Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"In the future, people will marvel how hysterical mankind has been" -- Lindzen

An interview with Prof. Richard Lindzen in Prague in mid May 2017:

Q.: The U.S. president Donald Trump has turned his back to the international treaties to reduce emissions when he announced in the White House's Rose Garden that the U.S. will leave the Paris climate treaty that 195 countries signed in 2015. We use this opportunity to unlock the full interview with one of the most famous climate skeptics among the world's scientists Richard Lindzen which was published in Echo at the end of May. In February, Lindzen organized a public letter to Trump signed by hundreds of scientists, urging the president to revoke the U.S. signature under the 1992 treaty signed in Rio which became a cornerstone for the subsequent Kyoto and Paris treaties. In these treaties, the countries-signatories pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to make sure that the planet won't heat up by more than 2 °C relatively to the pre-industrial era.

In your memo, you recommend Trump to withdraw from the Climate Change Convention signed at the 1992 U.N. summit in Rio. Why do you focus on Rio and not the 18-months-old Paris treaty?

A.: Because Rio seems to be the easiest way out. There exists an argument that to leave the Paris treaty [adopted in 2015; signatories-countries vow to realize their individual contributions to fight against the emissions, note by editors] would be more complex and it could take several years. [That's the path that Trump chose, anyway, comment by LM.] The argument also notes that our exit must be approved by the other signatories. On the other hand, when you leave Rio, you also invalidate the commitments that were made in the subsequent 25 years and that includes Paris. The second simplest way out would be to classify Paris as a treaty that requires a ratification by the U.S. Senate where it would undoubtedly fail to collect the required 2/3 majority. And in that case, we could think of Paris as a treaty that hasn't been signed by the U.S. at all. According to the U.S. constitution, all international treaties have to be approved by the Senate. Obama was working outside this framework and in fact, no one exactly knows whether his agreement with the Paris treaty has any legal power.

Q.: What are your estimated odds that Trump will behave as you advise him?

A.: I see it as a 50-to-50 proposition. I think that we will be smarter in Fall 2017 or earlier. These days, it's hard to understand the actual events in the U.S. Trump is complaining about fake news – and rightfully so. So far, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and a majority of the TV channels like to report things about Trump before it turns out that they aren't quite right. So when they are telling us that Ivanka along with her spouse Jared Kushner or the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson want us to stay in the Paris climate framework, I am not sure that it's true. Trump himself isn't ideological, moreover, he doesn't pretend to possess the scientific expertise. He may be inclined to decide in a way that minimizes the friction. But the most important fact could be his campaign promise to leave the climate treaties.

Q.: At any rate, last fall, people were voting for Donald, not Ivanka or Jared.

A.: Yes, and he knows it. He has two candidates for his science adviser, William Happer and David Gelernter. Both are very intelligent men. Will was mentioning that he was discussing this issue with Trump and Trump was saying: You must understand that my daughter is young and doesn't understand the issue yet. Who knows how these things will evolve...

Q.: Why would Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner be so involved in the efforts to keep the U.S. in the Paris climate framework?'

A.: They are young people, they have been brought up in the propaganda about man-made global warming. Before her father decided to run for the White House, they were Democrats. If you're growing up in the New York City in a certain social class, everyone around you is a believer. That was the case of many CEOs of big companies that I know. Their wives were insisting that they had to embrace this faith, otherwise these wives' girlfriends would stop talking to these wives.

Q.: You have been heard as saying that the ordinary Joe has already seen through the panic about global warming while the educated people are more susceptible.

A.: But that's the case of many other topics. Orwell was an early thinker who noted that certain ideas are so silly that only intellectuals may believe them. Just look how the education system works. What does it mean for a student to be good these days?

Q.: To pass the exams and write a good thesis.

A.: Maybe in your country. In America, to be a good student means to please his or her professor. In other words, the student must accept what the professor teaches and writes, without reservations. And when you disagree, you are a bad student. People who avoid college don't have to undergo this. They have the freedom to use their own brain to think. If you ask a regular working person in Boston, Paris, or anywhere, what he thinks about global warming, he will probably respond: I think that something is happening but I am not too interested in it. Almost no one will tell you: We have to save the planet. It would be hard to transmit this sentence through his lips because it would look too pompous to him. And he is intuitively right. Even the official proposals to stop the climate change publicly admit that even if they are realized, they won't have a tangible impact. These efforts are returning us to the Middle Ages when people liked to do symbolic gestures to persuade God to look at us more mercifully. It is an irrational issue, except from the viewpoint of the people who make profit out of it. And it's not just the producers of the solar panels or the windmills. In America, even utility companies are totally excited about the regulations introduced because of the climate. They have done the maths and they figured out that the regulations will bring them extra profits. The consumers will pay for the party.

Q.: On the other hand, the college-educated public ironically thinks that it is the climate skeptics like you who are being paid by the energy industry.

A.: I wish! [Laughter] The only big grant that e.g. ExxonMobil has ever donated to the research of the climate was its $100 million grant donated to Stanford – to promote climate alarmism.

Q.: Payments that you have allegedly received from the coal company Peabody is sometimes being used against you.

A.: Sure, they wanted an expert analysis needed in the court. Everyone gets paid for this work. More importantly, this money is so modest that it is negligible relatively to the funds flowing to the official climatology. Since 1988, the latter has been tens of billions of dollars, an amount so large that the climate science has basically been unable to absorb it so far. The field is relatively small and the tens of billions are going almost exclusively to support a pre-determined paradigm. Don't believe the talk about thousands of climatologists who agree with the conclusions of the U.N. international panel. Have you attended a college? Have you ever met someone who studied climatology in your student environment? No? Almost no one has met a climate student. Sure, the U.N. is already importing people from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, but those aren't real climatologists. But when you discontinuously increase the research funds, and on top of that, you develop the research on the impacts of the so-called climate change, you may study e.g. cockroaches and still be incorporated to the industry of climatology once you publish studies about the cockroaches' prospects in the globally warming world. If 90% of the research funding for the climate were slashed, the discipline would actually benefit.

Q.: You are alternately living in Greater Boston and Paris so you must have noticed that the French president Macron has invited scientists from the U.S. to France who are – I am quoting – fighting against the darkness and obscurantism and who are afraid that their research will no longer be permitted.

A.: If Macron were honest, he would have to think of people like me. In the past and up to this day, the only scientists who have been suppressed have been the doubters. When they classify you as a skeptic, you won't get the grants, you face extra hurdles while publishing things. For example, I am a member of the National Academy of Sciences and these members are expected to be able to publish a scientific study. I submitted a publication in 2011 whose co-author was Korean scientist Mr Choi. In the committee that was deciding about the publication, one member was Mr Schellnhuber of Germany [Hans Joachim Schellnhuber was then a science adviser to Angela Merkel, comment by editors] and his argument was as follows: Look, this Lindzen wants his study to be reviewed by Chou but Chou is his co-author. That's illegal. They didn't publish our paper even though Choi and Chou are two different people. Afterwards, I even received apologies from other members of the committee who were disgusted – but that couldn't have helped with the core problem.

Q.: Do you know a recent example in which climatology was demonstrably working in a government's interest?

A.: Sure. The Karl et al. study funded by NOAA (National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration) in Summer 2015, i.e. shortly before the Paris accord, had the goal to prove that the hiatus in global warming that has been taking place already from 1998  didn't exist. Using slightly different datasets, they reduced the temperatures measured in 1978-1998 and slightly increased the temperatures from 1998 through 2015, and that's how a steeper curve was created. In newspapers, people could read predictable headlines: No hiatus has occurred in global warming! Of course the warming did take place but they hid an important detail: that the warming was far smaller than the predictions of all the climate models. And that was true even according to the modified datasets. That's an example of elementary scientific dishonesty built on the silly assumption that every warming is dangerous, even if it were by a hundredth of a degree. Someone has paraphrased the logic as follows: When you eat 100 aspirins, you will die. When each of 100 people eats 1 aspirin, 1 person will die.

Q.: And according to you, is the world warming or not?

A.: The climate is constantly changing, it has never stayed constant. We had a warming episode in 1978-1998, probably comparable to several tenths of a degree. I am using the word "probably" because when the measurement error is plus minus 0.2 °C, you may always modify your results to match a trend you find convenient. To deduce trends from changes in tenths of a degree is nonsense from a statistical perspective. It is almost impossible to say with certainty that warming has taken place. The international panel of the U.N. known as the IPCC acronym is claiming: The warming between 1919 and 1940 wasn't caused by humans but the warming between 1978 and 1998 was. But their magnitude and shape was basically identical. It's propaganda. You may always focus on small changes and scale the graph so that it looks dramatic to the naked eye.

Q.: What about the argument about the 10 hottest years in history that were uniformly recorded from 1998?

A.: If 1998 is the warmest one in your dataset from the beginning of your measurements, and if the temperature stabilizes afterwards, then it seems logical that most of the following years will belong among the warmest ones. This argument says nothing about the trends. I think that this argument is abusing people's innumeracy. It's a fact that since 1998, the Earth has basically seen no temperature trend. First, this 20-year-old hiatus wasn't predicted by the IPCC models. Second, they aren't even attempting to seriously explain it. Ex post explanations, e.g. that the heat was stored in the ocean and will emerge from the ocean sometime in the future, aren't convincing.

Q.: If the official science is failing, how do you explain that the climate industry keeps on moving?

A.: Environmentalists have attempted to spread several types of  panic since the 1960s: oxygen depletion, global cooling, coming ice age, acid rains... Global warming is the last one in the sequence. They have nothing else to try afterwards, so they will remain attached to global warming for as long time as possible. When this whole construct collapses sometime in the future and the fight against global warming will be moved to the dumping ground of history, people will marvel at a remarkable story showing how it was possible to make the whole mankind hysterical without any proper arguments. And how vulnerable science may become when it is exposed to such hysteria.

Q.: Does the history of science remember something similar?

A.: To some extent, Lysenko's anti-Mendelian theory of heredity in the USSR was similar. In America, there was a related excitement for eugenics in the 1920s. Eugenics returned to Germany later and in a much more extreme form. But even in the U.S. of the 1920s, it was enough to close the borders. The root of the panic was the idea that America was exposed to the pandemics of feeble-mindedness and you could have found scientists who were blaming this pandemics on immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, i.e. on you and the Italians. [Laughter.] What's interesting is that while the research wasn't subsidized by the government in those times, the public was scared and the government suggested that it was preferring certain results. And science managed to match that demand with its supply. In spite of the geneticists' knowledge that it was bad science, they remained silent because they felt that it was very important for the public to appreciate the importance of their field.

Q.: What risks are facing the scientists whose theory collapses during their lifetime?

A.: Nothing. Paul Ehrlich and his population explosion theory is a good example: Before 1980, famine would explode in the U.S. Nothing like that has ever taken place, of course, but Ehrlich remains a celebrated personality. In fact, he claims that the history has vindicated him. It's similar with the people in the Club of Rome and their The Limits to Growth. It's a silliness but they're still harvesting applause. You can say anything and it doesn't affect your reputation as long as you belong to a political movement. In that case, you may say: I have done quite some good work to help a good cause.

Q.: If Trump leaves the bandwagon of the climate politics, may it bring the demise of this world view closer?

A.: It might. I don't think that the end will be dramatic. What may happen is simply that the panic will cease to be profitable and profit seekers will have to look for greener pastures elsewhere.


Does Nuclear Energy Have a Future in the United States?

In May, the U.S. Energy Information Agency released a daily energy brief summarizing the current and future state of nuclear energy production in America. According to the EIA, nuclear’s share of the nation’s electricity generating capacity will drop from 20 percent to 11 percent by 2050. That decline coincides with a predicted growth in electricity demand of up to 92 percent — nearly doubling current consumption — over the same period.

Nuclear-powered plants can produce reliable, base-level electricity — typically generated by fossil fuels — with zero carbon emissions. Engineering innovations have resulted in advanced nuclear reactors that are much safer, more efficient, and more affordable than reactors currently in use. Such technology should have a promising future as a part of the U.S. energy portfolio. Unfortunately, regulatory requirements here at home have driven the cost of bringing new reactor technology to market so high that power companies are instead lobbying for billions in subsidies to keep decades-old technology in operation.

Transatomic, a company founded by nuclear engineers from MIT, are developing molten salt reactors that are “walk-away” safe (they do not require constant supervision), and produce less than half as much radioactive waste yearly as traditional nuclear reactors. The scientists at NuScale Power have developed a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) that can be assembled in a factory and shipped on a flatbed truck, reducing up-front construction costs and providing more flexibility for electricity providers. Because of their small size, SMRs also cannot melt down. Bill Gate’s nuclear company (TerraPower) has designed a traveling wave reactor that can run continuously for 40 years, eliminating the need for refueling as the reactor consumes all of its original fuel.

In order to get their technologies to market, nuclear innovators must navigate a complex, burdensome regulatory framework established decades ago in the name of public safety. Innovation has put to rest many of the safety concerns that regulation was meant to protect us from. This regulation now operates mainly as a barrier to clean, affordable energy. NuScale Power’s SMR technology offers perhaps the best hope of next generation nuclear finding its way to the US power grid, but even that may take a decade or more to become reality.

In the beginning of 2017, NuScale submitted the first-ever design certification for a SMR in the United States. That application, 12,000 pages long, must be reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At the end of the 40-month review period, the NRC will issue NuScale a design certification for their reactor. That certification will be valid for 15 years, during which time NuScale will file for a combined license to build and operate that plant. The licensing process will take another 5 years, after which time construction finally can begin.

The NRC charges $265 per professional staff-hour to review permits, licenses, and other required documentation. According to Mason Baker, Chief Legal Officer for the Utah Area Municipal Power Supply (which is working with NuScale to build their first SMR), UAMPS relies on a 50 percent financial partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE) to cover initial development costs. Without such support, the cost of regulatory compliance — which Baker estimated would amount to seven figures by the end of the submission process — would prevent the project from ever getting off the ground.

For TerraPower, the regulatory process took too long and was prohibitively costly. The company instead signed an agreement with China National Nuclear Corporation at the end of 2015 to build its DOE-funded reactor design overseas. TerraPower hopes eventually to bring the technology back home.

If the U.S. wants a future of diversified, clean energy, the NRC needs to reform the way it permits and licenses nuclear technologies. The current framework effectively stymies innovation and forces nuclear companies to rely heavily on government support. Heavy government involvement in energy production does not make for a healthy, competitive energy market.


Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Quest to Keep California Dry

Despite a wet winter and thick snowpack, California still faces increasing demands for water. New sources are always welcome and the Cadiz project seeks to pump groundwater from private holdings in the Mojave Desert to supply homes in arid southern California. San Bernardino County approved the project but the loudest voice against it is California’s senior senator Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco.

“California’s public lands and resources are under siege by a powerful corporation and its allies in Washington,” Feinstein charged in a recent opinion column, describing Cadiz as “a particularly destructive project” that threatens “tortoises and bighorn sheep to breathtaking wildflower blooms that blanket the region.” The project “places a big emphasis on corporate profit at the expense of the broader public,” and it’s a matter of “Republican overreach,” backed of course by the Trump administration, and they seek to “rob us of our public lands.” Cadiz board member Winston Hickox offered a different view.

As California Environmental Protection Agency secretary from 1999-2003, Hickox worked with Feinstein on water issues, and from 1975-1983 he served as governor Jerry Brown’s special assistant for environmental affairs. According to Hickox, the Cadiz project “will conserve enough water for 400,000 Californians each year for 50 years without causing a single adverse environmental impact.” As he notes, it was approved in accord with California’s Environmental Quality Act and prevailed in multiple court challenges. Hickox shot down Feinstein’s use of the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service and charged that she used her stature “to misrepresent facts.” Animals and flowers are not at risk, and the Cadiz project, Hickox concludes, “will add a new water supply in a safe and sustainable manner.” By opposing it on a partisan basis, and misrepresenting the facts, Feinstein abuses the public she claims to protect.

Meanwhile, as Cadiz moves ahead, California should consider the example of Australia, a nation with an arid climate and limited water supplies. As Australia’s National Water Commission explained in Water Markets: A Short History, water markets and trading were “the primary means” to achieve the best use of existing resources.


Sluggish environmental approvals are hugely costly

Sensing that his Scottish enemies had blundered at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, Oliver Cromwell said, “The Lord hath delivered them into our hands.” Philip K. Howard, were he the exulting type, could rejoice that some of his adversaries have taken a stand on indefensible terrain.

Because the inaccurately named Center for American Progress has chosen to defend the impediments that government places in its own path regarding public works, it has done Howard the favor of rekindling interest in something he wrote in 2015.

A mild-mannered Manhattan lawyer of unfailing gentility and civility, Howard is no fire-breathing Cromwell. Rather, he is a combination of Candide and Sisyphus, his patient optimism undiminished by redundant evidence that government resists commonsensical legal and regulatory reforms of the sort he pushes up the mountain of bureaucracy when not serving as senior counsel at the white shoe law firm of Covington & Burling.

In September 2015, Howard, founder and chair of the reform advocacy group Common Good, published a paper “Two Years Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals.” In it, he argued that time is money, and that America is wasting enormous amounts of both with an infrastructure approval system that is an “accident of legal accretion over the past 50 years”:

“America could modernize its infrastructure, at half the cost, while dramatically enhancing environmental benefits, with a two-year approval process. Our analysis shows that a six-year delay in starting construction on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, including the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution. This is more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America’s infrastructure.”

The nation that built the Empire State Building in 410 days during the Depression and the Pentagon in 16 months during wartime recently took nine years just for the permitting of a San Diego desalination plant. Five years and 20,000 pages of environmental assessments and permitting and regulatory materials were consumed before beginning to raise the roadway on New Jersey’s Bayonne Bridge, a project with, as Howard says, “virtually no environmental impact (it uses existing foundations and right-of-way).” Fourteen years were devoted to the environmental review for dredging the Port of Savannah, which has been an ongoing process for almost 30 years. While faux environmentalists litigate against modernizing America’s electrical grid, transmission lines waste 6 percent of the electricity they transmit, which equals 16 percent of 2015 coal power generation and is equal to the output of 200 average-sized coal-burning power plants. In 2011, shippers using the inland waterway system of canals, dams and locks endured delays amounting to 25 years. In 2012, the Treasury Department estimated that traffic congestion wasted 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline annually. Diverting freight to trucks because of insufficient railway capacity quadruples fuel consumption. And so on, and on.

Twenty months after Howard published his article, the CAP’s response shows how far we have defined efficiency down: It celebrates the fact that federal environmental statements average only 4.6 years. Actually, that would be bad enough if such reviews were all or even most of the problem. Actually, there are other kinds of reviews and other layers of government involved, as with the Bayonne Bridge — 47 permits from 19 federal, state and local agencies.

The CAP says that “the principal restraint facing state and local governments contemplating megaprojects is money, not environmental review.” But, again, this ignores myriad other time-consuming reviews and the costs, in both construction and social inefficiencies, driven by lost time.

Today’s governance is illuminated by presidential epiphanies (e.g., “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated”). Barack Obama had one concerning infrastructure: “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” This is partly because, as Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama says, America has become a “vetocracy” in which intense, well-organized factions litigate projects into stasis.

Intelligent people of goodwill can dispute, as the CAP rejoinder does, Howard’s cost-benefit calculations. But the CAP partakes of the hyperbole normal in today’s environmental policy debates: It includes Howard among “hardcore opponents of environmental review” who “consider federal laws that protect the environment fundamentally illegitimate.” Even the title of the CAP’s response to Howard’s arguments for more pertinent and efficacious environmental reviews is meretricious: “Debunking the False Claims of Environmental Review Opponents.”

Opponents? Including Howard? Hardly. David Burge, who tweets as @iowahawkblog, satirizes this slapdash style of progressive argumentation:

“To help poor children, I am going to launch flaming accordions into the Grand Canyon.”

“That’s stupid.”


Denmark Ends Green Incentives, Electric Car Sales Collapse

The electric car has dropped out of favor in the country that pioneered renewable energy. Once considered one of the world-leaders in the take-up of electric vehicles, Denmark’s sales of electric vehicles have slumped dramatically in the first quarter of 2017 as the government scales back EV incentives.

Sales in Denmark of Electrically Chargeable Vehicles (ECV), which include plug-in hybrids, plunged 60.5 percent in the first quarter of the year, compared with the first three months of 2016, according to latest data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). That contrasts with an increase of nearly 80 percent in neighboring Sweden and an average rise of 30 percent in the European Union.

The figures suggest clean-energy vehicles still aren’t attractive enough to compete without some form of subsidy.
Denmark, a global leader in wind power whose own attempt at an electric car in the early 1980s famously flopped, used to be enthralled with them. Its bicycle-loving people bought 5,298 of them in 2015, more than double the amount sold that year in Italy, which has a population more than 10 times the size of Denmark’s.

However, it turns out that those phenomenal sales figures had as much to do with convenience as with environmental concerns: electric car dealers were for a long time spared the jaw-dropping import tax of 180 percent that Denmark applies on vehicles fueled by a traditional combustion engine.

In the fall of 2015, the Liberal-led government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen announced the progressive phasing out of tax breaks on electric cars, citing budget constraints and the desire to level the playing field.

Tesla, whose sales were skyrocketing at the time, lobbied against the move, with Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk warning during a visit to Copenhagen that sales would be hit.

The new tax regime “completely killed the market,” Laerke Flader, head of the Danish Electric Car Alliance, said in a recent interview. “Price really matters.”

According to the government’s original plans, tax breaks were to have been phased out from 2016 to 2020, when they would be treated in the same way as fossil fuel-powered cars.

But on April 18, having taken note of the drop in sales, the government decided to change the rules.

“It’s no secret electrical vehicle sales have been below what we expected a year and a half ago,” Tax Minister Karsten Lauritzen said in a statement. “The agreed phase-in has turned out to be hard and that likely halted sales.”

The new rules mean the transition to a post-subsidy era has been postponed until at least 5,000 new electric cars are sold over the 2016-2018 period.



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