Saturday, May 14, 2011

Some excerpts from the recent Cambridge meetup between Warmist and skeptical scientists

The Downing event was assembled by Alan Howard, an academic rich enough to have a foundation in his name – and it was the first time many climate scientists have ever attended an event with their critics. "Science is not a religion," said Howard, "it must be criticised". Henrik Svensmark, who offered the most compelling alternative to the IPCC orthodoxy, was among those who gave a presentation. The audience was evenly split, and the IPCC orthodox view took up perhaps two thirds of the day.

On the science, there was little disagreement over the basics, such as the physical properties of CO2, but the degree to which it drives the larger climate was greatly disputed, because the larger system remains a mystery. Even the basics of how different clouds affect temperature is guesswork: water vapour feedback may have a slight negative cooling feedback, or it may have a large positive warming feedback. These must be guessed at, or imagined, through models.

In short, the day lined up Phil Jones, oceanographer Andrew Watson, and physicist Mike Lockwood, the latter to argue that the sun couldn't possibly have caused recent warming. He was followed by the most impressive presentation from Henrik Svensmark, whose presentation stood out head and shoulders above anyone else. Why? For two reasons. The correlations he shows are remarkable, and don't need curve fitting, or funky statistical tricks. And he has advanced a mechanism, using empirical science, to explain them. At the other end of the scale, by way of contrast, the Met's principle research scientist John Mitchell told us:

"People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful," adding, "Our approach is not entirely empirical."

Yes, you could say that....

Watson acknowledged many uncertainties before positing that climate sensitivity – a doubling of CO2 over pre-industrial levels – added 2 to 4.5C to global temperature. "This can be wrong – but it's hard to see how it can be a long way wrong," said Watson.

Other scientists disagree, with Lindzen putting sensitivity at 0.7C, which suggests we've had already had the manmade warming we're going to get. Clouds are poorly understood, and more low clouds means cooling.

The audience also challenged evidence of the causal relationship between CO2 and temperatures. Warmer temperatures mean more CO2 is released through outgassing, and the Antarctic ice core record shows temperature rising, then CO2 following closely behind. Watson said that with feedbacks, it was impossible to separate the two as cleanly as critics would like: more CO2 must surely have an amplification effect, he said.

"There is a good reason to believe ... that climate sensitivity is substantially changing the global climate. Such rapid global change is very rare in the earth's history," he concluded.

The telltale signature of greenhouse gas warming should be warming at the surface and in the troposphere, but not the upper stratosphere. It's even been suggested that carbon taxes should reflect the tropospheric temperature anomaly, rather than surface production. But while the models predict such telltale warming, the observational evidence shows it isn't there. More recently it has been cooling. This really shouldn't be happening.

"We can't explain it ... we have wide uncertainty estimates," acknowledged Watson. "Clouds is a very uncertain area." He again stated that CS was in the range of 1.1C-4C – with more no's from the skeptical side of the room.

Solar physicist Mike Lockwood began with an odd observation: "The stewardship of the planet - and lifestyles - would be much easier if [climate change] was all about the sun." It was a rare example of the IPCC academics letting their intellectual prejudices slip out. Our lifestyles are surely up to us, and policies in response to climate change should be decided coolly and rationally, not handed down as instructions from academic priests. People can get carried away with their own importance at times - particularly scientists.

Lockwood's presentation was quite lucid, though – and surprisingly generous to the next speaker Henrik Svensmark.

"I think it's a lovely idea and I do think it happens, actually. It's very clever. But it happens slowly, and we think it happens in clean maritime air. Over land, there are already enough aerosols present for cloud formation".

Lockwood outlined the sun's influence: its irradiance (TSI), obviously the primary factor in climate change, and also changes in its magnetic field, which modulate to varying degrees its UV output, and its effectiveness in shielding us from cosmic rays. In a nutshell, Lockwood believes modulations in total solar irradiance contribute around 0.75W/m 2to temperature changes, but around 5Wm/2 is needed to explain them. He acknowledged that solar activity – like the value of your portfolio – can go up as well as down. Tracking the last 24 sunspot cycles he thinks there's an 8 per cent chance of arriving in a Maunder Minimum – a period of low sunspot activity and colder weather – in the next 40 years. The strongest argument, according to Lockwood, for the sun not being a driver in recent climatic activity is that "it has been going in the wrong direction for 30 years".

Lockwood was asked about the recent Shapiro paper (PDF/380KB), published in peer-reviewed journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, which suggested that solar irradiance was much more important than previously thought. Alexander Shapiro, at the World Radiation Centre in Switzerland, looked at magnetic fields as a proxy for TSI and concludes that historical reconstructions have underestimated both TSI and UV – by a factor of six.

Lockwood didn't think much of it. "It's based on the premise that there are small magnetic fields between the sunspots. There's no doubt that over 30 years the trend was downward."

Plimer was convincing on the long-term geological record.

"I would like to see why 3 per cent anthropogenic CO2 drives climate, and the other 97 per cent doesn't". The official answer is that the 97 per cent of natural CO2 is perfect equilibrium, but the wicked (fossil fuel) 3 per cent tips everything out of balance.

"For people to call me a Climate Change denier is a demonstration of public ignorance – geology is all about change – it's the science of climate change," he said.

Mitchell's contribution was a mixture of the sophisticated and the simple. He rebutted the idea that you could not model a chaotic system and come out with anything useful. Obviously there's plenty of maths that begs to differ, and Mitchell mentioned some of it, such as Lorenz. Other arguments were odd: Mitchell used the examples of Mars and Venus – two planets which don't have biospheres. This example may prove that there's a greenhouse gas effect – but not much else. And it wasn't seriously in doubt.

So the disagreements really break down into two. There's the science: human influence is either significant or not so significant; and there's economics: we must have policies which make drastic changes to society, lifestyles and industrial policy – what George Monbiot called "a war against ourselves" – or we must sensibly adapt, and are foolish to create more unnecessary human poverty and misery when we don't need to.

This isn't so surprising, really. The most passionate believers in the view that man is irreparably changing the climate are the people with the long lists of radical remedies already prepared; their politics needs the catastrophe, for nobody would entertain their politics for a moment – it wouldn't be mainstream – if it didn't come with a catastrophe attached. Take away the catastrophe, and their politics collapses like a house of cards. Politically we're in a sort of limbo: a few countries have pledged themselves to the course of radically changing lifestyles and industrial policy – but the price of implementing them is political suicide. Things meander along without resolution.


Hillary was conned

The Obama administration Thursday welcomed a new report warning of the highest Arctic summer temperatures in two millennia, resulting in melting icecaps and a projected acceleration in sea-level rise. The findings are not necessarily in line with those from other studies.

“Arctic summer temperatures have been higher in the past few decades than at any time in the past 2,000 years,” stated the report by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), attributing the finding to “evidence from lake sediments, tree rings and ice cores.”

It also found that 2005-2010 was “the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic” and that “the Arctic Ocean is projected to become mostly ice-free in late summer within this century, perhaps within the next thirty to forty years.”

“The largest bodies of ice in the Arctic -- multi-year sea ice, mountain glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet -- have all been declining faster since 2000 than they did in the previous decade, which may have a significant impact on the acceleration of sea-level rise in the future,” the report said.

“Global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 to 1.6m (2.95 to 5.25 ft) by 2100, and Arctic ice loss will make a substantial contribution to this.”

The report was presented in Nuuk, Greenland, at a meeting of the Arctic Council – foreign ministers from eight Arctic countries – the first of its kind to be attended by an American secretary of state. AMAP is a working group of the Arctic Council.

The State Department said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined her Arctic Council counterparts Thursday “in welcoming the release of a major climate science report on the state of the frozen Arctic.”

“The United States urges forward looking cooperation among the Arctic countries to respond to the … findings and recommendations,” it said.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks with her Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen, and Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist, right, in Nuuk, Greenland, on Thursday May 12, 2011. (AP Photo/POLFOTO, Leiff Josefsen, Sermitsiaq AG)

Addressing media after Thursday’s meeting, Clinton agreed with a reporter who said U.S. administrations had found it difficult to follow through on climate change commitments.

“You’re right that it’s been challenging in our political system to take the kinds of actions that we know are dictated by the science and by what we see in front of our eyes,” she said.

“Many of the indigenous people who are here at the Arctic Council meeting can give you very dramatic descriptions of how their land and the sea has changed in their lifetimes,” Clinton continued. “So there is no doubt, except among those who are into denying the facts before their eyes, that climate change is occurring, and it is contributed to by human actions at every level.”

Despite her tone and the striking assertions in the AMAP report, there are questions about some of the claims:

Hottest ever

The AMAP report stated that “Arctic summer temperatures have been higher in the past few decades than at any time in the past 2,000 years.”

Other studies, however, have found that Arctic temperatures have fluctuated, and are now around the same level as they were in the mid-1930s.

Igor Polyakov of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks tracked Arctic temperature records from the latter part of the 19th century until the current decade, and found that the 1930s marked the warmest time during that period.

Projected sea-level rise

During the 20th century, the sea level rose by an estimated 1.6-2.0mm a year -- a total of 16-20cm (6.3-7.8 inches) over the 100-year period.

Over the century to 2100, the AMAP report projects a global sea-level rise of between 90cm (2.9 feet) and 160cm (5.25 feet), and states that “Arctic ice loss will make a substantial contribution to this.”

But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent series of reports, released in 2007, projected that sea-level rise over the next 100 years would rise by between 18cm or 0.6 feet (the bottom of the range given in a best-case temperature-rise scenario) and 59cm or 1.9 feet (the top of the range in a worst-case scenario).

Even though the IPCC numbers did not take into account a possible acceleration of a thaw in polar regions, that is nonetheless a significantly smaller rise than the AMAP is projecting.

Furthermore, melting icecaps and glaciers will account for only some of the projected rise, the IPPC said, while the rest will be due to thermal expansion – the expansion in volume of water as a result of a rise in temperature.

Is sea-level rise accelerating?

According to the new AMAP report, Arctic ice has been melting faster since the year 2000 than during the previous decade, “which may have a significant impact on the acceleration of sea-level rise in the future.”

Other studies have found that, while there has been a small rise in sea-levels over the past century, the rate of the rise did not accelerate at all.

A 2010 German paper analyzing long-term tide gauge records over the period 1900-2006 found no “significant acceleration” in sea level rise.

A 2007 analysis of sea-level records over the period 1903-2003 found that the rate of sea-level rise was in fact higher in the first half of the 20th century than in the latter half.

And a 2011 analysis by U.S. experts of 57 tide gauges, each having data recorded over periods of between 60 and 156 years, found no acceleration in sea level rise, but on the contrary, a small deceleration.

In his Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore declared that sea levels could rise by seven meters (22.9 feet) “in the near future” as a result of melting ice, a development which he said would displace millions of people.

After the film was used in British schools, it became the subject of a legal dispute.

In 2007, London High Court judge Michael Burton identified Gore’s sea-level prediction as one of nine significant errors in the film, calling it “distinctly alarmist” and an “Armageddon scenario.”


Saving Energy? Colder Homes Hurt The Environment In The Long Run

A rare admission that cold is more of a health problem than is warmth

Beginning in the 1970s, we were taught to keep homes cooler if we want to save energy and therefore both money and the planet. But systems don't really work that way, as most knew, and a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth and written by Professor Sir Michael Marmot points out that cold homes cost lives and harm the environment in the long run.

While elderly people living in cold homes are more prone to heart and lung disease, the editorial by Dr. Keith Dear and Professor Anthony McMichael from the Australian National University in Canberra also notes that cold homes can affect health at any age. Children are more likely to suffer from breathing problems and adolescents living in a cold house have an increased risk of mental health problems.

The report highlights that every year in the UK there are around 5,500 more deaths than would occur if those houses were warm. By having warmer houses, lives could be saved, the environment wins in the long run and health inequalities are reduced.

So why are there more deaths from cold in milder climates? In severely cold climates homes have always had better insulation - obviously poor people who can't afford heat can't afford new insulation either. But warmer homes would also mean governments would also be tackling climate change.

The authors conclude that Britain "is saddled with obsolete housing stock many decades, if not centuries, old …these inadequate homes are a waste of energy, a health hazard, and (given today's levels of national wealth) a shameful relic for their part in fostering persistent, avoidable, social inequity."

While it is unfortunate that researchers should once again call for higher taxes, forcing even fewer people to be able to heat their homes in the interests of impossible-to-achieve equality, the idea that less warmth in the winter is a long-term environmental negative is a welcome realization.


Myths About Oil and Gas

As voters around the country wince at rising gas prices, panicked Democrats, in a rush to cover the failure of their all-or-nothing bet on the alternative energy industry have started singing a familiar tune – blame the oil and gas industry. Instead of facing the reality of his owned failed policies, President Obama is calling for an end to the "tax giveaways" he claims amount to $4 billion in “subsidies” to the energy industry.

This tactic isn’t surprising given the effect that rising gas prices have on the President’s approval ratings and his obsession with re-election. But, less than truthful innuendos and political spin hardly helps American working families that are getting hammered at the pump.

If our leaders are going to have an honest discussion about energy, it's important to clear up a few rumors, misconceptions and outright falsehoods being perpetrated about the oil and gas industry. Let's begin with three of the more common ones:

1. The industry doesn’t receive any taxpayer funded subsides. None.

2. Rampant speculation and Wall Street tricks aren’t driving up gas prices.

3. The oil and gas industry is not dodging the taxes they owe and withholding “their fair share”.

I'll say it again; contrary to popular opinion and the President's spin, oil and gas gets no taxpayer funded subsidies. The tax code does allow them certain tax credits and deductions to encourage continued investment in an industry that is heavily front-end loaded with capital expense. These are the same kind of incentives available to Coca-Cola, General Electric, Ford, and Micro-Soft and other companies doing business in the U.S. Or, for that matter, like the deduction for mortgage interest payments enjoyed by homeowners. But, importantly these are tax credits, and markedly different from direct taxpayer cash subsidies like the 45 cent per gallon payment blenders get to put ethanol in fuel mixes.

When businesses invest in America, we all benefit. The oil and gas industry plows about $300 billion into domestic projects per year – that's 75 times more than Obama's phantom "taxpayer giveaways" amount - and employees over 9 million people. Those are real numbers; not Washington spin, and if government would allow and encourage even more domestic production there would be more jobs and more investment – and more total taxes paid, too.

Another argument that often circulates when gas prices go up is that a phantom class of “Wall Street speculators” is to blame for the increase of prices. So pervasive was this school of thought that in 2008, President Bush commissioned an exhaustive review, via the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, of the effect that speculators had on market prices. Their conclusion was surprising, according to The Wall Street Journal, “The agency concluded that speculators—otherwise known as traders—were putting downward pressure on prices. The liquidity they provide helps to smooth volatility.”

Not satisfied with the 2008 study, President Obama recently resurrected this school of thought, even tapping Attorney General Eric Holder to police perceived illegal activity and price gouging. Yet within the Presidents’ own Administration, the Federal Trade Commission found that the recent spike in oil prices is due primarily to normal market forces, including booming demand from developing economies in India and China and not because of any questionable behavior from Wall Street.

The third popular attack is that somehow oil and gas industry isn’t paying its fair share in taxes. Democrat mythology aside, the oil and gas industry pays a much heftier percentage of net income in taxes (41.1%) than the average of all other S&P Industrials (26.5%). Every single day, the industry is sending more than $85 million to the U.S. Treasury for taxes and royalty payments. Yes, the energy companies are profitable, but their profit margins are right in line with manufacturing, aerospace, and food industries, while computer, pharmaceutical, and the beverage companies have triple the net income margins of traditional energy.

I don't like subsidies and I don't like Congress or the IRS deciding what is good economic behavior and what is bad. But, I do understand that you get more of what gets incentivized, and less of what is penalized. And, there is a huge difference in "redistributing the wealth" through direct subsidy payments, and a tax credit that encourages investment in much needed production that creates jobs and taxable income.

If congress is serious about creating jobs and jump starting the economy, they should lower the corporate tax rate, which is the highest among the 34 OECD nations, rather than increase the tax burden on energy or any industry.

Capital is fungible, and energy production is the prototypical global industry. Plenty of nations around the world are providing a far more welcoming business environment for energy production that the U.S. already with a less onerous tax code and far less regulatory burden.

If increasing our domestic supply is really a national objective, then this might not be the best time to send exactly the opposite message to the people that provide the capital to drill the wells.


Will Brussels end Poland's shale gas dream?

A ban by the French gov't on hydraulic fracturing has raised worries that the EU could follow suit

Poland's shale gas reserves are estimated at 5.3 trillion square meters and could make the country independent from Russian gas for hundreds of years. Gas monopolist PGNiG is even ready to spend 100 million zlotys on shale gas exploration this year.

However, French deputies' Wednesday decision to ban hydraulic fracturing, a key method used in shale gas extraction, has raised fears that the European Union may create regulations that will put an end on Poland's shale gas dreams.

Maciej Kaliski, head of the department of oil and gas in the Ministry of Economy told Dziennik Gazeta Prawna that Poland will not have many allies, as there are influential groups in Brussels which want to restrict the development of shale gas in Europe.

According to geologist Jan Krason, a strong nuclear lobby and Russian gas supplier Gazprom stand behind the French ban, DGP reports.

"Some 80 percent of energy in France comes from nuclear sources. Shale gas poses competition for their energy sector," he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Poland wants shale gas extraction to be a common European project and intends to promote this source of energy during its presidency of the EU. The issue is also to be discussed during president Barack Obama's visit to Poland on May 27.


How government increases environmental risks

I'm not afraid of airline travel, but I understand the fear. That's because, while it is statistically much safer than car travel, the scale of risk is different, as expressed in a simple question: Would you rather be in a car crash or a plane crash?

This explains the fear of nuclear energy. Yes, it is a "cleaner" form of energy, but the scale of risk makes it unappealing. When something goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong. Just ask the Japanese.

I don't know why a nuclear plant was built so close to the shore in a country vulnerable to tsunamis. But it would have impossible in a genuinely free market economy. Nuclear power just isn't attractive. As Cato's Jerry Taylor explains,

"[E]ven during the go-go days prior to the September 2008 crash – a time when Wall Street was allegedly throwing around money left and right to all sorts of dubious borrowers – the banks that stand accused of recklessly endangering their shareholders on other fronts were telling utility companies that they would not loan them anything for new nuclear power plant construction unless the feds unconditionally guaranteed every last penny of those loans. That's how risky market actors think it is to build nuclear power plants."

And this is only the investment risk: the capital costs of nuclear plant construction are too high and the profits, if any, are too distant. Add to that, the liability risk of radioactive contamination are simply too great for energy companies and their insurers to bear.

If nuclear power plants can't be constructed without government guarantees, then government is the chief culprit when things go wrong.

The same could probably be said of off-shore oil drilling, which the federal government also encouraged with liability caps for oil companies. Unlike nuclear plant construction, off-shore drilling is attractive to investors. It may even be attractive with no government protection of liability. So why not let the free market find out?

A Canadian company wants to build an underground oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas that will cross through the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest aquifers in the world. A leak there could spill in the Platte and eventually Missouri and Mississippi rivers. And, a leak in such a remote place may take days to detect and even more days to get a crew in to repair it.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the final say on whether construction of the pipeline may go forward.

I know nothing about pipeline construction, so maybe there's a good answer why an overland pipeline is out of the question. But it is unfathomable as to why the pipeline can't be re-routed east to avoid the aquifer. If this is such a great idea, and the pipeline is "completely, 100% safe," then the government doesn't need to have a say on it at all. If it's so safe, the company could guarantee its safety by promising generous reimbursement to everyone affected in the case of an accident. Or insurance companies would seize the opportunity to sell liability insurance.

Moreover, any private company whose infrastructure must cross privately-owned land should pay the owners for the privilege, and not get the government to use eminent domain powers.

If Madame Secretary is fed bad information and gives approval for this route, and there's a leak, she suffers no consequences, although she will be chiefly at fault.

In a genuinely free market economy, this pipeline simply would not be built. Not on this route. No investor or insurance company would assume the risk, because they would suffer consequences.

One of the most frustrating features of government environmental policy is that it micromanages the level of water in our toilet bowls and prohibits trisodium phosphate in laundry detergent, but then exposes vast amounts of people to catastrophic health and economic risks.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, 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



slktac said...

How government increases environmental risks

This seems to be arguing a libertarian view--everything is better without government interference. Yet, the article argues that nuclear power, offshore drilling, and oil pipelines would disappear if the free market was allowed to function. How is that better? Plus, as with the libertarian view in general, one of the vital elements is an educated population, one in which personal injury lawyers can't sue for overly hot coffee accidents and where risk assessment includes science and the ability to understand that all of life has risks. No companies will independently invest because we are a nation of people led by huge lawsuits (winning the legal lottery) and fear of ANY risk. Don't blame the government for the populations failings.

John A said...

from `How government increases environmental risks` -

As Cato's Jerry Taylor explains, "[E]ven during the go-go days prior to the September 2008 crash – a time when Wall Street was allegedly throwing around money left and right to all sorts of dubious borrowers – the banks that stand accused of recklessly endangering their shareholders on other fronts were telling utility companies that they would not loan them anything for new nuclear power plant construction unless the feds unconditionally guaranteed every last penny of those loans. That's how risky market actors think it is to build nuclear power plants."

So how is it that earlier this year
a nuclear plant was able to get bank and other loans, and THEN the Administration offered a guarantee? CATO or not, I doubt the scenario and think it more likely that any reluctance was because of government and "green" frivolity typically adding ten or more years onto the mere application-to-build process - few would offer more than minimal financing until they perceived the application was in its final year and approval at least possible.

- - - -
I also looked at a previous article by James Leroy Wilson {Osama Bin Laden and the 9-11 Exception}: sorry to say I will try not to do so again.

Joseph said...

Without government bailouts, I suspect those banks would be out of business and replaced by others that might be more willing to lend to nuclear utilities.

On the other hand, they might regard loan guarantees as insurance against regulations.