The modellers have only now tweaked their models so that they agree with the Antarrctic facts but they still have NO confidence that the tweaked models have any predictive power. Note that the prophecies of disaster all depend on getting Antarctica right. It contains 91% of the planet's glacial ice so unless that melts, sea level rise will be minor by Al Gore standards. A joint press release from the American Geophysical Union and the National Center for Atmospheric Research follows: Refer Peter Weiss [email@example.com].
Computer analyses of global climate have consistently overstated warming in Antarctica, concludes a new study. The findings can help scientists improve computer models and determine if the southernmost continent will warm significantly this century, a major research question because of Antarctica's potential impact on global sea-level rise.
"We can now compare computer simulations with observations of actual climate trends in Antarctica," says Andrew Monaghan of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., lead author of the study. "This is showing us that, over the past century, most of Antarctica has not undergone the fairly dramatic warming that has affected the rest of the globe. The challenges of studying climate in this remote environment make it difficult to say what the future holds for Antarctica's climate."
The study marks the first time that scientists have been able to compare the past 50 to 100 years of Antarctic climate with simulations run on computer models. The models are a primary method for researchers to project future climate. Scientists have used atmospheric observations to confirm that computer models are accurately simulating climate for the other six continents.
Antarctica's climate is of worldwide interest, in part because of the enormous water locked up in its ice sheets. If those vast ice sheets were to begin to melt, sea level could rise across the globe and inundate low-lying coastal areas. Yet, whereas climate models accurately simulate the last century of warming for the rest of the world, they have unique challenges simulating Antarctic climate because of limited information about the continent's harsh weather patterns.
Monaghan and his colleagues at NCAR and Ohio State University, in Columbus, published their findings last month in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The authors compared recently constructed temperature data sets from Antarctica, based on data from ice cores and ground weather stations, to twentieth century simulations from computer models used by scientists to simulate global climate. While the observed Antarctic temperatures rose by about [a minuscule] 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past century, the climate models simulated increases in Antarctic temperatures during the same period of 0.75 degrees C (1.4 degrees F). The error appeared to be caused by models overestimating the amount of water vapor in the Antarctic atmosphere, the new study concludes.
The models, however, have correctly captured trends in Antarctic snowfall, including increases in snowfall in the late twentieth century, prior to a decrease over the last decade.
Part of the reason that Antarctica has barely warmed has to do with the ozone hole over the continent. The lack of ozone is chilling the middle and upper atmosphere, altering wind patterns in a way that keeps comparatively warm air from reaching the surface. Unlike the rest of the continent, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by several degrees, in part because the winds there are drawing in warmer air from the north.
The study delivered a mixed verdict on Antarctica's potential impact on sea-level rise. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations, has estimated that sea-level rise could amount to 18 to 59 centimeters (7 to 23 inches) this century, in part because of melting glaciers worldwide. The new findings suggest that other effects of warming in Antarctica over the next century could reduce that by about 5 centimeter (2 inches) if the continent warms by 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F) as computer models have indicated. The reason is that the warmer air over Antarctica would hold more moisture and generate more snowfall, thereby locking up additional water in the continent's ice sheets.
But the authors caution that model projections of future Antarctic climate may be unreliable. "The research clearly shows that you can actually slow down sea-level rise when you increase temperatures over Antarctica because snowfall increases, but warmer temperatures also have the potential to speed up sea-level rise due to enhanced melting along the edges of Antarctica," says Monaghan, who did some of his research at Ohio State University before going to NCAR. "Over the next century, whether the ice sheet grows from increased snowfall or shrinks due to more melt will depend on how much temperatures increase in Antarctica, and potentially on erosion at the ice sheet edge by the warmer ocean and rising sea level."
"The current generation of climate models has improved over previous generations, but still leaves Antarctic surface temperature projections for the twenty-first century with a high degree of uncertainty," adds co-author and NCAR scientist David Schneider. "On a positive note, this study points out that water vapor appears to be the key cause of the problematic Antarctic temperature trends in the models, which will guide scientists as they work to improve the climate simulations."
"Skeptic" magazine finally prints something skeptical
Though obviously through gritted teeth. The author below, Dr. Patrick Frank, is a chemist with more than 50 peer-reviewed articles. Excerpts only below. See the original for graphics and references. Details of the magazine's usual frantic Warmism here
"He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense." - John McCarthy
"The latest scientific data confirm that the earth's climate is rapidly changing. . The cause? A thickening layer of carbon dioxide pollution, mostly from power plants and automobiles, that traps heat in the atmosphere. .
[A]verage U.S. temperatures could rise another 3 to 9 degrees by the end of the century .
Sea levels will rise, [and h]eat waves will be more frequent and more intense. Droughts and wildfires will occur more often. Disease-carrying mosquitoes will expand their range. And species will be pushed to extinction."
So says the National Resources Defense Council, with agreement by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, National Geographic, the US National Academy of Sciences, and the US Congressional House leadership. Concurrent views are widespread, as a visit to the internet or any good bookstore will verify.
Since at least the 1995 Second Assessment Report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been making increasingly assured statements that human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) is influencing the climate, and is the chief cause of the global warming trend in evidence since about 1900. The current level of atmospheric CO2 is about 390 parts per million by volume (ppmv), or 0.039% by volume of the atmosphere, and in 1900 was about 295 ppmv.
If the 20th century trend continues unabated, by about 2050 atmospheric CO2 will have doubled to about 600 ppmv. This is the basis for the usual "doubled CO2" scenario. Doubled CO2 is a bench-mark for climate scientists in evaluating greenhouse warming. Earth receives about 342 watts per square meter (W/m2) of incoming solar energy, and all of this energy eventually finds its way back out into space. However, CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, most notably water vapor, absorb some of the outgoing energy and warm the atmosphere. This is the greenhouse effect. Without it Earth's average surface temperature would be a frigid -19øC (-2.2 F). With it, the surface warms to about +14øC (57 F) overall, making Earth habitable. With more CO2, more outgoing radiant energy is absorbed, changing the thermal dynamics of the atmosphere. All the extra greenhouse gasses that have entered the atmosphere since 1900, including CO2, equate to an extra 2.7 W/m2 of energy absorption by the atmosphere. This is the worrisome greenhouse effect.
On February 2, 2007, the IPCC released the Working Group I (WGI) "Summary for Policymakers" (SPM) report on Earth climate, which is an executive summary of the science supporting the predictions quoted above. The full "Fourth Assessment Report" (4AR) came out in sections during 2007.....
No matter what, global temperatures are predicted to increase significantly during the 21st century. A little cloud of despair impinges with the realization that there is no way at all that atmospheric CO2 will be stabilized at its present level. The Year 2000 scenario is there only for contrast. The science is in order here, and we can look forward to a 21st century of human-made climate warming, with all its attendant dangers. Are you feeling guilty yet?
But maybe things aren't so cut-and-dried. In 2001, a paper published in the journal Climate Research candidly discussed uncertainties in the physics that informs the GCMs. This paper was very controversial and incited a debate. But for all that was controverted, the basic physical uncertainties were not disputed. It turns out that uncertainties in the energetic responses of Earth climate systems are more than 10 times larger than the entire energetic effect of increased CO2. If the uncertainty is larger than the effect, the effect itself becomes moot. If the effect itself is debatable, then what is the IPCC talking about? And from where comes the certainty of a large CO2 impact on climate?
With that in mind, look again at the IPCC Legend for Figure SPM-5. It reports that the "[s]hading denotes the plus/minus one standard deviation range of individual model annual averages." The lines on the Figure represent averages of the annual GCM projected temperatures. The Legend is saying that 68% of the time (one standard deviation), the projections of the models will fall within the shaded regions. It's not saying that the shaded regions display the physical reliability of the projections. The shaded regions aren't telling us anything about the physical uncertainty of temperature predictions. They're telling us about the numerical instability of climate models. The message of the Legend is that climate models won't produce exactly the same trend twice. They're just guaranteed to get within the shadings 68% of the time.
This point is so important that it bears a simple illustration to make it very clear. Suppose I had a computer model of common arithmetic that said 2+2=5ñ0.1. Every time I ran the model, there was a 68% chance that the result of 2+2 would be within 0.1 unit of 5. My shaded region would be ñ0.1 unit wide. If 40 research groups had 40 slightly different computer models of arithmetic that gave similar results, we could all congratulate ourselves on a consensus. Suppose that after much work, we improved our models so that they gave 2+2=5ñ0.01. We could then claim our models were 10 times better than before. But they'd all be exactly as wrong as before, too, because exact arithmetic proves that 2+2=4.
This example illustrates the critical difference between precision and accuracy. In Figure 1, the shaded regions are about the calculational imprecision of the computer models. They are not about the physical accuracy of the projections. They don't tell us anything about physical accuracy. But physical accuracy - reliability - is always what we're looking for in a prediction about future real-world events. It's on this point - the physical accuracy of General Circulation Models - that the rest of this article will dwell....
Since the satellite era especially, specific aspects of climate such as cloudiness or surface temperature have been monitored across the entire globe. GCM climate models can be tested by retrodiction - by making them reproduce the known past climate of Earth instead of the future climate. Physical error in GCMs can be quantified by comparing the retrodicted past with the real past.
Figure 3 shows the December-January-February cloudiness observed by satellite on Earth, averaged over the years 1983-1990. It also shows global average cloudiness as retrodicted over the similar 1979-1988 period by 10 revised GCMs. The GCMs had been used in one attempt to reproduce the observed cloudiness, and were then revised and re-tested. This study was published in 1999, but the fidelity between GCM retrodictions and observed cloudiness has hardly improved in the past nine years. Looking at Figure 3, the GCMs do a pretty good job getting the general W-shape of Earth cloudiness, but there are significant misses by all the models at all latitudes including the tropics where clouds can have a large impact on climate.
So, how wrong are the GCMs? One approach to determining error is to integrate the total cloudiness retrodicted by each model and compare that to the total cloudiness actually observed (SI Section 3). Calculating error this way is a little simplistic because positive error in one latitude can be cancelled by negative error in another. This exercise produced a standard average cloudiness error of ~10.1%, which is about half the officially assessed GCM cloud error.24 So let's call ~10.1% the minimal GCM cloud error. The average energy impact of clouds on Earth climate is worth about -27.6 W/m2. 27 That means ~10.1% error produces a ~2.8 W/m2 uncertainty in GCM climate projections. This uncertainty equals about ~100 % of the current excess forcing produced by all the human-generated greenhouse gasses presently in the atmosphere. Taking it into account will reflect a true, but incomplete, estimate of the physical reliability of a GCM temperature trend.
Figure 4 shows the A2 SRES projection as it might have looked had the IPCC opted to show the minimal ~10.1 % cloud error as a measure of the physical accuracy of their GCM-scenarioed 21st century temperature trend. The result is a little embarrassing. The physical uncertainty accumulates rapidly and is so large at 100 years that accommodating it has almost flattened the steep SRES A2 projection of Figure 1. The ~4.4øC uncertainty at year 4 already exceeds the entire 3.7øC temperature increase at 100 years. By 50 years, the uncertainty in projected temperature is ~55ø. At 100 years, the accumulated physical cloud uncertainty in temperature is ~111 degrees. Recall that this huge uncertainty stems from a minimal estimate of GCM physical cloud error.
In terms of the actual behavior of Earth climate, this uncertainty does not mean the GCMs are predicting that the climate may possibly be 100 degrees warmer or cooler by 2100. It means that the limits of resolution of the GCMs - their pixel size - is huge compared to what they are trying to project. In each new projection year of a century-scale calculation, the growing uncertainty in the climate impact of clouds alone makes the view of a GCM become progressively fuzzier.
It's as though a stronger and stronger distorting lens was placed in front of your eyes every time you turned around. First the flowers disappear, then the people, then the cars, the houses, and finally the large skyscrapers. Everything fuzzes out leaving indistinct blobs, and even large-scale motions can't be resolved. Claiming GCMs yield a reliable picture of future climate is like insisting that an indefinable blurry blob is really a house with a cat in the window....
The rapid growth of uncertainty means that GCMs cannot discern an ice age from a hothouse from 5 years away, much less 100 years away. So far as GCMs are concerned, Earth may be a winter wonderland by 2100 or a tropical paradise. No one knows.
Direct tests of climate models tell the same tale. In 2002, Matthew Collins of the UK Hadley Centre used the HadCM3 GCM to generate an artificial climate, and then tested how the HadCM3 fared predicting the very same climate it had generated. It fared poorly, even though it was the perfect model. The problem was that tiny uncertainties in the inputs - the starting conditions - rapidly expanded and quickly drove the GCM into incoherence. Even with a perfect model, Collins reported that, "[I]t appears that annual mean global mean temperatures are potentially predictable 1 year in advance and that longer time averages are also marginally predictable 5 and 10 years in advance." So with a perfect climate model and near-perfect inputs one might someday "potentially [predict]" and "marginally [predict]," but can not yet actually predict 1 year ahead. But with imperfect models, the IPCC predicts 100 years ahead.
Likewise, in a 2006 test of reliability, William Merryfield used 15 GCMs to predict future El Nino-Southern Oscillations (ENSO) in a greenhouse-warmed climate,29 and found that, "Under CO2 doubling, 8 of the 15 models exhibit ENSO amplitude changes that significantly (p<0.1) exceed centennial time scale variability within the respective control runs. However, in five of these models the amplitude decreases whereas in three it increases; hence there is no consensus as to the sign of change." So of 15 GCMs, seven predicted no significant change, 5 predicted a weaker ENSO, and 3 predicted a stronger ENSO. This result is exactly equivalent to `don't know.' The 15 GCMs tested by Merryfield were the same ones used by the IPCC to produce its Fourth Assessment Report.
In light of all this, why is the IPCC so certain that human-produced CO2 is responsible for recent warming? How can the US National Academy of Sciences say, in a recent brochure, that, " . Earth's warming in recent decades has been caused primarily by human activities that have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere"? This brochure offers a very telling Figure 4 (SI Section 5), showing the inputs to 20th century global temperature from a GCM projection. Only when the effects of human greenhouse gasses are included with normal temperature variation, we are told, does the GCM projected temperature trend match the observed temperature trend.
But their Figure 4 has another trait that is almost ubiquitous in GCM temperature projections. It shows no physical uncertainty limits. We are given a projected temperature trend that is implicitly represented as perfectly accurate. NAS Figure 4 would be more truthful if the National Academy presented it complete with ~100 degree uncertainty limits. Then it would be obvious that the correspondence between the observations and the projection was no more than accidental. Or else that the GCM was artificially adjusted to make it fit. It would also be obvious that it is meaningless to claim an explanatory fit is impossible without added CO2, when in fact an explanatory fit is impossible, period.
It is well-known among climatologists that large swaths of the physics in GCMs are not well understood. Where the uncertainty is significant GCMs have "parameters," which are best judgments for how certain climate processes work. General Circulation Models have dozens of parameters and possibly a million variables, and all of them have some sort of error or uncertainty.
A proper assessment of their physical reliability would include propagating all the parameter uncertainties through the GCMs, and then reporting the total uncertainty. I have looked in vain for such a study. No one seems to ever have directly assessed the total physical reliability of a GCM by propagating the parameter uncertainties through it. In the usual physical sciences, an analysis like this is required practice. But not in GCM science, apparently, and so the same people who express alarm about future warming disregard their own profound ignorance.
So the bottom line is this: When it comes to future climate, no one knows what they're talking about. No one. Not the IPCC nor its scientists, not the US National Academy of Sciences, not the NRDC or National Geographic, not the US Congressional House leadership, not me, not you, and certainly not Mr. Albert Gore. Earth's climate is warming and no one knows exactly why. But there is no falsifiable scientific basis whatever to assert this warming is caused by human-produced greenhouse gasses because current physical theory is too grossly inadequate to establish any cause at all.
So, then, what about melting ice-sheets, rising sea levels, the extinction of polar bears, and more extreme weather events? What if unusually intense hurricane seasons really do cause widespread disaster? It is critical to keep a firm grip on reason and rationality, most especially when social invitations to frenzy are so pervasive. General Circulation Models are so terribly unreliable that there is no objectively falsifiable reason to suppose any of the current warming trend is due to human-produced CO2, or that this CO2 will detectably warm the climate at all. Therefore, even if extreme events do develop because of a warming climate, there is no scientifically valid reason to attribute the cause to human-produced CO2. In the chaos of Earth's climate, there may be no discernible cause for warming. Many excellent scientists have explained all this in powerful works written to defuse the CO2 panic, but the choir sings seductively and few righteous believers seem willing to entertain disproofs.
OBAMA SUPPORTS UNILATERAL EMISSION CAPS, THREATENS POOR COUNTRIES WITH TRADE SANCTIONS
As executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group of 20 energy experts created in 2002, Jason Grumet has come in for some flack from environmentalists. NCEP's influential 2004 energy report called for several measures anathema to greens, including a "safety valve" that would set an upper limit on the price of carbon and CO2 permit giveaways to coal utilities and other big polluters.
But Grumet's experience finessing the contentious differences between opposing camps in the energy world clearly attracted Mr. Unity himself, Barack Obama. Grumet has been advising the Obama campaign on climate and energy matters, and representing it in public venues. Suffice to say, what he's peddling now is considerably stronger than NCEP's effort. I spoke with Grumet by phone in late April. [...]
Q: McCain policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that McCain is unlikely to put in place mandatory caps on carbon in the U.S. before China and India do. Will Obama?
A: First of all, that's a dramatic policy shift from what I understood John McCain's voice on this issue to be for the last decade, which is rather discouraging.
To be unequivocally clear, Sen. Obama believes that the United States must and will act to put a mandatory limit on our domestic greenhouse-gas emissions. That is a predicate for us leading the world to enact a truly equitable and global program in which China and India and Brazil and all the major emitting countries also put legal limits on their emissions. The story of this country has not been waiting to be led by others to address global challenges.
Q: What would Obama say to the common objection that caps here, without caps there, would disadvantage our economy and send jobs and manufacturing overseas?
A: Sen. Obama recognizes that it is a profoundly unacceptable outcome if our program simply results in exporting jobs and importing carbon. It is our view that a well-designed program that provides a reasonable trajectory for technology to advance while we achieve the reductions necessary, and provides real incentives so we are reinventing and modernizing our economy along the way, is going to be economically sustainable and ultimately productive here at home.
Up until now, the developed world has been trying to lead largely absent the U.S. Our commitment is to rejoin the league of nations and work together, recognizing that China, India, and others may be a step behind us, but the global economy and global environment cannot tolerate them being more than one step behind us. So we've tried to put forward carrots and sticks to encourage those nations to see the benefit of advancing their own decarbonization through technology-sharing and other incentives.
Q: The carrot is technology-sharing. What's the stick? A carbon tariff?
A: Ultimately, the solution to global climate change is going to be mediated through the lens of global trade. Sen. Obama has been supportive of mechanisms that have the U.S. take a first step, and if after a period of years other nations are not acting in what is deemed to be a commensurate responsible manner, look to our trade laws to try to ensure that there's no inequity or competitive disadvantage imposed on U.S. businesses. The idea that was initiated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in which importers of energy-intensive products would be required to purchase permits for the carbon embedded in those products -- the details need to be fleshed out, but that seems to be a reasonable approach to level the playing field, if we get there.
But Sen. Obama also has faith in the intellect of others. While he believes the United States has a vital role to play in leading this discussion, he does not believe we are going to have to bludgeon other countries into appreciating their own self-interest. Climate change is a real problem. The Chinese and the Brazilians and the Mexican government and others recognize that the exacerbating cycles of flood and drought will be devastating for countries trying to support billions of people on smaller amounts of arable land, who don't have the same kind of water-handling and -treatment systems.
CALIFORNIA'S POTEMKIN ENVIRONMENTALISM
A celebrated green economy produces pollution elsewhere, ongoing power shortages, and business-crippling costs
In January 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stood before the California legislature in Sacramento and delivered his fourth State of the State address since his improbable 2003 election. It was a rhetorical tour de force that would win him widespread acclaim. "California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta," said Schwarzenegger. "Not only can we lead California into the future; we can show the nation and the world how to get there."
Schwarzenegger especially celebrated California for its leadership on energy and the environment. Just three months earlier, he had signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, committing California to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels-roughly 25 percent below today's-by 2020, and all but eliminating them by 2050. The Governator then lambasted the Bush administration for failing to tackle global warming: "It would not act, so California did. California has taken the leadership in moving the entire country beyond debate and denial to action." Such performances have helped establish Schwarzenegger as a national figure, even a statesman, on the environment. In April 2007, he posed for the cover of Newsweek, spinning a globe on his finger under the banner leadership & the environment, and in September, he even addressed the United Nations on climate change.
Schwarzenegger's reputation as an environmental trailblazer is in keeping with California's recent history and self-perception. California's political leaders, business titans, academics, and environmental activists proudly point to the fact that the state has infused its public policy over the last four decades with an environmental consciousness unmatched in the United States, while also maintaining a dynamic economy, arguably the eighth-largest on the planet, with a gross state product of more than $1.6 trillion. The widely shared assumption is that forward-looking Athenian wisdom has nourished awesome Spartan power.
In truth, however, the Golden State's energy leadership is a mirage. California's environmental policies have made it heavily dependent on other states for power; generated some of the highest, business-crippling energy costs in the country; and left it vulnerable to periodic electricity shortages. Its economic growth has occurred not because of, but despite, those policies, which would be disastrous if extended to the rest of the country.
The climate change deniers
When heralded Canadian environmentalist Lawrence Solomon first set out two years ago - on a bet, no less - to find credible dissenters to the well-entrenched climate change dogma, he thought he might perhaps unearth enough material for a few National Post columns. Instead, like Alice passing through the looking glass, Mr. Solomon entered a world wherein it soon became clear the much-ballyhooed idea of a "scientific consensus" was as nonsensical as "Jabberwocky."
"I had picked several of the most essential and/or most widely publicized 'building blocks' of the case for catastrophic global warming," Mr. Solomon writes. "In each case, not only was I able to find a truly eminent, world-renowned leader in the field who disputed the point in question, but in each case the denier had more authority, sometimes far more authority, than those who put forward the building block in the first place."
The debate over anthropogenic - that is, human induced - climate change, is, in other words, just a bit more complicated than Al Gore suggested on "Oprah." Few books have captured this cognitive dissonance as well as "The Deniers," Mr. Solomon's essential, engrossing travelogue through the world of climate-change dissent.
In "The Deniers"' deniers are not the usual suspects paraded out by a media eager for Scopes Monkey Trial II: Flat Earthers' Revenge. They aren't blustery, ill-informed television pundits or slash-and-burn polemicists.
Rather, Mr. Solomon introduces us to legendary scientists with impeccable resumes and prestigious appointments at major universities and mainstream research institutes; thoughtful, serious professionals who, at their own professional peril, looked at one or another of the shibboleths of global warming alarmism - from the debunked "hockey stick" graphic and misread ice core samples to the amateurish or incorrect computer models and fear-mongering - and bravely refused to join the herd, profitable as that may be these days.
Likewise, Mr. Solomon's own position as founder and executive director of the well-regarded international environmental group Energy Probe makes it considerably more difficult for opponents to shellac him as a right-wing reactionary moonlighting as an oil company stooge - though, of course, no slander has been proven entirely off limits for demagogues who believe they are the Jack Bauers incarnate in a special environmental doomsday season of 24. ("There's no time for debate, Chloe, we've got to regulate now!") Witness "60 Minutes" reporter Scott Pelly's answer when queried as to why his reports featured no global warming skeptics: "If I do an interview with Elie Wiesel, am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?"
So who, exactly, has convened the conspiracy of silence Mr. Solomon is now attempting to shatter with "The Deniers?" Well, it's ... complicated. As the author would learn, many highly-qualified scientists who question even some small aspect of the global warming orthodoxy "don't want to be found at all and try very hard not to appear as dissenters. They have no wish to be called names in the press, or to lose their jobs, or to have their funding cut off as many deniers have."
Beyond the disturbing issue of self-censorship, however, stand those for whom the sexy business of saving the world is much too gratifying to bother with any credible contrarianism. Who wants to just live on an ever-changing planet when one could be a mini-Zeus lording over all the elements? Thus, even a balanced scientific report can end up resembling a lost quatrain from the Book of Revelation in the hands of regulation-happy politicians and reporters with small paychecks and large hero complexes.
Never mind that, as Mr. Solomon demonstrates to great effect in the closing pages of "The Deniers," the practical effect of popular climate change regulation schemes will likely be old-growth forests in Third World countries felled to make way for profitable "carbon intensive plantations." ("Every time we buy carbon offsets to salve our consciences at flying in a jet," Mr. Solomon writes, "we are helping to dispossess someone, somewhere, by boosting the carbon credit value of their land.") Forget that bio-fuel fads are pricing the world's poor out of sustenance. Ignore the myriad other environmental problems that could be addressed with the resources eaten up to solve a problem that very well may not exist.
"The Deniers" is a timely, necessary antidote to a political and scientific discussion poisoned by hubristic groupthink and the kind of scorched earth (mis)behavior that inevitably arises when a movement becomes so uncritically wedded to the commandments of a pseudo-religion its adherents would rather destroy their adversaries than risk debating them.
Wishful Thinking on Cellulosic Ethanol
Supporters of ethanol, stung by the backlash over its unintended but foreseeable consequences (see, e.g., here and here), namely, increasing hunger due to a run-up in global food prices and increased threats to biodiversity, now tell us that cellulosic ethanol will come to the rescue. The theory is that cellulosic ethanol, which is still in the research and development phase, would be produced from non-edible plant material, e.g., switchgrasses, crop residue and other biomass that is not currently grown or used as edible crops. Thus, it is implied, it would have no effect on food prices.
But this is wishful thinking. If cellulosic ethanol is indeed proven to be viable (with or without subsidies), what do people think farmers will do? Farmers will do what they've always done: they'll produce the necessary biomass that would be converted to ethanol more efficiently. In fact, they'll start cultivating the cellulose as a crop (or crops). They have had 10,000 years of practice perfecting their techniques. They'll use their usual bag of tricks to enhance the yields of the biomass in question: they'll divert land and water to grow these brand new crops. They'll fertilize with nitrogen and use pesticides.
The Monsantos of the world - or their competitors, the start-ups - will develop new and genetically modified but improved seeds that will increase the farmer's productivity and profits. And if cellulosic ethanol proves to be as profitable as its backers hope, farmers will divert even more land and water to producing the cellulose instead of food. All this means we'll be more or less back to where we were. Food will once again be competing with fuel. And land and water will be diverted from the rest of nature to meet the human demand for fuel.
Does this mean that biomass - and farmers - should play no role in helping us meet our energy needs? Not necessarily. If farmers can profitably grow fuel rather than food through their own efforts, so be it. But we shouldn't favor growing one over the other either through subsidies or indirectly through government mandates for so-called renewable fuels. And if anything should be subsidized or mandated, it shouldn't be growing fuels. That would inevitably compete with food.
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