Tuesday, March 30, 2010

James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change

The usual Green/Left arrogance and Fascist mentality is fully out in the open here

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change, according to the British scientist James Lovelock. Illustration: Murdo Macleod

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory.

It follows a tumultuous few months in which public opinion on efforts to tackle climate change has been undermined by events such as the climate scientists' emails leaked from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit.

"I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do anything meaningful."

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

Lovelock, 90, believes the world's best hope is to invest in adaptation measures, such as building sea defences around the cities that are most vulnerable to sea-level rises. He thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica, such as the Pine Island glacier, which would immediately push up sea level.

"That would be the sort of event that would change public opinion," he said. "Or a return of the dust bowl in the mid-west. Another Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report won't be enough. We'll just argue over it like now." The IPCC's 2007 report concluded that there was a 90% chance that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing global warming, but the panel has been criticised over a mistaken claim that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2030.

Lovelock says the events of the recent months have seen him warming to the efforts of the "good" climate sceptics: "What I like about sceptics is that in good science you need critics that make you think: 'Crumbs, have I made a mistake here?' If you don't have that continuously, you really are up the creek. The good sceptics have done a good service, but some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours. You need sceptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic."

Lovelock, who 40 years ago originated the idea that the planet is a giant, self-regulating organism – the so-called Gaia theory – added that he has little sympathy for the climate scientists caught up in the UEA email scandal. He said he had not read the original emails – "I felt reluctant to pry" – but that their reported content had left him feeling "utterly disgusted".

"Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science," he said. "I'm not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly. It's the one thing you do not ever do. You've got to have standards."


The truth is out: Green think tank tells environmentalists to leave climate science behind

Leaders of a contrarian environmental think tank, The Breakthrough Institute, have a way to get beyond the climate science wars: Break the link between global warming research and the push for low-carbon energy.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, in a new essay in Yale Environment 360, argue that environmentalists are too eager to link natural disasters and dangerous weather to man-made climate change.

They say this is a losing hand that has been made even weaker by the furor over the now-infamous hacked climate science emails, and controversy surrounding the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They write:
Climate science, even at its most uncontroversial, could never motivate the remaking of the entire global energy economy. Efforts to use climate science to threaten an apocalyptic future should we fail to embrace green proposals, and to characterize present-day natural disasters as terrifying previews of an impending day of reckoning, have only served to undermine the credibility of both climate science and progressive energy policy.

The essay also suggests that climate advocacy and research have become too intertwined, with environmentalists seeking to represent the science as “apocalyptic, imminent, and certain.” The science has been harmed as a result, they argue, stating:
Greens pushed climate scientists to become outspoken advocates of action to address global warming. Captivated by the notion that their voices and expertise were singularly necessary to save the world, some climate scientists attempted to oblige. The result is that the use, and misuse, of climate science by advocates began to wash back into the science itself.

They later conclude:
Climate science can still usefully inform us about the possible trajectories of the global climate and help us prepare for extreme weather and natural disasters, whether climate change ultimately results in their intensification or not. And understood in its proper role, as one of many reasons why we should decarbonize the global economy, climate science can even help contribute to the case for taking such action. But so long as environmentalists continue to demand that climate science drive the transformation of the global energy economy, neither the science, nor efforts to address climate change, will be well served.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus are a contrarian pair with a years-long penchant for telling the mainstream environmental movement that it’s screwing up the climate fight in one way or another. Several of their past essays have been controversial, notably 2004’s "The Death of Environmentalism."


Climate prof: 'I'm a skeptic'

Another slow backdown

Penn State global warming scientist Michael E. Mann regrets he did not instantly object when a fellow climatologist asked him in 2008 to delete e-mails subject to Freedom of Information requests.

"I wish in retrospect I had told him, 'Hey, you shouldn't even be thinking about this,"' Mann told The Morning Call in his first interview since the university last month launched an investigation into his conduct. "I didn't think it was an appropriate request."

Despite the request by his British colleague Phil Jones, Mann did not delete e-mails, a Penn State University panel of inquiry found. But the panel on Feb. 3 ordered a further investigation, still in progress, over a general allegation of scientific misconduct by Mann.

Penn State officials said Friday they could not yet provide further information on the probe.

The investigation is a response to the uproar, commonly referred to as Climategate, over revelations of questionable comments made by climate scientists in e-mails made public in November. The furor has shaken the scientific community and fueled doubts about global warming.

Mann, recognized internationally for his studies that conclude the Earth is heating dangerously fast, denies any wrongdoing and says he is cooperating fully with the Penn State investigation.

And in a wide-ranging interview, Mann says that not all global warming science is settled. It's not yet certain, for example, that the heat is reducing the world population of polar bears or that it increases the number of hurricanes, he said.

But he said there is almost no doubt the last half of the 20th century was the hottest 50-year period of the last millennium. That conclusion is reflected in Mann's famous 1,000-year "hockey stick" chart of temperatures.

"There have been warming trends and cooling trends in the past," Mann said. "Over the past 50 years, there has only been a warming trend [With temperature measurements from cooler areas of the globe being steadily deleted from the record, what would you expect? Of Canada's roughly 200 meteorological stations, only ONE is now used!]. Contrarians cannot point to a sustained period -- a 20- or 30-year period -- of cooling over the past 50 years. [But they can over the last 500 years -- which is a mere blip in geological time] If they could, you can be sure we would have heard about it."

He said the evidence is solid that manmade global warming presents threats that must not be ignored, even during controversies over scientists' e-mails.


Mike Wallace on Warming Myopia

Mike Wallace, a climate scientist at the University of Washington, had a provocative op-ed in the Seatlle Times last Friday. Wallace was a member of the 2001 NAS panel that was convened at the request of George W. Bush to evaluate the IPCC top line conclusions (chaired by Ralph Cicerone, present-day NAS director). That committee reaffirmed the IPCC conclusions. Wallace was also the Chair of a 2000 NAS report on reconciling surface and satellite temperature trends. He is no skeptic.

Wallace's op-ed is provocative because it suggests that we've come to focus too narrowly on climate change, and he lays some of the blame for this at the feet of the scientific community. Here is an excerpt:
It's tempting to blame the media for fixating on global warming, but we climate scientists are partly to blame for the misplaced emphasis. Over the past 20 years we have stood by and watched as governmental and nongovernmental organizations that deal with environmental issues became more and more narrowly focused on the long-term impacts of global warming.

Meanwhile, more imminent issues relating to the sustainability of our planet's life-support system under the pressures of growing human population and the widening gap between rich and poor are not getting the attention they deserve. By failing to foster creation of robust, broad-based advisory mechanisms, we have allowed the IPCC assessment reports to become the dominant vehicle for representing the views of the scientific community on a widening range of environmental issues. In the IPCC terminology, symptoms of environmental degradation, regardless of their cause, are labeled as impacts of climate change, and the societal response to them is framed in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Scientists still write papers and speak to the media about environmental concerns outside of the purview of the IPCC, but with so much of the world's attention riveted on climate change there is a lack of institutional infrastructure for calling attention to other issues. Labeling issues such as reduced agricultural productivity, loss of biodiversity, pollution and the looming shortage of fresh water as "impacts of global warming" leaves the public confused and susceptible to propaganda by groups who oppose environmental regulation of any kind. With the IPCC increasingly in the spotlight, the denialists can trivialize the entire environmental crisis simply by casting doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.

Climate scientists and their detractors are slugging it out every day in blogs and editorial pages while legislative initiatives to get governments to address environmental and resource issues remain stalled, despite broad public support for them. At the recent Copenhagen Summit, the nations of the world were reluctant to make binding agreements to reduce their production of greenhouse gases.

Given the limited public understanding of the intricacies of climate science, the human tendency to be more concerned with current issues than with what the climate will be like 100 years from now, and the glaring inequities in per capita fossil fuel consumption between countries like the United States and those like India, justifying an enlightened energy policy on the basis of concerns about global warming is a tough sell. The negotiations might have gone better had the justification been framed in terms of conserving the world's dwindling oil reserves, stabilizing oil prices and promoting energy independence.

The current stalemate is likely to persist as long as scientists allow climate change to dominate the environmental policy agenda. In order to promote a more productive dialogue between scientists and policymakers, the discussion of adaptation and mitigation options in the policy arena needs to be reframed so that it addresses environmental degradation and sustainability in the broad sense, not just the impacts of climate change.

Wallace is right -- about the consequences of a myopic focus, the need for a more inclusive reframing and the role of the climate science community in helping maintain the myopic focus, both as silent bystander (most of the community) and actively involved in the myopic framing (those activist bloggers).

Along with Mike Hulme, Hans von Sotrch, Judy Curry and others, Mike Wallace is helping to show that there are a diversity of thoughtful views among the climate science community. The blog discussions of climate are typically colored in black and white, whereas the real world is painted in shades of gray.


Global warming 'will NOT slow down Gulf Stream and plunge Britain into ice age'

Another Greenie scare bites the dust. It did long ago, in fact, but the mass media are now noting it

Fears that global warming will shut down the Gulf Stream and plunge Britain into a mini-ice age are unfounded, a study shows. There is no evidence the phenomenon – which brings a constant flow of warm water and mild weather to northern Europe – has slowed down over the past 20 years, climate scientists say.

‘The changes we’re seeing in overturning strength are probably part of a natural cycle,’ said researcher Josh Willis, from Nasa.

The Gulf Stream is vital to Britain’s mild climate. Without the flow of warm water from the Mid Atlantic, the British Isles would be 4-6c colder than they are. Some environmentalists have argued that global warming could shut off the stream – sending temperatures spiralling down across Europe as they rise elsewhere.

The controversial scenario was dramatised in apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow and is predicted in some computer models of climate change.

The idea that a slowdown of the ocean currents would trigger such a rapid change in climate is pure fantasy, explained Dr Willis. ‘But the Atlantic overturning circulation is still an important player in today’s climate,’ he added. ‘Some have suggested cyclic changes in the overturning may be warming and cooling the whole North Atlantic over the course of several decades and affecting rainfall patterns across the U.S. and Africa, and even the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic.’

The study used satellite data to study the pattern of Atlantic currents between 2002 and 2009. Researchers from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found no long-term trend, just short-term variability, according to the study published in Geophysical Research Letters journal.

The Gulf Stream is one of the strongest currents in the world. It is driven by surface winds and differences in the density of water.

Fears that the circulation was slowing emerged in a study by the UK National Oceanography Centre in 2005. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s last report in 2007 said it was ‘very likely’ that the Gulf Stream will slow down during the next 100 years. Most climate models suggest it will slow down by one quarter over the 21st century.

Although the slowing of the Gulf Stream would have a cooling effect on Europe, the IPCC claims temperatures will still rise overall.


'Smart' meters have security holes, researchers say

Computer-security researchers say new "smart" meters that are designed to help deliver electricity more efficiently also have flaws that could let hackers tamper with the power grid in previously impossible ways.

At the very least, the vulnerabilities open the door for attackers to jack up strangers' power bills. These flaws also could get hackers a key step closer to exploiting one of the most dangerous capabilities of the new technology, which is the ability to remotely turn someone else's power on and off.

The attacks could be pulled off by stealing meters -- which can be situated outside of a home -- and reprogramming them. Or an attacker could sit near a home or business and wirelessly hack the meter from a laptop, according to Joshua Wright, a senior security analyst with InGuardians Inc. The firm was hired by three utilities to study their smart meters' resistance to attack.

These utilities, which he would not name, have already done small deployments of smart meters and plan to roll the technology out to hundreds of thousands of power customers, Wright told The Associated Press.

There is no evidence the security flaws have been exploited, although Wright said a utility could have been hacked without knowing it. InGuardians said it is working with the utilities to fix the problems.

Power companies are aggressively rolling out the new meters. In the U.S. alone, more than 8 million smart meters have been deployed by electric utilities and nearly 60 million should be in place by 2020, according to a list of publicly announced projects kept by The Edison Foundation, an organization focused on the electric industry.

Unlike traditional electric meters that merely record power use -- and then must be read in person once a month by a meter reader -- smart meters measure consumption in real time. By being networked to computers in electric utilities, the new meters can signal people or their appliances to take certain actions, such as reducing power usage when electricity prices spike.

But the very interactivity that makes smart meters so attractive also makes them vulnerable to hackers, because each meter essentially is a computer connected to a vast network.

There are few public studies on the meters' resistance to attack, in part because the technology is new. However, last summer, Mike Davis, a researcher from IOActive Inc., showed how a computer worm could hop between meters in a power grid with smart meters, giving criminals control over those meters.

Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, a security research and training organization that was not involved in Wright's work with InGuardians, said it proved that hacking smart meters is a serious concern.

"We weren't sure it was possible," Paller said. "He actually verified it's possible. ... If the Department of Energy is going to make sure the meters are safe, then Josh's work is really important."

SANS has invited Wright to present his research Tuesday at a conference it is sponsoring on the security of utilities and other "critical infrastructure."

Industry representatives say utilities are doing rigorous security testing that will make new power grids more secure than the patchwork system we have now, which is already under hacking attacks from adversaries believed to be working overseas.

"We know that automation will bring new vulnerabilities, and our task -- which we tackle on a daily basis -- is making sure the system is secure," said Ed Legge, spokesman for Edison Electric Institute, a trade organization for shareholder-owned electric companies.

But many security researchers say the technology is being deployed without enough security probing.

Wright said his firm found "egregious" errors, such as flaws in the meters and the technologies that utilities use to manage data from meters. "Even though these protocols were designed recently, they exhibit security failures we've known about for the past 10 years," Wright said.

He said InGuardians found vulnerabilities in products from all five of the meter makers the firm studied. He would not disclose those manufacturers.

One of the most alarming findings involved a weakness in a communications standard used by the new meters to talk to utilities' computers.

Wright found that hackers could exploit the weakness to break into meters remotely, which would be a key step for shutting down someone's power. Or someone could impersonate meters to the power company, to inflate victims' bills or lower his own. A criminal could even sneak into the utilities' computer networks to steal data or stage bigger attacks on the grid.

Wright said similar vulnerabilities used to be common in wireless Internet networking equipment, but have vanished with an emphasis on better security.

For instance, the meters encrypt their data -- scrambling the information to hide it from outsiders. But the digital "keys" needed to unlock the encryption were stored on data-routing equipment known as access points that many meters relay data to. Stealing the keys lets an attacker eavesdrop on all communication between meters and that access point, so the keys instead should be kept on computers deep inside the utilities' networks, where they would be safer.

"That lesson seems to be lost on these meter vendors," he said. That speaks to the "relative immaturity" of the meter technology, Wright added.



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