Monday, March 03, 2008

Climate Skeptics Seize on Cold Spell

In the article below, the NYT covers the present skeptical conference in NYC. The Green/Left are outraged at even this cautious coverage. See Comment 9 on the NYT blog, for instance

The world has seen some extraordinary winter conditions in both hemispheres over the past year: snow in Johannesburg last June and in Baghdad in January, Arctic sea ice returning with a vengeance after a record retreat last summer, paralyzing blizzards in China, and a sharp drop in the globe's average temperature. It is no wonder that some scientists, opinion writers, political operatives and other people who challenge warnings about dangerous human-caused global warming have jumped on this as a teachable moment.

"Earth's `Fever' Breaks: Global COOLING Currently Under Way," read a blog post and news release on Wednesday from Marc Morano, the communications director for the Republican minority on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

So what is happening? According to a host of climate experts, including some who question the extent and risks of global warming, it is mostly good old-fashioned weather, along with a cold kick from the tropical Pacific Ocean, which is in its La Ni¤a phase for a few more months, a year after it was in the opposite warm El Ni¤o pattern.

If anything else is afoot - like some cooling related to sunspot cycles or slow shifts in ocean and atmospheric patterns that can influence temperatures - an array of scientists who have staked out differing positions on the overall threat from global warming agree that there is no way to pinpoint whether such a new force is at work.

Many scientists also say that the cool spell in no way undermines the enormous body of evidence pointing to a warming world with disrupted weather patterns, less ice and rising seas should heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and forests continue to accumulate in the air. "The current downturn is not very unusual," said Carl Mears, a scientist at Remote Sensing Systems, a private research group in Santa Rosa, Calif., that has been using satellite data to track global temperature and whose findings have been held out as reliable by a variety of climate experts. He pointed to similar drops in 1988, 1991-92, and 1998, but with a long-term warming trend clear nonetheless. "Temperatures are very likely to recover after the La Ni¤a event is over," he said.

Mr. Morano, in an e-mail message, was undaunted, saying turnabout is fair play: "Fair is fair. Noting (not hyping) an unusually harsh global winter is merely pointing out the obvious. Dissenters of a man-made `climate crisis' are using the reality of this record-breaking winter to expose the silly warming alarmism that the news media and some scientists have been ceaselessly promoting for decades."

More clucking about the cold is likely over the next several days. The Heartland Institute, a public policy research group in Chicago opposed to regulatory approaches to environmental problems, is holding a conference in Times Square on Monday and Tuesday aimed at exploring questions about the cause and dangers of climate change.

The event will convene an array of scientists, economists, statisticians and libertarian commentators holding a dizzying range of views on the changing climate - from those who see a human influence but think it is not dangerous, to others who say global warming is a hoax, the sun's fault or beneficial. Many attendees say it is the dawn of a new paradigm. But many climate scientists and environmental campaigners say it is the skeptics' last stand.

Michael E. Schlesinger, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said that any focus on the last few months or years as evidence undermining the established theory that accumulating greenhouse gases are making the world warmer was, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a harmful distraction. Discerning a human influence on climate, he said, "involves finding a signal in a noisy background." He added, "The only way to do this within our noisy climate system is to average over a sufficient number of years that the noise is greatly diminished, thereby revealing the signal. This means that one cannot look at any single year and know whether what one is seeing is the signal or the noise or both the signal and the noise."

The shifts in the extent and thickness of sea ice in the Arctic (where ice has retreated significantly in recent summers) and Antarctic (where the area of floating sea ice has grown lately) are similarly hard to attribute to particular influences.

Interviews and e-mail exchanges with half a dozen polar climate and ice experts last week produced a rough consensus: Even with the extensive refreezing of Arctic waters in the deep chill of the sunless boreal winter, the fresh-formed ice remains far thinner than the yards-thick, years-old ice that dominated the region until the 1990s. That means the odds of having vast stretches of open water next summer remain high, many Arctic experts said.

"Climate skeptics typically take a few small pieces of the puzzle to debunk global warming, and ignore the whole picture that the larger science community sees by looking at all the pieces," said Ignatius G. Rigor, a climate scientist at the Polar Science Center of the University of Washington in Seattle. He said the argument for a growing human influence on climate laid out in last year's reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or I.P.C.C., was supported by evidence from many fields. "I will admit that we do not have all the pieces," Dr. Rigor said, "but as the I.P.C.C. reports, the preponderance of evidence suggests that global warming is real." As for the Arctic, he said, "Yes, this year's winter ice extent is higher than last year's, but it is still lower than the long-term mean." Dr. Rigor said next summer's ice retreat, despite the regrowth of thin fresh-formed ice now, could still surpass last year's, when nearly all of the Arctic Ocean between Alaska and Siberia was open water.

Some scientists who strongly disagree with each other on the extent of warming coming in this century, and on what to do about it, agreed that it was important not to be tempted to overinterpret short-term swings in climate, either hot or cold. Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist and commentator with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, has long chided environmentalists and the media for overstating connections between extreme weather and human-caused warming. (He is on the program at the skeptics' conference.) But Dr. Michaels said that those now trumpeting global cooling should beware of doing the same thing, saying that the "predictable distortion" of extreme weather "goes in both directions."

Gavin A. Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan who has spoken out about the need to reduce greenhouse gases, disagrees with Dr. Michaels on many issues, but concurred on this point. "When I get called by CNN to comment on a big summer storm or a drought or something, I give the same answer I give a guy who asks about a blizzard," Dr. Schmidt said. "It's all in the long-term trends. Weather isn't going to go away because of climate change. There is this desire to explain everything that we see in terms of something you think you understand, whether that's the next ice age coming or global warming."


WSJ writer wonders if the skeptics have friends in high places:

There's snow in Baghdad, and global temperatures have seen their biggest one-year change-in this case, downward-in recorded history. So is global warming kaput?Cooler weather has the blogosphere alight with speculation about the climate's real changes. Short-term temperature moves fire up both camps. From Planet Gore:
Hopefully this will cool the hysteria in the U.S. Congress and parliaments around the world so that we can understand the science of our climate before we pursue policies that could wreck our economy and quality of life

Environmental Defense says one month does not a trend make:
Global warming is a process that occurs over decades. It can't be proven or disproven by a single month's temperature

There are theories for all tastes. Daily Tech started it all, arguing that last year's nippy weather "wipes out a century of warming." Energy Outlook pored through the data and points at the sea. Maybe it's the sun? Environmental Economics did the heavy lifting, parsed all the sunspot data from Goddard, and concluded that's not to blame:
The current downturn in temperatures may be caused by a valley in the sunspot cycle. But that doesn't mean that global cooling is taking place. It just means that temperatures are likely to be more variable until sunspot activity increases again

Whether it's sunspots, La Nina, or something else altogether, the timing couldn't be better for the Heartland Institute, set to host a global warming skeptics powow Monday on Broadway. Friends in high places?


"Droughts" as an excuse for bureaucracy

Once again, for the umpteenth time this month, I arrive at work soaking wet. Just getting from the car to the front door of the Mises Institute is like going through the rinse cycle - and umbrellas just aren't my thing. What's striking is how this weather pattern follows a year of dire warnings from government officials about the deadly drought that is destroying the region, as you can easily see from the government's own US Drought Assessment maps.

Actually, these are interesting maps. They give the impression that the whole of the nation is a parched land that vacillates between persistent drought and improving droughts. Nowhere is listed as "soaked" or "just the right amount of rain." And if you reflect on government announcements of these things, all places seem to fall into one of three categories: catastrophic flooding, catastrophic drought, or forgettable.

Some years ago, the head of the local bureaucracy in charge of the distribution of water was quoted in the newspaper along these lines: "If these conditions persist, rationing will certainly become necessary." If these conditions persist? That's quite the assumption. We could say during the next rainfall: "If these conditions persist, it will become necessary for everyone to build an ark." Conditions never persist. They change. Bureaucrats really hate that.

One suspects that these same people love droughts. Droughts give them power, not just over the aggregate use of water. They enjoy pressing people on the smallest details of life. They get to tell you that you must take short showers. They tell you that you must flush less. They impose a profound sense of guilt on your for watering the basil growing in your window box.

Droughts can turn the most innocent public employee into the moral equivalent of a Gestapo agent, issuing dictates and imposing fines, ferreting out the water thieves, all in the name of the public interest.

Droughts turn neighbor against neighbor, and force the whole of everyone into the criminal class, reduced to sneaking around at night to water tomato plants. Droughts make everyone feel dependent on the state. We must read their rules, such as, "Even-numbered houses may water their lawns from 4am to 6am, Monday, Thursday, and Sunday." So rain, rain, go away. That's their theme.

Bureaucrat International has a common feature: loathing of "consumerism." Whereas people want to have choice over how they spend their money, bureaucrats want us to suffer constantly, and be intensely aware of what we use, trusting not the price system to determine our consumption patterns but rather obey regulations and strictures.

Note that no drought ever officially ends. The papers are packed with warnings of impending doom during the worst of it. But when the torrents of rain come - and they invariably do, eventually - there is no press release that says something along the lines of: "Praise Be to God, the drought is over. Use as much water as you are willing to pay for!" Never, never, never. They never say this. They would rather that we carry with us some sense that the drought is never really over, since, after all, it could come again.

The core of the problem here has nothing to do with rain and changing weather patterns. The weather has in fact been changing since the dawn of time. What creates the problem is public ownership of the means of production and the utterly irrational system under which the price doesn't change regardless of availability. There is no real profitability here. Nor are there losses. So there is no economic calculation going on. Prices are determined by extra-market indicators.

Think of the difference with the market system. Every day we are enticed to consume every product you can imagine: cars, celery, computers, anything. There is constant calibrating of supply and demand. If anyone attempts to overprice a product and make profits, another entrepreneur sweeps in to offer the same for less and draw profits away. Innovation is everywhere, so that supplies are required to adopt the latest thing in order to stay afloat. No profits are permanent. They are always and everywhere threatened. These days, this happens almost overnight.

Now think of the difference with public water markets, in which the theme is always: you are using too much. Interesting isn't it? Why is this? It's because the market is not being allowed to work. This has nothing to do with the product in question. If you doubt it, make a visit to your local grocery and the bottled water section in particular. There are vast numbers of choices, with each supplier begging you to consume. But in public water markets, they demand that you conserve. State ownership and management of the means of production are the key reason. Privatize - completely privatize - the supply of water and a change would emerge overnight.

People immediately respond that this is a crazy idea. Streams, lakes, reservoirs, and water towers can't be owned privately! But is that really so? There are many cases of partial privatization on record, though as this entry suggest, the mandates are extreme. No doubt that there are efficiency gains that come with contracting out and privatized but regulated markets. The best solution is the same one that applies to all of the areas of life that are considered public goods, from trash collection and disposal to schools and defense: the government should get out of the business entirely.

Talk about opposition. Labor unions go bonkers when presented with the idea. Bureaucrats do too. Even religious groups have gotten in on the act. See, for example, the growing movement of Nuns Against Bottled Water. Presbyterians for Restoring Creation are circulating pledges for people to sign that foreswear drinking bottled water. These people claim that we shouldn't have to pay for what should be a free gift from God. But, oddly, these same people don't seem to have a problem with people's paying of the government's water bill.

Look, it's not complicated: drought is another name for shortage. Government is capable of creating a shortage in any good through bureaucratic management. Prices do not respond to supply and demand, and a lack of innovation characterizes production. We see this in schooling, mails, defense, courts, and every other area in which government enjoys a monopoly. It shouldn't surprise us that the same is true in water provision. Instead of blaming Mother Nature and the consumer, the water commissioners should look closer to home to see why everyone is required to live in fear and is reduced to doing rain dances to keep the water gods happy.


Here Come the Green Car-Jackers

No amount of energy efficiency will ever do the trick -- the only way to save the planet is to surrender your car altogether. That's the conclusion reached by a group of Australian energy experts from last week's partial release of Professor Ross Garnaut's long-awaited climate change report. You may recall that this was the very analysis Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told last year's Bali conference he must await before embracing specific targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Well, the wait is over, the cherry-picked facts are in and the hysteria is in full bloom. As reported by The Age:
"Based on the latest science, the report warns that the world is speeding towards more dangerous levels of climate change than previously thought, levels that are a byproduct of increasing carbon dioxide emissions that are a consequence of unexpectedly high growth in the world economy, particularly China. This, [Garnaut] suggests, renders the Bali framework for tackling climate change inadequate and means that emission cuts will have to be deeper, and sooner. If nothing is done, it will be to the greater cost to Australia, and the world."

Deeper and sooner seem to be the trend of late, as does the magic number 450 as the threshold we dare not cross. But, based on the latest science? And they refer to anthropogenic global warming skeptics as the deniers? For the record, here's the latest science.
Following a rapid rise between 1978 and 1998 corresponding to exceptionally high solar activity, global temperatures were flat between 1998 and 2006 and the planet has just experienced its coldest January in 15 years. China is suffering through its coldest winter in 100 years, the same winter which saw the first snow ever recorded falling on Baghdad. Antarctic ice is currently at record levels. New Englanders are digging out nonstop from record snowfall. And similar signs of a cooling trend are being reported worldwide.

Adding empirical measurement to scientific observation, intrepid Meteorologist Anthony Watts recently compiled the results of four "major well respected indicators" to arrive at a global average temperature drop between January 2007 and January 2008 of 0.6405øC. That figure represents the single fastest temperature change ever recorded in either direction.

And even though all of these "cooling" indicators coincide quite neatly with recently diminished solar activity, the Big Green Scare Machine continues its mission to control world economies by fomenting blind hysteria about manmade atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Okay, that last part was part science, part analysis.

Nonetheless, Monash University Associate Professor Damon Honnery takes Garnaut's warning to limit carbon dioxide emissions to 450 parts per million (ppm) in order to achieve a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by mid century, very seriously. "The car is doomed," he explained to
"People are going to have to fundamentally change the way they think about travel and make much more use of non-motorised travel such as cycling and walking."

Really? But surely motoring around in one of those cute little politically-correct greenie-adored hybrid cars would still be eco-dandy, right? Not so fast, warns the professor:
"Our calculations show that not even the best combination of fuel efficiency, hybrid and electric cars, alternative fuels and car pooling could provide the reductions needed to meet the 2050 targets for avoiding dangerous climatic change."

But what about all those smug faces I'd see leering up at me from the seats of their Prius's - weren't they already doing their part to save the world from me and my SUV? Are these selfless earth-savers to now be told that the sacrifices that the UN, Greenpeace and other fellow greenies worldwide insisted they accept were ultimately for eco-naught?

And what of us non-suckers? Granted, some of these initiatives may ultimately pay off in consumer savings and "energy independence" down the road, but surely these are matters best left to market forces, not group-think fiat.

And yet we all pay for the disastrously wasteful "carbon debt" consequences of ill-planned eco-schemes the likes of ethanol initiatives. Didn't recent studies predict that the release of carbon through conversion of forests, grasslands, and food cropland into biofuel cropland may take decades or, perhaps, centuries to offset through biofuel usage? What's the point if they'll soon want our keys, too? And then there's that little matter of food shortages in developing nations caused by governments coercing farmers to grow biofuel crops rather than food in the interest of greed and green geopolitics.

Of course, if they really want our hand before we've even offered a finger, even green believers should wonder when they might come for the arm. Might a similarly duplicitous incremental bait-and-switch be in play with regard to electric plants or other supposed GHG producers? After all, the report repeats the tired dogma of blaming global warming on "unexpectedly high growth in the world economy." Mightn't carbon taxes, cap-and-trade exchanges and forced investment in currently non-existent carbon capture-and-sequestration also be intentionally designed to fail, in favor of even harsher regulation and socialistic control?

Fear not, you say, for they're obviously targeting cars because citizens have a slew of alternate modes of transportation available - right? Did I neglect to mention that Honnery's colleague, Dr Patrick Moriarty, asserts that even a "near-total shift from the private car to public transport" would still not represent sufficient sacrifice? No, says he, in order to meet the emission targets recommended by Garnaut, we'll also need to put the kibosh on air travel:
"An overseas trip might become a once-in-a-lifetime experience rather than an annual event."

So then, suppose in a media-induced effort to save the planet from the ravages of global warming, you dutifully went out and traded that old gas guzzler for a fuel efficient vehicle, then further lowered your all-important "carbon footprint" by joining a car pool. You then happily switched to energy-saving appliances and light bulbs and resigned yourself to leading a happy, responsible, green life. But now, despite continued data suggesting a sustained downward trend in global temperatures as atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise, you learn that your efforts were simply not good enough. You need to do more. You need to give up your car and essentially forget about world travel.

And maybe that's enough - for now. You still buying this? Wake up, greenies -- you're being used as well-meaning pawns by those who have neither your nor your planet's best interest at heart.


Increased Hurricane Losses Due to More People, Wealth Along Coastlines, Not Stronger Storms

And NOAA says it so it must be right: "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects."

A team of scientists have found that the economic damages from hurricanes have increased in the U.S. over time due to greater population, infrastructure, and wealth on the U.S. coastlines, and not to any spike in the number or intensity of hurricanes.

"We found that although some decades were quieter and less damaging in the U.S. and others had more land-falling hurricanes and more damage, the economic costs of land-falling hurricanes have steadily increased over time," said Chris Landsea, one of the researchers as well as the science and operations officer at NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami. "There is nothing in the U.S. hurricane damage record that indicates global warming has caused a significant increase in destruction along our coasts."

In a newly published paper in Natural Hazards Review, the researchers also found that economic hurricane damage in the U.S. has been doubling every 10 to 15 years. If more people continue to move to the hurricane-prone coastline, future economic hurricane losses may be far greater than previously thought. "Unless action is taken to address the growing concentration of people and property in coastal hurricane areas, the damage will increase by a great deal as more people and infrastructure inhabit these coastal locations," said Landsea.

The Natural Hazards Review paper, "Normalized Hurricane Damage in the United States: 1900-2005," was written by Roger A. Pielke Jr. (University of Colorado), Joel Gratz (ICAT Managers, Inc.), Chris Landsea, Douglas Collins (Tillinghast-Towers Perrin), Mark A. Saunders (University College London), and Rade Musulin (Aon Re Australia).

The team used two different approaches, which gave similar results, to estimate the economic damages of historical hurricanes if they were to strike today, building upon the work published originally by Landsea and Pielke in 1998, and by Collins and Lowe in 2001. Both methods used changes in inflation and wealth at the national level. The first method utilized population increases at the county coastal level, while the second used changes in housing units at the county coastal level.

The results illustrate the effects of the tremendous pace of growth in vulnerable hurricane areas. If the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane were to hit today, the study estimated it would cause the largest losses at $140 billion to $157 billion, with Hurricane Katrina second on the list at $81 billion.

The team concludes that potential damage from storms - currently about $10 billion yearly - is growing at a rate that may place severe burdens on exposed communities, and that avoiding huge losses will require a change in the rate of population growth in coastal areas, major improvements in construction standards, or other mitigation actions.



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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