Wednesday, April 01, 2009


An email from Richard S. Lindzen [rlindzen@MIT.EDU], Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, MA

It's interesting to see that Stern, as usual, is about a year behind on the matter of rationalizing cooling. [See here]. Realists unwisely used 1998 as a baseline to claim cooling, and the automatic response from the alarmists was that 1998 was an anomalously warm El Nino year.

One could avoid this foolishness by simply noting that there has been no statistically significant warming since at least 1995 (see fig. 4 in my Heartland talk). 15 years may not be long in terms of climate, but it is about the length of each of the two warming episodes that constitute the warming 'trend' for the past century. The 'trend' could well be a matter of getting two heads in a row in a coin toss. Experience tells us that that is not a rare occurrence -- even if one knows no probability theory.


President Obama says that "few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than fighting climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear." In fact, many scientists disagree with the "facts," their certainty, and their interpretation. Over 100 of them have signed the statement that appears in the Cato Institute's newspaper ad:
"Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear." -- PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA, NOVEMBER 19, 2008

With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true.

We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated. Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now. After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events. The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior. Mr. President, your characterization of the scientific facts regarding climate change and the degree of certainty informing the scientific debate is simply incorrect.




It is looking less and less likely that President Obama will be able to institute his vaunted cap-and-trade scheme for greenhouse gas reduction through the back door of the budget reconciliation process. This places him in a very awkward situation internationally in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference on emissions reduction in December. Moreover, it forces him to confront face-to-face the biggest problem in any attempt to reduce greenhouse gases worldwide: China.

It seems that the President's initial plan was quite simple: use the economic crisis as a pretext to push a cap-and-trade scheme through Congress, then use that to push for action in Copenhagen. It hasn't worked out that way. The problem with any cap-and-trade scheme is that it hurts middle America, because it works by making energy more expensive. The greatest users of energy are the manufacturing states. Furthermore, the poor use greater proportions of their incomes on energy than those above them on the social ladder. Cap-and-trade schemes therefore come with a huge cost attached. This has not escaped Senators and Congressmen from states that would be badly affected, which is why it looks like the scheme will be pulled from the budget reconciliation process.

This makes things much more difficult for the President's plans. The virtue of the reconciliation process from his point of view is that it passes on a simple majority, and is not subject to filibuster. Now he will have to seek the 60 votes necessary to back a stand-alone cap and trade bill, which will be far more difficult. In order to secure passage, he may have to water the proposal down considerably (he has already talked about regional schemes to lessen the effect), which will in turn reduce the measure's effectiveness at reducing emissions. Moreover, a stand-alone bill will be subject to the lobbying of rent-seekers like the US steel industry.

Which is where China starts to enter the picture. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has told Congress that if the international effectiveness of American industry is hampered by having to pay for carbon reduction, then the Administration would have to look at leveling the playing field with foreign countries that are not so hampered by introducing tariffs, and that is something Big Steel is looking for. Interestingly, in itself this is a repudiation of the famous agreement reached at Kyoto that is more intense than anything advanced by the Bush administration. President Bush simply said he wasn't going to aim for the Kyoto targets, which were agreed to affect only developed nations. Now, if Secretary Chu is to be believed, not only will the US not meet its targets (the cap and trade scheme will achieve nowhere near the reductions Kyoto demands of the US), but it will punish countries that the US agreed in 1997 should not have to reduce their emissions for fear of harming their development efforts. China is unlikely to be impressed by this threat of a carbon trade war.

And this is the rub for Obama. Without an agreed domestic emissions reduction program, he cannot go to Copenhagen and call for other high-emitting countries exempt from emissions reduction under Kyoto - countries like China, India and Brazil - to pull their weight. Yet there are only two ways he can get a domestic emissions reduction program in place. Either those other countries must agree to reduce their emissions (which places the President in Catch-22) or there must be sanctions on those other countries, which will ruin any chance of them agreeing to emissions reduction at all.

Something has to give if emissions reductions are to be achieved. Either the President and Congress must between them be willing to sacrifice American industry to preserve China's competitive advantage in an emissions-restricted world, or they must be willing to turn their backs on the benefits of free trade and retreat into a protectionist wind-powered cocoon, and thereby destroy the already weakened American economy in another way. Neither sounds attractive.

Thought of in this way, the prospects for any truly historic agreement on emissions at Copenhagen are small. Of course, every such conference since Kyoto has been hailed as the historic breakthrough, even as emissions have risen and temperatures stayed the same. Given his options, it may be best for the President to find a pressing reason to stay away from Copenhagen, and try his luck with the reconciliation process next year. The Chinese, meanwhile, can continue to blame America for failing to show leadership. At least they'll be happy.



Andy Revkin did an incisive piece on the claims around climate tipping points in the Times on Sunday. It was nice to have the antidote to Tom Friedman's apocalyptic column on tipping points just pages away.

In 2006 a retired software executive insisted to me that we had only 10 years to do something dramatic about climate change (because that's what James Hansen had told him). When I gently suggested that 10 years was not a scientific number but rather an arbitrarily political one, the executive accused me of being anti-science. But the funny thing is that in January of this year Hansen told the Guardian that we have only four years left for the U.S. to act -- coincidentally, the same length of time in Obama's first term in office.

The assumption behind all of it is that throwing out these numbers -- four years, 10 years, 350 ppm, etc. -- will provide the public and policy makers with a sense of urgency that global warming as an issue currently lacks. But there's no evidence to back up that assumptions. If any correlation were to be drawn, it would likely be the opposite, that the increasingly apocalyptic tone of those seeking action on climate change has resulted in an increasing number of voters (according to Gallup) who believe that the threat of global warming is being exaggerated.

While the tipping point discourse might make Hansen, Friedman, Gore, Romm et al. feel powerful and moral, it has done nothing to change the fundamental political economy of their preferred policy agenda, pollution pricing. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) isn't against cap and trade because he's a right-wing, market fundamentalist ideologue; the truth is that he's an outspoken, anti-globalization liberal. He's against cap and trade because of the impact it would have on his constituents, who depend on coal for 85 percent of their electricity, and who are trying to hang on to the last of their manufacturing facilities by a thread. That's not something that any amount of scary stories about tipping points or inspiring ads about the need to repower America will change.

The only thing that will interrupt that dynamic is a fundamentally different climate policy agenda. Unfortunately, that's not something the big green groups and their allies in Washington have so far shown much interest in. A green group climate lobbyist in Washington who is sympathetic to a larger energy investment agenda recently told me that earlier this year Waxman (with the help of Green allies) killed technology-neutral loan guarantees in the stimulus by saying they all would have gone to nuclear, and to coal-to-liquid (which was clearly not the case) and that Waxman and green groups will now try to kill clean energy investments outside of any climate bill. This is what Ted and I helped do in 2003 (to our own Apollo energy legislation no less) when we were still being good green soldiers.

So much for urgent action to prevent tipping points.


WA: Spokane residents smuggle in real suds over useless "green" brands

The phosphate in regular dishwashing detergents also happens to be a basic fertilizer. Most people who know farms will have heard of superphosphate. Plants love phosphates. Just like they love CO2. Horrors! say the Greenies. It helps nasty plants to grow too. Helping farmers to trap fertilizer runoff from their farms would make more sense if there is any real problem with it

The quest for squeaky-clean dishes has turned some law-abiding people in Spokane into dishwater-detergent smugglers. They are bringing Cascade or Electrasol in from out of state because the eco-friendly varieties required under Washington state law don't work as well. Spokane County became the launch pad last July for the nation's strictest ban on dishwasher detergent made with phosphates, a measure aimed at reducing water pollution. The ban will be expanded statewide in July 2010, the same time similar laws take effect in several other states.

But it's not easy to get sparkling dishes when you go green. Many people were shocked to find that products like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Trader Joe's left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand. The culprit was hard water, which is mineral-rich and resistant to soap.

As a result, there has been a quiet rush of Spokane-area shoppers heading east on Interstate 90 into Idaho in search of old-school suds. Real estate agent Patti Marcotte of Spokane stocks up on detergent at a Costco in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and doesn't care who knows it. "Yes, I am a smuggler," she said. "I'm taking my chances because dirty dishes I cannot live with." (In truth, the ban applies to the sale of phosphate detergent — not its use or possession — so Marcotte is not in any legal trouble.) Marcotte said she tried every green brand in her dishwasher and found none would remove grease and pieces of food. Everybody she knows buys dishwasher detergent in Idaho, she said.

Supporters of the ban acknowledge it is not very popular. "I'm not hearing a lot of positive feedback," conceded Shannon Brattebo of the Washington Lake Protection Association, a prime mover of the ban. "I think people are driving to Idaho."

Steve Marcy, manager of the Costco in Coeur d'Alene, about 10 miles east of the Washington state line, estimated that sales of dishwasher detergent in his store have increased 10 percent. He knows where the customers are coming from. "I'll joke with them and ask if they are from Spokane," Marcy said. "They say, `Oh yeah.'" Shoppers can still buy phosphate detergents in Washington state by venturing outside Spokane County, but Idaho is more convenient to many Spokane residents.

Phosphates — the main cleaning agent in many detergents and household cleaners — break down grease and remove stains. However, the chemicals are difficult to remove in wastewater treatment plants and often wind up in rivers and lakes, where they promote the growth of algae. And algae gobble up oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.

While traditional detergents are up to 9 percent phosphate, those sold in Spokane County can contain no more than 0.5 percent. The Washington Lake Protection Association has launched a campaign to encourage people to give the environmentally friendly brands a fair chance. The group suggests consumers experiment with different brands or install water softeners to help the green detergents work better. "Clean lakes and clean dishes do not have to be mutually exclusive," said association president-elect Jacob McCann.

Phosphates have been banned in laundry detergent nationally since 1993. Washington was the first state where the Legislature passed a similar ban against dishwasher detergents, in 2006. The ban is being phased in, starting with Spokane County.

"It's nice to be on the cutting edge," Spokane resident Ken Beck, an opponent of the ban, said sarcastically. Among other states that have banned or are banning phosphates in dishwasher detergent are Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. A bill on Capitol Hill would impose a nationwide ban.

The Soap and Detergent Association, which represents manufacturers, initially fought the bans. But as the movement gained strength across the country, the association asked legislatures to delay bans until July 2010 to allow for a uniform rollout of products. The industry has been working to develop better low-phosphate detergents, said Dennis Griesing, vice president of the manufacturers group. "This is an irrevocable, nationwide commitment on the industry's part," he said.

For his part, Beck has taken to washing his dishes on his machine's pots-and-pans cycle, which takes longer and uses five gallons more water. Beck wonders if that isn't as tough on the environment as phosphates. "How much is this really costing us?" Beck said. "Aren't we transferring the environmental consequences to something else?"


Australia: More of that "drought" that the Warmists (such as Tim Flannery) were predicting a year or two ago

FLOODWATERS raging through the New South Wales north coast have forced the evacuation of people from at least 100 properties in Coffs Harbour and left thousands of other residents stranded. At some Coffs Harbour homes, water reached chest height, with the town receiving 370mm of rain in the 11 hours from 9am (AEDT) yesterday. "This has resulted in rapid rises in Coffs Creek approaching the levels of the record November 1996 flood,'' State Emergency Services spokesman Phil Campbell said.

The SES received calls for help from 400 people throughout the day. About 30 people trapped by floodwaters in homes or while travelling in motor vehicles had to be rescued. "The focus for the SES tonight is the protection of life and some delays in responding to non-life threatening calls is being experienced,'' Mr Campbell said yesterday. He recommended people shelter in their homes for the next six hours, "as travel through fast-flowing, deep floodwater during the dark is extremely dangerous".

Those who had been evacuated from their homes were sheltering at the Coffs Harbour RSL centre.

At Bellingen, south of Coffs Harbour, Mr Campbell said major flooding was likely to occur on the Bellinger River overnight. "That will result in the town being isolated for two to three days,'' Mr Campbell said. About 1700 residents would be isolated, he warned, while a further 1000 residents living upstream of Bellingen in the Darkwood and Kalang areas would also be affected. He said evacuations were also likely at Macksville, south of Coffs Harbour, on the Nambucca River.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said while there was a chance of heavy rain in the region today, it did not expect it would be as heavy as yesterday's downpour. At Boambee, south of Coffs Harbour, 149mm of rain fell between 1pm and 2pm yesterday. A BoM spokesman described it as a "one in a 100-year occurrence''. The highest rainfall was at Red Hill, west of Coffs Harbour, which received 380mm of rain in the 11 hours from 9am. About 240mm of the rain fell in the three-hour period between 1pm and 4pm.



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