Sunday, December 16, 2007

Major climate influence can only be predicted ONE MONTH in advance

The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) is a large-scale (1000-kilometer) atmospheric disturbance that propagates slowly eastward through the tropics from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific during the course of 30 to 60 days. The MJO affects precipitation over the tropical monsoon regions and has been implicated as a trigger of El Ni¤o-Southern Oscillation events. It is coupled with the upper ocean through its effects on surface fluxes of solar radiation caused by changes in cloudiness, and on evaporation from the ocean surface caused by surface wind speed changes, which can heat or cool the ocean mixed layer by up to 1øC during a strong MJO event.

Nonetheless, important aspects of the MJO still are unclear, such as how deep into the ocean its influence extends, in part because the range of scales of the processes it involves have made it difficult to simulate in models (see the Perspective by Hartmann and Hendon). Matthews et al. (p. 1765) used a data set of unprecedented size obtained from autonomous, free-drifting instruments, called Argo floats, to show that the surface wind stress associated with the MJO can force eastward-propagating oceanic Kelvin waves that extend to a depth of 1500 meters and that have amplitudes of as much as six times those of annual-cycle Kelvin waves. These amplitudes are significantly greater than those predicted by ocean models, so that the MJO could affect a much larger volume of the Pacific Ocean than just the ocean surface. Miura et al. (p. 1763) address one of the shortcomings of contemporary global meteorological models--cumulus cloud parameterization--by using a model that allows direct coupling of atmospheric circulation and clouds to simulate an MJO event. Their results show that MJO predictions extending 1 month into the future soon may be possible.


Foundations of Bali climate conference condemned by leading experts

UN Climate Change Conference based on flawed science and economics

An open letter to the United Nations Secretary-General characterizes attempts to prevent global climate change as "futile" and "a tragic misallocation of resources that would be better spent on humanity's real and pressing problems." Endorsed by more than 100 independent scientists, engineers and economists who work in the field of climate change, the open letter calls on world leaders to abandon the goal of 'stopping climate change' and focus instead on helping nations become resilient to natural changes by promoting environmentally-responsible economic growth.

The signatories to the letter include many distinguished professional persons who have occupied leading positions in national and international science organizations, government organizations and universities, and have been elected as fellows of distinguished scientific academies or awarded prestigious science prizes.

These endorsers emphasize that the reports of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are an "inadequate" foundation on which to base policies that will markedly diminish future prosperity. The IPCC reports do not reflect many of the most recent peer-reviewed findings in climate science, discoveries that shed serious doubt on the increasingly improbable hypothesis that human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are having a significant impact on global climate.

The writers of the open letter detail some of the serious science misrepresentations in the IPCC summaries for policymakers, call attention to the outdated nature of some IPCC conclusions, and assert that balanced economic analyses do not support measures to restrict energy consumption for the purpose of diminishing CO2 emissions.

The signatories further explain that, because attempts to drastically cut CO2 emissions will slow development, the current UN approach of curbing CO2 emissions is likely to increase human suffering from future climate change rather than to decrease it.


Convenient Untruths

Some who clamor for statist answers to this alleged climate crisis employ dodgy measurement techniques

By Deroy Murdock

When Nobel laureate Albert Gore Jr. collects his Peace Prize in Oslo today, he should tell the gathered Norwegians exactly what he meant when he remarked about global warming: "Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem," Gore told Grist in the May 9, 2006 Grist Magazine. "Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis."

"Over-representation?" Is that anything like misrepresentation? Gore's approach infects the debate and even the methodology of so-called "global warming." From the former vice president to unseen academics, some who clamor for statist answers to this alleged climate crisis employ dodgy measurement techniques, while others embrace hype and fear-mongering to promote massive government intervention to combat an entirely questionable challenge. Worse yet, this applies to reputedly objective researchers, not just opinionated activists.

This official U.S. Historical Climate Network temperature-measurement station in Hopkinsville, Kentucky is near a chimney, and above a parking lot, air-conditioning gear, and a barbecue grill.

For starters, U.S. temperature data suffer from the "garbage in, garbage out" syndrome. As meteorologist Anthony Watts discovered, numerous NASA and National Oceanic and Space Administration temperature sensors are situated not in open fields at uniform heights, as required, but near parking lots, beside central-air exhaust ducts, and even above barbecue grills. These artificially elevate temperature reports.

Since 1970, previously whitewashed temperature sites have been painted with semi-gloss latex. Because it absorbs more heat, Heartland Institute scholar James Taylor wrote in November's Environment & Climate News, "latex paint at official temperature stations may account for half of the U.S. warming reported since 1970." Thus, America could reverse half the detected post-1970 warming that aggravates climate activists, simply by stripping this latex paint and whitewashing these observation structures.

Stranger still, NASA adopted a new technique in 2000 to calculate average annual temperatures. NASA essentially gave a 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit (0.15 degrees Centigrade) "bonus" to readings for the last seven years. However, Canadian statistical analyst Steve McIntyre of caught NASA's mathematical mistake. After the space agency admitted and corrected its glitch, America's warmest year shifted from 1998 to 1934. Among the corrected data, only four of the top 10 warmest years occurred since 1953, versus five among NASA's discarded Top 10.

Global-warming enthusiasts should clarify why America was hotter during the less-developed Great Depression, yet cooler in purportedly carbon-choked 1998. In fact, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004 were cooler than 1900 - three years before the launch of the Ford Motor Company.

"The alarmists who trumpeted recent years as `warmest ever!!!' in the United States (by a mere tenth of a degree) now dismiss this reversal - 2000 and subsequent years being cooler than 1900 - as just being a tenth of a degree or so," said Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Horner. "Well, either that's a big deal whichever direction it falls, or it isn't. Which time are you lying?"

Meanwhile, the British High Court of Justice ruled October 10 that Gore's picture, An Inconvenient Truth, peddles convenient untruths. Mr. Justice Burton determined that "some of the errors, or departures from the mainstream, by Mr. the course of his dynamic exposition, do arise in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of his political thesis." The court ordered that British secondary schools could present Gore's movie only if students receive a Guidance Note distancing the Education Department from "the more extreme views of Mr. Gore" and admitting there are two sides, not one, to global warming.

Justice Burton cited nine points in Gore's "political film" that either were "apparently based on non-existent or misunderstood evidence" or "upon lack of knowledge or appreciation of the scientific position." Among them: Despite Gore's contrary claims, melting polar ice caps will not raise sea levels by 20 feet any century soon, global warming is not melting the glacier atop Mount Kilimanjaro, nor did it intensify Hurricane Katrina, nor are polar bears dying due to melting ice.

In this connection, it's fascinating to trace the evolution of Stanford University professor Stephen H. Schneider, founder of the journal Climatic Change. "[O]ur calculations suggest a decrease in global temperature by as much as 3.5 degrees C," [6.3 degrees Fahrenheit], Schneider wrote in Science in 1971. "Such a large decrease in the average temperature of Earth, sustained over a period of few years, is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age."

Schneider's worries then switched from global cooling to global warming. "[T]o reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change," Schneider said in the October 1989 Discover, scientists must "capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have." Schneider added: "Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

"Cold, hot, who cares?" the Detroit News editorialized after Schneider's U-turn. "Environmental extremists often seem more interested in scaring the bejabbers out of the American public than in getting at the real facts."

U.C. Santa Barbara emeritus professor Daniel Botkin recently lamented in the Wall Street Journal that some of his warming-oriented colleagues believe "the only way to get our society to change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe, and that therefore it is all right and even necessary for scientists to exaggerate.`Wolves deceive their prey, don't they?' one said to me recently."

Oslo's applause notwithstanding, egregious errors, distortions, and lies have no place in what is supposedly unbiased scientific inquiry regarding one of Earth's most controversial questions.


Mandating the Impossible (Not to Mention the Stupid)

Here is a snippet from the energy bill that just passed the U.S. House of Representatives:
On Thursday, just over a year after winning the majority, Democrats in the House of Representatives voted through an energy bill that represents a stark departure from the administration's approach. It would raise vehicle fuel efficiency (Cafe) standards for the first time in over 30 years, by 40%, to 35 miles per gallon for both cars and light trucks and SUVs. A renewable energy standard mandates that utilities generate 15% of their power from renewables by 2020. It would set a renewable fuel standard aiming to generate 36 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2022. A tax package would roll back some $13.5bn in oil industry subsidies and tax breaks to help pay for $21bn worth of investments in clean energy development, mainly in the form of investment tax credits for wind and solar, along with the development and purchase of plug-in hybrid vehicles. And it would raise efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.

Let's look at a couple of pieces very quickly. Recognize that this is based on 10 whole minutes of research, far more than a busy Congressman could possibly be expected to muster.
They want 15% of power generation from renewables by 2020. I am not sure if this includes hydro. If it does, then a bunch of Pacific Northwest utilities already have this in the bag. But even if "renewable" includes hydro, hydro power will do nothing to meet this goal by 2020. I am not sure, given environmental concerns, if any major new hydro project will ever be permitted in the US again, and certainly not in a 10 year time frame. In fact, speaking of permitting, there is absolutely no way utilities could finance, permit, and construct 15% of the US electricity capacity by 2020 even if they started today. No. Way. By the way, as a sense of scale, after 35 years of subsidies and mandates, renewables (other than hydro) make up ... about .27% of US generation.

The Congress is demanding 36 billion gallons of ethanol. Presumably, this is all from domestic sources because Congress has refused to drop the enormous tariffs on ethanol imports. But the entire corn harvest in 2004 of 11.8 billion bushels would make only 30 billion gallons of ethanol. So Congress wants us to put ALL of our food supply into our cars? Maybe we can tear down the Amazon rain forest to grow more.

By the way, I am all for cutting all subsidies to any industry for any reason, but when they say "industry subsidies and tax breaks" for the oil industry, what they mostly mean is this:
These were leases for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico signed between oil companies and the Clinton Administration's Interior Department in 1998-99. At that time the world oil price had fallen to as low as $10 a barrel and the contracts were signed without a requirement of royalty payments if the price of oil rose above $35 a barrel.

Interior's Inspector General investigated and found that this standard royalty clause was omitted not because of any conspiracy by big oil, but rather because of bureaucratic bungling in the Clinton Administration. The same report found that a year after these contracts were signed Chevron and other oil companies alerted Interior to the absence of royalty fees, and that Interior replied that the contracts should go forward nonetheless.

The companies have since invested billions of dollars in the Gulf on the basis of those lease agreements, and only when the price of oil surged to $70 a barrel did anyone start expressing outrage that Big Oil was "cheating" taxpayers out of royalties. Some oil companies have voluntarily offered to renegotiate these contracts. The Democrats are now demanding that all these firms do so -- even though the government signed binding contracts.


Another inconvenient truth

In Europe, no one apparently wants to listen if you have good news about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

There have been two distinct calls for complete bans on the release of GMOs in France and Italy in recent weeks. Predictably, both are motivated strictly by political ambitions. Less predictably and of much greater concern, both have complete disregard for any of the data that surround the GMO issue.

At the end of October, French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced that, in accordance with 'the precautionary principle', no more approvals would be granted in France for the cultivation of genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin maize until an expert group-which at that time had not been formed-had assessed the benefits and risks. The announcement came at the end of a broad-ranging discussion forum on the future of French environmental policy.

The interpretation of the move is that GMOs are to be the sacrificial lamb that allows Sarkozy to demonstrate to the green lobbies that he is not uniformly uncritical of technological solutions in the environmental arena. This is clearly playing politics as the ban is certain to be declared illegal by the European Commission. Agricultural Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has already told Paris that the ban on products that have been approved by the European Union (EU) violates the EU Treaty. National exceptions to EU approvals can be made, but they must be supported by new data on risks to human health or the environment. Neither Sarkozy nor anyone among his administration or advisory team has suggested that they have a single iota of new data.

There were new data from Italy in mid-November but, oddly, they were largely ignored. Usually, the slightest evidence derived from potatoes loaded with toxins or caterpillars force-fed in sandwich boxes can be apparently accorded significant media merit if there is a sniff of genetic modification around the protocol. Similarly, highly predictable observations on gene transmission are heralded as surprising and deep if the DNA involved has been anywhere near a ligase in vitro in its past 1,000 replications.

The reason the new Italian data-from the only field trial of Bt maize in Italy since 2000-was ignored is simple: it showed GMOs in a positive light. The trial was performed in 2005 as part of what was supposed to be a broad popular overview of GMOs in Italy. The National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition (INRAN) had organized and funded a set of activities around the GM food and crop issue. In addition to this trial, it funded educational activities and opinion surveys. The outcomes were to be presented at a public meeting in 2006, but the full field trial data were never released. When it became clear that neither INRAN nor the Ministry of Agriculture was going to publish the trial data, a small band of determined plant biotech researchers held a press conference on November 13.

The results of the trial were spectacular. It involved four plots of 3,600 square meters, one for each of two different GM varieties (both featuring the Monsanto MON810 event) and their isogenic non-GM equivalents. The trial was planned and conducted not by a corporate villain but by a respected agronomist from the University of Milan, Tomasso Maggiore. He showed that under field conditions recombinant maize expressing Bt toxin can help maintain yield levels that are 28-43% higher than those of isogenic non-GM varieties. The results are almost certainly atypical because climatic and other conditions during 2005 resulted in a particularly good year for the European corn borer and a particularly bad year for Italian growers of conventional maize. In a more typical year, yield losses due to the insect might have been only 10-15% of the crop mass.

Productivity benefits aside, MON810 corn also outperformed conventional corn in terms of the levels of fumonisin, toxins that are produced by fungi able to infect plants through lesions caused by the corn borer. MON810 corn contained 60 or fewer parts per billion of fumonisin, whereas non-GM varieties contained over 6,000 parts per billion, a level unsuitable for human consumption under Italian and European law.

If it had been the MON810 varieties that contained high levels of fungal toxins, interest of the politicians, the media and the general public in the data would likely have been intense. But the response to these inconveniently positive field trial data was unreceptive at best.

The press conference of November 13 followed several months of intensive campaigning by a coalition of over 30 groups claiming to represent over 11 million Italians opposed to GM foods. The 'Italy/Europe Free of GMO' coalition, which encompassed several Italian farming unions, consumer associations and environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and the Worldwide Fund for Nature, had organized nearly 2,000 separate anti-GM events and in a mock referendum collected three million signatures calling for a complete ban on all GM foods in Italy. Fourteen of Italy's 20 regions had already declared themselves 'GMO-free'.

The fumonisin data from the trial would have been particularly embarrassing to the coalition. Many of its members had campaigned against a proposed lowering of the threshold for fumonisin from 4,000 to 2,000 parts per billion, largely because organic farming with its limited arsenal of antifungal agents would find it difficult to stay below the lower level. Indeed, in the year in which the trial took place, >50% of the Italian maize crop exceeded the 4,000 parts per billion level of fumonisins and would have been unfit for human consumption; under the proposed lower limit, hardly any of the crop would have qualified. Ironic then that one of the leaders of the Italy/Europe Free-from-GMO campaign, former student firebrand Mario Capanna, proclaimed that "Italy is known around the world for the quality of its natural food products....It has a vast heritage of biological diversity that should not be threatened by GMO agriculture."

The media response to the November 13 press conference was markedly lukewarm. Rather than latching onto the positive data or pursuing the Ministry of Agriculture over the implications of data suppression, only a few outlets apparently found the story worthwhile. Italian newspapers La Stampa and Il Giornale did print stories and a few other newspapers ran brief coverage in their online editions. Some radio stations interviewed the researchers involved, but there was no television coverage. One respected Italian weekly, the news magazine L'Espresso, refused to run the story because its editorial policy is to "oppose GMO."

The return of the European Union presidency to Portugal last month is a reminder that having a 'knowledge-based economy' was once thought to be the only way forward for a Europe of highly paid employees and scant natural resources. But the Lisbon agenda has been diluted since Europe's leaders first signed up to it in March 2000. And it now appears that only certain types of knowledge are welcome by some of its national leaders, press and activists.

Nature Biotechnology 25, 1330 (2007)


For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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