Friday, November 21, 2008


An email from Indur Goklany []

It seems that every other day someone claims that climate change is the biggest environmental problem facing the globe, or the most important issue facing mankind, or, as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon puts it, the defining challenge of our age. Is there any evidence for such statements or are they mere hyperbole? I examine this issue in a refereed paper -- Is climate change the "defining challenge of our age"? -- that is due to be published in Energy & Environment. The abstract reads:

"Climate change, some claim, is this century's most important environmental challenge. Mortality estimates for the year 2000 from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate, however, that a dozen other risk factors contribute more to global mortality and global burden of disease. Moreover, the state-of-the-art British-sponsored fast track assessments (FTAs) of the global impacts of climate change show that through 2085-2100, climate change would contribute less to human health and environmental threats than other risk factors. Climate change is, therefore, unlikely to be the 21st century's most important environmental problem. Combining the FTA results with WHO's mortality estimates indicates that halting climate change would reduce cumulative mortality from hunger, malaria, and coastal flooding, by 4-10 percent in 2085 while the Kyoto Protocol would lower it by 0.4-1 percent. FTA results also show that reducing climate change will increase populations-at-risk from water stress and, possibly, threats to biodiversity.

But adaptive measures focused specifically on reducing vulnerability to climate sensitive threats would reduce cumulative mortality by 50-75 percent at a fraction of the Kyoto Protocol's cost without adding to risks from water stress or to biodiversity. Such "focused adaptation" would, moreover, reduce major hurdles to the developing world's sustainable economic development, lack of which is the major reason for its vulnerability to climate change (and any other form of adversity). Thus, focused adaptation can combat climate change and advance global well-being, particularly of the world's most vulnerable populations, more effectively than aggressive GHG reductions. Alternatively, these benefits and more - reductions in poverty, and infant and maternal mortality by 50-75%; increased access to safe water and sanitation; and universal literacy - can be obtained by broadly advancing sustainable economic development through policies, institutions and measures (such as those that would meet the UN Millennium Development Goals) at a cost approximating that of the Kyoto Protocol. However, in order to deal with climate change beyond the 2085-2100 timeframe, the paper also recommends expanding research and development of mitigation options, reducing barriers to implementing such options, and active science and monitoring programs to provide early warning of any "dangerous" climate change impacts."

Another dissenter: Global warming ideas disputed by PSU prof

Dr. James Koermer, a meteorology professor at Plymouth State University (NH)

While a large number of people, including some scientists, believe that we are in an unprecedented period of global warming caused primarily by humans, Dr. James Koermer, a meteorology professor at Plymouth State University, would beg to differ. During a presentation at the university on Wednesday, Koermer explained why there are a growing number scientists, such as himself, who don't subscribe to the popular theory on global warming.

Koermer said the Earth's climate has always changed and has experienced alternate warming and cooling trends long before the dawn of man. Koermer said most research suggests that at the beginning of the last millennium, there was a global warming period that ended around 1600, when a significant cooling trend - which he called a mini ice age - lasted for approximately 100 years. The most recent global warming trend picked up during the 1700s, which coincides with the start of the Industrial Age, Koermer said.

Going back millions of years, some research suggests the Earth has had much more extreme climate changes than are occurring today. "Over millions of years there have been periods when we have been hotter than we are today," Koermer said. He added that while humans do have an impact on the climate, it is minimal compared to natural phenomena. He also said that humans are not the biggest producers of carbon dioxide and that the gas is not the most abundant green house gas in the atmosphere. That title goes to water vapor, which is produced by the world's oceans.

Koermer said that water vapor is responsible for 95 percent of the green house gas effect in a given year while another 4.72 percent is caused by a mix of other greenhouse gases, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, which are naturally produced. Humans are only responsible for .28 percent of all greenhouse gases produced during a year, he said.

Koermer said just because he doesn't think man-made carbon dioxide is contributing significantly to climate change, it does not mean he is opposed to the increased use of renewable fuel sources. He said that fossil fuels are a limited resource, so finding alternatives is necessary.

Koermer said scientists are not yet sure what has caused climate change in the past, but factors may include shifts in the Earth's axis as well as changes in the orbit of the Earth around the sun. Over time, Koermer said, the Earth's yearly path around the Sun changes from circular to more elliptical before changing back.

Sunspots and solar flares may also effect the Earth's climate. Koermer said solar flares and spots seem to increase and decrease on an 11-year cycle. He noted that there was a marked decrease in solar flares during the mini ice age of the 1600s.

Changes in the wind patterns or atmospheric oscillations can affect global climate. The El Nino and La Nina weather patterns are an example as well as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. "[The Earth's climate] has been swinging up and swinging down and we don't know why, we don't know what caused the last ice age," Koermer said after the presentation.

Koermer said that the long-range climate models proponents of global warming often use are inaccurate. He said the most sophisticated weather prediction models are only accurate up to weeks and most meteorologists hesitate to forecast much beyond six days.

He said just as climate prediction models aren't flawless, the methods used to estimate past temperatures, such as examining tree rings, sediment layers and ice cores, are not fool proof and are limited in what they prove.

Kevin McGuire, a fellow professor at PSU, said Koermer's presentation was "very well done." "I agree that there are a lot of uncertainties," McGuire said about the causes and nature of global climate change. "I agreed with some aspects," Katie Laro, PSU freshman and meteorology major said. "Like, how can we can know for certain that the average temperature will increase or decrease 100 years from now?"



EU countries may agree before the end of the year on the basic principles and structure of an agreement on the European Commission's energy and climate package, but it is unlikely that a deal will be finalised, an ambassador of one of the bloc's 27 member states told EurActiv.

Efforts to forge an agreement on the package have run into opposition from a group of 'new' member states, led by Poland, who say the plans could wreck their industries and lead to massive job losses, particularly in the context of economic recession.

Many countries from the former Soviet bloc claim they are being punished rather than rewarded for emitting less CO2 during the transition from Communism in the 1990s than more developed EU member states during the same period. At issue is a proposal by the Commission to base emissions reductions calculations for 2020 on the base year of 2005 rather than 1990. Brussels says this is necessary, since 2005 is the first year for which reliable data is available.

"I can't see how a deal will be possible," said an official in the Council's general secretariat, pointing to the large volume and complexity of the package and to widely diverging views between member states about how the 'effort' of reducing CO2 emissions should be shared.

Discussions will come to a head at the much-anticipated 11-12 December EU summit in Brussels. Some are placing their hopes on the energetic leadership of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has repeatedly confirmed his intention to clinch a deal before Paris relinquishes its EU presidency to the Czech Republic in January 2009. "We shouldn't forget that Sarkozy is president," one eastern European diplomat told EurActiv. "There is a pretty good chance" a deal will be reached, the diplomat added.

But it is unclear at what cost such a deal would come. Paris has floated a compromise plan that would allow Poland and other new member states to grant millions of free emissions allowances to their coal-dependent power sectors under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), the Financial Times reported.

If approved, such a move would represent a significant departure from the Commission's original EU ETS proposal, which calls for full auctioning for the power sector as of 2013. A massive 'break' in emissions reductions obligations for the power sector would also have a significant impact on ongoing international climate negotiations, with a major UN climate change summit in Poznan, Poland scheduled to wrap up on 12 December, the same day as the EU summit.

Meanwhile, Parliament's role in the discussions is also crucial. MEPs are scheduled to vote in plenary on the package on 3-4 December, a move that would signal the start of a second reading and rule of the possibility of a first-reading deal being reached on the basis of ongoing 'trilogue' discussions between the Council, Parliament and the Commission.

It is unclear if the Parliament will actually vote before the December European Council, however. The move to schedule an early plenary is widely perceived as part of a political strategy designed to pressure member states to honour the Parliament's line in the discussions.

Nonetheless, supporters of the climate package are nervous that failure to reach a deal before the end of 2008 could put the EU in a tight spot, since the negotiating process will grind to a halt in March 2009 when the legislature of the current Parliament ends.



As U.S. president, Barack Obama is likely to tighten environmental regulations on generating power from coal, but his ambitions could be reined in by the cost of such measures given a weak U.S. economy. Obama's campaign proposal to fight global warming - by cutting heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions to 80 percent less than 1990 levels by 2050 - could require big U.S. utilities to spend billions to comply.But coal-fired power plants, which generate about half of U.S. electricity and 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas output, will have to be the backbone of America's power grid for decades because U.S. coal is plentiful and relatively cheap.

"Coal is going to be clamped down on from mine mouth to smokestack, but it's not as though coal is going out of style," said Kevin Book, an energy analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc. "Obama cannot ignore the economic side of the story," Book said.

Just before the Nov. 4 election, Republicans seized on Obama's comments to a newspaper that U.S. utilities could face bankruptcy if they build new coal plants. However, utility officials generally see the Democratic president-elect as supportive of their industry.

Earlier, Obama handed out flyers in Kentucky with a picture of coal barges on the Ohio River and stating, "Barack Obama believes in clean Kentucky coal." He has backed pioneering power plants that burn coal but capture carbon emissions.

More here


Freeman Dyson gets around. Last Wednesday, for example, the 85-year-old "retired" physicist regaled a lunchtime audience at the Nassau Club with his "heretical" ideas about global warming. Just a few hours later he could be found once again sharing his thoughts on global warming, as well as on intelligent design, nuclear warfare, extraterrestrial life, and HAR-1 (a DNA component that distinguishes human beings from other animals) with a standing-room-only crowd at Labyrinth Books.

Mr. Dyson's credentials are venerable: the British-born scholar received a BA from the University of Cambridge in 1945, and was, from 1953 until his retirement in 1994, a physics professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. The absence of a PhD in his resume has been more than compensated for by the 21 honorary degrees he has received over the years.

He seems happiest, however, when he is working at being the rebel, and indeed, one of his books, a compilation of essays published earlier in The New York Review of Books, is called The Scientist as Rebel. Wearing an effusively-colored tie that set off his gray suit, Mr. Dyson began his talk at the Nassau Club by encouraging the audience to interrupt him as he spoke, since, he declared, "it's much more fun to have an argument than do a monologue."

In the absence of audience interruptions, Mr. Dyson had an argument anyway with the scores of people (like Al Gore) who weren't present to defend their belief in the dire consequences of global warming. ("There's no accounting for human folly," Mr. Dyson said when asked about Mr. Gore's Nobel Prize.) Saying that on a recent trip he and his wife found Greenlanders to be delighted with their warmer climate and increased tourism, Mr. Dyson suggested that representing "local warming by a global average is misleading." In his comments at both the Nassau Club and Labyrinth, he decried the use of computer modeling to make "tremendously dogmatic" predictions about worldwide trends, without acknowledging the "messy, muddy real world" and the non-climatic effects of increased carbon dioxide. "There is no substitute for widely-conducted field operations over a long time," he told the Nassau Club audience, citing the "enormous gaps in knowledge and sparseness of observation" that characterize the work of global warming experts.

Mr. Dyson's fearless commentary continued later at Labyrinth, where, standing for over an hour and without a microphone, he delighted a full house by declaring the existence of 10,000 string theorists to be "sociologically dangerous" ("one thousand would be enough"), and balked at an audience member's query about what he would do with a $700 billion grant. "When science gets rich it becomes political," he observed. As an example of the most expensive efforts not necessarily being the most worthwhile, he pointed to CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, the subject of much recent attention, noting that it was designed to identify only certain particles, losing much potentially interesting information in the process. "The important things are the ones you don't expect," he noted.



Tontine Associates, the once gilt-edged hedge fund that collapsed rapidly over the past two months in the wake of the market's carnage, was renowned for its massive and highly contrarian bets in industries like home-building and steel manufacturing.

Until the Greenwich-based fund began to spiral out of control in August, Tontine and its general partner, Jeff Gendell, seemed to have the Midas touch. It earned 100% returns in 2003 and 2004 in its Tontine Partners fund, buying shares in sectors where other institutions feared to tread. The success soon drove the fund to $11 billion in assets and made Gendell a billionaire.

Last week, however, the combination of big bets gone south and prime brokers demanding repayment for loans forced Gendell to announce to investors that he was shutting two of his main portfolios: Tontine Capital Partners and Tontine Partners, after locking up losses as high as 77%.

But at the center of the Tontine maelstrom is a less well-known series of trades in alternative energy stocks, especially those related to wind turbines, that played a key role in the both the fund's recent success and its collapse.

More here


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