Monday, October 01, 2007


Global warming is a complex issue to figure out, but one thing about it is actually quite simple - discerning which side dominates the debate right now. For the past year, those who view global warming as a crisis justifying a major federal response have had just about everything going in their favor. Granted, the Bush administration continues to resist first-ever mandatory limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, but the Democratically controlled Congress has introduced a number of so-called cap-and-trade bills to do just that. Some of them have bipartisan support. And many of the leading presidential candidates have endorsed these efforts.

Several other factors, including a recent Supreme Court decision compelling the Environmental Protection Agency to consider global warming measures, as well as state and local efforts to bypass the feds and impose their own controls, all seem to be forcing Washington's hand.

Meanwhile, the opposition to cap and trade seems to be collapsing. The owners of the nation's coal-fired power plants, manufacturing facilities, and oil companies - until recently the most politically powerful holdouts - have largely given up the fight. Most now see some form of fossil-fuel rationing as inevitable, and several are actually lobbying for cap-and-trade legislation in the hope that they can shape it to their advantage.

Of course, the driving force behind all of this is the steady stream of gloomy claims about global warming. Most recently, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report received widespread coverage as the smoking-gun evidence that mankind is warming the planet to dangerously high levels. Al Gore's Academy Award-winning movie and accompanying bestseller, An Inconvenient Truth, has also done much to hammer home the message.

The drumbeat continues as virtually every natural disaster that occurs- from storms, to droughts, to floods, to wildfires, to disease outbreaks- gets pinned on global warming. Even normal summer temperatures sometimes get alarmist ink. The frightening coverage has clearly shaped public opinion. Surveys consistently show that a majority of Americans want their government to do something about warming.

Taking all of this into account, there's no question that global-warming activists currently have the momentum. But momentum can change, and on this issue there are reasons to believe it soon will. It may well be that the prospects for the cap-and-trade bills are peaking - before being enacted into law - and will begin to fall once as the following factors come into focus.

China's Great Leap Forward on Emissions.

A central part of the climate-change message has been the demonization of America as the world's top global-warming culprit. But that will soon change, as China is close to surpassing the U.S. and becoming the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses. When this shift happens it will have tremendous practical as well as symbolic significance, and it will dim the appeal of unilateral U.S. action.

It is important to note that China isn't slowly edging past America; it is roaring ahead. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion and the greenhouse gas of greatest concern, are exploding along with China's economy. New coal-fired power plants are reportedly being added in China at the rate of about one per week, and these facilities are less efficient and higher-emitting than their western counterparts. According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which believes China has already surpassed America, emissions in China rose 9-percent in 2006, on top of a 12-percent increase in 2005.

Meanwhile, America's emissions have been growing much more slowly, averaging little more than 1-percent per year. They actually declined by 1.3-percent in 2006, according to the Department of Energy.

The U.S. was easily the biggest emitter during the 20th century, but future carbon-dioxide emissions will come less from American sources, and more from Chinese ones. Even if the U.S. saddled itself with economy-damaging energy constraints, it would barely begin to offset China's projected increases. But so far, China has adamantly refused to agree to any controls, arguing that economic growth is their top priority. Other fast-growing developing nations have said the same thing.

Thus, notwithstanding questions about the seriousness of the global-warming problem, any bills that single out U.S. emissions will be a fast-shrinking part of the solution. As China's emissions race ahead of ours, Americans will begin to realize that unilateral action is not the way to go.

The Failing Kyoto Protocol

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the multilateral global-warming treaty, is still being touted as a great success. The Western European governments that signed onto the treaty continue to congratulate themselves for doing so while criticizing America for staying out. Most climate activists here convey the same message. They hope to convince Washington to make up for lost time by enacting one of the Kyoto-like cap-and-trade bills currently under consideration.

But far from being a model to emulate, Kyoto is proving to be a near-complete failure, and over time it is going to get more difficult to conceal this fact.

For all their rhetoric, the European nations are well off track of Kyoto's requirement that emissions be 8-percent below 1990 levels starting in 2008. Official European emissions data shows that nearly every one of these countries has higher carbon-dioxide emissions today than when the treaty was signed in 1997, and the emissions increases show no signs of leveling off. The same is true of Canada, Japan, and other major non-European signatories. In fact, most of these countries are seeing their emissions rising faster than those in the U.S.

Pro-Kyoto Protocol activists and the media continue to heap praise on the treaty for its carbon-emissions goals, but they rarely explore the obvious question of whether these goals are actually being met. But the failure to reduce emissions can't remain a secret for much longer. Once Kyoto reality sets in, it will deal a blow both to the treaty itself and to any congressional efforts to mimic its approach.

The High Costs to Cool The Planet

The reason Kyoto Protocol signatories are not reducing their emissions is that doing so is proving to be prohibitively costly. These nations are learning the hard way what the Bush administration has understood all along - that attempts to rapidly force down the fossil-fuel use that provides the backbone of modern economies will be very expensive. As costs enter into the debate, they could well prove to be a game changer.

While inundating the public with scary stories about global warming's effects, the proponents of cap-and-trade have thus far said little about the costs of combating the threat-and for good reasons. Their agenda would inflict serious and noticeable economic pain long before it would have even a modest impact on the earth's future temperature. Kyoto's provisions, if fully implemented, would have cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars annually from higher energy prices, but would, according to proponents, avert only 0.07 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050.

Given the Kyoto Protocol's small impact on warming, many proponents believe that the treaty should be just a first step towards much stronger controls. But, as the European experience is showing, even this first step is proving too costly and impractical.

It should be noted that the surveys indicating public support for action on warming also show that the support quickly turns into opposition if the measures taken would raise energy prices appreciably. This is especially true for gasoline prices, and on this point the European experience is worth noting. A European Environment Agency report found that greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles continue to rise due to increased driving, despite punitively high European gasoline taxes that push the overall price well above $6 per gallon. In fact, increased vehicle emissions are a big part of the reason most Western European countries are going to miss their Kyoto targets. If $6 per gallon is not high enough to discourage driving and meet Europe's global-warming targets, then what will it take here? Americans, who get angry enough over $3 gas, will want answers to this and other economic questions before they buy into any climate policy.

A realistic discussion about costs can't be sidestepped much longer. Once it commences, it has the potential to greatly sap the momentum for these bills.

Bursting the Climate Fear Bubble

In the last year or so, the coverage of climate science has gotten more apocalyptic in tone. This is not so much a change in the underlying science as a change in the way it is being communicated to the public. The cap-and-trade proponents have cranked up the gloom and doom for a reason - they essentially had to. The issue in the U.S. was dead in the water without it. Previous efforts to move cap-and-trade bills had been easily defeated, and proponents needed to shake things up. For now, it is working.

But fear is two-edged sword. It can be used to whip up support for action over the near term, but it is hard to sustain for long, especially if it is not well supported by fact. Eventually it could lead to a backlash. Indeed, the global-warming doomsayers may well prove to be their own worst enemy, with their credibility taking a tumble along with the prospects for cap-and-trade legislation.

One over-utilized source, employed in spreading this kind of fear, is supposedly rock-solid "scientific consensus" on global warming, a consensus that has significant outer limits. Virtually everything the public has been told about global warming that sounds terrifying is not true and lies outside that consensus. And what is true and fully accepted by most scientists really isn't particularly terrifying.

Consider the two scariest and most attention-grabbing claims from An Inconvenient Truth - rising sea levels and deadlier hurricanes. Gore devotes considerable attention to the horrible consequences of an 18- to 20-foot rise in sea level over an unspecified time frame, including computer graphics showing major parts of coastal cities like New York and San Francisco and even entire regions, like South Florida, under water. Yet the IPCC report (which Gore considers to be the gold standard of consensus science) projects an increase of 7 to 23 inches over the next century. The lower end of that range is about what has occurred - without serious consequences - over the last two centuries. Of course, the public doesn't closely follow the details of global-warming science, but the disjunction between hype and reality is so big that even casual observers can smell a rat.

In addition, Gore couldn't resist exploiting Hurricane Katrina, America's deadliest natural disaster in years. He blames global warming for the storm that claimed over 1,000 lives in August 2005, driving home the message with image after image of post-Katrina devastation. Gore asserts that Katrina portends a dangerous new era where deadlier storms are more common. But how then to explain the 2006 hurricane season, which was unusual only in how little hurricane damage occurred?

Global warming or not, we will get our share of hurricanes. But if we go yet another year without anything as bad as Katrina, the public may realize, quite rightly, that Gore simply engaged in opportunism, and that no global warming-induced pattern of deadlier hurricanes exists. If people start to feel that they have been lied to about these and other global-warming catastrophe scenarios, it could spell the end for cap-and-trade legislation.

The current Congress has pledged to make a go of enacting cap-and-trade legislation, actually pegging it as a top priority when they took over in January. But beyond holding innumerable hearings on pending bills, the House and Senate have done little since, except put off their initial deadlines for action. This may be a first sign that their momentum is slowing. And with the current trends currently pushing their way into the debate, things are not going to get any easier for them in the months and years ahead.


Carbon dioxide did not end the last Ice Age

One by one the Warmist assertions are being undermined by reality

Carbon dioxide did not cause the end of the last ice age, a new study in Science suggests, contrary to past inferences from ice core records. "There has been this continual reference to the correspondence between CO2 and climate change as reflected in ice core records as justification for the role of CO2 in climate change," said USC geologist Lowell Stott, lead author of the study, slated for advance online publication Sept. 27 in Science Express. "You can no longer argue that CO2 alone caused the end of the ice ages."

Deep-sea temperatures warmed about 1,300 years before the tropical surface ocean and well before the rise in atmospheric CO2, the study found. The finding suggests the rise in greenhouse gas was likely a result of warming and may have accelerated the meltdown - but was not its main cause. "I don't want anyone to leave thinking that this is evidence that CO2 doesn't affect climate," Stott cautioned. "It does, but the important point is that CO2 is not the beginning and end of climate change."

While an increase in atmospheric CO2 and the end of the ice ages occurred at roughly the same time, scientists have debated whether CO2 caused the warming or was released later by an already warming sea.

The best estimate from other studies of when CO2 began to rise is no earlier than 18,000 years ago. Yet this study shows that the deep sea, which reflects oceanic temperature trends, started warming about 19,000 years ago. "What this means is that a lot of energy went into the ocean long before the rise in atmospheric CO2," Stott said.

But where did this energy come from? Water's salinity and temperature are properties that can be used to trace its origin - and the warming deep water appeared to come from the Antarctic Ocean, the scientists wrote. This water then was transported northward over 1,000 years via well-known deep-sea currents, a conclusion supported by carbon-dating evidence. In addition, the researchers noted that deep-sea temperature increases coincided with the retreat of Antarctic sea ice, both occurring 19,000 years ago, before the northern hemisphere's ice retreat began.

Finally, Stott and colleagues found a correlation between melting Antarctic sea ice and increased springtime solar radiation over Antarctica, suggesting this might be the energy source. As the sun pumped in heat, the warming accelerated because of sea-ice albedo feedbacks, in which retreating ice exposes ocean water that reflects less light and absorbs more heat, much like a dark T-shirt on a hot day.

In addition, the authors' model showed how changed ocean conditions may have been responsible for the release of CO2 from the ocean into the atmosphere, also accelerating the warming.

The link between the sun and ice age cycles is not new. The theory of Milankovitch cycles states that periodic changes in Earth's orbit cause increased summertime sun radiation in the northern hemisphere, which controls ice size. However, this study suggests that the pace-keeper of ice sheet growth and retreat lies in the southern hemisphere's spring rather than the northern hemisphere's summer.

The conclusions also underscore the importance of regional climate dynamics, Stott said. "Here is an example of how a regional climate response translated into a global climate change," he explained.

Stott and colleagues arrived at their results by studying a unique sediment core from the western Pacific composed of fossilized surface-dwelling (planktonic) and bottom-dwelling (benthic) organisms. These organisms - foraminifera - incorporate different isotopes of oxygen from ocean water into their calcite shells, depending on the temperature. By measuring the change in these isotopes in shells of different ages, it is possible to reconstruct how the deep and surface ocean temperatures changed through time.

If CO2 caused the warming, one would expect surface temperatures to increase before deep-sea temperatures, since the heat slowly would spread from top to bottom. Instead, carbon-dating showed that the water used by the bottom-dwelling organisms began warming about 1,300 years before the water used by surface-dwelling ones, suggesting that the warming spread bottom-up instead.

"The climate dynamic is much more complex than simply saying that CO2 rises and the temperature warms," Stott said. The complexities "have to be understood in order to appreciate how the climate system has changed in the past and how it will change in the future."



See it below:

US President George W Bush infuriated his critics by professing world leadership on climate change at his meeting of the top 16 world economies - while offering no new substantive policy and implicitly rejecting binding emissions controls. Mr Bush, who has been sceptical of climate change, said at the forum in Washington that our understanding of the science had moved on. He agreed that energy security and climate change were major challenges and pledged to solve both problems - but dismissed notions of despair. The American president said clean technologies like nuclear power and clean coal would protect the economy as well as the environment. He said the US wanted to work with the United Nations towards a long-term goal on greenhouse gases. He also proposed a new global fund from the US, Japan and Europe to channel clean technology to developing countries.

But some visiting delegates were outraged by what they said was a stream of spin running through the speech. One (who understandably asked not to be named) said: "This is a total charade. "The president has said he will lead on climate change but he won't agree binding emissions, while other nations will. "He says he will lead on technology but then he asks other countries to contribute funds, without saying how much he'll contribute himself. "It's humiliating for him - a total humiliation."

Some delegates were particularly upset by the extravagant invitation by Mr Bush for other nations to follow the US lead in cutting emissions while increasing the economy. Emissions did indeed buck the upward trend by dropping a fraction of 1% in the US during 2006 - but even the American government admits this was due to a warm winter, cool summer and an oil price they considered far too high.

Significantly, some of the visiting delegates indicated they were already planning for Mr Bush's departure from the White House. The Germans said they had spent the past two days in productive meetings with US Democrats. More diplomatically, the British said the issue of climate change stretched beyond any political cycle so it was natural to look ahead.

Certainly the Democrats are hoping to push an energy bill through the US Congress soon - maybe within the next few months. Mr Bush would then be forced to veto it to prevent it passing. And this may not prove popular as opinion polls in the US suggest the American people are more concerned about climate change than ever before.

Delegates, though, are not dismissing the Washington meeting out of hand. They say all talks on climate change bringing together the major economic powers are useful in some way - forging personal relationships and building trust. A number of delegates said the Chinese were becoming less defensive with every international meeting on climate - and that will be vital if China is to be helped to deal with its booming emissions.

And some said it was useful - albeit tedious - to hear American officials lecturing them with the very facts of climate change that they had been ignoring for years. The US has offered to continue this Washington process of discussions if it is deemed helpful by the United Nations. Mr Bush himself says he is organising a summit of world leaders next summer. Privately, some European delegates are already saying they hope their political leaders are not invited.

BBC News, 29 September 2007

Greenies oppose "green" energy

Nothing suits a Greenie

Several years ago, Cape Wind Associates proposed the nation's first offshore windfarm in Nantucket Sound. They sought to build 130 wind turbines several miles off the coast on Horseshoe Shoal. The Sound is an ideal location for offshore wind production. The surrounding land masses and relatively shallow water would protect the installation from storms and make it easier to erect and maintain the 258-foot turbine towers. Upon completion, the wind farm could provide approximately 75-percent of Cape Cod's electricity, reducing the need to rely on nearby fossil-fuel-fired power plants. As good as it sounds, the project faces strong opposition.

Some local residents and vacation property owners, including the Kennedy family, were outraged at the idea of a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The prospect of wind turbines dotting the horizon was too much to bear, so they swung into action, launching local p.r. campaigns and filing suit to prevent the Cape Wind project's completion. Walter Cronkite, who owns a home in nearby Martha's Vineyard, warned of an "industrial energy complex" despoiling the "publicly owned" Nantucket Sound. Noted environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has stridently condemned fossil fuel energy production, echoed this concern, decrying plans to soil the "wilderness" of the sound for "industrial development."

Cape Wind's primary opponent, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, is bankrolled by many wealthy Cape Cod residents and owners of vacation homes, and has spent millions to defeat the campaign - $15 million by one estimate, and $2.4 million in 2003 alone. Though the Alliance has the support of several thousand locals, a few dozen wealthy residents are responsible for the bulk of its financial support. Over three-quarters of the Alliance's funding came from just 56 individuals in 2003.

Cape Wind opponents have raised substantial funds for their campaign, but it is not clear they really speak for local residents, and they certainly do not represent popular opinion within the state. One recent survey found that a majority of locals support the project, and over 80-percent support it statewide. Still the project faces tough sledding. In 2002, federal regulators predicted it would take 18 months to three years for the project to gain approval, yet, as of late 2007, Cape Wind is still yet to begin operation. If the project is approved next year, as some expect, litigation is almost sure to follow, and could delay construction past 2010.

Cape Wind's opponents have sought to take advantage of various state and federal regulatory requirements to stall the project. These processes create substantial opportunities for activists and NIMBYs to gum up the works, spurring delays and hoping to scare off investors. Cape Wind's consultants spent four years on a 3,800-page environmental impact statement, but this was not enough to ensure a go. While the project eventually obtained state approval, the federal government has yet to give the final okay.

If pre-existing regulatory requirements were not enough, Senator Edward Kennedy conspired with other Senators to enact additional legal obstacles to Cape Wind, burdening all proposed offshore wind power projects in the process. Despite his best efforts, Kennedy failed to kill the project outright, but Cape Wind is still not in the clear - and if Cape Wind fails, the prospects for other offshore wind farms could fall with it.

Cape Wind is hardly the only wind power project to face opposition. Even land-based wind farms have sparked opposition. Local activists are against the erection of additional wind turbines in California's San Gorgonio Pass. In addition to aesthetic concerns, some environmentalists fear wind turbines could harm local bird populations. Feared threats to bird populations were enough to defeat a small wind farm plan in Tennessee.

Local landowners also fought wind turbines on Maine's Beaver Ridge and in western Maryland. In just the past few months, proposed wind farm projects have been scuttled in Texas and New York. Prospects seem brighter for a proposed wind farm off Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, so long as the proposed project is cut down to size. Activists swear they are not opposed to wind power, as such, just the specific wind projects at issue. For many, wind power is a great idea, so long as it is sited in someone else's neighborhood.

Wind power is also not the only alternative energy source to face regulatory obstacles and NIMBY opposition. Proposed tidal power projects are having similar experiences with the regulatory process. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates tidal and wave-based energy could provide up to ten percent of the nation's electricity some day. Yet while there are a handful of such facilities overseas, there are none in the United States - at least not yet. The nation's first commercial wave-energy project - a small, one megawatt facility in Washington State - should come on line in Washington State in 2009.

One tidal power project that has received significant attention is Verdant Power's plan for the big Apple. Verdant wants to harness non-polluting tidal power in New York's East River, but it too faces regulatory hurdles. Verdant executives estimate they have spent at least $7 million over seven years working their way through state and federal regulatory requirements. Even a pilot project designed to test turbine design and develop project parameters required permission from the Federal energy Regulatory Commission, which plans to regulate underwater power generation the same way it regulates large hydroelectric dams. As The Economist reported, "this tiny project faces as big a regulatory burden from federal authorities as a giant conventional power station."

Water-based projects, whether they draw power from tides or winds, face an array of overlapping, and not always clear, regulatory requirements. Many of these rules were developed with traditional power sources in mind. In some cases, review processes were adopted to facilitate activist opposition. The end result is that a modest wind farm or potential tide-power operation can be just as vulnerable to obstruction and delay as a major coal facility or hydroelectric dam. Such renewable power facilities have environmental impacts of their own, to be sure. Yet, in most instances their impact will be significantly less than the power sources they displace.

Alternative energy advocates often bemoan the lack of a "level playing field" for renewable energy, recommending additional federal subsidies as the solution. Yet renewable energy sources already receive generous financial support from the Department of Energy and other government sources. In practice, such funding does little to bring commercially viable facilities on line.

To promote alternative energy development, there's no need for more handouts. Instead the government should get out of the way. If the goal is to increase actual alternative energy production, and increase the proportion of renewable energy that supplies electricity to American consumers, the best thing the federal government can do is reduce or remove regulatory obstacles to energy entrepreneurship and innovation. If renewable energies are to capture a sizable share of the energy market, what they need, more than anything else, is regulatory room to compete.


Greenhouse mania in Australia

A SUCCESSION of public figures succumbed to climate change hysteria this week as if it were a contagion. Sufferers exhibited symptoms that included an inability to deal with facts and a propensity to offer wild surmises, to adopt irrational positions and to ignore practical solutions.

On Monday, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty told a criminology conference that "climate change would be the biggest security issue of the 21st century". Mr Keelty's feverish imaginings conjured up a new "Yellow Peril", with millions of Chinese on the move because of their "dramatically shrinking" land, crossing "borders and oceans" in forced migration.

There is one small problem with Mr Keelty's doomsday predictions: he based them on outdated statistics. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a possible rise in sea levels during the whole of the next century of only 43cm, half the figure cited by Mr Keelty. Which means that climate change might be the biggest threat of the 22nd century, assuming that no effective action were taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

John Howard also abandoned rational positions he had adopted as recently as June, opting for populist policies to appeal to voters. The Prime Minister's hand-picked task force on climate change had recommended a national carbon emissions trading scheme that dispensed with the mish-mash of state government political fixes. Unable to deliver this in the lead-up to an election, Mr Howard opted to rebadge the states' targets as his own.

The Opposition continued its opportunistic scaremongering about nuclear power yesterday with an announcement that the federal Government had a secret nuclear reactor plan after Mr Howard stated what in fact was obvious, that it would be unlikely that laws enabling nuclear power would be ready before the election. The ALP never tires of trumpeting its support for the Kyoto Protocol, but it is loath to acknowledge the key role that nuclear power has played in enabling some Kyoto signatories to keep emissions in check. If the ALP were serious about fast, deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, they would be barracking for the next power plant in NSW to be nuclear, but it is more interested in greenhouse gasbagging.

Quick to capitalise on the drought to push the climate change barrow, Greens senator Rachel Siewert said on Wednesday, "We are now dealing with the impact of climate change on agriculture". More informed voices begged to differ. Amanda Lynch of Monash University and University of Southern Queensland professor in climatology and water resources Roger Stone said more research was needed to establish what, if any, influence climate change had on drought.

At the heart of the moral panic being whipped up about climate change is the belief that global warming is not an environmental challenge that requires technological solutions but a moral judgment on a sinful society, divine retribution meted out by the earth goddess Gaia for our willful destruction of the planet. Green millenarians like to claim that the only solution is to return to a pre-industrial economy. The truth is that scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs are already coming up with solutions. In July this year, with no fanfare, three Welsh inventors announced a method of capturing the carbon dioxide emissions from cars, allowing them to be recycled into bio-fuels. The Victor Smorgon Group is also assessing a system to use algae to reduce carbon emissions at power plants by up to 80 per cent. It is these quiet achievers, not the greenhouse hysterics, who deserve our acknowledgement and support.



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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1 comment:

Dona Tracy said...

At last, an intelligent and thoughtful article on the issues without the hype. My hat is off to you.