Wednesday, June 20, 2018

On the Impossibility of the Ultimate Climate Catasrophe

This week’s good news is that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), by far the world’s biggest ice mass, was largely intact during the entire Pliocene epoch.  The Pliocene was slightly less than three million years in length, and preceded the Pleistocene, the epoch of the ice ages.

The implications for human-caused warming from enhanced carbon dioxide are enormous.  The good news was published in the same issue of Nature that carried an article about the loss of slightly less than three trillion metric tons of Antarctic ice since 1992.

These things are best viewed in a larger perspective.  By itself, that ice loss would raise sea level by about a third of an inch, something probably impossible to detect with land-based tidal gauges.  But it was also likely somewhat balanced by the probability of enhanced snowfall over the continent thanks to a (very) slightly warmed surrounding ocean. But the melting of the EAIS would be apocalyptic, itself raising sea level by 175 feet.

Even though this seemed like a very remote possibility, we can now confidently say that human-induced climate change cannot make it happen.

Here’s why.

Global temperatures during the Pliocene averaged around 2-3⁰C higher than the 20th century average.  But the massive thermal inertia of Antarctica means it probably wasn’t that much warmer there.  Let’s be very conservative and say it was about one degree warmer.

The Pliocene heat load over the EAIS then becomes:

3,000,000 years X 1⁰ = 3,000,000 degree-years.

Now let’s also be conservative about how long human-induced climate change might last, say, 1000 years.  But again, climate change is attenuated over the vast ice-covered continent, so let’s posit we induce a global warming of 5⁰ (which is probably too large), and Antarctica warms half as much.

The maximum heat load over Antarctica then is:

1,000 years X2.5⁰ = 2,500 degree-years.

The Pliocene heat load was 1,200 times what humans could possibly exert on the EAIS, and it still remained largely intact.  Because of that, fears about the ultimate climate catastrophe can no longer even be entertained.


AP Claims That Global Warming ‘Is Making Us Dumb’, Gets Debunked

University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke, Jr. called out a lengthy AP story claiming that global warming created “a different world” over the past 30 years — the time frame scientists typically use to account for natural climatic variations.

“We were warned,” is what the AP says about the supposed changes,”large and small,” that have happened in the last 30 years. The story is full of anecdotal evidence, official figures and alarming quotes from scientists.

“The statistics tracking climate change since 1988 are almost numbing,” the AP reported in its story.

Pielke points to the article’s illogical claim that climate “change has been so sweeping that it is easy to lose sight of effects large and small,” focusing on the AP’s citing of hurricane damage data to insinuate that storms were becoming more intense.

The AP’s article makes several claims that are misleading. The Daily Caller News Foundation has listed the three most misleading claims made in the AP’s article on “numbing” global warming statistics.

1. Hurricanes

The AP’s story notes that “[t]he 14 costliest hurricanes in American history, adjusted for inflation, have hit since 1988, reflecting both growing coastal development and a span that included the most intense Atlantic storms on record.”

Pielke, however, took issue with AP’s use of hurricane damage statistics to imply storms had become more intense in the last 30 years. Pielke noted that hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. have changed little over time, meaning increased damages come from inflation and economic growth.

2. Wildfires

The AP reports that “wildfires in the United States now consume more than twice the acreage they did 30 years ago.”

While this is true, the AP’s narrowing of its analysis to just the past 30 years leaves presents a misleading picture. Wildfires may be burning more acreage today than the 1980s, but that pales in comparison to the great fires of the early 20th Century.

The scale of U.S. wildfires has decreased dramatically since 1930, according to government estimates. That year, wildfires burned more than four times the amount of acreage burned in 2012.

In 1930, for example, wildfires consumed more than 50 million acres of land, but in 2012 wildfires only burnt up 9.2 million acres.

3. Record Heat

Again, the AP’s use of a 30-year timeline presents a skewed picture on heat records set across the U.S.

“[D]aily heat records have been broken more than 2.3 million times at weather stations across the nation, half a million times more than cold records were broken,” the AP reported, but a longer view of the century puts record heat in perspective.

“The Dust Bowl era of the 1930s remains the peak period for extreme heat,” reads the National Climate Assessment special report released in late 2017.

“In fact, all eastern regions experienced a net decrease, most notably the Midwest (about 2.2°F [1.2°C]) and the Southeast (roughly 1.5°F [0.8°C])” that are “mainly tied to the unprecedented summer heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl era,” according to the special report.


Streamlining Infrastructure Environmental Review


Many roads, bridges, sewers, pipelines, and other infrastructure need repair. New facilities should also be built where economic and social conditions warrant. Yet even where money is not an obstacle, the reviews that are required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) can be a significant source of delay. The average time to complete a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), for example, was 5.1 years in 2016. Only 16% of them were completed in two years or less.

Lengthy reviews introduce uncertainty, add to the costs, and threaten the viability of infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, existing facilities continue to deteriorate as proposed upgrades or replacements wind their way through federal and state regulatory bodies. The problem is long-standing, and Congress has taken a number of steps over the last several years to streamline the process.

This paper assesses their effectiveness and proposes some additional changes, including:

Updating rules and procedures at the agency level to exempt additional infrastructure projects from lengthy and complex review requirements.

Expanding eligibility and giving agencies more flexibility to make use of NEPA’s “categorical exclusion” provisions.

Assigning more environmental review duties to states. For more than a decade, a program called NEPA Assignment has allowed states to take the lead on shepherding certain highway and transit projects through environmental review. The states that have done so report reduced time required to complete environmental reviews. More states should be encouraged to participate. The federal government should expand the number of projects and actions that are eligible under existing authority, and Congress should expand the program to cover more kinds of infrastructure.

With the implementation of these recommendations, federal agency resources would be freed to deal with the complex projects that require more comprehensive review, reducing the time for projects that pass muster to begin.


Dumb Energy

Wind and solar electricity are renewable energy.  How nice to pluck energy out of the air and the sky.

It's a scam.  Big money men and screwball dreamers, otherwise called environmentalists, are behind the scam.

Apparently, it has not dawned on the believers in the scam that solar does not work at night, and wind works only when the wind is blowing.  The core characteristic of wind and solar is that they are erratic sources of electricity.  The supply is randomly intermittent.  Who in Hell thinks this dumb energy is a good way to supply electricity?

The wind and solar promoters, in order to accommodate their dumb energy, demand that the electric grid be re-engineered to become a "smart" grid.  Perhaps the idea is that if the grid is smart enough, the dumb energy will be canceled by the smart grid.  That's actually what the smart grid people have in mind.  The smart grid is supposed to be agile enough to fill in the gaps when the wind or solar is playing hooky.

The intellectual mind values an elegant theory over a messy reality.  The result is tension between ivory tower thinkers and practical men working in the trenches of the economy.  The practical men easily see the weaknesses in abstract theories, weaknesses that are invisible to the ivory tower thinkers.  But the practical men are not equipped to assert or defend their reality in political, media, or academic circles.  If they try, they are patronized and ignored.  A seductive theory trumps pedestrian and annoying facts in the intellectual mind.  For this reason, ridiculously impracticable renewable energy finds wide support in academic, environmental, and government circles – circles populated by thinkers accustomed to mobilizing the power of the state to promote impractical ideas with the taxpayers' money.  For these thinkers, evidence that contradicts their beliefs must be bad evidence.

In the supposedly hard-headed Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold writes that "global investment in wind and solar energy is outshining fossil fuels."  He claims that Alberta is getting subsidy-free wind electricity for $37 a megawatt-hour.  That's $28 U.S.  Since real subsidy-free wind electricity costs about $10 Canadian, something is wrong here.  What's wrong is that the media have lost their minds.  Five minutes with Google is enough to discover that Albertan electricity is indeed subsidized.  What we have here is a mania and a suspension of critical judgment.  No lie about renewable energy is too big to be believed, even by the Wall Street Journal.  There are 600 comments to the Journal article.  The commentators, evidently practical men, point out the errors and fallacies in the article.

In the U.S., it is hard to keep track of all the subsidies for renewable energy.  I'd be surprised if it is very different in Canada.  Some subsidies are blatant, like a $24-per-megawatt-hour payment from the federal treasury for the production of wind electricity, or a 30% tax credit for the construction of a solar energy farm.  Some subsidies are buried in accounting complexities like rapid depreciation that allows for complicated tax gimmicks that effectively take money from the federal treasury and give it to renewable energy investors.  Then there are renewable portfolio laws in 30 states setting goals for renewable energy.  The result is that wind and solar installations get long-term guaranteed markets at high prices for their electricity.  Grid operators are required to accept all wind and solar electricity offered unless they, more or less, declare an emergency.

Assuming a windy or a sunny place, wind or solar electricity costs around $70 a megawatt-hour to produce.  Even though no fuel is used, the capital cost spread over the electricity produced makes the renewable energy more expensive than using fossil fuel.  With natural gas, you can produce electricity for around $50 per megawatt-hour.  Those numbers are the cost at the plant fence – not a fair comparison.  It's not a fair comparison because when you build a wind or solar plant, you don't get to take away the natural gas plant.  It's still there to back up the wind or solar.  Wind or solar is an add-on to the grid, not a real part of the grid.  All the wind or solar does that is useful is to save some fuel at the backup plant, usually a natural gas plant, during moments when the wind or solar is actually generating electricity.  That fuel for a gas plant costs about $20 per megawatt-hour.  So wind or solar costs $70 per megawatt-hour in order to save $20's worth of fuel per megawatt-hour.  The net loss to the economy is $70 minus $20, or $50 for every megawatt-hour of wind or solar electricity produced.  That $50 has to come from someplace.  That loss to the economy is a subsidy.  Someone has to pay for it.  It comes from blatant subsidies, sneaky subsidies, and higher prices for electricity.

Some advocates of renewable energy claim that the extra cost is worth it, because wind and solar don't emit CO2, thus helping in the fight against global warming.  There are numerous holes in that argument.  The bulk of the CO2 emissions are from Asia, where they burn an ever increasing amount of carbon-rich coal to generate electricity.  U.S. CO2 emissions have been declining due to the substitution of natural gas for coal.  Spending fantastic sums to decrease U.S. emissions will have a very minor effect unless something is done about Asia.  The bigger picture is that there has been little global warming during the last 20 years in the face of rapidly increasing CO2 emissions.  The obvious conclusion is that the global warming scare is more propaganda than substance.  Of course, the scientific organizations with huge budgets based on the scary prospect of global warming can't let it go because they would lose the justification for their big budgets.  Did you ever hear of a scientific organization shrinking because the problem it was formed to solve does not, after all, exist?  If you really want to seriously reduce CO2 emissions, the solution is nuclear power.  The sincerest believers in global warming, like James Hansen and Stewart Brand, are advocating nuclear power.

Environmental groups, particularly the Sierra Club, run scare campaigns against fossil fuels.  Everything they don't like either causes cancer or does something bad to children.  They don't like coal; they don't like nuclear.  They even don't like hydro if a dam is involved.  The environmental outfits relentlessly spread scare propaganda.  They promote the basically useless wind and solar.  They pretend and perhaps actually believe that wind and solar represent some sort of energy salvation.  They are modern-day crackpots and snake oil salesmen.


Australia: renewables have beaten common sense

This may sound strange but the renewable energy industry — I prefer to call it the unreliable energy industry — is overjoyed by the public discussion about the need for new coal-fired electricity plants to be built here.

The rent-seekers — the owners of wind farms and solar installations — know there will be no investment in coal-fired electricity, certainly not in terms of new plants. Even investment in maintaining or extending the lives of existing coal-fired plants is rationed.

New coal-fired plants are unbankable, given the policy settings. They cost a lot, their economic lives are too long and the risks are too high.

The only scenario in which a new high-efficiency, low-emissions plant can be built — and plenty are overseas — is government ownership. Even then, the delay before commissioning would be three to five years. There are no circumstances under which the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull will agree to the government building, owning and operating a HELE plant.

As for Labor, it doesn’t even know what a HELE plant is; its intention is to head in the nonsensical direction of 50 per cent renewables (globally, wind and solar account for 8 per cent of electricity generation) and a higher emissions reduction target.

So why are the renewables players so excited about the ongoing discussion of investment in new coal-fired plants that will never happen? It diverts attention from the main game, which is the definition of reliability that will apply in the new policy framework, the national energy ­guarantee.

They also are seeking to have other features of the final design favour renewable energy, including the restrictions on the use of carbon offsets, both local and international, to meet the emissions reduction target. There is even a possibility that there will be no allowance for offsets in the final version.

While Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg feels pleased with himself that he has secured reasonably broad support for the national energy guarantee — there are a few exceptions — everyone knows that it will come down to the detail. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the latest iteration of the guarantee was released last Friday at 5pm.

Let me outline three key weaknesses in it. They are: the lack of a defensible definition of reliability; the way the emissions reduction target is put into effect; and the use of offsets. (I apologise for the technical nature of some of this discussion — it’s unavoidable.)

The most appropriate way of defining reliability — supply meeting demand when and where it is required — is to map out scenarios in which renewable energy sources plus other sources will not be able to meet the needs of the market and to identify the back-up arrangements that can be relied on. It can’t be an averaging process; extremes must be considered.

Note, for example, that extended wind droughts can occur; witness Germany and Britain recently. It also can be cloudy for extended periods. These back-up options include battery, pumped hydro, gas peaking or even diesel generators.

They may be uncommon events, but because Australia’s electricity grid is self-contained (we can’t import electricity from other countries, as is the case in Europe) we must plan for them.

One of the papers released last Friday simply states that “a reliable system is one with enough energy (generation and demand side participation) and network capacity to supply consumers — this implies that there should be enough energy to meet demand, with a buffer known as reserves”. A key carve-out is “demand side participation”.

The game that the renewable energy sector is playing is to define the scenario for which back-up is required on terms that suit it. Instead of meeting demand when and where it is required, its preferred alternative is to assume that demand is managed down (all big industrial users are expected to reduce their use of power as well as some households) before there is any need to provide back-up.

In this way, the renewable energy industry will be able to point to a motley collection of diesel generators and a few batteries (which provide power for a few hours at most), which will allow the retailers to meet the reliability requirement under the terms of the national energy guarantee. It’s a neat trick because it avoids the expensive exercise of providing or contracting for true back-up

This sort of demand management is Third World stuff and the clear danger is that these big users will just power down forever, particularly as they are also being told they have to provide back-up themselves. They have made it very clear that they cannot rely on renewable energy. So when contracts expire, they will simply shut up shop and relocate overseas.

When it comes to how the national energy guarantee will work, demand forecasts will be made out to 2030. The renewable energy industry will seek to have these forecasts low-balled because this will accelerate the exit of older baseload coal-fired plants as well as reduce the need for back-up.

These demand forecasts will then translate into an abatement number by 2030 (the reduction in tonnes of CO2) and from this an emissions intensity target will be calculated. It will be of the order of 0.4 per megawatt hour, which knocks out all coal, and gas will be used only as a peaker. The national energy guarantee is effectively an emissions intensity scheme.

An abatement trajectory will have to be set for the decade, but the minister already has ruled out back-ending the emissions reduction task even though it would be very sensible to wait to see what the rest of the world does. Note that last year global emissions rose by 1.6 per cent. There may be some scope for small overs and unders from year to year, but this doesn’t really address the problem.

Having made our commitment to the Paris climate agreement and fallen into the trap of not subtracting the emissions of energy-intensive exporters as other nations have — the target would be 21 per cent to 23 per cent, rather than 26 per cent to 28 per cent, if we had done this — the best way forward is to allow retailers to acquit their emissions reduction requirements by buying carbon offsets.

These can be local — Australian carbon credit units (think local carbon farming) — and international. Either way, it is a far cheaper way of making our contribution to emissions reduction than through the labyrinthine national energy guarantee. (We will have to stop calling it the National Electricity Market; it simply won’t meet any definition of a market given the heavy-handed regulation, excessive direction and high penalties.)

The bottom line is the renewable energy industry has won. And this includes the big three vertically integrated players since they are heavily invested in renewables but will be able to milk their baseload assets in the ­interim.

Prices may be plateauing at the moment, but they will continue their upward path soon. Liddell will close in 2022, but it is in such a shocking state of disrepair its output will be unreliable in the meantime. The grid is regularly close to breaking point now. Large-scale, energy-intensive plants will close across time, leaving an economy dominated by the service sector and government. We will have thrown away one of our greatest sources of comparative advantage: cheap, reliable electricity.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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