Monday, September 22, 2014

Tree-huggers note: Trees are bad for the planet!

The NYT says so (below)

AS international leaders gather in New York next week for a United Nations climate summit, they will be preoccupied with how to tackle the rising rate of carbon emissions. To mitigate the crisis, one measure they are likely to promote is reducing deforestation and planting trees.

A landmark deal to support sustainable forestry was a heralded success story of the last international climate talks, in Warsaw last year. Western nations, including the United States, Britain and Norway, handed over millions of dollars to developing countries to kick-start programs to reduce tropical deforestation. More funds are promised.

Deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide. The assumption is that planting trees and avoiding further deforestation provides a convenient carbon capture and storage facility on the land.

That is the conventional wisdom. But the conventional wisdom is wrong.

In reality, the cycling of carbon, energy and water between the land and the atmosphere is much more complex. Considering all the interactions, large-scale increases in forest cover can actually make global warming worse.

Of course, this is counterintuitive. We all learn in school how trees effortlessly perform the marvel of photosynthesis: They take up carbon dioxide from the air and make oxygen. This process provides us with life, food, water, shelter, fiber and soil. The earth’s forests generously mop up about a quarter of the world’s fossil-fuel carbon emissions every year.

So it’s understandable that we’d expect trees to save us from rising temperatures, but climate science tells a different story. Besides the amount of greenhouse gases in the air, another important switch on the planetary thermostat is how much of the sun’s energy is taken up by the earth’s surface, compared to how much is reflected back to space. The dark color of trees means that they absorb more of the sun’s energy and raise the planet’s surface temperature.

Climate scientists have calculated the effect of increasing forest cover on surface temperature. Their conclusion is that planting trees in the tropics would lead to cooling, but in colder regions, it would cause warming.

In order to grow food, humans have changed about 50 percent of the earth’s surface area from native forests and grasslands to crops, pasture and wood harvest. Unfortunately, there is no scientific consensus on whether this land use has caused overall global warming or cooling. Since we don’t know that, we can’t reliably predict whether large-scale forestation would help to control the earth’s rising temperatures.

Worse, trees emit reactive volatile gases that contribute to air pollution and are hazardous to human health. These emissions are crucial to trees — to protect themselves from environmental stresses like sweltering heat and bug infestations. In summer, the eastern United States is the world’s major hot spot for volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.s) from trees.

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As these compounds mix with fossil-fuel pollution from cars and industry, an even more harmful cocktail of airborne toxic chemicals is created. President Ronald Reagan was widely ridiculed in 1981 when he said, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” He was wrong on the science — but less wrong than many assumed.

Chemical reactions involving tree V.O.C.s produce methane and ozone, two powerful greenhouse gases, and form particles that can affect the condensation of clouds. Research by my group at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and by other laboratories, suggests that changes in tree V.O.C.s affect the climate on a scale similar to changes in the earth’s surface color and carbon storage capacity.

While trees provide carbon storage, forestry is not a permanent solution because trees and soil also “breathe” — that is, burn oxygen and release carbon dioxide back into the air. Eventually, all of the carbon finds its way back into the atmosphere when trees die or burn.

Moreover, it is a myth that photosynthesis controls the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. Even if all photosynthesis on the planet were shut down, the atmosphere’s oxygen content would change by less than 1 percent.

The Amazon rain forest is often perceived as the lungs of the planet. In fact, almost all the oxygen the Amazon produces during the day remains there and is reabsorbed by the forest at night. In other words, the Amazon rain forest is a closed system that uses all its own oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Planting trees and avoiding deforestation do offer unambiguous benefits to biodiversity and many forms of life. But relying on forestry to slow or reverse global warming is another matter entirely.

The science says that spending precious dollars for climate change mitigation on forestry is high-risk: We don’t know that it would cool the planet, and we have good reason to fear it might have precisely the opposite effect. More funding for forestry might seem like a tempting easy win for the world leaders at the United Nations, but it’s a bad bet.


Royal Society crooks hoist by their own petard

It was presented as shocking evidence of the damage being done by climate change: a species driven to extinction because of a decline in rainfall in its only habitat. Now the “rediscovery” of a species of snail is prompting questions about the role played by the Royal Society, Britain’s most prestigious scientific institution, in raising false alarm over an impact of climate change.

Rhachistia aldabrae was found alive last month on Aldabra, a coral island in the Seychelles, seven years after a scientific paper in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters had declared it extinct and said climate change was to blame. The claim was cited in 2013 in a paper in another Royal Society journal, which suggested that this was the clearest example of man-made climate change causing an extinction.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN science advisory body, used the second paper as evidence in its major report this year on the impacts of rising emissions. It stated: “Future species extinctions are a high risk because the consequences of climate change are potentially severe, widespread and irreversible.”

However, the claim that the snail was extinct had been rebutted in 2007 by four senior scientists, including Clive Hambler, a lecturer in biology at the University of Oxford and a leading authority on Aldabra. They wrote to the editor of Biology Letters in 2007, saying the paper’s author, Justin Gerlach, had wrongly claimed that “exhaustive” searches had been made for the snail. They also said he had used the wrong method to assess its decline and had made an error that resulted in the reduction in rainfall being exaggerated.

In a rebuttal paper, they wrote: “The vast majority of the habitat is virtually inaccessible and has never been visited. It is unwise to declare this species extinct after a gap in known records of ten years. We predict ‘rediscovery’ when resources permit.”

The journal refused to publish the rebuttal, saying it had been “rejected following full peer review”. The journal sent Mr Hambler the reviews of the rebuttal by two anonymous academic referees, who had rejected the criticisms made of Mr Gerlach’s paper.

However, the Royal Society admitted this week, after questions from The Times, that the referees who had rejected the rebuttal were the same referees who had approved Mr Gerlach’s paper for publication. The society said it had since changed its policy on reviewing rebuttals.

After hearing that the snail had been found, Mr Hambler wrote to the journal this month asking it to retract Mr Gerlach’s paper and publish his rebuttal. “Your original (Gerlach) paper on a climate-induced extinction had errors… Yet it has come to be cited as one of the clearest examples of possible climate-induced global extinction,” he wrote.

Speaking to The Times, he said: “Crying wolf over climate change in this way diverts attention from more pressing causes of extinction, such as the destruction of habitat and invasive species.”

The society has refused to publish the rebuttal because it is seven years old. It has asked Mr Hambler to revise his comments “to include new or additional information”. However, Mr Hambler said that he did not want to revise the rebuttal because it was accurate.

Mr Gerlach said that his error in declaring the snail extinct “does not detract from the fact that the population collapsed catastrophically”.


Obama’s Former Science Official: ‘Climate Science Is Not Settled’

We are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy, writes leading scientist Steven E. Koonin, Under Secretary for science in the US Energy Department during President Barack Obama’s first term

The idea that “Climate science is settled” runs through today’s popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future.

My training as a computational physicist—together with a 40-year career of scientific research, advising and management in academia, government and the private sector—has afforded me an extended, up-close perspective on climate science. Detailed technical discussions during the past year with leading climate scientists have given me an even better sense of what we know, and don’t know, about climate. I have come to appreciate the daunting scientific challenge of answering the questions that policy makers and the public are asking.

The crucial scientific question for policy isn’t whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. Geological and historical records show the occurrence of major climate shifts, sometimes over only a few decades. We know, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth’s global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries. The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

Rather, the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, “How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?” Answers to that question at the global and regional levels, as well as to equally complex questions of how ecosystems and human activities will be affected, should inform our choices about energy and infrastructure.

But—here’s the catch—those questions are the hardest ones to answer. They challenge, in a fundamental way, what science can tell us about future climates.
Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole. For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.

A second challenge to “knowing” future climate is today’s poor understanding of the oceans. The oceans, which change over decades and centuries, hold most of the climate’s heat and strongly influence the atmosphere. Unfortunately, precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades; the reliable record is still far too short to adequately understand how the oceans will change and how that will affect climate.

A third fundamental challenge arises from feedbacks that can dramatically amplify or mute the climate’s response to human and natural influences. One important feedback, which is thought to approximately double the direct heating effect of carbon dioxide, involves water vapor, clouds and temperature.

But feedbacks are uncertain. They depend on the details of processes such as evaporation and the flow of radiation through clouds. They cannot be determined confidently from the basic laws of physics and chemistry, so they must be verified by precise, detailed observations that are, in many cases, not yet available.

Beyond these observational challenges are those posed by the complex computer models used to project future climate. These massive programs attempt to describe the dynamics and interactions of the various components of the Earth system—the atmosphere, the oceans, the land, the ice and the biosphere of living things. While some parts of the models rely on well-tested physical laws, other parts involve technically informed estimation. Computer modeling of complex systems is as much an art as a science.

For instance, global climate models describe the Earth on a grid that is currently limited by computer capabilities to a resolution of no finer than 60 miles. (The distance from New York City to Washington, D.C., is thus covered by only four grid cells.) But processes such as cloud formation, turbulence and rain all happen on much smaller scales. These critical processes then appear in the model only through adjustable assumptions that specify, for example, how the average cloud cover depends on a grid box’s average temperature and humidity. In a given model, dozens of such assumptions must be adjusted (“tuned,” in the jargon of modelers) to reproduce both current observations and imperfectly known historical records.

We often hear that there is a “scientific consensus” about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences. Since 1990, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has periodically surveyed the state of climate science. Each successive report from that endeavor, with contributions from thousands of scientists around the world, has come to be seen as the definitive assessment of climate science at the time of its issue.

For the latest IPCC report (September 2013), its Working Group I, which focuses on physical science, uses an ensemble of some 55 different models. Although most of these models are tuned to reproduce the gross features of the Earth’s climate, the marked differences in their details and projections reflect all of the limitations that I have described. For example:

* The models differ in their descriptions of the past century’s global average surface temperature by more than three times the entire warming recorded during that time. Such mismatches are also present in many other basic climate factors, including rainfall, which is fundamental to the atmosphere’s energy balance. As a result, the models give widely varying descriptions of the climate’s inner workings. Since they disagree so markedly, no more than one of them can be right.

* Although the Earth’s average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by some 25%. This surprising fact demonstrates directly that natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity.

Yet the models famously fail to capture this slowing in the temperature rise. Several dozen different explanations for this failure have been offered, with ocean variability most likely playing a major role. But the whole episode continues to highlight the limits of our modeling.

* The models roughly describe the shrinking extent of Arctic sea ice observed over the past two decades, but they fail to describe the comparable growth of Antarctic sea ice, which is now at a record high.

* The models predict that the lower atmosphere in the tropics will absorb much of the heat of the warming atmosphere. But that “hot spot” has not been confidently observed, casting doubt on our understanding of the crucial feedback of water vapor on temperature.

* Even though the human influence on climate was much smaller in the past, the models do not account for the fact that the rate of global sea-level rise 70 years ago was as large as what we observe today—about one foot per century.

* A crucial measure of our knowledge of feedbacks is climate sensitivity—that is, the warming induced by a hypothetical doubling of carbon-dioxide concentration. Today’s best estimate of the sensitivity (between 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) is no different, and no more certain, than it was 30 years ago. And this is despite an heroic research effort costing billions of dollars.

These and many other open questions are in fact described in the IPCC research reports, although a detailed and knowledgeable reading is sometimes required to discern them. They are not “minor” issues to be “cleaned up” by further research. Rather, they are deficiencies that erode confidence in the computer projections. Work to resolve these shortcomings in climate models should be among the top priorities for climate research.

Yet a public official reading only the IPCC’s “Summary for Policy Makers” would gain little sense of the extent or implications of these deficiencies. These are fundamental challenges to our understanding of human impacts on the climate, and they should not be dismissed with the mantra that “climate science is settled.”

While the past two decades have seen progress in climate science, the field is not yet mature enough to usefully answer the difficult and important questions being asked of it. This decidedly unsettled state highlights what should be obvious: Understanding climate, at the level of detail relevant to human influences, is a very, very difficult problem.


Bobby Jindal: How the ‘Radical Left’ Uses Energy Costs to Control Americans

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal yesterday accused the Obama administration of making energy more expensive with the goal of making Americans more dependent on government.

“The Left, they like to tell us they are the ones [who] are following science and we’re the science deniers,” Jindal said to a small group of reporters after delivering a speech at The Heritage Foundation to debut his energy jobs plan. “But I think overall, their approach to energy is telling.”

The Republican governor said the “radical” Left wants energy to be scarce and expensive because it empowers the federal government to be more involved in Americans’ lives.

Doing so, the potential 2016 presidential candidate said, essentially allows the Obama administration to decide what kind of car you drive, what kind of home you live in, what kind of education your children receive, what kind of health care insurance is adequate for you, and what size soda you can drink.

Right now, Jindal said,  America “is on the road to failure.” He said:

    "It’s war on coal today; it’s going to be a war on natural gas tomorrow—it’s a war on any natural energy source. [The Left] wants it to be scarce; they want it to be expensive. You can see it in their actions, you can see it in their policies."

He cited what he called the Left’s “startling” views on natural gas.  “When [natural gas] was 13 dollars, boy they loved it. As soon as it became affordable, all of the sudden they decided they didn’t like it so much,”  Jindal said.

Nicolas Loris, a Heritage economist who specializes in energy policy, agreed that some liberals initially supported natural gas “as a bridge fuel to take us to renewables.” But because the revolution in shale gas provided an abundance of cheap natural gas, he said, “that bridge became a lot longer than they anticipated.”

“While it may be bad news for other sources of energy,” Loris added, “the low-cost energy is great news for American families and businesses.”

Jindal also cited regulations on carbon dioxide as proof of an “ideologically extreme” agenda by President Obama and other liberals. He said:

“For much of the Left, the whole debate about [carbon dioxide]  is really a Trojan horse because these are folks that never did want a free market. This was a group that was always looking for an excuse to impose more government regulation, more government oversight. … This is just their latest vehicle to do it.”

Jindal’s energy plan, co-authored by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, is called “Organizing Around Abundance: Making America an Energy Superpower” and promises to usher in an “unprecedented” era of energy development and job growth.  Here are the main points:

1. Promote responsible development of domestic energy resources and construct infrastructure to transport it.

2. Encourage technological innovation of renewables and emerging energy without picking winners and losers. In other words:Stop giving taxpayer-funded handouts to politically preferred energy sources and technologies. Let the market work.

3. Unlock the economic potential of the manufacturing renaissance by putting America’s energy resources to work.

4. Eliminate burdensome regulations such as the Obama administration’s increased carbon dioxide restrictions on power plants.

5. Bolster national security by ending policies that ban the exporting of natural resources.

6. Pursue “no regrets” policies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions without punishing the U.S. economy by putting it at a disadvantage to those of other nations.

Loris gave points to the Jindal-Flores plan for building on “what we see and know to be successful” when it comes to American energy production.

“Free market policies that open access, remove handouts and peel back burdensome regulations will reward risk-taking, stimulate economic growth and provide Americans with affordable energy,” he said.

What the nation shouldn’t pursue, Loris added, is a policy of reducing carbon dioxide.

“That assumes carbon emissions are a problem,” he said.  Instead, “we can recognize that free markets that reward technological innovation can fuel the economy and reduce emissions.”


Comment by conservative Australian cartoonist  ZEG on Australia's recent abolition of the previous government's carbon tax

Power grid groans, blackouts roll through L.A. area as heat wave nears peak

And the billions spent on windmills and solar cells didn't help?

Power outages have been reported during an all-time high demand for electricity during the Southern California heat wave.

Heat wave peaks Tuesday, @LADWP predicts highest power demand ever
Power outages linked to L.A.'s intense heat wave rolled across the city Tuesday. As temperatures approached dangerous highs, harried crews restored service to one area only to be sent to another blackout.

The scorching heat wave has pushed demand for electricity to an all-time high, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power dispatched extra crews to respond to damaged equipment that had left thousands of customers without service.

As of 10 a.m., there were 3,300 customers without power, most of them in Los Feliz and Hollywood.

On Monday, LADWP reported that customers broke a record set in 2010, when they used 6,177 megawatts. On Monday, that figure hit 6,196 megawatts.

The utility said it expected even greater demand from its 1.4 million customers as the stifling heat wave was set to peak on Tuesday.

“Under these extreme conditions, our system is holding up quite well, but we urge our customers to continue to conserve to reduce strain on the grid,” LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards said in a statement.

Blackouts were reported in some of the area’s hardest hit by the five-day heat wave, including Sun Valley, Burbank and Sherman Oaks, where temperatures have hit as high as 105 degrees. Other areas that were affected Tuesday included Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, the Valley and West L.A.

Despite the unprecedented demand for power, LADWP said it had enough equipment to handle the various transformer burnouts and power line failures.

"We’re prepared for emergencies," said spokeswoman Jane Galbraith.

Officials recommended customers set thermostats to 78 degrees or warmer between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., when it requires the most energy to cool a room, and not to use major appliances until evenings or early morning. Closing blinds and curtains to limit direct sunlight also helps.

Temperatures across Southern California have remained in the triple digits as a weak off-shore flow holds cooler sea breezes at bay.

Several more temperature records could fall, including one set in 1909 when downtown L.A. hit 103 degrees. Woodland Hills, meanwhile, is expected to match its 14-year-old record of 109 degrees, and Burbank could top out at 105 degrees, a record set in 1984.



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