Friday, January 09, 2009


An email from S. Fred Singer []

So here we have them: Obama's three scientistsªSteve Chu, John Holdren, and Jane Lubchenco. All with sterling credentials - a Nobel laureate in physics, a recent president of the AAAS, a recent head of the International Council of Scientific Unions - but with minimal knowledge of climate science, except what they may have gleaned from reading the IPCC summary. Yet all three seem supremely confident that they will drastically change US climate policy. Well, let me be the first with the bad (for them) news: Within a year or so, they are going to be an awfully frustrated bunch.

My fearless forecast for 2009: Big amount of activity by Congress, with lots of 'Cap&Trade' bills to limit CO2 emissions. Waxman, Markey, and Pelosi in the House; Boxer, Lieberman, Bingeman, and maybe even McCain in the Senate. It will take off, but it won't fly: There is the prohibitive cost of any real C&T, raising energy prices and killing jobs -- while the economy is in the dumps. There is the horrible example of the European emission-trading brouhaha, falling apart even as we go to press. And after ten years, the climate is still refusing to warm. I am not even considering the threat of a filibuster in the Senateªwith Democrats from 'fly-over' states joining Republican opponents of C&T.

I think that Obama is much too smart to devote political capital to doomed climate legislation. He has more important priorities, and must also be thinking of 2010 and, of course, the 2012 elections. Being a 'one-term' president just doesn't look good. He will certainly go through the motions and come up with great rhetoric. He'll trot out his science team - but to no avail. Climate science isn't going to figure prominently in the Congressional debates - alas; it's all about economics and politics.

Now for the real action: Once legislation stalls, Carol Browner, the supreme ideologue and strategist, will go the regulatory route. EPA will try to treat CO2 as a 'criteria pollutant' under the terms of the Clean Air Act. But there will be litigation. EPA must demonstrate 'endangerment' and make a persuasive case that CO2 is a threat to 'public health and welfare.' Perhaps even show that there is a critical level of CO2 and demonstrate convincingly - in a court-of-law -- that its regulatory program will succeed in keeping CO2 from reaching that level. EPA will be required to respond to all the scientific evidence now in its docket that says CO2 is not a threat - including the NIPCC report. Here is where climate science will finally become all-important - but Obama's science team will be of no help once cross-examination starts.

How much better if the three team members lay off climate and devote their efforts and expertise to genuine problems: Holdren can handle nuclear proliferation and the rising threat of nuclear terrorism; Lubchenco can try to stem the over-exploitation of ocean resources, and look after fisheries and whales; Chu should be thinking about the inevitable transition from fossil fuels to various forms of nuclear energy and foster research that assures adequate and low-cost supplies of fissionable fuel for the more efficient and safer reactors of the future.

While this may be best use of their considerable collective talents, they will probably be pressed into service to back up Browner on her dubious climate science -- where they have negligible expertise.

So cold the sea around Britain freezes

All due to global warming, of course. Global warming is a magic wand for socialists

It is an event as rare as it is spectacular - but yesterday, after a week of sub-zero conditions, the sea around Britain began to freeze. Instead of waves gently lapping the shore, walkers in Sandbanks, Dorset, found swathes of ice stretching up to 20m along the shore. It is highly unusual for Britain's coastline to freeze, but the combination of a sustained cold snap and the protected location of the Dorset peninsula made it possible. At Padstow, in Cornwall, in another sheltered harbour, seagulls skimmed across a layer of ice. And in South Wales, boats were frozen in their moorings on the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal in Pontypool. Because of its salt content, sea water freezes solid at about minus 2C.

Kevin Horsburgh, a scientist at Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool, said: "What generally happens is when the surface freezes, it gets heavier and sinks. The heat in the water needs to be extracted in order for the surface to stay frozen. In order for that to happen you need a long and sustained period of sub-zero temperatures." Mr Horsburgh added that sheltered peninsulas and harbours were more likely to freeze than open coastline. "A harbour has quite a low level of salt content because it has fresh water from rivers running into it," he said. "The saltier the water, the less chance of it freezing."

The cold snap showed no signs of abating yesterday. On Tuesday night temperatures plummeted as low as minus 12C in Benson, Oxfordshire. At Bournemouth Airport it was minus 11C, the coldest January night since 1963. Meanwhile in Farnborough, Hampshire, where the thermometer also recorded minus 11C, it was the coldest January night on record since 1926.

There were signs yesterday that the freezing conditions are affecting Britain badly, with the Local Government Association warning that tens of thousands of pensioners could die as a result of the prolonged cold snap. It is feared the number of deaths caused by the winter chill could exceed last year's figure of 25,000.



Efforts to sell climate policy based on ever more scary scenarios of apocalypse cannot be sustained and are likely to work in exactly the opposite manner than desired. A good example of why this is so can be found in a recent paper (hat tip Dad [Pielke Sr]) that suggests that the rate of sea level rise from 2003-2008 (2.5 mm/year) is 20% lower than that presented by the IPCC for 1993-2003 (3.1 mm/year). Whether this is "consistent with" longer-term predictions is different that whether it is "consistent with" a political strategy based on scaring people. It seems pretty obvious that systems that exhibit a large amount of variability or are simply poorly understood on relatively short time scales are not very useful props in efforts to show the world moving inexorably towards doom.

Cazenave, A., et al., Sea level budget over 2003-2008: A reevaluation from GRACE space gravimetry, satellite altimetry and Argo, Glob. Planet. Change (2008), doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2008.10.004 (PDF)

Indur Goklany comments:

This reminds me of the CCSP's Unified Synthesis Product [USP]. It trumpeted as a "key finding" (no. 2), which it claimed was novel, thusly: "Many climatic changes are occurring faster than projected even a few years ago."

In my comments, I noted that: "this is based on cherry picking of information. While many climate changes may be occurring faster than projected, many others are not. For example, global temperature has not warmed significantly over the past dozen years or so (see e.g., here), the oceans may not have warmed as much as expected (e.g., Lyman et al. 2006; Willis et al. 2007, 2008), and there are recent papers that suggest sea level may not be rising as rapidly as suggested by the IPCC's latest report (Berge Nguyen et al. 2008; Unnnikrishnan and Shankar 2007; Kolker and Hameed 2007; Woppelmann et al. 2007; see also here, which suggest slowing of sea level rise). In any case, regardless of whether recent data show ups or downs, it's not clear that these short term blips will become long term trends. Accordingly, Finding 2 should be jettisoned, or it should be modified to: (a) acknowledge that many other climatic changes may not be occurring as rapidly as projected, and examples provided above should be included, and (b) note that it is downright unscientific, if not risky, to base long term policy on short term data, particularly when it comes to climate change, itself a long term phenomenon."

I also noted with respect to another "key finding" that: "There is a tendency in [the USP] to treat recent trends as harbingers of future long term trends. For example, there is the statement (previously noted) that some changes are happening faster than anticipated. Similarly, Key Finding 4 states that 'Atlantic hurricane intensity has increased in recent decades...' But data going back to 1970 or so are too short to be used to make definitive statements about whether changes in intensity are due to climatic trends, short term natural variability, improvement in detection technologies with enhanced spatial and temporal resolution, or a combination of all these factors. In the long term context, it's not clear whether these changes, if any, are outside the bounds of natural variability. [I note that one doesn't normally see analysis that rules this out as a hypothesis, which I believe is a major shortcoming in climate change science.]

My comment, of course, cuts both ways. Protagonists/observers on both sides of the climate change debate should be fully aware of the data and cognisant of short term variations, but not mistake them for long term trends. To do so, means we are assuming we know more than we actually do.



Governments across Europe declared states of emergency and ordered factories to close as Russia cut all gas supplies through Ukraine yesterday in their worsening dispute over unpaid bills. Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, accused the two countries of taking the EU's energy supply "hostage" amid a cold snap across the Continent, and urged them to reopen the pipelines immediately. Schools and factories were closed and trees were felled to keep home fires burning after Russia turned off the gas taps to more than a dozen countries. It was a clear demonstration of the dependence of the Continent on Russian gas supplies.

Despite temperatures as low as minus 27C and the threat of heating cuts to millions of households, Moscow said that it had no choice but to cease supplies because Ukraine, the country through which 80 per cent of Russian gas bound for Europe flows, had closed its pipelines. The claim was denied by Kiev.

Countries tapped into their reserves and urged the use of alternative fuels but at least 15,000 households in Bulgaria - which gets 92 per cent of its gas via the Ukrainian pipelines - found their heating cut off overnight. Slovakia's Government followed Bulgaria by announcing that it may have to restart a mothballed Soviet-era nuclear power plant.

The Balkan states, which rely almost completely on Russian gas and have failed to develop modern infra-structures or alternative energy sources, have been the hardest hit at the time of the Orthodox Christmas. In Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, there were bitter memories of the Bosnian conflict from 1992-95, when the population cut down trees to try to stay warm or bought coal on the black market. Sven Alkalay, the Bosnian Foreign Minister, said: "Four million of our citizens are in danger." Almir Becarevic, the manager of the state gas company, said: "If this lasts it could turn into a humanitarian disaster. We pray that someone can find a solution."

To try to restart supplies, the EU proposed yesterday that it should send independent monitors to watch the dials on the pipes at Ukraine's borders. Russia claims that Ukraine is taking gas it has not paid for from the pipelines, reducing the onward supply to Europe. It has responded by cutting supplies in the pipeline by the amount it says Ukraine is stealing. By checking how much gas is entering Ukraine from Russia and then measuring how much emerges at its western borders with Europe, the EU hopes to establish who is to blame for the shortages.

Mr Barroso said that he had agreement in principle for the process from Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yuliya Tymoshenko, who will send officials to Brussels today to thrash out the details. Mr Barroso spoke to both leaders yesterday, but he said they continued to blame each other. "Prime Minister Putin told me that Russia is providing the gas destined for the EU, Prime Minister Tymoshenko told me that they have created no problems with transit through Ukraine," an exasperated Mr Barroso said. "The conclusion is clear: if both Russia and Ukraine behave as they say they are behaving, there should be no problem."

He added: "If Ukraine is trying to be closer to the European Union, it should not create problems when it comes to the supply of gas to the EU."
Yet 12 countries received no Russian gas at all yesterday: Austria, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. France, Italy, Germany and Poland reported that their supplies from Russia were markedly down.

The International Energy Agency, which is the energy-monitoring and policy arm of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, said that the situation was "completely unacceptable, given that European customers are not a party in this dispute. "Despite the reassuring statements late December by both parties that supply to Europe would not be interrupted, supplies have now come to a complete halt," it said. "The interruption is creating hardship during the coldest weather Europe has faced within a number of years."

The US showed who it blamed for the crisis when Stephen Hadley, the National Security Adviser, warned Moscow that using its energy exports to threaten its neighbours would undermine its international standing.

Amid mounting fears of shortages in Germany and France, Britain has begun to export emergency supplies of gas to Europe. The flow in the pipeline connecting Britain to Belgium and beyond, which normally imports gas to Britain, was reversed late yesterday after prices on the Continent rose. Analysts said that the weak pound was encouraging European suppliers to use Britain as a cheap transit route for Norwegian gas



Earlier this week I posted a comment on the implications for environmental policy stemming from the dispute between Russia and Ukraine that has halted gas deliveries to Europe. I said the dispute - which worsened Wednesday - would give policymakers and environmental campaigners more ammunition to speed up the transformation away from fossil fuels of any kind, including cleaner burning ones like natural gas. Sure enough, on Wednesday, the prominent environmental group WWF issued a statement from its European Policy Office that retracted much of its previous support for natural gas as a fuel of choice for industrial countries making a transition to a low-carbon economy.

"So far, comparably clean natural gas has been broadly supported by WWF as a logical mid-term alternative to high-polluting coal in the power sector and oil in the heating sector," the statement said. But "the Russian gas policy is highly risky as it fully undermines the public confidence in this low-carbon fossil fuel" and that made it "time to reconsider the role for natural gas as a bridging fuel to sustainable energy." WWF said it now wanted new laws in place mandating energy efficiency in buildings and far more promotion of renewable energy for the electricity sector.

Arianna Vitali, a policy officer for WWF in Brussels, said that it would be possible through legislation on buildings to reduce energy use in Europe by about the same amount represented by gas imports from Russia. Stephen Singer, the international director for energy policy for the group, said the seriousness of the energy crisis in Europe should underline the need for more investment in offshore wind, solar power and clean biomass. Above all, said Mr. Singer, the crisis should "not become a field day for perceived secure electricity fuels such as coal and nuclear."

In Bulgaria, which switched off most of its nuclear reactors ahead of its accession to the E.U. in 2007, President Georgi Parvanov has called for the temporary reactivation of at least one disabled nuclear reactor to help the country meet its heat and power needs as the dispute continues.



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