Sunday, November 01, 2009


Two years ago, a United Nations scientific panel won the Nobel Peace Prize after concluding that global warming is "unequivocal" and is "very likely" caused by man. Then came a development unforeseen by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC: Data suggested that Earth's temperature was beginning to drop.

That has reignited debate over what has become scientific consensus: that climate change is due not to nature, but to humans burning fossil fuels. Scientists who don't believe in man-made global warming cite the cooling as evidence for their case. Those who do believe in man-made warming dismiss the cooling as a blip triggered by fleeting changes in ocean currents; they predict greenhouse gases will produce rising temperatures again soon.

The reality is more complex. A few years of cooling doesn't mean that people aren't heating up the planet over the long term. But the cooling wasn't predicted by all the computer models that underlie climate science. That has led to one point of agreement: The models are imperfect. "There is a lot of room for improvement" in the models, says Mojib Latif, a climate scientist in Germany and co-author of a paper predicting the planet will cool for perhaps a decade before starting to warm again -- a long-term trend he attributes to greenhouse-gas emissions. "You need to know what you can believe and can't believe from the models."

The renewed discussion of inherent shortcomings in climate models comes on the cusp of potentially big financial commitments. In five weeks, diplomats from around the world will meet in Copenhagen to try to hash out a new agreement to curb global greenhouse-gas emissions. The science continues to evolve.

The goal of climate models is to project how rising greenhouse-gas emissions will interact with natural forces to affect the global temperature. The models are technological marvels. Using supercomputers, they divide the world into grids of roughly 4,000 cubic miles apiece. The grids are stacked, one on top of the other, up through the atmosphere.

It is complicated stuff. The models consist of dozens of equations written to reflect how liquids and gases move about the planet. Just as a symphony's sound is affected by the crash of cymbals or the pluck of a violin string, the planet's future temperature is influenced by powerful ocean currents and tiny specks of sea salt. In between are other players, such as sunlight, clouds and rain.

Added to the equations are such measurements as past temperatures, barometric pressure and sea salinity. Calculations about the influence of sunlight are entered. Then various projections of greenhouse-gas emissions are factored in. The computers run the equations and generate projections of global temperatures.

The models are only as good as the information they are fed. One big uncertainty is ocean temperature. Oceans trap huge amounts of heat, and they process by which they release it over time affects the temperature of the planet. But there isn't a lot of actual data, because the vastness of the oceans makes gathering temperature data costly and arduous.

The success of the models also depends on the soundness of their assumptions. The effects of clouds, for example, are unclear. Depending on their shape and altitude, clouds can either trap heat, warming the earth, or reflect it, cooling the planet. The way that greenhouse gases affect cloud formation -- and how clouds in turn affect temperature -- remains a subject of debate. Different models treat these factors differently.

On a graph, the models' temperature projections ultimately point upward, signifying warming. But along the way, each line has dips -- temporary periods of cooling. The timing and depth of the drops differ from model to model. Most climate scientists have regarded these zigs and zags as noise. Their models are designed to project how greenhouse gases will affect the global thermostat over a century, not what temperatures will be in any year or even in any decade. "We care about the climate in the 2080s. We don't care about the climate on Aug. 15, 2084," says Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University.

The models' focus on century-long trends is in part a function of limited data. Predicting short-term temperatures requires more measurements than projecting long-term trends. But such data have been lacking. "These long-term climate projections are a much easier problem than these shorter-term climate projections," says Mr. Dessler. "It's sort of counterintuitive."

Though often overlooked in the debate about man-made warming, natural factors have contributed to record high temperatures. The year 1998, for example, was widely noted as the hottest year on record, intensifying concerns about global warming and people's role in it. But one reason that 1998 set a record is that a strong shift in ocean temperature known as El Niño occurred that year. "1998 was a very hot year because it was an El Niño year," says Mr. Dessler.

The 2007 U.N. report included in its widely read summary a chart of projected temperatures that lacked visible periods of cooling. That is because it was an average of the lines from many different climate models. As averages do, it looked smooth. And it pointed up, indicating rising temperatures. Yet as the report was released, the global average temperature was below what it had been in 2005, which along with 1998 was one of the two hottest years on record. Even so, the average temperature in 2006 and 2007 remained among the 10 highest ever recorded.

About a year of the U.N. report's release, researchers in Germany published a paper in the journal Nature that attributed the cooling to the enigmatic ocean currents. The paper was based on a model that used new ocean-temperature measurements. It concluded that a shift in ocean currents was counteracting the warming from greenhouse gases. And that is causing the planet, on balance, to cool.

The paper argues that intermittent cooling from natural factors such as ocean currents will prove less significant in the long term than continued warming from greenhouse-gas emissions. But climate scientists acknowledge that those natural variabilities aren't fully understood. "This is pioneering work," says Mr. Latif, one of the authors of the authors of the German paper. "I won't say our forecast will be correct."

A separate study by researchers in the U.K., published in 2007 in the journal Science, also says the cooling will soon be outweighed by warming from greenhouse gases.

Unsurprisingly, the research hasn't settled the debate. Scientists who have long questioned man-made global warming cite the temperature drop that began in 2006 as more evidence the models are wrong. "They were predicting warming," says Richard Lindzen, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr. Lindzen's work, regarded as leading the research challenging man-made warming, suggests that natural factors such as clouds generally inhibit, rather than intensify, greenhouse-gas warming. He wrote in a recent article that the study from the U.K. admits that the kind of climate model cited in the U.N.'s IPCC report "did not appropriately deal with natural internal variability, thus demolishing the basis for the IPCC's iconic attribution" linking greenhouse-gas emissions to climate change. He added that "even when all models agree, they can all be wrong."

The researchers behind those studies strenuously reject that description. But they disagree among themselves on how long the cooling will last. The British paper says warming will resume as early as this year. The German paper says warming won't resume for perhaps a decade.

Such disagreements aren't unusual in a nascent science. "I don't think anybody is surprised that we're going to get one model that suggests it's going to cool and another that suggests it's going to warm," says Vicky Pope, a scientist at the Hadley Center, the U.K. institute where the research for the British paper was done. "That's consistent with where we are with the science."



The EU has agreed a conditional deal on how to help other nations fight global warming, ahead of a key climate summit, but set no figure on what it would pay. The EU agreed climate change would need 100bn euros ($148bn; £90bn) a year by 2020, and would pay its "fair share", conditional on other nations. UK PM Gordon Brown said the EU was leading the way with bold proposals.

Talks at the EU summit in Brussels had been deadlocked over how EU nations would share its costs. A coalition of nine poorer EU nations had threatened to block a deal unless richer countries paid more. No cost targets for individual EU nations were announced and the initial funding will be voluntary. Details of how the burden will be shared will be sorted out [or not] later by a working group.

Green groups have criticised the EU deal, saying it was not nearly enough.

Mr Brown, announcing the deal, said the EU climate discussions had been a success. "We can look the others in the eye," said the president of the European Commission, "we Europeans have done our job." But to critics, that job may look only half-done. EU leaders have agreed that developing nations would need $150bn a year to tackle climate change and pledged they would pay their fair share. But they haven't said how much. And poorer EU nations like Poland will continue on a voluntary basis or according to their means. It's now up to the other big global players - the US, China and India - to decide if that's enough for them to put an offer on the table and avoid failure in Copenhagen.

"We were aware that if the European Union did not come together to solve some of the impasses, the possibility of a deal at the Copenhagen summit would be a lot less likely." He said: "The EU is leading the way with bold proposals - do not allow years to go by without action."

The EU said the amount to come from public funding from all countries to meet the estimated 100bn euros a year needed by 2020 would be between 22bn and 50bn euros a year. However, it did not fix the EU's contribution, saying it would only pay its "fair share".

But Mr Brown did announce a "fast track" scheme to reduce carbon emissions, with the richest countries providing development finance to the poorest. This would come in soon after the Copenhagen summit and would cost 5bn to 7bn euros immediately, to come from all richer countries. He insisted that all these funding targets would be conditional on other richer countries making funding offers and on developing countries showing how they would spend the money.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the agreement was "an important breakthrough that brings new momentum". He said the EU nations had "agreed a negotiating mandate" for the Copenhagen climate talks. "Next week, we'll meet the US president and will say 'let's make Copenhagen a success'," Mr Barroso said.

Fredrik Reinfeldt, PM of Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said: "The EU has a very strong negotiating position. This enables the EU to continue taking a lead in the negotiations and encourages others."

However, the Green bloc in the European parliament criticised the EU leaders for failing to fix the costing, calling the deal "a calamitous result for the climate". "The EU preferred to give into dissension, opacity and internal tactics during the negotiations between the member states," the bloc's leaders said. Joris den Blanken of environmental group Greenpeace, said: "[The EU] failed to use this opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. "President Barack Obama should now step up and break the deadlock in negotiations."


The Verdict’s In: Cap and Trade Will Not Work

Over the summer The Washington Post called Europe’s experience with cap and trade as “Exhibit A” of what not to do on climate. Yesterday, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Iain Murray brought evidence to the jury – that jury being Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. Murray detailed the failures of the EU cap and trade scheme. Despite the European Union establishing an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in the year 2000, the United States has had similar or better emissions reductions than most countries:
“According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 2 by 3 percent. By comparison, the only major economy to reduce its emissions more was France, at 6 percent. The United Kingdom managed a similar performance to the US at -2.9 percent. Most other economies performed much worse.”

Murray then refers to a study by the Taxpayers’ Alliance in London to weigh in the costs side of ETS and discusses what it would take to achieve a 20 percent reduction by 2020 - same as the Boxer-Kerry cap and trade bill in the United States:
EU emissions did drop a negligible 1.5 percent in 2008. Being charitable, let’s assume that all of that emissions drop can be ascribed to the ETS. If so, then to achieve the 20 percent reduction target the EU has for 2020, simple extrapolation suggests that will cost the EU a staggering $2.28 trillion that year (and the accumulated costs would be even more massive). In fact, the cost could be way higher than that, because we tend to make the more affordable cuts first; deeper cuts will naturally cost more per unit.”

In testimony in July, Heritage Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman brought his own evidence to the table for why Europe’s model is not the one to follow:
We have also seen examples of fraud and unfairness in the process. Given the similar politics here, where big businesses have lobbied for free allocations much more effectively than the little guys–consumers, homeowners, small business owners, farmers–it is quite likely that the inequities would appear here as well.

The reason for the failure of carbon cap and trade is simple — reducing carbon dioxide from the existing installed base of energy-producing and -using equipment and vehicles is prohibitively expensive, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. Many nations committed to emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol are going to miss the targets (unless the recession lingers) and any talk of tougher targets is empty rhetoric.”

Lost jobs. Lost income. Lost economic activity. Nothing to show for it. The evidence is incontrovertible. Let’s hope the jury listens.


Save the planet? Kill cap-and-trade

If members of Congress need yet another reason to kill the Waxman-Markey bill, the Obama administration's economy-suffocating, job-destroying energy program, Princeton University's Tim Searchinger and his colleagues have a humdinger: Carbon reduction laws encourage widespread deforestation as trees and other vegetation are harvested to produce energy from biomass to replace oil and gas. The problem is that in long run, this process actually increases greenhouse gas emissions, which cap-and-trade is meant to reduce, according to Searchinger.

The Princeton researcher's paper, published Oct. 23 in Science, points out that almost all prior global warming studies failed to take into account the carbon emissions that result from converting cropland and forests to energy production. This accounting error treats all bio-energy as carbon-neutral, the authors say, despite the fact that burning wood and clearing land actually releases quite a large quantity of carbon into the atmosphere.

"By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years," the Princeton authors say. "Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%." Neither the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nor existing European cap-and-trade programs have taken into account widespread deforestation as farmers worldwide respond to the new economic incentives, Searchinger added.

Those figures might actually underestimate the growth of greenhouse gas production caused by reliance on energy produced from bio-mass sources because cap-and-trade includes $30 billion in subsidies for alternative energy research, development, and commercialization, including bio-mass. In other words: A vote for the House version of cap-and-trade or the companion legislation sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, and Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, actually means a vote for even more greenhouse gases. Who knew? Now, it's the opponents of cap-and-trade bills who can honestly say they are just trying to save the planet from the ravages of greenhouse gases.

And one more consideration: Kerry contends global warming presents a national security problem for the U.S. This is because, according to Kerry, global warming "injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale. We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism, and offering glaring opportunities to the worst actors in our international system." The Princeton study suggests that it's cap-and-trade that poses the national security threat.


Lisa Heinzerling: An attack-dog Greenie

Are their cases of environmental pollution that are so egregious that the polluters should be punished as murderers? Absolutely, says Obama EPA Administrator Lisa Heinzerling. And she is willing to wipe out half of the world's population to prove her point. Given her way, she would turn into murderers every manufacturer in America who had any inkling of an idea ahead of time that their actions had even the remotest statistical chance of causing a pollution-related death. And she is determined to give her view the force of law.

For example, she strongly opposes allowing any cost-benefit analyses into the evaluation of environmental risk because, for her, doing so amounts to "a pre-killing weighing of the choice to kill." In such analyses, "economic costs of pollution-reducing strategies are balanced against the value" in dollars of those whom they will kill. Such deliberation for her, "makes the killing worse, not better, from a legal and moral perspective."

To make her point, she uses an example of an imaginary reality TV show where, every week, some unlucky contestant is not only voted off the show but is executed. She claims that we would not allow this killing even if the show were a huge monetary success. And neither should we allow companies, on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, to "set themselves on a course of conduct that they know will result in human death."

Her analogy is flawed for a number of reasons. On the show, we know that someone will be killed by our actions. In the real world, what is actually known by a company when it decides not to install the expensive new scrubbers is simply that it may result in the death of one extra person per million. Or, of course, it may not.

Any time I put the key in the ignition and drive away I realize that there is some real statistical probability greater than zero that my actions will result in the death of an innocent person. Even if I am obeying all laws, a child who is not paying attention to traffic may rush out in front of my car. In these types of cases, motorists are often absolved both legally and morally of any wrongdoing.

But, wait a minute, I did know when I left the house that morning that there was some remote statistical chance that my actions might result in someone else's death, and yet I drove away in spite of this. By Lisa Heinzerling's unorthodox reasoning, I would instead be guilty of murder.

Another disingenuous feature of her reality show analogy is that while, in the show, we specifically set out to kill someone, in the real world corporations are normally not out to harm, much less kill. Her response to this is that unintentionally causing a death in pursuit of some other end — like profit — is still a "knowing killing." And she full well acknowledges that this extreme view "makes killers out of the people who produce the things—electricity, oil, chemicals—that bring good things to life."

And so, if, in the final analysis, we end up destroying the very commodities that "bring good things to life" – and, in fact, save millions of lives a year – well, to Ms Heinzerling's way of thinking, that's just too bad. In short, she is absolutely determined to save individual lives – even if she has to wipe out mankind to do it.

But to the medieval philosophers who first formulated views of just conduct in war, it was all-important that a good end was aimed at—this was what morally justified any killings of non-combatants that came about as the result of collateral damage. One was not targeting them. One was aiming at the good end of targeting combatants in a just war. Heinzerling seems utterly unable to appreciate this crucial distinction.


Australia: National Party at war with wishy-washy conservatives over Warmist laws

Australia's rural-based National Party is one of the few in the world to reject outright the global warming theory

Nationals Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce says he is frustrated by personal criticism from within the Liberal Party and has threatened to quit the Coalition. Senator Joyce's strong stance against an emission trading scheme has angered some Liberal Party MPs.

Senator Joyce told Channel Seven his critics should have the courage to state their views in public. "If after about four years you continually deal with unnamed sources in the paper and those unnamed sources say that the source of all their problems in life is you, then you say if you want to make yourself public and you are at the appropriate level, I'll leave," he said.

The Coalition is in negotiations on an emissions trading scheme with the Federal Government. However, talks have been stalling over Government claims the Coalition is not negotiating in good faith. Several Coalition members have made comments about the emissions trading scheme that seem to be at odds with Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull's stance.

On Friday, Senate Leader Nick Minchin said the Coalition would not necessarily vote for an emissions trading scheme even if the Federal Government accepted the Coalition's amendments. Senator Minchin's comments came amid a report in The Australian newspaper that Liberal frontbenchers were getting cold feet about supporting a scheme because the party's research shows voters are becoming hesitant about the idea.

Mr Turnbull has said he will recommend supporting an emissions trading scheme if the Opposition's amendments are accepted. Senator Joyce has been outspoken in his opposition to an emissions trading scheme and has said he would vote such a scheme down.



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Garth Godsman said...

Quite frankly, even though I live in the city, I think I will start to vote for the Nationals at any opportunity I get.

John A said...

Nature effects climate?

The paper argues that intermittent cooling from natural factors such as ocean currents will prove less significant in the long term than continued warming from greenhouse-gas emissions. But climate scientists acknowledge that those natural variabilities aren't fully understood. "This is pioneering work," says Mr. Latif, one of the authors of the authors of the German paper. "I won't say our forecast will be correct."

So after more than forty years of largely ignoring things like ocean currents, solar output, cloud formation causes/types etc. and being told they can be ignored because they can not have any effect, there seems no other explanation for recent change - thus it is "pioneering" work to even take such into account. Oh yes, and when the cooling events reverse again (as they have been known to do on varying cyclic schedules for over a century) from cooling to warming it will get warmer again... Brilliant! Somehow I suspect that most six-year-olds whose housing includes a stove realize that turning on the stove will warm the area while then turning it off will [seem] to cool the same area.