Saturday, May 24, 2008

Record fall in greenhouse gases

How amusing if true! Skeptics have long pointed out that gas levels FOLLOW the temperature, rather than the other way around. And what has happened since all the cold weather we have been having? It would appear that CO2 levels have dropped as the temperature has dropped! The figures on which the report below is based are probably extremely rubbery, however

GREENHOUSE gas emissions by all the Group of Eight industrial nations except Russia fell in 2006 in the broadest dip since the world started trying to slow climate change in 1990, a Reuters survey showed today. Rising oil prices, some measures to curb global warming and a milder winter in the United States in 2006 that depressed energy demand for heating all contributed to an overall 0.6 per cent dip in G8 emissions in 2006 from 2005.

"It is an encouraging sign that emissions decreased in 2006 in some major developed economies," Michael Raupach, leader of the Earth Observation Centre in Canberra, said. "However, we have scarcely begun," he said, adding that the world would need far tougher action to stabilise emissions at levels to avert "dangerous" climate changes of ever more heatwaves, food shortages, floods, droughts and rising seas.

Emissions by the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada, France, Britain, and Italy were all down in 2006 - by between 2.5 per cent for France and just 0.02 per cent for Germany. Russia's emissions, which fell sharply after the collapse of the Soviet Union's smokestack industries, went against the trend with a gain of 3.1 per cent in line with strong economic growth.

Emissions by so many nations in the G8 have not previously fallen together any year since 1990, the UN benchmark for efforts to combat climate change including the Kyoto Protocol. Overall, emissions by the G8 fell to 14.04 billion tonnes in 2006 from 14.12 billion in 2005, according to a Reuters calculations based on submissions to the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

G8 environment ministers meet in Kobe, Japan, from May 24-26 to prepare a July summit meant to map out future actions to curb warming. Some experts said the 0.6 per cent decline was not a sign that G8 nations were really getting to grips with the problem. "One would expect higher oil prices to reduce demand for oil ... and a relatively mild winter would reduce power consumption and hence emissions from power stations," said Knut Alfsen, research director of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. "Unfortunately, it is difficult to discover policy actions in any of these countries that would explain the reduced emissions," he said. "I'm fairly pessimistic with regard to whether the countries are 'starting to get to grips' with the climate change challenge." ...

Still, the fall in emissions came despite 2006 economic growth of an average of 3.0 per cent for advanced economies, estimated by the International Monetary Fund. That may mark progress at least in decoupling emissions from growth.


Another New Cosmic Rays and Climate Paper

There is much evidence of a correlation between cosmic ray activity and climate change on earth but how that works is not yet clear

Jasper Kirkby of CERN has published a new paper examining the potential link between cosmic rays and climate. The paper concludes:
Numerous palaeoclimatic observations, covering a wide range of time scales, suggest that galactic cosmic ray variability is associated with climate change. The quality and diversity of the observations make it difficult to dismiss them merely as chance associations. But is the GCR flux directly affecting the climate or merely acting as a proxy for variations of the solar irradiance or a spectral component such as UV? Here, there is some palaeoclimatic evidence for associations of the climate with geomagnetic and galactic modulations of the GCR flux, which, if confirmed, point to a direct GCR-climate forcing. Moreover, numerous studies have reported meteorological responses to short-term changes of cosmic rays or the global electrical current, which are unambiguously associated with ionising particle radiation.

Cosmic ray forcing of the climate could in principle operate on all time scales from days to hundreds of millions of years, reflecting the characteristic time scales for changes in the Sun's magnetic activity, Earth's magnetic field, and the galactic environment of the solar system. Moreover the climate forcing would act simultaneously, and with the same sign, across the globe. This would both allow a large climatic response from a relatively small forcing and also give rise to simultaneous regional climate responses without any clear teleconnection path. The most persuasive palaeoclimatic evidence for solar/GCR forcing involves sub-orbital (centennial and millennial) climate variability over the Holocene, for which there is no established forcing agent at present. Increased GCR flux appears to be associated with a cooler climate, a southerly shift of the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) and a weakening of the monsoon; and decreased GCR flux is associated with a warmer climate, a northerly shift of the ITCZ and a strengthening of the monsoon (increased rainfall). The influence on the ITCZ may imply significant changes of upper tropospheric water vapour in the tropics and sub-tropics, potentially affecting both long-wave absorption and the availability of water vapour for cirrus clouds.

The most likely mechanism for a putative GCR-climate forcing is an influence of ionisation on clouds, as suggested by satellite observations and supported by theoretical and modelling studies. The satellite data suggest that decreased GCR flux is associated with decreased low altitude clouds, which are known to exert globally a net radiative cooling effect. Studies of Forbush decreases and solar proton events further suggest that decreased GCR flux may reduce high altitude (polar stratospheric) clouds in the Antarctic. Candidate microphysical processes include ion-induced nucleation of new aerosols from trace condensable vapours, and the formation of relatively highly charged aerosols and cloud droplets at cloud boundaries, which may enhance the formation of ice particles in clouds and affect the collision efficiencies of aerosols with cloud droplets. Although recent observations support the presence of ioninduced nucleation of new aerosols in the atmosphere, the possible contribution of such new particles to changes in the number of cloud condensation nuclei remains an open question. Furthermore, the parts of the globe and atmosphere that would be expected to be the most climatically sensitive to such processes are unknown, although they are likely to involve regions of low existing CCN concentrations.

Despite these uncertainties, the question of whether, and to what extent, the climate is influenced by solar and cosmic ray variability remains central to our understanding of the anthropogenic contribution to present climate change. Real progress on the cosmic ray-climate question will require a physical mechanism to be established, or else ruled out. With new experiments planned or underway, such as the CLOUD facility at CERN, there are good prospects that we will have some firm answers to this question within the next few years.

Kirkby, J. 2008. Cosmic rays and climate. Surveys in Geophysics 28: 333-375.



All those Jovian SUVs, no doubt

The first images of Jupiter since it came out from behind the sun show that the turbulence and storms that have plagued the planet for the past two years continue. Whether or not this is a sign of global warming, the turbulence does seem to be spawning new spots. As Red Spot Jr. and the Great Red Spot approach a June conjunction, a new third spot may merge with the GRS in August.

Increased turbulence and storms first observed on Jupiter more than two years ago are still raging, according to astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, who snapped high-resolution pictures of the planet earlier this month.

Captured with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the 10-meter Keck II telescope, this so-called "major upheaval" on Jupiter involves stunning changes in the planet's atmosphere, said lead astronomer Imke de Pater, professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley.

The upheaval was heralded in December 2005 by a color change from white to red of a large oval near the Great Red Spot, earning it the moniker Red Spot Jr. This oval, formally known as Oval BA, formed six years earlier through a merger of three large white ovals just south of the Great Red Spot - storms that formed in the early 1930s and were prominent in the Voyager era.

The new images, the first since Jupiter emerged from its passage behind the Sun, may show that Jupiter indeed is undergoing a major climate change, as predicted four years ago.

"One of the most notable changes we observe in both the Hubble and Keck images is the change from a rather bland, quiescent band surrounding the Great Red Spot just over a year ago to one that is incredibly turbulent at both sides of the spot," de Pater said. "During all previous HST observations and spacecraft encounters, starting with Voyager in 1979, such turbulence was seen only on the west or left side of the spot."

More here


The British Government has two policies on oil prices. The first is that the price we pay for oil is too high, and must be brought down. The second is that the price we pay for oil is too low, and must be increased. The second policy rests its case on the Stern Review's assertion that the price consumers are charged for fossil fuels is "the biggest market failure in history" - because it doesn't take account of the "climate costs" they allegedly impose on future generations.

Gordon Brown gave the now-celebrated economist Nicholas Stern a personal standing ovation when he delivered his report on the economics of climate change; the fuel price escalator - abandoned at the time of the road hauliers' protests and blockades in 2000 - is set to resume. Even without that, taxes on petrol and diesel are dramatically higher in the UK than in any other European country - we lead the world in fuel duties. So you might think that Gordon Brown would be delighted that crude oil prices have soared recently - isn't the market doing what Lord Stern of Brentford and the Government ordered as environmentally essential: to make us use less of the stuff? Apparently not.

This week the Prime Minister told the Google Zeitgeist conference: "It is, as people recognise, a scandal that 40 per cent of the [world's] oil is controlled by Opec, that their decisions can restrict the supply of oil to the rest of the world, and that a time when oil is desperately needed, and supply needs to expand, that Opec can withhold supply from the market."

This is not the first time that Mr Brown has attacked Opec in such terms. He did so - not coincidentally - when there was a sharp upward turn in petrol prices in 2005: it was the then Chancellor Brown who told the Confederation of British Industry that it was all Opec's fault for not producing more oil.

This produced a withering retort from the then Opec president, Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah. He pointed out that the British Exchequer was taxing fuel at a rate of 75 per cent and asked who would buy the extra millions of barrels a day of oil that Mr Brown was calling for: "If he would like to have it I would be happy to sell it to him."

What Sheikh Ahmad observed then remains true today. There is not a shortage of crude oil - inventories are at normal levels, worldwide. Have you seen any queues at petrol stations? Do you know of any? Are there any queues at gas filling stations in the United States? Nope.

Far from operating as a restrictive cartel - whatever their aspirations - 12 of the 13 members of Opec are pumping out oil at maximum capacity. Saudi Arabia alone has the flexibility to produce more than their current output, but they are already producing well in excess of their official Opec quota.

Last week, in response to a personal plea from President George Bush, the Saudis agreed to increase their output by a further 300,000 barrels of oil a day. The announcement had no effect in halting the upward rush of the market price.

That is because most of the recent surge has been driven by oil "futures": the financial houses which dominate this market are convinced that oil production in the years ahead will not be able to meet demand - and so they believe that they will be able to sell "future" barrels of oil for more than they are now paying for them.

At the moment, however, there is enough oil in the market to meet immediate demand - and the Saudis argue that if there is a supply crunch coming in the years ahead, isn't that when they should be producing more, rather than now?

To the extent that there are already bottlenecks in the system, this is principally due to shortfalls in refining capacity. You can't put crude oil into a motor car - at least not if you want it to move. Yet for other environmental reasons - called "not in my back yard" - over the past 30 years there have been no new refineries built in the US or Europe. Is that another "scandal" that can be blamed on Opec?

On the same day that Mr Brown fulminated against Opec, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation enabling the Justice Department to sue Opec members under anti-trust laws for "limiting oil supplies". President Bush has said that he will veto any such bill. He probably remembers how in 1986 his father - then the Vice-President - pleaded with the Saudis to cut back their production when the oil price had collapsed below $10 a barrel. They did so - thus saving the oil-producing states of Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma from economic meltdown.

This underlined the paradox at the heart of the West's attitude to Opec: it is rightly suspicious of the operations of a cartel, but at the same time wants the price stability that Opec itself claims as its principal objective.

In this context, the dispute between Gordon Brown and Opec is not about production at all: it is a squabble over who collects the rent. The Prime Minister wants the British consumer to pay a very high price for petrol and diesel, but for the British Government (as tax-collector and distributor of benefits) to be the principal beneficiary rather than the countries which actually produce the black stuff.

This racket worked well when crude oil prices were at historically low levels. It enabled Chancellor Brown - even with the fuel price revolt in 2000 - to siphon off vast revenues in indirect taxes without facing insuperable public dissatisfaction.

The other truth which Gordon Brown evades is that Britain is also a significant oil producer: the soaring price of crude is producing a windfall from taxes on companies operating in the North Sea. If current prices hold, they will generate extra above-Budget Petroleum Revenue taxes this year sufficient on their own to fund the 2.7bn pound cost of the desperate Crewe by-election hand-out announced last week by Chancellor Darling.

Although this is not the purpose of Gordon Brown's oil taxation policies, if he does want to help to destroy Opec, he is going about it the right way. The more expensive it becomes to buy gasoline, the more people will find ways of not using so much of it. Much of the current hysteria seems based on the idea that demand for oil can not be reduced. Of course it can, and will: last year the supposedly incorrigible US reduced its oil consumption by 5 per cent.

It could just be that the speculators who have driven up the price of crude oil futures to such a giddy height might discover that they have dramatically misread the market: if the sub-prime crisis has taught us anything, it should be that a speculative bubble has the capacity to burst -indeed, that is what bubbles do.

Meanwhile, however much the Prime Minister is worried about the public's rage at high fuel prices, he really shouldn't try to persuade us that it's entirely the fault of grasping Arabs.

The level of fuel duty and VAT is clearly stated on every gas station forecourt in the land - and we all know who is responsible for that.


Ignorant Greenie trustfunders trying to derail Exxon

Who wins in a shareholder war between green-collar activists and blue-collar union pensioners? Hard to say. But round two in the battle over the fiduciary responsibilities of corporate giant Exxon Mobil ought to be illuminating for investors.

The heirs of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil empire made a media splash recently when they demanded that the oil giant diversify out of oil, of all things. When Exxon holds its annual shareholder meeting next week, the Rockefeller clan will push proxy resolutions requiring the company to invest in noncarbon energy sources, and to create more board of director "independence" from management by splitting the role of chairman and chief executive. To hear the wealthy heirs tell it, Exxon will thus be better positioned to take advantage of the eco-opportunities of the future.

The counterpunch from other, nonwealthy shareholders has now arrived in the form of a letter from union chief Chuck Canterbury. He's president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, whose 324,000 members have plenty of pension-fund dollars invested in Exxon. In a May 17 letter to Exxon Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, Mr. Canterbury made clear he and his members don't agree that Exxon should be used to promote social goals if it means putting worker retirements at risk.

"ExxonMobil is an example of how hard work, efficient management and innovative entrepreneurism breed success," Mr. Canterbury wrote, noting this was why many union pension funds have invested in the oil company. "The Rockefeller resolutions threaten to degrade the value of ExxonMobil."

And more: The family would impose "rigid, ideologically-based conditions on the company's future," would nullify "the judgment of a highly successful management team," and would "undercut every project and business operation." This would "hamstring ExxonMobil's profitability and growth, thus directly harming the police officers, firefighters, teachers and public employees whose retirement savings are invested in the company."

Mr. Canterbury seems to understand how capitalism works better than do the ostensibly capitalist Rockefellers. His letter is a reminder that Exxon's legal obligation is to maximize returns to shareholders, and that over the years it has done that by taking calculated risks in drilling for fossil fuels. Many investors put their money into Exxon precisely because the company does that so well.

Similar corporate governance reforms haven't helped the returns of other oil giants. Royal Dutch Shell and BP have both split the roles of chairman and chief executive, without any discernible benefit to shareholders. Since 2006, when Mr. Tillerson assumed the top roles at Exxon, the company's stock has climbed 57%, compared with 12% for Royal Dutch Shell and 4% for BP. Over the past 10 years, Exxon has consistently outpaced those rivals and the industry average in annual average returns on investment.

Then again, maybe this Exxon "reform" campaign isn't really about investors. Perhaps it's a political exercise hiding under the banner of corporate governance. Look no further than Denise Nappier, the ambitious Connecticut State Treasurer who also recently joined the Exxon fun. The Democrat oversees pension dollars on behalf of thousands of teachers and state and municipal employees, and she has also recently denounced the oil company's "addiction to oil."

In supporting the Rockefellers, Ms. Nappier explained that her alternative-energy ideas would be better for Exxon than are the investment plans of Exxon's executives. If Exxon ever took her advice, we'd recommend putting in an immediate sell order on its shares. But it's more likely that the future candidate for Governor is merely angling for some easy green publicity as she and the state's pensioners continue to benefit from their investment in Exxon's substantial oil profits. She'd be violating her own fiduciary duty to those pensioners if she pursued an ideological agenda that hurt returns.

The Rockefellers and most of their allies are wealthy enough to survive any Exxon decline. The same can't be said for retired police officers. Exxon will do more for its shareholders, and for society, if it avoids political fads and keeps its focus on investments that promise the highest return on shareholder capital.


Australian electricity producers warn of danger from Greenie regulations

POWER generators have warned of blackouts and power price spikes if the Rudd Government moves too aggressively to put a price on greenhouse emissions. New modelling by the National Generators Forum has signalled the price on greenhouse emissions will need to rise from $20 a tonne in 2010 to $150 a tonne by 2050 if the Government is to deliver its promised cuts.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday reaffirmed that the Government would proceed with its mandatory renewable energy target of 20per cent of supply by 2020, despite sharp criticism of the proposal by the Government's leading economic think thank. The renewable energy industry yesterday backed the commitment, claiming a 20per cent target was the global standard for climate change policy.

In its submission to the Garnaut climate change review, the Productivity Commission said the emissions trading scheme on its own should be used to cut emissions, and added that a renewable target would only increase costs and not make deeper cuts in emissions. In their submission to the climate change review, energy generators have warned that big coal-fired power stations risk crashing out of the system, leaving huge supply gaps and price spikes if the transition is not carefully managed.

National Generators Forum director John Boshier said Victoria was likely to be the first state to face problems with price and reliability caused by the closure of giant brown-coal generators pushed out of the market by the rising price of emissions. "We want to make this transition," Mr Boshier told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "But we don't want to destroy these companies or damage their ability to reinvest in new low-emission generation capacity. "It's only by keeping them solvent will we be able to make the transition to a low-emission electricity system as quickly as possible."

The NGF submission said compensation to generators would offset losses, but would still not address the breakdown of the national electricity market triggered by the departure of major generators.



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1 comment:

Layer Seven said...

JR - G8 is only 60% of world GDP; and extraordinary growth is focused in China, India, and elsewhere.

Oil consumption probably didn't drop. I view the article with skepticism.

Mauna Loa CO2 charts show interesting behavior (see )however there was (is?) no decrease in CO2 evident yet.