Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sandy and Climate Change

The case for climate change, formerly the case for global warming, entails a series of propositions that begin with the unobjectionable and escalate to the absurd: that the climate is changing, that these changes are likely to be dangerous and destructive, that these changes are in the main the result of human action, that carbon-dioxide emissions are the major factor, that these changes can be forestalled or reversed by political means, that such political actions are likely to be on the right side of the cost-benefit analysis, etc. The least plausible claims are those holding that specific events, such as the horrific damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy, are attributable to specific U.S. public-policy decisions. That this lattermost claim is absurd and stands in contravention of the best scientific analysis has not stopped the most hysterical climate alarmists from making it, but then it is the nature of hysterical alarmists to exceed the bounds of reason.

Among others, Chris Mooney of Mother Jones was sure enough of himself to declare categorically of Sandy: “Climate change, a topic embarrassingly ignored in the three recent presidential debates, made it worse.” Bill McKibben of Democracy Now and others on the left made similar statements, while Businessweek practically wet itself. There is little or no evidence that this claim is true in any meaningful sense, and many climate scientists believe that warming has resulted in fewer powerful hurricanes striking the United States. As usual, the science is complex while the politics are unfortunately simpleminded.

The conventional climate-change argument holds that warmer oceans will lead to more intense hurricanes and other extreme weather events. But Sandy was not an unprecedentedly powerful hurricane — it inflicted such remarkable damage because it arrived at the confluence of a nor’easter and a high-pressure system, and plowed into densely populated urban areas at high tide. In fact, the arrival of powerful hurricanes on our shores is somewhat diminished of late: The last Category 3 hurricane to make landfall was seven years ago, the longest such interval in a century. As Professor Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado points out, 1954–55 saw three back-to-back hurricanes — two in the same month — more destructive than Sandy crashing onto our shores.

It is true that the New York harbor is about a foot higher than it was a century ago, though how much of that is the result of anthropogenic global warming is uncertain. But that additional foot, even if it were entirely the result of a failure to control carbon-dioxide emissions, was a relatively small component in the monstrous storm tide that inundated New York, New Jersey, and other coastal areas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections, contrary to the alarmists, do not suggest that future storm surges would be much worse as a result of global warming. (See here, for example.)

There were a great many institutional failures that made Sandy worse than it had to be. In retrospect, Mayor Bloomberg should perhaps have been worried more about the readiness of the city’s hospitals than the salt content of its snack foods. His obsession with Big Gulps, in the context of this destruction, is both hilarious and horrifying. Perhaps there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the flooding of the tunnels and the collapse of the electrical supply, but surely a great deal of capital and energy that were directed toward trivial pursuits good for very little other than generating headlines would have been better deployed toward the unglamorous but necessary work of ensuring that low-lying coastal cities are sufficiently inured to the threats posed by hurricanes and other common, inevitable events. New York City is many things: over-engineered against hurricanes is not one of them.

Resources are scarce. Even if we take at face value the entirety of the anthropogenic-global-warming hypothesis, it is extraordinarily unlikely that U.S. policies would succeed in halting or reversing that trend in a world in which China, India, and the rest of the developing world have made it plain that they will not reduce emissions under any foreseeable circumstances. Global-warming hysteria is a fashion, and it is exciting to a certain sort of person. Tunnel-improvement projects do not have the sex appeal of a global climate crusade, but they represent a more prudent use of our capital, both political and real. It would not be accurate to say that this hysteria serves no one, but Al Gore’s fortune is not in obvious need of further supplementation, and we did not believe Barack Obama’s promise of halting the oceans’ rise the first time around.


Climate link to Sandy invalid

AUSTRALIA'S Climate Commission has misrepresented data from the leading US meteorological bureau to highlight a link between climate change and the severity of Superstorm Sandy which this week crippled New York.

In a statement on the disaster that hit North America on Monday, the federal government-sponsored Climate Commission said "all the evidence suggests that climate change exacerbated the severity of Hurricane Sandy".

Matthew England, chairman of the commission's Science Advisory Panel, said it was important to get the message out that storms today were "operating in a different environment than they were 100 years ago".

Professor England said increased humidity, higher sea levels and warmer sea surface temperatures were all contributing to the severity of storms.

The commission quoted data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that "the temperature of the surface waters from which Sandy drew energy were three to five degrees warmer than average".

However, senior NOAA climate scientist Martin Hoerling said the higher sea-surface temperatures quoted by the Climate Commission were not significant in relation to Sandy.

Dr Hoerling told US public radio in the aftermath of Sandy that ocean temperatures adjacent to the US eastern seaboard had been running several degrees higher than normal.

But he said the unusually warm waters were in areas where the background temperature was relatively cool. "So adding a few degrees Fahrenheit at that cool water temperature doesn't matter too much for the intensity of a hurricane," Dr Hoerling said.

Dr Hoerling is a research meteorologist, specialising in climate dynamics, in NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory located in Boulder, Colorado.

He is chairman of the US CLIVAR (Climate Variability) research program, has served as editor of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate, and has published more than 50 scientific papers dealing with climate variability and change.

Late yesterday, Professor England conceded the sea-surface temperature highlighted in the Climate Commission document was not significant.

"The ocean temperature anomalies of 3-5C off New York that would feed energy into the extra-tropical cyclone in that part of the world matter much less than if such anomalies were located under the storm in the tropics," Professor England said.

"Basically tropical cyclones are very sensitive to underlying ocean temperatures, but cyclones outside the tropics care somewhat less about the underlying ocean temperatures.

"So the climate change signal in Sandy is largely due to sea-level rise, the increased humidity in the world's atmosphere, and the tropical ocean temperature anomalies. The temperatures up near New York, while still a factor in the storm, are less of a factor than the above three changes."

Dr Hoerling said Sandy was not unprecedented. He said a storm surge at New York in 1821 was greater than that of Sandy. However, like the Climate Commission, he said rising sea levels could exacerbate the damage from big storms.

He said the record showed a rise in the total sea level of about 30cm over the past 150 years in New York. "We have a 14-foot (4.2m) rise related to Sandy," he said. "So one foot out of 14 may not be something that is critical, but it may very well be in the sense that that last foot may be the foot that moved the water into very prone areas."


The Big Apple survives Sandy and shows how to live with natural disasters

Technology and human ingenuity can defuse natural disasters that once killed thousands

Anyone who loves New York will be familiar with the moment, during the cab ride from the airport, when the Manhattan skyline comes into view and the heart misses a beat. It’s odd; there is nothing inherently beautiful about seeing concrete spires crammed absurdly on to the end of an island. The beauty lies in what it all represents: a city founded by immigrants, who built skyscrapers as if to challenge the Atlantic storms to do their worst.

The city of New York always has been a paean to human achievement – but seldom more than it is this week. The recovery from Hurricane Sandy is turning out to be more spectacular than the storm itself. The New York marathon is to proceed as planned on Sunday, sending 50,000 runners down streets where taxis were floating just a few days ago. A subway system which was deluged with seawater on Tuesday has already started to roar back to life. The New York Stock Exchange was open again after just two days, and was ashamed to have closed for even that long. Broadway shows have reopened. Work has begun pumping 86 million gallons of water from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

The city’s true resilience, however, lay in the way that people helped each other, in a thousand different ways. “I have power and hot water,” wrote Rob Hart of Staten Island on Facebook. “If anyone needs a shower or to charge some gadgets or just wants to bask in the beauty of artificial light, hit me up.” When the street lights went out, traffic was kept moving by volunteers. The city’s finest steakhouses sold cut-price sirloins in the street; other restaurants gave food away free. Before and after the flood, there was amazingly little sign of panic. The city was, as Walt Whitman once put it, “sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient”.

For decades, now, mankind has been getting far better at dealing with whatever nature has to throw at us. We have the technology to cope with most things, from building skyscrapers that can stand up to hurricanes to making cities spring from the desert. It’s not just America: modern Israel was made possible by ingenious ways of turning scrubland into farms. Dubai has tamed the elements to the extent that it offers year-round skiing, on the world’s first indoor slope. World over, towns stand on places regarded a generation or two ago as uninhabitable.

Had Superstorm Sandy struck five years ago, we would by now be hearing all manner of theories linking it to climate change or murky claims that it represented Gaia’s revenge. But as science evolves, the hysteria is draining out of the climate change debate – and a new rationalism taking its place. We might not be sure that we can make any meaningful difference to its trajectory, but we know that we can adapt to it.

In the old days, prime ministers would jet off to climate summits, making Flash Gordon-style declarations about there being only so many hours left to save the world. If you believed that the planet is warming, and that human activity is at least in part to blame (which I do) then you were asked to sign up to all manner of carbon-cutting schemes, regardless of what they’d accomplish. Environmentalism became the new Live Aid. Posters linked third-world floods to wasteful British household habits.

It has since become harder to sustain such simplistic, emotive claims. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted that the extent of mankind’s influence on extreme weather events is uncertain – and may not be clear for another 30 years. Fossil fuel consumption in the rich world peaked five years ago; the rise now comes from poorer countries, where millions are living longer, better (and yes, more carbon-intensive) lives. It would be impossible, not to say sadistic, to try to impede such progress.

So rising carbon emissions are, to a significant extent, a side effect of alleviating global poverty. And poverty is by far a bigger killer than climate. At least 74 people died from Superstorm Sandy, but had a similar storm struck Asia, the toll could have run into the thousands. A recent MIT study into natural disasters between 1980 and 2002 found that America suffered an average of 17 deaths per windstorm, compared to almost 2,000 in Bangladesh. The average flood cost six lives in the former, but 210 in the latter. It wasn’t that the storms were more severe or more frequent – just that America had the money to cope better.

When environmentalists predict doom for countries like Bangladesh, this is what they forget. Their computer models assume that as sea levels rise, millions of Bangladeshis will become environmental refugees by 2050. But the same model assumes that Bangladesh will, by then, be as rich as Britain is today. If so, it is fairly likely that it will be able to afford the odd flood defence.

The weather is not, by itself, a killer: what matters is how prepared you are. Already, Bangladesh is making incredible progress. Its government scientists say that its land mass is expanding, not contracting, a trend that is set to continue as they get better at building dams.

Had environmentalists been looking at the Netherlands a century ago, they would have concluded that the Dutch were doomed. Two thirds of the country is vulnerable to flooding, and the population density has long been among the highest in Europe. But it also has the world’s best dams, which can cope with the flooding expected in 3,999 out of every 4,000 years. Schiphol Airport, one of the world’s biggest, stands on what was once a large lake. Our technology for dealing with water is evolving faster than the sea levels are rising.

Of course, while America’s storms are not as lethal as they once were, its droughts – and its government policies – still can be. The Midwest’s long, dry summer has sent global food prices towards what the United Nations regards as crisis levels.

And a significant part of the pain, which will be felt worldwide, will be inflicted by rules mandating that two fifths of maize crops are used to make ethanol, an environmentally friendly car fuel. In this way, policies designed to slow global warming may end up inflicting more harm than global warming itself.

How, then, to respond? It’s easy to see the harm that anti-carbon policies inflict, but it’s far less easy to see what they achieve. We have imposed levies on fuel bills to subsidise wind farms, making it expensive to heat homes in winter. We have added charges to air fares, taxing the poor out of the sky. And to what end? Will all this do anything more than delay the effect of global warming by a few years? If this is about saving lives, then isn’t it better to spend money in a way that helps poor countries develop?

When a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, we may well get a tornado on the coast of Florida. Or we may just get an exhausted butterfly in Rio. We simply don’t know: we’re still not much good at predicting the weather, and changing the climate several decades from now may well prove far beyond our capabilities. But the lesson of New York is that we are rather good at preparing for the weather, and needn’t live in fear of it.

Nature’s fury can be awesome – but man’s resilience and inventiveness is more awesome still.


Global warming and mainstream dogmatism‏

New book:  Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth

Here's a synopsis:

Unwarranted dogmatism has taken over in many fields of science: in Big-Bang cosmology, dinosaur extinction, theory of smell, string theory, Alzheimer's amyloid theory, specificity and efficacy of psychotropic drugs, cold fusion, second-hand smoke, continental drift . . . The list goes on and on.

Dissenting views are dismissed without further ado, and dissenters' careers are badly affected. Where public policy is involved - as with human-caused global warming and HIV/AIDS - the excommunication and harassment of dissenters reaches a fever pitch with charges of "denialism" and "denialists", a deliberate ploy of association with the no-no of Holocaust denying.

The book describes these circumstances. It claims that this is a sea change in scientific activity and in the interaction of science and society in the last half century or so, and points to likely causes of that sea change. The  best remedy would seem to be the founding of a Science Court, much discussed several decades ago but never acted on.

Reviews so far have been quite favorable, see here

Received via email from the author:  Henry H. Bauer [], professor emeritus of chemistry and science studies and dean emeritus of arts and sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech)

A Greenie who likes cities

Most Greenies live in urban areas.  There are plenty of places where you can "get away from it all" but they like that idea in theory only. They are armchair Greenies. One Greenie has now found a rationale for what they do:

The best way to measure carbon is per person. Places should be judged not by how much carbon they emit, but by how much carbon they cause us to emit. There are only so many people in the United States at any given time, and they can be encouraged to live where they have the smallest environmental footprint. That place turns out to be the city — the denser the better.

For this reason, when Bernstein replaced carbon per square mile with carbon per household, the colors simply flipped. Now the hottest areas in each American metropolitan area — and their web site shows hundreds, from Abilene to Yuma — are inevitably the outer suburbs. The coolest are smack-dab in the center of town.

To be accurate: Bernstein’s maps have a limitation. They do not show full carbon output; they only show CO2 from household automotive use — data that are much easier to collect. But this limitation turns out to be useful, for several reasons: first, because it causes us to confirm that automobile use is not only the single greatest contributor to our total carbon footprint, but also a reliable indicator of that total; and second, because limiting our greenhouse gas emissions, for many, is a much less pressing issue than our dependence on foreign oil.


US Treasury study to link tax code to carbon emissions

Coming soon:  a green tax code for American businesses and individual taxpayers alike?

 A major tax study currently being sponsored by the U.S. Treasury will give environmental activists a powerful new weapon in their campaign to alter the entire American economic and social landscape  in the name of halting “climate change”—including the possible levying of new carbon taxes.

 That campaign is bound to intensify in the aftermath of Nov. 6’s presidential election, regardless of who wins the race, as the nation faces the challenge of deficit reduction and tax reform that will be required to overhaul the country’s over-strained finances. Environmental advocates and others are likely to raise such innovative mechanisms as carbon taxes and major shifts in tax rates and incentives as part of the process—and the impending study may well provide them with important ammunition.

Under the bland title of Effects of Provisions in the Internal Revenue Code on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, the $1.5 million study is being carried out under the auspices of the National Academy of Science (NAS). Originally planned to take two years, the ambitious project aims to take an inventory of the U.S. tax code in terms of  the effects of its most important provisions on the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions—a huge and complicated exercise in environmental and economic modelling.

The study itself will not be available until after the election. Originally slated for completion in September of this year, its publication has since been postponed until the first quarter of next year.

According to a NAS  spokesperson, one reason is that it must go through a rigorous, anonymous review process. But  according to a NAS staffer who spoke with Fox News, another significant reason is the Academy’s demand for a “consensus” among the committee members charged with its production before the review process begins. According to the staffer the study is “still in the process of late stage revision by the committee,” and will go for review “in the near future.”

The results will likely bring  an entirely new dimension to any future bargaining table in Washington that aims at achieving financial reform.  Such bargaining is considered nearly inevitable as the U.S. tries to back away from the fiscal cliff created by towering annual deficits and still accelerating obligations under Social Security and still-to-be implemented Obamacare.

What the NAS  study will examine are the basic building blocks of the tax system, but not from a job creation or growth perspective. Instead, the question is what levels of greenhouse gas are currently produced  by its provisions.

These include not only deductions and allowances for production of varying types of energy, but also such things as the home mortgage deduction and the investment tax credit to spur business activity, not to mention tax provisions that affect patterns of urban development, agriculture, forestry and all manner of industrial processes.

In short, just about everything.

The terms of reference of the study say it “will not recommend particular new taxes or tax incentives nor changes in existing provisions of the tax code.”  On the other hand, the study “may evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of different tax measures in reducing GHG emissions relative to other policy instruments.”

 In other words, the study may provide the means to “comparison shop” tax levels and tax incentives for a wide variety of economic and social activities on the basis of their alleged impact on global warming.

One element of such an approach has been frequently hinted at by the Obama Administration during the election campaign, as it has argued against unspecified subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries and greater emphasis on “renewable” energy sources such as solar and wind which have so far proved to be much more expensive.

 The National Academy’s study is being overseen by an ad hoc committee of experts, whose membership is approved by the National Academy’s president, Ralph J. Cicerone—himself an expert on atmospheric chemistry. The membership list is a lengthy roster of climate change and legal experts as well as economists versed in the arcana of computerized economic modeling.

The committee is chaired by William Nordhaus, a distinguished professor of economics at Yale University and former member of the President’s Council of Economics under Jimmy Carter. Nordhaus has been involved in previous National Academy efforts to, as the study website puts it, “integrate environmental and other non-market activity into the national economic accounts.”

Approached by Fox News to discuss the study, Nordhaus declined until after its publication.

Until the study itself is published, it is also not possible to examine the research efforts that have gone into it, which largely consist, apparently, of four consultants’ reports commissioned by the National Academy’s committee selected to oversee the study.

One of those reports was delivered by a consulting firm headed by Dale Jorgenson, a renowned professor economics at Harvard University, and former chairman of the specific board of the National Academy of Science that was charged with producing the new tax code study.

Contacted by Fox News, Jorgenson also declined to speak about the project until a final report is published.

Among the many research items on Jorgenson’s Harvard University website, however, is testimony last June before the Senate Committee on Finance entitled “Tax Reform: the Impact on U.S. Energy Policy,” in which the economist outlines a new system of energy taxes on coal, oil and natural gas that could “clean up the environment and slow global warming” The new tax revenue could also “close the budget gap and reduce tax rates as part of comprehensive tax reform.”

According to Ken Green, an environmental expert at the American Enterprise Institute, the entire NAS study “look like another effort aimed at paving the way for weaving carbon taxes into tax reform.”

Green says that option is favored not only by political liberals, but also by some conservatives who want  a “revenue-neutral” version of carbon taxes to, among other things, “green up the conservative brand.”

Green argues that such taxes are not only ineffective, but dampen economic growth and are actually regressive, hitting lower-income Americans higher than harder-income earners.

To Congressman James Sensenbrenner of  Wisconsin, the National Academy’s study, whenever it appears, is “a waste of money,” whose results, whenever they appear, should be opposed. “They are simply trying to bypass the people’s representatives and use technocrats to achieve their agenda,” he argues.

Sensenbrenner, a Republican, is a former member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created by the Democratic congressional majority during the Bush Administration.

It is there, he says, that the National Academy study was first ordered up, by Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, in 2008—but never funded, until the advent of the Obama Administration.

Rep. Blumenauer, a Democrat, is a strong advocate of “sustainable communities” and environmental causes. His office confirmed that he had originally proposed the National Academy study, but did not reply to additional requests for interviews or information.

Whatever the study’s origins, its research will be what counts—and in the tug-of-war between “climate change” concerns and economic growth, however that research is eventually  used will still depend greatly on the results on Nov. 6.




Preserving the graphics:  Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here and here


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting about living in cities. Wonder if he realizes that means we dispense with wind and solar. Instead, we need a power plant near enough to walk to and repair. Maybe we just put wind and solar on every house. I find it interesting that 1000 turbines on 232,000 acres is cheered by enviros, yet spread houses out that far, and they freak. Do they really think the wind technician rides a horse out to repair the turbines? Do they think the solar panel tech rides a donkey and has a pack mule for the equipment? Or do they just not care how much space and fuel their ideas take?