Sunday, February 27, 2022

2021: Warming as usual?

The global temperature has been plateaued since 2015. NOAA figures below:


No trend

It has been a long time since anyone was able to say that the past year was the warmest ever solely due to global warming.

Dr David Whitehouse, Science editor

Last week the UK Met Office released its measurement of the global temperature of 2021, a year described by the Guardian as one of climate crisis.

The continent of Africa had its warmest January on record. There was torrential rains in Malaysia and Turkey was in the tenth year of drought. In February vicious winter weather hit Texas resulting in ten million people being without power. In March Australia was hit by severe flooding forcing thousands to flee in New South Wales. Come April there were huge sandstorms in China and a hurricane brought record rainfall to some parts of Western Australia. In May the governor of California declared a drought.

June saw a remarkable heatwave in North America, Europe and Asia had their second warmest Junes on record. New Zealand temperatures broke records. The next month Death Valley in California recorded 54.4 C. Torrential rain in India killed over a hundred. In August wildfires broke out in the Mediterranean as well as swathes of Siberia. Floods hit Japan, Turkey and South America. In December floods hit Australia again. Kentucky experienced a devastating tornado.

Despite all this the data for 2021 showed it to be the seventh warmest year on record. Announcing the global temperature the Met Office emphasised that global temperatures were temporarily cooled by successive La Niña events at either end of the year.

There was a little reticence in proclaiming the news that 2021 was far from being a record breaking year. The explanation is that 2021 was very warm but it came after a few years whose temperatures were boosted by a super El Nino event. 2021, it is claimed, continues a long-term trend, super El Nino notwithstanding.

Dr Colin Morice, of the Met Office, said: “2021 is one of the warmest years on record, continuing a series of measurements of a world that is warming under the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. This extends a streak of notably warm years from 2015 to 2021 – the warmest seven years in over 170 years of measurements.”

Emphasising the long-term trend Prof Tim Osborn, of the University of East Anglia, added: “Each year tends to be a little below or a little above the underlying long-term global warming. Global temperature data analysed by the Met Office and UEA’s Climatic Research Unit show 2021 was a little below, while 2020 had been a little above, the underlying warming trend. All years, including 2021, are consistent with long-standing predictions of warming due to human activities.”

“WMO Secretary-General, Prof. Petteri Taalas commented, “Back-to-back La Niña events mean that 2021 warming was relatively less pronounced compared to recent years. Even so, it was still warmer than previous years influenced by La Niña. The overall long-term warming as a result of greenhouse gases is now far larger than the year-to-year variability caused by naturally occurring climate drivers.”

Consider though that in these climate conscious times it has been a long time since anyone was able to say that the past year was the warmest ever solely due to global warming. What’s more, new research by a group of Chinese scientists from the Ministry of Natural Resources to be published in the Journal of Climate suggest that the above or below the long-term trend line argument might be too simplistic.

By looking at all available global temperature datasets and a comprehensive span of durations and start and end times they find that the so-called global warming hiatus of the 2000s and beyond was real. Moreover, they find that the rapid warming of the late 1900s and the hiatus of the 2000s are statistically incompatible.

The ending of the hiatus is also interesting. It ended with a (record) El Nino since which global temperatures have not increased. Some see this as significant, others as we have seen there has been a resumption of the long-term linear increase despite, as the Chinese scientists point out there has been 30 years of non-linear increases in global temperature. Bear in mind that 30 years is frequently used as the definition of climate.

What I take from this is that sometimes it is very useful to draw a straight line through noisy data as it often shows the fundamental factors of a data set. Sometimes though it might not be what it seems.


How a court case over pollution could be used to unravel federal regulatory power

On Monday the US supreme court will hear arguments in a group of cases that could have an immediate impact on the American government’s ability to respond to the climate emergency.

The consequences could be even more substantial, however, reaching deep into the Biden administration’s authority to govern.

The court will be considering the 2015 Clean Power Plan, a signature Obama program requiring states to lower greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It was touted as critical to the achievement of the landmark Paris climate agreement, but its existence was short-lived: a coalition of states and energy groups sued to stop it, the supreme court blocked it and Donald Trump, self-professed lover of coal, repealed it when he took office.

The Biden administration said it would not reinstate the Clean Power Plan, even after a federal court invalidated Trump’s repeal, because the goals of the plan had already been met through market forces, and because it was considering a new rule to replace it. So it came as a surprise when the supreme court announced it would review the lower court’s decision.

Why is the court hearing a challenge to a plan that has never really been in effect, and never will be?

Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University, thinks the court may be interested in a preemptive strike against ambitious environmental regulation. “This is a shot across the bow,” he says. “We’re going to tell you what you can’t do in case you’re even thinking about it.”

But some court observers believe the case, West Virginia v EPA, may be an opportunity for the court’s conservative supermajority to take an even bigger hammer to the government’s regulatory power, helping to see through a Trump administration objective: the “deconstruction of the administrative state”.

A muscular decision could help upend the power of the government to regulate a range of issues, from air quality to workplace protections to drug safety, and mean an effective supreme court veto over Joe Biden’s agenda.

There are a number of ways the justices could rule in the EPA case.

They could restrict the EPA’s powers under the Clean Air Act, the legal foundation for the Obama plan. They could more broadly target its power to address environmental concerns. They could also dismiss the case outright since the Clean Power Plan doesn’t actually exist.

Or they could rule in a manner with implications beyond the EPA, as a who’s who of rightwing groups, many linked by funding from billionaire Charles Koch, have urged them to do in briefs filed in the case.

By some counts, at least five justices have expressed interest in reviving a legal doctrine dormant since the 1930s, until recently considered fringe, which views much of the authority of the executive branch as illegitimate. Under an expansive version of that view, “most of government is unconstitutional”, Justice Elena Kagan has warned.

The case “could be extraordinarily important, it could be moderately important, or it could be a case the court just dismisses on a belated realization that there’s no live controversy at all,” says Kate Shaw, professor at the Cardozo School of Law and co-host of the Strict Scrutiny podcast, which covers the supreme court.

“The fact that the court took the case at all is concerning to me and suggests the court may want to use this case as a vehicle to really change the law,” she says.

Some believe the case could undo the US government as we know it.

In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal created dozens of government programs and agencies to improve the US economy and create a social safety net. But the supreme court, in those years famously pro-business and prone to strike down social welfare legislation, thwarted him at every turn. In two decisions, it invoked a principle of “nondelegation” – a doctrine that says the constitution forbids Congress from transferring power to federal agencies to make rules.

In 1937, faced with FDR’s threats to expand the court in order to push his legislation through, the court did an about-face and began upholding New Deal laws. The nondelegation doctrine faded into obscurity and the administrative state flourished.

Ever since, the delegation of authority from Congress to agencies has been core to the functioning of government.

Congress passes broad legislation enshrining certain principles and instructs agencies to fill in and update the details. The Clean Air Act, for example, instructs the EPA to regulate harmful emissions, but leaves it up to the agency to determine how to do so. The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the authority – recently restricted by the court – to issue standards regulating workplace safety.

Particularly central in an age of congressional gridlock, this model of government allows experts in federal agencies to issue rules without Congress needing to regularly pass detailed laws.

“Whether we’re talking about energy regulation, environmental regulation, workplace health and safety regulation, labor regulation – in each of those areas, Congress has passed broad statutes and given agencies a lot of discretion to implement those statutory directives,” says Shaw. “Depending on what the court says if it does reach the merits in this case, that could throw into question the permissibility of all of those delegations, which are in many ways the foundation of modern governance.”

In the last two decades, and with particular fervor since the Obama presidency, the nondelegation doctrine has gained traction among originalists – jurists who claim to adhere to a meaning of the constitution fixed at the time of its drafting – who insist America’s founders were opposed to Congress delegating regulatory power to agencies. (Scholars respond that the doctrine has no basis in history or in the constitution).

“Congress cannot duck its responsibility for making hard choices requiring compromise … by passing the buck to unelected, politically unaccountable administrative agents. The Constitution flatly prohibits Congress from delegating any of its legislative power to other entities,” according to a brief filed by the Koch-backed political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.

“As Justice Thomas has observed: ‘The end result may be trains that run on time (although I doubt it), but the cost is to our Constitution and the individual liberty it protects,’” the brief continues. Americans for Prosperity campaigned aggressively for the confirmation of Trump’s three supreme court nominees.

Conservatives on the supreme court have expressed varying degrees of sympathy for this view, most recently when they blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers.

In that case, three justices – Neil Gorsuch, Thomas and Samuel Alito – signed a concurring opinion, invoking both the nondelegation doctrine and the major questions doctrine, a related theory that says matters of major economic or political importance must be mandated by Congress. In a different case, Chief Justice John Roberts joined a dissent asserting the doctrine. Add to that signals from Brett Kavanaugh, and there are five justices who have voiced at least some support for using this arcane theory to undo the post-New Deal arrangement undergirding American government.

Lazarus, the environmental law professor, has some sympathy for a principled view that major agency action should have backing from Congress.

“The problem is, what do you do with that if you know Congress isn’t going to pass anything? We have a climate problem that if we don’t address [it] in the near term, it’s just an irreversible disaster at some point,” he says. “One is hard pressed to contend that the constitution requires such a catastrophic result.


Why aren’t there more hurricanes?

Why haven’t hurricanes increased in frequency or intensity? We live in a warming world, so why haven’t they?

When it comes to hurricanes so many perform what I term the climate two-step. It’s a not an uncommon series of moves when it comes to the climate debate, but the particular dance over the increasing incidence of hurricanes due to global warming has become a rather farcical pirouette. Part of the problem is that many expect the incidence of hurricanes to have increased already and are clearly annoyed with the lack of cooperation they get from the available data.The confusion is between what has, or has not happened, and what is expected to happen. In the real world everyone knows they are not the same thing.

Last year in his book “Unsettled: What Climate Science tells us, what it doesn’t and why it matters,” and in his lecture to the GWPF, Steven Koonin said that hurricanes were not increasing in frequency. It was not a new statement. Ryan Maue has some very good data showing that over the past 40 years hurricanes have not increased in frequency or intensity. The argument looks good, so why the controversy?

The response to Koonin’s book was instructive. The counterarguments, stated forcefully, fall apart when looked at closely. Take Scientific American’s response to Koonin. They, and I mean 12 authors, pointed to this research, to knock down Koonin’s conclusion. But their research actually says; “Detection and attribution of past changes in tropical cyclone (TC) behavior remain a challenge due to the nature of the historical data, which are highly heterogeneous in both time and among the various regions that collect and analyze the data.While there are ongoing efforts to reanalyze and homogenize the data there is still low confidence that any reported long-term (multidecadal to centennial) increases in TC activity are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities [which is unchanged from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) assessment statement ].”

Game set and match then to Koonin and Maue one would have thought. But no, there is a two-step introduced into the logic, an injection of doublespeak into the reposte. It says, unscientifically, that just because we haven’t seen an increase in hurricane frequency doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened! It’s the two-step. It continues;

“This is not meant to imply that no such increases have occurred, but rather that the data are not of a high enough quality to determine this with much confidence. Furthermore, it has been argued that within the period of highest data quality (since around 1980), the globally observed changes in the environment would not necessarily support a detectable trend in tropical cyclone intensity. That is, the trend signal has not yet had time to rise above the background variability of natural processes.”

I repeat. Game set and match to Koonin and Maue.

So why haven’t hurricanes increased in frequency? Climate attribution studies have become more common in recent years consigning this or that extreme event into a statistical regime that could not exist on a world without climate change. Koonin has described such studies as being the scientific equivalent of being told you have won the lottery, after you have won the lottery!

But where are the attribution studies that explain why in a world that has warmed, warmth with so many predict will increase the incidence and severity of hurricanes in the future, there has been no increase in hurricanes? Surely this lack of an increase is an extreme event in itself? Why have hurricanes not increased as the global temperature has?

Let’s take another step in this climate dance.

Many people cite research that indicates that the incidence of hurricanes has in fact increased in line with global warming computer model predictions. The paper often referred to is by Kossin at al. which really is an exemplar when it comes to the study of the changing incidence of hurricanes. It starts off by saying that “theoretical understanding of the thermodynamic controls on tropical cyclone (TC) wind intensity, as well as numerical simulations, implies a positive trend in TC intensity in a warming world.” In other words, hurricanes should increase as the world warms.

So much for the theory but as is often the case in science the data is a little bit more messy, which the researchers admit is “generally unsuitable for global trend analysis.” One could say that they looked for a trend, but couldn’t find one.

To solve the problem Kossin et al reframe the data applying filters to it producing what they describe as a “homogenized data record based on satellite data” for the period 1982–2009. The analysis of those 28-years – the period of rapid increases in global temperature – “exhibited increasing global TC intensity trends.” Seems straightforward enough. Hurricanes have increased. One would have thought that it was a good result but it was actually scientific nonsense as they then say the trend was “not statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. In other words there never was a trend.

A logical next step would be to extend the data and see if it makes any difference, and they found an extra 8 years. It did! Well, barely, and of course it’s all “consistent with expectations based on theoretical understanding and trends identified in numerical simulations in warming scenarios.”

The paper didn’t find much of an increase in hurricane frequency, if any at all, and is clearly not robust. Look carefully at the bottom line of this paper and you will see that it finds increases in the incidence of hurricanes of between 2 to 15% per decade. This is a rather shaky conclusion. Yet this shaky conclusion has entered the debate as solid evidence. Look at how Carbon Brief reported it. Their headline was (parenthesis notwithstanding) that an increase in 15% had been found! It would not have been as good, or rather an acceptable story, if they had reported just a 2% increase with associated errors.?

The increase in hurricane frequency is now widely sloppily thrown in amongst other extreme events. In his book Hot Air(The Inside Story of the Battle Against Climate Change Denial) Peter Stott says that in 2013, “the increasing toll of death and destruction from heatwaves, floods, droughts and storms was progressing at a startling and terrifying scale.”

Hine’s Hole

Perhaps data obtained from a region called Hine’s Hole will give some pause for thought. It’s a blue hole on Cay Sal Bank – one of the largest submerged platforms in the Bahamas. Islands across the Bahamian Archipelago have been devastated by five major hurricanes from 2010 to 2020, including Category 5 Hurricane Dorian in 2019 that inundated parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama with up to 4 m of surge, killing 84 people and leaving more than 250 others missing.

Bahamian hurricane frequency is poorly understood. Writing in the journal Marine Geology Journal a team of researchers present a 530-year record of hurricane passage from Hine’s Blue Hole which it archives hurricanes in its disturbed sediments.

Hine’s Hole records 16 intense storms per century from 1850 to 2016, but there are three periods from 1505 to 1530, 1570 to 1620, and 1710 to 1875 with over twice as many intense storms per century.

These active periods are also found in other reconstructions from the Bahamian Archipelago and Florida Keys, where the effect seems more pronounced. Hine’s Hole provides data on weaker and more distal storms and provides unprecedented insight into changes in hurricane activity within the pre-industrial climate system. Its 170-year record shows many more hurricanes than seen in recent decades.

Hurricanes, like other extreme events, vary on timescales longer than the recent spell of global warming. While some contemplate the implications some are waiting for the increase in hurricane frequency. Others are sure it’s already happened. The debate can be described as unsettled.


The stampede of green lemmings

No country on Earth relies entirely on wind and solar energy, but Australian politicians aim to achieve this miracle.

They are leaders in the ‘Stampede of the Green Lemmings’.

Solar energy has a huge problem. Even on sunny days almost nothing is generated to meet the demand peaks around breakfast time and dinner time – the solar energy union only works a six-hour day, goes on strike with little warning, and takes quite a few sickies.

So, for at least 18 hours of every day, electricity must come from somewhere else. Then at around noon millions of solar panels pour out far more electricity than is needed, causing electrical and financial chaos in the electrical grid.

Naturally, our green ‘engineers’ see wind power as filling the solar energy gaps. But wind power has a union too and they take lots of sickies when there is no wind over large areas of the continent. And they down tools in storms, gales, or cyclones in case their whirling toys are damaged.

So the green planners claim that batteries can solve these intermittent problems of the green energy twins.

They will need to be humungous batteries.

Batteries are just a crutch for a crippled generation system. And with fierce lithium battery fires reported regularly, who wants a humungous fire-prone battery over the back fence or in the basement?

A battery is not a generator of electricity – every battery (including Snowy 2.0) is a net consumer of electricity. Batteries are very expensive, most lose capacity as they age, and every conversion between DC storage and AC transmission triggers energy losses. To collect, back up, and re-distribute green electricity will require a continent-spanning spider-web of transmission lines with all the costs and energy losses that network entails.

Still nights and calm cloudy days are what really expose the problems of wind-solar-plus-batteries.

Suppose electricity consumers require 100 units of electricity every day. A well-designed coal, nuclear, or gas power station can do that, 24/7, day after day, whatever the weather.

But to insure a wind or solar system against, say, 7 days of calm or cloudy weather would require a battery capable of storing 700 units of electricity. To re-charge this huge battery while still supplying consumers will require much larger wind or solar generating capacity. However, if several weeks of windy or sunny weather then occur, this big battery will sit idle, connected to a bloated expensive generation system that is capable of delivering far more power than is needed.

Sunny or windy weather brings a deluge of green energy, causing power prices to plunge at irregular intervals, and forcing reliable generators to stop producing and lose money. Eventually they will close. Once all coal-gas generators are all gone, every (inevitable) green energy drought will awaken the spectre of extensive blackouts.

On top of all these practical problems of green energy, we have the massive carbon credits scam, where speculators sell green fairy stories to greedy bankers, and real producers are forced to buy these fictitious ‘products’, passing the costs onto real industry and consumers.

Australia is following the green energy lemmings of Europe.

Germany once produced abundant reliable electricity from coal and nuclear power – the backbone for German industry. Then green ants started nibbling at this backbone, replacing it with wind-solar toys. Now, Germany has expensive electricity – a grid in danger of collapse and must rely on imported gas from Russia, nuclear power from France or hydro-power from Scandinavia.

UK is also following similar foolish energy policies, even banning exploration of their own oil and gas resources.

Australia is almost alone in the Southern oceans, with no near neighbours to buy, beg or borrow electricity from. We cannot afford to follow the green energy lemmings or their billionaire pied pipers.




1 comment:

Ronald Clutz said...

John, thanks for all you do. I often repost on links you provide with a H/T in appreciation. On the subject of global warming, the UAH dataset shows no accumulation of warming over the last 4 decades.