Friday, May 23, 2008

Sun still unusually quiet

Just a coincidence that we are having so much cold weather, of course. Suppressed science based on past realities predicted it, though

Many solar scientists expected the new sunspot cycle to be a whopper, a prolonged solar tantrum that could fry satellites and raise hell with earthly communications, the power grid and modern electronics. But there's scant proof Sunspot Cycle 24 is even here, let alone the debut of big trouble. So far there have been just a couple minor zits on the face of the sun to suggest the old cycle is over and the new one is coming. The roughly 11-year cycle of sunspot activity should have bottomed out last year, the end of Cycle 23 and the beginning of Cycle 24. That would have put the peak in new sunspot activity around 2012.

But a dud sunspot cycle would not necessarily make it a boring period, especially for two solar scientists with the Tucson-based National Solar Observatory. Two years ago, William Livingston and Matt Penn wrote a paper for the journal Science predicting that this could not only be a dud sunspot cycle, but the start of another extended down period in solar activity. It was based on their analysis of weakening sunspot intensity and said sunspots might vanish by 2015. And here's the punch line: That last long-term down period, 1645-1715, coincided with the Little Ice Age, a period of bitter cold winters.

That kind of talk could ruffle some feathers in this time of climate change and global warming, starring man-made carbon dioxide as the devil. The paper, rejected in peer review, was never published by Science. Livingston said he's OK with the rejection. "I accept what the reviewers said," Livingston said. "'If you are going to make such statement, you had better have strong evidence."

Livingston said their projections were based on observations of a trend in decreasingly powerful sunspots but reviewers felt it was merely a statistical argument. He is aware that some opponents of the prevailing position that climate change and global warming are the result of manmade activity - greenhouse gas, specifically carbon dioxide, buildup - are very much interested in the idea that changes might be related to solar activity.

"But it has not been proven yet," cautioned Livingston, an astronomer emeritus who still works out of an office at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory headquarters building on the University of Arizona campus. "We may have to wait. We may be wrong. (But) the sun is going to entertain us one way or another," he said.

It's not just a scientific curiosity. There's a lot at stake in predicting whether sunspot cycles are going to be tame or wild, said Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory. The powerful blasts of radiation that come from solar activity can fry electronic equipment on Earth; particularly vulnerable are satellites.

More here

Alaska attacks polar bear nonsense

The state of Alaska will sue to challenge the recent listing of polar bears as a threatened species, Gov. Sarah Palin announced Wednesday. She and other Alaska elected officials fear a listing will cripple oil and gas development in prime polar bear habitat off the state's northern and northwestern coasts. Palin argued that there is not enough evidence to support a listing. Polar bears are well-managed and their population has dramatically increased over 30 years as a result of conservation, she said. Climate models that predict continued loss of sea ice, the main habitat of polar bears, during summers are unreliable, said Palin, a Republican.

The announcement drew a strong response from the primary author of the listing petition. "She's either grossly misinformed or intentionally misleading, and both are unbecoming," said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Alaska deserves better." Siegel said it was unconscionable for Palin to ignore overwhelming evidence of global warming's threat to sea ice, the polar bear's habitat. "Even the Bush administration can't deny the reality of global warming," she said. "The governor is aligning herself and the state of Alaska with the most discredited, fringe, extreme viewpoints by denying this."

As marine mammals, polar bears are regulated by the federal government, not the state. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne last week made the listing decision and said it was based on three findings. "First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival. Second, the polar bear's sea-ice habitat has dramatically melted in recent decades. Third, computer models suggest sea ice is likely to further recede in the future," he said.

Summer sea ice last year shrank to a record low, about 1.65 million square miles, nearly 40 percent less than the long-term average between 1979 and 2000. Polar bears rely on sea ice for hunting ringed seals. In recent years, summer sea ice has receded far beyond the relatively shallow, biologically rich waters of the outer continental shelf, giving polar bears less time in prime feeding areas.

The bear's numbers rebounded after the 1970s, but conservation groups contend that was in response to measures taken to stop over-hunting. Polar bear researchers fear recent effects of the loss of sea ice on Alaska polar bear populations. A 2006 study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that far fewer polar bear cubs in the Beaufort Sea were surviving and that adult males weighed less and had smaller skulls than those captured and measured two decades previously-trends similar to observations in Canada's western Hudson Bay before a population drop. A U.S. Geological Survey study completed last year as part of the petition process predicted polar bears in Alaska could be wiped out by 2050.

Kempthorne said last week he considered every point Palin made, and rejected them. However, he sought to limit the economic effect of the decision with the inclusion of "administrative guidance" that said the listing would not be used to create back-door climate policy outside the normal system of political accountability. He also said that the threat to polar bears did not come from the petroleum industry.

In response, conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council are seeking to overturn Kempthorne's administrative actions and seek limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Palin and other state officials called arbitrary a decision to list a healthy species judging by what they deem uncertain modeling of future climate change and unproven long-term impact of any future climate change on the species. State Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin said it could have wide economic effects. "Inappropriate implementation of this listing decision could result in widespread social and economic impacts, including increased power costs and further increases in fuel prices, without providing any more protection for the species," he said.



The state's costly, grandiose scheme to combat global warming is finding resistance from many of the same folks who approved it two years ago. Meanwhile, legislative opposition also is growing to the plan to create a global warming state think tank financed by a utility users' surcharge. It appears that paying for saving mankind from a projected 1- or 2-degree increase in temperature over the next century already is proving too costly in today's limited dollars. "Powerful state senators from both parties are challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed spending spree on selected programs to address global warming," the San Diego Union-Tribune recently reported.

That news came on the heels of an opinion by the state Legislature's attorneys that the Public Utilities Commission overstepped its authority by voting to force electricity and natural-gas customers to pay to create a $600-million global warming think tank.

Confronted with a current, undeniable $17-billion budget deficit, apparently even legislative Democrats are finding the price tag for long-term solutions to global warming's alleged threat too big a price to pay, at least for now. We're glad there are representatives in Sacramento who can distinguish between actual, existing problems and computer-generated future projections.

We may be about to discover how committed legislators really are to the hyped concern over climate change, considering that the globe hasn't warmed for about a decade and is projected to cool even more over the next decade, and no global warming-caused calamities yet have occurred outside of contrived computer models. When weighing the concrete crisis of too many government programs operating on too little tax revenue, we're glad to see some legislators prefer to address current, real challenges.

Democrats, the Union-Tribune reported, are concerned that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget borrows too much from other environmental programs to cover costs associated with combating global warming.

Republicans also appear to be girding for a fight. The GOP threatens to hold up the budget until the governor agrees to delay implementing new industry emission-cutting regulations contained in the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act.

State Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, observed so-called new "green" businesses have yet to emerge, but costs imposed on existing businesses by global warming regulations may drive them to Nevada, where there are no greenhouse-gas reduction laws. Democrats also complain that millions of dollars in services and scores of jobs face elimination, while global warming regulations would still be financed.



The feeling that the world is coming to an end is as old as the scriptures, and certain climatic predictions have the same flavor. Article below by Robert Skidelsky -- a member of the British House of Lords and professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University

It was only to be expected that former US vice president Al Gore would give this month's cyclone in Myanmar an apocalyptic twist. "Last year," he said, "a catastrophic storm hit Bangladesh. The year before, the strongest cyclone in more than 50 years hit China ...We're seeing the consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continual global warming." Surprisingly, Gore did not include the Asian tsunami of 2004, which claimed 225,000 lives. His not so subliminal message was that these natural catastrophes foreshadow the end of the world.

Apocalyptic beliefs have always been part of the Christian tradition. They express the yearning for heaven on earth, when evil is destroyed and the good are saved. In their classical religious form, such beliefs rely on signs and omens, like earthquakes and sunspots, which can be interpreted - by reference to biblical passages - as portending a great cataclysm and cleansing. Thus, apocalyptic moments are products of a sense of crisis; they can be triggered by wars and natural disasters.

Classical apocalyptic thinking is certainly alive and well, especially in the US, where it feeds on Protestant fundamentalism, and is mass marketed with all the resources of modern media. Circles close to the Bush administration, it is rumored, take current distempers like terrorism as confirmation of biblical prophecies.

In secularized, pseudo-scientific form, apocalyptic thinking has also been at the core of revolutionary politics. In his latest book, Black Mass, philosopher John Gray discusses how political doctrines like Marxism colonized the apocalyptic vision in prophesying the destruction of capitalism as the prelude to the socialist utopia. But political messianism was an offshoot of 19th century optimism. With the collapse of optimism, contemporary apocalyptic belief lays more stress on catastrophe and less on utopia. For example, in his book Flat Earth News, the investigative journalist Nick Davies reminds us of the millennium bug panic. Newspapers everywhere carried stories predicting that computer systems would crash on Jan. 1, 2000, causing much of the world to shut down. The subtext was familiar: Those who live by technology will die by it.

Misreporting of science is so routine now that we hardly notice it. Much more serious is when science itself becomes infected by the apocalyptic spirit. Faith-based science seems a contradiction in terms, because the scientific worldview emerged as a challenge to religious superstition. But important scientific beliefs can now be said to be held religiously, rather than scientifically. This brings us back to Gore and climate change.

There is no doubt that the Earth became warmer over the 20th century (by about 0.7øC), which most climate scientists largely attribute to human carbon dioxide emissions....

This is the second doomsday scenario of recent decades, the first being the Club of Rome's prediction in 1972 that the world would soon run out of natural resources. Both are "scientific," but their structure is the same as that of the biblical story of the Flood: Human wickedness (or, in today's case, unbridled materialism) triggers the disastrous sequence, which it may already be too late to avert. Like Biblical prophecy, scientific doomsday stories seem impervious to refutation and are constantly repackaged to feed the hunger for catastrophe.

Scientists argue that the media and politicians are responsible for exaggerating their findings as promises of salvation or warnings of retribution. But scientists themselves are partly responsible, because they have hardened uncertainties into probabilities, treated disputable propositions as matters of fact and attacked dissent as heresy. Scientists are notoriously loath to jettison conclusions reached by approved scientific methods, however faulty. But their intolerance of dissent is hugely magnified when they see themselves as captains in a salvationist army dedicated to purging the world of evil habits....

The best antidote to the doom merchants is skepticism. We must be willing to take uncertainty seriously. Climate change is a fact. But apocalyptic thinking distorts the scientific debate and makes it harder to explain the causes and consequences of this fact, which in turn makes it harder to know how to deal with it.

The danger is that we become so infected with the apocalyptic virus that we end up creating a real catastrophe - the meltdown of our economies and lifestyles - in order to avoid an imaginary one. In short, while a religious attitude of mind deserves the highest respect, we should resist the re-conquest by religion of matters that should be the concern of science.


'Grantsmanship' Distorts Global Warming Science

Almost every day another species of plant or animal is "discovered" to be threatened by global warming. I read a new report concerning moose in Scandinavia that are unexpectedly "threatened" despite what researchers admit is a growing population. Penguins are in danger from loss of Antarctic ice even though the Antarctic ice-cap is known to be growing with colder temperatures recorded in the southern hemisphere in recent years according to NASA. Fortunately for these species -- which hitherto managed to survive and thrive on their own for hundreds of thousands or millions of years -- intrepid 21st Century researchers have arrived on the scene with Al Gore just in time to "rescue" them from climate change. How is it possible that such disparate species all around the globe are in such dire straights all at once?

Perhaps it has less to do with actual species' population trends and other such noisome facts and more to do with a novel nexus between the news-media and "grantsmanship" among academic researchers who have hit upon a winning formula: if one ties one's research project somehow -- even via the most tenuous and flimsy grounds -- to global warming, one's grant proposal will have much greater chance to be selected for funding, one's chances of appearing on 60 Minutes or NPR are greatly increased, and as a consequence of this positive PR for one's project, university and funding agency, one's grant is more likely to be renewed.

In contrast, if one continues to toil on relatively obscure scholarship where actual scientific data is important, trend lines have meaning, and logical debate is allowed, the chances of winning funding for one's work are greatly reduced. Scientists have learned therefore that they will be rewarded handsomely by identifying any tangential connection between their favorite studies and "global warming" alarmism. Like Pavlov's dog with a PhD.

Scientists are people too and, like anyone, crave a moment in the limelight, with his or her work celebrated in the news-media as being "relevant". Thus a moose expert who has toiled in anonymity for decades will find that if he or she mentions that the moose might be "threatened" by global warming, he or she is suddenly lionized by the media as another "expert" chiming in about the dangers of climate change (cf. first link above). And being an "expert", it is difficult for the layman (i.e. your average person who has not toiled for decades studying moose) to refute the assertion no matter how spurious the moose-expert's "science". We should acknowledge that even moose experts can be taken in by the anthropogenic global-warming hoax. A plant expert sees the moose expert win enormous attention and acclaim and thus inspired concludes "suddenly" that his or her favorite plant is somehow also affected by climate change in the hope of drawing similar positive attention -- and grant money.

Let's examine this media-grant nexus more closely and follow the money. First, note that the source of funding for most basic scientific research in the US is the federal government (national governments in other countries) administered via funding agencies such as the DOE, EPA, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, NASA and at times the DOD. These funds originate in congressional appropriations. These funds are "spent" at universities, national labs, and independent non-profit research labs via peer-reviewed grant competitions seeking cutting edge research projects to fund in the wide variety of scientific disciplines.

These competitions are "refereed" by experts (peers) selected by the agency for the purpose of judging the competition (DARPA, by the way, uses a different mechanism for selecting their R&D contractors). Peer review has served our nation well since WWII and has, for the most part, insured the high quality of the American scientific enterprise. There is nothing wrong with "grantsmanship" per se -- it is the scientific world's version of "salesmanship" -- but like good salesmen and women who know their customer, scientists know their customer wants projects relevant to "climate change".

Peer review is intended to insulate the process from politics. But in today's hyper-politicized world of "climate change" alarmism, I believe the insulation has broken down -- particularly since statist politicians view climate-change hysteria as pretext for seizing control of the global energy industry. Here's how this might work. Although peer-review is the gate-keeper for selection of grant-projects, agencies set the scoring criteria against which proposals are measured. Being human, agency bureaucrats also are highly attuned to congressional whims and desires -- as well as public perceptions of research needs -- and undoubtedly have added "climate-change" to their research mission and accordingly "relevance to climate-change" as criterion for selection of grant proposals.

Congressmen and their staffers see "climate change" recorded in an agency'a official mission and are consequently more satisfied that the research funded with tax-payer dollars is "relevant", "timely" and addresses a perceived "crisis" -- the "experts" says so after all. Grant writing biologists respond by pounding whatever square peg may be their research interest (moose, penguin -- it doesn't matter) by tenuous and tendentious arguments into the round hole of "climate change" alarmism and are rewarded with more grants.

As if taking their cue after last week's ruling by the Fish and Wildlife Service that the polar bear is "threatened", the UN IPPC announced a new scientific study that concludes almost all species are already being damaged by "global warming". Here's a part of the UK Guardian's account:
"When you look at a map of the world and see where these changes are already happening, and how many species and systems are already responding to climate change after only a 0.6C rise, it just heightens our concerns for the future," Rosenzweig said. "It's clear we have to adapt to climate change as well as try to mitigate it. It's real and it's happening now."

In the UN's view, adaptation undoubtedly requires world government to regulate energy and control the "crisis". The media add fuel to the flame of global warming hysteria by dutifully reporting every new species (preferably cuddly photogenic ones) reported by "experts" to now be threatened, thus allowing them to inexpensively recycle the same clips of glaciers calving icebergs into the ocean (as glaciers have done for millions of years), and highlighting the alarming "relevance" of the particular researchers' conclusions. Meanwhile, the university, the funding agency and congress get to bask in reflected glory (the media covered it so it must be highly relevant!).

It is this newly formed iron triangle (researchers/government/media) of grantsmanship, knee-jerk media coverage, federal research agency log-rolling and congress's desire to seem "relevant" by addressing a "global crisis" that creates more and more "discoveries" of species threatened by climate change. This nexus creates a screeching, noisy feedback loop that is distorting science and corrupting the processes that insure research quality.

In my view, it will take an august body like the National Academy of Science to step in to once again insulate science from politics. And even they might fail. We may be doomed, not by global warming, but by this iron triangle's distortions and fear-mongering that attempt to stampede our fellow citizens into foolhardy policies intended to "correct" an unfounded "crisis".


Australian government's Greenie strategy pointless says advisory body

The Government's leading economic think tank has launched a scathing attack on one of Kevin Rudd's most significant climate change policies - the mandatory renewable energy target - claiming it will drive up energy prices and do nothing to cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

In a carefully timed submission to the Government's climate change policy review, the Productivity Commission also flagged a review of tax distortions that increase emissions, such as the generous fringe benefit tax treatment of motor vehicles. Following the recent debate over a possible cut in fuel excises to relieve the cost burden on motorists, the commission has also encouraged the Government to put up fuel prices by including transport fuels in an emissions trading scheme from 2010.

The Government's chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has already signalled concerns about Labor's ambitious election promise to set a mandatory renewable energy target of 20 per cent of power to be generated through sources such as wind and solar energy by 2020. In February, with the release of his first interim report, Professor Garnaut highlighted the need to phase out the MRET as quickly as possible, warning it could push up electricity prices and override the impact of a trading scheme. The Productivity Commission was specifically invited by Professor Garnaut to comment on the policy response to climate change.

While recognising the need for a range of policy options to accelerate the development of clean energy technologies, the commission has questioned the efficiency of the proposed MRET in parallel with an emissions trading scheme. It claims such an approach would increase renewable energy generation at the expense of gas-fired electricity, but not drive any deeper cuts in emissions. It also expressed concern that the scheme would "provide a signal that lobbying for government support for certain technologies and industries over others could be successful". "An MRET operating in conjunction with an emissions trading scheme would not encourage any additional abatement, but still impose additional administration and monitoring costs," the submission says.

The Rudd Government remains committed to the implementation ofits MRET scheme, allocating $15million in last week's budget towards administering it over the next five years. A spokeswoman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the Government made an election commitment to its expanded MRET. "The purpose is to drive investment in, and deployment of, renewable energy in the short and medium term," she said. "The Government will design the renewable energy target in a careful way to reduce Australia's emissions at the lowest cost to the economy."

The commission's submission is consistent with many key points raised in recent Garnaut review discussion papers. These involve the need to include transport fuels under emissions trading and calls for a review of emissions-increasing tax structures, such as fringe benefits tax treatment of cars, and of market rules for power transmission and pricing once a price is put on greenhouse emissions. "There may be interventions elsewhere in the economy (for example, in the taxation and tariff systems) that inadvertently create incentives for increased (greenhouse gas) emissions," it says. "While there could be good public policy reasons for these interventions, the emergence of more ambitious climate change objectives provides an additional reason for reviewing their appropriateness."

Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt said the MRET should be replaced with a clean energy target that included technologies such as clean coal and gas. "If you want to clean up the power stations, which supply 92per cent of Australia's energy, and if you want to firmly tackle climate change, you have to have incentives for the take-up of clean coal and gas," he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation climate spokesman Tony Mohr welcomed the commission's focus on taxation review, but suggested the benefits from a mandatory target were greater than attributed. The gas industry welcomed the submission as "an important and credible addition to the debate around how Australia achieves emissions reductions most efficiently".

The commission's comments come as Brendan Nelson described price rises stemming from the Garnaut review as "the train heading down the track". "Mr Rudd has capitalised on the widespread community concern in relation to change, but he's also capitalised on the fact that most Australians are actually ignorant about what it's actually going to cost," the Opposition Leader said in Melbourne. "At the moment, most Australians who are struggling to feed, clothe and house their children ... have not been able to read hundreds of pages of economic theory in relation to the implementation of climate change.

"Most Australians are generally supportive ... But I still think there is a vast, widespread community ignorance in terms of what adjusting to climate change is actually going to cost us."



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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