Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NASA Chief: Global Warming Treated 'Almost As A Religious Issue'

Note: NASA Top Administrator Michael Griffin is an aerospace engineer and physicist, and former head of the Space Department at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory

Last May NASA Administrator Michael Griffin injected himself into the global warming debate by questioning whether addressing the problem required all that much urgency. I recently had a chance to speak with Griffin, (for a full Q&A, see here) and I asked him what he thought about the incredible response those comments generated:

Were you surprised by the widespread, heated response to your global warming comments last May?

I was. I've admitted flat out that I made a mistake there on a couple of levels. I thought I was talking about technical topic, which I find actually very interesting from a technical point of view. I didn't realize it had approached the status where you can't express any sort of a contrary opinion or a comment without it being treated almost as a religious issue. So that's one mistake. The second one was, of course, that it actually doesn't have anything to do with what we do at NASA. Our job is to gather the data, we don't make policy about what you do with the data. By making comments along those lines all I really did is embroil my agency in a controversy in fight that we don't have a dog. So yeah, it was a mistake.

Have you talked to James Hansen since then?

No, Jim has never seen fit to contact me. Jim's done some great work. I have no criticism of it. You could make an argument that a critical mass of climate modeling, of raising climate modeling to become a centerpiece of the Earth Science program, is due to Jim's efforts over the last 30 years. Without that you don't know how to interpret the data which we bring back. What we know is that the Earth's temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Centigrade, plus or minus, in 100 years. And we have pretty good confidence that a good fraction of that is anthropogenic. But exactly how much, and exactly what human activities are doing that, much less certainty. And that's with 100 years of work. So you have to construct theoretical models, and run them on a computer, and anchor those models with data. And the data has got to cover a long period of time with a broad spectrum of observations because they're all interrelated. So the models have to be complex, the data has to be both comprehensive in type and it has to be extensive in time in order to get any real information out of it.

Critics of the models would say they don't meet a number of the criteria you just laid out. Do you think that's right?

I think it is, but where do they expect you to start? I mean, ever heard of walk before you run? You're not going to go from no models to perfect models in one step. It's not going to happen.

Are you comfortable with policy being made based on models that are walking before they're running?

A working definition of management is the art of making good decisions with less information than anyone would like to have. Right. If you have all the information you need to make a decision, than it's not a decision, it's a homework problem. In the real world, policymakers have to make decisions about what levels of pollution are allowable, which things are more or least harmful, how to go about controlling it, and how much money is it worth to control it. Decisions like that have to be made. If you don't make decisions than that is a decision. I was in downtown Beijing a year ago, and their air quality is an example of what happens when you don't make any decision. You can do that and let nature take its course. So when you do that, intellectually what you're saying is that letting nature take its course is better than anything I could do to be different. I tend to think it's better to use the information that you have, from incomplete models and incomplete information, to make with care the best decisions you can. If you're going to wait for perfect accuracy on the research, you'll wait a long time. To deliberately do nothing seems foolish to me. That's a personal opinion.



The EU has just decamped from its most recent summit at which it was to finally agree to those individual country quotas to arrive at their post-2012 promise to reduce GHG emissions, as a group of nations, to 20% below 1990 levels.

Of course, this was the most recent in a series of meetings following on the heels of their most recent promise to announce these quotas, which had been postponed until December 2007 after an inability to agree on individual member state quotas, and was ultimately scuppered.

See, this is where this "world leadership", in making such group-wide promises, at least, gets difficult. Attentive readers will recall German Chancellor Angela Merkel's revealing, possibly too-clever admission to Der Spiegel on March 9, 2007:

Addressing the need for a post-2012 "Burden Sharing Agreement" that assigns real cuts to countries previously given a free-ride, German Chancellor Angela Merkel "admitted that tough negotiations are still ahead. The compromise would be a tough task. The beauty is, Merkel said smiling, that each member state thinks they're a special case. 'That makes us all equal'". (emphasis added)

Apparently all of those special cases are holding out to make sure it's the fellow behind the tree who takes the hit. You will recall the initial promise shared by every EU-15 nation, to reduce emissions by 8% below 1990 levels on average over 2008-12, was abandoned (as is permitted under Kyoto's Article 4) in favor of collectivizing their emissions (it's Europe, remember). This allowed Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and others to swap their promise of a reduction into a promise of an often-steep increase, France to trade hers in for a promise of no reduction at all, Italy for a very slightly smaller promise and so on all because of two political decisions preceding and unrelated to Kyoto. Those were the UK's "dash to gas" and shutting down East Germany, for all intents and purposes, after reunification made it smart to replace Soviet-era industrial capacity with cleaner, West German capacity.

Those two "one offs" having been exercised, this leaves European countries stuck with the need to meet their promises of emission reductions with - gasp - actual reductions (or even far more massive wealth transfers to exempt countries like China under the HFC scam, for example).

So, in classic form, they have trumpeted an historic agreement to agree later, this time by December 2008. We'll be waiting.


Hey, Nobel Prize Winners, Answer Me This

By Climatologist Dr. Roy W. Spencer, formerly a senior scientist for climate studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center where he received NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and currently principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville

As a climate scientist, I would like to see some answers to a few basic global warming science questions which I'm sure the U.N.'s Ministry of Global Warming Truth (also known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC) can handle. After all, since they are 90% confident that recent global warming is manmade, they surely must have already addressed these issues:

1) Why are ALL of the 20+ IPCC climate models more sensitive in their total cloud feedback than published estimates of cloud feedbacks in the real climate system (Forster and Gregory, J. Climate, 2006)? If the answer is that "there are huge error bars on our observational estimates of feedback", then doesn't that mean that it is just as likely that the real climate system is very insensitive (making manmade global warming a non-problem) as it is to be as sensitive as the IPCC models claim it is?

2) And regarding those observational estimates of (somewhat) positive cloud feedbacks: How do you know that the cloud changes that have been observed during temperature changes really are "feedbacks"? In other words, how do you know that the temperature changes caused the cloud changes, rather than the other way around? This basic distinction between cause and effect is critical because such a misinterpretation will ALWAYS make the climate system look more sensitive than it really is (e.g., it is energetically impossible for more low clouds to cause a warming). Doesn't it seem like a coincidence that the ONE case were we know that there was a huge non-cloud forcing (the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo) resulted in a negative solar shortwave cloud feedback, whereas all other periods showed supposedly positive shortwave cloud "feedback"?

3) As a follow on to question #2, we all agree that there has been strong global-average warming since the 1970's. Well, how do you know this wasn't the result of a small, natural change in cloud cover? Doesn't it seem like (another) coincidence that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) just happened to shift to a different mode in 1977, about the time that the warming started? (Please don't say that the greater warming over land versus ocean is consistent with manmade greenhouse gas forcing.because it is also consistent with ANY kind of change in the Earth's radiant energy budget, whether natural or manmade.)

The fact is, we DON'T know how much of recent warming is natural, simply because we don't have good enough global cloud observations back to the 1970's (and earlier) to measure any long-term changes in cloudiness to the required accuracy - 1% or less.

The same cause-versus-effect uncertainty is true of any other climate variable as well, for instance water vapor, our main greenhouse gas. A small change in precipitation efficiency (the main process which ultimately limits the strength of the natural greenhouse effect) could cause a change in average water vapor content, which then would change the average temperature. In other words, increased water vapor doesn't have to only result from warming.warming can also result from increased water vapor.

The fact that we don't have a good enough understanding (or observations) of cloud changes, or precipitation efficiency changes, on decadal time scales to document such potential mechanisms seems like pretty weak justification for blaming all of our recent warming on mankind. And if you say, "well, the IPCC doesn't claim that ALL of the warming is manmade.", then tell me: About what percentage of the warming IS natural, and how did you come up with that quantitative estimate?

I fear that the sloppy science that too many climate researchers have lapsed into could, in the end, hurt our scientific discipline beyond repair. The very high level of certainty (90%) claimed by the IPCC for their manmade explanation for warming can not be justified based upon the scientific evidence, and is little more than an expression of their faith that they understand the causes of climate variability - which they clearly don't.

For those scientists who value their scientific reputations, I would advise that they distance themselves from politically-motivated claims of a "scientific consensus" on the causes of global warming -- before it is too late. Don't let five Norwegians on the Nobel Prize committee be the arbiters of what is good science.


Global Warming Claims Unsupported by Facts

Reports by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the earth is experiencing unprecedented global warming are flawed and cannot be supported, investigators now report. In a study reported in the Washington Times, a panel of statisticians, chaired by Edward J. Wegman of George Mason University, found significant problems with the methods of analysis used by the researchers and with the IPCC's peer review process.

According to the Times, "IPCC reports have predicted average world temperatures will increase dramatically, leading to the spread of tropical diseases, severe drought, the rapid melting of the world's glaciers and ice caps, and rising sea levels." The Times notes, however that "several assessments of the IPCC's work have shown the techniques and methods used to derive its climate predictions are fundamentally flawed."

In a 2001 report, the IPCC published an image commonly referred to as the "hockey stick," the Times explained, adding that it showed relatively stable temperatures from A.D. 1000 to 1900, with temperatures rising steeply from 1900 to 2000. "The IPCC and public figures, such as former Vice President Al Gore, have used the hockey stick to support the conclusion that human energy use over the last 100 years has caused an unprecedented rise in global warming," according to the Times.

Since those claims have been discounted by several studies which the newspaper notes cast doubt on the accuracy of the hockey stick, Congress in 2006 requested an independent analysis by Wegman and his panel. The Times reports that the researchers who created the hockey stick used the wrong time scale to establish the mean temperature to compare with recorded temperatures of the last century. Because the mean temperature was low, the recent temperature rise seemed unusual and dramatic. This error, the Times explained, was not discovered in part because statisticians were never consulted.

Moreover, the community of specialists in ancient climates from which the peer reviewers were drawn was small and many of them had ties to the original authors - no less than 43 paleoclimatologists had previously co-authored papers with the lead researcher who constructed the hockey stick.

Even using accurate temperature data, sound forecasting methods are required to predict climate change. Over time, forecasting researchers have compiled 140 principles that can be applied to a broad range of disciplines, including science, sociology, economics, and politics. The Times recalled that in a recent National Center for Policy Analysis study, Kesten Green and J. Scott Armstrong used these principles to audit the climate forecasts in the Fourth Assessment Report. Green and Armstrong found that the IPCC clearly violated 60 of the 127 principles relevant in assessing the IPCC predictions. Indeed, it could only be clearly established that the IPCC followed 17 of the more than 127 forecasting principles critical to making sound predictions.

Writes H. Sterling Burnett the author of the Times story, "A good example of a principle clearly violated is 'Make sure forecasts are independent of politics.' Politics shapes the IPCC from beginning to end. Legislators, policy-makers and/or diplomatic appointees select (or approve) the scientists - at least the lead scientists - who make up the IPCC. In addition, the summary and the final draft of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report was written in collaboration with political appointees and subject to their approval." Burnett writes, "Sadly, Mr. Green and Mr. Armstrong found no evidence that the IPCC was even aware of the vast literature on scientific forecasting methods, much less applied the principles."

As a result of such problems Mr. Wegman's team concluded that the idea that the planet is experiencing unprecedented global warming "cannot be supported." According to the author of the Times story, H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute in Dallas, says the IPCC's policy recommendations are based on flawed statistical analyses and procedures that violate general forecasting principles. He warned that policy-makers should take this into account before enacting laws to counter global warming - which economists point out would have severe economic consequences.


The Toyota Prius: The Greenies get it badly wrong again

A big BMW was more economical than a Prius over the same route

The official fuel consumption figure for the Prius - supplied by Toyota itself - is 65.7mpg in mixed motoring. That's a claim not supported by many of the letter writers to The Sunday Times who say they get nearer to 50mpg. If our readers are right and the official figure is wrong it has important implications, not least of which is that people driving frugal diesels are getting a raw deal.

To find out we set a challenge: to drive a Prius to Geneva using motorways and town driving. The direct route is 460 miles but we drove almost 100 miles further to give the Prius the advantage of running in urban conditions where its petrol-electric drivetrain comes into its own.

We took along a conventionally powered car - a diesel BMW executive saloon - for comparison and drove both cars an identical number of miles (545).

BMW 520d: driven by Nicholas Rufford

The BMW doesn't have the external look of a green car and you don't get the same self-righteous glow when you are driving it. There's no hybrid badge on the back; in fact, because it's the entry level car of the 5-series many buyers opt for "badge delete" so they don't show other motorists they went for the cheapest option at 27,190 pounds [c. $55,000].

But it does have a few tricks up its sleeve to conserve fuel. Efficient Dynamics, as BMW refers to its fuel-saving technology, is a term coined by Bavarian marketing men for refinements that taken on their own are nothing spectacular but together improve fuel economy. Rather than Toyota's big idea - a radically different system of powering a car using a petrol-electric drivetrain - BMW has sunk its research effort into lots of less radical things.

The most important of these is the new four-cylinder engine. It's available in the 3-series but here it's perfectly at home in the bigger 5-series saloon where it generates a surprising 177bhp. Surprising because it's only 1995cc and it sips fuel. Combined fuel consumption is - officially - 55.4mpg and emissions are 136g/km, which puts it into tax band C. That's respectable for its size, especially when you consider that 13 cabinet ministers are driven in cars with tax band F - the second highest bracket - and one, we don't know who, has a band G car. Various other features of the new BMW contribute to its frugality. It's got better aerodynamics to reduce drag; low rolling resistance tyres; and a dashboard gauge that gives you a continuous fuel consumption readout so you know when to change gear.

So how does it drive? Well, much like any other executive saloon, actually. Its six-speed manual transmission needs quite a lot of work but if you are concerned about fuel economy then it's a small price to pay for the extra 5mpg that it gains over the automatic version. The 520d is not startlingly quick, but it will reach 62mph in 8.3sec. As for the claimed top speed of 144mph, I didn't get the chance to test it to its limit but I think it would have struggled to reach that. Nonetheless, it cruised happily at the French autoroute limit (dry conditions) of 78mph towards the champagne region.

As I did so, I noted with slight satisfaction that Jason was having difficulty keeping up, so I cut my speed. Had I been really serious about saving fuel I could have also switched off the air-conditioning and the stereo but I was more concerned about making this a real-world test.

Stuck in rush-hour traffic in Reims, fuel consumption dropped to an average of about 40mpg - still not bad when you consider the size of the car. BMW has fitted a diesel particulate filter, enabling the car to meet ever more stringent European Union limits on emissions. Another feature designed to cut running costs is the brake regenerative system - similar to that in the Prius - which recovers energy from braking to recharge the battery and help power the electrical systems. To what extent this is a genuinely eco-friendly feature and how much a conscience salver is impossible to tell when you're driving.

But you can't argue with the end result. Approaching Switzerland I felt confident of beating Jason. The computer was telling me that, for the journey as a whole, I had averaged more than 50mpg. The test had taken us along just over 200 miles of autoroute, about 200 miles of B roads, including winding ascents and descents in Switzerland, and 100 miles of urban driving.

Before we set off, Jason and I filled our tanks to the brim. At the end of the journey, at a filling station in Geneva, we filled them again to find out how much fuel we'd used. The BMW had done the journey on 49 litres (just over two-thirds of a 70-litre tank). Jason had . . . well, I'll let him tell his own story.

Toyota Prius: driven by Jason Dawe

The Prius is not a car you can easily get excited about, at least on a purely visual basis. But this test was not about kerb appeal, it was about pump avoidance. The Prius was designed with a straightforward goal in mind - to create a five-seat family hatchback that was as good on fuel as a 2+2 supermini. Straightforward aims are often notoriously difficult to achieve.

Toyota's big idea was to use hybrid power. In other words, two forms of propulsion. The bulk of that power comes from a 1.5 litre petrol engine producing just 77bhp. That kind of power may be able to keep the Prius cruising along but is hardly enough to ensure decent acceleration. So added to that comes a battery-powered electric motor generating the equivalent of a further 67bhp and a thumping great 295 lb ft of torque.

There's no need to plug the Prius into an electric socket to keep the batteries topped up as this is done every time the car brakes, and there is trickle charging by the petrol engine while driving normally. The result of lumping together these two sources of power is a car that can reach 62mph from standstill in less than 11sec and reach 106mph flat out, hardly dragstrip quick and slower than the BMW, but still respectable.

Toyota was obsessive about saving weight in the Prius; at just 2,921lb it is 573lb lighter than the BMW 520d, surely a factor that will pay dividends at the pumps. Clever power and a light kerb weight stand the Prius in good stead but it's the car's incredibly low drag coefficient that may just tip the scales in my favour when it comes to long motorway stretches at higher speeds. As slippery as a campaign manager discussing political donations, the Prius should take less energy than the BMW to maintain a constant cruising speed.

No sooner had we left the offices of The Sunday Times in London than my eyes locked limpet-like on the trip computer readout that tells you how many mpg you are achieving. This was to become my obsession over the next 545 miles as I battled to nudge the Prius into performing somewhere close to Toyota's claim of 65mpg-plus motoring. By the time we reached the Channel tunnel the display revealed that I had averaged 55mpg. Hopefully things would improve on the long, uninterrupted roads in France. They didn't - despite the fact that I didn't use the air-conditioning and avoided turning on the stereo in an effort to conserve power.

To break the boredom of constantly looking at the trip computer I pressed the throttle into the carpet for a few seconds, but seeing the fuel consumption suddenly dip to less than 10mpg I backed off. When we stopped in Reims neither Nick nor I was willing to declare our average fuel economy figures. I interpreted his reticence as a sign of my upcoming victory.

The next day it became clear my Prius did not like motorways, at least not at 75mph into a headwind. My trip meter informed me I was now averaging about 45mpg; the Prius was not going to make it to Geneva on just one tank. I took the precaution of buying a 10-litre can and filling it with petrol. Sure enough, the dashboard soon informed me the fuel tank was empty, the petrol engine stopped and for two surreal miles I coasted along on battery power. Only when I approached a long steep uphill stretch did I finally drift to a halt. As I filled the tank I consoled myself with my last chocolate bar.

Coasting down the mountain into Geneva my Prius averaged 99.9mpg for a full 10 minutes. It was the highlight of my journey and improved my overall average fuel economy by a full 2mpg. But it was not enough. For all my defensive driving, slippery bodywork and hybrid technology, my average fuel consumption was 48.1mpg. I'd lost to a Beemer and I was disappointed; I had never driven so slowly or carefully for so long in my life. I'm considering buying a V8 Range Rover and opening my own oil well in protest



Street lights in suburban areas are to be switched off after midnight as part of council plans to save energy. A series of trial blackouts will be carried out over the next few weeks by local authorities in the Home Counties, Hampshire and Essex among others. Buckinghamshire council is reported to be switching off more than 1,700 lights along 25 miles of road in an attempt to meet energy targets. It says the scheme will save 100,000 pounds and reduce CO2 emissions by nearly 600 tons a year. If the trials are successful, all street lamps across the country could be turned off between midnight and 5am.

Other areas taking part in the scheme include Maldon and Uttlesford in Essex, while parts of Hampshire have already carried out pilots.

Residents' groups, police organisations and motoring groups have expressed fear that the darkness could cause increases in crime and road traffic accidents. A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: "The councils are considering these schemes to both reduce their energy budget and cut down on emissions. "Areas where street lights will be turned off will be on routes there is little need for them."



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