Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Science Is About Evidence, Not Consensus


Last week a friend chided me for not agreeing with the scientific consensus that climate change is likely to be dangerous. I responded that, according to polls, the "consensus" about climate change only extends to the propositions that it has been happening and is partly man-made, both of which I readily agree with. Forecasts show huge uncertainty.

Besides, science does not respect consensus. There was once widespread agreement about phlogiston (a nonexistent element said to be a crucial part of combustion), eugenics, the impossibility of continental drift, the idea that genes were made of protein (not DNA) and stomach ulcers were caused by stress, and so forth—all of which proved false. Science, Richard Feyman once said, is "the belief in the ignorance of experts."

My friend objected that I seemed to follow the herd on matters like the reality of evolution and the safety of genetically modified crops, so why not on climate change? Ah, said I, but I don't. I agree with the majority view on evolution, not because it is a majority view but because I have looked at evidence. It's the data that convince me, not the existence of a consensus.

My friend said that I could not possibly have had time to check all the evidence for and against evolution, so I must be taking others' words for it. No, I said, I take on trust others' word that their facts are correct, but I judge their interpretations myself, with no thought as to how popular they are. (Much as I admire Charles Darwin, I get fidgety when his fans start implying he is infallible. If I want infallibility, I will join the Catholic Church.)

And that is where the problem lies with climate change. A decade ago, I was persuaded by two pieces of data to drop my skepticism and accept that dangerous climate change was likely. The first, based on the Vostok ice core, was a graph showing carbon dioxide and temperature varying in lock step over the last half million years. The second, the famous "hockey stick" graph, showed recent temperatures shooting up faster and higher than at any time in the past millennium.

Within a few years, however, I discovered that the first of these graphs told the opposite story from what I had inferred. In the ice cores, it is now clear that temperature drives changes in the level of carbon dioxide, not vice versa.

As for the "hockey stick" graph, it was effectively critiqued by Steven McIntyre, a Canadian businessman with a mathematical interest in climatology. He showed that the graph depended heavily on unreliable data, especially samples of tree rings from bristlecone pine trees, the growth patterns of which were often not responding to temperature at all. It also depended on a type of statistical filter that overweighted any samples showing sharp rises in the 20th century.

I followed the story after that and was not persuaded by those defending the various hockey-stick graphs. They brought in a lake-sediment sample from Finland, which had to be turned upside down to show a temperature spike in the 20th century; they added a sample of larch trees from Siberia that turned out to be affected by one tree that had grown faster in recent decades, perhaps because its neighbor had died. Just last week, the Siberian larch data were finally corrected by the University of East Anglia to remove all signs of hockey-stick upticks, quietly conceding that Mr. McIntyre was right about that, too.

So, yes, it is the evidence that persuades me whether a theory is right or wrong, and no, I could not care less what the "consensus" says.


WMO’s Extreme Report

Dr David Whitehouse

This week’s World Meterological Organisation’s report “The Global Climate 2001-2010: A Decade Of Climate Extremes,” attracted little publicity. This is probably a good thing as it is one of the most muddled and inaccurate reports I have ever read from an international organisation.

It is about ‘climate extremes’ in the last decade which it claims are unprecedented. The WMO says that ten years is the minimum time required to detect decadal effects. Not many scientists would agree with that. Consider the extensive debate when it was noticed that the global annual average surface temperature had remained unchanging for a decade. Opinion was divided between those who said it meant nothing and those who thought it might be indicative of something. Yet the WMO thinks ten years enough to detect climatological weather effects with certainty. It seems to fit a recurrent pattern amongst some climate analysts that ten years is enough to see what you want to see, but not long enough to see what you don’t.

The report also says that global warming accelerated between 1971-2010. This is obviously not the case. It has been established in the numerous analyses carried out of the various global temperature data sets that the late 20th century warming trend did not continue in the 21st century. The report places great store on the fact that the past decade has been the warmest of the instrumental (post-1850) period. So do we all, but the WMO fails to take into account the recent temperature plateau that extends far beyond a decade.

This is another issue we have discussed many times here. Start and end points are crucial in such analysis. We have pointed out the fact that decadal bin-sizes are artificial as Nature does not know if a year has a zero at the end of it, and why did the WMO report stop its analysis of global temperature at 2010 ignoring two more valuable datapoints that solidify the temperature standstill this century.

This rather confused section of the WMO report can be summarised in its own words, “The Earth’s climate fluctuates over seasons…” Evidently, the WMO authors confuse weather extremes with climate ones.

No Clear Trend

Regarding the extremes themselves there is a tension in the text that is quite apparent. It’s a desire to attribute the weather extremes in question to man-made climate change. One almost feels sorry for the authors having to say that no clear trend has been found in tropical cyclones and extra-tropical storms on the global level, while they admit that it is still difficult to quantify the degree and climate-change influence on a single observed event.

Sometimes this underlying frustration comes out when the authors claim: “While climate scientists believe it is not yet possible to attribute individual extremes to climate change, they increasingly conclude that many recent events would have occurred in a different way – or would not have occurred at all – in the absence of climate change.”

This is a complete misrepresentation of both climate scientists and the science. There are some scientists who believe this, but it is not a majority opinion and it has not been established even though a vocal minority of them claim it has.

In reality, the 2011 IPCC SREX report pointed out that, apart from warmer nights, there is not a single weather event whose change in intensity or occurrence can be attributed to climate change. All extreme weather events so far observed are within the range of natural variability. Some, it seems, mistake events that are rare or haven’t happened before in our records, with events that are unexpected.

Temperature: Stopped But Still Rising

Given the complex background to the WMO report one might have expected some of the few media reports about it, especially those penned by specialist reporters, to have reflected some of the subtleties. Not a bit of it.

The Guardian carried a report by the “Climate News Network,” that began with the words, “If you think the world is warming and the weather is getting nastier, you’re right.” What followed was cherry-picked from the WMO’s Executive Summary. It repeats the claims of “accelerating global warming,” and “sea levels rose twice as fast as the trend in the last century.” There is a quote from the WMO Secretary General and only the WMO Secretary General. The fact that global annual average surface temperatures have not increased for 16-17 years is called by the Guardian, “the apparent slight slow-down.” The Climate News Network report, it distresses me to say, is a straight lift from the WMO press release with no context or analysis or awareness of official reports on similar topics issued in recent years.

Not that the BBC is any better. It contains a sentence that might become an emblem for muddled climate change reporting: “Although overall temperature rise has slowed down since the 1990s, the WMO says the temperature is still rising because of greenhouse gasses from human society.”

Even worse than the usual BBC confusion is Roger Harrabin’s use of the term “climate change doubters” for people who “emphasise the lack of movement in temperature throughout the decade.” Have we got nowhere in the almost decade-long debate about the shades of legitimate opinion about climate change and its causes?

The recent global surface temperature standstill is one of the biggest challenges climate science faces at the moment. If Harrabin considers those who emphasise the reality of the 16-17 year standstill are “climate change doubters” he is going to have a very long list. Add me to it.


Obama’s climate initiative an elitist assault on ordinary citizens

By Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

By circumventing Congress and unleashing the vast powers of the administrative regulatory state in the name of combating “climate change,” President Obama has — yet again — revealed his determination to subject the American people to the unchecked whims of the federal bureaucracy.

Obama’s “Climate Action Plan” has nothing to do with the climate. Instead, the climate, in all of its complexity, serves as a convenient pretext for the administration — working hand in glove with environmental groups and non-competitive, rent-seeking industries — to seize regulatory control of the production and use of energy so as to further concentrate power in Washington. Obama’s weapons of choice are executive orders and the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both of which do not require the approval of elected officials in Congress nor those at the state and local level.

Addressing a crowd gathered at Washington’s elite Georgetown University (where the annual cost of tuition is north of $44,000 a year), Obama outlined his scheme to rid the world of “carbon pollution.” Among other things, it calls for a 17 percent reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S. by 2020, more stringent efficiency standards for home appliances, tougher fuel mileage requirements for heavy-duty trucks, and more subsidies for already heavily subsidized and environmentally destructive (massive bird and bat kills) wind farms.

War on Coal

But it is the administration’s plans for power plants that will have the most far-reaching effect on consumers and businesses. In 2012, the Obama EPA issued its “new source performance standard” that effectively made it impossible to build new coal-fired power plants, because no technology exists that would enable utilities to meet the new standards. At the time, the head of EPA’s air office, Gina McCarthy, assured the public that existing plants would not have to meet the new standard and that EPA was not promoting fuel-switching. Less than a year after McCarthy’s solemn promise, however, the following sentence appears on page 19 of Obama’s Climate Action Plan: “Going forward, we will promote fuel-switching from coal to gas for electricity production and encourage the development for a global market for gas.”

The cat was let out of the bag when one of Obama’s science advisors, Daniel Shrag of Harvard, told the New York Times (June 25) that, “Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they are having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what is needed.” Coal, of which the United States has by far the largest reserves in the world, still account for 37 percent of the nation’s electricity. The administration’s war on coal amounts to nothing less than industrial sabotage by regulatory means. By eliminating affordable, abundant coal from the nation’s energy mix, the administration is deliberately taking a step that will lead to loss of good-paying jobs in the nation’s leading coal-producing states of Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Virginia, Utah, Montana, and North Dakota. No longer able to draw on rich coal reserves, utilities will have little choice but to charge more for the electricity they sell to their customers. Electricity rates will go up, hitting seniors and others living on lower incomes the hardest.

While natural gas extracted from America’s vast shale formations will be able to fill some of the gap, the elimination of coal as a power source will put huge strains on the already weak economy and on household budgets. And what is to keep the war on coal from morphing into a war on gas? While most Americans welcome the jobs and lower power rates the Shale Revolution has made possible, the Obama administration and its allies in the environmental movement remain firm in their hostility to fossil fuels. After coal has been regulated out of existence, green elites will not hesitate to go after natural gas and oil. EPA bureaucrats and Obama administration political appointees are already devising schemes to bring about federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

The Shale Revolution, and all the potential it holds for enabling American energy independence within a few decades, has unfolded without Washington’s heavy hand. To green elites inside and outside the administration, this is precisely the problem. They will not stand idly by and watch fossil fuels, in this case natural gas and shale oil, provide Americans with affordable energy.

Overseeing the implementation of Obama’s Climate Action Plan will be his designated EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. A fixture in EPA’s bureaucracy for many years, McCarthy is highly skilled at drafting regulations that bypass Congress and impose extraordinary burdens on the lives of ordinary people. How many senators will have the courage and the conviction to stand up for their constituencies in West Virginia, Ohio, North Dakota, Tennessee and elsewhere and vote to reject her nomination?


In a British summer, oldsters 'could die in Green Deal homes'

An energy saving scheme championed by the Government could be causing homes to overheat.

Ministers are encouraging homeowners to improve insulation and install other environmental measures under their flagship Green Deal.  But experts warn that while insulation may save energy in the winter, it could trap in excessive heat during the summer months if badly installed. It poses a particular health risk for the elderly, who could ‘die from overheating’.

A report by a climate research group warned ‘Green Deal measures could create new problems in the future, with inappropriately-insulated properties experiencing poor indoor air quality and significant summer overheating’.

The Government said it was aware of the risk and guidance is already in place to prevent inappropriate installations.

Studies suggest there may be typically around 2,000 deaths due to heat each year, compared to around 25,000 as a result of the cold.

But according to research group Adaptation and Resilience in a Changing Climate, ‘if action is not taken’ on the issue, heat-related deaths could more than double from 2,000 to 5,000 by 2080.

The Green Deal, launched by Chris Huhne, offers homeowners loans for works such as cavity wall insulation and energy-efficient boilers, in the hope of reducing their energy bill.

Households must pay for an assessment of what upgrades their house needs, which costs around £150. But so far, only four households have signed up and a further 241 have indicated they intended to.

Top floor flats [apartments] in 1960s tower blocks and modern detached houses are most at risk of becoming dangerously hot inside during a heatwave, especially if they are south-facing, according to the research

Dr Chris Goodier, of Loughborough University’s department of civil and building engineering, said the risk of overheating has been overlooked in the ‘big rush to insulate and make homes airtight’, particularly as the nation could face more extreme weather in the future.

In a study with Prof Li Shao, of the University of Reading, he found that heat was likely to have a ‘significantly greater’ impact on the elderly or infirm who were more likely to be at home during the warmest daytime hours.

Their research found that top floor flats in 1960s tower blocks, and modern detached houses were most at risk of over-heating, particularly if they were south facing.

‘Overheating is like the little boy at the back of the class waving his hand. It is forgotten about because the other challenges are so big,’ he told the BBC.

‘If you are in the wrong type of house, facing the wrong way, in the wrong street and you don’t deal with heat in the right way, it is a problem.

‘Particularly for the elderly. They are going to suffer. Suffering means they are going to die from overheating.’ Doug King, an independent consultant in sustainable construction, said: ‘It is a problem. Typically British houses are built for a fairly benign climate, not to deal with extremes.

‘It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t insulate these buildings, but it must be done properly.

‘Some properties - particularly top-floor flats and anything south facing - have a tendency to overheat, so when you add insulation to the mix it can make things worse. But if the right ventilation is added, then the problem can be solved.’

A DECC spokesperson said: ‘The real problem facing our nation’s draughty homes is a lack of adequate insulation and energy efficiency in the colder months.

The Green Deal is giving households a new way to fund improvements, helping them protect themselves against rising energy bills and keep homes warm and cosy in the autumn and winter.

‘If energy efficiency measures are installed appropriately, overheating should not be a common problem and there’s guidance available for those involved in the Green Deal.’


Timberland Mandates Would Cut U.S. Job Growth

Economic competition in a free market encourages improvements in quality and reductions in price. Conversely, barriers to competition hamper innovation and keep prices from falling. This is one reason why consumers of forest products—builders, in particular—should be leery of new efforts by some environmentalists and government regulators to favor only one of the three private organizations that currently certify timberland management that meets specific sustainability standards. By promoting the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) above the other groups—including potentially mandating its standards throughout the private sector—regulators may end up retarding innovation in sustainable forestry.

But there’s another cause for concern about favoring or mandating the FSC’s standards: massive job losses. “A study released by EconoSTATS concludes that an FSC monopoly would cost 31,000 jobs in Oregon and another 10,000 in Arkansas, including those of foresters and tree farmers, but also millworkers, truckers, contractors, and suppliers,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II.

One reason for the potential job losses, Shughart explains, is that the FSC maintains less stringent standards for timberlands overseas than for those in the United States. Therefore “a public policy granting a monopoly to the FSC label would be equivalent to favoring foreign timber over U.S. timber,” Shughart continues. “American building markets would be closed to American timber unless landowners here bore the cost of complying with standards that the rest of the world would not necessarily have to satisfy.”

See:  The Costs of Overregulating Forest Management, by William F. Shughart II


Chevy Volt Heads for Fiery Crash

The good news for GM these days is that no one has been consumed in a fiery death due to engine compartment fires since the Chevy Volt was discovered to spontaneous combust after accidents shortly after production began.

The bad news for the company is that while Chevy Volt sales in June set a record, prior to June their sales for 2013 sucked despite general auto sales setting post-crash records.

“With signs that sales of its Chevrolet Volt battery car could be coming unplugged,” reported NBC News in June, “General Motors is offering potential buyers as much as $5,000 in incentives – making it the latest maker to try to cut prices in a bid to boost lagging demand for electric vehicles.”

In June the company reported 2,698 Volts sold thanks to those drastic discounts by GM. In fact, all battery-powered cars have seen deep price cuts due to disappointing sales.

“For the first five months of this year,” said NBC News, “GM has sold only 7,157 of what it prefers to call an extended-range electric vehicle, or E-REV. May sales, in particular, fell 4.3 percent, to 1,607. By comparison, the overall U.S. automotive market was up 8.2 percent for the month. According to a report by Inside EVs, Chevy dealers have more than 9,000 Volts clogging inventories, vehicles they need to clear out before the 2014 models start rolling in.”

That makes 6,302 excess Volts just weeks before the 2014 models are supposed to come off the assembly line. Or, to calculate another way, that’s 2 1/3 months of inventory assuming all the suckers haven’t already purchased Volts in the new and reduced “free” lunch program run by General Motors.

The ridiculous list price for the Volt started out at $46,000. Since then it’s been lowered to $39,995. The price is still ridiculous because the Volt is basically the Chevy Cruze with a big battery.

The Cruze by contrast has an MSRP of between $17,000-$23,000.

To lull consumers, the federal government gives a credit to Volt buyers of $7,500, plus GM, starting in June, discounted the price by another $4,000-$5,000 depending on the model year.

That means a buyer can pay around $28,000 for the privilege of buying a car that goes 38 miles on a full battery charge and has all the amenities of car that costs $5k less even after Volt discounts, subsidies, giveaways.

Boosters of the car will bombard me with email bragging about the cost savings with the Chevy Volt because they never have to buy gasoline, but they too often overlook the true cost of an electric vehicle.

First, electricity is not a free power source, despite what liberals believe. Electricity doesn’t just magically come from a wall plug.

Volt owners are SHOCKED…SHOCKED… when employers, HOAs and others third parties object to being asked to pay $1.50 per day to fully charge the car’s battery at public electrical outlets. It’s a phenomenon that’s becoming more common.

‘‘This isn’t some evil electric car that consumes a ton of electricity. It’s just a drop in the pond compared to what the whole building pays,’’ Mike Nemat told CBC News when trying justify using his condo’s public power source to fuel his vehicle.

It maybe a drop in the pond, but the pond isn’t Nemat’s to take from.

$1.50 per day to charge a Volt battery times 365 days is $547.50 per year. If “everyone” did it at a 50 unit condo, that would be $27,375 per year for “free” electricity.

And despite what liberals think, someone still has to pay the bill.

“This is ridiculous. It's approximately $1.50 per day (based on the average electricity price in the U.S.) to fully charge a Volt,” wrote reader Corey on the article about Nemat’s condo subsidies. “That's less than the price of a cup of coffee. When taken into consideration that it's split between several tenants... they should be proud that they're not only helping to save the environment but also lowering the nation's dependence on foreign oil for pennies out of their pockets.”

I’m sure they are proud. But they just aren’t $27,375 proud. Or $7,500 worth of federal tax subsidies proud.

Nor am I. I’m “I’d rather you not take my tax money or HOA dues” proud. Do what you like, buy what you want, but don’t ask me to pay for it.

If Volt owners were really proud they’d pay for the “drop in the pond” themselves.

In finding out the true cost of ownership, the Volt’s battery should be depreciated across the life of the battery as well.

The battery costs about $8,000 to replace and lasts- in principle- about eight years. According to snopes.com the Volt costs a 7 cents a mile to operate on all-electric (EV) versus all-gasoline power of about 11 cents per mile. But those calculations ignore the battery costs, which add another 10 cents per mile to the electric option for a total of 17 cents per mile.

And that’s what’s really driving the poor sales of the Volt. Battery costs jack up the price of the Volt- and EV’s- versus gasoline vehicles. Chevy made a strategic mistake when it attempted to put the Volt’s costly powertrain into Chevy’s discount model- the Cruze. Instead GM should have followed competitor Tesla’s strategy of making an EV that appeals to rich, privileged, metro-sexual types plagued by White Guilt, which often also comes out sideways as Carbon Envy.

There’s money to be made on folks like that.

Just don’t use my money in doing it.

Because the scheme will likely end in a fiery crash, which, for the Volt, would be fitting since that’s how it started.




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 or here


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