Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Climate change may not be as severe as predicted, suggests an international study that shows current modelling of carbon dioxide emissions from soils are overestimated by as much as 20%. The view, reported in the latest Nature Geoscience journal, is based on a study of Australian soils that finds the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released by Australian soils is much lower than previously believed. The finding has major implications for climate change predictions as annual carbon emissions from soils are estimated to be more than all human-made CO2 emissions combined.

The Australian and US researchers say emissions from soils are lower because they contain a much higher proportion of charcoal, or black carbon, than estimated by previous models. "Current models of global climate change .. are inaccurate if a larger fraction of soil organic carbon than postulated has a very slow decomposition rate," they write. Co-author Dr Evelyn Krull, of CSIRO Land and Water, says charcoal, which is formed in the aftermath of bushfires, is a very stable form of carbon that can last for millennia. "In effect it's a carbon sink," Krull says.

Under the commonly used RothC model, the proportion of black carbon is calculated to be about 6.6%, she says. Krull says in their study of 452 soil samples from the Australian National Soil Archive and two landscape transects of about 3000km in Queensland and the Northern Territory, charcoal content ranged from zero to 82%. She says the average proportion of charcoal present for all 452 soil samples was 20.4%.

The team found by including realistic estimates of charcoal in their climate prediction models, the amount of CO2 predicted to be released from two Australian savannah regions under a 3§C warming scenario was 18.3% and 24.4% lower than previously calculated. For Australia, a proportion of 20% charcoal in soils would lead to a 135 teragram (135 billion kilograms) overestimation on a continental scale. "On an annual basis, an inflated prediction from topsoils alone equates to ... 84% of CO2 emissions associated with aviation for Australia using values obtained for 2006," the paper says.

Krull, who has analysed soil samples from across the globe since the paper was prepared, says she has found soils from countries around the same latitude as Australia have similar charcoal content. She says this means that current scenarios predicted by climate change modeling "are making it look worse than it actually would be". This highlights the need for a global initiative to analyse soils worldwide for charcoal content so that modeling can be more accurate, she says.


Global financial crisis exposes follies in climate modelling

The global financial crisis showed how foolish the Rudd Government would be to base its climate change response on economic forecasts for the coming century, academic and Reserve Bank board director Warwick McKibbin said yesterday. A frequent commentator on carbon reduction schemes, Professor McKibbin said the carbon pollution reduction scheme proposed in a green paper, and the subject of an upcoming white paper, was the result of a "diabolical policy process" and risked disadvantaging Australia in global markets.

Speaking at a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia lunch in Brisbane, the economics professor said the Garnaut Report, released on September 30, was originally commissioned by the states, partly as a political tool to attack the federal Coalition, and has since had to be embraced by the incoming Labor Government. He questioned whether that required Climate Change Department secretary Martin Parkinson to have a "schizophrenic" approach to policy development.

But Professor McKibbin, from the Australian National University, was most critical of Treasury's long-term economic modelling, which was used by the Rudd Government to allay fears an emissions trading scheme would damage the economy. While partly involved in the modelling, Professor McKibbin said he was not responsible for the scenarios and believed it was "stretching the imagination" to believe you could forecast 100 years in advance and use that process to determine targets.

"I don't think we can calculate cost-benefit analysis over 100 years into the future," Professor McKibbin said. "We just have very poor tools at our disposal to work out what the costs will be, or what the world economy will look like, in 2100, just as we didn't have a really good idea at the turn of the 20th century, in 1900, what the world would look like today."

He said the economic crisis further demonstrated how policies should not be framed around long-term economic forecasts, how poorly-developed regulatory systems would have ramifications, and climate change responses needed to be able to withstand the inevitable "shocks".

Professor McKibbin said the Kyoto experience showed how even most environmentally-friendly countries, such as New Zealand and Canada, could commit to rigid, long-term targets only to find themselves disadvantaged when their economies or external conditions changed. He declared there would never be a uniform global carbon scheme and urged the Rudd Government to take the time necessary to develop a workable national scheme.



A bit of bad news for those seeking quick action on climate change under the new presidential administration: Barack Obama is not heading to Poland next month for UN talks on a pending global climate change pact.

Obama's no-show status at the talks is hardly a death knell for the emissions reduction treaty that the UN must negotiate by next year to replace the expiring Kyoto protocol. But environmental groups had mounted a vocal campaign to persuade the president-elect to attend Poland -- or at least send a delegation to represent him -- and Obama appeared to agree during a pre-election appearance in Ohio.

Yvo de Boer, the UN climate change secretariat who spoke on Obama's stance today, had urged the Democrat to attend the talks just last week. Bill McKibben, the respected US environmentalist who initiated the Obama-to-Poland push, had collected more than 44,000 signatures on a petition to the president-elect.

What do you think: Is Obama's decision to skip the Poland conference a serious setback or a necessary acknowledgment that 'there's only one president at a time'?



Has Al Gore read Nigel Lawson's book? Nigel Lawson, chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher, and author of three books--including his essential account of the Thatcher years, The View from No. 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical--had trouble finding a publisher for his most recent book, An Appeal to Reason, which casts a skeptical eye on global warming.

As he notes in the foreword, one rejection letter suggested that "it would be very difficult to find a wide market" for a book that "flies so much in the face of the prevailing orthodoxy." So while Lawson acknowledges that his contribution to the discussion won't "shake the faith" of global warming's true believers, he's written what is a very informative book for those not yet convinced that Armageddon is our future, absent massive worldwide government action.

Lawson acknowledges up front that while he is not a scientist, neither "are the vast majority of those who pronounce on the matter" of global warming "with far greater certainty." And throughout, he deliberately uses the term "global warming" rather than the "attractively alliterative weasel words, 'climate change,'" and he does so "because the climate changes all the time."

In discussing global warming, Lawson happily takes the road less traveled in making the basic point about the science of global warming being "far from settled," not to mention that scientific truth "is not established by counting heads," as so many advocates of all manner of popular causes would likely prefer. So while Lawson doesn't hide from the fact that the 20th century ended slightly warmer than it began, he reminds readers that there has been no further evidence of global warming since the turn of the century.

Furthermore, news accounts would have us believe that calculating temperature is a foolproof process. But in reality, these calculations include data taken from the former Soviet Union, along with records from less-developed parts of the world. When Lawson checked U.S. temperature records, records thought to be most reliable, he found that only three of the last 12 years are among the warmest on record; 1934 being the warmest year of all. And though the level of carbon dioxide did increase 30% during the 20th century amid a slight warming trend, it's also boomed this century amid a slight cooling.

When we consider the slight warming that materialized during the 20th century, Lawson notes that it's not certain that the majority of it has to do with human activity. In truth, clouds/water vapor are the biggest contributors to the much vaunted "greenhouse effect," but the science of clouds is "one of the least understood aspects of climate science." Importantly, the earth's climate has always been subject to variations unrelated to human industrial activity, the "medieval warm period" of 1,000 years ago having occurred well before industrialization.

Regarding actions we might take, Lawson reminds readers that we need to avoid the kind of panic that could lead to disastrous policies. Indeed, he makes plain that there "is something inherently absurd about the conceit that we can have any useful idea of what the world will look like in a hundred years time," not to mention the other projected calamities expected to occur over 1,000 years from now. If this is doubted, ask yourself how many times weather forecasts meant to predict the next day have proven to be massively incorrect.

Notably, five out of the six scenarios proffered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assume that faster worldwide economic growth will bring the living standards of the developing world up to those enjoyed by the developed world today. If we ignore the obvious healthful good that the latter will reveal, it should be said that any unchecked global warming (meaning no Kyotos) will have a trade off in terms of rising global happiness. Lawson points out that the IPCC's stats should at the very least "cheer up those who have been told that disaster stares us in the face if we do not take urgent action to save the planet." Or more simply, Lawson writes that, "Warmer but richer is in fact healthier than colder but poorer."

So while Lawson asks the essential question about whether "it is really plausible that there is an ideal average world temperature," he reminds that average temperature is "simply a statistical artifact." Indeed, he points to Helsinki and Singapore, two cities with vastly different temperatures, both coped with very successfully.

Furthermore, the IPCC's alarmist scenario involving warming of 5.4 degrees over the next 100 years averages out to 0.05F per year. To the extent that the latter scares, from 1975-2000 when the world was mostly in "denial," warming per year averaged 0.04F. We seem to have adapted to that pretty well, plus warming in some parts of the world would bring undeniable good.

And while Al Gore remarkably predicts that sea levels will rise over 20 feet over the next century, the mildly more sober IPCC projections fall into the 18-to-59 centimeter category. Importantly, Lawson points out that sea levels have been rising gradually for as long as records exist, and with no noted acceleration amid the period of industrialization. And for those worried about ice sheets melting in parts of Antarctica, Lawson doesn't hide from the latter, but merely points out that they're growing in other parts of the continent.

To the extent that this strikes fear among readers, Lawson suggests an exercise whereby the reader allows ice cubes to melt in a glass of water. When the "level" of water in the glass doesn't rise, it's assumed that this supposed "scare" will be put to bed.

What happens if we do nothing? The IPCC and other groups formed to project various scenarios argue that environmental problems that might result from what is merely a presumption of human-made warming will harm economic growth. That being the case, Lawson calculates that in 100 years those in the developing world will only be 2.6 times as well off as we are today vs. 2.7 times, while the lucky residents of the developed world will "only" be 8.5 times as well off vs. 9.5 times if the theory is licked.

Lawson also reminds readers that assuming the action is nothing, the alarmist groups in no way account for the human ability to adapt to changes in the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of the suggestion that when it rains, people don't seek shelter. Well, of course they seek shelter, and just the same, provisions will be made for rising sea levels and all manner of other evolution regarding the planet.

Some, particularly in the developed world, will buy hybrids and turn off the lights in order to help the global warming cause, but Lawson dismisses those activities as trivial. They certainly are, relative to the economy-enervation that would have resulted from worldwide passage of the Kyoto Treaty, but even if we make the Utopian assumption that the world could agree on a drastic drop in terms of emissions, we're talking a projected earth cooling of 0.2F!

If Lawson's book is missing something, it would likely have to do with it not spending enough time on Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. While Lawson touches on a few falsehoods here and there, a full refutation would have been fun. Also, though he's by no means convinced that humans are warming the earth, he does give in to a carbon tax assuming there are commensurate cuts in the rates of income tax. To this writer, that seems a bit fanciful, given the natural instinct of governments to add taxes while not reducing others.

But in the end, this essential book is an appeal to reason, and there Lawson reminds us that there are numerous potential catastrophes that could reveal themselves now and in the future. Global warming looms small in Lawson's catastrophe rankings, and just as the novel The DaVinci Code contained "a grain of truth--and a mountain of nonsense," so it seems the alarmism surrounding global warming does too.

Worth causing economic hardship to fight? Lawson thinks not.



In efforts to make quick and symbolic gains in Europe's otherwise failed policies to curb climate gas emissions, environmental and anti-globalisation politicians are aiming at Africa's few economic success stories. Campaigns to buy locally produced food and travel to local destinations particularly hit out against African products. Consumers in Europe are again growing more environmentally conscious and are willing to use their purchasing power to assist in what is widely seen as our era's most pressing problems - the overspending of energy and global warming. Meanwhile, European politicians have been those pressuring strongest to gain support for the Kyoto Protocol while having totally failed to lower emissions of climate gases in their own countries. In every country, emissions have steadily increased.

Populist solutions that are to satisfy costumers, politicians and the European industry alike are therefore surfacing all over Africa's neighbour continent and the main market of its products. And the solutions seem neat and nice - easy to understand and with the potential of creating more work locally. Even the industry starts propagating these solutions.

The victim mainly is Africa, because the message is that, as longer as a product or person is transported, the more energy is wasted unnecessarily. Worst of all is airborne transport, having the highest emissions of climate gases such as CO2. Unluckily, Africa is far away from European markets and poor transcontinental infrastructure puts most products and travellers on an airplane.

All over Europe, therefore, home-grown campaigns are being promoted, attacking Africa's newest and most successful export products. Anti-globalisation activists, "green" politicians, local industry and even occasional experts and scientists head these "buy local" campaigns.

More here

'Hard freeze warnings': Record cold hits the Southeast USA

Frosty start in the Southeast -- It was a chilly night across much of the East, with freeze warnings remaining across the Southeast through mid-morning. After a full day of cold air advection from the northwest, tonight will be even colder as high pressure settles across the Southeast. The coldest temperatures since late last winter will be likely for the region. Freezing warnings, with even some hard freeze warnings, will be in effect for parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Freeze watches extend as far south as central Florida. Record lows will be possible for locations such as Gainesville, Apalachicola, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Lake-effect snow -- Lake-effect snow will not be as heavy or widespread today -- generally it will be limited to the snow belts of northeastern Ohio, northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York. Flakes continue to fly in the mountains of West Virginia, with winter storm warnings remaining in effect for elevations above 3,000 feet through midnight. Tomorrow most of the lake-effect snow will be limited to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and northern parts of the Lower Peninsula. By Thursday, another round of heavy lake-effect snow will be possible as an Alberta Clipper brings a reinforcing shot of cold air to the Great Lakes region.

Fire weather -- Red flag fire warnings are in effect for much of Florida today, with dry air and gusty winds expected. After a few days break, offshore winds are expected to develop across Southern California late in the weak, with another round of Santa Ana winds possible by Friday or Saturday. It is still too early to determine the magnitude of the event.



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1 comment:

John A said...

In re possible catastrophes, I recently came upon an article that seems rather scary.

Imagine an event which,in about one day, takes out perhaps eighty percent of electical tansmission and ninety percent of communications. An asteroid strike? No, just somewhat "normal" activity from the Sun - an EMP of some size.

*Solar Storm*
1859 - The beguiling lights had disabled the telegraph system, wiping out communications across the world. For days, nature refused to allow these arteries of information to flow freely. It was as if today’s Internet had suddenly, inexplicably shut down. Worse still, the aurora also threatened life and limb.

In Philadelphia, a telegrapher was stunned by a severe shock. In some offices the equipment burst into flames. In Bergen, Norway, the operators had to scramble to disconnect the apparatus, risking electrocution. On top of this, compasses spun uselessly under the grip of the aurora, disrupting global navigation.