Did you ever watch any of the TV series Connections by James Burke? I used to love it. I was at school at the time and I was hooked right from the first series. All the shows/series can be watched here.
Well, what connects a pint of Guinness, a 19th Century Irish Mathematician, the IPCC’s estimates of climate sensitivity, the mining industry and a climate blogger?
Recently I found myself sharing a pint with a friend and expert I’d gone to consult, someone I’ve known for years, an engineer who applies computer simulations to modelling water flow.
Our conversation turned to the dark brew itself. Watching a pint of Guinness settle is mesmerising.
Counterintuitively the bubbles seem to fall down the side of the glass. It has been the subject of many a conversation in bars all around the world, and the subject of research, which of course used computer simulations – computational fluid dynamics, or CFD. A quick Google search for “Guinness bubbles CFD” throws up plenty of explanatory links. Here’s one from Monarch, an American distributor of Guinness: Do the Bubbles in a Glass of Guinness Beer Go Up or Down?
…with the help of CFD, we can provide a categorical and definitive answer: the bubbles go both up and down.
Now CFD relies upon the Navier-Stokes equations for fluid flow and Monarch deftly weaves in a useful fact – George Stokes was Irish, which conveniently links him with pints of the black stuff.
Back in 1992 Navier-Stokes equations were the subject of the PhD thesis of a certain German mathematician who then got a job in the Max-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie. Gabi Hegerl thus began her career in climate science that would ultimately result in her involvement and leading role in the IPCC. As Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 9 (Understanding and Attributing Climate Change) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), Working Group I, she was responsible for the publication of estimations of climate sensitivity recently dissected by Nic Lewis in a guest post over at Climate Etc.:
Here, I demonstrate an error in the core scientific report (WGI) that came about through the IPCC’s alteration of a peer-reviewed result. This error is highly consequential, since it involves the only instrumental evidence that is climate-model independent cited by the IPCC as to the probability distribution of climate sensitivity, and it substantially increases the apparent risk of high warming from increases in CO2 concentration. (bold mine)
Of course climate sensitivity and the risk of high warming is what is fuelling the whole political crusade and environmental imperative that we must do something – NOW! So on the basis of the deliberations of a small group of scientists the world is asked to commit billions to reduce CO2 production. But while the rest of the world dithers, back tracks and refuses to commit to carbon taxes, the UK, Europe and Australia buy the hype and Julia Gillard pushes unpopular Carbon Taxes.
The theory goes like this:
- The free market does not include the ‘true societal cost’ of intensive production (which includes impacts due to CO2 – namely global warming).
- Adding a tax will internalise this external, societal cost
- Pushing up the costs of goods produced intensively will level the playing field; consumers will pay the social cost of their materialistic desires.
However industry is concerned. The fear overall of course is that production will shift to countries with no carbon taxes or lower ones.
For example coal is Australia’s biggest export industry, and the Minerals Council of Australia said the tax could cost the industry A$25 billion to 2020 and 20,000 jobs. But sustainable mining is an area in which Australia aspires to lead the world. From CSIRO minerals division:
“Australia is blessed with both mineral and environmental richness. An important challenge for the minerals industry is to manage and reduce any tensions between the two. We must ensure that utilising our mineral resources does not come at the expense of the environment. The industry can only operate through the existence of an informal social ‘licence to operate’. This ‘licence’ is located in societal expectations that the impacts of mineral operations are outweighed by the benefits they bring. As the future unfolds, societal expectations and acceptance of this trade-off may change. However, as the mineral sector is critical to Australia’s prosperity, it is vital that Australia develops and employs innovative technologies to minimise the impacts and maximise the benefits of mineral operations.”
For me there’s a huge disconnect that on one hand CSIRO has a huge Mineral Processing division which supports research and innovation in the mining industry (including CFD modelling), but on the other hand it has just established a new climate change research team. It is trying to shore up the sector on one hand while helping to pull the rug from under its feet with the other.
Perhaps it only makes sense if you are a true believer in CAGW, whereas obviously I am not.
There’s one final connection that brings the story back full circle. From the Guinness bubbles article:
If George Stokes was alive today would he be a CFD practitioner? Probably, according to Nick Stokes, his great-great-grandson. It so happens that Nick Stokes is a Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO, […] and a world-recognized CFD expert.
Now it took Kevin to make the connection, which did not immediately jump out at me, but yes, if the name is familiar to climate bloggers, it is the self-same person.