Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Warmism: A hopeless blend of hot air and hubris

THE ancient Greeks invented the idea of hubris, of human beings having overweening pride and self-esteem that needed to be punished for its excess. There are perhaps those who believe that what is commonly called climate change is a punishment for hubris, for human beings having gone beyond their place in the scheme of things.

However, an equally good case can be made that the call for human beings to make far-reaching changes to their way of life in response to climate change is itself a form of hubris. To begin, it is based on the belief that human endeavours, in the shape of industrial development, have had such an impact on the Earth that they threaten to disrupt its environment on an enormous scale. Not only have humans made such an impact on the planet, they are also capable, through an act of will, of reversing that impact and setting things right.

According to this scenario, human beings are the most important players in the history of the planet; they are the lords and masters who can destroy things as well as set them right. This belief in the capacity of humans to control the environment is very old. In some ancient civilisations the ruler was supposed to have the power to create a beneficial climate. If there were a prolonged drought, then the ruler sometimes was expected to make the ultimate sacrifice to propitiate the gods. During the depths of the Little Ice Age in Europe, some communities asked God for forgiveness of their sins so that a better climate might return.

Today, however, we look to the state to return us to the path of righteousness. Government can undo the wrongs that we have inflicted on the planet.

Think how much worse it would be for us if it could be demonstrated that the process of global warming were outside of human hands and unable to be manipulated by human efforts. The most we could do would be to adapt to the changes that are occurring. It would be a huge blow to humanity's ego.

Human beings do not want to feel helpless in the face of such changes. They want to feel in control. Believing in climate change creates the illusion that they are in control, that they can do something to make a difference. If they have already affected the planet in such a profound way, surely they can do itagain.

If human beings did not have climate change they might find themselves reduced to being mere spectators in a cosmos over which they had fairly limited control. They would feel that their stature had been diminished. Put simply, they need climate change.

Yet, reading Ian Plimer's excellent Heaven and Earth, what impresses one about his extraordinary account of the Earth's history and its climate is the many forces of nature that are beyond human control. These range from cosmic radiation to the movement of continents and the force of volcanoes. In so many ways we are just spectators, pilgrims who spend a short time on Earth.

That so many people need climate change in the face of the immense forces of nature can be put down to human hubris. They want the illusion of control, and the tool that they use to further that illusion is no longer religion but the state.

The same impulse that leads individuals to look to the state to control climate change also leads them to want to use the state to control economic matters. This is not to say that there is no role for the state in providing the framework in which economic activities take place. It is merely to point out that there are times when it is better for it not to interfere and to allow things to work themselves out.

There is a very important law in politics and economics known as the law of unintended consequences. When governments intervene in matters about which they have limited knowledge, and this is basically everything, they can take steps that make things worse rather than better.

The same law applies to the natural world. Plimer describes a universe so complex that it is simply not feasible that any computer model devised by a human being could capture its complexity.

State action based on such limited knowledge invariably will have unforeseen consequences that may well prove quite harmful.

Humility can be seen as the antidote to hubris. Human beings should be humble in the face of the immense forces of nature and recognise that their power to manipulate and change the world is very limited. They can do this only if they recognise that adherence to climate change is the ultimate expression of hubris. There are times when the best thing for the state to do is nothing.


Bogus Models Used To Justify Anti-CO2 Push

Few things are more appealing in politics than something for nothing. As Congress begins considering anti-global-warming legislation, environmentalists hold out precisely that tantalizing prospect: We can conquer global warming at virtually no cost. Here's a typical claim from the Environmental Defense Fund: "For about a dime a day (per person), we can solve climate change, invest in a clean energy future and save billions in imported oil."

This sounds too good to be true, because it is. About four-fifths of the world's and America's energy comes from fossil fuels — oil, coal, natural gas — which are also the largest source of man-made carbon dioxide, the alleged main greenhouse gas. The goal is to eliminate fossil fuels or suppress their CO2. The bill now being considered in the House would mandate a 42% decline in greenhouse emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels and an 83% drop by 2050.

Re-engineering the world energy system seems an almost impossible undertaking. Just consider America's energy needs in 2030, as estimated by the Energy Information Administration. Compared with 2007, the U.S. is projected to have almost 25% more people (375 million), an economy about 70% larger ($20 trillion) and 27% more light-duty vehicles (294 million). Energy demand will be strong.

But the EIA also assumes greater conservation and use of renewables. From 2007 to 2030, solar power grows 18 times, wind six times. New cars and light trucks get 50% better gas mileage. Light bulbs and washing machines become more efficient. Higher energy prices discourage use; by 2030, oil is $130 a barrel in today's dollars.

For all that, U.S. CO2 emissions in 2030 are projected at 6.2 billion metric tons, 4% higher than in 2007. As an example, solar and wind together would still supply only about 5% of electricity, because they expand from a tiny base.

To comply with the House bill, CO2 emissions would have to be about 3.5 billion tons. The claims of the EDF and other environmentalists that this reduction can occur cheaply rely on economic simulations by "general equilibrium" models.

An Environmental Protection Agency study put the cost as low as $98 per household a year, because high energy prices are partly offset by government rebates. With 2.5 people in the average household, that's roughly 11 cents a day per person. The trouble is that these models embody wildly unrealistic assumptions: there are no business cycles; the economy is always at "full employment"; strong growth is assumed, based on past growth rates; the economy automatically accommodates major changes — if fossil fuel prices rise (as they would under anti-global warming laws), consumers quickly use less and new supplies of "clean energy" magically materialize.

There's no problem and costs are low, because the models say so. But the real world, of course, is different. Half the nation's electricity comes from coal. The costs of "carbon capture and sequestration" — storing CO2 underground — are uncertain, and if the technology can't be commercialized, coal plants will continue to emit or might need to be replaced by nuclear plants. Will Americans support a doubling or tripling of nuclear power? Could technical and construction obstacles be overcome in a timely way? Paralysis might lead to power brownouts or blackouts, which would penalize economic growth.

Countless practical difficulties would arise in trying to wean the U.S. economy from today's fossil fuels. One estimate done by economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that meeting most transportation needs in 2050 with locally produced biofuels would require "500 million acres of U.S. land . . . more than the total of current U.S. cropland." America would have to become a net food importer.

In truth, models have a dismal record of predicting major economic upheavals or their consequences. They didn't anticipate the present economic crisis. Earlier, they didn't predict the run-up in oil prices to almost $150 a barrel last year. In the 1970s, they didn't foresee runaway inflation. "General equilibrium" models can help evaluate different policy proposals by comparing them against a common baseline. But these models can't tell us how the economy will look in 10 or 20 years, because so much is assumed or ignored — growth rates; financial and geopolitical crises; major bottlenecks; crippling inflation or unemployment.

The selling of the green economy involves much economic make-believe. Environmentalists not only maximize the dangers of global warming — from rising sea levels to advancing tropical diseases. They also minimize the costs of dealing with it. Actually, no one involved in this debate really knows what the consequences or costs might be. All are inferred from models of uncertain reliability. Great schemes of economic and social engineering are proposed on shaky foundations of knowledge. Candor and common sense are in scarce supply.



Our lab has just published a new paper in PLoS ONE, detailing the interactions of coral and algae on the Great Barrier Reef, and uncovered just how resilient some reefs can be following coral bleaching events. The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef was exposed to extended periods of high sea surface temperatures in the end of 2006, resulting in extensive coral bleaching across the Keppel Islands throughout January 2006. Following the bleaching event, a single species of fleshy macro-algae (Lobophora) overgrew the coral skeletons, causing high rates of mortality throughout the second half of 2006. But, by February 2007, corals were rapidly recovering due to an unusual seasonal dieback of the macro-algae, and astonishing regenerative capabilities of the dominant branching Acroporid corals - almost twice the rate of offshore corals on the northern Great Barrier Reef.

What is unusual about the Keppel Islands story is threefold: first, that corals recovered within months to years (reversal of macro-algae dominated reefs often takes decades), second, recovery of the corals occurred in the absence of herbivory (traditionally assumed to be the 'driving factor' in macro-algal phase shifts), and third, that corals recovered through asexual (regenerative) capacities rather than reseeding of reefs by larval recruitment. Understanding the processes that drive recovery following disturbances is critical for management of coral reefs, and the Keppel Islands example shows that managing local stressors (overfishing and water quality) helps reefs bounce back from global stressors such as coral bleaching events. PLoS One is an open-access journal, so the article is free to read - click on the link below, and feel free to rate and comments on the paper. Congratulations Guillermo et al!

Guillermo Diaz-Pulido et al. (2009) Doom and Boom on a Resilient Reef: Climate Change, Algal Overgrowth and Coral Recovery. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5239


NOTE: Hoagy (Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg), Australia's no.1 coral doomster, was among the joint authors of the paper. I wonder will this slow him down any?

Pesky! Plants Absorb More Carbon Dioxide Under Polluted Hazy Skies

Plants absorbed carbon dioxide more efficiently under the polluted skies of recent decades than they would have done in a cleaner atmosphere, according to new findings published this week in Nature.

The results of the study have important implications for efforts to combat future climate change which are likely to take place alongside attempts to lower air pollution levels.

The research team included scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Met Office Hadley Centre, ETH Zurich and the University of Exeter.

Lead author Dr Lina Mercado, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, "Surprisingly, the effects of atmospheric pollution seem to have enhanced global plant productivity by as much as a quarter from 1960 to 1999. This resulted in a net 10% increase in the amount of carbon stored by the land once other effects were taken into account."

An increase in microscopic particles released into the atmosphere (known as aerosols), by human activities and changes in cloud cover, caused a decline in the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface from the 1950s up to the 1980s (a phenomenon known as 'global dimming').

Although reductions in sunlight reduce photosynthesis, clouds and atmospheric particles scatter light so that the surface receives light from multiple directions (diffuse radiation) rather than coming straight from the sun. Plants are then able to convert more of the available sunlight into growth because fewer leaves are in the shade.

Scientists have known for a long time that aerosols cool climate by reflecting sunlight and making clouds brighter, but the new study is the first to use a global model to estimate the net effects on plant carbon uptake resulting from this type of atmospheric pollution.

Co-author Dr Stephen Sitch from the Met Office Hadley Centre (now at the University of Leeds) said, "Although many people believe that well-watered plants grow best on a bright sunny day, the reverse is true. Plants often thrive in hazy conditions such as those that exist during periods of increased atmospheric pollution."

The research team also considered the implications of these findings for efforts to avoid dangerous climate change. Under an environmentally friendly scenario in which sulphate aerosols decline rapidly in the 21st century, they found that by cleaning up the atmosphere even steeper cuts in global carbon dioxide emissions would be required to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations below 450 parts per million by volume.

Co-author Professor Peter Cox of the University of Exeter summed up the consequences of the study, "As we continue to clean up the air in the lower atmosphere, which we must do for the sake of human health, the challenge of avoiding dangerous climate change through reductions in CO2 emissions will be even harder. Different climate changing pollutants have very different direct effects on plants, and these need to be taken into account if we are to make good decisions about how to deal with climate change."

Journal reference:

1. Lina M. Mercado, Nicolas Bellouin, Stephen Sitch, Olivier Boucher, Chris Huntingford, Martin Wild & Peter M. Cox. Impact of changes in diffuse radiation on the global land carbon sink. Nature, 2009; 458 (7241): 1014 DOI: 10.1038/nature07949


A big climbdown from Britain's Greenest newspaper

The missing sunspots: Is this the big chill? Scientists are baffled by what they’re seeing on the Sun’s surface – nothing at all. And this lack of activity could have a major impact on global warming. David Whitehouse investigates:

The disappearance of sunspots happens every few years, but this time it's gone on far longer than anyone expected - and there is no sign of the Sun waking. Could the Sun play a greater role in recent climate change than has been believed? Climatologists had dismissed the idea and some solar scientists have been reticent about it because of its connections with those who those who deny climate change. But now the speculation has grown louder because of what is happening to our Sun. No living scientist has seen it behave this way. There are no sunspots.

“This is the lowest we’ve ever seen. We thought we’d be out of it by now, but we’re not,” says Marc Hairston of the University of Texas. And it’s not just the sunspots that are causing concern. There is also the so-called solar wind – streams of particles the Sun pours out – that is at its weakest since records began. In addition, the Sun’s magnetic axis is tilted to an unusual degree. “This is the quietest Sun we’ve seen in almost a century,” says NASA solar scientist David Hathaway. But this is not just a scientific curiosity. It could affect everyone on Earth and force what for many is the unthinkable: a reappraisal of the science behind recent global warming.

Our Sun is the primary force of the Earth’s climate system, driving atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns. It lies behind every aspect of the Earth’s climate and is, of course, a key component of the greenhouse effect. But there is another factor to be considered. When the Sun has gone quiet like this before, it coincided with the earth cooling slightly and there is speculation that a similar thing could happen now. If so, it could alter all our predictions of climate change, and show that our understanding of climate change might not be anywhere near as good as we thought.

Sunspots are dark, cooler patches on the Sun’s surface that come and go in a roughly 11-year cycle, first noticed in 1843. They have gone away before. They were absent in the 17th century – a period called the “Maunder Minimum” after the scientist who spotted it. Crucially, it has been observed that the periods when the Sun’s activity is high and low are related to warm and cool climatic periods. The weak Sun in the 17th century coincided with the so-called Little Ice Age. The Sun took a dip between 1790 and 1830 and the earth also cooled a little. It was weak during the cold Iron Age, and active during the warm Bronze Age. Recent research suggests that in the past 12,000 years there have been 27 grand minima and 19 grand maxima.

Throughout the 20th century the Sun was unusually active, peaking in the 1950s and the late 1980s. Dean Pensell of NASA, says that, “since the Space Age began in the 1950s, solar activity has been generally high. Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years.” The Sun became increasingly active at the same time that the Earth warmed. But according to the scientific consensus, the Sun has had only a minor recent effect on climate change.

Many scientists believe that the Sun was the major player on the Earth’s climate until the past few decades, when the greenhouse effect from increasing levels of carbon dioxide overwhelmed it. Computer models suggest that of the 0.5C increase in global average temperatures over the past 30 years, only 10-20 per cent of the temperature variations observed were down to the Sun, although some said it was 50 per cent.

But around the turn of the century things started to change. Within a few years of the Sun’s activity starting to decline, the rise in the Earth’s temperature began to slow and has now been constant since the turn of the century. This was at the same time that the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide carried on rising. So, is the Sun’s quietness responsible for the tail-off in global warming and if not, what is?

There are some clues as to what’s going on. Although at solar maxima there are more sunspots on the Sun’s surface, their dimming effect is more than offset by the appearance of bright patches on the Sun’s disc called faculae – Italian for “little torches”. Overall, during an 11-year solar cycle the Sun’s output changes by only 0.1 per cent, an amount considered by many to be too small a variation to change much on earth. But there is another way of looking it. While this 0.1 per cent variation is small as a percentage, in terms of absolute energy levels it is enormous, amounting to a highly significant 1.3 Watts of energy per square metre at the Earth. This means that during the solar cycle’s rising phase from solar minima to maxima, the Sun’s increasing brightness has the same climate-forcing effect as that from increasing atmospheric greenhouse gasses. There is recent research suggesting that solar variability can have a very strong regional climatic influence on Earth – in fact stronger than any man-made greenhouse effect across vast swathes of the Earth. And that could rewrite the rules.

No one knows what will happen or how it will effect our understanding of climate change on Earth. If the Earth cools under a quiet Sun, then it may be an indication that the increase in the Sun’s activity since the Little Ice Age has been the dominant factor in global temperature rises. That would also mean that we have overestimated the sensitivity of the Earth’s atmosphere to an increase of carbon dioxide from the pre-industrial three parts per 10,000 by volume to today’s four parts per 10,000. Or the sun could compete with global warming, holding it back for a while. For now, all scientists can do, along with the rest of us, is to watch and wait.


MSNBC climate fakery

MSNBC is running a four-part series entitled Future Earth. On their website they say you can “find out why Earth’s climate machine — the North Pole — is melting alarmingly fast. Learn about our planet’s future, and how you can stop its decline.”

First, the North Pole is not “Earth’s Climate Machine”. There is far more heat and area in the Tropics than at the North Pole.

Second, YOU can’t stop its decline (assuming it’s declining)! Nature is big - you personally are insignificant compared to nature. Don’t you wish you had the power to control icecaps! If you don’t mind some profanity, check out George Carlin’s take on “Saving the Planet”.

Third, MSNBC does not know “our planet’s future”. The scenario they portray in this piece is about as remote a possibility in the near future (and more than likely the very far future) as the Lions going 16-0 next season.

The Antarctic icecap (which is much bigger than the Arctic icecap) has been growing. In Sept. 1979 (first year of satellite data) the Antarctic icecap was 18.4 million sq. km. In Sept. 2008, the Antarctic icecap was at 19.2 million sq. km. That’s a 30-year trend. By comparison, Michigan is 151,586 sq. km, so that’s an increase in icecover of over five times the area of Michigan.

MSNBC could instead be doing a story on the trend of cooling in Antarctica and possible falling sea levels due to ice accumulation in Antarctica. Keep in mind that if the Polar icecap (without Greenland) melted…it would hardly cause sea level to rise, because the icecap is currently displacing water in the Arctic Ocean. The Antarctic icecap is over a land continent, not floating over an ocean. Significant ice accumulation over the land of Antarctica would cause sea level to fall. The Arctic icecap did decrease significantly (yes, very significantly) from 1979 to 2007.

To do a fair piece on Arctic ice…MSNBC or anyone would have to note this. However, to also be fair…they should also tell what’s been going on in the Arctic since 2007. Please, CHECK OUT THIS GRAPH from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Note that the current icecap has grown significantly and is now much closer to the 1979-2000 average than it is to the low level of 2007.

There are meteorological reasons for this increase (PDO - Pacific Decadal Oscillation going negative, etc.) that have nothing to do with CO2. Some scientists predicted there would be no icecap this summer. It’ll actually be bigger than last summer. Al Gore predicted last year that “the icecap will be gone in five years!”.

I would be willing to not only bet Al Gore but also give him 100 to one odds that there will still be a polar ice cap in 2013. One last point, MSNBC is owned by General Electric. GE is already making money off the issue with their Carbon Credit Master Card (link from “Treehugger”, no less). Here’s CNN’s story on the new credit card.

Interesting note: In the fourth quarter of 2008 as GE/NBC stock fell 30 percent, GE spent $4.26 million on lobbying — that’s $46,304 each day, including weekends, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2008, the company spent a grand total of $18.66 million on lobbying.” Reviewing their lobbying filings, GE’s specific lobbying issues included the “Climate Stewardship Act,” “Electric Utility Cap and Trade Act,” “Global Warming Reduction Act,” “Federal Government Greenhouse Gas Registry Act,” “Low Carbon Economy Act,” and “Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.”

Do you think this “big business” is just concerned about the environment? Well, check out this column from the Politico, which says: “Several of the companies would gain a commercial advantage after a cap and trade was established. General Electric has an “ecoimagination” line of green appliances and equipment. Robert Stavins, a professor of business and government at Harvard University, said a cap and trade program would be fantastic for GE and other companies that sell products that consume power. He said that if energy costs go up as a result of the regulation — something he believes is likely — a wide array of products from appliances to power plants would become prematurely obsolete and need to be replaced with greener models.” That would mean big money for GE (parent company of NBC and MSNBC).

Take a moment and read my previous post on polar ice…check out the graphs and charts…they speak for themselves.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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