Sunday, December 08, 2013


Agnotology  is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data  -- and the Warmists are very shrill in saying that skeptics do that  -- e.g. here -- so I thought it is time I mentioned it.

There is an excellent and thorough rebuttal of the Warmist claims here, focusing on the Warmist claims just mentioned.  The paper is behind a paywall but is a great read if you do have access to the whole thing.  I reproduce below the abstract and a paragraph I particularly like.  The old 97% consensus claim has been thoroughly debunked many times but it is worth noting that the claim is unscientific in the first place

Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change

By David R. Legates, Willie Soon, William M. Briggs & Christopher Monckton of Brenchley


Agnotology is the study of how ignorance arises via circulation of misinformation calculated to mislead. Legates et al. (Sci Educ 22:2007–2017, 2013) had questioned the applicability of agnotology to politically-charged debates. In their reply, Bedford and Cook (Sci Educ 22:2019–2030, 2013), seeking to apply agnotology to climate science, asserted that fossil-fuel interests had promoted doubt about a climate consensus. Their definition of climate ‘misinformation’ was contingent upon the post-modernist assumptions that scientific truth is discernible by measuring a consensus among experts, and that a near unanimous consensus exists. However, inspection of a claim by Cook et al. (Environ Res Lett 8:024024, 2013) of 97.1 % consensus, heavily relied upon by Bedford and Cook, shows just 0.3 % endorsement of the standard definition of consensus: that most warming since 1950 is anthropogenic. Agnotology, then, is a two-edged sword since either side in a debate may claim that general ignorance arises from misinformation allegedly circulated by the other. Significant questions about anthropogenic influences on climate remain. Therefore, Legates et al. appropriately asserted that partisan presentations of controversies stifle debate and have no place in education.

And a paragraph:

As Legates et al. (2013) had argued, the philosophy of science allows no role for head-count statistics. Aristotle’s Sophistical Refutations, (circa 350 B.C.), codified the argument from consensus, later labeled by the medieval schoolmen as the argumentum ad populum or head-count fallacy, as one of the dozen commonest logical fallacies in human discourse. Al-Haytham, the eleventh-century philosopher of science who is credited as the father of the scientific method, wrote that ‘‘the seeker after truth’’ (i.e., the scientist) places no faith in mere consensus, however venerable. The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1866) wrote ‘‘The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such…For him, skepticism is the highest of duties, blind faith the one unpardonable sin.’’

Global sea ice extent at highest level since 1994

The southern hemisphere sea ice areal extent continues its recent impressive run at daily record high levels when compared to all prior years in the satellite record-keeping era which began in 1979. This stretch of daily record high sea ice areal extent in the southern hemisphere has actually been occurring for the past several weeks. In fact, the southern hemisphere sea ice areal extent has had quite an amazing run during the past few years from below normal levels to the current well above normal values (above map courtesy University of Illinois "cryosphere"). On a global basis, sea ice areal extent is currently above normal and, in fact, has now reached levels not seen since around 1994 - thanks in large part to the happenings in the southern hemisphere.


The author adds that changes at the North pole are mixed but fails to confront the fact that the ice at both poles should be shrinking according to global warming theory.

Climate Change Moving Down Americans’ Foreign Policy Priority List

The number of Americans who think “dealing with global climate change” should be a top U.S. foreign policy goal continues to fall in a poll that has tracked the issue since the 1990s, and five years under an administration more inclined to make it an issue does not appear to have stemmed the slide.

The latest Pew Research Center poll surveying Americans’ foreign policy goals also found a significant partisan difference when it comes to the importance of prioritizing climate change.

Out of 11 foreign policy goals featured in the poll released Wednesday, climate change ranks fourth from the bottom, with 37 percent of respondents saying it should be a top priority. That has dropped slowly but steadily from 50 percent in 1997, to 44 in 2001, 43 in 2005 and 40 in 2009.

Of the other goals, “protecting U.S. from terrorist attacks” and “protecting U.S. jobs” get the most support, at 83 and 81 percent respectively, while “promoting democracy in other nations” gets the least, at 18 percent.

Unlike the climate change goal’s downward movement, most of the others have risen and fallen in importance at various times over the years of polling, although “reducing dependence on imported energy” has dropped since 2005 (from 67 to 61 percent) and “promoting democracy in other nations,” after climbing from 1997 to 2001 (from 22 to 29 percent), has dropped steadily ever since.

The other goals featured are “preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction” (73 percent in 2013) “combating international drug trafficking” (57 percent), “reducing illegal immigration” (48 percent), “strengthening the United Nations” (37 percent), “promoting and defending human rights in other countries” (33 percent) and “helping improve living standards in developing nations” (23 percent).

Pew also tracked the differences between Republicans’ and Democrats’ views on the 11 foreign policy goals, and found that the widest gap – a difference of 41 points – applies to climate change: Fifty-seven percent of Democrats, and only 16 percent of Republicans, believe it should be a U.S. foreign policy priority.

The next biggest partisan gaps relate to strengthening the U.N. (50 percent Democrats vs. 25 percent Republicans) and illegal immigration (62 percent Republicans vs. 38 percent Democrats).

An earlier Pew poll found that Republicans associated with the tea party account for most of the skepticism about global warming: Just 25 percent of tea party Republicans agreed there was “solid evidence the earth is warming” compared to 61 percent of non-tea party Republicans. Eighty-four percent of Democrats shared that belief.

But even among the non-tea party Republican respondents in that survey, only 32 percent said human activity was to blame, while 24 percent attributed warming to “natural patterns.”

Overall, fewer than half of the respondents of all political persuasions (44 percent) believed human activity is to blame.

The continuing downward trend in prioritizing climate change in foreign policy comes despite the fact that President Obama has, in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry, placed the issue “back on the front burner where it belongs.”

Attributing climate change to human activity is a view strongly held by senior administration officials. Kerry himself, who as a senator was an outspoken advocate, has prioritized the issue of human-induced global warming as America’s top diplomat. He recently declared himself “amazed” that some Americans do not recognize the urgency of climate change “for life itself on the planet as we know it.”

His predecessor at the State Department, Hillary Clinton, said in May 2011, “there is no doubt, except among those who are into denying the facts before their eyes, that climate change is occurring, and it is contributed to by human actions at every level.”

In its most recent report, released last September, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that global warming is “unequivocal” and that it is “extremely likely” that human activity has been the main cause.

That was stronger language than appeared in the IPCC’s previous report, in 2007, which asserted that global warming was “very likely” man-made.

A year ago, a peer-reviewed journal published the results of a survey of more than 1,000 professional engineers’ and geoscientists’ views on climate change, and found that only 36 percent fitted into a group that “express[ed] the strong belief that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.”

“They are the only group to see the scientific debate as mostly settled and the IPCC modeling to be accurate,” the survey found.

The rest of the respondents, with slight variations, expressed varying degrees of skepticism about the causes of climate change, the extent of risk it poses, and the accuracy of IPCC modeling.


Fail: US Has Wasted $154 Billion on 'Renewable Energy'

On Thursday, the Associated Press reports, “President Barack Obama is ordering the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020.”

In October, the Department of Energy announced $60 million in subsidies for solar energy research and development programs as part of the SunShot Initiative. The primary goals of the program are to reduce the cost of photovoltaic solar energy systems by 75 percent and to double the generation of clean energy in the U.S. over the next 25 years—goals that are probably unachievable.

These announcements come on the heels of the recent bankruptcy of the government-subsidized electric vehicle technology company ECOtality, which received $115 million in federal stimulus grants. Of course, that followed the multimillion dollar failures of solar energy companies Solyndra ($529 million) and Abound Solar ($70 million). With last week’s bankruptcy filing by government-backed hybrid car manufacturer Fisker Automotive, a failure which will cost taxpayers $139 million, the question must be asked: Why is the federal government funneling good taxpayer money to bad companies and failing technologies?

The answer may be that cronyism and influence often decide where these loans and subsidies go. In a new study published this week by Reason Foundation, we examined the loan guarantees made by the Department of Energy (DOE) under its “Section 1705” program from 2009 to 2011, which were part of the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We looked at lobbying expenditures by recipient companies and correlated them with the size of loan guarantees received. We found a correlation suggesting that the DOE made choices on the basis of the information that was most cognitively available – information provided by lobbyists – rather than on the basis of the viability of the technology and the soundness of the company applying for the subsidies.

In some cases we found evidence of even more direct forms of cronyism. For instance, during his tenure as governor of Maine, now U.S. Senator Angus King signed into law a bill requiring utilities to generate at least 30 percent of their electricity from “green” sources such as wind. After leaving the governor’s office, he founded a wind-energy company, Independence Wind, whose first project, Record Hill Wind, received a $102 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy — and King received a $407,000 “success” fee. The loan guarantee almost looks like a pat on the back from the DOE for King’s efforts in promoting their agenda while he was governor of Maine.

The worst part is that these crony subsidies and loan guarantees aren’t even going to particularly sound companies or innovative forms of technology. Twenty-two out of the 26 projects funded through the Section 1705 program were rated “junk” level investments. Yet, they were given millions in taxpayer dollars. To date, only four of the projects have been completed and three of the companies receiving Section 1705 loan guarantees have already gone bankrupt. Several other recipients, including SoloPower and the Spanish company Abengoa Solar, are in the process of laying off workers, selling off equipment, and are not paying contractors for services provided.

The DOE’s lack of skin in the game means that they have less incentive to ensure that the money they spend is wisely invested in the best technologies, and in the best companies. It’s much easier to lobby or hoodwink the government into investing in a bad company because unlike a venture capital firm, the money they’re playing with isn’t their own— it’s yours.

Since 1973, U.S. government agencies have spent $154.7 billion on “renewable energy” with very little to show for it. Proponents of solar technology claim that their favored technology is on the verge of being competitive with traditional forms of energy, but they have made the same claim since at least the mid-1990s. Billions of dollars in subsidies later, solar still only comprises at most 0.2 percent of U.S. electricity production according to the Energy Information Administration.

“Green” energy subsidies benefit the politically connected while harming future generations as hundreds of millions of dollars are added to the country’s debt burden with each green failure. It’s time to end all subsidies—for all energy companies, not just green ones—and let the best technologies win.


The Energy Department's Solar Cronyism

The Department of Energy recently announced another $60 million in subsidies for solar energy. Yet the billions of dollars the government has already spent subsidizing solar and other forms of "renewable" energy have done little but line the pockets of cronies. Worse, these subsidies have likely reduced investment in truly innovative energy technologies. Instead of throwing good money after bad -- and thereby increasing further the debts that will fall on our children -- the federal government should terminate this line item of discretionary spending.

The new subsidies are part of the department's SunShot Initiative, the primary stated goals of which are to reduce the cost of photovoltaic solar-energy systems by about 75percent -- to $1 per watt -- by 2020 and to help reach President Obama's goal of doubling the generation of clean energy in the U.S. over the next 25 years. Even renewable-energy advocates admit that these goals are probably unachievable. Worse, solar subsidies divert energy investments away from more productive uses that would more effectively reduce emissions.

Over the course of the past decade, the United States has shifted dramatically to the use of lower-carbon fuels, but almost none of that shift has come from solar. According to the Energy Information Administration, solar currently contributes at most 0.2 percent of U.S. electricity production -- an amount that makes even geothermal (at 0.4 percent) look significant. While a small part of the shift toward low-carbon generation has come from so-called "renewable" energy (specifically, windmills, which now generate about 3 percent of electricity -- up from 0.3 percent in 2003), the vast majority has come from natural gas, which went from about 17 percent of electricity production in 2003 to 30 percent in 2012. And the switch to gas was driven by the widespread adoption of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting gas from shale deposits.

Solar's market share is low because solar power is very expensive compared to the alternatives for most applications under most circumstances. Solar power is great if you happen to be trekking in remote parts of the world that lack distributed electricity. It is not so great if you want to heat your home at night during the winter. Solar propagandists claim that their favored technology is within spitting distance of competitiveness. But they have made the same claim since at least the mid-1990s. And for decades the government has been providing subsidies -- with no end in sight.

In a paper published this week by the Reason Foundation, we examined one such subsidy, the loan guarantees made by the Department of Energy under its "Section 1705" program from 2009 to 2011, which were part of the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If the DOE wanted to increase the amount of power produced from low-carbon sources, it would make sense to fund the low-carbon sources that are most cost effective and therefore most likely to be self-sustaining once the subsidies end. But we found that was not the case.

Out of the 26 projects funded under the 1705 program, only four have been completed, and the company behind one of those projects, Beacon Power, actually went bankrupt shortly after the project was finished. Two recipients, Abound Solar and Solyndra, went into bankruptcy before their projects were even completed, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab of close to a billion dollars with nothing to show for it. Meanwhile, several other recipients, including SoloPower and the Spanish company Abengoa Solar, are in the process of laying off workers and selling off equipment, and are not paying contractors for services provided.

In all, while the DOE was not required to put any money into solar projects specifically, it chose to give such projects 83 percent of the funds it allocated under this program, amounting to guarantees for $13 billion. So what drove the choice of recipients? We looked at expenditures on lobbying by recipient companies and correlated them with the size of loan guarantees received. Excluding companies whose main business is not renewable energy generation, because their lobbying expenditures (sometimes massive) would likely be more geared towards influencing their primary mode of business and not necessarily obtaining green-energy loans, we found a correlation of nearly 0.5, suggesting that DOE loan officers made choices on the basis of the information that was most cognitively available -- because it had been fed to them by lobbyists -- rather than on the basis of a more rational analysis.

But in some cases, we found evidence of more sinister and direct cronyism. For instance, during his tenure as governor of Maine, Angus King signed into law a bill requiring utilities to generate at least 30 percent of their electricity from "green" sources such as wind. After leaving office, he founded a wind-energy company, Independence Wind, whose first project, Record Hill Wind, received a $102 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, in relation to which King received a $407,000 "success" fee.

Even if cronyism were absent, the fact that government agencies are not spending their own money would mean that they have less incentive to ensure that the money they spend -- our money -- is wisely invested. By contrast, angel investors and venture capitalists who spend their own funds have strong incentives to invest wisely. So it hardly surprising that the $154.7 billion that has been spent on "renewable energy" by U.S. government agencies since 1973 has achieved very little.

The recent partial shutdown of the federal government reminds us that we are currently living beyond our means. Every dollar issued in loan guarantees and other subsidies to renewable-energy companies comes from debt issued on our behalf. On present projections, our children and even our children's children will still be paying off the federal debt. Is it morally acceptable to force our children to pay off debt that primarily benefits a few of today's already-wealthy investors, while doing nothing to improve their lot? Our children would, we think, thank us if the federal government stopped subsidizing energy and furloughed the loan officers at the DOE permanently.


Electricity Blackouts Could Result from Green Energy Grid Woes

I am a technological optimist. Given enough time and the proper institutions, e.g., property rights, free markets, human beings can innovate around just about any problem, and create more wealth to boot. But do those conditions exist for the massive rollout of solar and wind energy that some policymakers and activists are demanding be done in response to their concerns about climate change?

An article, "Power Struggle: Green Energy versus a grid that's not ready," in today's Los Angeles Times looks into the problem of integrating the highly variable sources of renewable power into the electrical grid. As one power engineer asserted to me years ago, electricity is the only product that must be delivered to millions of customers as soon as it's produced and in the exact amounts that they want. As the Times reports:

Nobody can say for certain when the wind will blow or the sun will shine. A field of solar panels might be cranking out huge amounts of energy one minute and a tiny amount the next if a thick cloud arrives. In many cases, renewable sources exist where transmission lines don't.

"The grid is not built for renewable," said Trieu Mai, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The frailty imperils lofty goals for greenhouse gas reductions. Concerned state and federal officials are spending billions of dollars in ratepayer and taxpayer money in an effort to hasten technological breakthroughs needed for the grid to keep up with the demands of clean energy.

How much money? The article cites a study suggesting as much as $1 trillion must be spent by 2030 to enable the grid to manage fickle renewable energy supplies. One paradox is that renewables can overload the grid forcing operators to dump power. As the Times reports:

Officials at the California Independent System Operator, which manages the grid in California, say renewable energy producers are making the juggling act increasingly complex.

"We're getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power," said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a system operator board member.

If federal and state governments insist on subsidizing low-carbon electrical power generation (and I am against all such subsidies), why not subsidize power sources that provide stable, rather than whimsical, supplies? Like, say, nuclear power? Perhaps small modular reactors or traveling wave reactors.

As I have explained elsewhere, I am attracted to the development of liquid fluoride thorium reactors because I think them "technically sweet":

One innovative approach to using nuclear energy to produce electricity safely is to develop thorium reactors. Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive element, which, unlike certain isotopes of uranium, cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction. However, thorium can be doped with enough uranium or plutonium to sustain such a reaction. Liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTR) have a lot to recommend them with regard to safety. Fueled by a molten mixture of thorium and uranium dissolved in fluoride salts of lithium and beryllium at atmospheric pressure, LFTRs cannot melt down (strictly speaking the fuel is already melted).

Because LFTRs operate at atmospheric pressure, they are less likely than conventional pressurized reactors to spew radioactive elements if an accident occurs. In addition, an increase in operating temperature slows down the nuclear chain reaction, inherently stabilizing the reactor. And LFTRs are designed with a salt plug at the bottom that melts if reactor temperatures somehow do rise too high, draining reactor fluid into a containment vessel where it essentially freezes.

It is estimated that 83 percent of LFTR waste products are safe within 10 years, while the remainder needs to be stored for 300 years. Another advantage is that LFTRs can use plutonium and nuclear waste as fuel, transmuting them into much less radioactive and harmful elements, thus eliminating the need for waste storage lasting up to 10,000 years.

Finally, with regard to subsidies, in my fourth dispatch from the Warsaw climate change conference, I argued that cutting hundreds of billions in subsidies for fossil fuels and agriculture would help protect the climate from whatever damage increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases might cause.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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