Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bad news for Warmists: Sun has entered 'weakest solar cycle in a century'

The conceit that human production of carbon dioxide is capable of driving the earth’s climate is running smack into the sun. CO2 accounts for a mere 0.039% of the atmosphere, while the sun accounts for 99.86% of all of the mass in our entire solar system. And Ol’ Sol is not taking the insult lightly. Vencore Weather reports:

For the past 5 days, solar activity has been very low and one measure of solar activity – its X-ray output – has basically flatlined in recent days (plot below courtesy NOAA/Space Weather Prediction Center). Not since cycle 14 peaked in February 1906 has there been a solar cycle with fewer sunspots.

We are currently more than six years into Solar Cycle 24 and today the sun is virtually spotless despite the fact that we are still in what is considered to be its solar maximum phase. Solar cycle 24 began after an unusually deep solar minimum that lasted from 2007 to 2009 which included more spotless days on the sun compared to any minimum in almost a century.

There are several possible consequences to the solar quiet. The first is counterintuitive:

By all Earth-based measures of geomagnetic and geoeffective solar activity, this cycle has been extremely quiet. However, while a weak solar cycle does suggest strong solar storms will occur less often than during stronger and more active cycles, it does not rule them out entirely. In fact, the famous Carrington Event of 1859 occurred during a weak solar cycle (#10).  See here.  In addition, there is some evidence that most large events such as strong solar flares and significant geomagnetic storms tend to occur in the declining phase of the solar cycle. In other words, there is still a chance for significant solar activity in the months and years ahead.

Our dependence on electronic devices is such that extreme solar events could have serious consequences.  However, it is the likely impact on atmospheric temperatures that threatens the “consensus” on global warming:

…if history is a guide, it is safe to say that weak solar activity for a prolonged period of time can have a negative impact on global temperatures in the troposphere which is the bottom-most layer of Earth’s atmosphere - and where we all live. There have been two notable historical periods with decades-long episodes of low solar activity. The first period is known as the “Maunder Minimum”, named after the solar astronomer Edward Maunder, and it lasted from around 1645 to 1715. The second one is referred to as the “Dalton Minimum”, named for the English meteorologist John Dalton, and it lasted from about 1790 to 1830. Both of these historical periods coincided with below-normal global temperatures in an era now referred to by many as the “Little Ice Age”. In addition, research studies in just the past couple of decades have found a complicated relationship between solar activity, cosmic rays, and clouds on Earth. This research suggests that in times of low solar activity where solar winds are typically weak; more cosmic rays reach the Earth’s atmosphere which, in turn, has been found to lead to an increase in certain types of clouds that can act to cool the Earth.

It is common sense to believe that the sun has more influence on global temperatures than a trace gas. With a 17 year “pause” in the predicted outcomes of an increase in atmospheric CO2, warmists face more and more awkward questions. If temperatures actually decline as a result of an expected decrease in solar activity, at some point the game will be up, and the billions of dollars a year squandered on climate modeling that doesn’t predict what happens will have to dry up.


How living a "Green" life can drive you insane

Dylan Evans built a community without technology and home comforts in the Scottish Highlands and called it Utopia


How many thousands of books and films are there containing stories about visionaries who set up utopian societies — with untoward consequences?

This book addresses the same subject, but it is not fiction. Dylan Evans tried it for himself, and it drove him mad.

Less than ten years ago, Evans was a professional scientist, conducting research into robotics and artificial intelligence. But during a holiday to Mexico in 2005, he perceived striking parallels between the collapse of the Mayan empire 1,000 or so years ago and the state of civilisation today. Could our certainties founder in the way theirs did?

As he describes, many societies collapsed in the past ‘because their energy requirements began to outstrip their energy resources’.

But what if a community could rise from the rubble and exist without technology and the home comforts we take for granted? He returned, determined to create such a community as an experiment, simulating what life after an apocalypse might be like. He built it in the Scottish Highlands, mainly from sticks and canvas, and called it Utopia.

Alarmingly, but intriguingly, his book starts with a 3am scream in a psychiatric hospital. The scream isn’t his, and it’s at the end of the experiment, not the beginning, when — for his own safety — he has been detained under the Mental Health Act.

He recounts how Utopia tested, and finally broke, his sanity. It is a fascinating, troubling and, at times, hilarious tale. The inescapable truth is that Evans wasn’t entirely stable to start with.

He became a committed ‘doomer’ — someone who thinks the end of the world, if not exactly nigh, is approaching. He began to envisage his self-sufficient, post-apocalyptic community, not just as an exercise in social observation, not as The Good Life writ large, but as a kind of dress rehearsal for the real thing.

Inevitably, once news of the project spread, it attracted a motley collection of fellow-utopians: from engaging idealists to raging crackpots, with a few blissed-out hippies in between. But he didn’t blunder into the experiment unprepared. Evans checked out other ‘eco-villages’ and ‘alternative communities’, including one near where I live in Herefordshire. Indeed, parts of this book reminded me of my own family’s move to the sticks some years ago.

Like Evans, I had a romantic notion of becoming ‘a horny-handed son of toil’, only to be completely at a loss the first time I had to wring an ailing chicken’s neck. For Evans, the killing of a pig called Fatso proved similarly traumatic.

Very quickly, he also found the utopian ideology was about as watertight as one of his leaky yurts, and the egalitarianism lasted about as long as it took for one volunteer to be more forceful than another.

Evans does note, perceptively, that ‘utopias also attract misfits, whose inability to integrate may not be due to the society they blame, but to their own cantankerous personalities’. Adam, given to ululating late at night, was a prime example.

Moreover, the society on which they were all trying not to rely had a nasty habit of encroaching on their commune. Terrified that one of his volunteers might get hurt, or worse, Evans took out third-party liability insurance. Which, he concedes, ‘felt like cheating, like I wasn’t fully embracing the radical uncertainty of primitive living’.

And though they resourcefully made their own toothpaste by mixing baking powder, sea salt and peppermint, they had no idea how to make the baking powder, so bought it from a local supermarket. Not very hunter-gatherer.

Evans’ relentless self-questioning about these small, but forgivable, transgressions against the spirit of his own experiment did nothing for his mental health, which further deteriorated as he realised he had invested so much thought and energy into a project that was doomed to failure.

But this book is much more than an account of a naïve undertaking in the life of a rather strange man.

For one thing, it radiates an intense intelligence and a candour that is never less than touching and, sometimes, downright heartrending.

To have written so elegantly and often humorously about his mental health means Evans must now, to a great extent, be ‘better’. But it’s still an exercise in agonised soul-searching.


Clean Water Act regulatory whack-a-mole hurts farmers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers are at it again, seeking to regulate every puddle, creek, and ditch in America as “navigable waters” under the terms of the Clean Water Act — even though you probably couldn’t navigate a paper boat through them.

Starting in April, under the Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act regulation, “waters of the United States” will now include “Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters or the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands.”

In addition, “the agencies propose that ‘other waters’ (those not fitting in any of the above categories) could be determined to be ‘waters of the United States’ through a case-specific showing that, either alone or in combination with similarly situated ‘other waters’ in the region, they have a ‘significant nexus’ to a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas. The rule would also offer a definition of significant nexus and explain how similarly situated ‘other waters’ in the region should be identified.”

Finally, the agencies have an expansive view of bodies of water beyond just aquatic systems, writing in a not-so-innocuous footnote, “The terms do not refer solely to the water contained in these aquatic systems, but to the system as a whole including associated chemical, physical, and biological features.”

To which, Pacific Legal Foundation’s M. Reed Hopper and Todd Gaziano complain in the Wall Street Journal, “What isn’t a chemical, physical or biological feature of an aquatic system as a whole? Does that cover an entire ecoregion? Probably, since agency bureaucrats generally have discretion to interpret and apply their own definitions. Rather than clarify federal jurisdiction, as promised, the proposed rule introduces vastly greater uncertainty.”

Indeed, the entire atmosphere is about 4 percent water. In some organisms, their bodies can be composed of as much as 90 percent water. In humans, it’s about 60 percent. Can those be regulated too as a “biological feature” of an aquatic system?

Hopper and Gaziano note, “By any fair reading, the proposed rule would federalize virtually all water in the nation, and much of the land, in direct contravention of Supreme Court precedent…”

Here Hopper and Gaziano are referencing SWANCC v. Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006), which respectively found that the Army Corps could not regulate “isolated water bodies” that were not connected to traditional navigable waters and that agencies, per Hopper and Gaziano, “could not regulate wetlands merely because they have a hydrological connection to downstream navigable waters.”

Undeterred, EPA and the Army Corps have moved forward with their rulemaking, and the implications for property owners everywhere, including farmers and ranchers, are simply breathtaking.

The issues the regulation raises for Congress are fairly profound. For example, last year the House of Representatives passed HR 5078 which bars implementation of the rule or anything “substantially similar.”

The trouble is, whether subsequent rulemakings would be “substantially similar” would undoubtedly be left up to judicial interpretation, meaning more rounds of regulatory whack-a-mole on the Clean Water Act would be in order for generations to come.

This underscores the problem itself, which is Congress’ reliance on the goodwill and common sense of regulators in drafting these rules, such as under the Clean Water Act, an approach which has proven to be colossal failure, resulting in nearly two decades of litigation over just how far the law goes. It is the administrative state defined.

This year, it is high time for Congress to cut the root of the problem, which is the broad nature of the Clean Water Act itself. Perhaps the reason the agencies keep coming forward with rules beyond the scope of what legislators ever intended is because Congress authorized them to write them.

If members want to address the issue head on, the solution is severely to restrict that authority to draft expansive regulations under the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act for that matter. No less than the property interests of every single American, including farmers and ranchers, are at stake.


Report: Canadian company behind Keystone wants another pipeline

The Canadian company behind the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline will seek U.S. government approval for another pipeline -- this one going north.

Industry officials in North Dakota say the proposed Upland Pipeline could reduce reliance on the railroads to ship crude following recent concerns about safety.

TransCanada Corp.'s proposed $600 million Upland Pipeline would begin near the northwestern North Dakota oil hub of Williston and go north into Canada about 200 miles. At peak operation it would transport up to 300,000 barrels of oil daily, connecting with other pipelines including the Energy East pipeline across Canada.

"We expect Upland and Energy East to play a key role in providing sufficient pipeline capacity to improve supply security for eastern Canadian and U.S. refiners, and reduce the need for foreign imports," TransCanada said in a statement.

The company last year sought commitments from shippers and said in its quarterly earnings report last Friday that the effort was successful. TransCanada hopes to have the Upland Pipeline operating in 2018, pending approval from the U.S. State Department, North Dakota's Public Service Commission and Canada's National Energy Board. The company plans to submit an application to the State Department in the second quarter of this year.

TransCanada has been trying for years to get U.S. approval for the 1,179-mile Keystone XL, which would connect Canada's tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast but has sparked environmental objections. Congress last week approved construction but President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure.

TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata on Thursday said the company can't speculate on whether it might run into similar problems with Upland. Company President and CEO Russ Girling last week told analysts and reporters that he hopes the drawn-out Keystone XL process is "an anomaly."

"Obviously, the market isn't waiting for the regulators to catch up with their decisions -- they're moving the oil now," he said.

North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness on Thursday called the Upland proposal a needed project that would move the state's crude to "great markets" in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.

North Dakota, the nation's No. 2 oil state behind Texas, is producing about 1.2 million barrels of crude daily. Several pipeline projects are proposed to move the oil, 80 percent of which now is being hauled by rail, according to North Dakota Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad.

The Keystone XL would move 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada south, as well as about 100,000 barrels of domestic oil daily from North Dakota's Bakken region. With Upland, a total of about 1 million barrels of oil could be moved by pipelines from North Dakota to markets across the U.S., Ness and Kringstad said.

That would help displace rail shipments of North Dakota oil. Trains hauling crude from the state's rich oil fields have been involved in major accidents in Virginia, West Virginia, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Alabama, as well as in Canada, where 47 people were killed by an explosive derailment in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

"Producers want to put oil on pipelines to get it to these key markets," said Ness, whose group represents more than 500 companies working in western North Dakota. "We've just got to get them permitted."


Battery Subsidies Reflect Poor Energy Policy

In a recent earnings call with investors, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced plans to produce lithium-ion battery packs for use by homes and businesses equipped with rooftop solar generation. Tesla fanatics were quick to spread the news that this could enable customers to disconnect from the power grid and achieve personal energy independence. Before we rush into becoming a nation of single-home power companies, it is important to understand why this idea is unlikely to succeed and is generally a bad idea.

Examining the source of the proposal is a good place to start. Without taxpayer subsidies, there would likely not be a Tesla. Tax credits and government incentives, rather than solid business fundamentals, have fueled Tesla’s growth.  Consumers would undoubtedly have less interest in purchasing a Tesla luxury electric car if not for the $7500 federal tax credit and additional state tax credits. Now Tesla wants to extend its subsidy-dependent business model to the home electricity market. As with its luxury electric cars, Tesla’s concept for home batteries will appeal primarily to higher-income households.

Tesla recently broke ground on its $5 billion battery factory (Gigafactory) near Reno, Nevada. Nevada won a five-state competition for the factory by coughing up $1.25 billion in tax breaks for Tesla. Nevada was also the only state of the five that agreed to allow Tesla to sell its cars directly to customers. Tesla admits that it lacks experience with manufacturing lithium-ion cells but it is collaborating with Panasonic in hopes of refining the production process. This seems like a tremendous gamble on a company with a business model based on taxpayer subsidies.

Grid Disconnection Impractical

People are quick to draw analogies to the telecom industry. Cellular phone technology essentially killed the pay phone industry. More importantly, the number of landline subscribers continues to decrease as customers opt for Internet phone services or just use their cell phones. However, while most parts of the country have alternatives to landline telephones, not everyone has a roof configuration suitable for solar generation.

The basic premise is that rooftop solar generation produces more electricity than the home needs during daylight hours and then produces nothing at all when the sun is not shining.  If the homeowner connects a lithium-ion battery to their solar array, they could store any excess daytime electricity for use at night. The homeowner would also snag a nice 30% federal energy investment tax credit for the cost of the battery as long as the battery connects to the solar array.  While this sounds great, the realities are much more complicated.

Completely disconnecting from the grid is impractical for most homeowners. Consecutive cloudy days would leave the homeowner with no power whatsoever. There are a number of likely scenarios where homeowners will still need power from the grid. Therefore, homes will need to stay connected to the grid for backup power. This means they will (and should) pay a share of the cost of maintaining the utility distribution system. There goes Tesla’s dream of enabling homeowners to stick it to their utility.

Merely Switching Masters

Finally, you have to consider the battery technology itself. Lithium-ion batteries, as their name implies, depend on the alkali metal lithium. According to the USGS, there is currently only one active lithium mine and one lithium-ion battery recycling facility in the United States. Unlike other energy and mineral commodities, the United States is not a player in lithium. Most lithium used in battery production comes from Chile, Australia, and Argentina. Huge reserves in Bolivia have analysts wondering if that country or Chile could become the “Saudi Arabia” of lithium.

While geographical concentration of lithium reserves is a problem, the concentration of lithium production among a handful of firms is an even greater concern. Collectively, the largest four companies account for almost 95% of global lithium supply. These firms include Albemarle, SQM, FMC Corp, and Chengdu Tianqi Industry Group. Advocates of energy independence from foreign sources will not find comfort in the lithium market.  Those who envision the demise of fossil fuels will find that the lithium supply oligopoly has an even greater consolidation of market power than the major oil producers do in the global oil market.

Rational Thought Needed

Given that the home lithium-ion battery concept requires taxpayer subsidies, is impractical, and relies on a tightly held foreign commodity, why are some media outlets fawning over the concept instead of asking hard questions? The reason is that consumers like the idea of having choices and feeling independent. Utilities represent one of the last consumer markets with limited or no customer choice. Utilities tend to be bureaucratic and have a quasi-government feel. These factors make utilities easy targets for reformists. However, state regulators provide oversight to ensure utilities provide service in a cost-effective manner and utilities generally provide reliable service. The concept of a regulated utility is not that much different from a governmental entity that builds and maintains roads for common use.

Becoming overly dependent on lithium-ion technology on a grand scale is not good energy policy. There is a role for electricity storage technologies in our efforts to optimize and conserve scarce energy resources. However, selling the dream of personal energy independence through taxpayer-subsidized batteries is not the answer.


The Bloom is Quickly Fading for Renewable Energy in America and Europe! Finally!

Increasingly over the past decade both federal and state governments have given special subsidies to, provided tax advantages for and mandated the use of solar energy as a solution to environmental concerns and the need for greater domestic energy independence. A damming report from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance details the enormous cost to American’s of the government’s obsessive solar power push. A few of the tidbits are below

A Government Accountability Office review of federal renewable energy-related initiatives for fiscal year 2010 discovered at least 345 different federal initiatives supporting solar energy. The programs are managed by nearly 20 agencies and support more than 1,500 individual projects.

Over the past five years, the federal government spent an estimated $150 billion subsidizing solar power and other renewable energy projects.

Preferable tax treatment given to solar and other alternative electricity initiatives cost Americans nearly $9 billion annually, according to the IRS.

State and local governments increasingly subsidize solar energy. Personal tax credits related to solar products are available in 20 states, 18 states maintain corporate tax credit and deduction programs, and 14 states and Puerto Rico offer taxpayer-funded grants to support solar electricity.

And what as all this largesse bought? Despite the subsidies and mandates solar will make up only 0.6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration. Worse still, government efforts to promote solar energy have resulted in waste and fraud and diverted public and private resources from energy resources that hold more promise.

For instance, “Government-backed solar boondoggles are rampant and include such devastating examples as the Solyndra loan, which cost taxpayers $535 million and left 1,100 employees without a job, and the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, which, despite reaping $1.6 billion in subsidies, produces electricity at a cost three times higher than traditional power and has requested $539 million in additional direct handouts from the federal government.”

The word on renewables is not much better out of Europe. One recent report showed despite generous support that dwarfs the subsidies given to the wind industry in America, Germany’s wind farms are failing to deliver much power. The country has more than 25,000 turbines with a rated capacity of nearly 40,000 megawatts.

However, over the course of 2014 they delivered just 14.8 percent of their rated capacity – or less than 6,000 megawatts, the amount of power one could get from just six coal fired or nuclear power stations. And, of course, unlike the power from the coal power or nuclear power plants, the power delivered by the wind turbines was so volatile and unpredictable that it could not be counted upon to provide baseload power.

With numbers like this, it is little wonder why windpower is quickly falling out of favor in Europe. Across the EU green energy subsidy programs have been slashed causing the rate of wind farm installations to plummet. The Financial Times reports new wind installations fell precipitously in much of Europe: by 90 per cent in Denmark; 84 per cent in Spain (Europes largest wind power market) and 75 per cent in Italy.

The fact that the decline in new wind farm construction comes as subsidies have been slashed is not a coincident and shows just how “not ready for prime-time” wind power still is despite 40 years of support. Wind still can’t compete on price, and may never be able to compete on reliability with the much abused and criticized electric power staples — coal, natural gas and nuclear.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  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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