Thursday, March 13, 2008


Excerpt below from Physics Today -- March 2008

Is climate sensitive to solar variability?

By Scafetta, N. et al.

[...] Thus the average global temperature record presents secular patterns of 22- and 11-year cycles and a short time-scale fluctuation signature (with apparent inverse power-law statistics), both of which appear to be induced by solar dynamics. The same patterns are poorly reproduced by present-day GCMs and are dismissively interpreted as internal variability (noise) of climate. The nonequilibrium thermodynamic models we used suggest that the Sun is influencing climate significantly more than the IPCC report claims. If climate is as sensitive to solar changes as the above phenomenological findings suggest, the current anthropogenic contribution to global warming is significantly overestimated. We estimate that the Sun could account for as much as 69% of the increase in Earth's average temperature, depending on the TSI reconstruction used. Furthermore, if the Sun does cool off, as some solar forecasts predict will happen over the next few decades, that cooling could stabilize Earth's climate and avoid the catastrophic consequences predicted in the IPCC report.

FULL PAPER here or here (PDF).

Trash journalism at The Washington Post

I try not to comment on global warming stories, but The Washington Post put a story on today's front page that is so monumentally bad that I can't pull myself away from the keyboard. The premise of the story by Juliet Eilperin is well-expressed by its headline: "Carbon Output Must Near Zero To Avert Danger, New Studies Say". Eilperin prominently quotes Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, co-author of one of the studies promoted by the article, who says: "The question is, what if we don't want the Earth to warm anymore?" Well, that's a question, but it's certainly not the question, and is not even a very good question. I think a much better question might be something like "What are the costs versus benefits of reducing emissions to avoid warming?"

The article never addresses this question, and instead elides between a battery of technical experts asserting that carbon emissions create problems, and interested political actors saying "common sense is that we would not let the planet be destroyed".

What's so funny is that Eilperin never seems to be willing do the work to pick up the trail of breadcrumbs that all her interviewees leave behind them. She writes that "Most scientists warn that a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could have serious consequences." Really - how serious? Well, according to the UN IPCC a 4C increase - twice this amount - would reduce global economic output by 1% - 5%. Oh yeah, that's in the world of the 22nd century which is expected to have per capita consumption of something like $40,000 per year versus our current consumption of about $6,600 per year. So we are condemning future generations to be only 5.7 times richer than us, rather than 6 times richer.

She quotes a scientist's "tremendous" finding that under a business-as-usual scenario Earth will warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, without mentioning that this is 4C, or well within the forecast range of the current business-as-usual projections for warming by 2100 of the most recent UN IPCC report. Also note that this is the amount of warming that is projected to cost a much richer world about 3% of its consumption.

Naturally, Eilperin has a "narrative" for why the world seems to resist the manifestly correct course of action so stubbornly. She says that "some climate researchers who back major greenhouse gas reductions said it is unrealistic to expect policymakers to think in terms of such vast time scales." She then quotes two climate researchers who say nothing about this subject. Finally, we get to a philosophy professor who gives her what she wants, when he says that global warming "is a classic inter-generational debate, where the short-term benefits of emitting carbon accrue mainly to us and where the dangers of them are largely put off until future generations."

How can we be so selfish? I guess American democracy just can't handle the complexity of the issue. We need a Leader who can get us past this petty squabbling and Take Action.



Oh, that pesky law of unintended consequences. Just last month, we learned the use of crops for biofuel (ethanol) production may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions. Not such good news, considering the recently passed federal energy bill mandates a six-fold increase in biofuel production to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022.

The latest flaw to be found in the energy bill: The Financial Times reports that Canada has warned the U.S. that an expansive interpretation of the energy bill would make Canada's oil sands off-limits to U.S. importation. The bill requires the greenhouse gas emissions from alternative fuels to be equal to or less than those from conventional fuels. If oil sands were classified as a non-conventional fuel, U.S.-Canada trade (and relations) would take a major hit, and global oil supplies would be crimped, with one energy expert warning that "$106 a barrel is going to look cheap."

So let's do a quick review of the energy bill so far: environmental degradation, rampant food inflation, and a potential Third World famine due to corn ethanol; increased potential for mercury exposure from mandatory CFL bulbs; and the prospect of a ticked-off major trading partner on our northern border and an increased dependence on ever-more-expensive Middle Eastern crude. If this is the best the Beltway class can do, hopefully the public will become more inclined to trust the private sector and free markets to find solutions.


A collusive silence in the British media

Today, I ask a simple, but immensely serious, question: "Why has the UK media, in pretty well all its forms, failed to report `The Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change', signed in New York on March 4, 2008?" The meeting at which the `Declaration' was agreed [`The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change', March 2 - March 4] was attended by over 500 people (scientists, economists, policy makers, etc.), with over 100 speakers delivering keynote addresses, or participating in panel discussions. Sadly, I think we know the answer, and it is one that reflects very badly on our supine UK media [the only exception of note appears to be The Sunday Telegraph, March 9: `Climate dissent grows hotter as chill deepens']. If ever evidence were needed of the dangerous `control' of our media by pernicious grand narratives, then this is surely it. Luckily, we bloggers can break the deafening silence. Here, then, is the `Declaration' for you to read for yourself, unadorned, unedited, and unfiltered by any media:
The Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change

`Global warming' is not a global crisis

We, the scientists and researchers in climate and related fields, economists, policymakers, and business leaders, assembled at Times Square, New York City, participating in the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change,

Resolving that scientific questions should be evaluated solely by the scientific method;

Affirming that global climate has always changed and always will, independent of the actions of humans, and that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not a pollutant but rather a necessity for all life;

Recognising that the causes and extent of recently observed climatic change are the subject of intense debates in the climate science community and that oft-repeated assertions of a supposed `consensus' among climate experts are false;

Affirming that attempts by governments to legislate costly regulations on industry and individual citizens to encourage CO2 emission reduction will slow development while having no appreciable impact on the future trajectory of global climate change. Such policies will markedly diminish future prosperity and so reduce the ability of societies to adapt to inevitable climate change, thereby increasing, not decreasing, human suffering;

Noting that warmer weather is generally less harmful to life on Earth than colder:

Hereby declare:

That current plans to restrict anthropogenic CO2 emissions are a dangerous misallocation of intellectual capital and resources that should be dedicated to solving humanity's real and serious problems.

That there is no convincing evidence that CO2 emissions from modern industrial activity has in the past, is now, or will in the future cause catastrophic climate change.

That attempts by governments to inflict taxes and costly regulations on industry and individual citizens with the aim of reducing emissions of CO2 will pointlessly curtail the prosperity of the West and progress of developing nations without affecting climate.

That adaptation as needed is massively more cost-effective than any attempted mitigation and that a focus on such mitigation will divert the attention and resources of governments away from addressing the real problems of their peoples.

That human-caused climate change is not a global crisis.

Now, therefore, we recommend -

That world leaders reject the views expressed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as popular, but misguided works such as An Inconvenient Truth.

That all taxes, regulations, and other interventions intended to reduce emissions of CO2 be abandoned forthwith.

Agreed at New York, 4 March 2008.

I should also like to leave you with the following interesting commentary on the proceedings: `NY Climate Conference: Journey to the Center of Warming Sanity' (American Thinker, March 6), which begins with the seminal point:
"If you rely solely on the mainstream media to keep informed, you may not have heard that the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change concluded in New York City on Tuesday. And if you have heard anything - this being primarily a forum of skeptics - it was likely of a last gasp effort by `flat-Earthers' sponsored by right-wingers in the pockets of big-oil to breathe life into their dying warming denial agenda. Well, having just returned from the 3 day event, I'm happy to report that the struggle against the ravages of warming alarmism is not only alive, but healthier than ever."

Now you know - but no thanks indeed to our UK media. We should be asking some urgent questions about media independence and balance.


Tin whiskers: Sometimes going green hurts more than it helps

If you own almost any electricity-powered device, this concerns you

[Tin whiskers affect] all of your soldered devices that are two years old or less. Most of these are now assembled using solder joints that have no lead in an effort to save our groundwater and our health. The fact that the lead has been generally replaced with silver or bismuth, both of which are actually greater health risks than lead, well we'll leave that one for Ralph Nader if he decides not to run for President. The longer-term trend is toward all-tin connections, anyway, but they don't work very well, either.

I wrote a column about this back in 2004 (it's in this week's links) that was heavy on information and therefore low on readership. Everything in that column has come to pass and more. Where's my Pulitzer Prize? Costs have gone up, mean time between failures (MTBF) has gone down (accelerated MTBF tests, which are the only MTBF tests we do anymore, don't reliably pick this up, by the way), and reliability has suffered. Since we don't fix things anymore, it's hard to say whether your gizmo failed because of bad solder or not, but the problem is becoming worse as a greater percentage of total circuits in use have lead-free solder. The military was especially concerned, even before the whisker crisis.

We're talking about tin whiskers, single crystals that mysteriously grow from pure tin joints but not generally from tin-lead solder joints. Nobody knows how or why these whiskers grow and nobody knows how to stop them, except through the use of lead solder. Whiskers can start growing in a decade or a year or a day after manufacture. They can grow at up to nine millimeters per year. They grow in any atmosphere including a pure vacuum. They grow in any humidity condition. They just grow. And when they get long enough they either touch another joint, shorting out one or more connections, or they vaporize in a flash, creating a little plasma cloud that can carry for an instant hundreds of amps and literally blow your device to pieces.

Since 2006 we have been exclusively manufacturing soldered connections thousands of times more likely to create tin whiskers than previous generation joints made with tin-lead solder. Because of the universal phase-in of the new solder technology and the fact that the solder technologies can't reliably be mixed (old solders mess with new solder joints in the same device through simple outgassing) this means that it is practically impossible to use older, more reliable technology just for mission-critical (even life-critical) connections. So we're all in this tin boat together.

Some experts confidently say that the disparity of joint reliability we are seeing today will go away and that the new joints will become as reliable or even more reliable than the old tin-lead joints as we gain experience with the new processes. What's disturbing, though, is that these experts don't actually know how this increased reliability is likely to be achieved. Just like extrapolating a Moore's Law curve to figure out how fast or how cheap technology is likely to be a decade from now, they have no idea how these gains will be made, just confidence that they will be.

What if the experts are wrong? Tin whiskers can take out your iPod or your network. They can stop your car cold. They can take down an entire airport or Citibank. They are much more common than most people -- even most experts -- think. The reason for this is that most tin whiskers can't even be seen.

"Maybe it is worth adding," said one expert who prefers to remain anonymous, "that whisker diameters range from 0.1 um to 10 um, while the diameter of a human hair is 70 um to 100 um --- so the largest whisker is only some 15 percent of the diameter of a thin hair, and most are less than 5 percent. A good fraction (of these are) so thin that light waves just pass them by, scattering a bit but not reflecting. So the optical microscope images that (typically used to illustrate whiskers) show only a small fraction of what is really there. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) images are a bit better, but only show a small zone of the sample; also, not many folks are able to acquire SEM images of their equipment. So all too many folks have the idea that whiskers are something that happens to someone else, but never to them. This is an expensive misconception."

What I wonder is whether a cost-benefit analysis of this solder technology changeover was ever done? I haven't seen one. And if you think this problem is minor, I have been told that just the cost of changing to lead-free solder stands right now at $280 BILLION and climbing. That cost is borne by all of us. Maybe dumping lead solder was absolutely the right thing to do. Maybe it was absolutely the wrong thing to do. The truth is we haven't the slightest idea the answer to that question and anyone who claims to know is wrong. We didn't know what would happen when we started this and we don't know what we'll get out of it, either, or whether it will be worth the cost. All we know for sure is that a bumpy ride lies ahead.



The growth in China's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is far outpacing previous estimates, making the goal of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases even more difficult, according to a new analysis by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC San Diego.

Previous estimates, including those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, say the region that includes China will see a 2.5 to 5 percent annual increase in CO2 emissions, the largest contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases, between 2004 and 2010. The new UC analysis puts that annual growth rate for China to at least 11 percent for the same time period.

The study is scheduled for print publication in the May issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, but is now online. The researchers' most conservative forecast predicts that by 2010, there will be an increase of 600 million metric tons of carbon emissions in China over the country's levels in 2000. This growth from China alone would dramatically overshadow the 116 million metric tons of carbon emissions reductions pledged by all the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol. (The protocol was never ratified in the United States, which was the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide until 2006, when China took over that distinction, according to numerous reports.)

Put another way, the projected annual increase in China alone over the next several years is greater than the current emissions produced by either Great Britain or Germany.

Based upon these findings, the authors say current global warming forecasts are "overly optimistic," and that action is urgently needed to curb greenhouse gas production in China and other rapidly industrializing countries.

The authors of the study, Maximillian Auffhammer, UC Berkeley assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics, and Richard Carson, UC San Diego professor of economics, based their findings upon pollution data from China's 30 provincial entities.

Auffhammer said this paper should serve as an alarm challenging the widely held belief that actions taken by the wealthy, industrialized nations alone represent a viable strategy towards the goal of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

"Making China and other developing countries an integral part of any future climate agreement is now even more important," said Auffhammer. "It had been expected that the efficiency of China's power generation would continue to improve as per capita income increased, slowing down the rate of CO2 emissions growth. What we're finding instead is that the emissions growth rate is surpassing our worst expectations, and that means the goal of stabilizing atmospheric CO2 is going to be much, much harder to achieve."

Researchers traditionally calculate the CO2 emissions for a region or country from data on fossil fuel consumption. Existing models then use those emission figures and factor in such variables as population size, a society's affluence and technology developments to forecast the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

In explaining the startling differences in results from previous estimates for China's carbon emissions growth, the UC researchers point out that they used province-level figures in their analysis to obtain a more detailed picture of the country's CO2 emissions up to 2004.

"Everybody had been treating China as single country, but each of the country's provinces is larger than many European countries, both in geographic size and population," said Carson. "In addition, there is a wide range in economic development and wealth from one province to the next, as well as major differences in population growth, all of which has an effect on energy consumption that cannot be easily addressed in models based upon aggregate national data."

Since data on fossil fuel consumption is not reported at the province level in China, the researchers used waste gas emissions, available from China's state environmental protection administration reports, as a proxy for CO2 emissions in this paper.

Moreover, the researchers said, the majority of other studies forecasting China's CO2 emissions relied upon information from nearly a decade ago. During the 1990s, per capita income was growing faster than the use of energy in China, which typically relates to slower growth in carbon emissions.

"A notable shift occurred in China around the year 2000, around the time when hope for an agreement with the U.S. on the Kyoto Protocol began to diminish along with external pressure for China to reduce its emissions," said Carson. "Energy use started to grow faster than income, and much of the energy that was used wasn't efficient."

The authors also pointed out that after 2000, China's central government began shifting the responsibility for building new power plants to provincial officials who had less incentive and fewer resources to build cleaner, more efficient plants, which save money in the long run but are more expensive to construct.

"Government officials turned away from energy efficiency as an objective to expanding power generation as quickly as they can, and as cheaply as they can," said Carson. "Wealthier coastal provinces tended to build clean-burning power plants based upon the very best technology available, but many of the poorer interior provinces replicated inefficient 1950s Soviet technology."

"The problem is that power plants, once built, are meant to last for 40 to 75 years," said Carson. "These provincial officials have locked themselves into a long-run emissions trajectory that is much higher than people had anticipated. Our forecast incorporates the fact that much of China is now stuck with power plants that are dirty and inefficient."



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