My Global Warming Skepticism, for Dummies
by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.
Prof. Spencer is an eminent climate scientist and points out many reasons why the case for human emissions causing warming is at least "not proven". He has however always in the past accepted the theory that CO2 COULD cause warming. A recent upwelling of dissent on that point by physical scientists has however obviously jarred him so you will see from the rubric below (under his "7" heading) that he is now reserving judgment on that point. He is leaving open the possibility that the whole theory was misconceived from the beginning and in fact contravenes the laws of physics
I receive many e-mails, and a recurring complaint is that many of my posts are too technical to understand. This morning’s installment arrived with the subject line, “Please Talk to Us”, and suggested I provide short, concise, easily understood summaries and explanations “for dummies”.
So, here’s a list of basic climate change questions, and brief answers based upon what I know today. I might update them as I receive suggestions and comments. I will also be adding links to other sources, and some visual aids, as appropriate.
Deja vu tells me I might have done this once before, but I’m too lazy to go back and see. So, I’ll start over from scratch. (Insert smiley)
It is important to understand at the outset that those of us who are skeptical of mankind’s influence on climate have a wide variety of views on the subject, and we can’t all be right. In fact, in this business, it is really easy to be wrong. It seems like everyone has a theory of what causes climate change. But it only takes one of us to be right for the IPCC’s anthropogenic global warming (AGW) house of cards to collapse.
As I like to say, taking measurements of the climate system is much easier than figuring out what those measurements mean in terms of cause and effect. Generally speaking, it’s not the warming that is in dispute…it’s the cause of the warming.
If you disagree with my views on something, please don’t flame me. Chances are, I’ve already heard your point of view; very seldom am I provided with new evidence I haven’t already taken into account.
1) Are Global Temperatures Rising Now? There is no way to know, because natural year-to-year variability in global temperature is so large, with warming and cooling occurring all the time. What we can say is that surface and lower atmospheric temperature have risen in the last 30 to 50 years, with most of that warming in the Northern Hemisphere. Also, the magnitude of recent warming is somewhat uncertain, due to problems in making long-term temperature measurements with thermometers without those measurements being corrupted by a variety of non-climate effects. But there is no way to know if temperatures are continuing to rise now…we only see warming (or cooling) in the rearview mirror, when we look back in time.
2) Why Do Some Scientists Say It’s Cooling, while Others Say that Warming is Even Accelerating? Since there is so much year-to-year (and even decade-to-decade) variability in global average temperatures, whether it has warmed or cooled depends upon how far back you look in time. For instance, over the last 100 years, there was an overall warming which was stronger toward the end of the 20th Century. This is why some say “warming is accelerating”. But if we look at a shorter, more recent period of time, say since the record warm year of 1998, one could say that it has cooled in the last 10-12 years. But, as I mentioned above, neither of these can tell us anything about whether warming is happening “now”, or will happen in the future.
3) Haven’t Global Temperatures Risen Before? Yes. In the longer term, say hundreds to thousands of years, there is considerable indirect, proxy evidence (not from thermometers) of both warming and cooling. Since humankind can’t be responsible for these early events, this is evidence that nature can cause warming and cooling. If that is the case, it then opens up the possibility that some (or most) of the warming in the last 50 years has been natural, too. While many geologists like to point to much larger temperature changes are believed to have occurred over millions of years, I am unconvinced that this tells us anything of use for understanding how humans might influence climate on time scales of 10 to 100 years.
4) But Didn’t the “Hockey Stick” Show Recent Warming to be Unprecedented? The “hockey Stick” reconstructions of temperature variations over the last 1 to 2 thousand years have been a huge source of controversy. The hockey stick was previously used by the IPCC as a veritable poster child for anthropogenic warming, since it seemed to indicate there have been no substantial temperature changes over the last 1,000 to 2,000 years until humans got involved in the 20th Century. The various versions of the hockey stick were based upon limited amounts of temperature proxy evidence — primarily tree rings — and involved questionable statistical methods. In contrast, I think the bulk of the proxy evidence supports the view that it was at least as warm during the Medieval Warm Period, around 1000 AD. The very fact that recent tree ring data erroneously suggests cooling in the last 50 years, when in fact there has been warming, should be a warning flag about using tree ring data for figuring out how warm it was 1,000 years ago. But without actual thermometer data, we will never know for sure.
5) Isn’t the Melting of Arctic Sea Ice Evidence of Warming? Warming, yes…manmade warming, no. Arctic sea ice naturally melts back every summer, but that meltback was observed to reach a peak in 2007. But we have relatively accurate, satellite-based measurements of Arctic (and Antarctic) sea ice only since 1979. It is entirely possible that late summer Arctic Sea ice cover was just as low in the 1920s or 1930s, a period when Arctic thermometer data suggests it was just as warm. Unfortunately, there is no way to know, because we did not have satellites back then. Interestingly, Antarctic sea ice has been growing nearly as fast as Arctic ice has been melting over the last 30+ years.
6) What about rising sea levels? I must confess, I don’t pay much attention to the sea level issue. I will say that, to the extent that warming occurs, sea levels can be expected to also rise to some extent. The rise is partly due to thermal expansion of the water, and partly due to melting or shedding of land-locked ice (the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and glaciers). But this says nothing about whether or not humans are the cause of that warming. Since there is evidence that glacier retreat and sea level rise started well before humans can be blamed, causation is — once again — a major source of uncertainty.
7) Is Increasing CO2 Even Capable of Causing Warming? There are some very intelligent people out there who claim that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere can’t cause warming anyway. They claim things like, “the atmospheric CO2 absorption bands are already saturated”, or something else very technical. [And for those more technically-minded persons, yes, I agree that the effective radiating temperature of the Earth in the infrared is determined by how much sunlight is absorbed by the Earth. But that doesn't mean the lower atmosphere cannot warm from adding more greenhouse gases, because at the same time they also cool the upper atmosphere]. While it is true that most of the CO2-caused warming in the atmosphere was there before humans ever started burning coal and driving SUVs, this is all taken into account by computerized climate models that predict global warming. Adding more “should” cause warming, with the magnitude of that warming being the real question. But I’m still open to the possibility that a major error has been made on this fundamental point. Stranger things have happened in science before.
8 ) Is Atmospheric CO2 Increasing? Yes, and most strongly in the last 50 years…which is why “most” climate researchers think the CO2 rise is the cause of the warming. Our site measurements of CO2 increase from around the world are possibly the most accurate long-term, climate-related, measurements in existence.
9) Are Humans Responsible for the CO2 Rise? While there are short-term (year-to-year) fluctuations in the atmospheric CO2 concentration due to natural causes, especially El Nino and La Nina, I currently believe that most of the long-term increase is probably due to our use of fossil fuels. But from what I can tell, the supposed “proof” of humans being the source of increasing CO2 — a change in the atmospheric concentration of the carbon isotope C13 — would also be consistent with a natural, biological source. The current atmospheric CO2 level is about 390 parts per million by volume, up from a pre-industrial level estimated to be around 270 ppm…maybe less. CO2 levels can be much higher in cities, and in buildings with people in them.
10) But Aren’t Natural CO2 Emissions About 20 Times the Human Emissions? Yes, but nature is believed to absorb CO2 at about the same rate it is produced. You can think of the reservoir of atmospheric CO2 as being like a giant container of water, with nature pumping in a steady stream into the bottom of the container (atmosphere) in some places, sucking out about the same amount in other places, and then humans causing a steady drip-drip-drip into the container. Significantly, about 50% of what we produce is sucked out of the atmosphere by nature, mostly through photosynthesis. Nature loves the stuff. CO2 is the elixir of life on Earth. Imagine the howls of protest there would be if we were destroying atmospheric CO2, rather than creating more of it.
11) Is Rising CO2 the Cause of Recent Warming? While this is theoretically possible, I think it is more likely that the warming is mostly natural. At the very least, we have no way of determining what proportion is natural versus human-caused.
12) Why Do Most Scientists Believe CO2 is Responsible for the Warming? Because (as they have told me) they can’t think of anything else that might have caused it. Significantly, it’s not that there is evidence nature can’t be the cause, but a lack of sufficiently accurate measurements to determine if nature is the cause. This is a hugely important distinction, and one the public and policymakers have been misled on by the IPCC.
13) If Not Humans, What could Have Caused Recent Warming? This is one of my areas of research. I believe that natural changes in the amount of sunlight being absorbed by the Earth — due to natural changes in cloud cover — are responsible for most of the warming. Whether that is the specific mechanism or not, I advance the minority view that the climate system can change all by itself. Climate change does not require an “external” source of forcing, such as a change in the sun.
14) So, What Could Cause Natural Cloud Changes? I think small, long-term changes in atmospheric and oceanic flow patterns can cause ~1% changes in how much sunlight is let in by clouds to warm the Earth. This is all that is required to cause global warming or cooling. Unfortunately, we do not have sufficiently accurate cloud measurements to determine whether this is the primary cause of warming in the last 30 to 50 years.
15) How Significant is the Climategate Release of E-Mails? While Climategate does not, by itself, invalidate the IPCC’s case that global warming has happened, or that humans are the primary cause of that warming, it DOES illustrate something I emphasized in my first book, “Climate Confusion”: climate researchers are human, and prone to bias.
16) Why Would Bias in Climate Research be Important? I thought Scientists Just Follow the Data Where It Leads Them When researchers approach a problem, their pre-conceived notions often guide them. It’s not that the IPCC’s claim that humans cause global warming is somehow untenable or impossible, it’s that political and financial pressures have resulted in the IPCC almost totally ignoring alternative explanations for that warming.
17) How Important Is “Scientific Consensus” in Climate Research? In the case of global warming, it is nearly worthless. The climate system is so complex that the vast majority of climate scientists — usually experts in variety of specialized fields — assume there are more knowledgeable scientists, and they are just supporting the opinions of their colleagues. And among that small group of most knowledgeable experts, there is a considerable element of groupthink, herd mentality, peer pressure, political pressure, support of certain energy policies, and desire to Save the Earth — whether it needs to be saved or not.
18) How Important are Computerized Climate Models? I consider climate models as being our best way of exploring cause and effect in the climate system. It is really easy to be wrong in this business, and unless you can demonstrate causation with numbers in equations, you are stuck with scientists trying to persuade one another by waving their hands. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that climate models will ever produce a useful prediction of the future. Nevertheless, we must use them, and we learn a lot from them. My biggest concern is that models have been used almost exclusively for supporting the claim that humans cause global warming, rather than for exploring alternative hypotheses — e.g. natural climate variations — as possible causes of that warming.
19) What Do I Predict for Global Temperature Changes in the Future? I tend to shy away from long-term predictions, because there are still so many uncertainties. When pressed, though, I tend to say that I think cooling in our future is just as real a possibility as warming. Of course, a third possibility is relatively steady temperatures, without significant long-term warming or cooling. Keep in mind that, while you will find out tomorrow whether your favorite weather forecaster is right or wrong, no one will remember 50 years from now a scientist today wrongly predicting we will all die from heat stroke by 2060.
Climate researchers do not know nearly as much about the causes of climate change as they profess. We have a pretty good understanding of how the climate system works on average…but the reasons for small, long-term changes in climate system are still extremely uncertain.
The total amount of CO2 humans have added to the atmosphere in the last 100 years has upset the radiative energy budget of the Earth by only 1%. How the climate system responds to that small “poke” is very uncertain. The IPCC says there will be strong warming, with cloud changes making the warming worse. I claim there will be weak warming, with cloud changes acting to reduce the influence of that 1% change. The difference between these two outcomes is whether cloud feedbacks are positive (the IPCC view), or negative (the view I and a minority of others have).
So far, neither side has been able to prove their case. That uncertainty even exists on this core issue is not appreciated by many scientists!
Again I will emphasize, some very smart people who consider themselves skeptics will disagree with some of my views stated above, particularly when it involves explanations for what has caused warming, and what has caused atmospheric CO2 to increase.
Unlike the global marching army of climate researchers the IPCC has enlisted, we do not walk in lockstep. We are willing to admit, “we don’t really know”, rather than mislead people with phrases like, “the warming we see is consistent with an increase in CO2″, and then have the public think that means, “we have determined, through our extensive research into all the possibilities, that the warming cannot be due to anything but CO2″.
Skeptics advancing alternative explanations (hypotheses) for climate variability represent the way the researcher community used to operate, before politics, policy outcomes, and billions of dollars got involved.
Miskolczi's Death Knell on the Greenhouse Theory
Former NASA physicist Ferenc Miskolczi's new peer-reviewed paper places a well-deserved death knell on the crumbling greenhouse gas theory of man-made global warming, stating: "The data negate increase in CO2 in the atmosphere as a hypothetical cause for the apparently observed global warming. A hypothesis of significant positive feedback by water vapor effect on atmospheric infrared absorption is also negated by the observed measurements. Apparently major revision of the physics underlying the greenhouse effect is needed."
Miskolczi's analysis of 61 years of data shows that there has been no change in the infrared "heat-trapping" ability of IR-active "greenhouse gases" over the period, in stark contrast to claims of the "greenhouse effect" that "heat-trapping" should increase in direct relation to the concentration of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere. Since the concentration of CO2 has steadily risen over the 61 year period, while the imaginary "heat-trapping" has not, the theory of anthropogenic global warming is empirically falsified. From the paper's CONCLUSIONS:
The greenhouse effect is here monitored without the superfluous complications of AOGCM climate models. The present method shows directly whether the global average infrared absorption properties of the atmosphere are changing or not. In general, if there has been global warming due to any cause, its possible correlation with infrared absorption properties of the atmosphere will be directly apparent from accurate observations assessed by calculations of the absorption properties. The present results show an apparent warming associated with no apparent change in the absorption properties. Change in absorption properties cannot have been the cause of the warming.
The results show that the theoretical CO2-induced virtual increase in true greenhouse- gas optical thickness greatly exceeds the actual empirically measured change over the 61-year dataset. The fact that the virtual change is about four times the actual change is strong empirical evidence that there is a very strong dynamic compensation that stabilizes the atmospheric energy transport process against a potential perturbation by CO2 change. This means that the empirically estimated virtual feedback of water vapor effect on the greenhouse-gas optical thickness is not significantly positive contradicting the IPCC doctrine of it being strongly positive. It is clear from these data that the increase in surface temperature shown in Fig. 9 cannot in the least be accounted for by any effect of CO2 on greenhouse gas optical thickness, with or without positive feedback by water vapor. Merely empirical evidence does not necessarily justify predictions of the future: for them, in addition to empirical evidence, some logical warrant of generality is needed. Such a warrant of generality is usually called a physical theory. In order to predict the future, we need a principled physical theory to explain our empirical observations. The present paper has restricted its attention to the empirical observational testing of the quasi-all-sky model, and has avoided theoretical analysis. These empirical results could well be challenged by a comparable empirical method.
Miskolczi states that the empirical data do not support the fundamental tenets of the greenhouse theory and therefore calls for a "major revision" of the physics of the so-called "greenhouse effect." Suitable candidates for this "major revision" would be the Gerlich & Tscheuschner papers and Chilingar et al papers. [Which show the "greenhouse" theory to be contrary to basic physics]
A new low for German journalism
For the warmists it’s Hail Mary time. The “”unless-we-announce-disasters, nobody-will-listen” gig has to be taken to a whole new unheard-of level. The populace is simply much denser than ever imagined. They just aren’t getting it. It’s not sinking in.
It’s time to bring in the super special effects. So leave it up to the German Die Welt online to do that. The normally respectable Die Welt online reports here on scientists studying the planet Venus and coming to the conclusion that Earth may end up like her hellish little sister planet, with surface temperatures of 875°F and atmospheric pressures of 1300 psi (90 times more than now on earth) and more.
This is not the first time a media outlet in Europe has ventured out to this extreme. But hey, things are desperate for the warmists - and especially for their vision of geopolitical and societal resurfacing. The Die Welt piece starts with the title and introduction:
Hell Planet Venus Is Not So Different From Earth
875°F and sulphuric acid in the air: A climate of hell reigns on the planet Venus and scientists are now studying if those conditions are threatening the Earth.
Die Welt reports on what scientists said at an international Venus conference in Aussois, France. They have determined that inhospitable Venus is much more similar to Earth than previously thought. Yes, be worried, be very worried. Die Welt writes the scientists believe that:
Venus in the past may have been very similar to Earth – with oceans – and even life. Then the climate changed, and the planet turned into red-hot desolation.
These claims, says Die Welt, are not just science-fiction fantasy, rather they are based on measurements from the European Venus Express probe launched in 2005, which is currently measuring and analysing Venus with an array of high-tech instruments.
Researchers from the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research in Lindau and Germany’s version of NASA are also involved. Even scientists like Colin Wilson of the University of Oxford thinks it is probable that: "In the past there had to have been a lot of water on Venus"
Just like Earth. But what really makes Venus interesting, says Die Welt:
—is the fact that it is a prime example of a runaway greenhouse effect that may have started in a way that is feared to be now taking place on Earth.
Die Welt describes how things work on Venus:
Due to its thick cloud cover, only 20% of the solar energy reaches the planet’s surface. This 20%, however, cannot be radiated back into space because of Venus’s dense atmosphere, and thus leads to enormous heating of the planet.
Die Welt then adds:
The manmade pollution of the Earth’s atmosphere – warns a majority of climatologists – could also lead to a runaway situation whose final result would be what we have on Venus today.
That is: 875°F and an atmospheric pressure over 1300 psi.
Scientists are interested in finding out if volcanoes could have erupted and disturbed the atmosphere on Venus early on, and thus led to a runaway greenhouse effect, The scientists at the conference in Aussois are trying to determine the cause of resurfacing on Venus.
To summarise, Die Welt is attempting to get its readers to believe we are creating a hell on Earth. It doesn’t get more cynical than that.
Meanwhile, just in the time it took to read this post, hundreds of people died worldwide because of malnutrition. But governments and the media could care less of the current, real tragedy, it seems. It’s more important to go all out and spend billions to cynically concoct new bogus future scare stories to frighten citizens, and ignore the messy problems of today.
Journalists and governments need to wake up and get back to doing what they’re supposed to do. Funding and supporting scientists in concocting ridiculous scare stories is not one of them. Indeed it’s willful neglect of the pressing problems we face right now on the planet today. In Germany this behaviour is a violation of the law and is called Unterlassene Hilfeleistung (neglect to provide rescue assistance).
The world is not facing a climate catastrophe. Instead it’s dead in the middle of a leadership catastrophe. So much so that one could argue it’s bordering on crime. Voters and consumers, it’s time to run these bums out-of-town.
This is of course all nonsense and ignores the real and obvious cause of high temperatures on Venus: The huge mass of its atmosphere and the resultant adiabatic (pressure) heating. As one commentator on the article summarizes it:
If you do the universal gas law calculation for 90+ atm of gas pressure, you will find that Venus is hot because of the pressure and not the 98% CO2.
Venus has a permanent upper level cloud deck which would appear to be a functional part of a greenhouse, BUT a greenhouse requires that the solar energy reach the planet’s surface to be converted to IR and re-emitted. This is not the case as very little light reaches the surface.
In fact, most of the solar energy is stopped in the cloud deck and some of the IR emitted towards the lower atmosphere. However, the gas law calculation shows that this effect is little as the pressure and concentration (calculated from the density) create almost all of the temperature we detect.
It is simply impossible for Earth to become anything like Venus, just as it is impossible for a trace gas (CO2) to drive our climate (it does not).
Electric cars and the “clean energy” myth
Here in Las Vegas nine days ago, President Obama made a campaign swing endorsing U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. A passage in his Friday speech at UNLV seemed somewhat disconnected from most Americans' current perception of Washington and what it's doing to our economy.
Mr. Obama intoned: "As I said on the campaign, and as I've repeated many times as president, I believe the greatest generator of jobs in America is our private sector. It's our entrepreneurs and innovators, who are willing to take a chance on a good idea. ... The private sector -- not government -- is, was, and always will be the source of America's economic success. That's why we've cut dozens of taxes for the middle class and small businesspeople, extended loan programs to put capital in the hands of startups and worked to reduce the cost of health care for small businesses."
I conducted an informal survey of Las Vegas small business owners, last week. Nothing fancy. Owners of some sandwich joints where I eat, local bookstores, places like that. None could remember any recent tax cuts or loans or "capital put in their hands" by Barack Obama or the Democratic Congress. Just the opposite -- they're puzzled by the persistence of the slowdown, and seriously worried more tax hikes and government mandates coming down the pike are going to mean lots more shuttered stores and fewer customers.
Nor could anybody figure out how Mr. Obama has "reduced the cost of health care" for anyone.
"Our role in government, especially in difficult times like these, is to break down barriers that are standing in the way of innovation," said the president. "It's to provide an impetus for businesses to grow and expand. That ... isn't some abstract theory. We've seen the results."
The president explained he meant the "clean energy sector -- an industry that will not only produce the jobs of the future, but help free America from our dependence on oil in the process. Just yesterday, I took a tour of Smith Electric Vehicles in Kansas City, Missouri ... a company that just hired its 50th worker and is on its way to hiring 50 more, and that's aiming to produce 500 electric vehicles at that plant alone."
The government "invested" $32 million from the Department of Energy to cover 30 percent of the cost of creating those jobs, the president explained.
No, don't bother watching your mailbox for your stock certificate, guaranteeing you a return on your "investment" should the U.S. affiliate of Smith Electric Vehicles ever turn a profit. When politicians use the word "investment," it's more like a holdup man thanking you for "investing" in his next pipe full of crack.
But if there's money to be made manufacturing and fielding electric vehicles, why is government needed?
Meantime, let us contemplate the CNW Marketing Research report "Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles From Concept to Disposal," which concludes the gas-guzzling Hummer is more "environmental friendly" than another familiar electric vehicle, the hybrid electric Prius.
The Prius' battery contains nickel, you see, which is mined in Ontario, Canada. The plant that smelts this nickel is nicknamed "the Superstack" because of the amount of pollution it puts out.
That smelted nickel then has to travel (via container ship) to Europe to be refined, then to China to be made into "nickel foam," then to Japan for assembly, and finally back to the United States. All this shipping costs a great deal, both in dollars and in pollution.
The study concludes that -- all production costs taken into account -- the Prius costs about $3.25 per mile and is expected to last about 100,000 miles, while the Hummer costs about $1.95 per mile and is expected to last about 300,000 miles.
But the problem with the "clean energy" miracle of electric vehicles doesn't end there. When you've run your electric car 60 or 70 miles (Smith Electric Vehicles claims "up to 100") and need to "plug it in" for an eight-hour recharge, where does that power come from?
I'm sorry, did you say "out of the wall"? "From elves in hollow trees"? In most of this country, that electricity comes from coal-fired or natural-gas-fired electric power plants. And a fair amount of the energy sent through the transmission lines to your recharging unit to power your Giant Golf Cart is lost in transit and in storage, meaning electric vehicles require the burning of more fossil fuel to power them, not less.
Meantime, how much do you think the average electric car produced by Smith Motors is going to cost?
In fact, Smith doesn't make private cars. The firm started in England, selling low-speed vehicles for government use in locations requiring zero local emissions, including inside nuclear power plants.
And the Christian Science Monitor reported on July 8 that while "A traditional FEDEX-style delivery truck might cost about $50,000, and the hybrid version about $95,000 ... a plug-in or all-electric version" -- like Smith's -- "could cost $100,000 to $130,000."
To the extent Smith's vehicles are competitive in England it's because of another government warping of the market -- the fact that electric trucks can avoid many of the taxes and fees piled on gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, there.
Here we learn "In the UK, Smith Electric Vehicles qualify for a free Road Fund Licence, are exempt from the London Congestion Charge, do not require yearly MOT certificates, have no oil and filter change requirements and the 'fuel' cost is just £0.04 per mile; over 75 percent less than the diesel equivalent."
If the pound is now worth about $1.50, that means fuel alone for a diesel truck in England now costs 24 American cents a mile.
Is that part of the Obama plan to make electric vehicles seem more "affordable": charging traditional vehicles for "Road Fund Licences," city "Congestion Charges," yearly "MOT certificates," and taxing diesel and gasoline fuel till they cost us 24 cents a mile -- $60 or $80 to fill a 12-gallon tank?
Why we shouldn’t be using biofuels
Among the various sillinesses that have been proposed to deal with climate change is the idea that we should start sticking corn or wheat into cars rather than people. That there are a number of problems with this idea hasn't stopped politicians in the EU and the US making it mandatory. Problems like the thought that rising food prices, inevitable under such a plan, aren't really all that good a thing for those who cannot afford food now. Or the problem that, as David Pimentel has been shouting for decades, just as much oil is used raising the crops as is displaced by the use of the crops.
But the real reason we shouldn't be doing this is that it doesn't make sense at the most basic level. As the Congressional Budget Office tells us:
Similarly, the costs to taxpayers of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the biofuel tax credits vary by fuel: about $750 per metric ton of CO2e (that is, per metric ton of greenhouse gases measured in terms of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide) for ethanol, about $275 per metric ton of CO2e for cellulosic ethanol, and about $300 per metric ton of CO2e for biodiesel. Those estimates do not reflect any emissions of carbon dioxide that occur when production of biofuels causes forests or grasslands to be converted to farmland for growing the fuels’ feedstocks (the raw material for making the fuel). If those emissions were taken into account, such changes in land use would raise the cost of reducing emissions and change the relative costs of reducing emissions through the use of different biofuels—in some cases, by a substantial amount.
The CBO is as close as we're going to get to a dispassionate and unaligned analyst on such matters. There's one other number we need to see how silly the entire idea is though. The Stern Review told us (and yes, we can all argue about the faults with that Review but let's just take this official number as a given for the moment, shall we?) that the damage done by a tonne of CO2-e is $80. So we are paying, at minimum, betweem $275 and $750 to prevent damage of $80. That is, remember, using all of the official numbers.
This is known as "making us poorer": that is, that the policy fails the very cost benefit test that the politicians themselves have insisted we should be using to determine our actions. We are told that we must do something about climate change because the benefits will be higher than the costs of doing so. However, doing something does not mean that if this is something then this is what we should do. Courses of action must be weighed by the same process used to reach the original decision that we should be doing something: are the benefits greater than the costs?
No, the benefits are not greater than the costs: and yet the politicians in both places, the EU and the US, have insisted, mandated, that we should all make ourselves poorer by doing this profoundly silly thing. Indeed, they force us to become poorer, even while the decision to make us do so fails the politicians' own purported decision making guidelines.
It's true that Nicholas Stern called climate change the largest market failure ever. But we should remember that the substitute for market failure is not necessarily competent government. Legislated idiocy is just as, if not more, likely.
There are large natural fluctuations in storm severity and frequency
Discussing: Page, M.J., Trustrum, N.A., Orpin, A.R., Carter, L., Gomez, B., Cochran, U.A., Mildenhall, D.C., Rogers, K.M., Brackley, H.L., Palmer, A.S. and Northcote, L. 2010. Storm frequency and magnitude in response to Holocene climate variability, Lake Tutira, North-Eastern New Zealand. Marine Geology 270: 30-44.
The authors say "there is growing evidence that climate during the Holocene has been highly variable, with broad global or hemispheric change, upon which are superimposed marked regional variability," noting that "this is certainly the case for mid-latitude Southern Ocean areas such as New Zealand, where climate responds to atmospheric and oceanic forcing from polar and sub-tropical regions." However, they report there are few such real-world records of sub-annual events, such as storms.
What was done
Working with sediment cores extracted from Lake Tutira on the eastern North Island of New Zealand, Page et al. developed a 7200-year history of the frequency and magnitude of storm activity, based on analyses of (1) sediment grain size, (2) diatom, pollen and spore types and concentrations, plus (3) carbon and nitrogen concentrations, together with (4) tephra and radiocarbon dating.
What was learned
The ten New Zealanders plus one U.S. researcher report that "the average frequency of all storm layers is one in five years," but that "for storm layers >= 1.0 cm thick, the average frequency is every 53 years." And in this regard, they say that over the course of their record, "there are 25 periods with an increased frequency of large storms," the onset and cessation of which stormy periods "was usually abrupt, occurring on an inter-annual to decadal scale." They also note that the duration of these stormy periods "ranged mainly from several decades to a century," but that "a few were up to several centuries long," while "intervals between stormy periods range from about thirty years to a century." In addition, they find that millennial-scale cooling periods tend to "coincide with periods of increased storminess in the Tutira record, while warmer events match less stormy periods."
What it means
Page et al. write that in today's world there is growing concern -- driven by climate models -- that there may be abrupt changes in various short-term meteorological phenomena caused by global warming, "when either rapid or gradual forces on components of the earth system exceed a threshold or tipping point." However, as is demonstrated by the results of their work in the real world, the sudden occurrence of a string of years -- or even decades -- of unusually large storms is something that can happen at almost any time on its own, or at least without the necessity of being driven by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
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