Category Archives: environment

Climate Scientists, Media Get Science, Data Wrong

Did anybody catch the "surprisingly good news" that was reported in the Washington Post on Monday, 7 December 2015?

In case you didn't, here are the leading paragraphs of the story, which describes the basic findings of a study by Robert B. Jackson, Josep G. Canadell, Corinne Le Quéré, Robbie M. Andrew, Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Glen P. Peters and Nebojsa Nakicenovic, which was coincidentally published on Monday, 7 December 2015.

Emissions of man-made greenhouse gases appear to have declined slightly in 2015, scientists said Monday, reflecting what experts say is an encouraging, though likely temporary, pause in the steady rise in pollutants blamed for climate change.

The projected dip of 0.6 percent over 2014 levels, if confirmed, marks the first decline in heat-trapping pollutants in a year when the world economy was not in recession, a new analysis shows. Scientists say the drop is tangible evidence of changing behavior as more countries invest in renewable energy such as solar and wind power.

The single biggest factor appears to be a marked reduction in China’s use of coal to make electricity. But other countries, from North America to Europe, also emitted less carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning as governments and consumers shifted to cleaner fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to a report published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

As it happens, Political Calculations became the world's leading authority on the correlation between the changing levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere and the world's economic activity over the last year, an expertise we've developed from scratch through a series of posts on the topic, which we've listed below, where we've also juxtaposed portions of our long running analysis of the relative economic health of China's economy as events have warranted the merging of the two series. See if you can detect any trends in what we've observed (we've highlighted the posts where we've presented the development of the changing level of atmospheric carbon dioxide as an economic indicator):

In our series of original analyses, what we quickly find is that evidence from international trade data directly contradicts the claims of the study's authors that the recent decline in the rate at which the concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing in the Earth's atmosphere occurred in an environment of economic growth.

Instead, it occurred, as virtually every similar decline in the the rate at which the concentration of global atmospheric CO2 has occurred, as economic activity has likewise declined globally as Earth's economy has experienced recessionary conditions.

That's not our opinion - that fact is plainly evident in international trade data.

But that's not all that's wrong. The story of a reduction in atmospheric CO2 emissions presented by the climate scientists is already well out of date, as the Chinese government's actions to stimulate its economy in its efforts to pull the nation out of its recessionary funk early in the first half of 2015 have gained some traction, the effects of which we may directly observe in the trailing year average of the change in global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, where the rate at which CO2 has resumed increasing after having bottomed in June 2015.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Jan 1960-Present

The global atmospheric carbon dioxide source data used to produce our chart above was just updated through October 2015 on Monday, 7 December 2015.

Anecdotally, the recent rebound in China's CO2 emissions has also been directly observed in China, in what Gizmodo describes as "China's Worst Pollution Crisis Ever", which was also posted on Monday, 7 December 2015.

The bottom line is that the climate scientists behind the study failed to consider economic data that clearly indicated growing recessionary conditions in China during their period of interest, which in turn led to an incorrect conclusion, namely that the observed reduction in the rate at which CO2 increased in the Earth's atmosphere in 2014 and 2015 occurred in the absence of recession, or more accurately, recessionary conditions.

The climate scientists certainly picked a bad day to launch their media public relations strategy.


Jackson, R.B., Canadell, J.G., Le Quéré, C., Andrew, R.M., Korsbakken, J.I., Peters, G.P., Nakicenovic, N. Reaching Peak Emissions. Nature Climate Change (2015) doi:10.1038/nclimate2892. Published online 07 December 2015. Accessed through on 8 December 2015.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [File Transfer Protocol Text File]. Updated 7 December 2015. Accessed 8 December 2015.

U.S. Census Bureau. Trade in Goods with China. Accessed 8 December 2015.


Update 8 December 2015 12:10 PM EST: This post has been updated to highlight our series of posts that specifically focus on developing atmospheric carbon dioxide as an economic indicator, and to clarify our "bottom line", where we've added the text indicated in bold face type.

Climate change is exacerbating an already precarious situation in the country

Maria Gallucci/International Business Times
It's not all about corruption in Guatemala. Maria Gallucci looks at the impact of climate change on Central America with Guatemala's Vanishing Harvests for the International Business Times. It's not pretty.
Diplomats from nearly 200 nations will gather in Paris next week to discuss climate change and hammer out a global plan for curbing emissions. But halfway around the world, Banegas and millions of Guatemalan families are experiencing firsthand the threats of a warming planet. Guatemala is among the world’s 10 most vulnerable nations when it comes to climate change, owing to its unique geography and extreme social inequality, according to the Climate Risk Index. Sandwiched between two oceans and straddling three tectonic plates, the country faces threats from hurricanes, torrential floods, enduring droughts, brutal cold snaps and earthquakes.
At least eight severe storms have sacked the country since 1998, racking up around $3.5 billion in economic losses and property damage -- a sum equal to roughly 6 percent of Guatemala’s $58.7 billion gross domestic product in 2014. Most recently, a tropical storm in early October triggered a massive mudslide outside Guatemala City, killing 271 people and leaving dozens missing.
Beyond one-off extremes, progressive changes in temperature and rainfall are altering the agricultural landscape that the poorest of Guatemala’s 15.5 million residents depend on to earn a living and feed their families.
Climate instability really seems to be affecting ramón or xate, things I've never heard of, as well as the coffee and timber industries. It's a really interesting article - I'd recommend reading it in its entirety. I'm considering using it in my Central America course next semester.

Three years later, The United States should grant TPS for Guatemala.

Balls Aplenty

NASA's C-OPS System in the Black Ball Covered Los Angeles Reservoir - Source: NASA -

The last time we took on the subject of balls, it was to consider the physics of New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady's deflated balls. Today, we're going back to the ball pit because Los Angeles' city government is spending $34.5 million to dump up to 96 million plastic balls into a water reservoir, where the apple-sized floating black spheres are intended to reduce water loss due to evaporation and to reduce the need to treat the water with chemicals to keep algae and bacteria growth at bay.

While it's an open question as to whether the black balls will be successful at their second mission, as other scientists have hypothesized that they might actually promote bacterial growth instead of hindering it, the balls should be somewhat successful in minimizing the loss of water due to evaporation by preventing direct sunlight from reaching and heating the reservoir's water surface. The question is how much might the balls succeed in reducing that evaporation.

Environmental Economics' Tim Haab worked up the basic math, which we're both immortalizing and extending today in a tool designed to answer not just that question, but also how many balls it would take if the city leaders of Los Angeles chose to substitute balls of other sizes for the apple-sized ones they are using.

In doing so, we're going to make two key assumptions. First, that the surface of the 175 acre Los Angeles Reservoir will be able to accommodate the densest packing of 2D circles in a plane, which means that a maximum of 90.7% of the water's surface will be covered by the spheres, which in turn, will represent the maximum amount by which evaporation losses will be reduced. Second, we'll also assume that the blackened spheres will not rotate to expose any wetted surface to the open air or sunlight, which would increase the evaporation rate.

Got all that? Good! Let's get to the tool.... (If you're accessing this article through a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to access a working version of the tool!)

Water Reservoir Shade Ball Project Data
Input Data Values
Ball Diameter [inches]
Standard Evaporation Rate for Reservoir [inches/year over 4-foot diameter area]
Surface Area of Reservoir [acres]

Shade Ball Quantity
Calculated Results Values
Maximum Number of Balls That Will Cover Reservoir in a Single Layer
Amount of Water Lost or Saved to Evaporation
Annual Water Losses If Reservoir Is Uncovered [gallons per year]
Annual Water Losses Prevented If Reservoir Is Covered by Shade Balls [gallons per year]
Annual Water Losses If Reservoir is Covered by Shade Balls [gallons per year]

That said, all the default values that appear in the tool above are those that apply to the Los Angeles Reservoir shade ball project. If you want to redo the math to consider the average annual evaporation rate in your state or to consider a project where the area being covered in balls in measured in square feet rather than acres (like a swimming pool), just enter your square footage figure and type "/43560" (without the quotation marks around it) immediately after it in the "Reservoir Area" data entry field. Doing so will convert your square footage to be in the units of acres that our tool references.

But the real fun is to consider what it would mean to substitute 1.575-inch diameter standard ping pong balls or 32-inch diameter giant rainbow beach balls, since it is California after all. Or more interestingly, the 96-inch diameter balls shown in the video below:

What could possibly go wrong?!

Earth: Recessionary Cooling Continues

Going by the level of carbon dioxide measured in the Earth's atmosphere in July 2015, it appears that Earth's economy continued its recessionary cooling in July 2015, with the trailing year moving average of the year over year change in the CO2 levels ticking up to be just barely above its June level. Not uncoincidentally, Earth's largest producer of atmospheric carbon dioxide, China, saw its national economy continue to sputter during the month.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Jan 1960 - Jul 2015

The world's economy has been cooling right along with the deceleration in the pace at which carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere have been increasing, which began after China's political leadership held their third "plenum", or leadership meeting, in which they committed to a plan to put the nation's economy on a "sustainable growth path" after years of strong economic growth. Since that meeting, China's leaders have been steadily redirecting resources away from supporting the expansion of the nation's low-cost export driven industries to instead favor the expansion of service-oriented enterprises, with the goal of transforming China's economy to be primarily driven by domestic consumer demand.

So at least what we're observing isn't happening by accident.

Analyst Notes

Picking up on our previous hypothesis, we're pleased to announce that we were wrong!

What we're referring to specifically is our effort to fill in more of the world's economic history to correlate where decelerations in global atmospheric CO2 levels had occurred, where we had hypothesized that the Cuban Missle Crisis of October 1962 may have led to sanctions or other negative economic events that occurred in many of the world's communist, socialist and progressive regimes, which are notorious for covering up their failings.

Using historical data from on territorial carbon production from the Global Carbon Project, we found evidence that the territory of Russia saw significant increases in the millions of tons of carbon it burned during the period of interest from 1962 through 1965, which ruled out that possibility.

We also observed that China's own carbon emissons were stagnant from 1963 through 1964, after having plummetted in the preceding two years. Since this is annual data, it occurred to us that China really bottomed in 1962 and was very slow to recover from its failed Great Leap Forward initiative and the famine it produced.

It then occurred to us to consider another possibility. Even though China's GDP is believed to have grown in 1963 and 1964, we wondered if perhaps another economic and CO2-producing heavy hitter, the United States, also recorded positive economic growth during the period in question, but perhaps in a less-than-stellar economic environment.

So we tapped Jon Gregory Taylor's work on Investment Timing and the Business Cycle to find out if any of the observed decelerations in global CO2 levels were correlated with downturns in the U.S. business cycle.

Oh yes, they mostly were! Those results are represented in our chart above, as the light red shaded vertical bands.

The results aren't perfect, but that perhaps might be attributed to the relative severity of the U.S. business cycle downturns. For example, while a severe downturn might be expected to have a negative impact on global CO2 measurements, a very mild downturn might only have a very mild, or muted effect - say only slowing the rate at which CO2 levels increased, rather that correlating to an outright decrease in them, as we often observe during official periods of recession.

Taylor's data on U.S. business cycle downturns only covers the period through December 1995. In our next update, we'll see if we can't flesh out more of the period from 1996 onward.

Earth’s Economy Continues Recessionary Cooling

In June 2015, the economy of Earth continued to cool off as recessionary forces concentrated in China resulted in another reduction in the rate at which carbon dioxide is added to the planet's atmosphere for the month. That rate has fallen steadily since it last peaked in October 2013 and is now at the lowest level that has been recorded since May 2012.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Jan 1960-Jun 2015

That most recent peak coincides with China's political leadership's third plenum, or leadership meeting, in which China's political leaders committed to a plan to put the nation's economy on a "sustainable growth path" after years of rapid economic growth.

Analyst's Notes

After realizing the close correlation between the timing of the Chinese Communist government's third plenum and the onset of a declining rate at which carbon dioxide as measured at the geographically remote Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii was being added to Earth's atmosphere and the correlation we had previously noted between that rate and economic recessions in the U.S., we went back and reworked our previous presentation of the chart presented in this post to consider China's potential contribution to the variation in that rate.

The challenge for us in doing that is the secretive nature of China's totalitarian communist government, which hasn't acknowledged any recession in the nation's economy since the disaster of the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s.

To get around that limitation, we applied the data we regularly track for the exchange rate-adjusted, trailing twelve month average of the year-over-year growth rate of the value of goods that China imports from the United States, where we indicated any month since January 1986 in which that growth rate was recorded as being negative with blue vertical bars. The result was an almost uncanny correlation between a reduction in China's imports and a negative change in the trailing twelve month average of the rate at which carbon dioxide is added to Earth's atmosphere.

Our next problem was that our source trade data only extends back to January 1985. To fill in earlier periods of time, we focused on periods during which China was experiencing political turmoil, which we believe translated into economic turmoil. These periods are also indicated with blue vertical bars.

Our main takeaway from this portion of our analysis is that the reduction of economic growth in China is remarkably well correlated with negative changes in the rate at which carbon dioxide is added to Earth's atmosphere.

We also more clearly marked other periods of economic contraction in our chart that we had previously identified, such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its empire in the early 1990s (vertical green bars) and 1997's Asian Financial Crisis (vertical orange-yellow bars), as it would appear that both events reduced Earth's total economic activity enough to affect the Mauna Loa Observatory's carbon dioxide measurements as they occurred in real time. U.S. recessions and isolated quarters in which GDP growth was recorded as negative continue to be indicated with red shaded vertical bars.

We still have some areas in our carbon dioxide recession correlation chart for which we need to identify the corresponding recession, most notably the period from September 1962 to August 1965. Given that the period of time coincides with the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis and its escalation of the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. We suspect it may the result of economic sanctions that the U.S. government may have orchestrated against the Soviet Union in response to its placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba, which could have produced recessionary conditions within the Soviet Union and its satellite nation empire, but which we are as yet unable to confirm given that totalitarian socialist/communist government's secrecy and outright dishonesty about the state of its economy.

Previously on Political Calculations

Political Calculations. A Global Economic Indicator? [Online Article]. 12 February 2015.

Political Calculations. The World in Recession. [Online Article]. 11 June 2015.

Data Sources

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [File Transfer Protocol Text File]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

National Bureau of Economic Research. U.S. Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

U.S. Census Bureau. Trade in Goods with China. [Online Database]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. China / U.S. Foreign Exchange Rate. G.5 Foreign Exchange Rates. [Online Database]. Accessed 12 July 2015.


Song, Shige. Does famine influence sex ratio at birth? Evidence from the 1959–1961 Great Leap Forward Famine in China. Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Jul 22; 279(1739): 2883–2890. Published online 2012 Mar 28. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0320.

Lorenz, Andreas. The Chinese Cultural Revolution: Remembering Mao's Victims. Spiegel. [Online Article]. 15 May 2007. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Trueman, C.N. The Cultural Revolution. The History Learning Site. [Online Article. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Zheng, Haiping. The Gang of Four Trial. [Online Article]. 2010. Accessed 12 July 2015.

U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian. Milestones: 1989-1992: The Collapse of the Soviet Union. [Online Article]. 31 October 2013. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Kinzer, Stephen. Bitter Goodbye: Russians Leave Germany. New York Times. [Online Article]. 4 March 1994. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Frontline. The Crash: Timeline of the Panic. (Asian Financial Crisis). [Online Article]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Ong, Ryan. The Third Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress: A Primer. China Business Review. [Online Article]. 16 September 2013. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Bloomberg Brief. China's Transition: The Third Plenum - One Year On. [PDF Document]. October 2014. Accessed 13 July 2015.