Saturday, January 02, 2010

More on British Met Office deception

Re my post "Another example of strange data selectivity by British climatologists", my correspondent has been doing a bit more investigation and reports as follows:

Harkening back to my old standby, Wolfram Alpha...: Again, click on "All" in the drop-down menu of the "History & forecast section" displaying "Current week" to see that the temperature record is essentially flat over the period surveyed -- from 1945 on. While the curve fitting indicates a tiny (statistically insignificant) increase, it can be seen that is because of a low initial value followed by more than a decade of apparently missing data that seem to be included in the curve fitting.

So, there is data, and it shows NO SIGNIFICANT WARMING. Naturally they didn't use it.

Dry period in the Amazon?

Possibly contemporaeous with the Little Ice Age in Europe?

With the aid of satellite imagery from Google Earth, soon archeologists in Brazil will be finding more and more large geometric designs carved into the ground in the Amazon rainforest. The geoglyphs are believed to have been sculpted by ancient people from the Amazon region around 700 years ago, though their purpose is still unknown. So far, nearly 300 geoglyphs have been identified, but with advances in satellite imaging--and increased clearing of the jungle coverage--scientists are hoping to discover many more of these strange, geometric designs.

One of the factors that contributed to so many geoglyphs being undetected prior to the aid of satallites is their enormous size. According to leading geoglyph scientist Alceu Ranzi, his latest discoveries--five sets of geometric shapes, with circles, squares and lines--can measure more than a mile from one extreme to another. "You do not see them in field. There is a difference in the color of grass but is very thin. If there were no satellite images, there would be no possibility [of making these new discoveries]."

Because they've been so hard to find, the first geoglyphs weren't discovered until the 1970s. Since then, scientists have been trying to piece together what significance they may have had to ancient Amazonians. What ever the purpose may have been, there's one thing that is certain: the ancient civilizations of the rainforest were more numerous and sophisticated than previously imagined.

According to a report from Globo, the new marks were only discovered because the jungle coverage had been removed to due to deforestation in the Amazon. These structures are deep, with grooves are as large as 12 meters wide and four deep, but it is believed that they were built when jungle abounded--which would make their construction all the more difficult.

Ranzi seems open to other possibilities: "Was it really forest [when the drawings were built] or did they occupy this area at a time of climate crisis, like that of 2005?"


CRU antics were probably illegal as well as unethical and unscientific

By Garth Paltridge, an atmospheric physicist and former chief research scientist with Australia's CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research

THE Climategate scandal continues to unfold. The thousands of emails leaked to the internet from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia reveal a tight-knit, influential group of scientists whose attitude to their profession is, to say the least, distorted.

It seems that a religious belief in disastrous climate change has destroyed their common sense and their appreciation of what is the appropriate way to carry out research.

Climategate may at least demonstrate that the concept of a scientific consensus with regard to global warming is nonsense. There may indeed be thousands of scientists contributing to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but on any particular aspect of the overall story all have to rely on the word of the few scientists who are directly involved. And when the particular aspect concerns experimental data on which the whole story rests, the data purporting to show the world is getting warmer, then the consensus argument is indeed on shaky ground.

On the evidence so far, there is not much doubt that the group of scientists linked to the CRU has behaved fairly badly. Any individual email from the Climategate pile may be explained and excused as a stupid mistake of the time, but when all are taken together it seems obvious enough that there have been lots of violations of what might be called the scientific code. The most glaring examples concern efforts to keep basic sets of data out of the hands of people who may not be sympathetic to the official story about the disastrous nature of global warming. This, when the CRU is specifically paid to collate the data gathered by national meteorological services across the world, and to make the data available to outside scientists to check and to use.

In any event, the CRU information is covered by environmental information regulations that specifically require public bodies in Britain to make their data progressively available to the public by electronic means that are easily accessible.

So the ducking and weaving in the face of reasonable requests for CRU data by outside scientists and indeed in the face of Freedom of Information requests by those same outside scientists may not be just bad scientific form. It may be illegal. Which makes the lukewarm reaction to Climategate by the great and powerful of the scientific establishment even more difficult to swallow. The journal Nature, for instance, has this to say: "If there are benefits to the email theft, one [of those benefits] is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts."

Let us ignore the fact that even a prestigious journal such as Nature is happy to label scientific scepticism as the work of "denialists", which is good evidence that the CRU disease has spread far and wide into the general science community. Prior to Climategate, there were probably fewer than a dozen FOI demands to CRU. There would have been no need even for those if the information had been made available when it was first requested.

I said recently in my book The Climate Caper that most scientists simply cannot believe that their colleagues would deliberately oversell a scientific conclusion for the benefit of a political cause. Dishonesty of that nature would fly in the face of everything that the rather idealistic typical scientist has been taught about his profession.

Perhaps Climategate will provide a medium for introducing typical scientists to the real world and perhaps as well it will re-introduce them to the idea that scepticism is the basis of the profession.


It’s Always the End of the World as We Know It

By New Zealand philosopher Denis Dutton

IT seems so distant, 1999. Bill Clinton had survived impeachment, his popularity hardly dented, Sept. 11 was just another date and music fans were enjoying a young singer named Britney Spears....

The Y2K catastrophe was promoted with increasing shrillness toward century’s end: headlines proclaimed a “computer time bomb” or “a date with disaster.” Vanity Fair’s January 1999 article “The Y2K Nightmare” caught the sensationalist tone, claiming that “folly, greed and denial” had “muffled two decades of warnings from technology experts.”

Among the most reviled of the Y2K deniers was Bill Gates, who not only declared that Microsoft’s PCs would take the date turnover in stride, but had the audacity to blame those who “love to tell tales of fear” for the worldwide anxiety. Mr. Gates’s denialism was ignored as governments and corporations set in place immensely expensive schemes to immunize systems against the Y2K bug.

They weren’t the only ones keen to get in on the end-time spirit. The Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that Y2K would be the confirmation of Christian prophecy, “God’s instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation.” The Y2K crisis might incite a worldwide revival that would lead to “the rapture of the church.” Along with many survivalists, Mr. Falwell advised stocking up on food and guns.

So the scene was set here in New Zealand for midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. We are just west of the dateline, and thus would be the first to experience not only popping Champagne corks and fireworks, but the Y2K catastrophe, if any. As clocks hit midnight, Champagne and skyrockets were the only explosions of interest, since telephones, ATMs, cars, computers and airplanes worked just fine. The head of the government’s Y2K Readiness Commission declared victory: “New Zealand’s investment in planning and preparation has paid off.”

Confident that our millions were well spent, we waited for news of the calamities sure to hit countries that had ignored Y2K. Asia, a Deutsche Bank official had predicted, was going to be “burnt toast” on New Year’s Day — not just the lesser-developed areas of Vietnam and China, but South Korea, which by 1999 was a highly computer-dependent society. South Korea, one computer expert told me, had a national telephone system similar to British Telecom’s. But where the British had wisely sunk millions of pounds into Y2K remediation, South Korea had done next to nothing.

However, exactly 10 years ago today, as the date change moved on through the Far East, India, Russia, the Middle East and Europe, it became apparent that it made little difference whether you lived in Britain, which at great expense had revamped many of its computer systems, or the lackadaisical Ukraine, which had ignored the issue.

With minor glitches that would have gone unnoticed any other day of the week, the world kept ticking on. It must have been galling for computer-conscientious Germans to observe how life continued its pleasurable path for feckless Italians, who had generally paid no attention to Y2K. There were problems, to be sure: in Australia, a bus-ticket machine stamped the wrong date, while in Britain a tide gauge in Portsmouth Harbor failed. Still, the South Korean phone system came through unscathed.

By the time midnight reached the United States, where upward of $100 billion had been spent on Y2K fixes, there was little anxiety. Indeed, the general health of American information systems, fixed and not, became clearer in the new year. The Small Business Administration calculated that 1.5 million businesses had undertaken no Y2K remediation. On Jan. 3, it received about 40 phone calls from businesses that had experienced minor faults, like cash registers that misread the year “2000” as “1900” (which seemed everywhere the single most common error caused by Y2K).

KNOWING our computers is difficult enough. Harder still is to know ourselves, including our inner demons. From today’s perspective, the Y2K fiasco seems to be less about technology than about a morbid fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios. This ought to strike us as strange. The cold war was fading in 1999, we were witnessing a worldwide growth in wealth and standards of living, and Islamic terrorism was not yet seen as a serious global threat. It should have been a year of golden weather, a time for the human race to relax and look toward a brighter, more peaceful future. Instead, with computers as a flimsy pretext, many seemed to take pleasure in frightening themselves to death over a coming calamity.

No doubt part of the blame must go to those consultants who took businesses and governments for an expensive ride in the lead-up to New Year’s Day. But doom-laden exaggerations about Y2K fell on ears that were all-too receptive. The Y2K fiasco was about more than simple prudence.

Religions from Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Christianity to U.F.O. cults have been built around notions of sin and the world’s end. The Y2K threat resonated with those ideas. Human beings have constructed an enormous, wasteful, unnatural civilization, filled with sin — or, worse in some minds, pollution and environmental waste. Suppose it turned out that a couple of zeros inadvertently left off old computer codes brought crashing down the very civilization computers helped to create. Cosmic justice!

The theme of our fancy inventions ultimately destroying us has been a favorite in fiction at least since Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” We can place alongside this a continuous succession of spectacular films built on visions of the end of the world. Such end-time fantasies must have a profound, persistent appeal in order to keep drawing wide-eyed crowds into movie theaters, as historically they have drawn crowds into churches, year after year.

Apocalyptic scenarios are a diversion from real problems — poverty, terrorism, broken financial systems — needing intelligent attention. Even something as down-to-earth as the swine-flu scare has seemed at moments to be less about testing our health care system and its emergency readiness than about the fate of a diseased civilization drowning in its own fluids. We wallow in the idea that one day everything might change in, as St. Paul put it, the “twinkling of an eye” — that a calamity might prove to be the longed-for transformation. But turning practical problems into cosmic cataclysms takes us further away from actual solutions.

This applies, in my view, to the towering seas, storms, droughts and mass extinctions of popular climate catastrophism. Such entertaining visions owe less to scientific climatology than to eschatology, and that familiar sense that modernity and its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer to a biblical day of judgment. As that headline put it for Y2K, predictions of the end of the world are often intertwined with condemnations of human “folly, greed and denial.” Repent and recycle!


A "Green" nuke?

It would be if Greenies were logical but their reactions are akin to kneejerks, with very little influence from the cerebral cortex at all

The thick hardbound volume was sitting on a shelf in a colleague’s office when Kirk Sorensen spotted it. A rookie NASA engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Sorensen was researching nuclear-powered propulsion, and the book’s title — Fluid Fuel Reactors — jumped out at him. He picked it up and thumbed through it. Published in 1958 under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission as part of its Atoms for Peace program, Fluid Fuel Reactors is a book only an engineer could love: a dense, 978-page account of research conducted at Oak Ridge National Lab, most of it under former director Alvin Weinberg. What caught Sorensen’s eye was the description of Weinberg’s experiments producing nuclear power with an element called thorium.

At the time, in 2000, Sorensen was just 25, engaged to be married and thrilled to be employed at his first serious job as a real aerospace engineer. A devout Mormon with a linebacker’s build and a marine’s crew cut, Sorensen made an unlikely iconoclast. But the book inspired him to pursue an intense study of nuclear energy over the next few years, during which he became convinced that thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.

Weinberg and his men proved the efficacy of thorium reactors in hundreds of tests at Oak Ridge from the ’50s through the early ’70s. But thorium hit a dead end. Locked in a struggle with a nuclear- armed Soviet Union, the US government in the ’60s chose to build uranium-fueled reactors — in part because they produce plutonium that can be refined into weapons-grade material. The course of the nuclear industry was set for the next four decades, and thorium power became one of the great what-if technologies of the 20th century.

Today, however, Sorensen spearheads a cadre of outsiders dedicated to sparking a thorium revival. When he’s not at his day job as an aerospace engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama — or wrapping up the master’s in nuclear engineering he is soon to earn from the University of Tennessee — he runs a popular blog called Energy From Thorium. A community of engineers, amateur nuclear power geeks, and researchers has gathered around the site’s forum, ardently discussing the future of thorium. The site even links to PDFs of the Oak Ridge archives, which Sorensen helped get scanned. Energy From Thorium has become a sort of open source project aimed at resurrecting long-lost energy technology using modern techniques.

And the online upstarts aren’t alone. Industry players are looking into thorium, and governments from Dubai to Beijing are funding research. India is betting heavily on the element.

The concept of nuclear power without waste or proliferation has obvious political appeal in the US, as well. The threat of climate change has created an urgent demand for carbon-free electricity, and the 52,000 tons of spent, toxic material that has piled up around the country makes traditional nuclear power less attractive. President Obama and his energy secretary, Steven Chu, have expressed general support for a nuclear renaissance. Utilities are investigating several next-gen alternatives, including scaled-down conventional plants and “pebble bed” reactors, in which the nuclear fuel is inserted into small graphite balls in a way that reduces the risk of meltdown.

Those technologies are still based on uranium, however, and will be beset by the same problems that have dogged the nuclear industry since the 1960s. It is only thorium, Sorensen and his band of revolutionaries argue, that can move the country toward a new era of safe, clean, affordable energy.

Named for the Norse god of thunder, thorium is a lustrous silvery-white metal. It’s only slightly radioactive; you could carry a lump of it in your pocket without harm. On the periodic table of elements, it’s found in the bottom row, along with other dense, radioactive substances — including uranium and plutonium — known as actinides....

Uranium is currently the actinide of choice for the industry, used (sometimes with a little plutonium) in 100 percent of the world’s commercial reactors. But it’s a problematic fuel. In most reactors, sustaining a chain reaction requires extremely rare uranium-235, which must be purified, or enriched, from far more common U-238. The reactors also leave behind plutonium-239, itself radioactive (and useful to technologically sophisticated organizations bent on making bombs). And conventional uranium-fueled reactors require lots of engineering, including neutron-absorbing control rods to damp the reaction and gargantuan pressurized vessels to move water through the reactor core. If something goes kerflooey, the surrounding countryside gets blanketed with radioactivity (think Chernobyl). Even if things go well, toxic waste is left over.

When he took over as head of Oak Ridge in 1955, Alvin Weinberg realized that thorium by itself could start to solve these problems. It’s abundant — the US has at least 175,000 tons of the stuff — and doesn’t require costly processing. It is also extraordinarily efficient as a nuclear fuel. As it decays in a reactor core, its byproducts produce more neutrons per collision than conventional fuel. The more neutrons per collision, the more energy generated, the less total fuel consumed, and the less radioactive nastiness left behind.

Even better, Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. The design is based on the lab’s finding that thorium dissolves in hot liquid fluoride salts. This fission soup is poured into tubes in the core of the reactor, where the nuclear chain reaction — the billiard balls colliding — happens. The system makes the reactor self-regulating: When the soup gets too hot it expands and flows out of the tubes — slowing fission and eliminating the possibility of another Chernobyl. Any actinide can work in this method, but thorium is particularly well suited because it is so efficient at the high temperatures at which fission occurs in the soup.

In 1965, Weinberg and his team built a working reactor, one that suspended the byproducts of thorium in a molten salt bath, and he spent the rest of his 18-year tenure trying to make thorium the heart of the nation’s atomic power effort. He failed. Uranium reactors had already been established, and Hyman Rickover, de facto head of the US nuclear program, wanted the plutonium from uranium-powered nuclear plants to make bombs. Increasingly shunted aside, Weinberg was finally forced out in 1973.

That proved to be “the most pivotal year in energy history,” according to the US Energy Information Administration. It was the year the Arab states cut off oil supplies to the West, setting in motion the petroleum-fueled conflicts that roil the world to this day. The same year, the US nuclear industry signed contracts to build a record 41 nuke plants, all of which used uranium. And 1973 was the year that thorium R&D faded away — and with it the realistic prospect for a golden nuclear age when electricity would be too cheap to meter and clean, safe nuclear plants would dot the green countryside.


U.S. Climate Legislation in 2010

In the wake of the bruising political battle over health care reform, several U.S. senators have signaled that they don't want to take up climate legislation during the upcoming 2010 election year.

According to Politico, Sen Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is one of many senators telling their party leaders or the administration to give up on legislation to curb global climate change. "I am communicating that in every way I know how," Sen. Landrieu says in a Politico article.

Similarly, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), told Politico, "We need to deal with the phenomena of global warming, but I think it's very difficult in the kind of economic circumstances we have right now."

As several studies have shown, the Waxman-Markey climate bill narrowly passed by the House could have severe consequences on the U.S. economy and American consumers. It could sharply raise energy costs, reduce household buying power, and result in the destruction of more than 2 million American jobs. At a time when the nation's unemployment rate stands at 10 percent, enacting Waxman-Markey climate legislation could have very unfavorable economic repercussions.

Yet, the administration continues to support a Waxman-Markey-style cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "'We think that a cap-and-trade mechanism is the best way to achieve the most cost-effective reductions,'" a senior administration official told reporters last week," Politico reported.

Some senators believe that Congress should focus on passing an energy bill rather than climate legislation. Earlier this year, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out a bill that would open the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas development. Opening this area, which includes the Destin Dome proven natural gas field, would make it possible for the United States to produce more of its own energy, create jobs and generate revenue for state, federal and local governments.

Legislation that would allow for the development of domestic oil and natural gas could help to keep energy affordable and improve U.S. energy security. The United States should open more areas to energy exploration and production.



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 are mirrors of this site here and here


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