Saturday, June 19, 2010

Warmists forget the principle of parsimony

The principle of parsimony says that simpler explanations are to be preferred. Even I as a poor dimwitted social scientist know that to be a basic axiom in science. So why is it an amazing discovery that "The timing and the amplitude of temperature changes [in the Northern Hemisphere] are reproduced in the tropical temperatures. The patterns are incredibly similar."?

Surely normal, well-known principles of gaseous and heat diffusion would lead us to expect that without invoking carbon dioxide?

And the "discovery" that warming tends to be global will surely come as no surprise to Al Gore and all the other preachers of global warming! They too appear to assume that normal, well-known principles of gaseous and heat diffusion would lead us to expect warming to be global.

To help others get on top of this momentous discovery, I follow the BBC summary of the article below with the original journal abstract

A "global pattern" of change in the Earth's climate began 2.7 million years ago, say scientists. Researchers found that, at this point, temperature patterns in the tropics slipped into step with patterns of Ice Ages in the Northern Hemisphere.

They report in the journal Science that atmospheric CO2 could be the "missing link" to explain this global pattern.

The findings, they say, reveal a "feedback process" that could have been magnified by greenhouse gases. This loop of feedback could have intensified both the Ice Ages in the Northern Hemisphere, and temperature fluctuations in the tropics.

Professor Timothy Herbert from Brown University in Rhode Island, US, led the research. He and his colleagues, in the US and China, analysed mud cores from the seabed in the four tropical ocean basins - the Arabian Sea, the South China Sea, the eastern Pacific and the equatorial Atlantic Ocean.

These mud cores are laid down over millions of years - as sediments of dead plant and animal material sink to the ocean floor. So by analysing the chemical composition of this material - specifically the chemical remains of one ancient and tiny marine organism - the scientists were able to produce a timeline of temperature changes.

The team "found a fingerprint in the sequence of temperature changes" - a pattern that began 2.7 million years ago, Professor Herbert explained. He told BBC News: "The timing and the amplitude of temperature changes [in the Northern Hemisphere] are reproduced in the tropical temperatures. The patterns are incredibly similar."

He added that the study provided the first direct evidence of a global pattern in climate change that dated back almost three million years. Professor Herbert added that the "best global mechanism" to explain this link was the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Dr Carrie Lear, a palaeoclimate scientist from Cardiff University in the UK, agreed that carbon dioxide was the likely "culprit". She told BBC News: "This study reveals a feedback process that has magnified climate change since the inception of Northern Hemisphere glaciation 2.7 million years ago. "It seems the tropical warming caused by high CO2 levels set off a chain of events resulting in additional greenhouse gases, including water vapour, being released to the atmosphere, thus causing further warming."

Dr Lear said that such studies of past climate change were "invaluable in understanding the current climate system, and hence predicting future change".


Tropical Ocean Temperatures Over the Past 3.5 Million Years

By Timothy D. Herbert et al.

Determining the timing and amplitude of tropical sea surface temperature (SST) change is an important part of solving the puzzle of the Plio-Pleistocene ice ages. Alkenone-based tropical SST records from the major ocean basins show coherent glacial-interglacial temperature changes of 1° to 3°C that align with (but slightly lead) global changes in ice volume and deep ocean temperature over the past 3.5 million years. Tropical temperatures became tightly coupled with benthic {delta}18O and orbital forcing after 2.7 million years. We interpret the similarity of tropical SST changes, in dynamically dissimilar regions, to reflect "top-down" forcing through the atmosphere. The inception of a strong carbon dioxide–greenhouse gas feedback and amplification of orbital forcing at ~2.7 million years ago connected the fate of Northern Hemisphere ice sheets with global ocean temperatures since that time.

Science 18 June 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5985, pp. 1530 - 1534

The threat from ocean acidification is greatly exaggerated

By Matt Ridley

As part of an `interview’ with me, New Scientist published a critique by five scientists of two pages of my book The Rational Optimist. Despite its tone, this critique only confirms the accuracy of each of the statements in this section of the book. After reading their critiques, I stand even more firmly behind my conclusion that the threats to coral reefs from both man-made warming and ocean acidification are unlikely to be severe, rapid or urgent. In the case of acidification, this is underlined by a recent paper, published since my book was written, summarising the results of 372 papers and concluding that ocean acidification `may not be the widespread problem conjured into the 21st century’. The burden of proof is on those who see an urgent threat to corals from warming and acidification. Here is what I wrote (italics), interspersed with summaries of the scientists’ comments and my replies.

Take coral reefs, which are suffering horribly from pollution, silt, nutrient run-off and fishing - especially the harvesting of herbivorous fishes that otherwise keep reefs clean of algae. Yet environmentalists commonly talk as if climate change is a far greater threat than these, and they are cranking up the apocalyptic statements just as they did wrongly about forests and acid rain

Andy Ridgwell says `I agree that at least for some reef systems, other, and more local human factors such as fishing and pollution may be the greater danger’ and Jelle Bijma says `I do agree that, for example, pollution and overfishing are also important problems, some even more important than the current impact of ocean acidification’. It was not therefore accurate of Liz Else to say that the critics accuse me of failing `to recognize that there is more to the health of corals than the amount of bicarbonate in the sea’ They do not – she has misrepresented their views and mine.

Charlie Veron, an Australian marine biologist: 'There is no hope of reefs surviving to even mid-century in any form that we now recognise.' Alex Rogers of the Zoological Society of London pledges an 'absolute guarantee of their annihilation'. No wriggle room there.

Chris Langdon agrees that such claims `may be extreme’. None of the others provides any evidence to support such extreme claims. Yet these remarks were widely reported in the media.

It is true that rapidly heating the water by a few degrees can devastate reefs by 'bleaching' out the corals' symbiotic algae, as happened to many reefs in the especially warm El Niño year of 1998. But bleaching depends more on rate of change than absolute temperature. This must be true because nowhere on the planet, not even in the Persian Gulf where water temperatures reach 35°C, is there a sea too warm for coral reefs.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg says that `the observation that corals grow in the Persian Gulf today at temperatures of 35 °C does not mean that coral reefs will be able to adapt rapidly to the current upward shift in sea temperatures’ in other words, he concedes the point I was actually making: bleaching is caused by rate of change of temperature, not absolute level of warmth. This is not understood by many commentators on the subject in both the environmental movement and the media. I am glad to have it confirmed, because it corrects a widespread misunderstanding.

Lots of places are too cold for coral reefs - the Galapagos, for example.

Ridgwell says that `There are in fact several reef communities in the Galapagos, so the inference that the Galapagos is "too cold" is incorrect (or at best, mis-interpretable), although I agree that colder temperatures are likely an important factor in the dominance of non-reef coral communities in this location.’ Which is it? `Incorrect’ or `an important factor’? He concedes my point in his last phrase: `the dominance of non-reef coral communities in this location.’ The very few reefs are in the warmer parts of the Galapagos. Incidentally, Charles Darwin once wrote: `There are no coral-reefs in the Galapagos Archipelago, as I know from personal inspection’.

It is now clear that corals rebound quickly from bleaching episodes, repopulating dead reefs in just a few years,

None of the five challenge this statement. As an example, a study of Fiji’s reefs following a bleaching episode (Lovell and Sykes 2008. International Coral Reef Symposium) states: `Though variable, substantial recovery to pre-bleaching levels was seen within 5 years in many areas.’

which is presumably how they survived the warming lurches at the end of the last ice age.

Both Ridgwell and Hoegh-Guldberg claim that current rates of temperature change are unprecedented. Ridgwell says that the deglacial transition `was a few degrees centigrade in about 4000 to 5000 years. In the future, we are looking at a few degrees in a hundred years - perhaps 50 times faster (certainly, one to two orders of magnitude higher).’ Hoegh-Guldberg refers to a rate of change `that is many times higher than even the most rapid shifts in conditions seen over the past million years or more.’

These are astonishing statements to anybody with even a cursory knowledge of the scientific literature on the ending of the last ice age. The current rate of temperature change since 1975 is estimated at about 0.161 degC per decade (and is incidentally not statistically distinguishable from that in the 1860-1880 or 1910-1940 periods – see Roger Harrabin’s interview with Phil Jones here: By contrast the deglacial transition was characterized by `local, regional, and more-widespread climate conditions [which] demonstrate that much of the Earth experienced abrupt climate changes synchronous with Greenland within thirty years or less’ (Alley 2000. Quaternary Science Reviews 213-226), including `a warming of 7 °C in South Greenland [that] was completed in about 50 years’ (Dansgaard, White and Johnsen 1989, Nature 339: 532). That is a change roughly nine times as fast as has happened since 1980 – in Greenland or anywhere else.

Another study gives even bigger numbers, saying that the `abrupt warming (10 ± 4 °C)’ at the end of the Younger Dryas and the warming at the end of a short lived cooler interval known as the Preboreal Oscillation `may have occurred within a few years’ (Kobashi et al 2008 Earth and Planetary Sciences 268:397).

Nor was this rate of change confined to Greenland. As one article summarises, `temperatures  from the end of the Younger Dryas Period to the beginning of the Holocene some 12,500 years ago rose about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a 50-year period in Antarctica, much of it in several major leaps lasting less than a decade.’ (Science Daily, Oct 2 1998). It is remarkable how few scientists working on other aspects of planetary ecology seem to know about these recent conclusions of much faster changes in the past. No climatologist would these days claim that current rates of change are unprecedented in `the past million years or more’.

It is also apparent from recent research that corals become more resilient the more they experience sudden warmings.

None of the five challenges this statement, which is based on a paper by Oliver and Palumbi 2009 (MEPS 378:93), which concluded that corals are `tougher than we thought’ (interview with Science News May 22, 2009) and on Baker et al 2004 (Nature 430:741), who say: ‘The adaptive shift in symbiont communities indicates that these devastated reefs could be more resistant to future thermal stress, resulting in significantly longer extinction times for surviving corals than had been previously assumed.

Some reefs may yet die if the world warms rapidly in the twenty-first century, but others in cooler regions may expand.

Ridgwell agrees `that eventual colonisation and expansion of corals into regions previously too cold will, in theory, be possible at some point in the future’ so there is no inaccuracy in my statement. He merely says that it is `unclear’ whether dispersal and colonisation can occur fast enough to keep up with increasing temperatures.

Local threats are far more immediate than climate change.

Ridgwell agrees `that at least for some reef systems, other, and more local human factors such as fishing and pollution may be the greater danger’ but says this may not be true for those in protected areas – because the local threats there have been reduced. That is merely a statement of the obvious. But the greatest threats to coral reefs come outside protected areas.

Ocean acidification looks suspiciously like a back-up plan by the environmental pressure groups in case the climate fails to warm: another try at condemning fossil fuels.

A statement of my opinion based on what follows.

The oceans are alkaline, with an average pH of about 8.1, well above neutral (7).

Langdon confirms this: `Yes, it is true that the surface oceans are slightly alkaline at a pH of 8.1’ but then says that `the declining pH of the surface ocean is one of the most firmly established facts in climate change science.’ Is he implying that I dispute this? I do not. Incidentally, the pH of the ocean varies hugely, being below neutral in some inshore areas influenced by run off from the land. On some coral reefs it goes as low as 7.5 at night and as high as 9.4 in the day (Revelle and Fairbridge 1957).

Remarkably there are parts of the sea with pH already far lower than it can possibly go as a result of carbon emissions. In one hydrothermal spot off Iceland, it is 5.36-7.29.Yet four-decade-old mussels have learned to cope with even this acidity, though growing half as fast as in normal waters (Tunnicliffe et al 2009, Nature Geoscience 10.1038).

They are also extremely well buffered.

Langdon agrees: `And yes, the oceans are well buffered’.

Very high carbon dioxide levels could push that number down, perhaps to about 7.95 by 2050 - still highly alkaline

Presumably it is here that Bijma thinks I `introduce confusion about the term "acidification"’ merely because by saying that 7.95 is still highly alkaline, I am accurately reminding the reader that there is no prediction of the oceans becoming technically `acid’ – ie having a pH lower than 7. Far from introducing confusion, I was attempting to reduce the very confusion so often encountered by readers who think that acidification will lead to oceans that are actually acid. In any case, my statement is accurate.

and still much higher than it was for most of the last 100 million years.

Ridgwell agrees: `Ocean pH in the past (at least, according to published reconstructions) was indeed lower than now during the Cretaceous, and probably lower than anything we will manage in the future.’

Some argue that this tiny downward shift in average alkalinity could make it harder for animals and plants that deposit calcium carbonate in their skeletons to do so. But this flies in the face of chemistry: the reason the acidity is increasing is that the dissolved bicarbonate is increasing too –

Langdon agrees: `Matt is correct that bicarbonate concentrations are increasing’.

 and increasing the bicarbonate concentration increases the ease with which carbonate can be precipitated out with calcium by creatures that seek to do so.

Here there seems superficially to be a disagreement, but in reality there is none. Ridgwell, Langdon and Bijma say that carbonate levels fall rather than rise as a result of increasing dissolved carbon dioxide. But I don’t say that carbonate levels rise. I say that the biological precipitation of carbonate by organisms is easier at higher bicarbonate levels.

And Langdon confirms this: `Matt is correct that the skeleton and shell building of some species is unaffected or even increases under reduced pH’. My evidence? For example, Ries et al 2009 (Geology37:1131) found that in seven of the 18 species of calcifiers they observed `net calcification increased under the intermediateand/or highest levels of pCO2’. And that their results `suggestthat the impact of elevated atmospheric pCO2 on marine calcificationis more varied than previously thought, while Hendriks et al 2010 (Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 86:157) found that  the ion chemistry inside the bodies of calcifiers is more important than that outside them, and there is evidence that some of them – eg coccolithophores – actually find it energetically easier to deposit carbonate shells at slightly lower pH.

Even with tripled bicarbonate concentrations, corals show a continuing increase in both photosynthesis and calcification.

My source was the Herfort et al 2008 paper, which Ridgwell says is irrelevant, because of its experimental design. That’s his opinion, which others in the field do not share. In any case, my statement was a correct and precise description of the result.

This is confirmed by a rash of empirical studies showing that increased carbonic acid either has no effect or actually increases the growth of calcareous plankton, cuttlefish larvae and coccolithophores.

Hoegh-Guldberg disagrees: `Call it inconvenient but the vast bulk of scientific evidence shows that marine calcifiers such as coccolithophores, corals and oysters are being heavily impacted already by ocean acidification.’ He provides no reference.

By contrast, I cite Iglesias-Rodriguez et al 2008 (Science 320:336). They state: `From the mid-Mesozoic, coccolithophores have beenmajor calcium carbonate producers in the world's oceans, todayaccounting for about a third of the total marine CaCO3 production.Here, we present laboratory evidence that calcification andnet primary production in the coccolithophore species Emilianiahuxleyi are significantly increased by high CO2 partial pressures.Field evidence from the deep ocean is consistent with theselaboratory conclusions, indicating that over the past 220 yearsthere has been a 40% increase in average coccolith mass’.

As for oysters, Miller et al. 2009 (PLOS ONE 4: 10.1371) found that oyster larvae `appeared to grow, calcify and develop normally with no obvious morphological deformities, despite conditions of significant aragonite undersaturation,’ and that these findings `run counter to expectations that aragonite shelled larvae should be especially prone to dissolution at high pCO2’.

As for sea urchins, Lacoue-Labarthe et al. 2009 (Biogeosciences 6)  report that `decreasing pH resulted in higher egg weight at the end of development at both temperatures (p < 0.05), with maximal values at pH 7.85 (1.60 ± 0.21 g and 1.83 ± 0.12 g at 16°C and 19°C, respectively).’.

As for corals, Suwa et al. 2010 (Fisheries science 76) report that `larval survival rate did not differ significantly among pH treatments.’

Lest my critics still accuse me of cherry-picking studies, let me refer them also to the results of Hendriks et al. (2010, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 86:157). Far from being a cherry-picked study, this is a massive meta-analysis. The authors observed that `warnings that ocean acidification is a major threat to marine biodiversity are largely based on the analysis of predicted changes in ocean chemical fields’ rather than empirical data.

So they constructed a database of 372 studies in which the responses of 44 different marine species to ocean acidification induced by equilibrating seawater with CO2-enriched air had been actually measured. They found that only a minority of studies demonstrated `significant responses to acidification’ and there was no significant mean effect even in these studies. They concluded that the world's marine biota are `more resistant to ocean acidification than suggested by pessimistic predictions identifying ocean acidification as a major threat to marine biodiversity’ and that ocean acidification `may not be the widespread problem conjured into the 21st century…Biological processes can provide homeostasis against changes in pH in bulk waters of the range predicted during the 21st century.’

This important paper alone contradicts Hoegh-Gudlberg’s assertion that `the vast bulk of scientific evidence shows that calcifiers… are being heavily impacted already’.

In conclusion, I rest my case. My five critics have not only failed to contradict, but have explicitly confirmed the truth of every single one of my factual statements. We differ only in how we interpret the facts. It is hardly surprising that my opinion is not shared by five scientists whose research grants depend on funding agencies being persuaded that there will be a severe and rapid impact of carbon dioxide emissions on coral reefs in coming decades. I merely report accurately that the latest empirical and theoretical research suggests that the likely impact has been exaggerated.


Rahming Through a Lame Duck Climate Bill?

Ominous words are emanating again from the president on climate change and energy independence, this time as "a response" to the Gulf oil catastrophe. Somewhere between the war rhetoric and comparisons to the moon landing, President Obama last night (vaguely) told Congress to pass the energy legislation that’s been languishing there since last summer.

Add that to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s speculation on June 8 that the Senate can pass it “this year” and obvious election difficulties for conservative Democrats if they vote for it, and it would appear that we’re headed toward a lame duck session in Congress.

The leadership of the House of Representatives could very easily change hands in the next Congress, and it is likely that major changes—though probably not involving a switch in majority—are on the horizon in the Senate. So, if the Senate indeed does pass far-reaching climate legislation after the election but before the new Congress sits, a compromise House-Senate bill will likely be negotiated by the party that the people have just thrown out of power.

Whatever the Senate passes, and whatever the House agrees to do with it, the legislation will fail to effect any change on climate. The House’s radical Cap-and-Trade bill, rushed through last June 26 (before any one had read it) will have virtually no effect on global warming, even by the year 2100, even if every nation that agreed to emissions targets under the United Nations’ (also ineffectual) Kyoto Protocol did the same.

Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) current Senate proposal isn’t cap-and-trade. Instead, it’s a hodgepodge of subsidies for energy sources no one would normally buy, and an unrealistic fuel economy mandate for autos. It does even less for climate than the legislation the House passed last year.

There are other Senate bills out there, too, from John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which are pretty similar to the House bill; there is also a bill from Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) which mandates costly and inefficient “renewables” that can’t make it on their own economic merits, and various other bills that are variants upon either cap-and-trade or renewable mandates.

None are popular. No matter what people think about global warming, good or bad, indifferent, strong or weak, or nonexistent, they simply aren’t willing to pay thousands of dollars for fuel taxes, emissions permits, or energy subsidies.

The administration gets this. They knew that people didn’t want their health care program, either. They simply don’t care.

The serious question is whether the President and his chief of staff will indeed have the political muscle to push a climate bill through after the November elections. A smarter move for the White House might be to just punt and wait for the next Congress, which will be guaranteed to do nothing on climate change, pushing the issue into EPA’s regulatory lap. While letting the EPA control our energy economy through force of regulation is a really bad idea, it would be less suicidal for the next Senate class up for re-election in 2012.

I hope the White House does NOT take my advice.

Despite the pomp of an Oval Office address, nothing is really new here. The fact that the White House is now floating the notion of passing ineffectual, expensive, and unpopular climate change legislation through a lame duck Congress is merely consistent with its previous behavior.


Oil: The Real Green Fuel

A rolling "dead zone" off the Gulf of Mexico is killing sea life and destroying livelihoods. Recent estimates put the blob at nearly the size of New Jersey.

Alas, I'm not talking about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As terrible as that catastrophe is, such accidents have occurred in U.S. waters only about once every 40 years (and globally about once every 20 years). I'm talking about the dead zone largely caused by fertilizer runoff from American farms along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya river basins. Such pollutants cause huge algae plumes that result in oxygen starvation in the gulf's richest waters, near the delta.

Because the dead zone is an annual occurrence, there's no media feeding frenzy over it, even though the average annual size of these hypoxic zones has been about 6,600 square miles over the last five years, and they are driven by bipartisan federal agriculture, trade and energy policies.

Indeed, As Steven Hayward notes in the current Weekly Standard, if policymakers continue to pursue biofuels in response to the current anti-fossil-fuel craze, these dead zones will get a lot bigger every year. A 2008 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that adhering to corn-based ethanol targets will increase the size of the dead zone by as much as 34 percent.

Of course, that's just one of the headaches "independence" from oil and coal would bring. If we stop drilling offshore, we could lose up to $1 trillion in economic benefits, according to economist Peter Passell. And, absent the utopian dream of oil-free living, every barrel we don't produce at home, we buy overseas. That sends dollars to bad regimes (though more to Canada and Mexico). It may also increase the chances of disaster because tanker accidents are more common than rig accidents.

But wait a minute -- isn't that precisely why we're investing in "renewables," to free ourselves from this vicious petro-cycle? Don't the Billy Sundays of the Church of Green promise that they are the path to salvation?

This is infuriating and dangerous nonsense, as Matt Ridley demonstrates in his mesmerizing new book, "The Rational Optimist." Let's start with biofuels. Ethanol production steals precious land to produce inefficient fuel inefficiently (making food more scarce and expensive for the poor). If all of our transport fuel came from biofuel, we would need 30 percent more land than all of the existing food-growing farmland we have today.

In Brazil and Malaysia, biofuels are more economically viable (thanks in part to really cheap labor), but at the insane price of losing rainforest while failing to reduce the CO2 emissions that allegedly justify ethanol in the first place. According to Ridley, the Nature Conservancy's Joseph Fargione estimates rainforest clear-cutting for biofuels releases 17 to 420 times more CO2 than it offsets by displacing petroleum or coal.

As for wind and solar, even if such technologies were wildly more successful than they have been, so what? You could quintuple and then quintuple again the output of wind and solar and it wouldn't reduce our dependence on oil. Why? Because we use oil for transportation, not for electricity. We would offset coal, but again at an enormous price. If we tried to meet the average amount of energy typically used in America, we would need wind farms the size of Kazakhstan or solar panels the size of Spain.

If you remove the argument over climate change from the equation (as even European governments are starting to do), one thing becomes incandescently clear: Fossil fuels have been one of the great boons both to humanity and the environment, allowing forests to regrow (now that we don't use wood for heating fuel or grow fuel for horses anymore) and liberating billions from backbreaking toil. The great and permanent shortage is usable surface land and fresh water. The more land we use to produce energy, the less we have for vulnerable species, watersheds, agriculture, recreation, etc.

"If you like wilderness, as I do," Ridley writes, "the last thing you want is to go back to the medieval habit of using the landscape surrounding us to make power."

The calamity in the gulf is heartrending and tragic. A thorough review of government oversight and industry safety procedures is more than warranted. But as counterintuitive as it may be to say so, oil is a green fuel, while "green" fuels aren't. And this spill doesn't change that fact.


Spain's Solar Industry Faces Bankruptcy

Spain’s government will cut the revenue of most existing solar-power plants by 30 percent, a move that may bankrupt hundreds of companies that produce electricity using photovoltaic panels, a local trade group said.

The industry ministry, after negotiating with trade groups for weeks, plans to reduce the number of hours a day during which they may earn subsidized prices for clean energy, said Tomas Diaz, director of external relations at the Photovoltaic Industry Association in Madrid.

“It’s incomprehensible that the government is doing this,” Diaz said in a telephone interview after solar industry representatives met today with Deputy Industry Minister Pedro Marin. “We feel cheated.”

Solar executives, whose companies have invested more than 18 billion euros ($22 billion) in the last three years in Spain, have pressed the government for weeks to maintain prices guaranteed for 25 years under a 2007 law. The decision, which hasn’t been approved by the cabinet, would mean bankruptcy for most of Spain’s 600 photovoltaic operators, Diaz said.


Why Hybrids and Electric Cars are Currently Pointless Purchases

Have you ever noticed an ongoing trend occurring in the motoring world today? Right now car manufacturers around the world seem to be pretty worked up about trying to save planet Earth by producing electric cars and hybrids. Even sports cars like the Tesla Roadster have started to make themselves known and have found buyers. I suppose this is what happens when they get caught up in the hype caused by concepts like global warming, the supposedly shrinking supply of oil worldwide and people suddenly thinking that they are actually contributing to the facts stated before this. I personally have no interest in hybrids and electric powered vehicles and I would like to tell you why.

Let’s start with those pesky hybrids first. So you’re running a Toyota Prius, a Honda Civic Hybrid or that new Honda CRZ hybrid coupe that isn’t really fast in the first place. Why do you need to buy a car with two engines in the first place? While it is possible to get 50mpg out of a Prius it is also very possible to get the same mileage from a Honda Jazz VTEC, a Suzuki Swift 1.3-litre or a Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion 1.2. In fact you can get more mileage from those cars than you can get in the Prius. So why bother with the extra weight of the electric motor and heavy as heck batteries in the first place?

Car manufacturers aren’t thinking straight. They should just manage packaging of the cars and make them as efficient as possible instead of coming up with solutions that have actually the same impact and outcome as a properly and thoroughly engineered econo-mobile. Instead of the easy way out, they should be pumping their R&D fund into researching lean burn technology and other ways to make the internal combustion engine cleaner and more powerful. This isn’t something new but it is possible to make a 1.2-litre petrol engine make over 70 miles per gallon if they tried hard enough.

All this hybrid stuff does not really work as the petrol powered engine still has to kick in at speeds above 40km/h and who actually drives at 40km/h on the highway? It is pretty pointless as no one actually drives 40km/h anywhere except in a basement car park or when they are in a traffic crawl.

Okay. They may be in traffic jams most of the time and this is when the electric motor takes over. But when the traffic clears, its petrol power all the way, most of the time.

I also recently bumped into a Prius driven by someone who must have been heavy footed as he was flinging it into a corner and then gunning it out of the corner. How can you save the world with a hybrid if its driven like a pizza delivery boy trying to make the delivery on time? A re-education on how to drive is necessary to make high mileage in a hybrid. And actually driving like Mr Goodie Two Shoes isn’t too much fun (even though it’s right). You can get similar or better fuel efficiency in any BlueMotion Volkswagen. Ergo, the hybrid is a pointless piece of engineering.

Now most of you out there think that by running an electric vehicle like the sporty Tesla, you actually cut down of emissions, toxic gases and as a result you are saving the world. But this isn’t true as you are still using electricity to charge those heavy and bulky batteries that are used to power the electric motors in the electric cars. Now the power supply that you use comes mainly from power producing stations that generate electricity from diesel, gas and coal. Which is actually worse than any petrol or diesel powered new car sold on the market nowadays.

The thing is that the coal, gas or diesel power plants do not have any overly stringent pollution control systems like those you find in any modern car today. In a car you may have up to two catalytic convertors that clean up the air and in a large power plant I don’t suppose they have a ‘EURO V’ compliant system in place. So when you plug in your electric vehicle to the power grid, you add to the demand of power. If there are 1,000 electric vehicles in use that plug into the power grid at night, imagine a jump in power consumption. Such a jump will cause the electric company to ensure more power is being produced and this would increase the use of gas, coal and diesel at the power plants to ensure there is enough power supplied in the grid. This increases the amount of emissions released by power plants.

Now some of you may think that not all power plants are polluting. Of course if you 100% know that your electric car was powered by a hydro-electric dam or by wind generators or by solar power then you’re right, but I have to say that more than 80% of the power you get comes from the traditional gas, coal and diesel generators. For example, 40% of the pollutant emissions in the United States come from power generation. This is followed by transport emissions, of which airlines contribute even more than motoring. So if you plug in your car to the power grid, you just transfer the emissions to the power plants.

So the only thing you are helping is that you are centralizing all the emissions and pollutions to an area where the power is made. But the outcome is still the same. Imagine if last time your car made 5% of the pollution in your area and 95% is made by the power station in your area. Now with your electric car you don’t make the 5% worth of pollution as it is now transferred to the power plant. It still comes up to 100% although it is further away from you. This doesn’t solve the problem. It just transfers the problem elsewhere. Like sweeping stuff under the carpet.

Then you get to the batteries used by these hybrid and electric cars. Most are nickel-based and there are only a few locations worldwide that nickel is mined from. Most of the nickel comes from Canada, Russia, South America and China. As mentioned by that pretty famous motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson and a fact that is able to be confirmed by you readers out there if you do a search on the internet, is that the nickel is sourced from Russia or Canada, shipped to China, processed there and then sent to Japan to be packaged as batteries. In Japan, the batteries are then sent to the car manufacturing factory which may be another hundred or so miles away from the battery plant. The car is then shipped to car markets all around the world. So imagine the carbon footprint of these batteries even before they end up in your car that you bought in say, Austin, Texas.

Speaking of batteries, they are not cheap and do not last a lifetime. It has been said that these batteries (like the lithium ion battery pack) have an operating lifespan of around five years. If you intend to run your electric car for more than that you may have to change the batteries. Or if you’re unlucky it may last less than that. According to some it may cost $5,000 or more for a set of batteries.

Then you have to consider the cost of disposing the old batteries. Is it non-polluting? How are old batteries disposed off? Do you really know? If old batteries end up in India where it gets pulled apart by teenage boys trying to earn a Rupee is that environmentally friendly?

Even if the batteries last over five years will it hold a charge efficiently or do you need to charge more often? Is this an efficient thing to do? And if it does cost $5,000 to change a battery the cost is prohibitive to most people. Who would want to spend that much money on a 5 year old car especially if the market value of that car may be as much as the cost of the batteries? This would actually make owning an electric car even worse than owning a petrol powered car.

Now couple the facts above with the point that electric cars, while efficient in producing power with its linear power curve and instantaneous torque, have a ridiculously low range of travel. It truly is useless unless you are a person that works within five to twenty miles from your office. An electric vehicle has only a useful range of about 100miles or 160km. How little is this? Actually very little. In fact if you want to drive enthusiastically, and it is pedal to the metal most of the time your range actually drops dramatically. I know some of us commute more than 20 miles a day and having the range and speed limited to increase the range does not help at all.

Now you add the fact of refueling to the picture. One of the most tedious things in motoring is going to a petrol station, getting out and refueling your car. If you had a 20 mile commute, your full tank in a Honda Civic or even a gas guzzling Corvette ZR1 may last you a whole week but in a electric car you may need to charge every day or every two days depending on whether you drive like Mother Teresa or Michael Schumacher. It is going to be tedious to park at your garage, get out, pull out a cord from either the car or from the charging station, open up the car’s charging port, plug it in and wait for about six hours for the car to have a decent charge.



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



Anonymous said...

Hi there.
I was reading the "It's methane wot done it" article, in which you say there appears to be no peer reviewed paper.

I think I may have found it.

Thats the html version. there is also a pdf.
Neither are behind paywalls, so read and enjoy, it's quite informative.

Baa Humbug

JR said...


I have added an update about that