Wednesday, April 16, 2014
The Science And Politics Of Climate Change
Lennart Bengtsson says that the science isn’t settled and we still don’t know how best to solve the energy problems of our planet. Article originally published in German in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a major Swiss newspaper. Lennart Bengtsson was until 1990 Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. After his retirement, he has led, among others, the Department of Earth Sciences at the International Space Science Institute in Bern
Since the end of the 19th century, we have known that the Earth’s climate is sensitive to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. At that time, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius showed that an increase in CO2 concentrations would lead to a warmer climate. However, Arrhenius harbored little hope that this would happen. Consequently, the Swedes would have to continue to suffer in a cold and miserable climate. Since then, much has changed. Annual CO2 emissions have now reached a level that is about 20 times higher than that of 1896. This has caused concern worldwide.
More CO2 in the atmosphere leads undoubtedly to a warming of the earth surface. However, the extent and speed of this warming are still uncertain, because we cannot yet separate well enough the greenhouse effect from other climate influences. Although the radiative forcing by greenhouse gases (including methane, nitrogen oxides and fluorocarbons) has increased by 2.5 watts per square meter since the mid-19th century, observations show only a moderate warming of 0.8 degrees Celsius. Thus, the warming is significantly smaller than predicted by most climate models. In addition, the warming in the last century was not uniform. Phases of manifest warming were followed by periods with no warming at all or even cooling.
The complex and only partially understood relationship between greenhouse gases and global warming leads to a political dilemma. We do not know when to expect a warming of 2 degrees Celsius. The IPCC assumes that the earth will warm up by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celcius in response to a doubling of CO2 concentration. These high values of climate sensitivity, however, are not supported by observations. In other words: global warming has not been a serious problem so far if we rely on observations. It is only a problem when we refer to climate simulations by computer models.
There is no alternative to such computer simulations if one wants to predict future developments. However, since there is no way to validate them, the forecasts are more a matter of faith than a fact. The IPCC has published its expert opinion a few months ago and presented it in the form of probabilities. As long as the results cannot be supported by validated models they produce a false impression of reliability.
EU member states pursue a strategy of reducing the climate risk by reducing the use of fossil fuels in the shortest time to a minimum. Many citizens are risk averse and therefore support this policy. In addition, many citizens want to phase-out nuclear power, because it is also seen as too risky. To eliminate both nuclear energy as well as fossil fuels is an enormous challenge. Nevertheless, Germany and Switzerland have opted for such an energy transition. To pursue such a radical and perhaps risky energy policy, despite the limited economic, scientific and technical capabilities of the two countries is an enormous undertaking.
There are two things that need to be addressed in this context. Firstly, such energy transitions will, unfortunately, do little to reduce global CO2 emissions, since 90 percent of these emissions come from countries outside Europe. Many of these countries are likely to increase their CO2 emissions in the future, as their population increases and their top priority is to improve the living standards of their citizens. China is a special case. Its CO2 emissions have more than doubled in the last decade and are now about 50 percent higher than those of the United States. For various reasons, there are no alternatives to fossil fuels in the developing countries for the time being. Energy demand there is great. Currently, 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity. To reduce their own emissions easily and quickly, the OECD countries have outsourced some of their energy-intensive production to developing countries. In the national statistics, this looks good. Globally, however, not much changes, since the emissions occur simply somewhere else.
Secondly, the rapid transition to renewable energy has led to a considerable increase in energy prices in many countries, especially in Europe. This weakens the competitiveness and leads to a relocation of energy-intensive industries to countries such as the USA, where the energy price has dropped significantly by the use of shale gas.
It is no surprise that there are other forces that are driving rapid change. Because once government subsidies are involved, huge profits are available. However, before radical and hasty changes to the current energy system are implemented, there must be robust evidence that climate change is significantly detrimental. We are still far away from such evidence. It would be wrong to conclude from the report of the IPCC and similar reports that the science is settled.
We do not yet know how best to solve the energy problems of our planet. But many things can happen in the next 100 years. A moderate climate sensitivity, as suggested by recent observations, could provide the world a breathing space of about half a century (but not much longer) if at the same a switch from coal to natural gas occurs. This gives us the opportunity to avoid unnecessary and panicked investment, and to invest the available resources in well thought-out and long-term oriented research programs instead. These include new types of nuclear energy as well as the use of nuclear waste to generate energy.
Solar Firms Seek More Cash
Two California companies, Sequoia Pacific Solar and Eiger Lease Co., are suing the Treasury for withholding $14.6 million in cash grants after the parent company, SolarCity, burned through $244 million in tax incentives dating back to 2009. Despite the quarter billion in taxpayer dollars, all they have to show for it is a whopping $166 million in debt. No wonder they're desperate.
According to the lawsuit, Treasury “improperly changed the rules.” Federal officials, however, say that SolarCity inflated sales contracts to retrieve more taxpayer dollars. They're also accused of deceiving its shareholders and releasing erroneous financial reports.
The fact the feds are providing “green” incentives at all is ridiculous enough, especially in the wake of boondoggles like Solyndra. But as Hot Air's Jazz Shaw adds, “is this a private company which is intended to show a profit in the marketplace or a non-profit charity which is only expected to live off the teat of the taxpayer? Well, okay… the 'non-profit' part is probably pretty obvious.”
Coughing Up Climate Rhetoric
It's spring, and that means allergies. So naturally, alarmists are attempting to identify a link between heavy pollen and global “warming.” For most of the country, a continued cool pattern has delayed the allergy season. “With temperatures finally starting to rise, New Jersey may soon experience a compressed spring, causing an allergy season that's supercharged,” says Christopher Maag of North Jersey.com.
He later adds: “Erratic weather changes and intense pollen seasons are consistent with research on global climate change by Leonard Bielory, an allergist and visiting professor at the Rutgers Center for Environmental Prediction. In a study presented last year … Bielory predicted that annual pollen counts in many parts of the U.S., including New Jersey, will double between the years 2000 and 2040 as higher average temperatures bring longer pollination seasons.”
Perhaps Maag should examine his own contradiction. Bielory cites “longer pollination seasons” thanks to “higher average temperatures,” while Maag's entire premise is on a “compressed” and “supercharged” season shortened by cold weather. Also, earth hasn't warmed in over 17 years. That's nothing to sneeze at.
Was stopping Nevada’s fracking rush behind the Bundy showdown?
The story of rancher Cliven Bundy has captured an abundance of media attention and attracted supporters from across the West, who relate to the struggle against the federal management of lands. Bundy’s sister, Susan, was asked: “Who’s behind the uproar?” She blamed the Sierra Club, then Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and then President Obama. She concluded her comments with: “It’s all about control” — a sentiment that is frequently expressed regarding actions taken in response to some endangered-species claim.
An Associated Press report describes Bundy’s battle this way: “The current showdown pits rancher Cliven Bundy’s claims of ancestral rights to graze his cows on open range against federal claims that the cattle are trespassing on arid and fragile habitat of the endangered desert tortoise.”
Bundy’s story has been percolating for decades — leaving people to question why now. The pundits are, perhaps, missing the real motive. To discover it, you have to dig deep under the surface of the story, below the surface of the earth. I posit: it is all about oil and gas.
On April 10, the Natural News Network posted this: “BLM fracking racket exposed! Armed siege and cattle theft from Bundy ranch really about fracking leases.” It states: “a Natural News investigation has found that BLM is actually in the business of raking in millions of dollars by leasing Nevada lands to energy companies that engage in fracking operations.”
This set off alarms in my head; it didn’t add up. I know that oil-and-gas development and ranching can happily coexist. Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, told me: “The ranching and oil-and-gas communities are the backbone of America. They are the folks who allow the rest of the nation to pursue their hearts’ desire secure in the knowledge that they will have food and energy available in abundant supply. These natural resource users have worked arm-in-arm for nearly a century on the same land. They are constantly developing and employing technologies for ever better outcomes.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wouldn’t be enduring the humiliating press it has received, as a result of kicking Bundy off of land his family has ranched for generations and taking away his prior usage rights, just to open up the land for oil-and-gas — the two can both be there.
The Natural News “investigation” includes a map from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology that shows “significant exploratory drilling being conducted in precisely the same area where the Bundy family has been running cattle since the 1870s.” It continues: “What’s also clear is that oil has been found in nearby areas.”
Nevada is not a top-of-mind state when one thinks about oil and gas. Alan Coyner, administrator for the Nevada Division of Minerals, describes his state: “We are not a major oil-producing state. We’re not the Saudi Arabia of the U.S. like we are for gold and geothermal production.” The Las Vegas Review Journal reports: “When it comes to oil, Nevada is largely undiscovered country…. fewer than 1,000 wells have been drilled in the state, and only about 70 are now in production, churning out modest amounts of low-grade petroleum generally used for tar or asphalt. Since an all-time high of 4 million barrels in 1990, oil production in Nevada has plummeted to fewer than 400,000 barrels a year. More oil is pumped from the ground in one day in North Dakota — where the fracking boom has added more than 2,000 new wells in recent years — than Nevada produced in 2012.”
But, Nevada could soon join the ranks of the states that are experiencing an economic boom and job creation due to oil-and-gas development. And, that has got to have the environmental groups, which are hell-bent on stopping it, in panic mode. Until now, their efforts in Nevada have been focused on blocking big solar development.
A year ago, the BLM held an oil-and-gas lease sale in Reno. At the sale, 29 federal land leases, totaling about 56 square miles, were auctioned off, bringing in $1.27 million. One of the winning bidders is Houston-based Noble Energy, which plans to drill as many as 20 exploratory wells and could start drilling by the end of the year. Commenting on its acreage, Susan Cunningham, Noble senior vice president, said: “We’re thrilled with the possibilities of this under-explored petroleum system.”
The parcels made available in April 2013 will be developed using hydraulic fracturing, about which Coyner quipped: “If the Silver State’s first big shale play pays off, it could touch off a fracking rush in Nevada.” Despite the fact that fracking has been done safely and successfully for more than 65 years in America, the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Nevada-based senior scientist, Ron Mrowka, told the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Fracking is not a good thing. We don’t feel there is a safe way to do it.”
The BLM made the leases available after someone, or some company, nominated the parcels, and the process to get them ready for auction can easily take a year or longer. One year before the April 2013, sale, CBD filed a “60-day notice of intent to sue” the BLM for its failure to protect the desert tortoise in the Gold Butte area — where Bundy cattle have grazed for more than a century.
Because agencies like the BLM are often staffed by environmental sympathizers, it is possible that CBD was alerted to the pending potential oil-and-gas boom when the April 2013 parcels were nominated—triggering the notice of intent to sue in an attempt to lock up as much land as possible before the “fracking rush” could begin.
A March 25, 2014 CBD press release — which reportedly served as the impetus for the current showdown — states: “Tortoises suffer while BLM allows trespass cattle to eat for free in Nevada desert.” It points out that the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan purchased and then retired grazing leases to protect the endangered tortoise.
Once Bundy’s cattle are kicked off the land to protect the tortoise, the precedent will be set to use the tortoise to block any oil-and-gas development in the area — after all environmentalists hate cattle only slightly less than they hate oil and gas. Admittedly, the April 13 leases are not in the same area as Bundy’s cattle, however, Gold Butte does have some oil-and-gas exploration that CBD’s actions could nip in the bud. Intellihub reports: “The BLM claims that they are seizing land to preserve it, for environmental protection. However, it is obvious that environmental protection is not their goal if they are selling large areas of land to fracking companies. Although the land that was sold last year is 300 and some miles away from the Bundy ranch, the aggressive tactics that have been used by federal agents in this situation are raising the suspicion that this is another BLM land grab that is destined for a private auction.”
The Natural News Network also sees that the tortoise is being used as a scapegoat: “Anyone who thinks this siege is about reptiles is kidding themselves.” It adds: “‘Endangered tortoises’ is merely the government cover story for confiscating land to turn it over to fracking companies for millions of dollars in energy leases.” The Network sees that it isn’t really about the critters; after all, hundreds of desert tortoises are being euthanized in Nevada.
Though the Intellihub and Natural News Network point to the “current showdown” as being about allowing oil-and-gas development, I believe that removing the cattle is really a Trojan horse. The tortoise protection will be used to block any more leasing.
On April 5, 2014, CBD sent out a triumphant press release announcing that the “long-awaited” roundup of cattle had begun.
What I am presenting is only a theory; I am just connecting some dots. But over-and-over, an endangered or threated species or habitat is used to block all kinds of economic development. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the lesser prairie chicken and the huge effort ($26 million) a variety of industries cooperatively engaged in to keep its habitat from being listed as threatened. The effort failed and the chicken’s habitat was listed. In my column on the topic, I predicted that these listings were likely to trigger another sage brush rebellion that will challenge federal land ownership. The Bundy showdown has brought the controversy front and center.
For now, southern Nevada’s last rancher has won the week-long standoff that has been likened to Tiananmen Square. Reports state that “the BLM said it did so because it feared for the safety of employees and members of the public,” not because it has changed its position.
While this chapter may be closing, it may have opened the next chapter in the sage brush rebellion. The Bundy standoff has pointed out the overreach of federal agencies and the use of threatened or endangered species to block economic activity.
"The heavens reek, the waters below are foul ... we are in a crisis of survival." That's how Walter Cronkite and CBS hyped the first Earth Day, back in 1970. Somehow we've survived since then, and most of life got better, although I never hear that from the worrywarts.
Of course, some things got better because of government: We passed environmental rules that got most of the filth out of the air and sewage out of lakes and rivers. Great -- but now we're told that we're in big trouble because greenhouse gases cause global warming. I mean, climate change.
"Crop yields are down, deaths from heat are up," says the Los Angeles Times. The "Worst Is Yet to Come," warns The New York Times. This hype is not new. Alarmists always fool the gullible media. They once fooled me.
A few years back, we were going to be killed by global cooling , overpopulation, pesticide residues, West Nile virus, bird flu, Y2K, cellphone radiation, mad cow disease, etc. Now it's global warming.
Reporters don't make these scares up. The recent hype about global warming comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Most of its members are serious scientists. But reporters don't realize that those scientists, like bird flu specialists, have every incentive to hype the risk. If their computer models (which so far have been wrong) predict disaster, they get attention and money. If they say, "I'm not sure," they get nothing.
Also, the IPCC is not just a panel of scientists. It's an intergovernmental panel. It's a bureaucracy controlled by the sort of people who once ran for student council and are "exhilarated by the prospect of putting the thumb of the federal government on the scale."
Actually, that wasn't a quote from a global warming alarmist. It's from anti-marijuana alarmist and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joe Califano. But it's the same crisis mindset. Scientists who disagree, who are reluctant to put their thumbs on the government scale, don't feel welcome in the IPCC.
It's possible climate change may become a problem. But even if industrialization brings warming, we've got more important problems. On my TV show this week, statistician Bjorn Lomborg points out that "air pollution kills 4.3 million people each year ... We need to get a sense of priority." That deadly air pollution happens because, to keep warm, poor people burn dung in their huts.
Yet, time and again, environmentalists oppose the energy production most likely to make the world cleaner and safer. Instead, they persuade politicians to spend billions of your dollars on symbolism like "renewable" energy.
"The amazing number that most people haven't heard is, if you take all the solar panels and all the wind turbines in the world," says Lomborg, "they have (eliminated) less CO2 than what U.S. fracking (cracking rocks below ground to extract oil and natural gas) managed to do."
That progress occurred despite opposition from environmentalists -- and even bans in places like my stupid state, New York, where activists worry fracking will cause earthquakes or poison the water.
Do environmentalists even care about measuring costs instead of just assuming benefits? We spend $7 billion to subsidize electric cars. Even if America reached the president's absurd 2015 goal of "a million electric cars on the road" (we won't get close), how much would it delay warming of the Earth?
"One hour," says Lomborg. "This is a symbolic act."
Symbolic. Environmentalism is now more religion than science. It even comes with built-in doomsday stories to warn people about what will happen if they disobey -- a bit like the movie "Noah" that's in theaters now.
While environmentalists lament that our time is running out, environmental indicators get better, technological improvements reduce carbon dioxide, water gets cleaner for millions, and human life expectancy goes up.
This Earth Day, instead of attacking those who sell fossil fuels, I will applaud them for overcoming constant environmental hysteria -- while providing affordable energy that will allow us to fight poverty, which is the real threat to the people of the world.
Reality Check: Irish-British Wind Export Plan Collapses Because It’s Too Expensive
The collapse of a controversial wind export plan has been announced by the Government on the same day that the UN’s top scientific body called for a rapid switch to renewable energy to fight climate change.
Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte said that “given the economic, policy and regulatory complexities involved” the Irish and British governments had failed to agree terms “to facilitate green energy export from the Midlands within the EU’s 2020 timeframe”.
Under the plan, three companies – Element Power, Mainstream and Bord na Mona – planned 1,000 turbines in five Midland counties to export three gigawatts of green energy into the British national grid. Negotiations on the multibillion euro deal were called off because “there was nothing left to discuss”, Irish officials said last night.
The decision to abandon negotiations on the project, which has featured strongly in the local and European Parliament election campaign, comes before a protest march planned in Dublin tomorrow.
The scheme needed a regulatory agreement between Dublin and London, which would, among other things, say who would pay for an interconnector to carry energy to Wales.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron agreed, during St Patrick Day talks in 10 Downing Street, that officials would be told to make another attempt to reach agreement.
The move came as Mr Rabbitte warned a deal was “unlikely” because the British side wanted to pay no more for Irish onshore wind energy than it would pay in Britain – even though it would have to be taken there.
Irish sources said no flexibility had been shown by the British department of energy and climate change after the Downing Street talks.
Mr Rabbitte’s decision has angered developers who plan to export three gigawatts of offshore energy from a necklace of projects in the Irish Sea. They say the move threatens them, even though the projects are entirely separate.
Brian Britton, who heads one of the developers, Oriel Energy, said: “They have taken only four-and-a-half weeks, rather than the three months set down in the Downing Street agreement.” Mr Britton also leads the National Offshore Wind Association.
“It is somewhat ironic in a week which has seen the first State visit from an Irish President to the UK, that the Irish Government has pulled back from a policy initiative which would have demonstrated the real benefits of partnership in both economies,” said the association, in a statement.
Mr Rabbitte regretted that a deal with London “has not been possible” but said wind energy exports from Ireland to Britain “are inevitable after 2020”.
“Economic analysis conducted on the Irish side clearly indicates that under agreed policy and regulatory conditions, renewable energy trading can deliver significant economic benefits to Ireland and the UK, as well as being attractive to developers,” he said.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said delaying the development of renewables would “do us nothing but harm”.
In its latest report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said a large-scale transformation of the energy sector from burning fossil fuels to relying primarily on renewables is needed to contain global warming at 2 degrees.
“Without additional efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions . . . emissions growth is expected to . . . result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8 degrees,” it warned.
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Posted by JR at 8:05 PM