Sunday, March 26, 2006


When tropical Cyclone Larry lashed the Queensland coast at the weekend it raised questions of whether it was a sign of a changing climate. Could it be the harbinger of a new drought-busting La Ni¤a weather cycle? Could it be a product of human-induced climate change? Or is it just too soon to tell?

Larry slammed into Australia's northeast coast on Sunday morning, local time. Initial reports said it was the most powerful cyclone to hit the continent in decades, moving at unusual speed and packing winds of up to 290 kilometres an hour. Dr Geoff Love, director of meteorology at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says Larry was on a par with Cyclone Tracey, which devastated Darwin in 1974. The BOM categorises cyclones from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most severe. Love says Larry was probably "high category 4, probably not quite 5" and neither unusual nor unexpected. "Larry was no different from any other tropical cyclone," he says.

But Love says more cyclones hit tropical Queensland in La Nina conditions, a possible sign that Australia is headed for a change after emerging from El Nino three years ago. "With an El Nino, cyclones tend to form out closer to the dateline and probably occur before they reach Australian longitude, in La Ni¤a they form closer to the Australian coast," he says. Records going back to the 1880's show a clear La Nina-El Nino cycle, Love says.

The La Nina and El Nino effects are two extremes of an atmospheric and oceanic oscillation in the Pacific Ocean. They have a direct and significant impact on climate in some parts of the world, including Australia. El Nino occurs when the surface of the ocean warms and leads to drier conditions in Australia, which mean more droughts and fires. Cooling surface waters cause La Nina , which causes wetter conditions and more flooding. The two phases switch every few years. But they don't always neatly alternate, making it difficult to make predictions.

Love says there have been about 20 El Ninos and 20 La Nina s in the past 120 years. This amounts to about 20 six year cycles made up of roughly four neutral years and two years of El Nino or La Nina, or one year of each. Australia is currently in what Love calls a "neutral, weak, wishy-washy" period, although there are signs we're trending towards La Nina. "I think we have been sort of just on the borderline," he says. "The Americans have a lower threshold, they're calling it a weak La Nina. We're saying it's just short of being a La Nina."

The latest global tropical cyclone season, which is just coming to an end, has been described as one of the worst in recent times, making it tempting to view Cyclone Larry as a product of human-related climate change. Grant Beard, a climatologist with the BOM's National Climate Centre, says the recent increase in intense tropical cyclones may be linked to warming. "Looking at the globe ... it seems that the number of intense tropical cyclones has increased over the last 30 years," he says. "That's linked probably to the rising ocean temperatures and this is one sign of the enhanced greenhouse effect."

Dr Kevin Walsh is associate professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne and previously worked on the effect of climate change on tropical cyclones at CSIRO. He says climate change is likely to have some impact on cyclones, although this is yet to be proved. "All the projections say sea temperatures are warming and there are well known theoretical relationships between the warmth of the ocean and tropical cyclones," he says. "But it's controversial whether those effects have yet been detected."

Love says only time will tell whether Larry is the product of climate change. "The jury's out," he says. "Any one event by itself doesn't prove or disprove anything."


A tiny rodent is the hottest political issue in Colorado

Here in Colorado, the hottest political issue of the day may not be the war in Iraq or the out-of-control federal budget, but rather the plight of a tiny mouse. Back in 1998, a frisky eight-inch rodent known as the Preble's meadow jumping mouse gained protective status under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). What has Coloradans hot under the collar is that some 31,000 acres of local government and privately owned land in the state and stretching into Wyoming--an area larger than the District of Columbia--was essentially quarantined from all development so as not to disrupt the mouse's natural habitat. Even the Fish and Wildlife Service concedes that the cost to these land owners could reach $183 million.

What we have here is arguably the most contentious dispute over the economic impact of the ESA since the famous early-'90s clash between the timber industry and the environmentalist lobby over the "endangered" listing of the spotted owl in the Northwest. That dispute eventually forced the closure of nearly 200 mills and the loss of thousands of jobs. Last week the war over the fate of the Preble's mouse escalated when a coalition of enraged homeowners, developers and farmers petitioned the Department of the Interior to have the mouse immediately delisted as "endangered" because of reliance on faulty data.

The property-rights coalition would seem to have a fairly persuasive case based on the latest research on the mouse. It turns out that not only is the mouse not endangered, but it isn't even a unique species.

The man who is almost singlehandedly responsible for exposing the truth about the Preble's mouse is Rob Roy Ramey, a biologist and lifelong conservationist, who used to serve as a curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Mr. Ramey's research--published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Animal Conservation--concluded that the Preble's mouse "is not a valid subspecies based on physical features and genetics." The scientist who conducted the original research classifying Preble's as unique now agrees with Mr. Ramey's assessment. Even scientists who defend extending the mouse's "endangered" status admit that it is 99.5% genetically similar to other strains of mice.

Nor is the mouse on the road to extinction. "The more people look for these mice, the more they find. Every time scientists do a new count, we find more of the Preble's mouse," Mr. Ramey says. It's now been found inhabiting twice as many distinct areas as once thought. These are mice, after all, and the one thing rodents are proficient at is breeding. The full species of the meadow jumping mouse, far from being rare, can be found over half the land area of North America.

"The federal government has effectively shut off tens of millions of dollars of economic development," complains coalition spokesman Kent Holsinger, "based on saving a species that we now know doesn't even exist." But green groups and Department of Interior bureaucrats, who regard the ESA as a sacred pact--the modern-day equivalent of Noah's Ark, as former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called it--pledge to fight any change in status.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Ramey has been accused of being "dishonest," a "whore for industry" and a "shill for the Bush administration." Under intense political pressure from environmental activists, he was removed from his curator's job at the museum. "I've been nearly stampeded by a herd of agitated elephants in Africa and suspended from some of the highest cliffs in North America, but nothing prepared me for the viciousness of the attacks from the environmentalist lobby," he tells me.

Meanwhile, the Preble's mouse continues to impose huge costs on local communities. One water district in Colorado was recently required to build two tunnels for the mice under a man-made pond to spare the critters the inconvenience of having to scurry around it. Regulators even asked local officials if it would be feasible to grow grass in the tunnels for the mice, which was only slightly less absurd than padding the mouse thoroughfares with red carpet. The extra cost to the water project to make it mouse-friendly? More than $1 million. The Fish and Wildlife Service also has the authority to assess penalties on property owners if they even inadvertently spoil mouse habitat. Owners can even be fined if their cats do what cats do: chase and apprehend mice.

Because of preposterous regulations like there, many land owners resort to extreme measures. A comprehensive 2003 survey found that more than one in four land owners impacted by the Preble's mouse regulation "admitted to actively degrading habitat following the species listing in 1998." This is often precisely what happens in these situations: Because most of 1,500 or so species that have been listed as threatened since 1972 are anything but, people have no respect for the designation and attempt to force the species away from their land. For truly endangered species, the ESA is a disaster.

Many of these land owners have been so strong-armed by federal bureaucrats that they have come to believe--with good reason--that the original and widely supported intent of the ESA has been subverted into a back-door means to slam the brakes on economic development. "It's a cost-free way for the government and the greens to impose land-use control on property owners," says R.J. Smith, an ESA expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Therein lies the crux of the problem. The law tries to achieve the societal policy goal of saving species from extinction by imposing all of the costs on a hapless few. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo has sensibly proposed reforms that allow land owners to get fair compensation from the government if their land is depressed in value due to a wetlands or endangered species designation. That seems equitable: If society wants to preserve habitat for the common good, then the cost should be borne by all taxpayers, not individual land owners, who would no longer regard endangered species as an economic plague on their property.

If anything good can come out of the Preble's mouse fiasco in Colorado, it will be that it has awakened Congress to the reality that the ESA isn't just failing property owners but the very irreplaceable species it was designed to protect.



Britain cannot ignore recent, international climate change agreements as it struggles to meet its domestic carbon emission targets, a government official told a Reuters conference on climate change and investment. Britain is set to announce this month whether it will meet by 2010 a target to reduce its emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide -- commonly blamed for global warming-- by 20 percent from 1990 levels. But since it set that target, the global Kyoto Protocol and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) have created carbon markets that allow polluters to buy their way toward meeting their limits on emissions.

These markets make it more difficult for Britain to view its emissions targets in isolation, given that from next year UK companies will be able to buy permission to emit carbon from as far afield as China or India. "It is now obligatory for us to have our energy-intensive industries within the EU ETS," Henry Derwent, Head of the Climate Change Programme at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told the conference late on Monday. "It would be politically pretty difficult for us to say that we repudiate the whole Kyoto mechanisms and the whole extension of the market to Europe in order to maintain absolute purity of a set of domestic targets. It's got broader, wider than that."

The government says Britain is currently heading toward only a 10 percent carbon reduction by 2010. To include within this domestic target emission reductions that industry had bought from outside the country could help it meet its goal but prove politically difficult to explain.

Failure to meet its 2010, self-imposed target would not represent any treaty violation but would be an embarrassment to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has put tackling climate change high on his agenda. Britain is on track to meet its separate, Kyoto Protocol carbon emission targets for 2008 to 2012.

Reuters, 21 March 2006


A remarkable scientific claim was made by Jim Hansen in a CBS News story. The article included the statement:

"Those human changes, he says, are driven by burning fossil fuels that pump out greenhouse gases like CO2, carbon dioxide. Hansen says his research shows that man has just 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming reaches what he calls a tipping point and becomes unstoppable. He says the White House is blocking that message."

My question is where is the modeling support, or other theoretical support, for the claim that "man has just 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming reaches what he calls a tipping point"? While I completely support Jim Hansen's right to make such a statement, as a climate scientist it is a requirement to provide the scientific peer reviewed reason for such a forecast. In addition, based on whatever scientific evidence Dr. Hansen has, what specific policy action would have to be taken within the next ten years to avoid the "tipping point"? What theoretical tool has he used to produce the policy recommendations?

While I agree with Dr. Hansen that the climate system does have "tipping points", the reality is, since our knowledge of the real world climate system variability and change remains limited, that we do not know if human activity moves us closer or further from them. It is prudent to persue "no regrets" policy (i.e. "win-win") regardless. However, if policymakers are to move beyond these policies, the scientific evidence must be based on solid peer reviewed research.

The quote by Ralph Cicerone in the same news article does not add substance to the discussion, unfortunately:

"`Climate change is really happening,' says Cicerone. Asked what is causing the changes, Cicerone says it's greenhouse gases: `Carbon dioxide and methane, and chlorofluorocarbons and a couple of others, which are all the increases in their concentrations in the air are due to human activities. It's that simple.'"

The 2005 NRC Report from the National Academy presents a more complex message. An excerpt from the Report states:

"Policies designed to manage air pollution and land use may be associated with unintended impacts on climate. Increasing evidence of health effects makes it likely that aerosols and ozone will be the targets of stricter regulations in the future. To date, control strategies have not considered the potential climatic implications of emissions reductions. Regulations targeting black carbon emissions or ozone precursors would have combined benefits for public health and climate. However, because some aerosols have a negative radiative forcing, reducing their concentrations could actually increase radiative warming. Policies associated with land management practices could also have inadvertent effects on climate. The continued conversion of landscapes by human activity, particularly in the humid tropics, has complex and possibly important consequences for regional and global climate change as a result of changes in the surface energy budget."

The climate system is clearly not as "simple" as expressed by Ralph Cicerone.

More here


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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