that change the nature of the game, there is a runaway evolutionary process, and suddenly defection becomes the more robust outcome.”

Critical People Sound Smarter

This article, in Wired, called “A Sad Fact of Life: It’s Actually Smart to Be Mean Online” makes some interesting points regarding how much we criticize is related to how smart we are percieved to be.

The students thought the negative author was smarter than the positive one—“by a lot,” Amabile tells me. Most said the nastier critic was “more competent.” Granted, being negative wasn’t all upside—they also rated the harsh reviewer as “less warm and more cruel, not as nice,” she says. “But definitely smarter.” Like my mordant tweets, presumably.

This so-called negativity bias works both ways, it seems. Other studies show that when we seek to impress someone with our massive gray matter, we spout sour and negative opinions. In a follow-up experiment, Bryan Gibson, a psychologist at Central Michigan University, took a group of 117 students (about two-thirds female) and had them watch a short movie and write a review that they would then show to a partner. Gibson’s team told some of the reviewers to try to make their partner feel warmly toward them; others were told to try to appear smart. You guessed it: Those who were trying to seem brainy went significantly more negative than those trying to be endearing.

I must say that  I hate the title of this article, btw.