Friday, February 08, 2008

RSS Satellite data for Jan08: 2nd coldest January for the planet in 15 years

See new graph of global deltaT for the past year below. There has been a global drop in temperature of 0.63 degrees Centigrade in the past 12 months. Of course we already have had a heads up from all the wire reports around the world talking about the significant winter weather events that have occurred worldwide in the last month, but until now, there hasn’t been a measure of how the planet was doing for the winter of 2007/2008.

Remote Sensing Systems of Santa Rosa just posted the latest MSU (Microwave Sounder Unit) data. January posted a -.08øC near global anomaly between -70S and 82.5N latitude (the viewshed of the satellite sounder). That makes it the coldest month since January 2000, and the 2nd coldest January for the planet in 15 years. Both northern and southern hemispheres posted negative anomalies of -.120øC and -.038øC respectively, happening for the first time since January 2000. The United States posted a -.557øC anomaly for January 2008 and a -0.196øC anomaly for December 2007.

Here is my plot of the raw, unedited Global anomaly data (-70S to 82.5N) supplied by RSS per month. Note that the anomaly trend between late 2007 and early 2008 is quite steep and that the period leading up to 2008 is relatively flat.


click for a larger image Note: RSS Data Version 3.1


I decided to plot a magnified graph to show the global change in temperature over the last year from January 2007 to January 2008, the deltaT of -0.629øC is quite significant for a 12 month period, rivaled in the last 10 years only by the 1998 El Nino warming peak.


Click for a larger image Note: RSS Data Version 3.1

Probable cause- [Una] Nina muy grande. It looks like we may have a PDO shift as well. But as some say, trying to correlate such things is a “fools errand”. But, judge for yourself.


click for a larger image

We live in interesting times

More here

The Recovery from the Little Ice Age and Global Warming

By Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu (Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu was the founding director of the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks from its establishment in 1998 until January of 2007. He has been professor of geophysics since 1964 and has published more than 550 professional journal articles. In 2002, he was named one of the "1000 Most Cited Scientists.")

A roughly linear global temperature increase of about 0.5øC per 100 years seems to have occurred from about 1800, or even much earlier, to the present. This value may be compared with what the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists consider to be the manmade greenhouse effect of 0.6øC per 100 years. This long-lasting linear warming trend is likely to be a natural change.

One possible cause of the linear increase may be Earth's continuing recovery from the Little Ice Age. This trend (0.5øC/100 years) should be subtracted from the temperature data during the last 100 years when estimating the manmade contribution to the present global warming trend. Thus, there is a possibility that only a fraction of the present warming trend is attributable to the greenhouse effect resulting from human activities. This conclusion is contrary to the 2007 IPCC Report (p.10), which states that "most" of the present warming is due to the manmade greenhouse effect.

There is an urgent need to correctly identify natural changes and remove them from the present global warming trend in order to accurately identify the contribution of the manmade greenhouse effect. One certain way to learn about natural changes is to examine climate change before the greenhouse effect of human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) became significant.

Unfortunately, I have found that the recent great interest by the public in climatology is largely the result of a proliferating number of confusing stories in the media that are based on misinterpreted information about the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. Many people bring up the misunderstood issues when I discuss the present warming trend. The confused people even include some policy-makers and government officials.

For example, the mass media use scenes of large blocks of ice falling off the terminus of a glacier and of the spring break-up in the Arctic as supposedly due to the manmade greenhouse effect. Glaciers are "rivers of ice," so that calving is natural, and spring break-up is a normal, annual event; both have been going on from the geological time. A number of glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, Himalaya, and the European Alps, which have accurate historic records, began to recede well before 1900 or even 1800. The recession is something that has not begun abruptly in recent years.

Another example is that the mass media report that collapsing houses built on permafrost (frozen ground) are the result of the manmade greenhouse effect. Their collapse is due to improper construction that allows the house heat to melt the permafrost underneath the structure. Reporters who are not familiar with arctic phenomena tend to report such normal occurences as anomalous.

The so-called "hockey stick" figure in the 2001 "Summary Report for Policy Makers" is still a matter of scientific debate and it was not appropriate to use it. (It shows a sudden increase of temperature around 1900 after a slow decrease for 900 years, giving the impression of "abrupt climate change.") The public is greatly alarmed and thus concerned about climate change largely because of such misinformation and misunderstanding.

I am concerned about the inevitable backlash against science and scientists, when the public eventually learns the correct information about climate change. Even if the IPCC is not directly responsible for the present confusion, they should take the necessary responsible action to help rectify the confusion. I request that the IPCC make an appropriate statement in this regard before the next G8 meeting in May 2008.


Global-Warming Jujitsu

From the NYT!

Suppose that the pessimistic forecasts of global warming are accurate. Suppose that the planet's temperature rises according to the high-end scenario of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and that we experience the economic and social impacts (like hunger, malaria and coastal flooding) projected by the much-publicized Stern Review sponsored by the British government. Does that mean our best course of action is to quickly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?

That's the question addressed in a new report by Indur Goklany for the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank that has taken issue with many of the dire predictions about global warming. What's interesting about this report is that it works from the assumption that the dire forecasts are accurate, even the Stern Review, which has been severely criticized for exaggerating the economic costs of global warming. (See, for instance, the critiques by the Yale economist William Nordhaus in the journal Science and in this article article from the Journal of Economic Literature.) Dr. Goklany accepts the Stern Review's grim numbers and looks at the I.P.C.C.'s various scenarios, which project different levels of warming and sea-level rise depending on the the rate of economic growth, energy use and other factors.

"The surprising conclusion using the Stern Review's own estimates," Dr. Goklany writes, "is that future generations will be better off in the richest but warmest" of the I.P.C.C.'s scenarios. He concludes that cutting emissions will do much less good than encouraging sustainable development in poor countries and policies of "focused adaptation" to deal with disease and environmental problems like coastal flooding. For a fifth the cost of the Kyoto Protocol, he calculates, these adaptation policies could yield more immediate and also long-term benefits than would a policy that entirely halted global warming (which would cost far, far more than Kyoto). He argues that this path isn't merely an economic but also a moral imperative:

For the foreseeable future, people will be wealthier-and their well-being higher-than is the case for present generations both in the developed and developing worlds and with or without climate change. The well-being of future inhabitants in today's developing world would exceed that of the inhabitants of today's developed world under all but the poorest scenario. Future generations should, moreover, have greater access to human capital and technology to address whatever problems they might face, including climate change. Hence the argument that we should shift resources from dealing with the real and urgent problems confronting present generations to solving potential problems of tomorrow's wealthier and better positioned generations is unpersuasive at best and verging on immoral at worst.

Other people, of course, may have different moral views. Dr. Goklany focuses on measures of the physical well-being of humans; others may attach more importance to the spiritual value and esthetic benefits of preserving ecosystems. But I think he points to a real risk in making large sacrifices today to address problems that will be easier to address when people are richer and more technologically advanced. If anything, Dr. Goklany writes, his calculations underestimate the capacity of future generations to deal with these problems because they'll have technologies we can't imagine today (just as the advocates of draconian population-control policies during the 1960s didn't envision that future famines would be averted thanks to improvements in agriculture).

It can be argued that we're rich enough to afford both the focused-adaptation policies and other steps to cut emissions (like the carbon tax that I keep advocating). But resources are limited, particularly when you're trying persuade voters in rich countries to send their money to poor countries. Dr. Goklany, who works at the office of policy analysis at the Department of Interior and was part of the U.S. delegation at the recent Bali climate conference, raises good questions about what our priorities should be. Here's his summary of what different policies can accomplish:

Halting climate change would reduce cumulative mortality from various climate-sensitive threats, namely, hunger, malaria, and coastal flooding, by 4-10 percent in 2085, while increasing populations at risk from water stress and possibly worsening matters for biodiversity. But according to cost information from the U.N. Millennium Program and the I.P.C.C., measures focused specifically on reducing vulnerability to these threats would reduce cumulative mortality from these risks by 50-75 percent at a fraction of the cost of reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs). Simultaneously, such measures would reduce major hurdles to the developing world's sustainable economic development, the lack of which is why it is most vulnerable to climate change. Can we afford to do both? If so, how? If not, what should be our priority?


British wind farms: Blowing money on a fantasy

My electricity company has just sent me a handwringing letter, explaining why, despite its best efforts to keep costs down, my bill is set to soar again this year. The reason - apart from the usual rapacious profits enjoyed by our power suppliers - is a hidden subsidy paid towards the development of wind farms. In the last financial year, electricity consumers were forced to pay a total of 600million pounds in subsidy to the owners of wind turbines. This figure is due to rise to 3billion a year by 2020 as vast areas of the most beautiful parts of the country will be pockmarked with 500fthigh windmills.

The sudden growth in this area of energy supply is because the green lobby has convinced many that this renewable power source is the answer to our looming energy crisis. But the truth is that not only do renewables provide a mere 1.3 per cent of the country's energy needs but also that this money is being wasted. The subsidy system works on the principle of encouraging the development of new wind farms by forcing traditional energy companies to pay producers of renewable energy. The firms then recoup the money by charging consumers higher bills.

After an initial surge in the number of new wind farms, few are currently being built. The most obvious sites, far from human habitation, have already been filled and energy firms are now facing delays in obtaining planning permission to build in more environmentally sensitive locations. As a result, the huge subsidy is concentrated in a small number of hands. There is a rising amount of money for renewable energy and if less is produced each turbine gets more of the pot. At current subsidy rates, anyone who constructs a wind farm, which is expected to last for a minimum of 20 years, will have paid off their investment in only five years. From then on, its profit all the way to the bank.

John Constable, director of policy at the Renewable Energy Foundation, says that the system "has encouraged underperforming onshore wind turbines in low wind areas. Though of little engineering value, such plants attract speculators because they require little capital investment". As a result, consumers will soon be paying billions in unnecessary subsidy to a bunch of sharp-suited businessmen who have spotted an opportunity for easy money.

But the wind farm disaster story does not, by any means, end here. Even in the unlikely event that ministers managed to get the subsidy system right, there would still remain fundamental problems with wind power. First, the fact that the turbines stand idle when the wind doesn't blow. This leaves gas or coal power stations to be switched on and off at a moment's notice to fill the gap - something that is very environmentally inefficient.

Second, even if you accept that it's worth desecrating some of the most beautiful parts of Britain in pursuit of a renewable energy policy, you then must transport the energy to a population centre. That means building an expensive infrastructure of new power lines.

The third problem is the potential threat wildlife (including rare birds colliding with the blades) and the damage to quality of life of those people who live near the wind farms. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors estimates that the price of house located close to a new turbine falls by 20 per cent, if the owners are able to sell it at all.

Of course, none of this much matters while the turbines are out of sight, but that could be about to change. Although Britain currently has nearly 2,000 onshore turbines; ministers have signed up to European targets on renewables that will mean 7,000 more. The Government claims that most of these will be built offshore, but that's not true because the costs of building in deep water are still too high.

Finally, there is the revelation that wind farms stop the Ministry of Defence's radar working, so we can forget about early warning of an airborne attack.

Behind all this is one certainty: Britain is facing a looming energy crisis. Our ageing nuclear power plants, which currently provide 20 per cent of our energy, are nearing the end of their useful life. The Government, having dithered for years, wants to build new ones but says that, unlike renewables, there will be no subsidies or price guarantees for the nuclear industry. If they really mean this, then the energy companies won't build any reactors, because the commercial risks will be too great. That will mean Britain becomes even more dependent on gas power stations, at a time when our supplies of North Sea gas are running out.

We will have to import our supplies from unstable Middle Eastern nations, or from Russia, whose leaders have already shown they are happy to turn off the gas tap to make a political point. Britain could be held to energy ransom; even plunged into darkness.

Meanwhile we waste time fiddling with wind power. The solution in the medium term is a proper commitment to nuclear energy which, like wind power, doesn't generate greenhouse gases. Also, we should be funding for research into wave and tidal power - surely the long-term answer for an island nation like Britain. As for wind, ministers should cut off the funding tap, and use the money to help reduce our obscenely high electricity bills.


Academic Travel Causes Global Warming

OK, the headline is a stretch. However, it is true that air travel puts large amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, soot, and even water vapor directly into the atmosphere, all of which makes an inordinate and unsustainable contribution to global warming.

And academics do fly - a lot. As the environmental writer and activist Mark Lynas argued in the New Statesman: "Probably the single most polluting thing you or I will ever do is step on a plane."

Ian Roberts and Fiona Godlee published an editorial in the British Medical Journal on the "carbon footprint of medical conferences." They determined that flights destined for the annual conferences of the European Respiratory Society and the American Thoracic Society put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than do 110,000 Chadians or 11,000 Indians in an entire year. The problem does not end with medical researchers. Scholars of all stripes travel to meet, greet, and, in one of our more ironic roles, preach the gospel of sustainability.

How do we reduce our contradictions or, better yet, our carbon emissions? The solutions are obvious, which is why no one wants to talk about them. They would require sacrifice, or at least a new way of thinking about and conducting our professional lives. Bring up the issue among a gathering of scholars and you will get something like the following responses:

* "I know that flying is an environmental problem, but travel is essential to my work (and I really like San Francisco in the fall)."

* "My research is a collaborative enterprise. I need to discuss it with colleagues face-to-face (over wine and cheese)."

* "The importance of my research outweighs the environmental costs of air travel."

All of those points are reasonable (despite my parenthetical interjections). However, only the third argument directly engages the issue. And in some cases it might be accurate. The environmental costs of flights by scientists whose research, teaching, and outreach deal with environmental problems might be offset by their contributions to the development of sustainable policies, practices, and technologies.

But what about the rest of us? Take a conference I attended last year in Amsterdam. I flew 6,687 kilometers from Minneapolis to Holland to attend a virtual-ethnography workshop. We discussed such problems as research ethics, the transference of traditional ethnographic methods to the Internet, and differences between computer-mediated communication and face-to-face interactions. It was a fascinating set of discussions and a great opportunity to interact with leaders in that new field.

However, there is more than a little irony in flying thousands of miles to discuss virtual modes of communication. As several colleagues and friends back home asked, "Couldn't you do that from here?"

Unfortunately, the environmental potential of virtual technologies remained outside the discussion in Amsterdam. As is true throughout the academic world - perhaps with the exception of British thoracic specialists - no one seems interested in discussing the matter.

Perhaps that is because our most sacred privilege is at stake. We love to travel. To borrow a line from the Book of Luke, "What then must we do?" Although cash-strapped administrators would love to see us travel less, most professors would be unwilling to give up the big trips. Conferences are viewed as equal parts opportunity, obligation, and perk. Probationary faculty members, in particular, feel an obligation to present at the relevant disciplinary conferences.

Maybe instead of thinking about the issue in terms of limitations, it is better to think about new opportunities. Good alternatives exist. Among the most promising is videoconferencing.

Last year a group of students, a colleague, and I hosted a videoconference session with Nicole Constable of the University of Pittsburgh, the author of Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and "Mail Order" Marriages (University of California Press, 2003). Rather than fly Nicole to our campus, we asked her to take an hour to interact with us via video link. While we encountered some technological and logistical difficulties, the event demonstrated how rich and useful videoconferencing could be if conducted on a larger scale. Distance educators have discovered the potential of videoconferencing, and so should the rest of academe.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, where I teach, has invested in user-friendly videoconferencing technology, and we are starting to experiment with ways to replace carbon-based forms of collaboration, at least in cases where live conferencing is difficult or unwarranted.

Of course, we are not alone. The University of Texas system has taken a strong lead in academic videoconferencing, and many institutions have discovered the economic, logistical, and ecological benefits of working in electronically mediated environments. Several scholars and organizations have even started to hold meetings in Second Life and other virtual environments.

As for offline travel, a renaissance in regional conferencing would go a long way toward reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions. Currently, many scholars overlook regional conferences and prefer to attend high-profile national and international meetings.

Granted, Miami is more appealing than Minneapolis in the winter, and our grad-school buddies probably won't attend the regional meeting. Nevertheless, some substitution of regional meetings for national and global ones would help us replace the plane with train, bus, or car, all of which are less destructive than air travel.

Oil is a tough drug to quit. It takes us on the most amazing trips. Sometimes we really do need to go, but in other cases it is an unnecessary anodyne. How many times have you found yourself thinking, "Did I really need to fly to New York to hear that?" Let's face it, academic research is usually better read than recited.

Those whose field sites are situated in other parts of the world find it difficult to avoid flying. However, when we can reduce air travel yet still maintain meaningful research and teaching practices, why wouldn't we? Put in social terms, why should the rest of society take our research conclusions seriously if we don't take the most significant scientific consensus of our time to heart?

I would write more, but it is time to go. The gate agent has called for rows 31 and higher to board the plane.



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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