Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ethanol test for Obama on climate change, science

The Greenies are now putting the frighteners on ethanol too. Nothing ever suits the Greenies. Coal, oil, nuclear, windmills and now ethanol are all "out". And did you know that manufacuring solar panels produces all sorts of pollution too? We'll soon all be back in the caves if we listen to them

President Barack Obama's commitment to take on climate change and put science over politics is about to be tested as his administration faces a politically sensitive question about the widespread use of ethanol: Does it help or hurt the fight against global warming? The Environmental Protection Agency is close to proposing ethanol standards. But two years ago, when Congress ordered a huge increase in ethanol use, lawmakers also told the agency to show that ethanol would produce less pollution linked to global warming than would gasoline.

So how will the EPA define greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol production and use? Given the political clout of farm interests, will the science conflict with the politics? Environmentalists, citing various studies and scientific papers, say the agency must factor in more than just the direct, heat-trapping pollution from ethanol and its production. They also point to "indirect" impacts on global warming from worldwide changes in land use, including climate-threatening deforestation, as land is cleared to plant corn or other ethanol crops.

Ethanol manufacturers and agriculture interests contend the fallout from potential land use changes in the future, especially those outside the United States, have not been adequately proven or even quantified, and should not count when the EPA calculates ethanol's climate impact. "It defies common sense that EPA would publish a proposed rule-making with harmful conclusions for biofuels based on incomplete science and inaccurate assumptions," complained Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. He was one of 12 farm-state senators, both Democrats and Republicans, who wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in March, urging the agency to stick to assessing only the direct emissions.

Ethanol, which in the future may come from cellulosic sources such as switchgrass and wood chips, is promoted by its advocates as a "green" substitute for gasoline that will help the U.S. reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, especially foreign oil. That transition is a priority of the Obama White House.

In 2007, Congress ordered huge increases in ethanol use, requiring refiners to blend 20 billion gallons with gasoline by 2015 and a further expansion to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022. Congress said any fuel produced in plants built after 2007 must emit 20 percent less in greenhouse gases than gasoline if it comes from corn, and 60 percent less if from cellulosic crops. Meeting the direct emissions would not be a problem. But if indirect emissions from expected land use changes are included, ethanol probably would fail the test.

Nathaniel Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said that wouldn't mean the end of ethanol. Ethanol from existing production facilities is grandfathered and "there are ways to produce advanced ethanols that would comply with the greenhouse thresholds," even using land use climate impacts if the industry chose to adopt them, Greene said. But farm interests and their allies in Congress are pushing to get the EPA to at least postpone any consideration of the land-use impacts issue, arguing the science surrounding the issue is uncertain. The senators' letter said that an overreaching regulation by EPA on ethanol's link to climate change "could seriously harm our U.S. biofuels growth strategy by introducing uncertainty and discouraging future investments."

Environmentalists say there have been enough studies on the indirect impact of ethanol on greenhouse pollution to justify the science. Ignoring the indirect impacts "will undermine the environmental benefits" of the renewable fuels program "and set a poor precedent for any future policies attempting to reduce global warming pollution," 17 environmental group wrote Jackson in response to the senator's plea. Greene said the EPA's handling of the ethanol rule will be a "a test of our ability to follow sound science" even when it conflicts with the interests of powerful interests.

The environmental organizations noted that Obama has "vowed to make the U.S. a leader on climate change" and put science over politics, and "now is the time to uphold those pledges."

EPA spokeswoman Andora Andy declined to say when an agency proposal _ a holdover issue from the Bush administration _ would be issued. Interest groups on both sides of the debate said it could come in days. The White House Office of Management and Budget concluded its review of the EPA proposal last week.


Truth about the sun leaking out

Now reported in the National Geographic. See below. The Warmists are trying hard to spin their way out of it, though, using some very deceptive arguments

A prolonged lull in solar activity has astrophysicists glued to their telescopes waiting to see what the sun will do next—and how Earth's climate might respond. The sun is the least active it's been in decades and the dimmest in a hundred years. The lull is causing some scientists to recall the Little Ice Age, an unusual cold spell in Europe and North America, which lasted from about 1300 to 1850. The coldest period of the Little Ice Age, between 1645 and 1715, has been linked to a deep dip in solar storms known as the Maunder Minimum.

During that time, access to Greenland was largely cut off by ice, and canals in Holland routinely froze solid. Glaciers in the Alps engulfed whole villages, and sea ice increased so much that no open water flowed around Iceland in the year 1695.

But researchers are on guard against their concerns about a new cold snap being misinterpreted. "[Global warming] skeptics tend to leap forward," said Mike Lockwood, a solar terrestrial physicist at the University of Southampton in the U.K. He and other researchers are therefore engaged in what they call "preemptive denial" of a solar minimum leading to global cooling.

Even if the current solar lull is the beginning of a prolonged quiet, the scientists say, the star's effects on climate will pale in contrast with the influence of human-made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). "I think you have to bear in mind that the CO2 is a good 50 to 60 percent higher than normal [And yet temperatures have not risen for 10 years!], whereas the decline in solar output is a few hundredths of one percent down," Lockwood said. "I think that helps keep it in perspective." [A straw man argument. Nobody says that solar heat output varies greatly. It is the magnetosphere that varies and which is of concern for its indirect effect on terrestrial temperature via its effect on clouds. And even if we don't know why, the correlation between solar activity and terrestrial temperatures is still an historical fact]

For hundreds of years scientists have used the number of observable sunspots to trace the sun's roughly 11-year cycles of activity. Sunspots, which can be visible without a telescope, are dark regions that indicate intense magnetic activity on the sun's surface. Such solar storms send bursts of charged particles hurtling toward Earth that can spark auroras, disrupt satellites, and even knock out electrical grids. In the current cycle, 2008 was supposed to have been the low-point, and this year the sunspot numbers should have begun to climb. But of the first 90 days of 2009, 78 have been sunspot free. Researchers also say the sun is the dimmest it's been in a hundred years.

The Maunder Minimum corresponded to a profound lull in sunspots—astronomers at the time recorded just 50 in a 30-year period. If the sun again sinks into a similar depression, at least one preliminary model has suggested that cool spots could crop up in regions of Europe, the United States, and Siberia.

During the previous event, though, many parts of the world were not affected at all, said Jeffrey Hall, an astronomer and associate director at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. "Even a grand minimum like that was not having a global effect," he said.

Changes in the sun's activity can affect Earth in other ways, too. For example, ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is not bottoming out the same way it did during the past few visual minima. "The visible light doesn't vary that much, but UV varies 20 percent, [and] x-rays can vary by a factor of ten," Hall said. "What we don't understand so well is the impact of that differing spectral irradiance."

Solar UV light, for example, affects mostly the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere, where the effects are not as noticeable to humans. But some researchers suspect those effects could trickle down into the lower layers, where weather happens.

In general, recent research has been building a case that the sun has a slightly bigger influence on Earth's climate than most theories have predicted. Atmospheric wild cards, such as UV radiation, could be part of the explanation, said the University of Southampton's Lockwood. In the meantime, he and other experts caution against relying on future solar lulls to help mitigate global warming.

"There are many uncertainties," said Jose Abreu, a doctoral candidate at the Swiss government's research institute Eawag. [That's a valuable admission. What happened to the "settled" consensus?] "We don't know the sensitivity of the climate to changes in solar intensity. In my opinion, I wouldn't play with things I don't know." [Excellent advice]


Note again: No mention in the article of recent global temperatures. The uninformed reader will assume that they’ve continued to rise. That a quieter sun has ALREADY started to coincide with cooler weather is a mere coincidence of course


Five current articles below, with lots of good stuff:

Hot-air doomsayers have nothing substantive to say in defence of their cause

By Ian Plimer, a professor at the University of Adelaide, and author of "Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: The Missing Science"

In "Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: The Missing Science", I predicted that the critics would play the man and not discuss the science. Initial criticism appeared before the book was released three weeks ago. Well-known catastrophists criticised the book before they actually received a review copy. Critics, who have everything to gain by frightening us witless with politicised science, have now shown their true colours. No critic has argued science with me. I have just enjoyed a fortnight of being thrashed with a feather.

Despite having four review copies, ABC's Lateline photocopied parts of chapters and sent them to an expert on gravity, a biologist and one who produces computer models. These critics did not read the book in its entirety. The compere of Lateline claimed that he had read the book yet his questions showed the opposite. When uncritical journalists have no science training, then it is little wonder doomsday scenarios can seduce them.

In The Age (Insight, May 2), David Karoly claims that my book "does not support the answers with sources". Considering that the book has 2311 footnotes as sources, Karoly clearly had not read the book. Maybe Karoly just read up to page 21, which showed that his published selective use of data showed warming but, when the complete set of data was used, no such warming was seen.

Robert Manne (The Weekend Australian, Inquirer, April 25-26) claims to be a great democrat yet demonises dissent on a matter of science. He is not a scientist. The gains made in the Enlightenment, the scientific method, history and integrated interdisciplinary science are all ignored in an ideological push to remodel the economy.

Primary producers should be very worried about an emissions trading scheme underpinned by incomplete science. Unions in industrial centres may even make conditional financial support of the ALP because the workforce they represent will be lambs to the slaughter with an ETS.

Capital city ABC and newspaper media outlets have treated the public with disdain. They have used arrogant pompous scientists who talk down to the public and yet these scientists forget that the public employs them. My critics are never asked: Who funds them? What have they to gain by following their party line? Why have they ignored a huge body of contrary science? What are their political associations? What unelected groups support them? Yet I am constantly asked these questions.

The huge number of recent letters tell me that there are winds of change. The average punter has been told for more than two decades that we are all going to fry. He is not stupid and is blessed with a rare commodity missing in many academic circles: common sense.

Life experiences of rural people are very different from those of city folk who have little first-hand experience of nature. My correspondents feel helpless and disenfranchised with the unending negative moralistic cacophony about climate change. They know it smells but they cannot find where the smell comes from. The reason why the book has been a publishing sensation is because the average person knows that they are being conned and finally they have a source reference.

The hypothesis tested in my book was that increased atmospheric CO2 creates global warming. This was shown to be invalid on all time scales and by a diversity of methods.

In the past, climate change has never been driven by CO2. Why should it be now driven by CO2 when the atmospheric CO2 content is low? The main greenhouse gas has always been water vapour. Once there is natural global warming, then CO2 in the atmosphere increases. CO2 is plant food, it is not a pollutant and it is misleading non-scientific spin to talk of carbon pollution. If we had carbon pollution, the skies would be black with fine particles of carbon. We couldn't see or breathe. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong appeals to science yet demonstrates she does not have a primary school understanding of science.

The atmosphere contains 800 billion tonnes of carbon in CO2. Soils and plants contain 2000 billion tonnes, the oceans 39,000 billion tonnes and rocks in the top few kilometres of the crust contain 65,000,000 billion tonnes of carbon in carbon compounds. The atmosphere only contains 0.001 per cent of the total carbon in the top few kilometres of the Earth.

If all the fossil fuel on Earth were burned, the atmospheric CO2 would double. The Earth has been there before and high atmospheric CO2 has accelerated plant growth and increased biodiversity. It is the sun, water vapour, rocks and oceans that have stopped a runaway greenhouse or a permanent snowball Earth.

I would like to see some fundamental questions answered by the climate catastrophists. If CO2 drives temperature, why were there past ice ages when the atmospheric CO2 content was many times greater than at present? Why has the role of clouds been ignored, especially as a 1per cent change in the amount of cloudiness could account for all the changes measured in the past 150 years? If natural forces drove warmings in Roman and medieval times, how do we know that the same natural forces did not drive the late 20th-century warming? Why didn't Earth have acid oceans and a runaway greenhouse when the atmospheric CO2 was hundreds of times higher than now? Is the present increase in atmospheric CO2 due to the medieval warming?

It is human arrogance to think that we can control climate, a process that transfers huge amounts of energy. Once we control the smaller amount of energy transferred by volcanoes and earthquakes, then we can try to control climate. Until then, climate politics is just a load of ideological hot air.

To argue that human additions to atmospheric CO2, a trace gas in the atmosphere, changes climate requires an abandonment of all we know about history, archaeology, geology, solar physics, chemistry and astronomy. We ignore history at our peril.

I await the establishment of a Stalinist-type Truth and Retribution Commission to try me for my crimes against the established order and politicised science.


Australia's Bureau of Meteorology backs down from a claim that temperatures at Australia's three bases in Antarctica have been warming

THE Bureau of Metereology has backed down from a claim that temperatures at Australia's three bases in Antarctica have been warming over the past three decades. A senior bureau climatologist had accused The Weekend Australian of manufacturing a report that temperatures were cooling in East Antarctica, where Australia's Mawson, Davis and Casey bases are located.

The trend of temperatures and ice conditions in Antarctica is central to the debate on global warming because substantial melting of the Antarctic ice cap, which contains 90 per cent of the world's ice, would be required for sea levels to rise. While calvings from ice shelves in parts of West Antarctica have generated headlines, evidence has emerged that temperatures are cooling in the east of the continent, which is four times the size of West Antarctica. Contrary to widespread public perceptions, the area of sea ice around the continent is expanding.

The Weekend Australian reported last month a claim by Bureau of Metereology senior climatologist Andrew Watkins that monitoring at Australia's Antarctic bases since the 1950s indicated temperatures were rising. A study was then published by the British Antarctic Survey that concluded the ozone hole was responsible for the cooling and expansion of sea ice around much of the continent. The head of the study project, John Turner, said at the time that the section of Antarctica that included the Australian bases was among the areas that had cooled.

Dr Watkins said The Weekend Australian had misrepresented the results of the BAS study, which made no findings about temperatures at Australian bases. When it was pointed out to Dr Watkins that Professor Turner had been quoted directly, Dr Watkins said his bureau, and not the BAS, was the agency collecting temperature data.

"You kept going until you got the answer you wanted," Dr Watkins said. "You were told explicitly that the data collected by the Bureau of Metereology at the Australian bases shows a warming for maximum temperatures at all bases, and minimum temperatures at all but Mawson."

However, Professor Turner told The Weekend Australian the data showed a cooling of the East Antarctica coast associated with the onset of the ozone layer from 1980 onwards. Professor Turner said the monthly mean temperatures for Casey station from 1980 to 2005 showed a cooling of 0.45C per decade. In autumn, the temperature trend has been a cooling of 0.93C per decade. "These fairly small temperature trends seem to be consistent to me with the small increase in sea ice extent off the coast," he said.

Dr Watkins did not dispute the figures referred to by Professor Turner. Referring to the bureau's data collection since the 1950s, Dr Watkins said Professor Turner's figures were "only half of the full data set". However, Dr Watkins admitted that analysis of the data might show "an ozone-induced cooling trend in the latter half of the record" -- a reference to the past three decades.

Dr Watkins declined to release the temperature data to The Weekend Australian. He said it had still to be fully analysed by the bureau.


Note that as an addendum to the above story Anthony Watts has a lot of pictures of Australia's Antarctic bases over the years and that the temperature monitors are clearly shown as located within a few yards of the buildings. So the extra heat put out by the expanding base should inflate the readings on the temperature sensors. And the sensors also appear to have been moved about a lot. Were they kept a consistent distance from the buildings? It seems unlikely. The bases create their own little heat islands, in other words and we don't even know if the sensors were kept a consisent distance from heat sources. Temperature time series from such sensors are hence useless at best and misleading at worst. It is at any event ludicrous from a scientific point of view. Dr. Watkins would have been much wiser to keep his head right down

Climate backdown: Rudd should retreat on jobs legislation too

This is the first big policy retreat Kevin Rudd has had to swallow in the face of the global recession. Let's hope it's not the last. The alternative for the Prime Minister to backtracking on his climate change promise was to deepen Australia's recession. And the risk to today's jobs was always going to trump a threat to the environment decades later.

Rudd's promise to bed down a full-blown carbon emissions trading scheme by the middle of next year was always a stunt to get in ahead of John Howard. It was a big ask to bolt on a scheme that threatened Australia's advantage in cheap carbon-based energy that had fuelled the nation's modern prosperity. It became madness to do this as the economy hopefully tried to drag itself off the canvas after the king hit from the deepest global recession since the 1930s. So delaying the start date, to mid-2011, and a softer ramp up, with a low $10 fixed price on each tonne of carbon emissions, were inevitable moves.

The fanciful idea that mandatory emissions reductions would be good for the economy, without any cost, by producing "green jobs" has gone up in smoke. There inevitably will be a cost, at least in the lengthy transition.

Business wants some certainty on exactly what carbon costs it will have to plug into its investment models.

Rudd's retreat will open up the issue of whether the carbon trading scheme with all its special deals - as opposed to a cleaner carbon tax or some hybrid model - is the best way to go, in light of the UN's Copenhagen summit in December.

It also will increase the pressure on the Government over its other policy vulnerabilities. One is the raising of expectations for increased entitlement spending - such as on the aged pension and maternity pay - just as the recession has exposed the structural black hole in the federal budget.

The other is Julia Gillard's reregulation of the job market during a recession that could push unemployment to double-digit levels. Rudd should now demand that Gillard's award modernisation, which threatens to push up casual and penalty rates across much of the services sector from the start of next year, be put on hold.


Conservatives still ready to fight Warmist laws

MALCOLM Turnbull has refused to back Kevin Rudd's amended plan for an emissions trading scheme, insisting the Government needs to give more protection to the coal industry. The Opposition Leader yesterday accused the Prime Minister of having executed an embarrassing backflip on emissions trading, but said the Government ought to ask the Productivity Commission to review its proposals.

The comments came after Mr Rudd announced he would delay Labor's promised 2010 start-up date on emissions trading until 2011, and lift the target for carbon emissions reductions from 10-15per cent to 25 per cent. Mr Rudd appealed for Mr Turnbull to support his new plan, saying it had addressed the key Coalition concerns on timing and the targets.

But Mr Turnbull withheld support yesterday as the Greens continued to attack the Government's scheme as too generous to big polluters. "Today's announcement represents a massive backdown, a humiliating backdown given the way he's attacked the Opposition relentlessly for more than a year as we've pointed out the flaws in his emissions trading scheme," Mr Turnbull said. "But given that he has given himself more time to start the scheme, why not give ourselves more time to get it right? The most important thing is that we ensure that we have a scheme that is environmentally effective and economically responsible. That requires more work."

Mr Turnbull said the Coalition believed the Rudd plan placed trade-exposed industries at a disadvantage against their competitors. And there was inadequate support for the nation's biggest export earner, the coal industry. The plan also included no forecast on the near-term impact of the ETS on jobs and growth and was short on detail on other means of emission abatement.

The Greens rejected the Government's new plan, saying it would give $2.2billion in assistance to big polluters. "If you add a little bit of green to brown, you still get brown," said Greens deputy leader Christine Milne. "By delaying the start of the scheme and capping the carbon price at $10 a tonne for the next year, the Government has ensured that there will be essentially no climate action in Australia until July 2012 at the earliest."

The Southern Cross Climate Change Coalition, which includes unions, the Climate Institute and environment groups, said lifting the emissions reduction target to 25 per cent would boost international efforts for an agreement on reducing emissions worldwide. "This internationally-credible target, coming after COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) cleared the way for renewable energy legislation and further steps on energy efficiency, means the CPRS should be supported so business can get on with investing in the clean energy and other low-carbon jobs that other competitor countries are investing in," the coalition said.

Business Council of Australia president Greig Gailey supported the revamped scheme. "Given Australia's current economic circumstances, the BCA welcomes and supports the Government's responsible decision to delay the commencement of the CPRS by one year to July 1, 2011, to provide business with more time to prepare for the scheme and to alleviate some of the pressures confronting Australian business as a result of the global financial crisis," he said.

The Minerals Council of Australia was cool on the scheme, saying the changes did not address the central flaw, which was to embark on full permit auctions from the outset.


Solar panel nuttiness gets nuttier (and incomprehensible)

BRISBANE environmental lawyer Jo Bragg and her partner, Gary Kane, spent $28,000 on three roof panels to generate solar power for their home in the inner Brisbane suburb of Highgate Hill. After receiving a federal government rebate of $8000, they hoped to recover their investment in a cleaner planet within a few years by selling excess power into the mains electricity grid. In the three months to April, they used 1384 kilowatt hours and produced 388 kilowatt hours of excess power, for which they received the princely sum of $12.96 after taxes. "Governments are not being serious about reducing energy consumption with lousy amounts of money like that," Ms Bragg said.

Her family is the kind Kevin Rudd had in mind yesterday when he announced that individuals and households would be part of a revamped carbon pollution reduction scheme. The Prime Minister said households would be able to calculate their energy use at home and pledge contributions to the $25million energy efficiency savings fund to effectively offset their emissions. "Individuals will be able to calculate their energy use and establish the savings they could achieve with a more energy-efficient home," Mr Rudd said.

"A household or individual could then make a tax-deductible donation to the pledge fund, which the fund would use to buy and cancel carbon pollution permits equivalent to that level of energy use."

Ms Bragg said she hoped the carbon permits scheme would be flexible enough to allow households with renewable energy to be paid for the gross amount of power produced -- not just the excess -- as happened in Germany and some other countries. "It makes sense to provide incentives to homes to make it worth their while to invest in renewable energy," she said. "Even if we were paid for the gross amount of power produced, it would take us eight or 10 years to recover the investment."

Mr Rudd said a website would be provided for people to calculate their energy use and buy and retire carbon pollution permits. "Because the pledge fund will pool pledges, even small amounts can combine to make a big difference," he said. "People will be able to pledge as little or as much as they can afford." The fund would be voluntary.



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