Sunday, April 23, 2006

Scientists cool outlook on global warming

Global warming may not be as dramatic as some scientists have predicted. Using temperature readings from the past 100 years, 1,000 computer simulations and the evidence left in ancient tree rings, Duke University scientists announced yesterday that "the magnitude of future global warming will likely fall well short of current highest predictions."

Supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, the Duke researchers noted that some observational studies predicted that the Earth's temperature could rise as much as 16 degrees in this century because of an increase in carbon dioxide or other so-called greenhouse gases. The Duke estimates show the chances that the planet's temperature will rise even by 11 degrees is only 5 percent, which falls in line with previous, less-alarming predictions that meteorologists made almost three decades ago.

In recent years, much academic research has indicated otherwise, often in colorful terms and citing the United States as the biggest contributor to global warming. This month, a University of Toronto scientist predicted that a quarter of the planet's plants and animals would be extinct by 2050 because of rising temperatures. On Wednesday, two geophysics professors at the University of Chicago warned those who eat red meat that their increased flatulence contributes to greenhouse gases. Last year, Oregon State University research linked future "societal disruptions" with global warming, while the Carnegie Institution reported that the insulating influence of northern forests alone would raise the Earth's temperature by 6 degrees. In 2004, Harvard University scientists informed Congress that warming had doomed the planet to climatic "shocks and surprises."

The Duke research, however, found substantial ups and downs in the Earth's temperature before modern times, countering other studies that confine noticeable temperature increases to the industrialized era. Marked climate change in other centuries resulted from "external forcing," said the Duke findings, citing volcanic eruptions and other influences. "Our reconstruction supports a lot of variability in the past," said research director Gabriele Hegerl of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

Although her study found that the Earth is, indeed, warming, Ms. Hegerl discounts dire predictions of skyrocketing temperatures. The probability that the climate's "sensitivity" to greenhouse-gas levels would result in drastically higher temperatures is "substantially" reduced, she said. Ms. Hegerl and her four-member team based their conclusions on thermometer readings over the past century, along with "ancient climate records," including tree-ring studies and ice-core samples that revealed hot and cold spells and airborne particulates over a 700-year period. In addition, they created 1,000 computer-based weather simulations for the past 1,000 years. "Ancient and modern evidence suggest limits to future global warming," the study concluded. It was published in the journal Nature.


Earth Day Information Center Cites Environmental Progress

Although many environmental organizations will strain to find the black lining in the silver cloud of environmental progress on the occasion of Earth Day, the Earth Day Information Center, a project of The National Center for Public Policy Research, is pleased to note environmental progress in many areas. Earth Day is Saturday, April 22.

"The air we breathe and the water we drink is substantially cleaner than it was at the time of the first Earth Day in 1970," said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for the National Center, adding, "Of course, good news on the environment, of which there is much, rarely makes the cut for the broadcast evening news."

The Earth Day Information Center notes that volatile organic compound emissions from cars and trucks, which are largely responsible for creating ground level ozone and smog, have declined 73.8 percent since 1970. In addition, between 1993 and 2002, aggregate emissions of the six principle air pollutants tracked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have declined 19 percent.

Cleaner air has made for good news on the acid rain front as well. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions - the main pollutants in the formation of acid rain - have been markedly reduced. Sulfur dioxide emissions in the electric power industry are down 38 percent from 1980 levels, and nitrogen oxide emissions for the entire power industry are 37 percent below 1990 levels according to the EPA.

The Center also notes that despite some claims to the contrary, the United States is gaining wetlands. "In 2002 and 2003, the United States gained a net average of 72,000 acres of wetlands each year," said Knight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture observes that net wetland acreage also grew at a rate of 26,000 acres per year between 1997 and 2001.

"The best way to ensure a healthier, cleaner world is to allow the power of human ingenuity to come to grips with environmental challenges confronting us," said National Center Senior Fellow Bonner Cohen. "Technological innovation and well-protected property rights - not micro-management through bureaucratic fiat - will enable people the world over to live longer, healthier lives. Sadly, this message seems completely lost on an environmentalist establishment that is more concerned with fund-raising through fear-mongering than with providing common sense solutions," says Cohen, "The very things they attack, man-made chemicals, for example, have helped eradicate diseases, purify drinking water, create life-saving medicines and medical devices, and brought about countless other improvements in our daily lives."

Though progress has been made in clean air, water, and wetlands, there is at least one environmental issue area where advancement has been lacking: Endangered species recovery.

The House of Representatives approved the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act last year, which aims to remove some of the barriers to species recovery that are present in the current Endangered Species Act. However, this reform effort has been met with strong resistance from the environmental community. "In the 33-year history of the Endangered Species Act, less than one percent of species listed as endangered or threatened under the Act have been recovered," notes Knight. "While most would consider a less-than-one-percent recovery rate a failure, many environmentalists apparently consider it good enough to continue the status quo."



A climate model program downloaded by thousands of PC users had an internal error that meant it overstated how hot the world might get. Oops.

Researchers behind a much-hyped climate model downloaded by hundreds of thousands of home PC users have had to admit that many of their results are wrong because of errors in the program. And it's not just their software that's flawed.

The software, produced by Oxford University in conjunction with a consortium of research institutions, was launched with great fanfare in February by the BBC. Around 200,000 people downloaded the programme, which runs in the background on PCs, each one working on one of thousands of very slightly different scenarios about how the world's climate might change in the future.

However, after two months it's been discovered that there were errors in a data file which was supposed to take account of particles in the atmosphere that suppress rising temperatures. Consequently, the world was - virtually, at least - getting too hot, too quickly.

The project's principal investigator, Dr Myles Allen, found a silver lining to this climate-modelling cloud. 'What we've seen in the runs is the unadulterated impact of global warming which means that all of the models have warmed up too fast', he told BBC News. 'At some point in the future, we may have done an experiment like this anyway.'

The real problem is not an individual cock-up in one computer program, but the excessive reliance on models in the broader debate about global warming.

That is not to say models are completely without value. It is reasonable to put together our best guesses as regards future trends like gas emissions, population change, solar outputs and so on with what we know about climate physics to produce some broad estimates about what might happen next. But these are sophisticated guesstimates, no more. They allow us to think through what are the parameters of the discussion; they do not represent viable predictions of the future.

There are many good reasons why the models will be inadequate, not the least being the possibility of bias, conscious or unconscious, in the initial setup. For one thing, the data we have will always be incomplete. Satellite measurements are better than they were in the past, but they only go back to the late Seventies. Before that, weather records are based on stations that were unevenly spread, with relative high concentrations in developed countries and relatively few over the 70 per cent of the Earth covered by water.

The physics of individual climate elements is not fully understood, particularly in relation to clouds; we don't know how much cloud will be produced in a warming world and what the net effect of that cloud will be. In addition, new announcements from research teams are made regularly about factors that hadn't been fully appreciated before.

Also, models are, by their very nature, simplifications of the real world. Consider a non-climate example: the Millennium Bridge in London. This was a relatively simple system to model. But when the bridge opened in June 2000 it had to be quickly closed again because the effect of people actually walking on it caused the whole thing to 'wobble'. So even engineers with far less complex problems than world climate to solve can get things badly wrong.

Which brings us to the bottom line in climate modelling. How can we test that the models actually work? Attempts to see how the models replicate the known temperature from the past are problematic because we know, given the inadequate coverage and mixed standard of ground-based weather stations in previous decades, that this temperature record is incomplete and almost certainly inaccurate. We could wait a few decades to see how real temperatures pan out, but that rather defeats the object of the exercise, especially if you believe we'll all be parched or drowned in a century's time.

So, we should accept the conclusions of climate models critically, and look into how other sources of experience agree or disagree with them. But unfortunately, this is not what happens. Instead, for reasons quite unrelated to climate science, each new set of results and each new report is leapt upon by one side or the other as confirmation of their own position.

Take the recent comments by Britain's chief scientific adviser to the government, Sir David King. On BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said, 'If you ask me where do we feel the temperature is likely to end up if we move to a level of carbon dioxide roughly twice the pre-industrial level - and the level at which we would be optimistically hoping we could settle - the temperature rise could well be in excess of three degrees celsius.'

This immediately sparked fevered discussion about how many millions - or billions - of people would be effected. In fact, the effect of that rise in carbon dioxide in isolation from other factors would be about one degree celsius. Whether the temperature would rise more than this depends on feedback effects that are still not properly understood. Plucking one figure out from a report as if there were any certainty about it is unhelpful.

The discussion, driven by excessive enthusiasm for one particular form of research, is one-sided and perverse. It is one-sided because it very often ignores the fact that societies adapt to changing circumstances. If the world did see a significant rise in temperature overnight, it is quite likely that there would be dramatic and negative consequences for many people - although equally, warmer weather would benefit other areas, too. However, over the course of the next century it is perfectly possible to change how land is used, to build flood defences and create proper water supply infrastructure, especially if societies become wealthier in the meantime. So anything that holds back development would cause far more problems than it would solve.

And the discussion is perverse because it ignores very major problems in the here and now in favour of flagging up some potential medium-term apocalypse. These are not just technical or scientific problems, either. Why is it, in the twenty-first century, that so much of the world lives such a marginal existence that changing weather patterns could prove disastrous for them? That is a political problem that has slipped a long way down the agenda in popular debate.

Most perversely of all, the discussion of climate science has become a political clash between, in the main, environmentalists on one side and free marketeers on the other - while political debate about the best future direction of society is left in the hands of climate modellers.

Spiked Online, 20 April 2006

Australia: Wind energy drops off the perch

Never mind the orange-bellied parrot. Wind energy, one of the ethical investment sector's great success stories over the past decade, has passed its peak. "It's not only peaked, it's stopped," says Garry Weaven, Australia's biggest wind farmer. Weaven chairs Industry Funds Management, which last year paid a hefty $788 million for the formerly-listed Pacific Hydro energy company. Weaven blames the federal Government, "so clearly operating at the behest of the aluminium and coal lobbies".

Wind currently supplies about 2 per cent of our annual electricity generation. That share was growing until late 2004, when the federal Government rejected calls to extend the national mandatory renewable energy (MRET) subsidy scheme beyond 2020. According to Babcock & Brown wind executive Miles George, it takes two years to build a wind farm and the 12 years left until 2020 simply aren't enough to make a return on investment. The climate change debate has shifted dramatically, with the focus now on nuclear rather than renewable energy.

Former NSW premier Bob Carr commented darkly last year: "You could have a wind farm across all of outback NSW that would kill every kookaburra but it wouldn't provide the base-load power we need." A fortnight ago federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell sparked a media frenzy when he blocked a proposed $220 million wind farm at Bald Hills in Victoria's Gippsland - ostensibly because it threatened the endangered orange-bellied parrot. That decision has called into question a $12 billion pipeline of wind projects proposed by companies including ANZ, Alinta, AGL, Pacific Hydro and various state utilities including the Tasmanian Government's Roaring 40s wind business.

You can almost hear John Howard laughing as greenies are forced to choose between climate change and protection of endangered species. But it's a false opposition. Weaven contrasts the destruction of 25 per cent of all species over the next 50 years under current climate change scenarios, with "killing the odd bird". He says there have been no endangered birds killed at Pacific Hydro wind farms and there are ways to reduce birdkill, like removing animal carcasses where birds of prey are present. The Australian Greens environment spokesman, WA Senator Rachel Siewert, cautiously agrees. "My understanding is it's not as much of an issue as was first thought."

Investors can still do well out of wind energy but all the growth is offshore. Babcock's $830 million Wind Partners vehicle has risen 31.6 per cent since it listed on 27 October 2005, from its $1.40 issue price per cent to $1.68 yesterday. Not a bad return, although the stock is well off its December $1.93 peak. Weaven says Pacific Hydro is also trading profitably and will deliver a return to its owner, the $1.9 billion IFM Australian Infrastructure Fund - in turn owned by about 2.5 million industry super fund members. He denies it overpaid: "Not one dollar in our valuation was based on new projects in Australia." But since the sale, according to AMP Capital Investors sustainability research manager Ian Woods, there is "no growth story" for investors looking for an Australian wind play. State governments - especially Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania - are promising support but that will be irrelevant if the federal Government steps in to block new wind farms, on whatever grounds.



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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