Thursday, June 16, 2011

The unanswerable question?

I headlined my postings here yesterday with mention of a new "skeptic killer" website that grandly claimed to speak for "the scientific community" despite having only a tiny fraction of that community on their list of supporters. They profess to be able to refute all arguments put up by "deniers".

Their pretensions have attracted a lot of attention with a very long comment thread on which both both skeptics and Warmists post. The Warmists generally try to refute what the skeptics post.

But there is one entirely factual and super-simple skeptical question there that no Warmist had dared touch when I posted yesterday and again today is has had no answers. It goes to the very heart of their argument and would seem completely fatal to it so it is no wonder that it is the Warmists who are in "denial". The question reads as follows:
Hey guys!

I gather that the global temperature has risen by less than one degree Celsius in the last 150 years

That sounds to me like we live in an era of exceptional climate stability

What am I missing?

Wow! New Scientist is losing its religion

They have an article just up on the theme:: "Global warming not to blame for 2011 droughts". Excerpt:

While global warming is an obvious suspect, there's no evidence that it is to blame. Though climate change models predict extended droughts and periods of intense rainfall for the end of the 21st century, they don't explain the current droughts, says Martin Hoerling at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "A lot of these extreme conditions are natural variations of the climate. Extremes happen, heat waves happen, heavy rains happen," he says....

As for the apparent convergence of droughts worldwide, Mark Saunders of University College London says current conditions aren't that unusual. News media may simply be more tuned in to reporting extreme weather events.


Sun may be entering a quiet period, researchers say

Not a bad article from a MSM source below. A cautious warning of global cooling, even!

The next 11-year cycle of increased sunspot activity, scheduled to begin about 2020, may be delayed and have a reduced magnitude - or it may not occur at all, researchers said.

Three different lines of evidence suggest that the sun, which is expected to reach its maximum sunspot and magnetic activity in the current cycle in 2013, might even be entering a prolonged quiet period similar to the so-called Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period from 1645 to 1715 in which virtually no sunspots were observed.

That minimum coincided with the "Little Ice Age", in which temperatures were unusually low in Europe and elsewhere around the globe, and some researchers suggest that the two events were cause and effect - although evidence of that linkage is extremely limited.

Other than any potential climatic impact, the effects of reduced sunspots would have little direct impact on humans. Most of the terrestrial effects linked to sunspot activity - including interference with telecommunications, adverse effects on power transmission, reduced lifetimes of satellites and other problems - occur when sunspot activity increases.

Sunspots are caused by pockets of intense magnetic activity that disrupt the normal circulation of heated gases on the sun's surface, leading to areas of cooling and reduced brightness.

Sunspot activity is linked to the solar cycle, in which the star's magnetic poles are reversed every 22 years. As the magnetic fields shift around during these reversals, they create sunspots through mechanisms that are not yet entirely clear.

The findings, presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's solar physics division, represents the first wave of new data that should help physicists better understand the sun's internal workings.

Three separate studies reached the same conclusion.

Frank Hill, of the National Solar Observatory in New Mexico, and his colleagues, studied streams of fields flowing under the sun's surface, the solar equivalent to the Earth's jet stream. Using a process known as helioseismography, which monitors sound waves emitted by these solar jet streams, they found that jet streams that precede the normal beginning of a solar cycle are missing.

Matt Penn, of the National Solar Observatory, and his colleagues, used the McMath-Pierce Telescope to monitor the magnetic strength of sunspots. They observed that, for the past 13 years, the strength has been declining regularly.

And Richard Altrock, the manager of the US Air Force's coronal research program, used four decades of measurement on the sun's corona to show that magnetic activity at the sun's poles has been declining. Such declines are linked to decreased sunspot activity.

As for the potential effects on climate, Dr Altrock said, if the next cycle doesn't occur, "it will be a good opportunity to find out".


Here comes the evil denier monster

Comment from an Australian advertising man

WHEN you've run out of positive things to say in advertising, the easiest trick is to make up a monster. The uglier and more repulsive the better.

Think of toilet cleaning ads. Take those imaginary, microscopic, horrible, slimy things that make guttural noises and squirm disgustingly as they salivate over your ceramic bowl.

Animation and special effects studios have a lot of fun designing and creating these grotesque visual metaphors with which to terrify the consumer, to the delight of advertising executives and their clients alike. Ugly monsters allow you to avoid having to spell out your own positive selling points, if indeed you have any.

It would appear the advocates of the carbon tax have cottoned on to this trick. Through a relentless and combined effort they have created their very own grotesque creature to terrify us. The hideous "climate change denier" is as ugly and repulsive as any toilet germ gremlin.

The climate change denier has become the Left's favourite bogeyman, pursued with all the zeal of a witch hunt in 17th century Salem. Stupid, vain, ugly and mendacious, the climate change denier monster is anyone who questions any or all aspects of the anthropogenic global warming theory and rejects the urgent requirement of a carbon tax/ETS. This repugnant creature lurks in your neighbourhood and threatens life on earth as we know it.

"The agents of . . . planetary death will be the climate change deniers," asserted The Sydney Morning Herald columnist and ABC presenter Richard Glover recently. What, even more so than say, viral mutations, nuclear war, poverty, over-population, peak oil or even the odd asteroid? Yep. And so dangerous are these critters that Glover helpfully suggested "Surely it's time for climate change deniers to have their opinions forcibly tattooed on their bodies" before being "lashed to a pole at a certain point in the shallows off Manly? If they are right and the world is cooling . . . their mouths will be above water." After this piece attracted a great deal of unwelcome attention Glover apologised and pointed out the obvious; he was only joking.

But the joke's wearing a bit thin. Only weeks earlier Glover had had another stab at humorously depicting so-called climate change deniers, eagerly conflating them with the "trolls" who clutter the internet. I'm sure former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson would be flattered to know that Glover, in effect, deems him and his opinions to be of no more consequence than an "idiot who should be corralled".

And is it honestly the case that the likes of Lord Turnbull, the former head of the civil service in Britain who has demanded that his government stop terrifying the public about climate change, have their "heads in the sand and their bums defiantly aquiver as they fart their toxic message to the world"?

And is the physicist William Happer of Princeton University, who claims it is far from clear there is any real threat from global warming - let alone a catastrophic one - really just another creature from "a septic tank teeming with snapping trolls?"

Elizabeth Farrelly, also of the Herald, decided that rather than creating her own monster to terrify us with, she would borrow an existing one. Not even the best animation studios have managed to come up with anything as slimy, evil and repugnant as our very own cane toad.

With the Herald's cartoonist on hand to make sure you were suitably repulsed, Farrelly applied the metaphor to 2GB's Alan Jones. Bemoaning the fact that Australia's highest rating broadcaster was "poisoning the logic well", "lowbrow", and will "irreparably harm our civilisation, as well as our climate," she chose to dismiss out of hand the points he was making about a) Julia Gillard having lied to the electorate about imposing a carbon tax and b) the nation's ability to have any measurable effect (negative or positive) on the world's climate.

Instead, we were treated to: "[Shock jocks] are the cane toads of contemporary culture: ugly, ubiquitous, toxic to most other life forms." There's that planetary death threat again. If only Glover and Farrelly had some Toilet Troll handy. It kills 99.9 per cent of all known climate change deniers.

Farrelly then gave us an accurate, but ironic, lecture on "dishonest tricks in argument, including caricature, anecdote and non sequitur" seemingly unaware that these are the precise tactics she and her fellow climate change denier demonisers (there! I've just created my own monster!) repeatedly use to demean anyone who happens to disagree with their point of view.

Mike Carlton (also of the Herald, is there a pattern developing here?) is also a dab hand at scaring the kiddies. When George Pell had the temerity to question the climate change orthodoxy, Carlton was ready with the ugly imagery: "Pull out a few fingernails, stretch him on the rack, a bit of how's-yer-father with a red hot poker." Carlton was trying to paint a picture of the medieval religious mind-set, but you couldn't help but get the impression he wouldn't mind wielding the red hot poker himself. Particularly if any of the following monstrous individuals had been splayed out on the rack:

"The third lot of climate denial ratbags are those tabloid media pundits cynically banging the populist drum to drag in the hordes of bogan nongs out there. [A fair bit of Australian slang there: Ratbags are eccentric people; Bogans are working class people; Nongs are stupid people]

"These are people who believe they are beset by a cabal of lefties, Greenies, gays, femi-Nazis, Muslims, venal and incompetent public servants and latte-sipping intellectuals conspiring to deprive them of all they hold dear, like their inalienable right to own a jet-ski and to name their children Breeyanna and Jaxxon."

That's a lot of condescension and hate to pack into one paragraph. These wouldn't be those same people out in the western suburbs who are now lumbered with exorbitant electricity bills because of feel-good renewable schemes that, according to the Productivity Commission report, were ineffectual at best?

And let's not forget "the usual talkback shock jocks going feral and Rupert's opinionators lunging like a shoal of piranha" which, I suppose, is as good a way as any to avoid responding to those who dared question the credibility of Cate Blanchett (Hollywood millionairess) fronting Get Up's carbon tax ads (say yes to the poor being better off.) Is it possible for this debate to be conducted on the strength of the arguments alone? Or, like the toilet cleaning ads, do we have to create monsters in order to build our case?

By all means, counter every argument the climate change deniers, sceptics, carbon tax opponents and the rest put forward, and attack their opinions with passion and verve, or even better, with proven facts and irrefutable rebuttals.

But hysterically and repeatedly portraying them as ugly, stupid trolls, toads and ferals threatening life on earth as we know it, is intellectually (and morally) dubious at best.

Worthy of a toilet cleaning ad, perhaps. But not worthy of the future economic and environmental health of our country.


Electricity tsar lashes the Australian government's pet economist and his carbon tax proposals

ROSS Garnaut's proposals to transform coal-fired power generation using a carbon tax are ineffectual, too bureaucratic and create "significant fiscal risks" for power companies, according to the Gillard government's own energy commission.

In a confidential report sent to all energy ministers and the multi-party committee working on the carbon pricing legislation, the Australian Energy Market Commission says proposals in Professor Garnaut's electricity sector report for the government could threaten the energy market.

"We are also concerned that the paper does not fully consider the likely implications for retail competition and market structure of the development of a carbon price and associated policies," AEMC chairman John Pierce said.

The report by AEMC - an adviser to the Council of Australian Governments' Ministerial Council on Energy - warns that the proposals to provide power stations with government guarantees could lead to taxpayers footing the bill for failed generation businesses by assuming ownership and could "undermine rather than strengthen the stability of the national electricity market".

Compensation for electricity generators hit by a carbon price was one of the key factors in framing the government's first carbon pollution reduction scheme and is opposed by the Greens and Professor Garnaut - Labor's key climate change adviser.

Professor Garnaut's March report on the effects of a carbon price on the $120 billion electricity sector to the government and the multi-party committee on climate change rejected compensation for power stations affected by the carbon price on the grounds it was "highly unlikely" to threaten physical energy security.

He proposed commonwealth loan guarantees to keep high-emission generators operating and an "energy security council" to ensure continuity of supply and avoid instability in the electricity market.

He also found that old brown-coal power stations in Victoria's Latrobe Valley could still be required to operate intermittently on days of strong power demand.

While the AEMC said there were some useful aspects of Professor Garnaut's report, it did not address the main problems of electricity generators losing asset values, being unable to borrow funds and avoiding financial risks and market failures.

Responding to the AEMC criticisms, Professor Garnaut last night rejected suggestions his approach was bureaucratic, saying it was the opposite. "I've got much more faith in the role of the market and the market's response to carbon pricing than has been shown by the regulatory authorities," Professor Garnaut said at a community meeting in Victoria's Latrobe Valley. "I'm quite confident that our electricity market can handle the adjustments that have to be made without big handouts of taxpayers' money."

The AEMC - an independent body that sets the rules for the national electricity market - wants free carbon permits to be given to specific power-generating plants rather than cash compensation or debt guarantees to encourage investment in new technology and limit the risks of power disruption and price rises.

On renewable energy programs, the AEMC agreed with Professor Garnaut's criticism of the schemes, saying they should be reviewed to see whether they were "still required" following the introduction of a carbon price.

"The overall aim should be to find policy settings that achieve the government's policy objectives as efficiently as possible, including minimising costs to consumers."

In relation to the creation of an energy security council to oversee the implementation of a carbon tax to force electricity generators to shift to cleaner fuels, Mr Pierce said: "We are concerned that the proposed mechanism may be unduly bureaucratic and not able to operate quickly enough in the circumstances where it would be required."

Mr Pierce is a former secretary of NSW Treasury and until June last year was secretary of the federal Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

The AEMC report said Professor Garnaut's proposals aimed at minimising "financial contagion" in the electricity market, which could disrupt power and force up household costs, but were aimed at industry debt levels rather than damage to the value of power-generating assets.

"Rather than a financial problem, the introduction of a carbon pricing mechanism creates an equity problem through asset impairment," the AEMC report found. "If the carbon pricing mechanism is introduced without addressing the asset impairment issue, the equity of the businesses would be reduced. "If that occurs across a number of participants, it is likely to lead to financial contagion and will impede the market from functioning effectively."

Professor Garnaut said last night he did not think asset impairment was the real issue. "In the end, the question about asset impairment is where should a scarce amount of revenue from carbon pricing be spent," he said.

"Should it be spent on compensating the shareholders, whether in Sydney or Hong Kong or Paris, or should it be spent on supporting innovation to build the economy of the future, and providing tax cuts and improved benefits for Australian households?

"A choice has to be made and I'm confident I got that choice right."

The commission expressed "concern" the Garnaut report "does not fully consider the likely implications for retail competition and market structure of the development of a carbon price".

"We are also concerned the paper makes a number of proposals that would be very significant implications for the energy markets without sufficiently detailed analysis of the costs, benefits and implications of the proposals," the AEMC said.

The AEMC is also reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of renewable energy schemes with generous feed-in tariffs that underpin investments in power sources such as wind and power.


World demand for coal rising rather than falling

Coal prices are surging ahead even as most other commodities pull back, spurred on by expectations that metallurgical and thermal coal production will again fail to meet rising global demand this year. The result? Record profits for major coal producers like Xstrata, a surge in acquisitions from coal-hungry India, Chinese electricity shortages, and a raging carbon tax debate in Australia amid record investments in that country’s coal-heavy mining sector.

The price spikes in the second half of 2008, which were completely unsustainable and disappeared rapidly in the recession, distort the picture. So instead, imagine the above graph without those peaks. What you get is an almost sustained ascent in the spot prices of thermal and metallurgical coal over the last four years. Metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel and is also known as coking coal, has almost doubled in price, climbing from just above US$80 per ton in mid-2007 to more than US$160 per ton today. Thermal coal, which is burned to generate electricity, has risen from the US$45 per ton range to almost US$80 per ton.

There are a couple of countries that really take notice when coal prices start to rock. Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter and relies on thermal coal for 80% of its electricity. China mines more coal than any other country in the world but still imports more to support its power and steel-making needs – the country mines and burns more than three billion tons of the black stuff annually. And India – where the economy is growing at 8% annually – is facing multimillion ton coal shortages even as it works to halve a 14% peak power deficit within two years....

It is not just coking coal that China needs. Shortfalls in thermal coal supplies are main culprit in an expected 30-million kW summer power deficit. And the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the country’s electricity pricing system has not kept up with coal price increases. Plants sell electricity to the State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC) at a set price, and SGCC then resells to consumers. But the set price has not kept pace with coal prices. As such, coal-fired generators lose money for every ton of coal they burn, which is not exactly an incentive to produce more power.

To continue on a familiar theme, India is also facing an acute coal shortage. In April, for example, the nation imported 32 million tons of thermal coal against a total requirement of 36.9 million tons. At the end of March, 26 of India’s thermal power stations reported having only critical stocks of coal, including ten stations with fewer than four days’ worth of fuel. On Monday the prime minister convened an emergency meeting to discuss the coal shortages, which are expected to total 112 million tons over the next 12 months.

India has been working to address the coal void for some time now. Indian firms have been scouring the globe for coal assets and the effort has secured several major deals: Indian conglomerate Adani is set to buy the 25-million-tonne-per-year coal export terminal as Abbot Point in Queensland, only a year after buying the Galilee coal project in Australia for $2.7 billion; Indian trader Knowledge Infrastructure signed a joint venture deal with Indonesian miner PT OSO International to develop thermal coal mines in Kalimantan; and three Indian firms are among those shortlisted to buy Australian coal explorer Bandanna Energy, a deal expected to top $1 billion.

Coal India, which produces 80% of the country’s coal, is not going to be left out of the shopping spree. A few months ago the company set aside $1.2 billion for overseas buys, specifically in Australia, Indonesia, and the U.S. And it has the money – net income for the first quarter totaled $931 million and full-year profits were up 13%. Shares in Coal India started trading Nov. 4 after the government raised $3.2 billion by selling a 10% stake, in the country’s largest public offering to date.

The story could go on, discussing other coal-needy countries like Japan, South Korea, Germany, and so on, but perhaps the point has been made. Global production is maxed out with respect to existing infrastructure, so increases from here can only occur as quickly as new mines, rail lines, and ports can be built. Coal prices have been climbing steadily, based on real supply constraints, and most industry watchers agree that they will hold their ground or continue to climb for the next few years.

Those countries with coal should count their blessings.



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1 comment:

slktac said...

Perhaps instead of a slime monster for the carbon tax people, a simple drawing of a politician emptying your wallet. It's been used against wind power here. It's honest and straightforward, and the monster doesn't need to be ugly. Theiving is enough.....