Friday, June 03, 2016
The El Nino boost is over
A sharp temperature decline recently
Study Shows Those Who Claimed ‘Climate Debate Over’ Were Wrong
Last summer, the editor of Science wrote a commentary on climate change where she said, “The time for debate has ended.”
After appealing to policies based on economic knowledge she doesn’t have, she finished with speculation as to which ring of Dante’s Inferno would God designate for climate skeptics.
All in all, it was an awesomely unscientific tour de farce and totally depressing in that it came from one of the world’s two most prestigious science journals.
Of course the time for debate hasn’t ended—especially for the meaningful debate concerning how much impact carbon dioxide has on global warming.
The relationship under debate is how much warming will the world see from a doubling of carbon dioxide—which is called the equilibrium climate sensitivity.
Members of the climate-science community have placed markers on this debate that range from negligible to catastrophic. Given the editor’s bias, it is not surprising that Science does not publish many articles arguing for “negligible.”
So, it was a bit of a shock to find a story in the most recent issue that at least argued for “a lot less.”
The direct temperature effect of doubling carbon dioxide is generally estimated to be about one degree Celsius. However, that estimate assumes all other climate-impacting factors are held constant (which is unlikely to be the case).
There are a variety of feedback loops in the climate system that may amplify or moderate this increase.
One of the most critical feedback loops involves cloud formation. That is, what will the warming from additional carbon dioxide do to cloud formation?
Some types of clouds moderate warming, while other types amplify it. In addition, cloud formation may be impacted by other human activities.
This “other” category was the topic of the article in Science. Under study was the question of how much might human-caused air pollution stimulate temperature-moderating cloud formation?
One of the many puzzles that come from comparing climate model predictions to actual data is the decades of flat or declining world temperatures from about 1950 to the 1970s.
The lack of warming during the period contrasted significantly with rapidly increasing emissions of carbon dioxide.
High carbon dioxide emissions and little temperature increase argued for a lower equilibrium climate sensitivity than the modelers used.
However, the increased carbon dioxide emissions also came with increased particulate emissions. If these particulate emissions led to Earth-cooling clouds, then the equilibrium climate sensitivity might still be high.
So, instead of lowering the equilibrium climate sensitivity, the modelers input arbitrary amounts of sulfate-induced cloud formation to “fix” the models. In essence, the modelers argued that much of the warming was temporarily delayed by the increased cloudiness.
Since this delay couldn’t last indefinitely, the warming would come back with a vengeance and the higher estimates of the equilibrium climate sensitivity would be vindicated.
Now, the new Science article is saying “not so fast.” It seems the pre-industrial skies were probably not so cloud-free as had been assumed. That means man hasn’t clouded up the sky as much as thought and, therefore, modelers can’t explain away the lack of warming so easily.
As a consequence, the older estimates of the equilibrium climate sensitivity are biased to the high side.
One of the authors said, “the current best estimates of future temperature rises are still feasible, but ‘the highest values become improbable.’” Though some have already tried to downplay the significance of the research—it is a big deal.
Eliminating those highest values of the equilibrium climate sensitivity dramatically reduces the expected damage from future warming.
All of the hype surrounding global warming masks the story that those advocating costly climate policies were actually telling—a story of a small chance of huge climate costs. If future warming is limited to the “most likely” values, it might get a little warmer, but there would be no catastrophic scenarios to lay out and, thus, no case to be made for blank-check climate policies.
There would be no imminent existential crisis, no hysteria, and no reason to demonize those who argue against incurring huge expenses for no benefit.
It would be OK to drive your car. It would be OK to burn coal in modern coal plants that already cut SOx, NOx, mercury, and particulate emissions by 86 percent to 99.8 percent. There would be no imperative for carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, or the Clean Power Plan and the trillions of dollars of lost income they would cause.
You could use whatever lightbulb you wanted. Your dishwasher wouldn’t have to run interminably. Creative minds could be devoted to making life better, not making it harder.
Ruling out the highest values for the equilibrium climate sensitivity is a big deal, and this is not the only study to do so. Many other recent studies lead to lower estimates of the equilibrium climate sensitivity and also find the highest numbers improbable.
So, despite the command from Science’s editor, debate continues and things are looking better.
Strange certainty about uncertainties
Ask a Washington dinner party full of moderately well informed people what will happen with Iran over the next five years, and you’ll end up with a consensus that gee, that’s tough. Ask them what GDP growth will be in fall 2019, and they’ll probably converge on a hesitant “2 or 3 percent, I guess?” On the other hand, ask them what’s going to happen to the climate over the next 100 years, and what you’re likely to hear is angry.
How can one be certain about outcomes in a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling? Anyone who’s familiar with the history of macroeconomic modeling in the 1960s and 1970s will be tempted to answer “Umm, we can’t.” Economists thought that the explosion of data and increasingly sophisticated theory was going to allow them to produce reasonably precise forecasts of what would happen in the economy. Enormous mental effort and not a few careers were invested in building out these models. And then the whole effort was basically abandoned, because the models failed to outperform mindless trend extrapolation -- or as Kevin Hassett once put it, “a ruler and a pencil.”
Computers are better now, but the problem was not really the computers; it was that the variables were too many, and the underlying processes not understood nearly as well as economists had hoped. Economists can't run experiments in which they change one variable at a time. Indeed, they don't even know what all the variables are.
This meant that they were stuck guessing from observational data of a system that was constantly changing. They could make some pretty good guesses from that data, but when you built a model based on those guesses, it didn’t work. So economists tweaked the models, and they still didn’t work. More tweaking, more not working.
Eventually it became clear that there was no way to make them work given the current state of knowledge. In some sense the "data" being modeled was not pure economic data, but rather the opinions of the tweaking economists about what was going to happen in the future. It was more efficient just to ask them what they thought was going to happen. People still use models, of course, but only the unflappable true believers place great weight on their predictive ability.
This lesson from economics is essentially what the "lukewarmists" bring to discussions about climate change. They concede that all else equal, more carbon dioxide will cause the climate to warm. But, they say that warming is likely to be mild unless you use a model which assumes large positive feedback effects. Because climate scientists, like the macroeconomists, can’t run experiments where they test one variable at a time, predictions of feedback effects involve a lot of theory and guesswork. I do not denigrate theory and guesswork; they are a vital part of advancing the sum of human knowledge. But when you’re relying on theory and guesswork, you always want to leave plenty of room for the possibility that your model's output is (how shall I put this?) … wrong.
Naturally, proponents of climate-change models have welcomed the lukewarmists' constructive input by carefully considering their points and by advancing counterarguments firmly couched in the scientific method.
No, of course I’m just kidding. The reaction to these mild assertions is often to brand the lukewarmists “deniers” and treat them as if what they were saying was morally and logically equivalent to suggesting that the Holocaust never happened.
If you’re not familiar with the lukewarmist case, I urge you to read the nine-part series by Warren Meyer has written at Coyote Blog. I am not urging you to read it because I agree with every part. (In particular, I’m much more eager to ensure against even a small chance of climate catastrophe, just as I would support even a very expensive system to detect and deflect massive asteroids that might hit our planet. We’ve only got the one planet so far, and it would be a shame if something happened to it.)
But I urge you to read it because it is a calm, measured, very thoughtful laying out of the lukewarmist case by a very smart person who has put a lot of time and effort into thinking about the subject -- much more time and effort than 99 percent of the angry people on both sides who shout over dinner tables and type in all caps.
The series is also a model of how to talk about the subject. Meyer says “this is what I think, and this is why I think it.” People can certainly disagree with his conclusions, and I would be very interested to see climate bloggers engage with Meyer's series in like manner: refraining from calling names or questioning motives, and instead calmly laying out the reasons that they think warming is likely to be catastrophic.
But vanishingly little of the debate is conducted in those sorts of terms. Skeptics are accused of being ideologues, or in the pay of the fossil fuel industry, or simply selfish monsters who care nothing for future generations. The other side -- who expect big temperature jumps and catastrophic consequences -- are accused of being ideologues, or interested in making an alarmist case in order to further their own careers as climate change activists, or authoritarian monsters who are less interested in saving the planet than in forcing their own left-wing economic order on the rest of the world.
Many of these claims about motives are probably not entirely false -- it’s difficult to change your mind when you’ve built a career around a certain set of theories -- but they’re certainly not entirely true, and they’re largely beside the point. If Joseph Stalin tells you that the sky is blue, he’s right, even if he’s wrong about nearly everything else, and an authoritarian monster to boot.
The arguments about global warming too often sound more like theology than science. Oh, the word “science” gets thrown around a great deal, but it's cited as a sacred authority, not a fallible process that staggers only awkwardly and unevenly toward the truth, with frequent lurches in the wrong direction. I cannot count the number of times someone has told me that they believe in “the science,” as if that were the name of some omniscient god who had delivered us final answers written in stone. For those people, there can be only two categories in the debate: believers and unbelievers. Apostles and heretics.
This is, of course, not how science works, and people who treat it this way are not showing their scientific bona fides; they are violating the very thing in which they profess such deep belief. One does not believe in “science” as an answer; science is a way of asking questions. At any given time, that method produces a lot of ideas, some of which are correct, and many of which are false, in part or in whole.
There is a huge range of possible beliefs that go into assessing the various complicated theories about how the climate works, and the global-warming predictions generated by those theories range from “could well be catastrophic” to “probably not a big deal.” I know very smart, well-informed, decent people who fall at either end of the spectrum, and others who are somewhere in between. Then there are folks like me who aren’t sure enough to make a prediction, but are very sure we wouldn’t like to find out, too late, that the answer is “oops, catastrophic.”
These are not differences that can be resolved by name calling. Nor has the presumed object of this name calling -- to delegitimize thoughtful opposition, and thereby increase the consensus in favor of desired policy proposals -- been a notable political success, at least in the U.S. It has certainly rallied the tribe, and produced a lot of patronizing talk about science by people who aren’t actually all that familiar with the underlying scientific questions. Other than that, we remain pretty much where we were 25 years ago: holding summits, followed by the dismayed realization that we haven’t, you know, really done all that much except burn a lot of hydrocarbons flying people to summits. Maybe last year's Paris talks will turn out to be the actual moment when things started to change -- but having spent the last 15 years as a reporter listening to people tell me that no, really, we’re about to turn the corner, I retain a bit of skepticism.
Unfortunately, when you rally your own side with these sorts of tactics, you also rally the other tribe, and if they’re as numerous as you are, this can lead to defeat as easily as victory. It would be a lot better for everyone -- including the planet -- if we left off the tribalism and the excommunications and went back to actually talking about the science: messy, imprecise and always open for well-grounded debate.
Global warming is GOOD for bees
A study published Tuesday by scientists from the Flinders University of South Australia found the bee population flourished during a previous period of global warming 18,000 years ago.
The research concludes that modern global warming will likely cause a big increase in the population of bees, which is good news for the planet. The study directly contradicts previous environmentalist claims that global warming will lead to mass death of bees, disrupting global agriculture.
“You see a rapid increase in population size from about 18,000 years ago, just as the climate began warming up after the last Ice Age,” Rebecca Dew, the study’s lead author and a professor at the university, said in a press statement. “This matches the findings from two previous studies on bees from North America and Fiji. It is really interesting that you see very similar patterns in bees around the world. Different climate, different environment, but the bees have responded in the same way at around the same time.”
The scientists modeled the past responses of bees to global warming with the help of DNA sequences. They found that the population of bees rose for almost 12,000 years after the last ice age before plateauing roughly 6,000 years ago. The scientists state the slow growth of the bee population is likely due to a slower increase in global temperatures.
Rising bee populations are great for many plants, ecosystems and agricultural crops as they are major pollinators. An increasing bee population combined with rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels likely means that global warming will cause an explosion in plant growth. Scientists estimate that rising CO2 levels over the past 33 years was the environmental equivalent to adding a green continent twice the size of mainland U.S.
The research is published in the peer-reviewed open access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.
This is the latest scientific study to show that nature is considerably more resilient to global warming than scientists suspected. Global warming will likely have many positive environmental impacts such as helping Canadian trees recover from a devastating insect infestation, creating more food for fish in the ocean, making life easier for Canadian moose and literally causing deserts to bloom with foliage.
Media Already Blames Global Warming For Shark Attacks That Haven’t Happened Yet
The wider media blamed global warming Monday for a projected increase in shark attacks based on incredibly hedged claims from a single expert.
Tech Times wrote an article Monday, entitled “Shark Attacks Predicted To Increase This Year: Is Global Warming To Blame?,” claiming that global warming encourages people to go swimming, which leads to a rising number of shark attacks.
Other media outlets such as The Daily Mail, Investors Business Daily and CBS News quickly replicated the claim, citing a single expert who told Reuters that rising temperatures might make swimming more popular, which could lead to more attacks.
“We should have more bites this year than last,” George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, told Reuters. Burgess noted that the projected increase in attacks is due to the shark population recovering from historic lows in the 1990s.
Burgess has previously said that the rising population of humans and increased beach activities are the main driver of shark attacks, but notes that the odds of a fatal shark attacks are so low that beach goers face a higher risk of being killed “by sand collapsing as the result of over achieving sand castle builders.”
Last year, there were 98 total shark attacks worldwide, six of which resulted in deaths. Precisely 30 of these attacks occured in the state of Florida.
Tech Times isn’t the first media outlet to blame shark attacks on global warming. National Geographic claimed last year that global warming was a major factor in a spree of seven shark attacks in North Carolina. The magazine did quote shark biologist Frank Schwartz of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who “says there’s too much natural variability in weather cycles to blame the recent shark attacks on global warming.”
Environmentalist media, such as EcoWatch, has a long history of linking shark attacks to global warming, but the existence of such a link is doubted by scientists.
There is less than one shark-attack death every two years in America, according to a 2005 study by National Geographic. Statistically speaking, cows are much more dangerous than sharks as they cause 20 deaths annually in the U.S.
SCOTUS Chips Away Gov't Control Over Nation's Water
Another memorable government effort in clean water
In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a North Dakota peat farm can go forward with a lawsuit against the U.S. government over its expansive interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Let’s repeat a key word: unanimous. As in all eight justices believe there’s a good case to be made against another overreach of Barack Obama.
Last year, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which jointly enforce water pollution law, vastly expanded their jurisdiction claims over what constitute “waters of the U.S.” That makes this case critical in defining the reach. The Hill puts it in perspective: “The case is likely to have consequences for the federal government’s entire enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the main law regarding pollution control.”
Hawkes Company, a family-owned peat farm, was attempting to expand its operation into Minnesota when the Corps of Engineers declared that because the bog eventually fed into the Red River 120 miles away it somehow fell under the Corps' jurisdiction. After the regulatory decree, there was little the farm could do besides enter a tangle of red tape.
In its Tuesday ruling, the High Court determined that those jurisdictional determinations come with legal consequences, and organizations like Hawkes Company can take the government to court and challenge the ruling just like any other regulation. In the past, these companies didn’t have the courts available to them to check the government’s ever-expanding definition of what it can control water-wise. Now they do.
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Posted by JR at 12:33 AM