That evil radiation again
To the Green/Left any level of ionizing radiation is reason for panic. A level of radiation that is perfectly normal and untroublesome in some places on earth (e.g. Aberdeen, Scotland) will evoke shrieks if human activity can somehow be invoked as causing it.
The huge body of evidence about hormesis shows that low to medium levels of radiation are in fact beneficial rather than harmful but that is totally ignored by the panic merchants. The findings below are therefore just more evidence that ionizing radiation has to reach much higher levels than is conventionally understood before it becomes harmful. Zero tolerance of radiation is absurd.
Not mentioned below is that some older people have returned to their original homes in the area. They remembered how well their gardens fed them in the Soviet era (yummy potatoes and onions!) and they have found that their gardens can still do that. And they too remain alive and kicking
Wildlife including wolves, elk and wild boar are thriving around Chernobyl since the area was deserted by humans after the world's worst nuclear accident, a study shows.
Populations of large mammals show no evidence of being affected by the continuing radiation in the exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant in Ukraine, close to the Belarus border, which was hit by an explosion and fire in 1986.
Around 116,000 people were permanently evacuated from the 1,600 square miles (4,200 sq km) exclusion zone around the power plant, with villages and towns left to go to ruin.
Three decades on, a scientific study published in the journal Current Biology has found abundant populations of mammals - the most sensitive creatures to the impacts of radiation - in the area.
Using helicopter surveys, researchers in Belarus found that elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar populations within the exclusion zone are similar to those in four uncontaminated nature reserves in the region, while wolf numbers are seven times higher.
And studies involving assessing tracks in new-fallen snow of roe deer, fox, wild boar and other animals including lynx, pine marten and European hare, found numbers were not reduced in areas with higher radiation.
The study found said while the extremely high dose rates of radiation in the immediate aftermath of the accident significantly hit animal health and reproduction, they recovered quickly and there was no evidence of long term effects on mammal populations.
While individual animals may be affected by radiation, overall populations have benefitted from the absence of people and hunting, forestry and farming which are likely to have kept wildlife numbers low before the accident, the researchers said.
Lynx have returned to the area, having previously been absent, while wild boar are taking advantage of abandoned farm buildings and orchards for shelter and food.
One of the study's authors, Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University, said that the nuclear accident had very severe social, psychological and economic consequences for the local communities which had to be evacuated.
But he said: 'In purely environmental terms, if you take the terrible things that happened to the human population out of the equation, as far as we can see at this stage, the accident hasn't done serious environmental damage.
'Indeed by accident it's created this kind of nature reserve.'
Saving the Environment from Environmentalism
When Jonathan Franzen wrote a provocative piece in The New Yorker earlier this year, “Climate Capture”, Chris Clarke, an influential environmental blogger in California, described it as having “walked up to a hornet’s nest and hit it with a baseball bat.” Franzen had asked the question no one has wanted to face: “Has climate change made it harder for people to care about the environment?” After identifying what he called a few “winces” Clarke concluded, “Finally. Finally, someone prominent is saying this.” By “this” Clark was referring to the growing concern that today’s environmental policies are causing unanticipated impacts that are being ignored in the name of a supposed higher good – reducing carbon emissions. As one speaks to grassroots environmentalists across the country, there is a growing sense that perhaps we are getting it wrong, perhaps we are living with an inherited environmental dogma that reflects old thinking and flawed premises.
Most would agree on the major goals of environmentalism: first, reduce carbon emissions, and second, minimize our environmental footprint as we pursue growing human needs. Current thinking on how to achieve these goals is informed by two basic premises: first, environmental solutions must “harmonize with nature”, hence the emphasis on so-called “green” renewable resources; and second, nuclear power must be opposed at all costs. Fossil fuels are to be displaced over the long term, but they take a back seat to nuclear power, like way back. There is now good reason to believe those premises are fundamentally flawed.
During the past decade, a number of leading environmentalists have already challenged the historical opposition to nuclear power, five of them being featured in a 2013 documentary by Robert Stone called “Pandora’s Promise”. Their issue was carbon and the belief we won’t achieve the kinds of reductions we need without nuclear power. We can get a sense of that challenge from The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based affiliation of 29 countries founded in 1973 to coordinated global energy policies. They have developed what they call a 450 scenario, aimed at keeping atmospheric concentrations of CO2 below 450 ppm, a level viewed by many as a tipping point for climate change.
Their rather startling conclusion, evident in the above figure, is just how radically current policies need to be changed. To turn the curve over we must both cut coal and hold natural gas emissions constant at present levels. Current policies are harsh on coal but they encourage more gas generation. The simple reality is that nuclear power will need to be part of the mix if we are to achieve these reductions.
And yet carbon is only one piece of the picture. In late 2014 an “Open Letter to Environmentalists”, signed by fifty-six environmental and conservation scientists from throughout the world argued the exclusive commitment to renewable resources is threatening biodiversity. They too agreed “the full gamut of electricity generation resources – including nuclear power – must be deployed if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change.” But it wasn’t just carbon that disturbed them. Based upon a study by two Australian scientists at The Environmental Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, they concluded the exclusive reliance on renewable resources is doing unnecessary damage to habitat. “As conservation scientists concerned with global depletion of biodiversity,” they wrote, “proponents of (non-nuclear alternatives) typically to not admit to the difficulties of large scale use of these technologies.” In effect, the ideological impulse to “harmonize with nature” is propelling us toward resources that are unduly threatening biodiversity. Here too nuclear power, a resource they described as “by far the most compact and energy dense of sources,” needs to be part of the mix. 
For many grass-roots environmentalists, it is the biodiversity issue that rankles most. Yet the emotional, financial and political investment in the current dogma is so strong there is a collective beat down for anyone who tries to raise it. Witness the reaction to Franzen’s article. The opening salvo came from Mark Jannot, writing for the Audubon Society. Franzen had opened with an inference that, facing the global threat of climate change, we were trivializing a few thousand bird deaths in the present, with an oblique reference to the Audubon Society. It was one of Clark’s “winces”. After understandably defending the Audubon Society, Jannot charges that Franzen’s analysis is “half-baked”, “intellectually dishonest” and “based on intellectual sleight of hand,” eventually claiming the underlying concern – that climate change has raised some difficult questions — is not supported by a “shred of evidence.” Standing by with pom poms, Joanna Rothkopf, writing at Salon.com, elegantly cheered him on: “Audubon doesn’t take that kind of shit-talking from anyone”. The Guardian weighing in as well, calls Franzen’s charges “absurd”, charging that “Franzen’s claim about a conflict between conservation and climate activism” is a form a lunacy – “psychologically-driven, a product of his private prejudices, irritations and resentments.”
Ok, so let’s take a deep breath and chill. This sort of stridency misses the point, though it highlights the hair-trigger sensitivity of the issue. No one is questioning the authenticity of the Audubon Society or anyone else who has devoted themselves to environmental causes, their genuine concern for the environment, or for birds or for habitat – I don’t, and I certainly did not read Franzen that way. But they are trying to engage a reasoned dialogue about a growing angst among grassroots environmentalists over impacts they are seeing and the reluctance of major environmental groups to take them seriously, all in the name of “saving the planet”. It’s a simple question: are we really saving the planet? Are these the right steps to reduce carbon? And have we allowed ideology to blind us to a most basic environmental issue – minimizing our footprint on the ecology?
Environmentalists versus environmentalism
Laura Jackson, raised on a wooded 300-acre farm in southwestern Pennsylvania, gained a respect and appreciation for nature at a very early age. She eventually served as a high school teacher in environmental science for 38 years, joined the Audubon Society in the 1970’s, the Sierra Club a little later, and other environmentally focused groups such as the Nature Conservancy. “I’ve developed an environmental ethic, a concern for habitat and species,” she says, “which I’ve tried to instill in my students, especially in the environmental science classes I’ve taught.”
Her curriculum included an emphasis on renewable energy, the importance of wind and solar and “how great they are”, as she puts in now in a moment of reflection. Today she has become a skeptic. Her earlier teachings on wind and solar, she says, were “basically just superficial reading that I had done and not gone into much depth.” She was doing what every good environmentalist was supposed to do, what every major national environmental group had insisted we must do to assure sustainable, environmentally friendly sources of energy for the future while combating climate change. She was, she thought, embracing a “clean” and “green” future.
All of that began to change when she learned in 2005 that major wind projects were being planned for a local mountain range “about 20 miles north of where I live – not in my backyard but in the county where I live. I got his sick feeling in my stomach because I knew that was not an appropriate site for any type of energy development – very steep slopes, very rocky soil, and there would have to be a lot of damage to the habitat.” It prompted her to dig deeper and as she did, she describes herself as “blown away … I had never seen pictures of wind projects built on mountains and what had to be done to move the earth, to remove the natural vegetation and to change the whole topography to put in a project.” Eventually she mobilized local opposition, including local chapters of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club and was able to limit the damage, blocking some of the worst of them.
But the stress here is on the word “local”. The National Audubon Society and the National Sierra Club are both strong supporters of industrial wind development. While both claim they only support projects on “proper sites,” as Jackson would say, “when I ask where is it properly sited, nobody answers that question – it is very frustrating. We have these huge powerful conservation organizations that are pro-wind, and they are not being helpful at the local level.”
In the national push to pursue wind generation, ridgetop areas in the mountainous Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions have been caught in crossfire. The names are familiar – the Appalachians, Green Mountains, Catskills, Adirondacks, Blue Ridges, and Great Smokies, all evoking images of scenic areas environmentalists have historically sought to protect. Unfortunately they also have ideal wind speeds making them attractive sites for wind generators.
While the rhetoric claims this growth is being carefully managed to protect wildlife and habitat, the facts on the ground say otherwise. In Maryland, where wind projects were planned for major bird corridors along the Appalachian Mountains, legislation was passed in 2007 exempting wind projects under 70 MW from environmental reviews, hoping to nullify “a vocal minority of anti-wind extremists” and giving developers an environmental free pass. , A few years later, Governor O’Malley overrode legislation blocking a project to build 24 windmills across Chesapeake Bay, stating: “I am committed to protecting (the) Pax River because I know how critically important it is to Maryland”, but, he continued, “the real threat to the Pax River is not an array of wind turbines on the lower Eastern Shore, but rising sea levels caused by climate change.”
Farther to the north in Vermont wind turbines may ultimately be installed on as many as 200 miles of mountain ridgetops. It is all part of Vermont’s vision “to lead the nation to an energy future that relies on renewable resources.” As spelled out in their 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP), Vermont is committed to producing 90% of their energy from renewable resources by 2050.
Why this push for renewables? When the plan was produced in 2011, Vermont had the lowest carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in the 50 states, relying primarily on hydro power from Canada and electricity from Vermont Yankee, a 620 MW nuclear plant. Therein lies the answer.
Facing a flawed wholesale market, a hostile political climate, and with the encouragement of state political leaders, the owners of Vermont Yankee made a decision in 2013 to permanently close the plant, even though its operating license had recently been extended through 2032. While the ostensible reason was economics, writing of the decision at the time Amy Goodman stated, “it was years of people’s protests and state legislative action that forced its closure.” Yet while the political leadership cheered, the regional administrator of the wholesale electric market, ISO-New England, was not so sanguine: “The retirement of this large nuclear station will result in less fuel diversity and greater dependence on natural gas”, he said, observing that the growing dependence on natural gas had been identified as a key strategic risk for the region. As Vermont’s plan unapologetically states, natural gas is now embraced as a preferred resource with plans to increase its use.
High-minded rhetoric aside, Vermont’s energy ambitions are driven by the need to fill the hole left by the closure of Vermont Yankee, even if it means a massive development of wind generation along mountain ridgetops and greater dependence on natural gas to provide electricity when intermittent wind is not operating.
For the “Green Mountain State”, a state that has banned billboards and prides itself on its natural beauty, this aggressive shift to renewables is a non-trivial undertaking. Annette Smith, founder and current head of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) puts it this way: “That’s what we’re doing here in Vermont. Let’s carpet everything with solar and every ridge line with wind turbines and it’s a moral imperative in order to save the planet.” She too has become a skeptic. Having been completely off-grid since 1988 and relying almost totally on solar, her initial instincts were favorable. It was only after locals raised concerns and she visited the Cohocton Wind project in nearby New York that, alarmed by the size, noise and visual impacts – VCE became active in efforts to challenge the unconstrained wind development in Vermont.
Others have stepped in as well. Nationally respected wildlife ecologist Susan Morse puts it this way: ”… it’s not so much that my aesthetic life would be ruined,” she says, but it’s the “whole manner of damage to wildlife habitat.” From the effects of erosion, to the clearing of mountain tops areas for construction, to the roads required both for initial construction and on-going maintenance, the result is “irreparable damage to core habitat and healthy ecological functions.” She continues, “This is being presented as a green alternative but it’s not green if it’s not done well, and that’s where, as a scientist, I really beg to differ with the proponents of wind energy on our ridge lines. It’s not well researched, (and) we don’t have all the answers.”
The Big Sunshiny Lie
As Florida enviros push for their solar amendment, solar’s undesirability goes unmentioned
The important thing to know about solar and wind power, and other so-called “renewable” sources of energy, is that they aren’t necessary. Au contraire, their dominance of the energy mix would be a disaster for the republic. Solar and wind create trifling amounts of power at a multiple of the cost of power made available by fossil fuels.
Increased reliance on pricy power from wind and solar would drive up the overall cost of energy, which in turn would drive up the cost of everything. EVERYTHING! Not just individual power bills, which would be bad enough. It takes energy to produce, transport, and market all the goods Americans take for granted. Even our service economy is a heavy user of energy.
Wind and solar power are also unreliable. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. This isn’t going to change.
In a dystopian wind and solar economy, say goodbye to the supermarket, to pain-free dentistry, to air-conditioning, to the modern hospital, to night baseball. While you’re up, take the hood off your car and make it into a planter because you’ll no longer afford to drive it. A fossil-fuel-free America would become, in short order, a third-world country. Life would once again become nasty, brutish, and short. Or at least a damn sight more straitened than the prosperity contemporary Americans are used to and take as a given.
There is enough oil and gas underground in America to supply energy needs for centuries, if the Sierra Club and other Lexus Luddites would allow us to use it. The problems associated with the burning of fossil fuels have been grossly exaggerated by the political Left for ideological reasons. Those who identify themselves as environmentalists slander fossil fuels — about which most enviros I’ve encountered know bugger all — in order to make themselves feel morally superior to others. To demonstrate how much more they LUV the planet than you do.
Most leftist politicians are another matter, less ignorant, more cynical and conniving. They cater to enviros and whoop us such frauds as global warming in order to increase their political power. The solution to global warming, and other environmental “problems,” is to tax and regulate, i.e. turn more political power over to government. Turn the decisions individuals and businesses have been making for centuries in the land of the free over to politicians and bureaucrats. Just what the Left has always wanted. Obama and his EPA are pushing this agenda at every level now, with very little resistance from Republicans, who, as usual, find themselves confused and cowed. In this instance by junk science that has proved popular with voters.
Right now, against all the available evidence and the urgings of good sense, the lefty alarmists hold the upper hand. A frightening number of Americans have been convinced that fossil fuels — the single thing most responsible for their long, healthy, prosperous, and easeful lives — are dirty, downright evil, and a danger to their very existence. (Review the theory of The Big Lie here.)
Which brings us to a superfluous campaign going on in Florida just now, in which solar boosters are attempting to make the state government a solar crusader. (Similar crack-pot campaigns are going on in other states — I write about this one because it’s in my front yard.) An outfit called Floridians for Solar Choice, largely funded by the usual left-enviro outfits, is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would make Florida a shill for solar with the following meat-axe language: “It shall be the policy of the state to encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.”
Wow. This is clearer than a sunshiny day. This kind of mandate in the state’s governing document would doubtless lead to more solar-mandates and more subsidies, of which there are too many already. I can see solar industry grant-writers salivating now. With this language in the Florida constitution, the Florida Legislature might consider changing the legend on Florida’s automobile license plates from “The Sunshine State” to “The Solyndra State.”
This group’s published rationalization for this additional carve-out for the solar industry is that they wish to put solar on the free market with other power sources and allow power consumers to choose. They say this would drive down the cost of electric power, though they never get around to saying how. They say this would create a level-playing field for solar, when in fact it would oblige the state to discriminate against all other forms of power in favor of solar. Out-of-state solar companies would profit from this solar favoritism. Floridians would be handed the bill.
It’s hard to imagine anyone paying the slightest attention falling for this laughable line. Solar wouldn’t last an hour on the open market. It’s only the massive subsidies and tax breaks that solar receives that disguise the fact that electricity generated by solar costs three times that of power generated with fossil fuels. No amount of new math will make it anything but a disaster to force more of this costly power on an already weak economy.
It would take industrial strength naïveté to believe that Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Tom Steyer really wish to promote free markets. Still, many columnists and editorial writers among Florida’s mainstream media have been charmed. This is not difficult to do, and only those with an agenda would stoop to it.
The agenda is pretty clear. In addition to obliging Florida to whoop up and facilitate solar, the amendment would allow solar companies to install solar panels free of charge on homes and businesses and sell the power these panels generate to the property owners. And there is meat-axe language in the amendment that would prohibit the state from regulating solar companies. No one would benefit from this amendment other than the already politically charmed solar industry.
As it stands now, only utilities can sell electric power in Florida. One doesn’t have to be a fan of everything utilities do to see the reason for utility monopolies. If the corner drugstore goes belly-up, this can be inconvenient. If the power company goes belly up…
Floridians For Solar treats all opposition to its proposed amendment as nothing more than propaganda from rich utilities trying to protect their privileges and their ability to gouge the little guy on power. Floridians For spokesmen used this argument and more last Tuesday when arguing before the Florida Supreme Court that their amendment is both clear and only treats of one subject, requirements for constitutional amendments in Florida. Attorneys for utility companies and the Florida Attorney General’s office argued that the language does deal with more than one subject and is misleading in that it does not inform voters that the Florida Public Service Commission would not regulate solar companies as to service, territory, or rates.
The court will rule on the wording in due course, and should that be a legal thumbs up, Floridians For Solar will have to get 683,149 valid signatures of Florida voters on their petition before next summer in order for the amendment to appear on the November, 2016 ballot. If the language is turned down, it will likely be 2020 before another attempt is made, according to Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the biggest financial backer of Floridians for Solar.
“I always think you want to run one of these things in a presidential year because you have a larger turnout and a whole different demographic,” Smith told the Jacksonville Business Journal.
A second constitutional amendment, called Consumers for Smart Solar, backed mostly by utilities and which largely maintains the status quo on solar, has recently begun to circulate. Press attention and public discussion on both amendments has been minimal. There’s no predicting what 2016 will bring. But for now solar power and these two amendments don’t seem to be on the radar of many voters, which is just as well because both of them are unnecessary. Floridians may need sun block when they go outside, especially in summer (11 months of the year hereabouts). But they don’t need solar power
Appeals court blasts Obama admin's view of key bird law
A decision last week by a federal appeals court to overturn an oil company's convictions under a century-old bird law could hinder the Obama administration's ability to prosecute companies that kill migratory birds and calls into question a potentially sweeping rulemaking.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling cleared Citgo Petroleum Corp. of violations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It's the latest appeals court to weigh in on what some argue is the government's expansive interpretation of the 1918 law.
Energy company attorneys say the ruling confirms that Congress only intended the law to apply to the intentional killing of migratory birds through activities like unpermitted hunting.
But an attorney for the American Bird Conservancy disagreed, calling the 5th Circuit's ruling a "minority view" among federal courts that severely undermines the law's purpose to conserve migratory birds.
One thing's for sure: This is likely not the last time courts and the federal government will wrestle over the scope of MBTA. The 5th Circuit's opinion is a break from other circuit courts, which increases the chances the issue could find its way to the Supreme Court.
Moreover, the 5th Circuit's ruling could boost efforts among some Republicans in Congress to shield wind farms, oil companies and chemical manufacturers from MBTA's reach (E&E Daily, June 12).
The 1918 migratory bird law makes it illegal to "pursue, hunt, take, capture [or] kill" any of more than 1,000 covered bird species, but courts have disagreed over whether such actions need to be intentional.
Over the past few years, the Obama administration has taken a more expansive view by prosecuting two energy companies whose Wyoming wind farms had unintentionally killed migratory birds and several oil and gas firms in North Dakota whose wastewater pits became deathtraps for ducks.
But in the 5th Circuit case, a three-judge panel unanimously ruled that a district court was wrong to convict Citgo of violating MBTA when it unintentionally killed 10 ducks that ingested or were coated with oil at a Texas refinery.
The company argued that MBTA does not cover unintentional bird kills, and the court agreed.
"Taking" under MBTA, the court found, "is limited to deliberate acts done directly and intentionally to migratory birds."
The government's expansive interpretation of MBTA would make a host of other bird-killing businesses and individuals liable for violations, including the owners of telecommunications towers, power lines, wind farms, skyscrapers and even domestic cats, the court ruled.
"This scope of strict criminal liability would enable the government to prosecute at will and even capriciously," the court said, yielding "absurd results."
The Justice Department has asked the court for additional time to decide whether to ask for a rehearing.
"All we can say at this point is that we are reviewing the court's decision," said Laury Parramore, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees MBTA and works with DOJ to prosecute violators.
The 5th Circuit aligned itself with similar rulings by the 8th and 9th circuits that also found "taking" under MBTA to be limited to deliberate kills.
But the 10th Circuit has taken an opposing view, ruling in 2010 to uphold the misdemeanor MBTA convictions of two Kansas oil rig operators after dead birds were found trapped in heater treaters. That court concluded that MBTA is a "strict liability" statute that covers all deaths of migratory birds.
Svend Brandt-Erichsen, an attorney at Marten Law who represents energy firms, said the 5th Circuit's ruling was among the least ambiguous of the circuit courts. If it stands, it would force FWS to think twice before prosecuting wind farms or other energy facilities for incidental bird kills within the court's Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi territory, he said.
The court drew a sharp distinction between the limited meaning of "take" under MBTA and a more expansive definition under the Endangered Species Act, he said.
Andrew Bell, another attorney at Marten Law, said the court was right to point out larger sources of incidental bird kills that could be liable under the government's view of MBTA. It noted that Fish and Wildlife estimates between 97 million and 976 million birds are killed annually by running into windows and that communication towers kill an additional 4 million to 5 million each year.
Energy producers, who have recently borne the brunt of MBTA enforcements, are estimated to kill far fewer.
"This has been the refrain of the wind industry for over a decade, and it's nice to see that someone has heard it," Bell said.
For its part, FWS has so far exercised prosecutorial discretion in enforcing the law, going after only the companies it feels are the most negligent.
Eric Glitzenstein, of Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP, which represents the American Bird Conservancy, said the 5th Circuit adopted "an extraordinarily narrow and, in ABC's view, legally bankrupt view of the MBTA's scope that severely undercuts the act's -- and the underlying treaties' -- broad bird protection purposes."
He argued that it was also a minority view.
"Most courts have correctly concluded that the MBTA's prohibition on taking birds without an MBTA permit encompasses bird deaths resulting from inherently hazardous activities -- such as maintaining uncovered oil tanks and operating wind turbines in the habitat of migratory birds," he said.
Glitzenstein said the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has also held that MBTA applies to "inherently hazardous activities," as have district courts, including the one in Washington, D.C.
The 5th Circuit decision could also affect Fish and Wildlife Service plans to establish a permitting regime to more tightly regulate incidental take of birds under MBTA.
The agency in May said it will study the potential issuance of take permits for owners of drilling pits, gas flares, power lines and communications towers. The aim is to give companies legal cover under MBTA while securing commitments from them to offset their take with habitat restoration and protection (Greenwire, May 22).
But that rulemaking, if FWS were to pursue it, assumes MBTA applies to incidental take, which the 5th Circuit explicitly denied.
The American Bird Conservancy supports a permitting regime, arguing that the government must take better stock of impacts to ecologically important migratory bird species, many of which are in decline.
Glitzenstein helped ABC petition FWS to develop MBTA incidental take regulations.
"This ruling makes it all the more important that the FWS continue with its rulemaking establishing a system for regulating incidental take from industrial activities that are inherently harmful to migratory bird populations," he said.
New book: Doubt and Certainty in Climate Science
The Preface provides some interesting history, here are some excerpts:
"But more recently, I became troubled by what seemed to be a preference to view the climate as a global stable state, unless perturbed by anthropogenic effects, rather than as a highly complex system having several dominant states, each having a characteristic return period imposed on gradual change at millennial scale. The research of H.H. Lamb and others on the natural changes of regional and global climate of the Holocene appeared to be no longer of interest, and the evidence for anthropogenic climate change was being discussed as if it was reducible to change in a single value that represented global surface temperature.
The complex relationship between solar cycles and regional climate states on Earth that was central to classical climatology (and is still being discussed in the peer-‐reviewed literature) had been replaced with a reductionist assumption concerning radiative balance, and the effective dismissal of any significant solar influence. I found this rejection of an entire body of scientific literature troubling, and looked for a disinterested discussion of the balance between natural and anthropogenic effects, but could not find what I wanted -‐ a book that covered the whole field in an accessible and unprejudiced manner, and that was based solely on the scientific literature: I found text-‐books on individual topics aplenty, together with a flood of others, either supporting or attacking the standard climate change model, but none that was based wholly on studies certified by peer-‐review -‐ and whose author was inquisitive rather than opinionated.
One thing led to another and this text is the result. My intention has been to examine the scientific literature that both supports – and also contradicts -‐ the standard description of anthropogenic climate change, and its effects on Earth systems: I undertook the task with an open mind concerning the interpretation of the evidence presented in individual research reports, and collectively by those who have been tasked to report to governments on the progress of climate change and to predict future states.
Because of my experience, this review leans very heavily on discussion of the role of the oceans in controlling climate states, but I make no apology for this: their role is central and critical and too often ignored.
Anthropogenic modification of climate, especially of micro-‐climates, is undoubtedly occurring but I have been unable to convince myself that the radiative contribution of carbon dioxide can be observed in the data, although modellers have no trouble in demonstrating the effect.
Because there will certainly be some who will question my motive in undertaking this task, I assure them that I have been impelled by nothing other than curiosity and have neither sought nor received financial support from any person or organisation in the preparation and distribution of this eBook."
The conclusions from Longhurst’s analysis are presented in section 11.2:
"While I am aware that the general opinion of the relevent scientific community is that no further debate is necessary after five successive assessments by the IPCC, I suggest that this is premature because these conclusions concern topics that have not yet been properly addressed by that body, and so should be accorded status in a continuing debate concerning the influence of anthropogenic effects on regional climates.
If the peer-‐reviewed scientific literature, with all the levels of uncertainty associated with individual contributions, has anything to say collectively in assessing the standard climate model, then a small number of conclusions may be drawn from the 600 peer-‐reviewed papers that I have consulted:
* the global archives of surface air temperature measurements are unreliable estimators of the consequences of atmospheric CO2 contamination, because they are already themselves contaminated by the effects of deforestation, land use change, urbanisation and the release of industrial particulates into the lower atmosphere (Sections 6.3, 6.4, 6.5).
* users of these data are not able to judge the consequences of the adjustments that have been made to the original observations of surface air temperature ashore, although the limited investigations now possible show that the adjustments have changed the long-‐term trends that had been recorded by some reputable national meteorological services (Sections 4.1, 4.2).
* sea surface temperature is not a substitute for air temperature over the oceans because it responds to changes in vertical motion in the ocean associated with coastal and open-‐ocean upwelling; the resultant change in surface temperature is independent of any changes in atmospheric temperature caused by CO2, yet these changes are integrated into the GMST record which is used to estimate the effects of CO2 (Section 4.3)
* surface air temperatures respond to cyclical changes within the Sun, and to the effect of changing orbital configurations in the solar system: the changes in the resultant strength of received irradiance (and of tidal stress in the oceans, which also has consequences for SAT) are both predictable and observable (Sections 3.2, 3.3, and 3.4),
* our description of the evolution of the global heat budget and its distribution in multiple sinks is inadequate for an understanding of the present state of the Earth’s surface temperature, or to serve as the initial state for complex modelling of climate dynamics. Future states are therefore unpredictable, cannot be modelled, and will certainly surprise people living through the next century (Sections 4.1, 4.2, 4.4, 4.5),
* the planetary heat budget is poorly constrained, perhaps principally by our inability to quantify the mechanisms that control the accumulation and loss of heat in the ocean, where most solar heat accumulates; the quantification of changes in cloud cover is so insecure that we cannot confidently describe its variability -‐ yet clouds are the most important control on the rate of heat input at the sea surface (Sections 5.1-‐ 5.4),
* the evidence for an intensification of extreme weather events and, in particular, tropical cyclones is very weak and is largely due to the progressively-‐ increasing reliability and coverage of weather monitoring: todays frequency of cyclones and other phenomena does not appear to be anomalous when longer data sets can be examined (Sections 9.1, 9.2),
* global climate in the present configuration of the continents falls naturally into a limited number of patterns that are forced externally and patterned by internal dynamics. Some of these climate patterns will tend to conserve global heat, some will tend to permit its dissipation to space, while all move heat from one region to another. Two dominate the whole: the North Atlantic Oscillation that describes the flux of tropical heat through the North Atlantic Current into Arctic regions, and the Southern Oscillation that describes the strength of trade winds, especially in the Pacific, and thus the relative area of cold, upwelled water that is exposed to the atmosphere (Sections 7.1, 7.2),
* the recent melting of arctic ice cover over larger areas than 20 years ago in summer is not a unique event, but is a recurrence of past episodes and is the result of cyclically-‐variable transport of heat in warm North Atlantic water into the Arctic basin through the Norwegian Sea; the present episode will likely evolve in the same way as earlier episodes (Sections 8.1-‐8.3),
* sea level is indeed rising as described by the IPCC and others, but the causes -‐ especially at regional scale -‐ are more complex than suggested by that agency and involve many processes other than expansion due to warming. Had the human population of some very small islands remained within carrying capacity, their occupation could have been permanent, but this is not the case (Sections 10.1, 10.2),
* the consequences of acidification of seawater is one of the most enigmatic questions, and may bring serious biological problems, although it seems now that (i) marine organisms are more resilient to changing pH than was originally feared, because of the genetic diversity of their populations and (ii) the history of pH of seawater during geological time suggests that resilience through selection of genomes has emerged when appropriate in the past (Sections 10.3, 10.4).
Unfortunately, the essential debate on these issues will not take place, at least not openly and without prejudice, because so many voices are today saying – nay, shouting -‐ ‘enough, the science is settled, it is time for remediation’. In fact, many have been saying this for almost 20 years, even as fewer voices have been heard in the opposite sense. As discussed in Chapter 1, the science of climate change -‐ like many other complex fields in the earth sciences -‐ does not function so that at some point in time one can say “now, the science is settled”: there are always uncertainties and alternative explanations for observations."
Reproducibility will not cure what ails science
Leaders of the scientific community, nudged by the media (including Nature ), are acknowledging that a culture of science focused on rewarding eye-catching and positive findings may have resulted in major bodies of knowledge that cannot be reproduced.
Private-sector, academic and non-profit groups are leading multiple efforts to replicate selected published findings, and so far the results do not make happy reading. Several high-profile endeavours have been unable to reproduce the large majority of peer-reviewed studies that they examined.
Meanwhile, the US National Academies is preparing to publish a high-profile report on scientific integrity that will flag irreproducibility as a key concern for the research enterprise. As the spotlight shines on reproducibility, uncomfortable issues will emerge at the interface of research and ‘evidence-based’ policy.
Consider, for example, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, a US bill that would “prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible”.
Passed in March by the House of Representatives essentially along party lines (Republicans in favour, Democrats opposed) and now awaiting action by the Senate, the bill has been vigorously opposed by many scientific and environmental organizations. They argue, probably correctly, that the bill’s intent is to block and even roll back environmental regulations by requiring that all data on which the rules are based be made publicly available for independent replication.
One of the main objections is that a lot of the scientific research that informs regulatory decisions is not of the sort that can be replicated. For example, a statement of opposition from numerous scientific societies and universities explains that:
“With respect to reproducibility of research, some scientific research, especially in areas of public health, involves longitudinal studies that are so large and of great duration that they could not realistically be reproduced. Rather, these studies are replicated utilizing statistical modeling.”
Precisely. Replication of the sort that can be done with tightly controlled laboratory experiments is indeed often impossible when you are studying the behaviour of dynamic, complex systems, for example at the intersection of human health, the natural environment and technological risks.
But it is hard to see how this amounts to an argument against mandating open access to the data from these studies.
Growing concerns about the quality of published scientific results have often singled out bad statistical practices and modelling assumptions, and have typically focused on the very types of science that often underlie regulations, such as efforts to quantify the population-wide health effects of a single chemical.
Although concerns about the bill’s consequences are reasonable, the idea that it would be bad to make public the data underlying environmental regulations seems to contradict science’s fundamental claims to objectivity and legitimacy.
In June, a commentary in Science by an array of leading voices, including the current and future heads of the National Academies, flagged “increased transparency” and “increased data disclosure” as crucial elements of science’s “self-correcting norm” that can help to address “the disconcerting rise in irreproducible find - ings” (B. Alberts et al . Science 348, 1420–1422; 2015).
This is more or less the position taken by the Secret Science bill’s sponsor, Representative Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas):
“The bill requires the EPA to use data that is available to the public when the Agency writes its regulations. This allows independent researchers to evaluate the studies that the EPA uses to justify its regulations. This is the scientific method.”
This battle for the soul of science is almost surreal in its avoidance of the true issue, which is ideological. One side believes that the government should introduce stricter environmental regulations; the other wants fewer restrictions on the marketplace.
Science is the battleground, but it cannot adjudicate this dispute. At its core, the disagreement is about values, not facts.
But just as importantly, the facts themselves are inevitably incomplete, uncertain, contested and, as we have been learning, often unreliable. Like a divorced couple bitterly fighting over the custody of their child, both sides in the Secret Science debate insist that they have only the interests of science at heart. Republicans are using a narrow, idealized portrayal of science — that it produces clear and reproducible findings — as a weapon to undercut environmental and public-health regulation of the private sector.
But many scientists, environmentalists and Democrats have long used similar portrayals to justify the same regulations, and to bash Republicans as anti-scientific when they did not agree.
More and more, science is tackling questions that are relevant to society and politics. The reliability of such science is often not testable with textbook methods of replication. This means that quality assurance will increasingly become a matter of political interpretation.
It also means that the ‘self-correcting norm’ that has served science well for the past 500 years is no longer enough to protect science’s special place in society. Scientists must have the self-awareness to recognize and openly acknowledge the relationship between their political convictions and how they assess scientific evidence.
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.
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