Thursday, October 04, 2007


Skeptical thinking from Russia

Paleoclimate research shows that the chillier periods of the Earth's history have always given way to warmer times, and vice versa. But it is not quite clear what causes this change. This is what makes predicting climate change so difficult. Although everyone agrees that the climate is changing very fast, hardly anyone can say whether it will be warmer or colder in the next 100 years. At the moment it is getting warmer. The majority attribute this change to human impact on the environment. But are they right?

Lev Zeleny, director of the Institute of Space Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences and an Academy corresponding member, believes that before making Kyoto Protocol-like decisions, we should thoroughly study the influence of all factors and receive more or less unequivocal results. In order to treat an illness, we must diagnose it first, he insists. Yury Leonov, director of the Institute of Geology at the Russian Academy of Sciences, thinks that the human impact on nature is so small that it can be dismissed as a statistical mistake.

Until quite recently, experts primarily attributed global warming to greenhouse gas emissions, with carbon dioxide singled out as the chief culprit. But it transpires that water vapor is just as bad. Paleoclimate studies have revealed that during the ice ages the climate became much less damp, because the North Atlantic produced little moisture. The increase in temperature in turn increased humidity, and as a result rivers became fuller and more fresh water flowed into the Arctic and the North Atlantic. This fresh water covered the ocean's surface with a thin film, thereby decreasing evaporation. Another chilly period set in, and the flow of the rivers slowed down, marking the beginning of a new cycle. This is not a linear process - the higher the average temperature, the more steam gets into the air.

"Judging by Venus, a planet, which is similar to the Earth in all respects, we can see how far this can go. The temperature on its surface is about 500° C (mostly due to a greenhouse effect). At one time, Venus did not have a layer of clouds, and this is probably when it was warmed up by the Sun, causing a greenhouse effect. What if the Sun is responsible for the warming of our climate?" queries Lev Zeleny.

"There are two channels of energy transfer from the Sun - electromagnetic and corpuscular radiation," he explains. "The bulk of it - about 1.37 kW per square meter of the Earth's surface - which equals the power of an electric kettle - comes via the electromagnetic channel. This flow of energy primarily fits into the visible and infrared range of the spectrum and its amount is virtually immune to change - it alters by no more than a few fractions of a percent. It is called the 'solar constant.' The flow of energy reaches the Earth in eight minutes and is largely absorbed by its atmosphere and surface. It has decisive influence on the shaping of our climate."

The second channel is corpuscular radiation, consisting of solar wind and space rays. Although transferring much less energy, it plays a key role in forming "space weather" - changeable conditions in space which depend on solar activity. Until recently, it was believed that "space weather" had nothing to do with ours, but that idea has been proved wrong.

"Solar wind becomes more intense when the Sun is active. It sweeps space rays out of the solar system like a broom," Zeleny points out. "This affects cloud formation, which cools off both the atmosphere and the whole planet. We know from historic records that it was quite cold in 1350-1380. The Sun was very active during this time."

Solar wind is also the main transmitter of energy for geomagnetic phenomena in the Earth's magnetosphere, which is formed as a result of the solar wind streamlining the Earth's magnetic field. If the influx of energy exceeds its dissipation, energy accumulates in the magnetosphere. If a certain level of energy is exceeded, any disturbance outside or inside the magnetosphere may release excess energy and cause a magnetic storm. But it may also have no consequences at all.

A statistical analysis of solar and geomagnetic disturbances shows a rather low correlation between them. It transpires that most solar bursts do not trigger magnetic storms. It would be interesting to know why this correlation is so low. Nevertheless, other Sun-related phenomena have fairly regular and predictable consequences on the Earth. Of course, they exert influence on humans and other species and, to some extent, on the environment, altering atmospheric pressure and temperature. But they are not likely to contribute much to climate change. This is a global process and is the result of global causes. For the time being, we are far from understanding them fully.

"Some dangers are much less discussed today, for instance, the inversion of the Earth's magnetic field," Zeleny warns. "It is gradually changing its polarity; the poles are crawling to the equator at increasing speed. There were whole epochs in the Earth's history when the magnetic field all but disappeared. Such oscillations have taken place throughout almost its entire geological history."

Paleomagnetic data show that last time the magnetic field disappeared was several hundred thousand years ago. It is possible that the Earth will lose it again in the 21st and 22nd centuries. The "magnetic umbrella," which protects us from deadly space radiation, will disappear, exposing humankind to a heavy "rainfall" of solar particles and space rays. Our descendants will have to understand how a weaker magnetic field will affect the climate and what protection they will need.


Politicians love mass transit, just not for themselves

"You've got to use public transit," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared. "You can't keep on pointing to someone else and saying it's their responsibility." Imagine the credibility and public relations points Villaraigosa could have racked up uttering those words while commuting on a bus to City Hall. But instead of being the "eco-friendly transit-riding mayor" Villaraigosa rides an SUV to work.

Yet many Angelinos probably sympathize with the mayor. "Give me a first-rate transit system, and I'll use it," they might say. Until that system arrives, they support new transit proposals, like the $5 billion "subway to the sea," while continuing to drive everywhere. But what would it say about the practicality of mass transit if the mayor of the city with the nation's best subway system also took an SUV to work?

After Michael Bloomberg became mayor of New York City, he invited reporters to follow him to work. The billionaire mayor didn't slip into a limo-he piled into a subway car like a "regular Joe mayor." Positive press gushed forth. Bloomberg was the real-deal, a green leader and blue-collar populist. One transit group dubbed him "the MetroCard Mayor." Bloomberg bragged about taking transit, and urged others to follow. Yet, after a five-week stakeout, New York Times reporters discovered that Bloomberg's enthusiasm for transit has since fizzled. These days he only takes the subway to work about twice a week. That's more transit travel than Villaraigosa, but not enough to meet the federal government's definition of a transit commuter.

Even during transit days, Bloomberg doesn't schlep to the nearest subway stop. Staffers drive him 22 blocks so he can hop aboard an express train, avoiding the hassle of making a transfer and shrinking his commute time by about a third. Avoiding transit is commonplace for those who run some of our nation's other top-tier transit systems. The Philadelphia Inquirer discovered that only four of 14 transit board members interviewed used that city's system at least twice a week. And when asked by the Washington Post, only five out of 10 local transit board members said they rode their rail system even occasionally (two others refused to talk, so it's probably safe to file them under "infrequent transit user").

Villaraigosa's actions make the obvious point that his words never would: Public transit doesn't work for the vast majority of Angelinos, 95 percent of whom find another way to get to work. Still he and other public officials fuel a double fantasy. First, they claim our existing public transit system is a better choice for motorists, at least those who aren't serving as mayor. Villaraigosa says he'd use transit more often, "But my problem is I have to go all over the city . It's very tough because of my schedule." City Councilman Herb Wesson, a transportation committee member, says the same thing, "Given the type of work I do, it just doesn't work for me to take public transportation." Don't the rest of us also have busy schedules - jobs to get to, kids to pick up, and errands to run? Why are we being urged to ditch our cars for a transit system that is ill-suited to serve city officials?

The second fantasy is that each new rail transit project represents a step toward building a New York-style transit system. New York's subway system boasts 468 stations; LA's 78 (if you generously count light rail stations too). The current piecemeal transit approach should get LA to New York's level sometime in the middle of the next millennium, and the "build it all at once" strategy made fashionable by Denver is really just a replay of LA in 1980, when Prop A was supposed to fund 11 rail transit lines. What committing to rail really did was soak up funds that could have gone toward more sensible fixes: mainly improving and expanding bus service for the transit dependent poor

Bloomberg's falling out with transit adds another disturbing wrinkle: Maybe even a system as extensive as New York's couldn't transform Villaraigosa into a transit-riding mayor. In Metro New York, 25 percent of commuters rely on transit, much more than LA's 5 percent, but not in step with the popular view that "everyone" takes transit in New York.

Back when workers traveled in beelines from homes in the suburbs to offices in a city center, it was relatively easy to design successful transit systems. Today, old fixed-route systems don't serve most travelers. Yet officials still prefer to fund snazzy rail lines over buses because for them transit's primary use isn't transportation but a backdrop for photo ops: Cut the ribbon, huddle around the others who fought for funding, smile, and then jump back into your SUV. Imagine how much transit might improve if public officials actually had to ride the systems they tout.


Towards an age of abundance

Why we must tackle the critics of economic growth, and finish off the war against scarcity

Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local, the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion is guaranteed. Sound idyllic? But hold on. Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation; there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical work which may end up yielding little.

There is - or at least was - such a place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary, there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.

From the 1790s onwards, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the prospect of a world without scarcity seemed like a realistic possibility (1). Humans strove for a day when they could have a guaranteed food supply at all times. It should be remembered that the famous clause in Christianity's Lord's Prayer - `give us this day our daily bread' - was meant literally. Our ancestors struggled for a world where we could take abundant food, clean water and adequate shelter for granted. Not only have we achieved these goals, at least in the developed world, but modern technology and economic organisation have improved our lives hugely.

Yet in the midst of contemporary abundance, there are vocal criticisms. The gains of modernity are under attack. Cheap food, one of the great achievements of humanity, is frequently derided as a curse rather than a blessing. Our houses are said to be too large. Cars and aeroplanes are seen as both destroying the planet and wrecking communities. Although we travel more than ever before, the local is being exalted at the expense of wider horizons.

Of course most people get on with their lives and enjoy the benefits of affluence. They eat plentiful food, travel abroad for their holidays and go to the doctor if they become ill. But the pervasive cynicism towards popular prosperity still has a negative effect. It makes it harder to enjoy or make the most of what we have got. It is also a barrier against making things better still. In this context, it is important to remember that there are still many billions of people in the world who live in poor countries. And yet the prospect of everyone having access to the best the world has to offer is commonly seen as an environmental nightmare rather than a worthwhile goal.

Deep Economy is one of the most articulate recent assaults on popular prosperity. Bill McKibben, an environmental writer and campaigner based in the American state of Vermont, follows a pattern typical of such works. He grudgingly admits that mass affluence has advantages. For example, he concedes that we are richer and healthier than a few hundred years ago. Then he introduces numerous caveats to call the benefits of prosperity into question. This is an outlook I have previously described as `growth scepticism', as it represents an indirect attack on growth rather than an overt rejection of its benefits (2).

McKibben puts three main arguments against growth. First, he argues that it increases inequality and insecurity. He does not spend much time on these objections as he sees them as widely discussed and the least fundamental criticisms. Second, he argues that there is not enough energy in the world to maintain growth at its present level or deal with the inevitable pollution. Finally, he argues that economic growth no longer makes us happy.

In relation to the environment, McKibben quickly concedes that some kinds of pollution can be solved by greater affluence: `Eventually those riches translate into a desire for the new "luxury" of clean air and the technological means to achieve it: England's air is relatively fresh now, and even in Beijing planners are busy figuring out how they'll move enough industry and install enough smokestack scrubbers and catalytic converters to have sparkling skies for the 2008 Olympics.' (3) But he goes onto to argue that some kinds of environmental degradation cannot be solved by greater affluence. A chronic water shortage and global warming are his two examples.

Yet it is hard to see how McKibben's distinction between two types of environmental degradation can hold. Both are susceptible to a combination of more resources generated by economic growth and improved technology. Certainly it is hard to see why there should be any fundamental shortage of water. Even if fresh water is scarce there are vast volumes of seawater in the oceans. Technology for desalination and irrigation already exists, even though, no doubt, it could be made better still. Nor should there be any problem in generating the energy to convert seawater to fresh water.

Spiked has dealt with the question of climate change in numerous articles (4). But it seems clear that if we put our minds to it, the challenge can be met. There are already technologies, such as nuclear power and hydroelectric power, that do not emit greenhouse gases. There are also ways to adapt to the effects of climate change by such means as modern flood defences. Further into the future it may also be possible to find more high-technology ways to modify the climate for the benefit of humanity. Although it is not possible in advance to say for sure what will work best, there is no reason to believe that climate change should be an insurmountable problem.

McKibben's arguments on happiness draw heavily on the work of Richard Layard, a professor of economics at the London School of Economics. Layard has observed, like others before him, that beyond a certain threshold, economic growth does not seem to generate more happiness (5). McKibben also emphasises Layard's arguments on how economic growth can destroy communities. Deep Economy places great importance on the need to promote local communities for everything from food to entertainment.

There are numerous reasons to object to the happiness agenda. For a start, economic growth should be advocated for its objective benefits. It has given us the ability to lead longer and more prosperous lives. It gives us more leisure time. It is a key factor in the development of science and culture. The question of individual happiness is a separate one.

It is also questionable that, as Layard has advocated, happiness should be a goal of public policy. There are plenty of things that are worthwhile but do not necessarily make people happy: bringing up a family, learning a foreign language, excelling at sport or producing great art, to name a few. Although those involved in such activities may experience brief moments of elation, these are far from guaranteed. And for much of the time, what they experience is likely to be hard work and sometimes even misery or physical pain. But this does not mean that such goals are not worth striving to achieve. On the contrary, the contemporary obsession with individual happiness has a narcissistic edge.

Perhaps worst of all is McKibben's emphasis on local communities. Although this is presented as somehow humanistic, it is the very opposite. It means downgrading our common humanity in favour of privileging those who happen to live close by. In practice it seems to mean favouring such things as farmers' markets and community radio stations over supermarkets and the global media. It also means condemning Wal-Mart for exporting `American jobs' abroad (6). McKibben's vision of a healthy community is primarily one that consumes goods and services that are produced locally. It is a depressingly parochial vision for the twenty-first century....

We should be looking forward to a true age of abundance rather than romanticising a world in which we felt we had to pray for our daily bread.

More here

Global Warming Hysteria

By economist Walter E. Williams

Despite increasing evidence that man-made CO2 is not a significant greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change, politicians and others who wish to control our lives must maintain that it is. According to the Detroit Free Press, Rep. John Dingell wants a 50-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline. We've heard such calls before, but there's a new twist. Dingell also wants to eliminate the mortgage tax deduction on what he calls "McMansions," homes that are 3,000 square feet and larger. That's because larger homes use more energy.

One might wonder about Dingell's magnanimity in increasing taxes for only homes 3,000 feet or larger. The average U.S. home is around 2,300 square feet, compared with Europe's average of 1,000 square feet. So why doesn't Dingell call for disallowing mortgage deductions on houses more than 1,000 square feet? The reason is there would be too much political resistance, since more Americans own homes under 3,000 square feet than over 3,000. The full agenda is to start out with 3,000 square feet and later lower it in increments.

Our buying into global warming hysteria will allow politicians to do just about anything, upon which they can muster a majority vote, in the name of fighting climate change as a means to raise taxes. In addition to excuses to raise taxes, congressmen are using climate change hysteria to funnel money into their districts. Rep. David L. Hobson, R-Ohio, secured $500,000 for a geothermal demonstration project. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., got $500,000 for a fuel-cell project by Superprotonic, a Pasadena company started by Caltech scientists. Money for similar boondoggles is being called for by members of both parties.

There are many ways to reduce CO2 emissions, and being 71 years of age I know many of them. Al Gore might even consider me carbon neutral and possibly having carbon credits because my carbon offsets were made in advance. For example, for the first 15 years of my life, I didn't use energy-consuming refrigerators; we had an icebox. For two decades I listened to radio instead of watching television and walked or used public transportation to most places. And for more than half my life I didn't use energy-consuming things such as computers, clothes dryers, air conditioning and microwave ovens. Of course, my standard of living was much lower.

The bottom line is, serious efforts to reduce CO2 will lead to lower living standards through higher costs of living. And it will be all for naught because there is little or no relationship between man-made CO2 emissions and climate change.

There's an excellent booklet available from the National Center for Policy Analysis ( titled "A Global Warming Primer." Some of its highlights are:

"Over long periods of time, there is no close relationship between CO2 levels and temperature."

"Humans contribute approximately 3.4 percent of annual CO2 levels" compared to 96.6 percent by nature.

"There was an explosion of life forms 550 million years ago (Cambrian Period) when CO2 levels were 18 times higher than today. During the Jurassic Period, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, CO2 levels were as much as nine times higher than today."

What about public school teachers frightening little children with tales of cute polar bears dying because of global warming? The primer says, "Polar bear numbers increased dramatically from around 5,000 in 1950 to as many as 25,000 today, higher than any time in the 20th century." The primer gives detailed sources for all of its findings, and it supplies us with information we can use to stop politicians and their environmental extremists from doing a rope-a-dope on us.


New climate guesses from Australian scientists

The guesses are getting more cautious. Who knows what next years' guess might be?

NEW climate change projections for Australia have lowered worst-case forecasts of temperature rises by 1 degree Celsius but are more certain of temperature increases causing more droughts and bushfires this century. The CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology warn Australia is almost certain to be 1C warmer by 2030 and will warm by between 1C and 5C, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. This is a narrowing of projections six years ago. In 2001, those predictions were for warming of up to 6C.

The CSIRO report updates projections for the Australian climate for the rest of the century, incorporating material from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report, released in February. They project the impact of different greenhouse gas scenarios, predicting a 1C rise in temperature in Australia in 2030, compared with 1990, with the inland warming more than the coast. Under a low-emissions scenario, the report projects warming of between 1C and 2.5C by 2070, which could increase to more than 3.4C with high levels of greenhouse gases. There will also be changes in temperature extremes, with fewer frosts and substantially more days over 35C. The number of drought months is expected to increase by 20 per cent by 2030, 40 per cent in eastern Australia by 2070, and up to 80 per cent in southwestern Australia by 2070.

Yesterday, Britain's Chief Scientist, in Australia for a national greenhouse conference, said a global deal to cut greenhouse emissions would need to be brokered by meetings of world leaders rather than forums such as the UN, although these would still be needed to formalise a deal. Attending the conference in Sydney yesterday, Britain's Chief Scientist, David King, said he was less hopeful of an international climate agreement being brokered by the UN at a meeting in Bali in December. "My feeling is the critical meetings are meetings of heads of state. They're the real decision-makers," he told The Australian. Sir David said the likelihood of some kind of deal by 2009 had improved following a "substantial" policy shift by the Bush administration. "President Bush can open the way for his successor by taking the Republicans towards an agreement but leaving whoever becomes president to run it through," he said. "They have removed the questions of doubt in saying the science is now clear, there is still talk about technology providing the solution and of course we all agree, but we must have fiscal drivers and processes for dealing with adaptation for countries that can't afford it."

Penny Whetton, from the CSIRO, said the projected temperature increase would depend on the rate of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. "Decreases in rainfall are likely for southern Australia, particularly through the winter and in southern and eastern Australia through the winter and the spring," Dr Whetton said. She said those decreases would mean more drought. The flipside would be an increase in downpours. "Even if average rainfall declines, heavy downpours will be more intense." That will result in more flooding.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Scott Power said there had already been a substantial decline in rainfall across most of eastern and southwestern Australia. "At the moment what we are seeing is a combination of human-induced climate change and a huge amount of natural variability, and it is very likely the temperature change is due to human intervention," Dr Power said. "The rainfall decline in west Australia is most likely human and natural variability, but beyond that, you really need to know the relative contributions and we are not able to do that with any accuracy."

Rainfall declines in the southwest had resulted in annual inflows into Perth's dams decreasing from 338 gigalitres between 1911 and 1974, to 114GL between 1997 and 2005. Dr Power said Victoria was set to experience 11 years in a row of below-average rainfall. The report said one of the major impacts of rainfall decline was a reduction in inflows into streams and dams. The yearly inflow into Victoria's Eildon Dam had fallen from a pre-1997 average of 1533GL to a post-1997 average of 956GL. Dr Power said the increase in greenhouse gases was "likely to have contributed to the drying in the southwest and is a major suspect in the east". He said temperatures in the Murray-Darling Basin for the period January to September were a record, as was the temperature over southern Australia. "The warming is consistent with climate change," he said.



The Lockwood paper was designed to rebut Durkin's "Great Global Warming Swindle" film. It is a rather confused paper -- acknowledging yet failing to account fully for the damping effect of the oceans, for instance -- but it is nonetheless valuable to climate atheists. The concession from a Greenie source that fluctuations in the output of the sun have driven climate change for all but the last 20 years (See the first sentence of the paper) really is invaluable. And the basic fact presented in the paper -- that solar output has in general been on the downturn in recent years -- is also amusing to see. Surely even a crazed Greenie mind must see that the sun's influence has not stopped and that reduced solar output will soon start COOLING the earth! Unprecedented July 2007 cold weather throughout the Southern hemisphere might even be the first sign that the cooling is happening. And the fact that warming plateaued in 1998 is also a good sign that we are moving into a cooling phase. As is so often the case, the Greenies have got the danger exactly backwards. See my post of 7.14.07 and a very detailed critique here for more on the Lockwood paper

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