Sunday, November 26, 2006

A new experiment to test the role of cosmic rays in global warming

SIR WILLIAM HERSCHEL, an 18th-century astronomer, is credited with being the first person to notice the effect of variations in the sun's activity on the Earth. In 1801 he observed that when the sun had many spots on its surface, the price of wheat fell-a connection he attributed to the weather being more temperate. Over the next 200 years scientists tried, without much success, to understand exactly how these transient sunspots might affect the climate. Now an experiment has begun that could explain what is going on.

The Earth is continually bombarded by streams of particles that come from outside the solar system. These cosmic rays, as they are called, consist mostly of protons. They strike the gases of the Earth's atmosphere at great speeds, creating showers of debris including streams of electron-like particles called muons. An international team of physicists led by Jasper Kirkby, who works at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, has devised an experiment to find out how this process might affect the climate.

When scientists first turned their attention to subatomic particles, including cosmic rays, they used a device called a cloud chamber to study them. These are boxes containing air that is super-saturated with water vapour. When a charged particle zips through the chamber, the vapour condenses into a trail of droplets showing the particle's path and, if the box is placed in a magnetic field, its electrical charge.

In an updated version of a cloud chamber the researchers are recreating the Earth's atmosphere. They fill the container with pure air made by evaporating liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen, and add water vapour and some trace gases. They adjust the temperature and pressure of the mix to mimic conditions at various heights above sea level. Then they zap the results with a stream of particles from the laboratory's elderly proton synchrotron. Ideally, they would use muons but, in practice, they are using a close cousin, the pion.

The theory is that when a muon encounters a gas molecule, it can knock off an electron, leaving a positively charged ion in its wake. The electron soon attaches itself to another molecule, making a negatively charged ion. These ions are thought to help create new particles called aerosols and, when aerosols grow above a certain size, they become the seeds around which cloud droplets form.

The experiment is testing this theory. If it is correct, then cosmic rays may create clouds with more small droplets than would otherwise be the case. Such clouds would persist for an unusually long time because small water droplets are less likely than big ones to turn into rain. Physicists also think that such clouds would be brighter and more reflective than normal clouds. So they would cool the Earth by hanging around and by reflecting more heat from the sun back into space.

The link between the sun's activity and climate involves another lot of particles streaming past the Earth. The planet and its neighbours are bathed in the solar wind, a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the sun. The magnetic field associated with these particles helps protect the Earth from cosmic rays by deflecting them from the planet.

When the sun is at its most active, which is when it is spotty, the solar wind is stronger and fewer cosmic rays penetrate. Conversely, when solar activity is less intense, more cosmic rays get through. A study using data on cloud cover taken from satellite images dating from 1979 found that 65% of the world's skies were covered by cloud when cosmic rays were weakest and 68% when they were strongest.

Scientists modelling climate change have ignored cosmic rays up to now because there was not enough evidence about how they might work. However, the results of this experiment, expected by summer 2007, could show how nature periodically sticks her oar in.



Europe is damaging its competitiveness by moving faster than the rest of the world to tackle climate change, the European Union's industry commissioner has warned. In a letter seen by the Financial Times, Guenter Verheugen says: "We have to recognise that ... our environmental leadership could significantly undermine the international competitiveness of part of Europe's energy-intensive industries and worsen global environmental performance by redirecting production to parts of the world with lower environmental standards." His comments are understood to be aimed in particular at the economic threat from China, India and other Asian nations.

The industry commissioner wrote to Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, calling for special exemptions for such sectors to state aid rules and backing the introduction of a levy on imports from developed countries that have yet to implement the Kyoto treaty, which has been floated in Brussels. However, he also believes that European business could benefit if the market-friendly emissions trading scheme is extended to cars and airlines by encouraging it to invest in new technology and reducing emissions in the developing world.

His distress call reflects the increasing priority Mr Barroso is putting on green issues since the publication of the Stern report by the UK and the US debate sparked by Al Gore, the former vice-president. Brussels is set next week to reject several of its members' emissions trading plans for the 2008-12 period as too weak. Mr Verheugen suggests a 10-point plan to form the basis of a review of energy and climate policy expected in January.



"We just haven't been doing the hard work of getting across to the public just how serious the situation is!" The speaker was one of 48 American climate experts gathered from around the country and crowded into a small second-floor hotel meeting room for an all-day closed-door strategy session. All day, the midtown Manhattan traffic swirled unnoticed beneath the windows as these men and women - which included not only a number of America's pre-eminent climate scientists but two psychologists and other experts too - wrestled with what they call a crisis.

Convened by Yale's Project on Climate Change at the Yale School of Forestry and Environment Studies, its purpose was not to debate global warming science but to figure out how to convey its most important findings to the public "with appropriate urgency and sustained for the long haul."

It is a goal these scientists see constantly thwarted by what they dubbed "the forces of darkness" - a persistent disinformation campaign, waged by some fossil fuel companies and cooperating politicians that downplays the gravity of global warming. "We will leave our children and grandchildren a ruined world if we don't dramatically change our behavior, and soon," said Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, after the meeting broke up.

To encourage frank discussion, Yale imposed what are called Chatham House Rules: No one attending, including the four invited journalists, could attribute quotes to specific people.

The assembled scientists pondered how they might create some sort of new "bridging institution" between scientists and the public. They reviewed the tactics of naysayers who persistently "trick" journalists into thinking they have to present "the other side" on basic aspects of climate change, even though virtually all the world's thousands of professional climatologists now agree on them.

Several in the room sensed a recent shift in the media, but many still worried that too many editors remained susceptible to reporting what these experts see as junk controversy.



Mocking comment from Harvard by Lubos Motl

Eastern Australia hasn't seen this November cold for 100+ years: it was the coldest November day in a century. Recall that "November" in Australian can be translated as "May" in the U.S. Nevertheless, they have had mushy snow in Canberra, a blast of Antarctic magic. A goosepimply, teeth-chattering Sydney has another reason to shake its collective head at the weather gods today.

Nevertheless, intelligent journalists immediately explain us that cooler weather and fewer hurricanes do not lessen global warming trends because weather is not climate, just like religion is not faith. The climate and the climate change are not only independent of the weather but they are independent of all other things that can be measured, too.

More precisely, weather is only climate when it's getting warmer and when the hurricane frequency increases. When the weather is getting cooler and the hurricane rate is decreasing, weather is no longer climate. It follows that the climate is always getting warmer - QED Amen. That's why Kofi Annan can tell us that we, the skeptics, are out of step, out of time, and out of arguments. He is out of tune, out of touch, and out of mind, trying to build the 1984-style global government.

Australian PM using nukes to spike the Green/Left

Only very foolish people doubt John Howard's political instincts

John Howard has recast the political debate on nuclear power, with Ziggy Switkowski's report saying that if you take global warming seriously then nuclear must be assessed as part of the solution. Either Howard or Kim Beazley has made a blunder as they seize opposing positions in the energy debate. Beazley says Howard "is developing some of the characteristics of a fanatic" on nuclear power. He says there is a clear-cut distinction between Labor and Liberal, and that Howard must answer a simple question: Where will his 25 nuclear reactors be located?

The more Beazley fumes, the more moderate Howard sounds. "I think public opinion is shifting," Howard says. "I want to take the public with me. I'm not trying to force it down the throat of the public. We're talking about a debate that is going to go on for some time. We can't expect instant policy gratification." You bet. Howard has no intention of committing Australia to nuclear power before the next election. His real purpose is to redefine the politics of energy in Australia and to destroy the moral and practical superiority Labor has enjoyed for so long courtesy of the global warming debate.

While the issue was about belief or disbelief in global warming, Howard was the loser. Climate, science and popular sentiment united against him. Howard's answer is to declare himself a believer and begin a new debate about solutions. This is a debate about markets, costs and economics, where the key ideological factor is no longer Howard's scepticism about global warming but Labor's rejection of nuclear power.

As a politician, Howard specialises in eroding Labor's symbolic ideas. This term he has assaulted Labor's industrial orthodoxy with his Work Choices package and now assaults its anti-nuclear orthodoxy. Such positions are assumed to be highly unpopular. So why does Howard embrace them? Because he thinks the election winner will be the leader propounding positive ideas for the nation's future. "I think the public will listen to the debate," he says of the nuclear issue. "I don't think they have the prejudice about nuclear power that Mr Beazley and Senator Brown have. I mean, Senator Brown and Mr Beazley have a prejudice about nuclear power. I'm open-minded about nuclear power." This is Howard tying Labor into green ideology as opposed to his rationalism.

Switkowski's report is designed to make nuclear power respectable. But it cannot make the nuclear option financially viable. The report's key is the nexus between global warming and nuclear power. Switkowski spelt it out at the National Press Club: you only think nuclear if you believe in climate change. In Australia, nuclear power is hopelessly uncompetitive, about 20 per cent to 50 per cent costlier than coal and gas-based electricity on which Australia relies. So there is no investment appetite for nuclear power, as Australia enjoys the fourth cheapest electricity among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

While Switkowski finds that nuclear is a "practical option" for Australia, the assumptions underpinning this conclusion reveal the remoteness of the nuclear pathway. Consider the list. The report asserts at the start that Australia's best option is clean coal. Frankly, it is a no-brainer. This technology is a joint Howard-Beazley aspiration of deep import for Australia and the world economy. Beyond this, nuclear would only be viable if fossil fuels begin to pay for their emissions. A price of $15-$40 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent would be necessary to make nuclear electricity competitive.

But complications abound. The period for planning, building and commissioning Australia's first nuclear power plant would be 10 to 20 years. Australia lacks the expertise and skills in nuclear research. Nuclear engineering and nuclear physics are degraded and a national mobilisation would be required to generate such expertise. Australia has no regulatory framework for the industry and it would need to establish a single national regulator to cover all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, drawing heavily on overseas expertise. The report says that if Australia is serious about nuclear power, it is essential that this regulatory framework be "established at an early stage".

Australia's existing laws ban the establishment of nuclear fuel cycle facilities, from power plants to enrichment plants. This inhibition, significantly, is on Howard's mind. "If we are to have a nuclear power industry in this country, we need to change the law, because the law doesn't permit it at the present time," he says. Such laws would need passage through the federal parliament. Might Howard contemplate this before the election as part of a showdown with Labor and the Greens over putting the nuclear option on a commercial evaluation basis? Australia is locked into an anti-nuclear power administrative and legislative system. Freeing up this system may become part of any genuine debate. Howard's message is that he wants the nuclear option decided on commercial factors. Yet Switkowski's report contains even more warnings on this score.

Overseas experience suggests "the first plants may need additional measures to kick-start the industry". Sure. The report says the US Government is providing a subsidy for the first six nuclear plants based on next-generation technology. Given this history, can you imagine commercial operators launching a nuclear industry in Australia without subsidies? And imagine further just how popular such subsidies would prove!

The test for Howard is whether he moves towards a carbon-pricing policy. If he does, he risks prejudicing Australia's comparative advantage in cheap electricity based on fossil fuels. Yet if he doesn't, he undermines the necessary condition Switkowski outlines that would make nuclear competitive, thereby compromising his nuclear initiative. Howard's view is that no single technology can meet Australia's future energy demands. He wants nuclear assessed as part of the mix and the report's philosophy is that all options should be examined on a market basis and all technologies should "compete on an equal footing". This may eventually rule out nuclear power for Australia. But Beazley is not interested in such evaluations.

Labor has an ideological objection to nuclear power and a political conviction that a scare campaign will be effective against Howard. It would be an advertising agency's delight: depicting Australia's cities as the next Chernobyl. The immediate response of Labor's premiers betrayed their faith in such a scare at state and local level. These premiers, most of whom have singularly failed to manage infrastructure and water policy properly, now purport to veto a comprehensive debate on Australia's energy future. They don't deserve to be taken seriously and few people will take them seriously. Having being routed before the High Court in their totally counterproductive challenge to Howard's industrial laws, the premiers have neither the power nor the authority to take this decision about the Australian nation.

The real difference is that Howard wants to open the door to a nuclear debate and Beazley wants to keep it shut. It is a division not between nuclear policies but between political positions. It repeats the patterm since 1996 of Howard as the agent of initiative and Labor as the agent of resistance.



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

Comments? Email me here. My Home Pages are here or here or here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


1 comment:

Ian Parker said...

There is one aspect that no one on the green side has discussed and that is effect of advances in technology.

Greens talk about x meters in 2050. Fact of the matter is that by 2050 we will almost certainly have a Von Neumann machine and we will be able to construct sunschields in space and we will have a cpability to modify and control the weather.