Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
It’s morning here in Reno, and I thought I’d write a bit more about the Kaya Identity and the Beer Identity. My last post about the Kaya Identity was controversial, and I wanted to see if I could clarify my point. On the last thread, a commenter did a good job of laying out the objections to my work:
Sorry but I think you’ve all entirely misunderstood the point of the identity. The Kaya identity is a means of communicating the factors of which CO2 emissions are comprised, in order to explain the physical levers that are available if one wishes to control an economy’s CO2 emissions.
These are analogous to mathematical factors, for e.g. 6 = 3 x 2. This illustrates that 2 and 3 are factors of 6. This doesn’t prove anything mathematically – it’s just an identity. But it is informative nonetheless. It tells you that 6 can be broken down into factors of 2 and 3. In the same way, CO2 emissions can be broken down into factors of population, GDP per population, energy per population, and CO2 emissions per energy.
That is a very clear and succinct description of what the Kaya Identity is supposed to do. The only problem is … it doesn’t do that.
Let me take another shot at explaining why. To start with, the Kaya Identity states:
where “CO2 emissions” are the CO2 emissions of say a given country; “Population” is the population of that country; “GDP” is gross domestic production of the country, which is the total value of all the goods and services produced; and “Energy” is energy consumed by the country.
The Beer Identity, on the other hand, states the following:
Where all of the other variables have the same value as in the Kaya Identity, and “GBP” is gross beer production by the country.
I think that everyone would agree with those two definitions. They would also agree that both of them are clearly true.
Now, as the commenter said above, when we write
6 = 3 x 2
it tells us that six can be broken into factors of three and two. Not only that, but we can say that for example
(6 * 0.9) = 3 x (2 * 0.9)
That is to say, if we change one of the factors by e.g. multiplying it times 0.9, the total also changes by multiplying it by 0.9.
But is that true of the Beer Identity? Suppose we get more efficient at producing beer, so that it only takes 90& of the energy to make the same amount of beer. Will this decrease our CO2 production by 10%, such that
Well … no. It’s obvious that changing our beer production to make it 10% more energy-efficient will NOT reduce CO2 emissions by 10%. In other words, despite it being unquestionably true, we have no guarantee at all that such an identity actually reflects real world conditions. And the reason why it is not true is that it doesn’t include all of the factors that go into the emission of the CO2, it only includes the beer.
Now, I can hear you thinking that, well, it doesn’t work for gross beer production, but it does work for gross domestic production.
And up until yesterday, I was convinced that the Kaya Identity doesn’t work for GDP any more than it works for GBP … but I couldn’t figure out why. Then yesterday, as I was driving along the Lincoln Highway on my holiday with the gorgeous ex-fiancee, I realized the factor that is missing from the Kaya Identity is … me, driving along the Lincoln Highway on my holiday with my gorgeous ex-fiancee.
The problem is … I’m burning energy, and I’m emitting CO2, but I’m not part of the GDP. I’m not producing anything with that energy—no goods, no services, nothing. My CO2 emission is a part of the total, but it is not included in the Kaya Identity anywhere.
So in fact, the Kaya Identity does NOT tell us the “factors of which CO2 emissions are comprised, in order to explain the physical levers that are available if one wishes to control an economy’s CO2 emissions” as the commenter said.
And that to me is the problem with the Kaya Identity. It’s not that it is false. It is that it gives a false sense of security that we’ve included everything, when in fact we haven’t. And because it looks like mathematical truth, we have folks who take it as gospel, and object strongly when it is questioned or laughed at. Steven Mosher thinks I was wrong to laugh at the Kaya Identity, and I do respect his and the other opinions on the matter, his science-fu is strong … but in fact, the Kaya Identity is no more complete than the Beer Identity, which is why I laughed at it.
So that’s my objection. It’s not that the Kaya Identity is false. It can’t be, by definition its true.
It is that it gives the false impression of mathematical certitude, the impression that it represents the real world, the idea that it identifies the “factors of which CO2 emissions are comprised” … but it doesn’t. This false certainty, because people think it’s “mathematically demonstrable”, leads people to not question whether it applies to the real world.
Finally, in closing let me repeat something I said in the comments on the first thread, which likely didn’t get seen because it was somewhere down around the five hundredth comment.
l hear rumblings that people think that Anthony shouldn’t have published this piece of mine, or should disavow it in some fashion. This totally misunderstands both what Watts Up With That (WUWT) does, and Anthony’s position in the game. The strength of WUWT is not that it is always right or that it publishes only the best stuff that’s guaranteed to be valid.
The beauty and value of WUWT that it is the world’s premier location for public peer review of climate science. On a personal level, the public peer review afforded by WUWT is of immense use to me, because my work either gets falsified or not very quickly … or else, as in this case, there’s an interesting ongoing debate. For me, being shown to be wrong is more valuable than being shown to be right. If I’m right, well, I thought so to begin with or I wouldn’t have published it, and it doesn’t change my direction.
But if someone can point out my mistakes, it saves me endless time following blind alleys and wrong paths. And my opinions on the Kaya Identity may indeed be wrong.
There is much value in this public defenestration of some hapless piece of bad science, whether it is mine or someone else’s. It is important to know not only which ideas are wrong, but exactly why they are wrong. When Anthony publishes scientific claims from the edges of the field, generally they are quickly either confirmed or falsified. This is hugely educational for scientists of all kinds, to know how to counter some of the incorrect arguments, as well as giving room for those unusual ideas which tomorrow may be mainstream ideas.
So it is not Anthony’s job to determine whether or not the work of the guest authors will stand the harsh light of public exposure. That’s the job of the peer reviewers, who are you and I and everyone making defensible supported scientific comments. Even if Anthony had a year to analyze and dissect each piece, he couldn’t do that job. There’s no way that one man’s wisdom can substitute for that of the crowd in the free marketplace of scientific ideas. Bear in mind that even with peer review, something like two-thirds of peer-reviewed science is falsified within a year, and Anthony is making judgements, publish or don’t publish, on dozens of papers every week.
So please, dear friends, cut Anthony some slack. He’s just providing the arena wherein in 2014 we practice the blood sport of science, the same sport we’ve had for a few hundred years now, ripping the other guys ideas to bits, also known as trying to scientifically falsify another person’s claims that you think don’t hold water. It is where we can get a good reading on whether the ideas will stand up to detailed hostile examination.
It is not Anthony’s job to decide if mine or any other ideas and expositions and claims will withstand that test of time … and indeed, it is often of value for him to publish things that will not stand the test of time, so that we can understand exactly where they are lacking.
So please don’t fill up the poor man’s email box with outrage simply because you think a post is not scientifically valid enough to be published. Send your emails to the guest author instead, or simply post your objections in a comment on the thread. Anthony is just providing the boxing ring. It is not his job to predict in advance who is going to win the fight. His job is to fill the fight cards with interesting bouts … and given the number of comments on my previous post about the Beer Identity, and the huge popularity of his website, he is doing it very well.
Regards to each and all of you, my best to Mosher and all the folks who have commented, and my great thanks to Anthony for the huge amount of work he does behind the scenes to keep this all going. I’m on the road again, and my highway CO2 emissions are still not included in the Kaya Identity …
As Always: If you disagree with something that someone has said, please have the courtesy to quote their exact words. It avoids much confusion and misunderstanding.