Sunday, January 19, 2014
Is a mini ice age on the way? Scientists warn the Sun has 'gone to sleep' and say it could cause temperatures to plunge
The Sun's activity is at its lowest for 100 years, scientists have warned. They say the conditions are eerily similar to those before the Maunder Minimum, a time in 1645 when a mini ice age hit, Freezing London's River Thames.
Researcher believe the solar lull could cause major changes, and say there is a 20% chance it could lead to 'major changes' in temperatures.
THE SOLAR CYCLE
Conventional wisdom holds that solar activity swings back and forth like a simple pendulum.
At one end of the cycle, there is a quiet time with few sunspots and flares. At the other end, solar max brings high sunspot numbers and frequent solar storms. It’s a regular rhythm that repeats every 11 years.
Reality is more complicated. Astronomers have been counting sunspots for centuries, and they have seen that the solar cycle is not perfectly regular.
'Whatever measure you use, solar peaks are coming down,' Richard Harrison of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire told the BBC.
'I've been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I've never seen anything like this.'
He says the phenomenon could lead to colder winters similar to those during the Maunder Minimum. 'There were cold winters, almost a mini ice age. 'You had a period when the River Thames froze.'
Lucie Green of UCL believes that things could be different this time due to human activity.
'We have 400 years of observations, and it is in a very similar to phase as it was in the runup to the Maunder Minimum.
'The world we live in today is very different, human activity may counteract this - it is difficult to say what the consequences are.'
Mike Lockwood University of Reading says that the lower temperatures could affect the global jetstream, causing weather systems to collapse. 'We estimate within 40 years there a 10-20% probability we will be back in Maunder Minimum territory,' he said.
Last year Nasa warned 'something unexpected' is happening on the Sun'
This year was supposed to be the year of 'solar maximum,' the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle.
There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past, Nasa says.
The connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate is an area of on-going research.
'Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent,' the space agency says.
Experts have been baffled by the apparent lack of activity - with many wondering if NASA simply got it wrong.
However, Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center believes he has a different explanation.
'This is solar maximum,' he says. 'But it looks different from what we expected because it is double-peaked.' 'The last two solar maxima, around 1989 and 2001, had not one but two peaks.'
Solar activity went up, dipped, then rose again, performing a mini-cycle that lasted about two years, he said.
The same thing could be happening now, as sunspot counts jumped in 2011 and dipped in 2012, he believes.
Pesnell expects them to rebound in 2013: 'I am comfortable in saying that another peak will happen in 2013 and possibly last into 2014.'
He spotted a similarity between Solar Cycle 24 and Solar Cycle 14, which had a double-peak during the first decade of the 20th century.
If the two cycles are twins, 'it would mean one peak in late 2013 and another in 2015'.
Liberal Dems Form Task Force to Address Unfolding Climate 'Catastrophe'
As Americans clamor for jobs, 18 Senate liberals have their eyes on the sky.
"Climate change is a dangerous threat to our nation, to our planet. It's a catastrophe that's unfolding before our eyes," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told a news conference on Tuesday, as she announced the formation of the Senate Climate Action Task Force.
"And we're very dedicated to the notion that when Congress wakes up to it, we'll be able to have an impact and reverse the trend, so that disaster isn't what's waiting for our grandchildren and our children."
Boxer noted that "18 percent of the Senate is part of this," and she named names, starting with her own: Boxer, Whitehouse, Cantwell, Menendez, Cardin, Sanders, Klobuchar, Udall, Shaheen, Merkley, Franken, Blumenthal, Schatz, Murphy, Heinrich, King, Markey and Booker.
"We're very realistic politicians. We understand that the makeup of Congress now is making it very difficult for us to pass climate change legislation now, but we will not sit back and give up, but we will raise the visibility of this issue, with the intent of changing minds around here."
Sen. Boxer promised that Americans will hear from the task force "very, very often."
"As far as action on renewable fuels, which we've discussed with you before, action on energy efficiency, in housing and other areas, fuel economy, of course we'll be dealing with those at this time." But she said "waking up Congress" is the group's main focus right now. "We'll be doing it with speeches, press conferences like this, specific actions that will be very exciting..."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who co-chairs the task force with Boxer, described climate change as a "contest that will affect the habitability of our planet for our children and our grandchildren."
He said climate change also goes to the heart of American democracy: "If we can't get this right, if we're blown off course by special interest money and propaganda on an issue like this, that sends a terrible message to the world and to the future."
Even "young Republicans" think climate change denial "is ignorant, out of touch, and crazy," he said.
Whitehouse said senators on the climate change task force will use all tools at their disposal to advance the cause, including amendments, floor time, calling groups together, working with corporations, with universities, and with the public generally.
More than a dozen senators appeared with Boxer and Whitehouse at Tuesday's news conference, and a sampling of their remarks -- some partisan -- follows:
-- Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) mentioned Republicans and "the electoral consequences of continuing to ignore this issue." "We have to tell Republicans that if they ultimately want to stop the hemorrhaging from young voters in this country, they need to start paying attention to this issue, because only 3 percent of voters 18 to 34 don't believe that climate change is really happening. Eighty percent of that same cohort of voters support President Obama's climate action plan and three-fourths of young voters would vote against a member of Congress who stands in the way of that plan."
-- Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) "The world is warming. Sea levels are rising. Storms like Sandy are more extreme. The oceans are more acidic. But the oil and the coal industries keep throwing up roadblocks to climate action. Their delay, their denial, their roadblocks are as bogus as a Fort Lee traffic study. There is no basis in fact for these roadblocks which they are creating to action here in Congress and across our country." Markey said the Republican Party "is in the grip of the oil and the coal industry. That is what is blocking real change, that is what is blocking action on science that will protect the public in the years ahead."
-- Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said it doesn't matter if people believe in climate change -- "the data shows it is real." "And for those of us who are on the Intel (Intelligence) Committee, and on the Armed Services Committee, this is going to change the world. It is going to create conflicts in places and increase those conflicts in very real ways that are going to have direct costs to those Americans who serve in uniform and to the parts of the country that have to think about the security ramifications of this year in and year out."
-- Sen. Bernie Sander (I-Vt.): "When I go back to Vermont, people ask me what world the United States Congress is living in." Sanders said the new task force will "demand that the United States Congress listen to the scientific community, listen to the American people and start acting in a way that will tell our kids and our grandchildren that we are concerned about their future." He complained that the major television networks -- "on their important Sunday news shows" -- are not devoting enough time to climate change, according to a study by the far-left advocacy group, Media Matters.
-- Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called carbon pollution "a direct assault on our natural resource industries." It's not a Democratic or a Republican issue, he said: "This carbon pollution is an attack on our natural resource industries of fishing, forestry and farming. We're all in this together and we need to take it on."
-- Sen. Angus King (I-Maine): "Everything you need to know about this issue can be embodied in the Maine Rototiller Rule. The Maine Rototiller Rule is, if you borrow your neighbor's Rototiller, you always give it back to him or her in as good a shape as you got it and with a full tank of gas. We have the planet on loan. We don't own it. We have it on loan from future generations."
-- Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said climate change, accelerated by human activity, is happening. "Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree with that statement." He pointed to rising water levels and more wildfires, droughts, floods, extreme weather conditions: "There are workable solutions to reduce greenhouse gases. We can change this," he said. He mentioned "cleaner energy sources, more conservation, and greater vehicle fuel efficiency.
Colorado Consumers Paying Steep Price for Renewable Power Mandates
Colorado consumers are paying a steep price for the state’s renewable power mandates, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show. Electricity prices in Colorado have risen 20 percent faster than the national average since Colorado enacted renewable power mandates in 2004. Prices rose even more steeply after Colorado made the mandates stricter in 2007, 2010, and 2013, with the state’s electricity prices rising more than twice as fast as the national average since 2007.
In 2004 Colorado voters approved an initiative requiring larger utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Since 2004 the state legislature has approved a succession of bills making the mandate stricter. Current law requires electricity providers serving most of the state’s customers to generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Sharply Rising Prices
Since 2004, U.S. electricity prices have risen 33.8 percent, and Colorado prices have risen 40.4 percent (data through October 2013, the most recent month for which the U.S. Energy Information Administration published data when this paper went to press).
Since 2007, U.S. electricity prices have risen 10.8 percent, while Colorado prices have risen 27.5 percent.
Since 2010, U.S. electricity prices have risen 3.1 percent, while Colorado electricity prices have risen 7.0 percent.
Notably, the increase in Colorado’s electricity prices masks an even faster rise in electricity costs in the Centennial State. Federal taxpayers (including Coloradans) provide substantial subsidies to renewable power producers, most notably through the wind power production tax credit. These additional costs do not appear in retail electricity prices.
Directly Traceable to Renewables
The rise in Colorado’s electricity prices is directly traceable to the increasing generation of costly renewable power. Wind power comprises nearly all renewable power generation in Colorado. During March 2013 testimony before the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee, Andrew Ott, senior vice president for markets at PJM Interconnection, which coordinates electricity transmission in 13 states, testified the real cost of providing and delivering usable wind power to consumers is at least double or triple that of conventional power.
These renewable power cost premiums apply in Colorado and throughout the nation.
Households Taking Financial Hit
The rapid increase in electricity prices is imposing real financial hardship on Colorado families.
Had Colorado electricity prices risen at merely the national average since 2007, when the state legislature first passed a renewable power mandate, Colorado electricity consumers would have saved $4.2 billion in electricity costs. Averaged out over Colorado’s nearly 2 million households, the average Colorado household has already paid an extra $2,100 in electricity costs (more than $350 per household per year) beyond what each household would have paid if the state’s electricity prices rose merely at the same pace as the national average since 2007.
Hydraulic Fracturing in brief
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a decades-old well stimulation technique that recently has been combined with horizontal drilling and computer-assisted underground monitoring to make extracting from vast reserves of oil and natural gas more economical. This has stimulated dozens of state economies and revamped the nation’s energy portfolio.
This boom in oil and gas production, especially in regions not accustomed to the industry, have led to some concern about whether the technology is safe and if the benefits outweigh the costs. Environmental activist groups have called for state and local governments to impose overly aggressive regulation, moratoria, and even outright bans. They also have called for increased federal government oversight of hydraulic fracturing.
North Dakota, a state that has embraced fracking, has seen the creation of 70,000 new jobs in the past five years as a result of the increased oil production from fracking. North Dakota’s unemployment rate has been holding near 3 percent for the past few years. Other states – such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas – that have allowed for and not over regulated the practice also have experienced robust job growth and increased tax revenue as a result of hydraulic fracturing.
In June 2013, Illinois passed the most comprehensive fracking bill in the nation, satisfying the interests of both industry and environmental groups. The measure has been said to be a model for other states. State government should tailor regulations to their specific needs due to the wide differences in geology, hydrology, and economics.
Statewide bans and moratoria on fracking impose an unnecessary burden on the economy by hindering development. Hydraulic fracturing has a 50-year history of being a safe and reliable technology and should be regulated on the basis of the best- available science and its track record, rather than on unfounded claims driven by fear and misinformation.
Impact fees, when imposed, must be narrowly tailored and directed towards specific impact remediation. They should not be used for general operating or to increase government spending.
As more states set standards for fracking, the need for federal oversight will further dissipate.
Point 1: The Yale Graduates in Energy Study Group found the benefits of hydraulic fracturing exceed the costs by a ratio of 400–1.
Point 2: By using horizontal drilling techniques, producers are able to drill multiple wells from the same drilling pad, reducing surface disturbance while increasing access to oil and gas resources.
Point 3: Fracking fluid is composed of 99.51 percent water and sand, and .49 percent chemical additives, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Such additives prevent corrosion in the well, reduce surface tension in liquids, stabilize clay particles, adjust pH, and eliminate bacteria.
Point 4: Shale gas production consumes less water per unit of energy generated than onshore oil production, ethanol production, and washing coal after it has been mined.
Point 5: Increasing reliance on natural gas has been a key reason why U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to their lowest levels since 1994 and are not expected to reach their 2005 levels again through 2040.
Point 6: Current available science and track record suggests moratoria on hydraulic fracturing are unnecessary.
Point 7: Low energy costs due to abundant and affordable oil and natural gas are projected to add one million jobs by 2025.
Emails Show Extensive Collaboration Between EPA, Environmentalist Orgs
Internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emails show extensive collaboration between top agency officials and leading environmentalist groups, including overt efforts to coordinate messaging and pressure the fossil fuel industry.
The emails, obtained by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (EELI) through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, could fuel an ongoing controversy over EPA policies that critics say are biased against traditional sources of energy.
Emails show EPA used official events to help environmentalist groups gather signatures for petitions on agency rulemaking, incorporated advance copies of letters drafted by those groups into official statements, and worked with environmentalists to publicly pressure executives of at least one energy company.
Nancy Grantham, director of public affairs for EPA Region 1, which covers New England, asked an organizer for the Sierra Club’s New Hampshire chapter to share the group’s agenda so EPA could adjust its messaging accordingly in an email dated March 12, 2012.
“If you could, it would great [sic] if you can send me an email describing what you would like to do in early April in NH–that way I can coordinate messaging with our air offices here and at HQ,” Grantham wrote.
Critics of the agency and its nonprofit allies were surprised by the cooperation.
“The level of coordination in these documents is shocking,” EELI said in a statement.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, said the emails suggest that the EPA is straying from its mission by working hand-in-hand with hardline green groups.
“It’s unfortunate that EPA has spent more of its resources promoting and coordinating a political agenda with environmentalists instead of doing its job,” Pompeo said in an emailed statement.
“In Kansas, we expect public officials to serve the public interest, not the interests of radical environmentalist groups.”
The documents also reveal some of the internal deliberations behind recent controversial EPA decisions, such as the locations of public hearings on an agency rule imposing stringent emissions limits for power plants.
The agency came under fire from legislators representing coal-producing states for holding those hearings far from regions where most of the nation’s coal is produced.
“Instead of the EPA holding a coal hearing in the heart of Coal Country, Kentucky, he has chosen locations such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C.,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said at the time.
McConnell accused EPA of “once again showing its contempt for Kentucky’s coal miners and their families.”
Emails released by EELI show that EPA decided on the locations for those hearings after consulting with leading environmentalist groups that advocate the complete phase-out of coal power.
“San Fran and Seattle would be friendlier forums but CA has no coal plants and WA is phasing out its one plant,” noted EPA region 8 administrator James Martin in an email to Vicki Patton, general counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
“Choosing either may create opportunities for the industry to claim EPA is tilting the playing field,” Martin told Patton. “Denver would not have that problem.”
The EPA would later deny that Martin used a personal email for EPA business. The FOIAed messages reveal that that was not the case. His email to Patton was sent from a “.me” address.
Martin also advised Patton that hearings in Denver could be used to pressure the natural gas industry. “The gas industry has way more presence here, too. One last point in its favor–it will make Roy Palmer nervous!” he wrote.
Palmer is an executive at Xcel Energy, a leading natural gas utility in Colorado.
Amy Oliver Cooke, the executive director of the Independence Institute, a Denver-based free market think tank, said she was surprised at the hostility towards Palmer and Xcel, given their past cooperation on legislation imposing renewable energy quotas in the state.
“It shows that Xcel and natural gas aren’t welcome at the eco-left’s cool kids table anymore,” Cooke said.
“It’s really no surprise,” she added. “We warned them they would be next. When you sleep with rattlesnakes eventually they will bite you. With friends like Patton and Martin, Xcel and natural gas don’t need any more enemies. ”
A Sierra Club employee also sent a list of their preferred locations for public hearings. The list was forwarded to EPA staff.
The emissions rule on which EPA held those hearings—one of which ended up taking place in Denver—is expected to effectively block the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
The EPA has denied that that was the purpose of the rule, or that it will have that effect. However, other emails obtained by EELI show that top EPA officials were aware that it would devastate the industry.
These newly released emails show that officials also used events surrounding the rule to help environmentalist groups gather public comments on the rulemaking process that supported the EPA’s position.
Deputy EPA administrator Bob Perciasepe attended an April 24, 2012, meeting with 24 leading environmentalist groups, including EDF, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resource Defense Council, according to a notice of the meeting sent by Teri Porterfield, Perciasepe’s assistant.
“The purpose is to create a photo-op and narrative beat for the comment-gathering efforts on the issue,” Porterfield wrote.
“Groups will use materials from the event to communicate with supporters and recruit additional comment-signers via newsletters, emails, and social media,” she added.
The EPA also incorporated environmentalist groups’ messaging into then-administrator Lisa Jackson’s communications with members of Congress, the emails reveal.
On November 30, 2011, John Coequyt, who headed the Sierra Club’s “beyond coal” campaign, sent an advance copy of a letter publicly released the following day to a number of EPA officials, including “Richard Windsor,” the pseudonym Jackson used for her personal email address.
The letter addressed a pending EPA rule on emissions from industrial boilers.
“Administrator, I’ll summarize all this in your briefing document for the Hill meetings regarding Boiler MACT,” Arvin Ganesan, a top official in EPA’s congressional relations office, wrote in a follow-up. The following paragraphs of Ganesan’s email were redacted by EPA’s FOIA office.
These emails were released weeks after EPA’s inspector general released a report examining apparent coordination between the agency and environmentalist groups prior to EPA issuing an endangerment order against Texas natural gas company Range Resources.
The IG found that EPA’s actions “conformed to agency guidelines, regulations and policy,” but observers say it either failed to take into account significant pieces of evidence or deliberately ignored that evidence.
Internal EPA regulations prohibit officials from leaking information about administrative orders prior to their public release. However, the IG said that the EPA had done no such thing with respect to the Range order.
“A review of the evidence showed that this communication occurred after the region issued its press release and that it is not out of the ordinary for the EPA to inform interested parties of press releases after they are released,” the report stated.
That statement seems to contradict evidence showing that Al Armendariz, a former EPA region 6 administrator infamous for comparing his enforcement philosophy to Roman crucifixions, gave environmentalist groups the heads up before EPA put out its press release.
“We’re about to make a lot of news,” Armendariz wrote to a handful of Texas environmental activists prior to that release. “There’ll be an official press release in a few minutes. Also, time to Tivo channel 8.”
Germany is a cautionary tale of how energy polices can harm the economy
Germany's shift to renewable energy was once Angela Merkel’s flagship policy - now it has become her biggest headache.
“For me, the most urgent problem is the design of the energy revolution,” said the German Chancellor in her first television interview after being re-elected last month. “We are under a lot of pressure. The future of jobs and the future of Germany as a business location depend on it.”
She is not wrong: Europe’s largest country and economy faces a crisis. Such is the mess over energy that the future of Germany’s much-vaunted economic competitiveness is now seriously threatened.
Ms Merkel is currently Europe’s most popular leader but there is a growing backlash against her ill-thought-out energy policies.
And, to cap it all, policies hailed as saving the world from climate change have, in fact, increased CO2 emissions.
The plan was called energiewende, which can be translated as energy transition or even revolution. But despite Germany’s shift to renewable solar and wind energies, and amid a recession, its carbon emissions rose by 1.8pc last year.
In the European Union, as a whole, emissions fell by 1.3pc, mainly due to recession, according to the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
Ms Merkel has no one to blame but herself. Germany’s shift to renewables was very much along the norms of the European model, with the aim of going beyond EU targets. Then along came Fukushima and the wave of anti-nuclear hysteria that followed the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The once-in-a-millennium event at the Fukushima reactor killed nobody, although the tsunami claimed 16,000 lives. However, it was enough to panic Germany’s green middle class.
Ms Merkel caved in to shrill demands for the country’s atomic reactors to be closed. This decision, from a former chemist, who is personally pro-nuclear, is perhaps the most important economic call she has made. It is a disaster.
In March 2011, at the height of the eurozone recession, Germany switched off eight of its 17 nuclear reactors, cutting 7pc of electricity generation, with another 18pc to go over the next decade. The other nine reactors will be phased out from 2015 to 2022, bringing forward a previous 2036 deadline by 14 years.
Germany has also stepped up energiewende, as it switches to meet a target of producing 80pc of the country’s electricity from renewable, wind and solar power by 2050. The fields carpeted with solar panels and the North Sea wind farms may have gratified the green conceits of Germany’s middle class but they have come at a terrible economic and social cost. According to Nature, the international science magazine, this year German consumers will be forced to pay €20bn (£17bn) to subsidise electricity from solar, wind and bio-gas plants, power with a real market price of €3bn.
To pay for this green adventure, surcharges on electricity for households have increased by 47pc, or €15bn, in the past year alone. German consumers already pay the highest electricity prices in Europe; before long, the average three-person household will spend around €90 a month for electricity, almost twice as much as in 2000. Currently, more than 300,000 German households a year are seeing their power shut off because of unpaid bills.
Two-thirds of the electricity price increase is due to new government surcharges and taxes to subsidise renewable energy. While electricity prices have rocketed and the middle classes receive handouts to put solar panels on their houses, pensions and wages have not kept up, hitting Germany’s poorest hardest.
There are some serious practical problems emerging. Solar and wind power is erratic, which means that Germany will require storage capacity for 20bn to 30bn kilowatt-hours by 2050. So far, the storage capacity has grown by little more than 70m kilowatt-hours.
Compounding problems, when the wind stops blowing or the sun disappears, the electricity supply needed to power the national grid becomes scarce. This has pushed Germany into increased use of heavy oil and coal power plants, which is why the country released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2012 than in 2011.
Its decision to phase out nuclear power also led to a rise in coal prices, as traders realised that it was likely to keep more coal for domestic consumption.
Germany has got used to delivering economic homilies on competitiveness to the rest of Europe. But a new picture is emerging: German industry is in trouble. Energy prices are 40pc more expensive than in France and the Netherlands, and the bills are 15pc higher than the EU average. Even though Germany’s energy-intensive manufacturing sector is given a break with reduced levies, industries such as chemicals and steel are among the hardest hit, with energiewende costs of up to €740m a year. The burden could get even worse after the European Commission (EC) launched an investigation into the reduced levies.
The Verband der Industriellen Energie- und Kraftwirtschaft, which represents high-energy manufacturing, is alarmed that the commission could be about to rule that the levies are in breach of EU competition rules on state aid to industry. It is concerned that the EC will levy full charges on companies with immediate effect, and maybe even retroactively, a move it says could “destroy Germany’s industrial core”.
Germany has become a cautionary tale for Europe, an example of where the wrong energy policies are damaging, perhaps mortally wounding, its economy, punishing consumers and the poor while undermining the green objectives, of reduced CO2 emissions, it set out to achieve.
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Posted by JR at 2:04 AM