Thursday, May 29, 2008

There are food shortages now? It will get worse as the climate cools

An email from Paul Stevens [] warns of a REAL climate danger

I haven't yet seen many articles in the popular media linking the expected cooling, or current stasis in temperature rise to the biofuels mania, and then predicting the "perfect storm" for reduced food production that will lead to widespread starvation in the developing world. Numerous articles about crop diversion for energy use, of course. But not many speculating on what happens if worsening weather conditions also occur.

In the US, corn and soybean planting has already been much delayed by the weather and there is now widespread doubt about the size of the potential harvest. I am reminded of the days in the mid to late sixties when my own relatives in Saskatchewan, Canada suffered through year after year of early frost, too much rain, not enough rain and then late frost, all affecting growing conditions and essentially destroying or reducing their wheat crops.

We have had relatively benign conditions for food crops world-wide, over the last 4-5 years. With the diversion to biofuels, continued increase in population and continued demand from the rising middle class in China and India, it only takes a couple of years of bad weather in the worlds bread or rice baskets to equal millions of deaths. From what I read, wheat stocks are reduced around the globe. There won't be any warehoused grain to go to for aid shipments. It's all being sold off to the ethanol folks. A dark day could be coming.


An email from Donn Dears []

We were clarifying the CO2 emission reductions required by the Warner-Lieberman Bill as compared with the Boxer-Sanders Bill (which requires the U.S. to achieve an 80% reduction) when we decided to look at some historical data. (The Warner-Lieberman bill requires a 70% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050 vs 80% as mandated by the UN. We posted this on our web site .

While making this comparison we located a graph prepared by Princeton University showing CO2 levels in the United States dating back to 1850. It was interesting to note how far back in history we would need to go to find CO2 emissions at the same level as required by Warner-Lieberman.

The year was approximately 1922 when America's population was 110 million. Per capita levels were approximately 14.2 Metric Tons.

It's stunning to realize that the Warner-Lieberman Bill requires reaching the 1922 level of CO2 emissions when the population of the United States is forecast to be around 440 million. In 2050 the per capita levels will need to be be around 3.5 Metric Tons. And this is below China's current CO2 emissions.

We have posted this on


It's shaping up to be a Dickensian summer on the Hill. What seemed just a few months ago like the best of times to pass ambitious climate-change legislation has suddenly turned into the worst of times. Nobel-prize momentum has given way to hand-wringing over the economy.

That makes the difficult balancing act of crafting politically palatable but still effective climate laws even tougher. The big worry now? By trying to sugarcoat the Lieberman-Warner bill enough to garner a fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate, proponents of climate-legislation run the risk of making the new law a paper tiger. That could mean plenty of costs with few environmental benefits-and ensures nobody's happy. Conservatives fret over the former; environmentalists are livid over the latter.

What's the problem now? Joe Romm at Climate Progress points up some new analysis of the revised Lieberman-Warner bill, fresh off a massive amendment from California senator Barbara Boxer. Provisions included to allay concerns over the bill's future cost, some analysts say, could undo much of the bill's plans to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

The problem is two-fold. The revised bill would let U.S. companies meet part (15%) of their obligation by using "offsets"-that is, they could "cut" emissions by preserving forests somewhere or helping fund clean-energy development abroad. Bad timing, that: New research suggest offsets used by the rest of the world are a bust, as well.

At the same time, by making the bill as flexible as possible for the companies that will have to clean up their act, the revised version could end up putting off the real heavy lifting for a decade or two. That, says the World Resources Institute, means that over the next dozen years-despite all the cost and complexity of implementing a big program to regulate the whole economy-the net result would be the same as having no new program at all.

Not everybody is quite so pessimistic; Joe Romm himself figures the bill, as designed, would mean U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions in 2020 would be higher than they are now, but lower than they'd be if the country did nothing. But he figures the bill is already dead-on-arrival in Congress anyway.

Conservative commentators, from the American Enterprise Institute to the WSJ editorial page, are grabbing their silver bullets and wooden stakes, just in case. They figure the legislation would achieve the trifecta of raising energy prices, damaging the U.S. economy, and doing little to help the environment. Newt Gingrich told Fox News that Lieberman-Warner should be called the "China and India Full Employment Act" because it will ship American industry overseas (even though most serious studies find little risk of large-scale "carbon leakage," as that kind of outsourcing is known.)

Congress is just preparing to sink its teeth into America's first big foray into climate politics. Even if it doesn't take a whole month, expect plenty of fireworks.


Winter Weather Cancels Iron Horse Classic

Organizers of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race called off the event for the first time in 37 years as winter weather persisted over Memorial Day weekend in southwest Colorado.

"The race goes over two 11,000-foot mountain passes and there was a between a foot and 15 inches of snow on those passes and it was completely snowpacked," said Ed Zink, owner of Durango's Mountain Bike Specialists and chairman of the race committee. "There was absolutely no way to proceed."

The 2,500-rider race was scheduled on Saturday morning, but with the snow and temperatures forecasted into the teens, the decision to call it off practically made itself, Zink said.

The only other year the race hasn't been held since its inception in 1972 was 1997 when bad weather forced riders to turn around after they'd begun.


Error Growth in climate prediction

An excerpt from Netherlands Atmospheric scientist Dr. Hendrik Tennekes, a scientific pioneer in the development of numerical weather prediction and former director of research at The Netherlands' Royal National Meteorological Institute, and an internationally recognized expert in atmospheric boundary layer processes

Climate forecasting is far from being mature. No systematic work on the admittedly very complicated dynamics of error growth has been done. Even the relatively straightforward matter of estimating the prediction horizon of climate models has received no attention to speak of. If a reliable method for calculating the effective prediction horizon exists anywhere, it must have slipped past me unawares, though I have been anxiously waiting for it these past twenty years.

In view of the manifestly chaotic behavior of the weather, one should be suspicious of claims about the stability of the climate system. The idea that the climate might be well-behaved, even if the weather is not, is not supported by any investigations that I am aware of. The very claim that there exist no processes in the climate system that may exhibit sensitive dependence on initial conditions, or on misrepresentations of the large-scale environment in which these processes occur, is ludicrous. Just think of the many factors that promote the birth of a hurricane. It is not just the sea water temperature that may trip such an event, but also the presence or absence of wind shear, the upper atmosphere temperature field, and so on. In short, the climate would be stable if there exists not a single potential "tipping point". I consider that inconceivable.

In the absence of a theoretical framework, one has to investigate all possible causes of error growth. Data assimilation and initialization errors are but one source of trouble. What to think of errors caused by the unavoidable shortcomings in the parameterization of the "physics"? Parameterization always involves simplification and smoothing; in a complex nonlinear system like the climate one cannot assume offhand that these tricks will not lead to unexpected kinds of error growth. Also, any error in this category is not triggered by a single impulse at startup time. Instead, it is aggravated by new impulses at each time step in the calculations.

Let me illustrate this with the simple model Ed Lorenz used to popularize nonlinear behavior. The repeated iteration

x(n + 1) = x(n)^2 - 1.8

is sensitive to initial errors, but it is also sensitive to other kinds of mistakes. One might imagine that the exact value of the coefficient in front of x-squared is unknown, or that the additive term 1.8 is subject to a small parameterization defect, so that it is taken to be 1.82, a mere 1% off the "true" value 1.8. Now determine what will happen. If the iteration is started with x(0) = 1 and the additive constant equals 1.8, we obtain the sequence

1, -0.8, -1.16, -0.4544, -1.59352, 0.73931, and so on.

But if the additive constant is 1% off, we get

1, -0.82, -1.1476, -0.50301, -1.56698, 0.63542, and so on.

In just five steps, the 1% "parameterization error" has grown a factor of sixteen!

One can vary this theme in many ways. Imagine, for example, that one cannot be sure of the exponent in the algorithm. It is taken as two, but what would happen if one has to accept a 10% uncertainty because of inadequate knowledge of the "physics"? In climate modeling, several processes are modeled with parameterizations of questionable accuracy. The difference between clouds in the atmosphere and cloudiness in a model involves several conceptual simplifications of dubious reliability, including the lack of attention to the difference between the behavior of ensembles ("cloudiness" is an ensemble) and that of the clouds that pass my window at this moment. The standard trick of making models behave "realistically" by adding an overdose of numerical viscosity is, to put it mildly, unprofessional. The viscosity dampens unwanted behavior, but decisions as to what is wanted and what is not are made subjectively. If such choices are not open to public scrutiny, the science involved is probably substandard. I maintain, as I have for many years, that it is up to climate modelers to demonstrate by which methods the accuracy, reliability, and forecast horizons of their model runs can be assessed. Good intentions aren't good enough.

The climate attractor is incredibly complex; its multidimensional landscape of hills, valleys and "tipping points" has not yet been charted with any accuracy. Future generations of climate scientists will have to study the possible sensitive dependence of each feature in that landscape on assimilation, initialization, and parameterization errors. I dare to venture that they will find so many conceivable "tipping points" that they may decide to throw their hats in the ring and give up on the idea of climate forecasting altogether. I did so many years ago, when I realized that sensitive dependence on initial conditions is not nearly as dangerous as the unwillingness to explore possible sensitive dependence on shortcomings in the codes employed and in the data assimilation software.

Let me conclude. I adhere to the Lorenz paradigm because I do not want to forget for a moment that small mistakes of whatever kind on occasion have large consequences. As far as I am concerned, the climate of our planet continuously balances on the verge of chaos. In my opinion, optimistic pronouncements about the stability of the climate system are unwarranted and unprofessional. I prefer modesty.


Environmentalism is a fading fashion in Britain

As long-predicted on GWP, the environment - more correctly, perhaps, environmentalism - is on the way out. The signs of organic decay are everywhere, even in bien pensant newspapers like The Observer. And the reaction to a decade of being lectured to about `global warming', `organic' food, set-aside, and pretty birdies can be surprisingly angry, as I recently witnessed at an agricultural conference where the speaker from the RSPB was attacked with quite extraordinary venom.

Today, the papers are full of it, from Guardianista, Catherine Bennett, twittering in The Observer [`Green politics, like all fashions, has proved sadly transient', The Observer, May 25] to libertarian, James Delingpole, blasting off in The Sunday Telegraph [`Credit crunch means organic food is toast', The Sunday Telegraph, May 25].

Ms Bennett is scathing about her liberal readers and their Anya Hindmarch `I'm Not a Plastic Bag' fashionet(h)ics: "The credit crunch is already known to have had an impact on bag fever. And one which is likely to be exaggerated when the bag in question is, like the INAPB, so plainly last year's model ... But Anya prices might also have suffered from widespread consumer disillusion. Some ethical shoppers are minded, apparently, to return bags which have conspicuously failed, even after a whole year of regular use, to save the world."

Mr. Delingpole is even more trenchant about "the organic craze": "In times of rising food prices (partly the result of eco-fanatics obsessing about organic and biofuels, and rejecting genuinely productive technologies like GM) and falling incomes, the last thing a hard-pressed family wants to spend money on is the warm glow of ecological righteousness. All it wants is a full stomach, and the more cheaply-filled that stomach the happier it will be. Organic will be off the menu for some time to come."

And then there is Senior Royal Disapproval (poor Old Charlie), "Sir!": "The first blow was struck this month by the Duke of Edinburgh who - with a fearless disregard for his elder son's Christmas card list - said in an interview: `It is not an absolute certainty that [organic farming] is as useful as it sounds.'"

Ms Bennett further reminds us that our politicians are likewise rowing back from the green algae: "So Brown won't make himself more unpopular by reducing airline emissions or introducing personal carbon allowances. Neither he nor Cameron nor Clegg will ... unite behind an effective carbon policy which, appearing identically in every manifesto like the nasty nougat in every box of chocolates, may put the interests of future generations before contemporary self-pity. And when Cameron, versatile friend of both glacier and motorist, finally prevails, his strategy for `green growth' has as much chance of holding back the rising seas as did the Anya Hindmarch bag."

Brava! "Versatile friend of both glacier and motorist" - wonderful stuff on `Our Dave', Catherine. Meanwhile, the reasons for this change in fashion are superbly encapsulated in another piece today by the ever-excellent Nick Cohen [`People loathe Labour's elitists, not toffs', The Observer, May 25]: "Labour would do better to realise that millions of working- and middle-class people who can't see the subtle social differences between Ed Balls's private school and George Osborne's are lying awake and wondering if the ground is shifting from under them. They are sweating about debt, unemployment, repossession, pensions and inflation. Old Etonians are the least of their problems."

As are `organic' elitism, `global warming' hot air, and the pretty birdies. They are all going to be set-aside, not just the bags



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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