Thursday, March 28, 2013
We don't have enough data to make predictions yet
That is the basic message in the journal article below by Carl Wunsch et al. -- in which he points out how short are the timespans over which important datasets have been gathered
Predicting climate change is a high priority for society, but such forecasts are notoriously uncertain. Why? Even should climate prove theoretically predictable—by no means certain—the near-absence of adequate observations will preclude its understanding, and hence even the hope of useful predictions. Geological and cryospheric records of climate change and our brief recent record of instrumental observations show that the climate system is changeable on all time scales—from a few years out to the age of the earth. Major physical, chemical, and biological processes influence the climate system on decades, centuries, and millennia. Glaciers fluctuate on time scales of years to centuries and beyond. Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide has been emitted through fossil fuel burning, and it will be absorbed, recycled, and transferred amongst the atmosphere, ocean, and biosphere over decades to thousands of years.
As in most scientific problems, no substitute exists for adequate observations. Without sufficient observations, useful prediction will likely never be possible. Models will evolve and improve, but, without data, will be untestable, and observations not taken today are lost forever. The great difficulty facing scientists trying to understand and predict the system is the extremely limited duration over which even marginally adequate observations of the climate system exist.
The thermometer was not invented until the early 17th century. Atmospheric observations did not approach global coverage until the end of the Second World War. Oceanic observations became marginally adequate on a global scale only in the early 1990s. Mass-balance data for the Greenland and Antarctic glaciers began in the early 21st century. Paleo data do provide records for some variables (e.g., global average CO2 concentrations from ice cores), but are rough proxies having only limited precision and spatial coverage for the space and time scales of interest.
Few scientists would expect to understand any but the most trivial physical phenomenon without having observed its variation on all-important time scales. Oceanic surface waves have dominant periods not much different than one second. A suggestion that such a phenomenon could be understood from one second or less of observations would be greeted with ridicule. Scientists trying to understand the climate system are faced with the difficult problem of making sense of physical phenomena whose time scale exceeds both professional and human life spans. Proposals for geoengineering must include an understanding of their influence on a system that retains memories of induced disturbances for thousands of years. Who would claim to understand the impact of a major perturbation to the climate system based upon 10 years of data?
Understanding of climate change is a problem for multiple generations. One generation of scientists has to make provisions for the needs of successor generations, rather than focusing solely on its own immediate scientific productivity. Today’s climate models will likely prove of little interest in 100 years. But adequately sampled, carefully calibrated, quality controlled, and archived data for key elements of the climate system will be useful indefinitely.
This intergenerational problem must be faced by any entity—government or otherwise—hoping to eventually provide accurate forecasts of climate change. Weather forecasting and national weather services are often invoked as the analogue for climate problems. But long-duration observations require a very different approach than do those of near-term interest, such as in weather prediction. Many examples exist where attempts to use weather data as records of climate have proved ambiguous at best and useless at worst, because of inadequate calibration, poor documentation of calibrations, temporal gaps, and undocumented and/or poorly understood technology changes. The use of radiosonde humidity sensors is a case in point: Technology changes and differences among nations seriously compromise the use of such weather data for climate studies (1). Thompson et al. (2) show how difficult the interpretation is of such a seemingly simple data set as sea surface temperature.
Government agencies can do a reasonable job in satisfying the immediate needs of the public, e.g., in forecasting hurricane trajectories. But governments have not done well in sustaining long-term observations. For example, the iconic time series of CO2 observations at Mauna Loa, HI, was funded in 2-year increments for decades and was nearly terminated many times by shortsighted program managers (3).
Designing, maintaining, and coping with the technical evolution of climate observations is an extremely difficult problem requiring deep insight into the nature of the problem, and of the available and potentially available technologies. It cannot be sensibly done within a system funded year-by-year; it requires an agency with a long view—decades and beyond—a requirement that is alien to governments. Yearly budget battles put all programs at risk: Having a climate observing system started by one administration and disassembled by another, one political cycle later, is fatal.
In many cases—describing and understanding decadal variability in the ocean, for example—an honest scientific assessment would acknowledge the need for far longer observational records than are now available or obtainable by any individual. In today’s institutions with their short-term time horizons, young scientists interested in such phenomena cannot take on long-term problems. But if society does not find ways to support scientific careers directed at such problems, then we will never understand the fundamentals of this critical subject. What to do?
A few examples exist of comparatively long-lived, nominally focused organizations (universities, a few banks, some religious foundations). Although their true intellectual continuity is highly debatable, they do suggest the possibilities for the creation of a useful intergenerational climate-study infrastructure. Some components of astronomy and perhaps, uniquely, the Rothamsted Research agricultural station in the United Kingdom, are conceivable analogues. Elsewhere (4), we have outlined a possible approach, one that requires a private endowment to sustain the best scientists and engineers willing to devote a portion of their time to overseeing the data streams that future generations of scientists will need. Other means may exist to sustain scientifically and technically competent organizations over decades and longer. Methods must be found—perhaps in public, private, national, and international institutional partnerships—that can isolate core observations from the vagaries of year-to-year government funding decisions and that can provide oversight of calibrations, management of shifting technologies, and understanding so as to avoid obsolescence and quality loss.
Without confronting the problem as an intergenerational one, climate forecasts and our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change will remain rudimentary and inadequate for the challenges that lie ahead.
Friends Of The Earth?–No Friends Of Us
Outgoing UK Chief Scientist, John Beddington, was in the news yesterday, warning us of all the climate catastrophes that were going to hit us. The Daily Telegraph reported on his speech, but tacked onto the end of the article was this comment.
"Responding to Sir John’s comments, Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director for the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, said: “Climate change is one of the biggest threats the planet faces – and unless we urgently act to cut emissions we face an economic and environmental catastrophe.
“From droughts and floods to snow storms, Britain is increasingly battered by extreme weather.
“Ministers must listen to Professor Beddington and other leading scientists and slash UK emissions – starting with an amendment in the Energy Bill to decarbonise the power sector by 2030.”
Such a policy would be hugely damaging to the country, and it is inconceivable that they do not realise this. This shows exactly where the FOE stand.
They hate this country, its history and traditions,its industryand institutions, its capitalist systems and prosperity, and the people who live on these islands.
If they want to hold such extreme views, that is their prerogative. Fortunately for them, Britain is still a free country.
But why do the media continue to give the FOE and their ilk column inches to publicise their extreme agenda?
U.S. and China waste billions on solar panel race
What happens when China and the United States clash in a subsidy-fueled solar panel arms race? The world gets a lot more solar panels than anyone wants to buy, manufacturers go bankrupt, and taxpayers get stuck with the tab.
Will the recent bankruptcy of subsidized Chinese solar giant Suntech Power cause the Obama administration to tone down its argument that we need to match China's solar policy?
"As long as countries like China keep going all in on clean energy, so must we," President Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union. This is a typical refrain in Obama's industrial policy.
In a 2010 address at Georgetown calling for more green energy subsidies, Obama said "the countries that lead the 21st-century clean energy economy will be the countries that lead the 21st-century global economy. I want America to be that nation. I want America to win the future."
Sign Up for the Politics Digest newsletter!
John Kerry, now Obama's secretary of state, has sounded the same note for years, saying in 2011: "[W]e should be thinking about competing with China to win the next energy revolution. Why? Because the race is on to put the right policies in place so hundreds of thousands of new, good-paying renewable energy jobs will be created here, and not in China."
There's some interesting economics and rhetoric going on here. On one level, the Obama-Kerry line is not so different from the 1970s-vintage liberal view that America needs to emulate Asia and Europe. But that sort of talk doesn't fly with the average American swing-state voter, and so Obama has turned the rhetoric on its head: We can't let China or Europe beat us at solar panels!
But this skips a question that needs asking: Why should we want to win the solar panel-making race? If China wants to sell us subsidized solar panels, why should we begrudge them that? And if solar panel factories need subsidies in order to survive, doesn't that signify that this industry doesn't add value to the economy?
This month's Suntech Power bankruptcy is the latest piece of evidence that the solar arms race is not one worth winning.
Suntech, enjoying a $16 billion market capitalization at one point, declared bankruptcy for its main operating unit. Suntech's problem was the same problem facing the whole industry: Materials costs are going up, and solar panel prices are going down. The diagnosis is easy: overproduction. The cause is obvious: oversubsidization.
Suntech, like all Chinese solar panel makers, has enjoyed generous subsidies from the Chinese government. The Obama administration has chipped in, too, awarding a $2.1 million tax credit to reward Suntech for opening a manufacturing facility in Arizona.
But Suntech's subsidies didn't stop there. In 2010, Suntech was the first beneficiary of Arizona's Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program, getting a $1.5 million credit. The city of Goodyear, Ariz., awarded $500,000 to Suntech for worker training, bringing the U.S. total to $4.1 million in subsidies. Last week, Suntech announced it is closing the Arizona plant -- its only U.S. factory -- and laying off all the workers there.
For a solar company, subsidies lie around every corner.
The Energy Department hands out taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for the manufacture of solar panels and other renewable energy equipment. Solar manufacturer Solyndra famously got a $537 million loan guarantee before going bankrupt.
Uncle Sam, through the Treasury and Energy departments, also gives out Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits -- $2.3 billion in Obama's first term.
The U.S. Export-Import Bank in 2010 launched Solar Express to expedite taxpayer-backed financing for solar exports. Ex-Im that year awarded $455.7 million in loan guarantees to First Solar in Canada so that it could buy Ohio-made solar panels from itself.
Then there are straight-up federal grants. SolarWorld (which also got Solar Express Ex-Im financing and Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits, plus plenty of Oregon subsidies) pocketed $2.4 million in Renewable Energy Research and Development Grants. DOE has given out $5 billion in those.
Treasury has given $4 billion in Section 1603 grants (named for their section in the 2009 stimulus bill) to property owners who install solar panels. Throw in the Production Tax Credit that Congress just renewed, and boatloads of state-level subsidies, and you've got tens of billions in U.S. subsidies for solar power.
If you subsidize something, you get more of it. So even though installing solar panels is also subsidized, supply has far outstripped demand. The result is a string of solar company bankruptcies and solar factory closings.
Maybe Suntech's collapse will cure Obama of his China envy, and he will realize the solar race isn't worth the entry fee.
£286 green tax on average British energy bills: But ministers insist 'efficient appliances' will SAVE us money
Families will be paying almost £300 a year in green energy taxes by 2020. The levy will more than double until a quarter of each power bill goes on wind, solar, nuclear or home insulation schemes.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey insisted last night that households will be better off thanks to the benefits of electricity-saving initiatives. But families will be able to claw the money back only if they buy more efficient domestic appliances and boilers.
The average power bill is now £1,267 – with £112 of that going on green taxes, including an £18 wind farm subsidy. By 2020, green taxes will have risen by more than 150 per cent, ensuring each family contributes £286, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
It reckons that by then households will be saving £452 a year by taking up schemes to lower energy use and by switching to more efficient kettles, fridges and TVs.
The ministry also hopes smart meters, which track energy consumption, will alter consumer behaviour and lower consumption.
But John Constable, of the charity Renewable Energy Foundation, said: ‘DECC is clearly embarrassed by the terrifying costs of its ever-growing range of green policies, and is covering up with a whitewash of wildly optimistic assumptions about energy efficiency.
‘If electricity prices increase by a third, as DECC admits they will, it is vanishingly unlikely that better dishwashers, kettles, and fridges, even assuming households can afford them, can cancel out the increases and deliver lower bills.’
Mr Davey said his projected savings would mean that households would end up paying £166 less than if the green policies had not been introduced in the first place.
‘Global gas price hikes are squeezing households,’ he added. ‘We are doing all we can to offset these global energy price rises and, while we have more to do, this new study shows that our policies are putting a cushion between global prices and the bills we all pay.
‘The analysis shows our strategy of shifting to alternatives like renewables, and of being smarter with how we use energy, is helping those that need it most save money on their bills.
‘The poorest who take advantage of the help that is available through the initiatives we have on offer stand to make the highest savings, from the warm home discount to our new regulation on energy firms to force them to improve the energy efficiency of fuel poor households.’
DECC claims ‘the large majority of households’ will benefit and even those that do not add insulation or take advantage of energy rebates will be £15 better off.
Caroline Flint, Labour’s energy spokesman, said last night: ‘The Government’s underhand attempt to mask the real impact of its policies on families’ energy bills is shameful.
‘At a time when hard-pressed families and pensioners are seeing their incomes squeezed, only this out-of-touch Government could expect people to fork out thousands of pounds on new TVs, fridge freezers and washing machines just to save a few pounds every few months on their energy bill.’
DECC admitted green policies had added £22 to household bills over the past two years.
Household energy consumption has fallen since 2005, with gas usage dropping by a fifth and electricity demand down by 11 per cent.
The drop is partly attributed to energy efficiency measures, but is also a result of belt-tightening, both of which the Government expects to continue.
By 2020, DECC estimates that householders will have replaced 12million boilers with more efficient models.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: ‘The Government must ensure that the savings to consumers they have estimated will flow from their energy policies, become a reality. That will require more transparency and scrutiny of their plans and more practical help for people to make their homes energy efficient.
‘Effective competition in both the wholesale and retail energy markets will also help keep prices in check, but the Government’s plans for reform don’t yet go far enough to give people confidence that the price they are paying for their energy is a fair one.’
Under European climate change targets, around a third of our electricity will have to be generated by renewable energy sources by 2020.
Mr Davey said: ‘The analysis underlines the importance of pressing ahead with the range of steps we’re taking to decarbonise and insulate our economy from excessive reliance on imported gas.’
Meanwhile, green taxes on business will double, the Treasury admitted last night.
Total green taxes – including only those mainly designed to change behaviour – will rise from £2.5billion to £5.6billion by the time of the 2015 election.
They are then forecast to carry on rising to £5.9billion by 2017/8.
The figures released to Parliament include the cost of the climate change levy, the aggregates levy, the landfill tax and the EU’s environmental trading scheme.
They also include the new carbon price floor – a price per ton of carbon emitted. Analysts warn that because it only applies in the UK it will force energy intensive firms to move abroad.
The combined cost of the measure and the climate change levy is due to rocket from £600million this year to £2.4billion in 2015/6.
But the figures do not include other ‘revenue raising’ measures, which are sometimes credited with having a ‘green’ effect, such as fuel duty.
The Treasury said green taxes would rise as a proportion of total taxation from 0.5 per cent to 0.8 per cent.
Economic Secretary Sajid Javid said the Coalition was ‘on track’ to meet a commitment to increase the proportion of revenue from green taxes.
Climate-change skeptics challenge DNREC projections on sea-level rise
Warmist Mann: Trust me, after sea levels rose only 8 inches over the last 113 years, we should expect them to rise 39 inches over the next 87 years
Depending on who you talk to, Delaware's current work on sea-level rise (SLR) is either ground-breaking research that will be emulated by other states, or a set of exaggerated projections based on faulty assumptions and poor science.
Some climate-change professionals say the state's work on assessing and adapting to the threat of rising seas is leading the charge among states that are beginning to grapple with the anticipated effects of climate change.
But detractors contend that the official forecast for three feet or so of sea-level rise by the end of the century is overblown and is the result of a failure by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to do a legitimate scientific analysis of SLR.
They accuse DNREC of ignoring evidence from a leading global climate-change report that suggests oceans will rise much less than Delaware's official forecast - which officials say could result in up to 11 percent of the state's land mass being lost to rising seas by 2100.
The skeptics were out in force in Georgetown on Monday night when about 200 people attended a meeting titled "The Truth About Climate Change - It's Not What You've Been Told," organized by Delaware's free-market think-tank, the Caesar Rodney Institute, and the Positive Growth Alliance, a Sussex County-based group that champions low taxation and limited government.
David Legates, a University of Delaware climatologist and a member of Caesar Rodney's advisory board, argued that the official projection for sea-level rise by the end of the century is within a normal tidal range of plus or minus three feet, and that any rise around the Delaware coast is occurring not because the oceans are rising but because the land is subsiding.
Adjusted for land subsidence since 1970, sea-level rise is "virtually none," said Legates, a former state climatologist who who was asked by former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in 2007 to discontinue using that title when discussing public policy because his views on climate change were at odds with those of her administration. He stepped down as state climatologist in 2011.
The DNREC projection is inconsistent with global SLR forecasts from the widely quoted United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC), Legates argued. He said the Delaware projections have been greater than those in successive IPCC reports in 1995, 2001 and 2007, and argued there's no evidence that sea-level rise is accelerating.
Legates, a long-time critic of global warming theory, said DNREC imposed a "settled" range of SLR forecasts on its Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee - a 24-member group representing government, academia, business, the environmental community, and private citizens - without discussion.
He argued that the committee's forecast reflects its lack of scientists. "The scientists are missing," he said.
Legates also criticized government efforts to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, saying they won't lessen the likelihood of storms such as Hurricane Sandy, or stop the subsidence of the Delaware coastline, which is resulting in local sea-level rise of about twice the global rate.
"Anything we do with C02 isn't going to make hurricanes and nor'easters disappear," he said. "If you are going to address CO2, you are not going to stop the land sinking."
Susan Love, a planner with DNREC's Coastal Programs unit, and a leader of its SLR work, dismissed Legates' claim that the committee has no scientists. She said the panel includes Chris Sommerfield, an oceanographer from the University of Delaware; Rick Perkins, a toxicologist from the Department of Heath and Social Services; Chad Tolman, a retired DuPont chemist, and Bob Scarborough, who holds a PhD in climatology.
She also rejected Legates' assertion that there has been almost no sea-level rise in Delaware since 1970 after allowing for the effects of land subsidence. Data reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show sea-level rise of 3.2 millimeters a year at Lewes and 3.46 millimeters a year at Reedy Point, Love said.
"The observed data indicates that his claim is incorrect," she wrote in an email.
Love acknowledged that DNREC's SLR forecasts are higher than those of the 2007 IPCC report which she said reduced its projections because of uncertainty about the effect of melting ice on global ocean levels. DNREC based its own assessment on IPCC and several other reports including those that took melting ice into account, and the department's forecasts have since matched others, she said.
DNREC's assessment is based on IPCC and several other reports
including those that took melting ice into account, as well as on the subsidence that is causing seas along the mid-Atlantic coast to rise at about twice the global rate, she said. The department's forecasts have since matched others.
"Recent national and regional reports indicate that Delaware's SLR scenarios are on target and are also similar to those in adjacent states," Love said.
But she said Legates is correct in arguing that there is no evidence that the rate of sea-level rise in Delaware is accelerating.
And she said she "wholeheartedly" disagrees with Legates' assertion that reducing carbon emissions wouldn't influence sea-level rise in Delaware.
"Global climate change is what will drive Delaware's future sea levels," she said. "Any actions that can be taken at a local, state, national or international level to decrease carbon inputs and decrease the effects of climate change will have tremendous benefit for Delaware's coastal residents and coastal resources."
More criticism of DNREC's work came from Willie Soon, an astrophysicist and consultant to the Caesar Rodney Institute, who told the Georgetown meeting that the state's projections are based on "bad science".
He argued that sea level has been rising at 3.2 millimeters a year since 1980, or about a foot over 100 years, roughly a third of the rate that is the state's central projection. "DNREC's projection is completely impossible," said Soon.
He argued that measurement of sea level by satellite, as cited by some SLR studies, was too inexact to be credible, and said oceans are getting saltier, rather than more diluted, as would be expected if polar ice caps were melting as many climate scientists report.
"If you dig very, very deep, you will find that the explanation is that we don't know," he said....
Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, said Delaware's SLR projection is based on good science and is consistent with many other projections.
"Two meters of global sea-level rise by 2100 is not out of the question," said Mann, a prominent advocate of measures to curb carbon emissions. "One meter is a good mid-range estimate of what we might expect given business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions."
Electric car drivers could overload power grid, admits French energy chief
France's under pressure power grid could struggle to cope if growing numbers of electric car owners all recharge their batteries when they sit down for dinner, the industry said today.
The warning comes after French car-maker Renault launched its long-awaited electric car Zoe this month at a price on a par with petrol models, making it the first electric vehicle with mass-market potential.
The government, meanwhile, has been encouraging the technology with generous subsidies.
But this comes in a country with a power grid that is already extremely sensitive to spikes in demand because of its high reliance on electric heating.
Though the prospect of a fleet of hundreds of thousands of electric cars remains some distance off, France needs to consider how it will cope when cold winter evenings prompt households to turn on the heaters, lights and electric gadgets at the same time.
Olivier Grabette, head of R&D at French power grid RTE, said: 'If it's badly managed, it could prompt power surges, which would cost a lot in peak production, CO2 emissions and would also necessitate the construction of relatively costly infrastructure.'
Grabette said that under the 'ambitious' scenario of a fleet of two million electric vehicles by 2020, total French annual electricity consumption would rise by 1 to 3 per cent.
'It's not huge in terms of energy,' Grabette said. 'But if all these vehicles charge at peak times, even with slow car chargers, it could add between 3 and 6 gigawatts (GW) of peak demand, which would be felt if it comes at the wrong moment.'
Data last year from U.S. eco-town Mueller, in Texas, showed that owners of electric cars typically plugged in their vehicles when home electricity use spiked, causing potential problems for the grid.
The heavy reliance on electrical heating in France was instigated by successive governments to absorb surplus nuclear power. Its 19 nuclear power plants make France Europe's biggest electricity exporter and ensure generally steady power supplies.
However, it lacks flexible capacity - usually generated by gas, coal or oil-fired plants - to meet peak evening demand during cold snaps.
Peak demand has hit record highs in each of the past 10 winters. In February last year demand at one point hit more than 102 GW and pushed the network to its limits, obliging France to import a record 9 GW.
RTE and other state agencies identified the problem in a 2011 report and recommended car chargers that take up to eight hours to recharge a vehicle. Though quick chargers do the job in about 30 minutes, these draw more energy than a dozen electric hot-water heaters.
There is also the problem of a geographical concentration of cars drawing power from quick chargers; at supermarkets, motorway service stations or business districts, for instance.
'The issue is not the total number of vehicles, it's how they will spread - and we think they will spread in clusters,' said Laurent Schmitt, Smart Grid vice-president at French engineering company Alstom.
'You can have only 1,000 cars, (but) if 500 of these are connected to the same building, you'll have a problem with this building and the neighbourhood around it,' he said.
The key could be off-peak charging via 'smart grids' able to communicate with chargers that can then be operated remotely.
'There could be a problem, if we're not careful, in terms of peak capacity,' said Bruno Dobrowolski, in charge of the electric vehicle programme at ErDF, the electric distribution arm of state-owned utility EDF. 'That's why smart charging is necessary.'
French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, the first Renault client to be handed the keys of a Zoe, has appointed a committee to advise on the expansion of the charger network.
Renault's decision not to provide chargers compatible with home sockets, thereby requiring Zoe owners to buy 'Wall-Box' chargers, could soften the impact. In Britain, Renault will subsidise the cost when the car is launched there in June.
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.
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
Posted by JR at 3:45 PM