Thursday, July 03, 2008

Nobel winners: No "consensus"

Much like every year since 1951, there has been another meeting (6/29-7/3) of Nobel prize winners in Lindau, Bavaria, Germany... Seven Nobel prize winners participated in a climate debate. How did it look like? Well, there may be a climate consensus among the high-school dropouts but there is none among the Nobel prize winners. There was one more difference. Many of the Nobel prize winners said, unlike the high-school dropouts, the following sentence: "I am no expert." ;-)

Ivar Giaever (Norway), the 1973 Nobel prize winner for superconductivity (he was essential to master electron tunneling in superconductors and shared the physics award with Esaki and Josephson), was asked how the world should tackle climate change. The following quote accurately matches the content but it was shortened and edited:
"First of all, I didn't volunteer to be on this panel. Second of all, I am a skeptic, as I told you yesterday. Third of all, if I am Norwegian, should I really worry about a little bit of warming? I am unfortunately becoming an old man. We have heard many similar warnings about the acid rain 30 years ago and the ozone hole 10 years ago or deforestation but the humanity is still around. The ozone hole width has peaked in 1993.

Moreover, global warming has become a new religion. We frequently hear about the number of scientists who support it. But the number is not important: only those who are correct are important. We don't really know what the actual effect on the global temperature is. There are better ways to spend the money [question period]," he referred to a lecture about poverty by Hans Rosling (Sweden) that heavily relied on my favorite Gapminder: well, he is the director of the Gapminder Foundation.

Ivar Giaever had done some "Google research" before the panel so he could also speak about 1998, 1934, 1921 as the warmest U.S. (where they have the best record) years in the 20th century, the hockey stick graph, the crucial role of the huge heat capacity of the oceans, the little ice age whose cause is unknown, and about the increase of "bulk" Greenland ice in the last century (by 2 meters at the center). Another panelist conjectured that this increase of ice was due to precipitation.

Giaever mentioned that it takes years to regain the energy that was needed to produce a solar panel; the precise number became a topic of a controversy. There is 500 years worth of coal in the U.S. He also warned that ice ages do happen and we might be just waiting for one (54:30). The temperature decrease could be 8 øC so maybe they should pollute more than they do! ;-) (The moderator argued that we can calculate there won't be an ice age for 40,000 years, a statement I can't confirm.)

And by the way, if people really cared about this problem, why don't they talk about one solution that we already have, namely nuclear energy?

And finally, we don't know what is the correct temperature. It could be 2 øC warmer or colder. I don't know but what I do know is that this is not the correct temperature. In the question period, he said that the chance the the warming is anthropogenic is not very large: it might be but it doesn't have to. In the question period, he was also asked whether it was a good idea to establish more efficient schemes of transportation of energy. Despite attempts to humiliate him, he sensibly insisted that it was only up to 10% of the energy which was a very small, unimportant number.

Entertainingly enough, his moral record was clear because, as he said, Norway only produces clean energy! Well, Norway is not quite perfect. In his very final contribution, he hated to say something bad about Norway but he sharply disagrees with his country that has allowed Al Gore to pick a Nobel peace prize (applause!).

The audience was chuckling throughout his contributions as if they were looking at the most entertaining heretic in their life. ;-) In the middle of the meeting, Giaever continued that he was not supporting pollution but even if climate change were man-made, we can't stop the usage of fossil fuels because the Chinese want to live in the same way as we do. And he doesn't see any results of the climate regulation efforts during the first decade when it was already supposed to materialize in Europe.

Other participants

As the video and Seed's websites reveal, many other statements at the meeting would be inconvenient for the high-school dropouts, too.

Hartmut Michel (Germany), a biochemist and the 1988 chemistry Nobel prize winner for crystallization of membrane proteins, urged the world to stop the biofuels immediately: the audience applauded to him. Biomass only captures 0.7-0.8% of the solar radiation, for biofuels it is 0.2%, and it would be much better to wait for good enough solar panels with 15% efficiency. Also, the biofuel technology leads to food shortages and the logging of rain forests. You shouldn't be suprised that Hartmut Michel was irritated when Ivar Giaever called the solar panels "unproductive" but as you can see, none of them would agree with the environmentalist "consensus". :-)

Not surprisingly, Carlo Rubbia (Italy), the 1984 winner of the physics Nobel prize for the experimental discovery of the W and Z bosons at CERN, promoted (although not enthusiastically) nuclear energy (and also solar energy). See his proposal to replace uranium by thorium - a text that uses some of the CO2-concerned language. He also said that the Earth is going through an extraordinary process today: every decade, the number of people gets multiplied [sic] by 1 billion! :-)

Well, I am afraid that if Rubbia's obvious mistake is fixed, the current era becomes pretty ordinary. Nevertheless, Rubbia says that it should "become impossible to say that we should continue with the business as usual" because the population is increasing [just like it has done for millenia]. Among the participants, Rubbia clearly turned out to be the ultimate hardcore, nearly Hansen-level alarmist. Rubbia (*1934) also thinks that he is not old! :-)

Nuclear waste was not discussed at all but nuclear weapons were mentioned as a dangerous by-product of the nuclear power plants: thorium doesn't allow for bombs. Moreover, 1 ton of thorium gives the same energy as 200 tons of uranium. There's so much of it that it makes no sense to call it "nonrenewable".

Concerning climate change, Klaus von Klitzing (Germany), the only 1985 physics Nobel prize winner for his discovery of the quantized Hall effect, argued that more research was needed. People have already changed the world in many ways and we simply do not know whether tripling of CO2 leads to any kind of instability. Moreover, he emphasized that the increasing population inevitably leads to increasing consumption of energy - the "energy problem" that is primary - and climate change is just a result and we clearly have to live with that. Thermonuclear fusion in a near future is unlikely and time constraints are essential. Sometimes, the government (EU) funding of energy research (solar etc.) is higher than necessary.

Once again, von Klitzing and Giaever were certainly not the only ones whose skeptical inclinations couldn't be hidden. Even among the signatories of the pro-rational, anti-environmentalist 1992 Heidelberg Appeal, you find three members of the Lindau climate panel. Johann Deisenhofer, who won the 1988 chemistry prize with Michel and Huber as well, has signed it, too. As far as I can say, he tried not to say anything controversial at all. As a result, he didn't say anything I would find worth reporting.

Jack Steinberger, the 1988 physics Nobel prize winner for the discovery of muon neutrinos, argued that it was pointless to wait for thermonuclear fusion because Edward Teller already promised him the new source 53 years ago. It won't be ready in a foreseeable future. At the very end, someone asked what the scientists can do for politicians to follow their recommendations. Steinberger honestly said that the panel revealed disagreement about the scientists so what the politicians should "hear" is not obvious.

If you summarize the comments, 3/7 of the panelists could be classified either as downright skeptics or cryptoskeptics, the fourth one radically hates biofuels, and the fifth one thinks that there is a significant disagreement in the science community. The moderator and organizer, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber who is a local director and a member of the Inquisition Promoting Climate Change (IPCC) who boasted that he met James Hansen a week ago, obtained a similar number. So when a student asked whether the Nobel prize winners thought that men were behind climate change, he said that "there is a 60% probability that man is seriously behind climate change" and it is a problem that should be wrestled with.

However, Schellnhuber also used Pascal's Wager. If you think that there is a 60% probability that there won't be a crash, you won't enter the aircraft. ;-) Well, that's a good joke but not what I would call a rational conclusion of a complex panel debate.

More here

Penguin scare

This is all speculation. They have no idea what it's all about. Frog decline was similarly attributed but turned out to be fungal. Maybe this is too -- or viral. Who knows?

Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, penguins are sounding the alarm for potentially catastrophic changes in the world's oceans, a University of Washington biologist says. The culprits are global warming, oil pollution, depletion of fisheries and rampant coastline development, which threaten breeding habitats for many penguin species, she argues.

These factors are behind rapid population declines among the birds, said the university's Dee Boersma, an authority on penguins. "Penguins are among those species that show us that we are making fundamental changes to our world," she said. "The fate of all species is to go extinct, but there are some species that go extinct before their time and we are facing that possibility with some penguins."

In a paper published in the JulyAugust edition of the research journal BioScience, Boersma notes there are 16 to 19 penguin species, and most penguins are at 43 sites, virtually all in the Southern Hemisphere.

For most of these colonies, population trends have been unclear, so few people realized that many penguins were suffering sharp population declines, Boersma said. She advocates an international effort to check on the largest colonies of each penguin species at least every five years.

Working with the Wildlife Conservation Society and colleagues, Boersma has studied the world's largest breeding colony of Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo on Argentina's Atlantic coast. That population probably peaked at about 400,000 pairs between the late 1960s and early 1980s, and today is half that, she said.

There are similar stories from other regions. African penguins decreased from 1.5 million pairs a century ago to just 63,000 pairs by 2005, Boersma claimed. Galapagos Islands penguins, the only species whose range extends into the Northern Hemisphere, now number around 2,500, about a quarter of what their population was when Boersma first studied them in the 1970s.

Boersma recounts watching in 2006 as climate anomalies wreaked havoc on the same population of Emperor penguins featured in the popular 2005 film "March of the Penguins." The colony bred in the same place as in other years, where the ice is protected from the open sea and wind keeps snow from piling up and freezing the eggs. But in September, with the chicks just more than halfgrown, the adults apparently sensed danger and uncharacteristically marched the colony more than three miles to different ice.

The ice they chose remained intact the longest, but in late September a strong storm broke it up and the chicks were forced into the water, Boersma said. While the adults could survive, the chicks needed two more months of feather growth and buildup of insulating fat to be independent. The likely result, Boersma said, was a total colonywide breeding failure that year.

Global warming also appears to be key in the decline of Galapagos penguins, she said: as the atmosphere and ocean get warmer, El Nio Southern Oscillation events, which affect weather worldwide, seem to occur more often. During those times, ocean currents that carry the small fish that penguins eat are pushed farther away from the islands and the birds often starve or are left too weak to breed.

These problems raise the question of whether humans are making it too hard for other species to coexist, Boersma argued. Penguins in places like Argentina, the Falklands and Africa run rising risks of being fouled by oil, either from ocean drilling or because of petroleum discharge from passing ships, she continued. The birds' chances of getting oiled are also rising because they often have to forage much farther than before to find prey.

"As the fish humans have traditionally eaten get more and more scarce, we are fishing down the food chain and now we are beginning to compete more directly with smaller organisms for the food they depend on," she said. As the world's population continues to explode and more and more people live in coastal areas, the negative effects are growing for both marine and shorebased habitats used by a variety of species, Boersma added.

"I don't think we can wait. In 1960 we had three billion people in the world. Now it's 6.7 billion and it's expected to be eight billion by 2025," she said. "We've waited a very long time. It's clear that humans have changed the face of the Earth and we have changed the face of the oceans, but we just can't see it. We've already waited too long."


Snow in July? Huge amounts of snow still blanket the Northern Rockies

With diesel smoke and white powder flying, heavy equipment operators worked furiously to remove enough snow to open the Going-to-the-Sun road, which connects the two sides of Glacier National Park and is usually open by the first week of June. But huge amounts of snow still blanket the Northern Rockies high country, in part because of record snowfalls in Montana this year, so the opening will not take place until Wednesday, the latest on record by a day, except for World War II when the road was not plowed at all....

"Snow in the mountains is money in the bank," Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana said. "The snow will melt and run into the streams through September. It's good for the fisheries and good for irrigation. "Mr. Schweitzer cited more good news from the state climatologist, who, he said, has forecast a cooler and wetter July than normal. Still, the governor said, even though things are better, "no matter what the weather is, we're never more than two weeks from a drought. "For now, residents feel they have some breathing room. "We got so much moisture in June, it released a pressure valve," said Lisa Bay, a rancher near Wolf Creek, Mont. "It was a grand sense of relief."

The situation is similar in Wyoming. Snowpack in the Bighorn Mountains, in the north central part of the state, is 79 percent higher than the 30-year average, and 112 percent above the average in the area drained by the Powder and Tongue Rivers. "Everything is up from average," said Leanne Stevenson, manager of natural resources and policy for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. "A lot of what makes a difference is not how much, but how long it stays cool, and we actually had spring this year."

Because of the drought, she said, the 30-year snowpack average has dropped 20 percent over the last eight years.The heavy snows and elevated water levels have thrown an economy dependent on recreation into confusion.In Glacier National Park, some high-country hiking trails will not be open for weeks. In Yellowstone National Park, some backcountry areas are blocked by snow and some rivers are high and muddy....

More here


The Group of Eight major industrialized countries meeting next week in Japan cannot by themselves set effective long-term world goals on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the White House said on Tuesday. "With evidence mounting of rapidly rising emissions from emerging markets, action by the G8 alone would not be effective," said Dan Price, assistant to President George W. Bush for international economic affairs. "That's why we believe that all major economies and indeed all parties to the UN convention (on climate change) need to be part of the discussion on setting a long-term goal," Price said at a White House briefing.

Price acknowledged long-running international discussions of setting a global target to cut greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by 2050, but stopped short of saying an agreement on this goal was possible at the summit in Hokkaido, Japan.

More here


Assuming - however briefly - that Canada must impose carbon taxes, when would be the best time to do it? Stephane Dion says now. Right now. Yale University economist William Nordhaus says, well, slow down, friend. We have time. Let's do this thing properly.

Dr. Nordhaus takes global warming seriously, anticipating that it may well "cast a shadow over the globe for decades, perhaps centuries, to come." When he says centuries, he means centuries. In his highly sophisticated computer analysis of global warming strategies, he includes the option of doing nothing at all for 250 years - and found that it delivered the same result (measured in global emissions of carbon dioxide one century hence) as the Kyoto Protocol with or without the United States.

He includes, as well, a 50-year delay and got an intriguing assessment. Implement the right climate change strategy in 2055 and you still get - by 2105 - precisely the same reduction in CO2 that you get with the computer-designed "optimal strategy," a go-slow, go-frugal approach that begins modestly in the next decade and expands incrementally through the rest of the century.

In a brilliant analysis of carbon strategies - The Challenge of Global Warming: Economic Models and Environmental Policy, published last year - Dr. Nordhaus observes that the complexity of global warming rules out absolute certainty of any kind, whether academic or ideological. "Whatever goal we set will probably be incorrect." Given this caution, it is essential to adopt a strategy that can be quickly adapted to changing circumstances and changing technologies, he says.

Dr. Nordhaus notes that a single technological advance in 2050, or in 2100, could render redundant trillions of prematurely invested dollars. This is one of the reasons why the most aggressive climate change strategies - the celebrated Stern Review proposals, the controversial dictums espoused by Al Gore - badly flunk the Nordhaus computer analysis test.

More here


By Ruth Lea. Ruth was Director of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) for four years until November 2007. She is now Director of Global Vision, and a Non-Executive Director and Economic Advisor to the Arbuthnot Banking Group. Ruth is perhaps best known for having been the Head of the Policy Unit at the Institute of Directors (IoD)

On June 26, 2008, the Prime Minister unveiled his Government's renewable energy strategy for building a "low carbon economy". This will involve the building of 7,000 wind turbines (3,000 at sea, and 4,000 on land) by 2020, expand other renewable energy, such as micro-generation, tidal- and wave-power, and will require œ100bn of investment from the private sector (heavily subsidised by the consumer). Nuclear power will also be encouraged. The centre piece of the strategy is the planned expansion of wind turbines, which are almost universally disliked by those who have to live near to them. But, aesthetics aside, the strategy is unworkable, expensive, and irresponsible.

Absurd and Costly

There is not the faintest chance that 7,000 wind turbines can be constructed in this time, given the construction capacity restrictions and tight timetable. But, even if the turbines were built, this would not be the end of the matter. Britain would still require a considerable back-up of conventional electricity-generating capacity because the turbines would frequently produce no electricity at all, given the fluctuation in wind speeds. Paul Golby, Chief Executive of E.ON UK, has said that this back-up capacity would have to amount to 90% of the capacity of the wind turbines, if supplies were to be reliable. This would be an absurd, and costly, misallocation of resources, with the extra costs falling on households and businesses. But, costs apart, there is yet another problem. And that is whether the necessary back-up capacity is likely to be available.

The current Government has woefully neglected Britain's energy infrastructure, and much of Britain's current electricity-generating capacity is due for closure over the next 10 to 15 years. Most of Britain's ageing nuclear power stations are due to be decommissioned, and half of Britain's coal-fired power stations are due to be retired because of the EU's Large Combustion Power Directive (concerned with controlling emissions of, for example, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides). Under these circumstances, there is a very real risk that there will not be adequate conventional back-up capacity despite the Government's welcome acceptance of the need for nuclear power (there will inevitably be delays in construction) and the operation of new gas-fired capacity (which, incidentally, makes Britain unduly dependent on imports, as our own supplies are dwindling fast).

The prospect of power cuts is, therefore, all too real. Brutally, the lights could go out, and business and the public services, now so dependent on computers, would suffer. The folly of putting so many eggs in the basket of wind power is the height of irresponsibility.

The EU's Renewables Directive: Disproportionate Burden

The Government's `dash for wind' in order to develop a "low-carbon economy" is, of course, part of its climate-change policy of cutting carbon emissions in order to "combat global warming". Any expansion of nuclear power would also curtail carbon emissions, and, indeed, if one believes that a low-carbon economy is a good idea (perhaps for security reasons as well as `saving the planet'), one might ask why not allocate far more resources to nuclear power and far fewer to renewables.

Alas, this would not be permitted under the EU's 2008 Renewables Directive.(1) Under this Directive, the UK has agreed to meet 15% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. Whilst renewables include biomass, solar power, wind, wave/tide, and hydroelectricity, nuclear power is excluded. Insofar as the Renewables Directive is part of the EU's policy of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2020 compared with 1990, this is perverse to say the least.

Whilst the UK has a 15% renewables target for 2020, just 1.5% of energy consumption was met by permissible renewables in 2006.(2) The UK has committed itself, therefore, to increase its renewables share ten-fold by 2020. With the possible exceptions of Malta and Luxembourg, the UK is faced with by far the greatest challenge in reaching its 2020 target. In addition, the unit costs in the UK are relatively high because Britain lacks access to cheap biomass resources in the electricity and heat sectors, and is placing greater reliance on high cost, expensive electricity technologies, such as wind (mainly) and wave/tidal. By contrast several EU countries are well-placed, including Austria, Finland, and Sweden, as are many of the central and eastern European countries.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that the UK is likely to carry a disproportionate burden of the costs of meeting the EU's 2020 renewables target. According to a study by P”yry Energy Consulting, the UK could carry around 20-25% of the total EU costs.(3) P”yry has estimated that the annual cost in 2020 could be around œ150 to 200 pounds per UK household, and the lifetime costs up to 2020 would be 1,800 pounds, even as high as 2,800, per UK household. These are significant sums, and they are likely to be under-estimates.

Given my earlier comment that the Government's plans for 7,000 wind turbines will not be achieved by 2020, there is no chance that we will meet the renewables target. (And, in any case, 7,000 turbines, even if built, are apparently inadequate for Britain to meet the 15% target.) The Government is living in fantasy-land - but it seems hell-bent on pursuing an energy policy which will be costly, will dangerously distort energy policy, and will leave the country vulnerable to black-outs.

The Economic Effects

Even if the lights stay on, it is clear that the Government's current strategy will lead to higher and less competitive energy prices in Britain, other things being equal. For households, especially low income and pensioner households, this will bite into general living standards. Businesses, especially energy intensive industries, will continue to lose competitiveness and will migrate overseas to, say, India or China. The Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG) estimates that various `green measures' (the Renewables Obligation, the Climate Change Levy, and the costs of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme) already account for a quarter of total energy costs for their members. The situation will surely deteriorate. Britain's chemicals, cement, and steel industries, to name but three, are likely to shrink, jobs will be lost, and the balance of payments will deteriorate. Yet this has barely been mentioned. Does no-one care?

Britain's Climate Change Bill: Economic Madness

As already mentioned, the EU has a 20% target for cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, compared with 1990. British legislators, however, seem to regard this self-flagellation as insufficiently painful. The Climate Change Bill, currently going through Parliament, includes legally-binding targets of a 60% reduction by 2050, and a 26 to 32% reduction by 2020, compared with 1990.

The Bill is predicated first on the assumptions that `global warming' is "dangerous" and is unquestionably mainly caused by anthropogenic carbon emissions. These assumptions are, of course, inherent in the work of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provided the quasi-scientific background for the path-breaking Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Secondly, they rely on Lord Nicholas Stern's report, based on the IPCC's apocalyptic projections of a frizzling planet, exhorting us to spend now to prevent this fate, or to fry and/or drown later.(4) Woe betide any foolish soul who dares to speak out against this orthodoxy.

But the notion that there is a scientific consensus on this matter is simply not true. Many scientists, though they risk their funding and the wrath of the Royal Society, are prepared to acknowledge that the sun has an infinitely greater role to play than humankind in climate change. Moreover, climate change in the form of modest warming is likely to be, on balance, economically beneficial. And, inconveniently for the doomsayers, there has been no `global warming' for a decade.

Secondly, the Bill simplistically assumes that climate change can be combated by cutting anthropogenic carbon emissions, as if there were a straightforward, bivariate and uni-causal relationship between carbon dioxide emissions (and concentrations) and temperature. Nothing, I am reliably informed, could be further from the truth.

Thirdly, the Bill chooses to ignore the fact that, whilst Britain attempts to decarbonise her economy, much of the rest of the world will not. Britain accounts for less than 2% of world anthropogenic carbon emissions, whilst China's emissions probably increase by more than our total every 1 to 2 years. We could, however, make our economy uncompetitive and curtail British people's economic freedoms and prosperity, satisfyingly so for the many critics of modern developed economies, by pursuing this policy. But where we lead, others will not follow - not even the other EU member states, if it suits them. It is economic madness.(5)

The Future

The Climate Change Bill will, however, be enacted. All the major political parties are supporting it. But, apart from its unfounded scientific assumptions and economic irresponsibility, it is already looking old-fashioned (there's nothing so old-fashioned as last year's fashions that have ceased to be fashionable) and irrelevant.

Two things are changing the debate. The first is the, already noted, absence of `global warming' since the end of the 20th century. People understand this. The second is the economy. Bill Clinton was right: "it's the economy, stupid". British living standards for many are now falling, and this changes people's priorities. Recent polls show that, first, the British people are sceptical about human-caused `global warming' despite all of the propaganda thrust at them and, secondly, they regard `green taxes' as little more than yet another excuse for Governments to tax them harder. The mood is changing. Politicians please take note.



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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