Thursday, October 01, 2009

What Does the Last Decade Tell Us about Global Warming?
“Worldwide temperatures haven’t risen much in the past decade…. If you are a climate-change activist pointing to year after year of mounting climate crises, you might want to rethink your approach.”

- Richard Kerr, Science, May 2, 2008.

There has been a flurry of activity in recent weeks in the discussion as to the significance (scientific, political, social) of the evolution of the global average surface temperature during the past 10 years or so.

For those of you who don’t know, the surface temperature of the globe, as a whole, has not warmed-up by anyone’s calculation since at least the turn of the century (January 2001) and depending on your dataset and statistical technique of choice, perhaps as far back as January 1997. And all of this non-warming occurred over a period of time during which the global emissions of CO2 increased faster than ever before (thanks primarily to China). In fact, anthropogenic greenhouse-gas forcing is about 5 percent greater now than a decade ago (about 16 parts per million).

To many folks who have, for years, been fed a constant course of “the-world-is-heating-up-faster-than-ever-before-and-you-are-the-cause,” 9 to 12 years of no warming at all seems to indicate that something is amiss with this mantra. This was reflected in a Gallup Poll last spring, which found the highest percentage yet of people who think that “global warming” is being “exaggerated.” And this number has been growing.

IPCC “Consensus” and Unwarming

The growth in climate realism (i.e., a realization that alarmists are overplaying the probable impact of CO2 emissions) has most certainly been sparked by the fact that the rate of the earth’s temperature rise has been slowing rather than accelerating, contrary to general IPCC conclusions. This development, naturally, plays into the political debate about (at the 11th hour if not midnight) “mitigating” potential climate change through carbon dioxide emissions reductions.

While the mainstream press has been slow to embrace the fact that the earth’s temperature rise has ground to a halt, Andy Revkin’s recent article in the New York Times has brought the issue the issue front and center. Already, there had been lively discussions on this subject in the halls of Congress and all across of the web. For instance, this past winter, the recent lack of warming was a focal point in testimony given by Dr. Patrick Michaels before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. More recently, this fact was included by Matt Rogers writing for the popular “Capital Weather Gang” blog as among his list of 10 reasons for his “Skeptical Take on Global Warming.” And the Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger made a pretty big deal about it in his recent SciGuy blog post, stating “But a funny thing happened on the way to the end of the world: hurricane activity on the global scale is near historical lows. And the Earth seems to have, at least temporarily, stopped warming”.

But the growing popularity of this line of reasoning and it potential to do a lot of public relations damage to the alarmist cause is not going unnoticed, whether at Climate Progress or other ‘alarmist’ bastions.

Pew Center Tries to Quiet Science Concern

In its recent update of its global-warming science material, the Pew Center included a list of climate “misconceptions.” Among them was this one:
The Misconception:

The last few years have been cooler, so global warming can’t be real;

Or, Global warming stopped in 1998;

Or, The world has been cooling for the past decade.

Pew reported that “The Reality” was:
The climate is defined by long-term averages in global temperature and other climate metrics, and those are still increasing.

This response basically avoided taking the original contention head-on. In fact, global warming has stopped. The question, thus, needs to be: “Since the average global surface temperature has remained relatively unchanged for the past decade or so, what does this mean for our understanding of what drives temperature changes, and what we may expect in the future?”

The answer to this question could be that there is something wrong with our scientific understanding of what makes the climate tick —or at least how this understanding is translated into the computer code of climate models—which of course would have all sorts of implications.

So, instead of going there, the primary effort to-date has been to try to demonstrate that there actually is no problem at all—that this lack of temperature rise is just what you would expect to occur with “global warming,” to go along with other expectations such as increasing sea ice in the Southern Ocean, increased ice accumulation across Antarctica (or should that be decreasing ice accumulation across Antarctica—I guess it all depends on what the latest study shows), more precipitation (or less depending on which is currently making the news), more hurricanes (well, not more in number, but more intense, or if not more intense, then they’ll be bigger in areal extent, or maybe…), cold outbreaks (when they occur, warm outbreaks otherwise), etc.

New Lines of ’Skeptic’ Research

The first paper in the scientific literature to tackle the issue of just how long a period of no warming should be expected was published a few months ago by David Easterling and Michael Wehner. They showed that a zero or negative trend of a decade in length should occur (according to climate models) about 10% of the time during the first half of the 21st century. Another paper appeared a couple of weeks ago, led by Jeffrey Knight, which also concluded that, according to climate models, a negative (or zero) 10-yr trend should be expected to occur about 10% of the time, and further, that a negative trend couldn’t be statistically ruled out as improbable until after about a 15-yr period.

But, these two studies are not the end all and be all on the topic. They both, to a certain degree, include sources of variability besides just intramodel “natural” variability when determining the distribution of the modeled temperature trends. This intermixing of various noise sources has the probable effect of enhancing the perceived degree of “climate” variability and thus making low trends seem more common they should be.

My colleagues and I are currently working up a few tests of our own to see just how common our current period of no global warming really is—at least from the standpoint of today’s climate models when run with projected changes in anthropogenic emissions (greenhouse gases and aerosols). Our results are indicating that 10-yr periods of no warming are much more infrequent in climate model projections than indicated by either Easterling and Wehner (2009) or Knight et al (2009). Hopefully, our results will make it into the scientific literature at some point in the near future and provide additional information to the debate.

But, regardless of the specific details, everyone who looks at it is finding something generally similar, that is, the current lack of warming is bumping against model expectations for the longest period of time over which natural variations could offset the warming pressure from increasing greenhouse gases.

The longer the lack of warming continues the more evidence builds that climate models don’t have a good handle on the situation of how the earth’s climate behaves—which erodes their usefulness as reliable indicators of future climate.

Climate modelers and other climate change (and emission regulation) hopefuls have been looking to the tropical Pacific for signs of the appearance of a strong El Niño to help right the ship and restart things on their warming way (El Niños tend to produce a rise in the earth’s average surface temperature), but the jury is still out as to what to expect from the developing situation there—there are indications that an El Niño is brewing, but just how strong it may become (and how much it will elevate global temperatures) is still a much debated topic (forecasting El Niño strength is notoriously unreliable).

El Niño?

But even a strong El Niño won’t quell the realists’ attack, for El Niños are temporary events and are typically followed by a couple years of cooler temperatures as La Niña conditions often move in to take their place. So, what everyone will be waiting for (if a big El Niño does develop) will be to see whether post-El Niño temperature settle down to pre-event values, or whether they remain relatively elevated. We won’t know this for at least several more years.

So the issue of a sluggishly warming world and what it means is going to be with us for a long time (several years at the very least), and some studies such as Keenlyside et al. (2008) and Swanson and Tsonis (2009) indicate that it will much longer than that. (Lindzen and Choi [2009] think it will be with us forever.) Its ultimate impact on climate science (and climate/energy policy) will hinge on whether or not (and if so, how severely) our understanding of climate processes will have to be altered in order to explain why it happened.

In the meantime, while all this is being sorted out, here is some good advice, meted out last year by Science magazine writer Richard Kerr: "Worldwide temperatures haven’t risen much in the past decade…. If you are a climate-change activist pointing to year after year of mounting climate crises, you might want to rethink your approach."


Global warming: If you don’t have good science, lose the science you have

One thing you can say about global warming/climate change alarmists is that (like all leftists), they are almost amusingly utilitarian, i.e. they will do or say anything to reach their goals, even if their goals are based on a concept that has no foundation. Actually, that’s not fair. It’s not that their goals have no foundation; it’s that their goals and the foundations are not what they claim.

For example, I’m sure there are a few global warming alarmists who really do believe the planet is warming and the end of the world is nigh. However, far more of them are simply anti-capitalists and big-government supporters and rent-seekers trying to gain wealth or power through psuedo-science.

As we all know, the public is becoming increasingly skeptical of global warming claims (not least because none of the major alarmist claims are true) and of the cost to address the non-problem.

President Obama spoke at the UN Climate Change summit last week and offered some of the same tired mythology that we hear from Algore, James Hansen, and other self-serving scare-mongers. In particular, he talked about a warming planet, rising seas, and increasing storm intensity. However, as the data show, the planet hasn’t warmed since about 1998 and has cooled since 2002. Sea levels are barely rising…to the tiny extent they are rising, it is much slower than in prior history. Also, “hurricane intensity is at its lowest since satellite monitoring began” and there is no evidence that droughts have been getting worse. In fact, in recent years, the planet has been getter greener, not dryer.

That’s the counter-alarmist side: The ACTUAL DATA show that the alarmists are wrong, not to mention the fundamental fact that they try to blame climate change on human-produced CO2 even though the data show that atmospheric CO2 concentrations primarily change AFTER, not before, temperature changes. In other words, a warmer climate releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

So, what do you do if you’re an alarmist researcher and you realize that you’re losing the argument (and maybe the road to easy lifetime funding)? Apparently you lose the data which you collected with other scientists might be able to use to disprove your claims. In a remarkable story, climate scientist (and rather funny guy) Pat Michaels tells us the story of how “The Dog Ate Global Warming“, recounting how some of the people who had the oldest temperature sensor data in existence now say the data is gone, but only after asking one scientist who had requested the data “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

To quote Michaels: “Reread that statement, for it is breathtaking in its anti-scientific thrust. In fact, the entire purpose of replication is to ‘try and find something wrong.’ The ultimate objective of science is to do things so well that, indeed, nothing is wrong.”

As I said, it’s not surprising that the alarmists will cheat, lie, and destroy data to protect their precious government funding, their path toward regulating absolutely everything and taxing absolutely everything, and their rent-seeking behavior (not least by Algore.)

The public is slowly but surely catching on. Skepticism about people causing climate change is rising. In a Gallup survey earlier this year, two interesting highlights:

* Among all environmental issues, global warming was the one people cared about least

* The percentage of Americans who think the threat of global warming is exaggerated is at its highest level ever, and far exceeds the number who think the threat is underestimated, by 41% to 28%

A new Rasmussen poll shows that 65% of Americans believe creating jobs is more important than trying to stop global warming (as if stopping climate change is possible, anyway.) The rest of the poll is also interesting to read, for those of you interested in such things.

And separately, polls consistently show that support for climate change legislation or renewable energy mandates falls off a cliff when people learn how much their energy prices will rise if those things pass.

Americans are not stupid. They’re just mislead consistently by their (primarily Democrat) leaders and by the leftist media who love the idea of government regulation of everything (except of them, of course.)


Aristocrats can afford car-free days. Regular people need cars to live

In the early 1800s, when railroads first began to spread across Great Britain, the Duke of Wellington reportedly sneered that this innovation would "only encourage the common people to move about needlessly." For last week's World Car-Free Day, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, channeled the Duke of Wellington, complaining about the "domination of the car" and called for a new type of society "in which we are not dependent on it to such a great extent for our daily needs." The Prince reportedly owns two Audis, two Jaguars, a Range Rover and an Aston Martin. The Duke of Wellington undoubtedly had other means of getting around the British countryside, but despite being separated in time by two centuries, these two aristocrats had something in common --a distaste for commoners enjoying the mobility to which they themselves were born.

World Car-Free Day appeared, at first glance, to be a lifestyle event--a celebration of living without cars. But it had an underlying political agenda; its organizers call on "governments to help create permanent change to benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who do not drive cars." And these days, when the air is thick with claims of impending climate catastrophe and the need for so-called sustainability, calls for automotive restrictions are finding an increasingly receptive political audience.

But for most people in this country, the car-free life would be as desirable as being shackled to a ball-and-chain. It is easy to forget the incredibly liberating nature of the automobile. In the 1910s-1920s it ended the crushing isolation of rural life. In 1955-56, it enabled black people to boycott the segregated buses of Montgomery, Alabama. In the 1970s-1980s, it gave mothers the ability to enter the job market while still getting their kids to day care and putting food on the table. Today, the car allows new immigrants to enter the American mainstream by vastly expanding their choices of where to work and where to live.

Even in cities with well-functioning mass transit, a car can be essential if you're old or ill, or are carrying babies and groceries, or if the weather's miserable, or if you've got to get somewhere after the busses and subways have closed. It's no wonder that most promo shots of Car-Free Day events featured only the young and healthy, out on picture-perfect sunny days.

Being able to get around freely is not some superficial desire that can be dismissed as the product of an allegedly car-addicted Western culture. Some Americans may view India and China as countries happily populated by bicyclists and pedestrians, but consumer demand for cars in those countries is booming, especially with the introduction of new low-priced vehicles. The car, it appears, satisfies a pretty basic human need.

A philosophy professor who emigrated here from Eastern Europe once commented on Car-Free Day by noting that, given his time behind the Iron Curtain, he'd already endured enough car-free decades. Living car-free may be fine for many people during some phases of their lives, and it may be fine for some people for all of their lives, but it's no way for most of us to live--regardless of what Prince Charles and his fellow aristocrats may think.


The Imperial Presidency comes in green, too

Asked recently when the Senate might vote on cap-and-trade, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, demurred, muttering about "a busy, busy time the rest of this year." And yet last week, the Obama administration quietly moved forward with a plan to regulate power plants and other large stationary sources of greenhouse gases.

The Obama team appears to believe it has the authority to implement comprehensive climate change regulation, Congress be damned. Worse still, under current constitutional law--which has little to do with the actual Constitution--they're probably right.

In a democratic country, you'd think that before the executive branch could regulate CO2--a ubiquitous substance essential to life--the legislature would have to vote on the issue. But you'd be wrong. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1970 Clean Air Act's definition of air pollutant was broad enough to allow regulation of CO2 emissions from new cars, and that the EPA was required to regulate once it issued a finding that CO2 contributes to global warming. In fact, once the EPA rules that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant--as it did in April--regulation of industrial sources likely becomes mandatory as well.

But existing law still leaves the executive branch enormous discretionary power--and thus a hammer to hold over Congress's head. A report issued in April by the New York University Law School argues that "if Congress fails to act, President Obama has the power under the Clean Air Act to adopt a cap-and-trade system."

James Madison believed that there could be "no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person." And yet, here we are, with those powers united in the person of a president who has pledged to heal the planet and stop the oceans' rise.

This constitutional nightmare is the culmination of a trend many years in the making. The first sentence of the Constitution's first article says that "all legislative Powers herein granted" are vested in Congress. The Supreme Court once took that language seriously, as when, in 1935, it struck down a key New Deal program for delegating legislative power to the executive. Yet the Court eventually made its peace with statutes that allow the executive branch to both make and enforce the law. That paved the way for the modern administrative state, which looks a lot like the situation complained of in the Declaration of Independence, in which "a multitude of New Offices... harass our people and eat out their substance."

After 9/11, the phrase "unitary executive theory" (UET) came to stand for the idea that the president can do whatever he pleases in the national security arena. But it originally stood for a humbler proposition: UET's architects in the Reagan administration argued that the Constitution's grant of executive power to the president meant that he controlled the executive branch, and could therefore rein in aggressive regulatory agencies.

In an era when Republicans held a virtual lock on the Electoral College, that idea had some appeal. But as Elena Kagan, now President Obama's Solicitor General, pointed out in a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, there's little reason to think that "presidential supervision of administration inherently cuts in a deregulatory direction."

How far will Obama push in the other direction? He may be reluctant to stretch his authority as far as the law will allow, in a political climate where even green-leaning Democrats scream bloody murder every time gas prices rise. But as Kagan notes, after the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, President Clinton used his regulatory authority unilaterally to show progress, pushing "a distinctly activist and pro-regulatory agenda." As Obama's popularity erodes, he may come to like the idea of being the "decider."

Will liberals who decried George W. Bush's unilateralism object to this staggering concentration of executive power? Don't hold your breath.


Some intelligence from a moderate warmist:

Are you a global warming skeptic, or are you skeptical of the global warming skeptics? Your answer depends on how you answer these five questions:

1. Is the earth getting warmer?
2. Is the cause of global warming human activity?
3. How much warmer is it going to get?
4. What are the consequences of a warmer climate?
5. How much should we invest in altering the climate? Here are my answers.

Global warming is real and primarily human caused. With questions 3 and 4, however, estimates include error bars that grow wider the further out we run the models because complex systems like climate are notoriously difficult to predict. I provisionally accept the estimate of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the mean global temperature by 2100 will increase by 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and that sea levels will rise by about one foot (about the same as they have risen since 1860). Moderate warming with moderate changes.

Question 4 deserves even more skepticism. In his carefully-reasoned and politically-bipartisan book Cool It (Alfred Knopf, 2008), the “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg notes that if global warming continues unchecked through the end of the century there will be 400,000 more heat-related deaths annually; there will be also be 1.8 million fewer cold-related deaths, for a net gain of 1.4 million lives. This is not to say that global warming is good, only that its consequences must be weighed in the balance. For example, Lomborg sites data from the World Wildlife Fund that at most we will lose 15 polar bears a year due to global warming, but what doesn’t get reported is that 49 bears are shot each year. What would be more cost-effective to save polar bear lives — spend hundreds of billions of dollars to lower CO2 emissions and (maybe) the mean global temperature, or limit hunting permits?

This leads to question 5 — the economics of global climate change — which I think needs a sound dose of skepticism, particularly since the collapse of our economy. Even if all countries had ratified the Kyoto Protocol and lived up to its standards (which most did not), according to the IPCC, at best it would have postponed the 4.70F average increase just five years from 2100 to 2105, at a cost of $180 billion a year! By comparison, although global warming may cause an increase of two million deaths due to hunger annually by 2100, the U.N. estimates that for $10 billion a year we could save 229 million people from hunger annually today. It’s time for economic triage.

Economics is about the efficient allocation of limited resources that have alternative uses. And after the U.S. government allocated a trillion dollars of our limited resources to shore up our flagging financial foundations, those alternative uses have never seemed so pressing. Should we (can we?) really allocate the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to lower CO2 emissions 50 percent by 2050 and 80 percent by 2100, as the IPCC recommends in order to divert disaster? My answer is no. Why? Because the potential benefits for the costs incurred are simply not warranted.

If you had, say, $50 billion a year to make the world a better place for more people, how would you spend it? In 2004, Lomborg asked this question to a group of scientists and world leaders, including four Nobel laureates. This “Copenhagen Consensus,” as it is called, ranked reduction of CO2 emissions 16th out of 17 challenges. The top four were: controlling HIV/AIDS, micronutrients for fighting malnutrition, free trade to attenuate poverty, and battling malaria. A 2006 Copenhagen Consensus of U.N. ambassadors constructed a similar list, with communicable diseases, clean drinking water, and malnutrition at the top, and climate change at the bottom. A late 2008 meeting that included five Nobel Laureates recommended that President-elect Barack Obama allocate his promised $150 billion in subsidies for new technologies and $50 billion in foreign aid be allocated for research on malnutrition, immunization, and agricultural technologies. For a cool Kyoto $180 billion you can buy a lot of condoms, vitamin tablets, and mosquito nets and rescue hundreds of millions of people from disease, starvation, and impoverishment.

If you are skeptical of Lomborg and his branch of environmental skepticism, read the Yale University economist William Nordhaus’ technical book A Question of Balance (Yale University Press, 2008). Nordhaus computes the costs-benefits of various recommendations for changing the climate by either 2105 or 2205, primarily focused on the cost of curbing carbon emissions. Economists like to compute future profits and losses based on investments made today, adjusting for the value of a future dollar at an average interest rate of four percent. If we spent a trillion dollars today (the equivalent of the recent bailout or the Iraq war), how much climate change would it buy us in a century at four percent interest? Nordhaus’s calculations are compared to doing nothing, where a plus value is better and a minus value worse than doing nothing. Kyoto with the U.S. is plus one and without the U.S. zero, for example, and a gradually increasing global carbon tax is a plus three. That is, a $1 trillion cost today buys us $3 trillion of benefits in a century. Al Gore’s proposals, by contrast, score a minus 21, where $1 trillion invested today in Gore’s plans would net us a loss of $21 trillion in 2105.

Add to these calculations the numerous other crises we face, such as the housing calamity, the financial meltdown, the coming collapse of social security and medicare, two wars, a failing public education system, etc.

In my opinion we need to chill out on all extremist plans that entail expenses best described as Brobdingnagian, require our intervention into developing countries best portrayed as imperialistic, or involve state controls best portrayed as fascistic. Give green technologies and free markets a chance.


India promises huge boost in nuclear power

India announced the world’s boldest nuclear power development plan yesterday, saying that it could boost its atomic capacity by 12,000 per cent by 2050 to end crippling power shortages while limiting carbon emissions. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, predicted that India could produce 470 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050, compared with the 3.8GW currently produced by its 17 reactors.

India’s target is almost five times the current nuclear power capacity of the United States — the world’s biggest producer with 100GW, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It far outstrips predicted US nuclear capacity in 2050 as well as China’s plans — previously the world’s most ambitious — to increase the power generated by its reactors from the current 9GW to about 300GW by that year.

“Our nuclear industry is poised for a major expansion and there will be huge opportunities for the global nuclear industry,” Dr Singh told an atomic energy conference in Delhi. “This will sharply reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and will be a major contribution to global efforts to combat climate change.”

India also announced yesterday that US companies would be allowed to set up “nuclear parks” at two sites in the states of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh under a landmark bilateral nuclear deal. The deal — struck in 2005 but approved by the US Congress only last year — lifts a ban on India buying US nuclear technology and fuel that was imposed after Delhi tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974.

Alan McDonald, an expert on nuclear power at the IAEA, told The Times that before the US deal India had set a target of generating about 270GW of nuclear power by 2050. He said the new target was roughly in line with the IAEA’s upper estimates up until 2030, but questioned how India would maintain momentum up until 2050. “That kind of growth for a decade is not unprecedented but maintaining it over four decades is probably a challenge,” he said. Mr McDonald said that the success of the plan would depend on factors including the cost of nuclear reactors, the price of fossil fuels and international efforts to impose binding caps on carbon emissions.

Many other experts also doubt that India will meet its target given the bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency that has stalled so many other infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, they welcome the Government’s new willingness to outline plans to meet India’s energy needs at the same time as tackling climate change.

India’s total power generation capacity is currently only 150GW — less than a fifth of China’s — and demand outstripped supply by 9.5 per cent between 2008-09, according to the Power Ministry. An estimated 600 million Indians are still not connected to the national grid.

India has long resisted Western pressure to agree to binding cuts on carbon emissions, arguing that it must first generate enough power to serve its 1.1 billion people. It has recently announced a series of proposals that have wrong-footed Western critics in the run-up to a UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December. India unveiled the world’s biggest solar power development plan last month, pledging to increase capacity from 0 to 20GW by 2020. The Government said this month that it was drafting legislation to set non-binding targets for mitigating carbon emissions. It agreed last week to provide annual updates on its progress to the UN.



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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