Saturday, August 30, 2008

GOP Nominee Palin cool on Global Warming

Some scientists believe Alaska will be among the first to feel the impact of global warming, but Sarah Palin told voters there she wasn't sure climate change wasn't simply part of a natural warming cycle. "I will not pretend to have all the answers," Palin said about global warming, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Her spokesman clarified at the time that "she's not totally convinced one way or the other. Science will tell us . . . She thinks the jury's still out."

Palin shared her views in the run-up to the 2006 governor's race, at an Alaska Federation of Natives convention, where delegates passed a resolution calling for a mandatory reduction in pollution affecting the atmosphere. Answering a question from the Daily News, Palin cautioned against "overreaction."

Those were among the comments that brought condemnation today from Greenpeace to her selection as Sen. John McCain's running mate on the Republican ticket. The environmental group's Alaska Global Warming Campaigner, Melanie Duchin, described Palin as "one of the most anti-environment records of any governor in the United States." "She has supported oil drilling in some of the most ecologically sensitive areas in Alaska, even when it meant sacrificing polar bears, beluga whales, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Duchin's statement said. "Despite her advocacy for expanded oil and gas drilling, Palin has done almost nothing to promote the clean energy sources that can help solve global warming, which is already having major negative consequences in her state," Duchin said.

In an interview released by Newsmax magazine today, Palin said that while she recognized her state would be affected by climate change, that didn't mean humans are responsible. "A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location," she said. "I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made."

Palin's comments stand in sharp contrast to those of McCain, who says at every campaign stop that he believes human activity is driving global warming,



Climate is always changing, and the physical and biological effects of climate change are always immensely complex, both regional and locally. There is no simple set of linear responses to world average climate change, whether `cooling' or `warming'. Moreover, what are deemed to be physical and ecological responses to average change more often than not turn out to be the product of highly-localised or regional causes, some of which may have nothing to do with world average changes.

Such complexities are perfectly exemplified by what is currently happening to sea ice in the Arctic and the Antarctic. The two graphs contrast the sea-ice anomalies (in million square km) for (a) the Northern Hemisphere and (b) the Southern Hemisphere respectively between 1978 and 2008/9.

In the Northern Hemisphere, sea ice is indeed declining; on the other hand, in the Southern Hemisphere [bottom graph], sea ice is clearly expanding. Both graphs can be viewed in larger versions at The Cryosphere Today, an excellent web site maintained by the Polar Research Group of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Beware The Melting Media

In the media, we hear a great deal about `global warming', melting ice, and bereft polar bears and penguins. But, as you can guess, things are not quite so straightforward. Indeed, some scientists believe that the decline in the Arctic ice must be put down to regional and local events, and not to world average changes. Possible factors include warm water intrusions from the Pacific Ocean, and more recently from the Atlantic Ocean; undersea volcanic activity, particularly on the Gakkel Ridge, where a major eruption took place in 1999; and, albedo alterations brought about by soot pollution and the spread of tundra shrubs.

Interestingly, similar Arctic `warmings' have taken place before, and are recorded for the 1800s, for the 1930s, and for the 1950s. Current warming in Greenland does not appear to have reached the levels of these earlier events. Moreover, recent work has shown that particulate pollution from mid-latitudes can aggravate warming in the Arctic. This may have had a role to play in the 1800s because, during the so-called Industrial Revolution, technologies were dirtier than they are now.

Similar complexities also attend any understanding of the extending ice in the Southern Hemisphere, with parts of Antarctica cooling and parts warming; local effects of different currents and undercurrents, colder and warmer waters; and with changes in precipitation patterns, snow, and mass balance.

Yet, with global cooling now seemingly underway, the media appear to be even more desperate than usual to continue to hype up `global warming', so expect lots more about the Arctic decline, drowning polar bears, and melting `tipping points' to keep us plebs in thrall. You should, however, take it all with a pinch of oceanic salt. The reality is a great deal more subtle and far more complex, and I suspect that, in truth, we have very little notion of what is actually happening.

Source (See the original for links, graphics etc.)


Incisive article in the Wall Street Journal today on how Russia is using energy supply as part of its strategic renaissance. An excerpt:

"Despite Russia's repeated use of energy as a political weapon in Eastern Europe, Western Europeans keep repeating the mantra that Russia has been a reliable supplier to "Europe." They also choose to ignore that natural-gas giant Gazprom serves as the Kremlin's leading foreign-policy arm. The company is primarily state-owned, and many members of Gazprom's leadership are current or former government officials. The Kremlin's present occupant, Dmitry Medvedev, until recently was the chairman of Gazprom. His replacement there is former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.

The Russian plan is rather simple: Punish countries that refuse to come under its influence by building new gas pipelines that bypass them, while rewarding countries and political leaders that cooperate with Russia with lucrative energy deals. Maintaining a monopoly over the transport of Caspian gas to Europe is essential for Moscow to ensure that all those countries that have submitted to a Russian "partnership" will acquiesce to the return of the former Soviet space to the Kremlin's control."

It is vital to understand that Russia has designs on Eastern Europe and is using its energy supply to buy off Western Europe. The future looks bad if this is the case.

Yet there is a question here that needs answering first. Natural gas, while cheap to burn and an efficient form of energy, is not the only source of electricity Western Europe has. Germany and Britain both possess abundant coal. France has based its energy profile on nuclear. Both could provide Russia-free energy across Western Europe, yet both are reviled by environmentalists. Wind power and renewables, beloved by environmentalists, are simply not up to the job.

It therefore seems that when faced with a choice between empowering Russia and annoying environmentalists, Western Europeans are less afraid of the former.

Let's also remember that the Kyoto Protocol is designed to see large amounts of Western European money transferred to Russia as European nations purchase credits for emissions reductions banked by Russia following the collapse of communism. European nations can't reduce emissions on their own, for the aforementioned reasons, so they need to buy credit from elsewhere. This was the central reason behind Russia's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. To put it bluntly, the Kyoto Protocol is subsidizing Putin's military revival. If the supposed oil wealth funding of madrassas is a problem, then I suggest this one is at least as big.

This is, needless to say, a terrible situation to be in. When environmentalists get their way, Putin gets his. If Putin's energy weapon is to be neutralized, Western European governments need to face down the environmental lobbies in their countries, and allow digging for coal and new nuclear build. Political calculus, however, suggests otherwise. And Putin knows this.


Carbon Offsets: More Harm Than Good?

A bit of realism from a Leftist site

From Coldplay to Leonardo diCaprio to Al Gore, influential environmentalists are increasingly modeling green behavior by neutralizing their carbon emissions through carbon offsets. Briefly, offsets are based on the notion that consumers can balance out carbon intensive activities, like travel, by contributing to projects that reduce greenhouse gases. Between 2005 and 2007 the market for carbon offsets grew 175%, reaching $110 million (Faris 2007). But just as buying indulgences in the Middle Ages never really erased your sins, carbon offsets rarely counteract your carbon use. Moreover, in some cases, carbon offset projects actually hurt local people. Many experts now believe that well-intentioned consumers are not just wasting their money on offsets, but that purchasing them actually does more harm than good.

How it Works

Suppose you buy airplane tickets for your family's summer vacation on a website like Travelocity, Orbitz or Expedia. Somewhere in the process of taking your credit card information, the website will ask whether you would like to offset your trip's carbon emissions for a nominal fee (e.g., a roundtrip flight from NYC to San Francisco = 5,142 miles = 2,455 lbs CO2 = $17.85). Or, you can offset your car rental, hotel stay and flight (a seven day cross-country trip can be offset for $5.44/day/person). You can also offset your wedding, and, if you're feeling guilty on a daily basis, you can offset energy usage in your home, or your dorm room.

At this point, your original travel search engine will have linked you to a carbon offset company. These for-profit organizations act as brokers, channeling consumer contributions to projects that either replace atmospheric carbon (i.e., by planting trees) or promote renewable energy. Sounds promising, but is it really so easy to "zero-out" the carbon that leads global warming? The answer, unfortunately, is no.

The Trouble with Trees

Take, for example, carbon sequestration programs, which account for approximately 20% of the carbon offset market. Based on the idea that trees absorb carbon, these programs sponsor the planting of large forests designed to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For over a decade, governments and non-profit foundations in the developing world have been offering large sums of money to developing countries in exchange for tree plantations, also known as "carbon sinks".

However scientists point out that there is a major difference between the kind of carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuels and the kind of carbon stored by trees. "Carbon emissions from burned oil, gas or coal cannot be considered as equal to the same amount of biological carbon in a tree," write scientists at the Forests and the European Union Resource Network (FERN 2005). Whereas in nature, carbon moves freely between forests, oceans and air, the fossil carbon pool is inert. Once out of the ground and into the air via cars, coal extraction, etc., fossil carbon joins the active carbon pool. It will not return to the fossil carbon pool for millennia. So, the carbon absorbed by trees does not zero out the carbon emitted by airplanes.

Even if the carbon were equivalent, trees are not necessarily reliable carbon storehouses. First, scientists point out that when trees burn, rot, or are chopped down, they release any carbon they have stored (Kill 2003).

Second, according to ecologist Ram Oren, principal investigator on Duke University's ongoing Free Air Carbon Enrichment project, if trees do not receive enough water or nutrients, any extra carbon they store very quickly goes back into the atmosphere (Cropping 2007). For instance, in 2002, the band Coldplay announced it would offset the environmental impact caused by the release of its second album by planting 10,000 mango trees in southern India. More precisely, Coldplay worked with CarbonNeutral, an offset company, which in turn contracted with Women for Sustainable Development, an NGO. Eventually funds went to local farmers who were supposed to plant and care for the trees. However, four years after the album's release, many of the trees had died - a drought dried the soil, and many villagers never received funding to help them maintain their trees (Dhillon and Harnden 2006).

Carbon Offsets and Human Rights Violations

The Coldplay/Carbon Neutral project left behind more than just dead mango trees. Indian villagers, who are economically marginalized to begin with, invested time and energy that could have been directed at other, more secure income-generating projects. In fact, one of the biggest problems with Carbon offset schemes, particularly forests, is their lack of attention to the lives of local people. Frequently, carbon sinks displace local populations, generating poverty, inequality, and food and water scarcity. They also drastically reduce biological diversity. In turn, the erosion of resources at every level exacerbates local conflicts (McAfee 2003). Even more seriously, some carbon offset tree plantations have become an excuse for human rights violations.

One well-known case exemplifies the violence created by offset forests. In the early 1990s, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Face Foundation, a nonprofit corporation established by Dutch power companies, launched an initiative to plant scores of trees in Mount Elgon National Park. In order to implement the project, the Ugandan government evicted thousands of local farmers. Most have been fighting to regain their land ever since.

Two years ago, after a new government came into power, the courts granted an injunction in the farmers' favor. Almost immediately, they cut down carbon-sink trees and planted maize and other vegetables instead. In response, the paramilitary Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) began beating and shooting the farmers. Now, the perimeter of Mount Elgon is tantamount to a war zone (Faris 2007; Smith 2007; Zarembo 2007).

The Ugandan case is not the only example of violence associated with carbon offset plantations. There have been other reports in Central America, Africa and India. In general, clearing vast areas of land amid people without economic resources is always problematic.

Alternatives to Arbors

Some carbon offset companies try to steer clear of those problems by funding the production of energy efficient light bulbs, solar panels, or other alternative energy sources. Yet even these projects are rife with uncertainty. For instance, the LA Times reported on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania that received funding from Native Energy, a popular offset broker. The farm had already won an alternative energy grant from the US Department of Agriculture to capture methane and burn it to generate electricity. Just after the project began Native Energy signed a deal to pay the farmer for 29,000 tons of carbon dioxide reductions. The money did not pay for any further methane burning - in fact, in the Times article, the farmer refers to the offset deal as a "free bonus" (Zarembo 2007).

In another example, Native Energy paid $36,000 to the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, a power utility for dozens of remote Eskimo communities in Western Alaska. The cooperative had just received $2.8 million in federal funding for a $3.1-million wind turbine project. In exchange for its contribution (roughly 1% of the total project costs) Native Energy received 25 years of carbon dioxide reductions, or 100% of the project's carbon reductions. Here, consumer offset fees actually bought little except the ability for Native Energy to sell more offsets.

Examples like these have inspired a lot of buzz about ensuring 'additionality', or verifying that offset funding generates genuine and unique carbon reductions. Most offset companies now advertise that their projects' additionality is certified by "third party" experts. But critics point out that certifiers, themselves, are often consultants with their own stake in endorsing a project's success.

More generally, determining criteria for additionality can be tricky business. Some projects might be complete without offset funding, but the extra cushion it provides ensures their sustainability. Whether that constitutes additionality is open to interpretation. For instance, environmental watchdog group Clean Air Cool Planet published its own "Consumer's Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers" in 2007. Native Energy ranked among the top eight providers, with especially high marks for additionality, despite the questionable examples mentioned above.

The problem is that almost every aspect of the carbon offset market is subjective and unfettered. This past January, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will begin to take a closer look at the "booming, unregulated 'carbon offset' market" (Joyce 2008). But, in the meantime, offset companies are free to charge with the market will bear, and economists predict that the industry will grow by $40 billion by the year 2010 (Faris 2007).



UK Coal is seeking to cash in on rising energy prices through higher production and the end of long-term, low-priced legacy contracts. The company is already investing œ55m each in its collieries at Thoresby in Nottinghamshire and Kellingley in West Yorkshire to open up new reserves and is expected to decide within the next six months whether to reopen the Harworth mine near Doncaster, which has been mothballed for more than two years.

Chief executive Jon Lloyd said he believed it was accepted that in the face of higher energy prices, and despite the impact of the large combustion plants directive, which limits power station emissions, coal would play a "significant and perhaps major part in the UK's energy mix over the next two decades".

"There will be environmental challenges but frankly it's a political must to keep the lights on," Lloyd said. He said the company would decide on Harworth either late this year or in the first quarter of 2009. If it was reopened, at a cost of up to œ175m, it would eventually provide another 2.2 m to 2.3 m tonnes of coal a year. The key factors would be the geology, which would determine the cost of accessing the reserves, and their size - thought to be 25m to 40m tonnes.

More here


Who has noticed that the period 2014-2015 keeps on turning up in the debate on greenhouse science? For that is when greenhouse proponents say the long-delayed global warming apocalypse will start happening. In addition, that general date has turned up in forecasts made by an arch sceptic, and two researchers in the US have forecast that sunspot activity will cease entirely by 2014.

As the two sides do not agree on anything else at all this is odd - odd enough to be worth exploring.

One group to point at the 2015 date is led by Noel Keenlyside of the Leibnitz Institute of Marine Science in the German city of Kiel. As reported in the journal Nature (letters, May 1) Keenlyside and colleagues added the affect of climate cycles to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models to forecast that global temperatures will remain stable or perhaps even dip down for the next few years, before heading up. The paper does not give a date for the expected kick up in temperatures but in a subsequent interview with the Daily Telegraph in the UK Keenlyside stated that the earth will start to warm again in 2015.

Keenlyside was forecasting from his research into the powerful Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMO) climate cycle which, he says, has a global effect and will weaken to its long term mean. He also emphasises that his work in no way contradicts that of the IPCC - he is merely adding climate cycles on top of the panel's predictions - but his work seem to have horrified the hardliners. There have been internet reports that prominent scientists have tried to challenge the Keenlyside team to bets on temperature trends. However, other climate cycles seem to be following the AMO lead. In April, NASA announced that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has shifted from its warm mode to its cool mode - a switch that will not be discussed here but may also result in significant cooling.

More recently, another group observing the sun has also come up with the date 2014 but for quite different reasons. As has been noted a few times in the media, the sun has gone quiet - too quiet - with the next solar cycle so far not putting in an appearance. Scientists have known for a very long time that the earth has a distinct 11-year cycle. At its height, indicated by lots of sunspots, the sun is very active giving off lots of flares and solar storms which affect satellites. At the bottom of the cycle there are few or no spots, and a marked lack of activity.

The last cycle was officially declared over by NASA in March 2006 with one group at the space agency putting out a release confidently forecasting that the next cycle would be 20 to 50 per cent stronger than the old.

The sun responded to this piece of scientific hubris by going quiet. A few spots from the new cycle have been sighted, as well as a few spots from the old - scientists can tell which spots the cycle belongs to by their magnetic polarity - but very little has happened.

At the time of writing the sun is still spot free. NASA solar physicist David Hathaway points out, quite rightly, that the sun's behaviour is within major statistical limits - just. The average solar cycle lasts 131 months plus or minus 14 months and the current cycle - the quiet period counts as part of the old cycle - has lasted nearly 143 months. The solar cycle went quiet for years at the beginning of last century before restarting, Hathaway notes, so nothing out of the ordinary has happened - at least, not yet.

Another group at the US National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, William Livingston and Matthew Penn, believe that there may be a deeper process at work. Sunspots are highly magnetic regions that are somewhat cooler than the rest of the sun's surface (they appear dark compared to the rest of the sun, but if seen separately would appear very bright) and the two researchers have been tracking both the temperature and magnetic strength of the spots. They found that the spots have been warming up and becoming less magnetic. An average of the trend is a straight line going down which hits the bottom of the graph at 2014. They have concluded that, although sun spots may appear briefly from time to time in the next few years, they will disappear by 2014.

This conclusion is in a paper submitted to the journal Science three years ago but rejected in peer review. With the sun now so quiet the paper has been resurrected from a filing cabinet in the observatory and circulated informally. Dr Livingston told me (by phone from his office in Tucson) that the paper had been rejected on the grounds that it was a purely statistical argument so it would be better to wait and see what happened, and he considered that a fair point. They are now waiting "for the right moment" to resubmit.

But what happens after 2014? Dr Livingston says that as they are using a purely statistical argument, without any theory to back it, they do not know. All they know is that the trend reaches zero in 2014. Conventional theory on the sun's inner workings never forecast anything like this - in fact, forecast the exact opposite - but has been revised to say that the sun will restart some time next year.

With the sun being quiet for a surprisingly long time, plenty of commentators are pointing to the possibility of a Maunder Minimum - a period from 1645 to 1715 with very few sunspots which is associated with a series of bitter winters known as the Little Ice Age. Although it is widely acknowledged that there must be some link between the sun's activity and climate, the nature of the link and its effectiveness is hotly debated. The IPCC models, the ruling orthodoxy, gives star billing to the effect of industrial gases in the atmosphere and places solar variations in the also ran category. However, as we shall see those models have proved largely useless for forecasting - in the short term, at least - and there are no rival climate theories. The sceptics largely decline to forecast, pointing out, with some justification as it turns out, that there is as yet no means of forecasting what the sun will do.

One sceptic who is prepared to make a forecast, and who also points to the date of 2015, is professional UK weather forecaster Piers Corbyn. The bulk of scientists have little time for Corbyn, who is a strong advocate of the link between solar activity and climate. Greenhouse proponents, in particular, detest him. For as well as stridently denouncing the IPCC whenever he can, he also appeared on the documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle. However, he does have a track record as a weather forecaster and, for whatever reason, is saying the same things as the Keenlyside team, at least for the next few years. He forecasts that global temperatures will decline until 2015, and then kick up briefly, before declining again....

More here


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