Saturday, October 03, 2009

New Greenie villain: Nitrous oxide!

It's not actually a new villain but it has now been upgraded to Jack-the-ripper status. Reading between the lines, this would appear to be an apology for the fact that the Antarctic ozone hole is just fluctuating as normal instead of shrinking -- despite the much touted ban on CFCs. An attempt to ban N2O would be a joke, though. There's a lot of it about

Stratospheric ozone is depleted by many different chemicals; most prominently, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) responsible for causing the Antarctic ozone hole. Nitrous oxide is also an ozone-depleting substance that has natural sources in addition to anthropogenic ones. Moreover, unlike CFCs, its use and emission are not regulated by the Montreal Protocol, which has helped to reverse the rate of growth of the ozone hole. Surprisingly, Ravishankara et al. (p. 123, published online 27 August; see the Perspective by Wuebbles) now show that nitrous oxide is the single greatest ozone-depleting substance that, if its emissions are not controlled, is expected to remain the dominant ozone-depleting substance throughout the 21st century. Reducing nitrous oxide emissions would thus enhance the rate of recovery of the ozone hole and reduce the anthropogenic forcing of climate.


Journal abstract follows:

Nitrous Oxide (N2O): The Dominant Ozone-Depleting Substance Emitted in the 21st Century

By A. R. Ravishankara et al.

By comparing the ozone depletion potential-weighted anthropogenic emissions of N2O with those of other ozone-depleting substances, we show that N2O emission currently is the single most important ozone-depleting emission and is expected to remain the largest throughout the 21st century. N2O is unregulated by the Montreal Protocol. Limiting future N2O emissions would enhance the recovery of the ozone layer from its depleted state and would also reduce the anthropogenic forcing of the climate system, representing a win-win for both ozone and climate.

Science 2 October 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5949, pp. 123 - 125


The discovery of more data distortion further undermines the claim of recent temperature records. The IPCC is now on wobbly legs at all four corners

The official United Nation’s global warming agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a four-legged stool that is fast losing its legs. To carry the message of man-made global warming theory to the world, the IPCC has depended on 1) computer models, 2) data collection, 3) long-range temperature forecasting and 4) communication. None of these efforts are sitting on firm ground.

Over the past month, one of the IPCC’s top climate scientists, Mojib Latif, attempted to explain that even if global temperatures were to cool over the next 10 to 20 years, that would not mean that man-made global warming is no longer catastrophic. It was a tough case to make, and it is not clear Mr. Latif succeeded. In a presentation to a world climate conference in early September, Mr. Latif rambled somewhat and veered off into inscrutable language that is now embedded in a million blog posts attempting to prove one thing or another.

A sample: “It may well happen that you enter a decade, or maybe even two, you know, when the temperature cools, all right, relative to the present level...And then, you know, I know what’s going to happen. You know, I will get, you know, millions of phone calls, you know —‘What’s going on?’ ‘So is global warming disappearing, you know?’ ‘Have you lied on us, you know?’ So, and, therefore, this is the reason why we need to address this decadal prediction issue.”

The decadal prediction issue appears to be a combination of computer model problems, the unpredictability of natural climate variation, and assorted uncertainties. Making all this clear to the average global citizen will not be easy and climate scientists need to be able to make it clear, said Mr. Latif. “We have to ask the nasty questions ourselves, all right, or some other people will do it.”

All this is still swirling around the global climate issue today. But now along comes another problem. Canadian data buster Steve McIntyre has spend most of the last three years deconstructing the IPCC’s famous claim that the last couple of decades of the 20th century were the hottest in a thousand years. Using what was called The Hockey Stick graph, the IPCC claimed to have the smoking gun that showed a sharp run up in global temperatures through to 1997. The validity of the IPCC data began to crumble when Mr. McIntyre and Ross McKitrick of Guelph University found serious data problems that raised doubts about the graph and the claims of record high temperatures.

As Ross McKitrick explains in his op-ed, Steve McIntyre has uncovered another data distortion that further undermines the original graphic claim that the world has set temperature records in recent years. If world temperatures may have been just as hot in the past as they have been recently, and if the the next two decades could be cooler than they have been recently, the theory of climate change becomes an even tougher case to make.

The IPCC is now on wobbly legs at all four corners. Its models are inadequate and need overhaul, data integrity is at issue, the climate is not quite following the script, and the communication program for the whole campaign is a growing struggle.


Defects in key climate data are uncovered

By Ross McKitrick (A professor of environmental economics at the University of Guelph). Prof. McKitrick is very restrained below. The evidence points strongly towards deliberate scientific fraud but McKitrick does not quite make that accusation

Beginning in 2003, I worked with Stephen McIntyre to replicate a famous result in paleoclimatology known as the Hockey Stick graph. Developed by a U.S. climatologist named Michael Mann, it was a statistical compilation of tree ring data supposedly proving that air temperatures had been stable for 900 years, then soared off the charts in the 20th century. Prior to the publication of the Hockey Stick, scientists had held that the medieval-era was warmer than the present, making the scale of 20th century global warming seem relatively unimportant. The dramatic revision to this view occasioned by the Hockey Stick’s publication made it the poster child of the global warming movement. It was featured prominently in a 2001 report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as government websites and countless review reports.

Steve and I showed that the mathematics behind the Mann Hockey Stick were badly flawed, such that its shape was determined by suspect bristlecone tree ring data. Controversies quickly piled up: Two expert panels involving the U.S. National Academy of Sciences were asked to investigate, the U.S. Congress held a hearing, and the media followed the story around the world.

The expert reports upheld all of our criticisms of the Mann Hockey Stick, both of the mathematics and of its reliance on flawed bristlecone pine data. One of the panels, however, argued that while the Mann Hockey Stick itself was flawed, a series of other studies published since 1998 had similar shapes, thus providing support for the view that the late 20th century is unusually warm. The IPCC also made this argument in its 2007 report. But the second expert panel, led by statistician Edward Wegman, pointed out that the other studies are not independent. They are written by the same small circle of authors, only the names are in different orders, and they reuse the same few data climate proxy series over and over.

Most of the proxy data does not show anything unusual about the 20th century. But two data series have reappeared over and over that do have a hockey stick shape. One was the flawed bristlecone data that the National Academy of Sciences panel said should not be used, so the studies using it can be set aside. The second was a tree ring curve from the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, compiled by UK scientist Keith Briffa.

Briffa had published a paper in 1995 claiming that the medieval period actually contained the coldest year of the millennium. But this claim depended on just three tree ring records (called cores) from the Polar Urals. Later, a colleague of his named F. H. Schweingruber produced a much larger sample from the Polar Urals, but it told a very different story: The medieval era was actually quite warm and the late 20th century was unexceptional. Briffa and Schweingruber never published those data, instead they dropped the Polar Urals altogether from their climate reconstruction papers.

In its place they used a new series that Briffa had calculated from tree ring data from the nearby Yamal Peninsula that had a pronounced Hockey Stick shape: relatively flat for 900 years then sharply rising in the 20th century. This Yamal series was a composite of an undisclosed number of individual tree cores. In order to check the steps involved in producing the composite, it would be necessary to have the individual tree ring measurements themselves. But Briffa didn’t release his raw data.

Over the next nine years, at least one paper per year appeared in prominent journals using Briffa’s Yamal composite to support a hockey stick-like result. The IPCC relied on these studies to defend the Hockey Stick view, and since it had appointed Briffa himself to be the IPCC Lead Author for this topic, there was no chance it would question the Yamal data.

Despite the fact that these papers appeared in top journals like Nature and Science, none of the journal reviewers or editors ever required Briffa to release his Yamal data. Steve McIntyre’s repeated requests for them to uphold their own data disclosure rules were ignored.

Then in 2008 Briffa, Schweingruber and some colleagues published a paper using the Yamal series (again) in a journal called the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which has very strict data-sharing rules. Steve sent in his customary request for the data, and this time an editor stepped up to the plate, ordering the authors to release their data. A short while ago the data appeared on the Internet. Steve could finally begin to unpack the Yamal composite.

It turns out that many of the samples were taken from dead (partially fossilized) trees and they have no particular trend. The sharp uptrend in the late 20th century came from cores of 10 living trees alive as of 1990, and five living trees alive as of 1995. Based on scientific standards, this is too small a sample on which to produce a publication-grade proxy composite. The 18th and 19th century portion of the sample, for instance, contains at least 30 trees per year. But that portion doesn’t show a warming spike. The only segment that does is the late 20th century, where the sample size collapses. Once again a dramatic hockey stick shape turns out to depend on the least reliable portion of a dataset.

But an even more disquieting discovery soon came to light. Steve searched a paleoclimate data archive to see if there were other tree ring cores from at or near the Yamal site that could have been used to increase the sample size. He quickly found a large set of 34 up-to-date core samples, taken from living trees in Yamal by none other than Schweingruber himself! Had these been added to Briffa’s small group the 20th century would simply be flat. It would appear completely unexceptional compared to the rest of the millennium.

Combining data from different samples would not have been an unusual step. Briffa added data from another Schweingruber site to a different composite, from the Taimyr Peninsula. The additional data were gathered more than 400 km away from the primary site. And in that case the primary site had three or four times as many cores to begin with as the Yamal site. Why did he not fill out the Yamal data with the readily-available data from his own coauthor? Why did Briffa seek out additional data for the already well-represented Taimyr site and not for the inadequate Yamal site?

Thus the key ingredient in most of the studies that have been invoked to support the Hockey Stick, namely the Briffa Yamal series, depends on the influence of a woefully thin subsample of trees and the exclusion of readily-available data for the same area. Whatever is going on here, it is not science.

I have been probing the arguments for global warming for well over a decade. In collaboration with a lot of excellent coauthors I have consistently found that when the layers get peeled back, what lies at the core is either flawed, misleading or simply non-existent. The surface temperature data is a contaminated mess with a significant warm bias, and as I have detailed elsewhere the IPCC fabricated evidence in its 2007 report to cover up the problem. Climate models are in gross disagreement with observations, and the discrepancy is growing with each passing year. The often-hyped claim that the modern climate has departed from natural variability depended on flawed statistical methods and low-quality data. The IPCC review process, of which I was a member last time, is nothing at all like what the public has been told: Conflicts of interest are endemic, critical evidence is systematically ignored and there are no effective checks and balances against bias or distortion.

I get exasperated with fellow academics, and others who ought to know better, who pile on to the supposed global warming consensus without bothering to investigate any of the glaring scientific discrepancies and procedural flaws. Over the coming few years, as the costs of global warming policies mount and the evidence of a crisis continues to collapse, perhaps it will become socially permissible for people to start thinking for themselves again. In the meantime I am grateful for those few independent thinkers, like Steve McIntyre, who continue to ask the right questions and insist on scientific standards of openness and transparency.


A Death Spiral for Climate Alarmism?

Desperation is setting in among climate alarmists who by their own math can see that the window is rapidly closing on “saving the planet.” James Hansen, for instance, said three years ago in the New York Review of Books: “We have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.” That was also Al Gore’s estimate in “An Inconvenient Truth.” But the time has been ticking away, and it’s increasingly obvious that the Gore/Hansen “wrenching transformation” of the U.S. energy system is simply not going to happen. Perhaps Copenhagen will make it official.

U.S. cap-and-trade has become a big political liability, in particular, as polls show voters are relatively unconcerned about climate change, and are deeply averse to higher energy prices. That has led Senator John Kerry, for example, to try to hide the ball by changing the name of scheme to “pollution reduction” in order to obscure the reality that it’s basically a massive energy tax. Other Left-leaning politicians (the latest being Houston Mayor Bill White, who is running for the U.S. Senate) are announcing their opposition to cap-and-trade. (1)

Renewable energy is also getting more scrutiny than ever before, awakening not only cost-conscious middle America but grass-roots environmentalists concerned about negative local impacts and big-business intrusion.

Here is the death spiral that I believe the the Climate Crisis Industry fears (and is probably right to fear) consciously or subconsciously:

1. U.S. rejects cap-and-trade in 2009, leaving a climate bill in serious trouble for election-year 2010 and beyond.

2. Copenhagen flounders without any U.S. commitment and from developing country opposition, among other things. The failed Kyoto Protocol creeps toward its 2012 expiration date with an all pain, no gain tag.

3. EPA action is delayed by court action and public/political opposition, negating implementation for years and effective implementation for longer. Congressional action to de-authorize EPA becomes more and more likely as businesses, and electric utilities in particular, demand certainty to meet growing U.S. electricity demand coming out of a recession.

4. The climate continues its decade long trend of non-warming for another 10 years, as some scientists have predicted. The return of bitterly cold winters, and more years “without a summer” increases public skepticism about climate science. More revelations come out about data manipulation by NASA, and cherry-picking by scientists trying to paint a false picture of recent warming in historical perspective.

5. Climate initiatives (renewable energy subsidies, etc.) are increasingly scrutinized and attacked as job-destroying corporate welfare by the Right and political capitalism by the Left.

6. Grassroots opposition builds against wind and solar farms because of landscape, wildlife, and people issues –and with the knowledge that such are not going to make a climatological difference. Environmentalists continue to block renewable projects at the local level, making it increasingly obvious that the U.S. risks energy shortages as conventional power generation is also stalled

7. Given the political impasse, and feeling somewhat duped, more and more science writers and academics will start covering hard climate data/trends rather than uncritically flogging the latest garbage-in/garbage-out forecasting. [Okay, this could be wishful thinking on my part, based on a mistaken belief that left-leaning science writers actually care about balanced reporting, and that academics dependent on government grants might develop something resembling a spine, but a person can dream, can't they?]

8. More attention focuses on adaptation and climate engineering, both of which spark furious debates on the Left as, respectively, “defeatist” and “playing God with climate.”

9. The “Great Climate Scare” becomes scrutinized for bad behavior and lessons-learned–which magnifies the intellectual and media turnaround on the issue.

10. Political support ebbs for government-dependent wind, solar, and energy efficiency companies, deflating the bubble and leaving a sad industrial trail of broken, obsolete, or uneconomic wind turbines and solar panels.


In the face of the risks to the climate crisis agenda outlined above, we can expect the climate crisis industry to grow increasingly shrill, and increasingly hostile toward anyone who questions their authority. Politicians are likely to try to ram as much through as they can for their favored constituencies and technologies before the climate crisis runs out of steam, and public concern drops even lower. This is the time for those concerned about public policy to be on high alert, as panicked activists and politicians will be trying every trick in the book to enact their agenda by hook or by crook. Vigilance is called for more than ever in contentious climate debate.


Cooling Down the Cassandras

By George F. Will

Plateau in Temperatures Adds Difficulty to Task

In this headline on a New York Times story about the difficulties confronting people alarmed about global warming, note the word "plateau." It dismisses the unpleasant -- to some people -- fact that global warming is maddeningly (to the same people) slow to vindicate their apocalyptic warnings about it.

The "difficulty" -- the "intricate challenge," the Times says -- is "building momentum" for carbon reduction "when global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years." That was in the Times's first paragraph.

In the fifth paragraph, a "few years" became "the next decade or so," according to Mojib Latif, a German "prize-winning climate and ocean scientist" who campaigns constantly to promote policies combating global warming. Actually, Latif has said he anticipates "maybe even two" decades in which temperatures cool. But stay with the Times's "decade or so." By asserting that the absence of significant warming since 1998 is a mere "plateau," not warming's apogee, the Times assures readers who are alarmed about climate change that the paper knows the future and that warming will continue: Do not despair, bad news will resume.

The Times reported that "scientists" -- all of them? -- say the 11 years of temperature stability has "no bearing," none, on long-term warming. Some scientists say "cool stretches are inevitable." Others say there may be growth of Arctic sea ice, but the growth will be "temporary." According to the Times, however, "scientists" say that "trying to communicate such scientific nuances to the public -- and to policymakers -- can be frustrating."

The Times says "a short-term trend gives ammunition to skeptics of climate change." Actually, what makes skeptics skeptical is the accumulating evidence that theories predicting catastrophe from man-made climate change are impervious to evidence. The theories are unfalsifiable, at least in the "short run." And the "short run" is defined as however many decades must pass until the evidence begins to fit the hypotheses.

The Post recently reported the theory of a University of Virginia professor emeritus who thinks that, many millennia ago, primitive agriculture -- burning forests, creating methane-emitting rice paddies, etc. -- produced enough greenhouse gases to warm the planet at least a degree. The theory is interesting. Even more interesting is the reaction to it by people such as the Columbia University professor who says it makes him "really upset" because it might encourage opponents of legislation combating global warming.

Warnings about cataclysmic warming increase in stridency as evidence of warming becomes more elusive. A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program predicts an enormous 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit increase by the end of the century even if nations fulfill their most ambitious pledges concerning reduction of carbon emissions. The U.S. goal is an 80 percent reduction by 2050. But Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute says that would require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the 1910 level. On a per capita basis, it would mean emissions approximately equal to those in 1875.

That will not happen. So, we are doomed. So, why try?

America needs a national commission appointed to assess the evidence about climate change. Alarmists will fight this because the first casualty would be the carefully cultivated and media-reinforced myth of consensus -- the bald assertion that no reputable scientist doubts the gravity of the crisis, doubts being conclusive evidence of disreputable motives or intellectual qualifications. The president, however, could support such a commission because he is sure "there's finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us." So he announced last week at the U.N. climate change summit, where he said the threat is so "serious" and "urgent" that unless all nations act "boldly, swiftly and together" -- "time . . . is running out" -- we risk "irreversible catastrophe." Prince Charles agrees. In March, seven months ago, he said humanity had 100 months -- until July 2017 -- to prevent "catastrophic climate change and the unimaginable horrors that this would bring." Evidently humanity will prevent this.

Charles Moore of the Spectator notes that in July, the prince said that by 2050 the planet will be imperiled by the existence of 9 billion people, a large portion of them consuming as much as Western people now do. Environmental Cassandras must be careful with their predictions lest they commit what climate alarmists consider the unpardonable faux pas of denying that the world is coming to an end.


Protectionist threats a lot of hot air

Comment from Australia:

THE threat of punitive tariffs on imports from countries not acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been raised by Kevin Rudd as a reason Australia should adopt his carbon pollution reduction scheme. He has cited threats apparently made by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and others. Provisions in the US emissions trading scheme bill are perceived the same way. Paul Kelly (The Weekend Australian, September 26-27) is one of the latest to retail these arguments.

This trade retaliation red herring, per se, is no reason to adopt the CPRS. It doesn't stand up to cursory analysis. At best, it adds another layer of confusion to a confused policy. At worst, it's rubbish.

Existing World Trade Organisation rules are clear. First, countries generally are not allowed to discriminate between imports from different countries by imposing border taxes (for example, tariffs) on imports differentiated by source country, unless that has been enshrined in existing agreements. No such agreements are based on whether different countries have adopted policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Punitive tariffs would violate existing WTO rules and constitute grounds for seeking remedies under WTO processes.

Second, countries are not allowed to discriminate in favour of locally produced goods and services by taxing them less than imports of the same products. Punitive tariffs (that is, higher ad valorem equivalent taxes on imports than applied to locally produced substitutes) would breach existing WTO rules and be a basis for seeking remedies under WTO processes.

In both cases, such punitive action is protectionist. The WTO's role is to punish those adopting such measures. Besides, widespread adoption ofsuch measures by relatively wealthy developed economies would amount to "doing a Samson" on world trade, dragging down global economic growth and living standards in the process. This is the trade policy bogeyman raised by our Prime Minister as a competitiveness threat to Australia if we don't adopt his CPRS. (Let's ignore the negative protection competitiveness threat embodied in the CPRS itself for now.)

Assume the threat is implemented. Assuming substantive failure at Copenhagen (however it's dressed up in the communique), it implies world trade collapses as the developed world, led by Europe, sets off a round of protectionist tariff increases, others retaliate, and chances of even an anaemic global economic recovery are destroyed. Everybody loses, including the European Union, which needs to seek out new, growing markets to buffer growth in living standards from its own slowing domestic markets driven by its ageing (in some cases shrinking) population.

This outcome implies the WTO is ineffective. (Given inaction against present breaches by most members of the Group of 20 - the so-called new driver of the global policy agenda - of their own pious communiques preaching the evils of protectionism, this may be plausible.)

But let's be more realistic. Assume instead all countries decide stronger world growth takes priority over trying to force some to adopt policies they don't want to adopt. That is, governments decide to trade off gains in near-term employment recovery against early action reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (The national politics are obvious. Large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions wrought by the global recession are a convenient excuse.)

What will governments do on climate policy? The easiest courses are (a) to implement "emissions watch" climate policies or (b) do nothing.

The first option has symbolic appeal but does little or nothing to reduce global greenhouse gases. For those adopting option (a), international competitiveness is not undermined (or at least not much). There is little need to violate WTO rules by imposing punitive border taxes on imports. In this case, the punitive tariff threat is empty and the climate policy adopted is pusillanimous. Interested in spin rather than substance? This policy is for you.

Option (b) is just the status quo for many. There's another option: comply with WTO rules and put a serious price on emissions, initially unilaterally. Do border tax adjustments have a place here? Absolutely.

Australian taxes differentiate between different products already. The GST is not uniform. Some food, health and education products are GST-free. So are imports of these products. Some are input-taxed under the GST, including imports. Most products are taxed at 10 per cent, including imports. The luxury car tax is a special higher tax on expensive cars, applied equally to locally produced cars and imports. The same applies to the wine equalisation tax. The excises applied to petroleum products, alcohol and tobacco produced in Australia apply equally to imports of these products (revenue customs duties).

The principle's clear. Whatever tax (as a percentage of value or as a dollar amount per physical quantity) is applied to locally produced goods and services can be applied to imports of those products under present WTO rules. Any country can set a tax on a given product, determined any way you like, apply it equally to local products and substitute imports, and not breach WTO rules.

Suppose any country sets such taxes based on (i) the carbon emissions price in that country and (ii) the emissions intensity of locally produced goods and services. Suppose that process also determines the border tax adjustment to be applied to imports of the same products, so that percentage or specific tax burdens on imports are the same as on local substitutes. Such border tax adjustments are WTO-compliant. They are not protectionist. They are competitiveness-neutral. They are an integral part of a national emissions consumption approach to climate policy.

By eliminating losses of trade competitiveness otherwise incurred by "first movers", they make an effective (as opposed to pusillanimous) global deal on climate policy likelier. They remove an obstacle impeding consummation of a global deal in this area since 1992 and, on present trends, likely to continue impeding such a deal in December and beyond.



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 is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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