Saturday, April 15, 2006


There's good news, more good news and then, unfortunately, some bad news, on the subject of climate change. What would you like first? Right, the good news it is then.

In all of the arguments about climate change the two questions that have always loomed largest for me are: how much of it is there likely to be? and what are we going to do about it? If it all ends up being 0.1 degrees Celsius in a century then obviously we don't do much about it and if it's going to be 10 degrees Celsius next week then we'd better get a move on.

The Kyoto Protocol was never going to be one of the things I thought we should do as it does not very much at great expense. I'm also on record here as stating that I think technology will save us, for my day job involves some contact with certain parts of the alternative energy research world and things are moving a great deal faster than the wider world seems to recognize.

Having said that (revealing my prejudices as it were) the question of how much change we're likely to see is obviously the most important. We have a number of different estimates, using different methods, and some of them push some very scary numbers indeed. I don't mean just the usual alarmists (those who say we should all be dead already from the pesticides in our baby milk, we've already drowned from the ice caps melting and so on) but even some of the more sober scientific studies say that they can't rule out 6-degree C rises, higher even. Which is why this paper is so cheering. It looks like we can rule out runaway warming purely as a result of CO2 emissions. For an easier to understand explanation try this at the blog of one of the authors.

We have a number of different ways of trying to work out the "climate sensitivity," that is, what sort of temperature change would we expect to see from a doubling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere? The International Panel on Climate Change (the UN's offshoot looking into all of this on our behalf) has in the past given a range of 1.5-4.5 degrees C. Various other methods have also been used and these are the ones that don't rule out those very large changes that the alarmists tell us about in the newspapers all the time. Which leads to the interesting thing noted in the new paper:

We made the rather elementary observation that these above estimates are based on essentially independent observational evidence, and therefore can (indeed must) be combined by Bayes' Theorem to generate an overall estimate of climate sensitivity.

So instead of wondering which of our estimates might be correct we look at all of them and come to the correct answer. This pretty much rules out the extreme outcomes and gives us, as they say, a climate sensitivity of 3 degrees C. There's still a range there but the researchers are quite clear about the fact that they didn't think that the scientific community is ready for such a low number to be announced. All of which is of course extremely good news. Even if everything else said about climate change is true, if every Friends of the Earth pamphlet is spot on in every detail, we're still not going to have runaway global warming as a result of CO2 emissions.

Excellent, the second piece of good news also shows that estimates of how much of a rise in CO2 emissions we are going to see are also too high. Ian Castles and David Henderson made the point (explained here at TCS in 2004) that there was something decidedly odd about the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES). This is the series of economic models that tries to look at how the world is going to develop over the next century and then give the tonnages of CO2, methane and so on that will be pumped out into the atmosphere. There were several substantial criticisms (the way the use of regional growth figures would have made North Korea richer than the US in 2100 was a particular delight) but perhaps the most important was the one about the use of exchange rates.

It's well known that if you use market exchange rates to compare relative levels of wealth between rich and poor countries that you'll end up overstating the differences. Things made locally and consumed locally (so called non-traded goods) will be cheaper in the poor countries for, it being a poor place, people get paid less, amongst other factors. So when we try to make such international comparisons we are supposed to use Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) exchange rates (which take account of these differences in prices) so that we measure the true gap in wealth correctly. This shouldn't have made much difference to the SRES except for the fact that most of the models assumed "convergence". That is, that most of the poor countries would end up becoming not just less poor in absolute terms but also less poor in relative terms. Well, if you measure that poverty in the first place using market exchange rates (which the SRES did) then obviously you will overstate the amount of growth that will happen to get to that convergence. That's part of the Castles/Henderson case, that the SRES assumes too much growth in the economy over the next century. This, of course, means that they're overstating the increase in emissions that the scientists then plug into their climate models.

Many were not all that taken with this argument, amongst them the Australian economist John Quiggin, and he's continued to work away at the problem, including making submissions to The Stern Review (the UK Government's look at the economics of climate change). In the course of this he's received a paper (not peer reviewed, this is a working paper) from a colleague, a W. Erwin Diewert, which tells us that there is indeed substance to the Castles/Henderson critique. Not quite as much as was originally claimed (but then they've already dialed back from their very large first claims) but large enough for this to be the conclusion:

What conclusions can we draw from the above algebra? It seems possible to draw the following tentative conclusions:

Castles and Henderson are right to criticize the first part of the SRES modeling strategy, which relies on market exchange rates to calculate per capita real income differences between countries. It would be much better to use ICP PPP's for this first part of the SRES modeling strategy. The differences between PPP's and market exchange rates can be very large so their criticism is not a negligible one.

Quiggin is right to implicitly criticize the entire SRES modeling strategy. It would be simpler to abandon the two stage modeling strategy and make direct comparisons of energy intensities across countries and assume energy convergence rather than real income convergence.

Either way, the SRES model should be reestimated.

Now I'll have to take what these four gentlemen, Castles, Henderson, Diewert and Quiggin tell me is their conclusion slightly on trust. But they do all agree, that the end result of their collective two-year ponder over this question is that the SRES is using the wrong numbers and or methods and that the calculations need to be done again. There are differences about how much they think things will change if these sums are done again but they are (like the good academics they are) telling the IPCC that it needs to do its homework over.

But don't you think that's two pieces of good news? That climate sensitivity is less than previously thought and also that the models everyone's been using for the past five years over-estimate (to a still argued over degree) the likely emissions over the next century?

Want the bad news? The IPCC isn't going to take any notice:

In 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a set of scenarios in the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES). These scenarios have been developed in a four year process with many scientists involved in the writing and the review process. The SRES scenarios played an important role in the Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the IPCC and will be used in the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). The 21st IPCC plenary session (November 2003) decided that no new baseline scenario would be prepared for the AR4, in view of the time it takes before new scenarios are taken up by the research community and used in publications.

AR4 is to be published in 2007. AR5, the fifth assessment report is presumably due in 2013 or thereabouts and that's the first time that the SRES models will be looked at again. Now I don't know about you but I don't think that's all that acceptable. We are (depending upon which side of the argument you are on) either facing the greatest threat to the health of the planet or we're about to spend trillions upon trillions of dollars on fixing something that doesn't actually need fixing.

Don't you think having a few guys cranking through some spreadsheets to find out which might be a good idea? Soonish?

TCS Daily, 11 April 2006


Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer took George Stephanopoulos for a ride Sunday over Glacier National Park, and not just in a helicopter. Thanks to his proposal to mine eastern Montana's coal beds and gasify the coal into synthetic fuel, Schweitzer is enjoying steady national press. Consider that he's a newly elected, red-state Democrat, with homespun charm and bolo tie, and you can understand the media's crush.

Pursuing creative, cost effective uses of our natural resources is fine by me, but now the governor's gone too far. He's exploiting the specter of global warming as a justification for his "synfuel" plan. That was the point of Schweitzer's helicopter ride with Stephanopoulos: to display Glacier National Park's shrinking glaciers which are, as Stephanopoulos put it, "dramatic evidence that global warming is not, as some argue, a hoax. The glaciers that gave this park its name are melting." In touting the segment, ABC News billed the park as "a national treasure [that] is melting away from global warming." Hard hitting, critical journalism was on the way.

The helicopter ride accomplished little more than provide nice scenery. In March, the park's 1 million acres are blanketed in snow. The governor and the Clintonista flew over Jackson Glacier and imagined its shrinkage. If the men were truly environmentally conscious, they would have used hang gliders -- that one helicopter joy ride likely emitted a great deal of exhaust and wasted a considerable amount of fuel, not to mention possibly causing avalanches or disturbing wildlife.

Without any pesky, challenging questions from Stephanopoulos, who so far from Washington was clearly out of his element, Schweitzer could make his case unchallenged: There were once over a hundred glaciers in the park. Now there are fewer than 30. Measurements of "temperature and precipitation from around the world" show global warming is real. Ergo, Glacier National Park is the "canary in the mine."

I've heard this story many times. In fact I've told a version of it myself more than once. As a boat captain for three summers on St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park, I would point out Sexton Glacier and explain that it's only one of about 30 glaciers left in the park. At one count, there were once over a hundred. Usually, a hand would shoot up: "Because of global warming?" No, not at all.

If Schweitzer and Stephanopoulos took the boat tour (summer only), they'd understand Glacier makes poor anecdotal evidence for global warming. Passengers learn that the small alpine glaciers in the park today were formed in a "Little Ice Age" that began only several hundred years ago. A better name for Glacier, as many will tell you, would be "Glaciated" National Park. Its most dramatic beauty comes not from the spits of ice which are rarely seen without considerable trouble, but from the dramatic peaks and bathtub-shaped valleys which were carved out by glaciers thousands of feet thick.

Yep, thousands. These enormous valley glaciers formed and melted, perhaps multiple times, well before man began even imagining the industrial revolution. And now, the disappearance of fairly insignificant alpine glaciers is the result of man-made global warming? Sorry, but for a place where I've been snowed on in June, July, and August, I'm not buying.

Since George Stephanopoulos didn't bother the governor for any evidence of his claims, I thought I would. His office was ready to send a 24-page file of information. Two-thirds were generic global warming briefs from the National Resources Defense Council -- a group known to be in the tank for global warming. In the stack, the only information pertaining to global warming's effects in Glacier was a two-page fact sheet from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and a one-page summary of the glacial recession.

No one disputes they're shrinking. But skeptics will want data to support Schweitzer's claims. It should be easy enough: show that local increased temperatures correspond to glacial shrinkage. The Montana DEQ memo cites generic warming talking points: global average temps, snow pack, polar ice cover, and the like. The most the governor's office could give on Glacier National Park was that glaciers are rapidly reducing in number and size: "Since the mid-18th century, reduction in area of the park's glaciers ranges from 46%-77%." If they've been shrinking since before the industrial revolution, what's man got to do with it?

Pressed for better evidence, Schweitzer's office sent a couple links: one to a study detailing the park's susceptibility to long-term climate change, and another to a United States Geological Survey study. The USGS estimates that glaciers began receding around 1850. While the USGS points vaguely to "above average summer temperatures and below average annual precipitation" from 1920 to 1940, the specifics aren't very convincing. The finished USGS study assumes that global temperatures are rising, based on the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change's estimate of less than one-half degree Celsius. More specifically, the authors point to another study which found that "in alpine regions the warming is even more pronounced."

How about looking at western Montana and Glacier National Park? The USGS authors cite annual summer mean temperatures from nearby weather stations at Kalispell, West Glacier, and Babb. (I'll grant them their choice of locations, even though the first two are in climate zones vastly different -- and much warmer -- than the Continental Divide, where most glaciers are located.) Though data from the latter two stations are sporadic, the authors claim a temperature increase of 1.66 degrees Celsius from 1910 to 1980. That's it. No details on fluctuations, statistical significance, or r-squared values. As Virginia climatologist Patrick J. Michaels wrote for Cato in 2001, "With climate data, it's easy to play the standard game of picking a starting point in the record to prove a point. Precisely, one can come up with 3 1/2 degrees of warming by looking at data beginning in 1950, rather than considering the entire history."

More here

New fuel standards unnecessary

Once again, the government has issued what it claims is a "win-win" fuel economy mandate— yes, it will raise the prices of new SUVs and vans by forcing their redesign, but the resulting gas savings will pay for those higher prices in only a few short years. But if that's really true, then why do we need a law to force these new vehicle designs on us? After all, it's not as if we've been ignorant of gasoline price trends in recent months. The post-Katrina price hikes receded for a while, but prices have been rising again in recent weeks, and it's hard to escape predictions of still-higher prices in the future.

But the public has clearly responded, changing its new-car buying habits to the point where several carmakers are in deep financial distress. Now, as in the past, rising gas prices are leading to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Politicians may love to appear proactive, but this is a problem that solves itself.

The CAFE increases are being decried by environmentalists as too little, too late. Their stance is curious. For years, they've charged that Americans drive too much. Higher fuel economy standards, however, might well make us drive even more. If your new SUV gets five more miles per gallon than your old one, then driving has gotten cheaper and you're apt to do more of it.

There is one good thing about the new CAFE program — it may no longer be as lethal as it once was. Previous CAFE standards encouraged the production of small, lighter cars. This improved fuel economy, but it also reduced crashworthiness. According to a 2002 National Academy of Sciences report, CAFE contributed to about 2,000 traffic fatalities per year. The new CAFE program has been reformed to reduce this downsizing incentive by introducing an MPG standard tied to vehicle size. Larger vehicles will no longer have to meet the same across-the-board standard as small ones. As a result, consumer choices won't be as restricted.

But CAFE is still, at heart, a lethal program. Those who push for higher standards should acknowledge that. Until they do, the debate over fuel economy regulation is a dishonest one.


Scientist urges switch to thorium

Supporters of an alternative energy source say it has the potential to revolutionise the nuclear power industry and is a safer alternative to uranium. Thorium oxide, which is three times more abundant than uranium, is also a radioactive material. But senior research scientist Dr Hashemi-Nezhad, from Sydney University, says it is safe to hold in your hand. "This is the future of the energy in the world - energy without green, without greenhouse gas production," he said. Dr Hashemi-Nezhad says thorium has all of the benefits of uranium as a nuclear fuel but none of the drawbacks. It can generate power without emitting greenhouse gases and it can be used to incinerate the world's stockpiles of plutonium. Dr Hashemi-Nezhad says thorium waste would only remain radioactive for 500 years, not the tens of thousands that uranium by-products remain active. "In fact, the green movement must come behind this project because we are moving in a direction to destroy all these existing nuclear wastes, to prevent nuclear weapons production, to [prevent] Chernobyl accident happening again," Dr Hashemi-Nezhad said. Unlike uranium, thorium is not fissile, meaning it must be coaxed into a chain reaction.

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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