Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Three Climate Change Questions Answered

A claimed nearly unanimous scientific consensus on fear of climate change has caused a push to substantially reduce or even eliminate the use of fossil fuel in favor of solar and wind.  But three crucial questions are: 1) is the scientific community really united?, 2) can solar and wind take over any time soon to provide the required vital energy for the maintenance of modern civilization in today's world of 7 billion people?, and 3) has CO2 caused any harm yet?  The answer to all three questions is no.

A major theme of this essay is that many assertions can easily be checked out by a simple Google search.

One of the most persistent false impressions, which the mainstream media have ingrained in us, is that 97% of scientists agree that CO2 is indeed doing irreparable harm.  However, this figure was obtained not by a respected, impartial polling organization, but by believers for their own purposes.

Exactly what do the 97% agree on?  Had the question been "Do you believe that the Earth's climate is changing, and does mankind have an effect on the climate?," the response would not have been 97%, but 100%.  But had the question been "Is burning fossil fuel such a threat that there should be a major effort to stop?," who knows?  Probably less than 50%.  That question was never asked on a large-scale survey, done by a respected polling organization and documented in a place easily available to the public.

To get an idea of how divided the scientific community is, a petition was circulated, led by Friedrich Seitz, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, disputing the ill effects of CO2.  It garnered 32,000 signatures, over 9,000 by Ph.D. scientists.  To justify the 97%, there would have to be another opposing petition signed by a million scientists.

Still not convinced? Consider this excerpt from Steven Koonin, director of the Institute for Urban Studies at NYU, in the Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2017:

The public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.  At a recent national laboratory meeting, I observed more than 100 active government and university researchers challenge one another as they strove to separate human impacts from the climate's natural variability.  At issue were not nuances but fundamental aspects of our understanding, such as the apparent – and unexpected – slowing of global sea level rise over the past two decades.

Judging by Koonin's particular experience, the number would be around 50%.  So much for the 97%!

Despite the lack of consensus, there is a push by various organizations like the Sierra Club and, and Al Gore, to end the use of fossil fuel.  The Sierra Club website states, "We are ready for 100% clean energy," apparently wrongly believing that solar and wind can replace fossil fuel.  But in 1998, about 86% of world energy was from fossil fuel, 9%, nuclear, and solar and wind round off to the nearest integer down to 0%.  Google "graph % of world power from solar and wind."

In 2017, after 20 years and hundreds of billions spent to develop and promote solar and wind – around $150B in the USA alone (Google "GAO budget for climate change"; the numbers are 85%, 5%, and rounds off up to 1%).  Clearly, solar and wind will be unable to supplant fossil fuel any time soon.  But think of what an 85% decrease in energy would mean for your lifestyle: cars, air-conditioning, high-tech medicine, air travel, most electricity, many manufactured goods.  All gone, except for society's grand pooh-bahs.

The simple truth is that the world will not voluntarily end the use of fossil fuel until another energy source, most likely nuclear, becomes available at about the same quantity and price.  Rapidly developing countries such as China, India, Mexico, Indonesia, and Nigeria understand this ironclad relationship between prosperity and fossil fuel use, even if we in the richer parts of the world have forgotten it.  They will not stop using fossil fuel because the Sierra club lectures them to switch to solar and wind so as to save the planet.  In fact, before fossil fuel was widely used, civilization was a thin veneer on a human base of poverty and squalor, a veneer supplied by colonies, slavery, and the like.  Is this what we want?

Regarding harm CO2 may have done, there is a simple check.  (1) Whenever a believer says such and such is happening, check it out with a Google search.  For instance, say the claim is that sea levels are rising rapidly, as many definitively asserted when the Paris climate agreement was being negotiated.  Simply Google "graph of sea level rise."  A variety of graphs will pop up, all showing a persistent rise of between 20 and 30 cm per century, with no increase around 1950 as CO2 levels started to increase.

Say the claim is that ice in Antarctica is rapidly melting. Google "NASA Antarctica ice."  It will show that ice is rapidly melting in some regions – for instance, near the Antarctic Peninsula.  This provides dramatic pictures for the evening news.  However, over the entire huge continent, the most recent NASA measurements of total ice show that ice is not melting, but forming – about 80 billion tons per year.

With an internet search, anyone can check out such assertions of gloom and doom, anywhere, anytime; virtually none stands up to serious scrutiny (1).  In fact, it is amazing that the mainstream media have never performed these simple checks.  This author is convinced that such journalistic irresponsibility will ultimately harm the media's credibility for decades to come.

It is much more likely that CO2 has been beneficial.  It is not a pollutant, but an important nutrient for plants; without atmospheric CO2, life on Earth would not be possible (2).  In fact, recent NASA measurements show that over the past 40 or so years of satellite measurements, the earth has been "greening."  To see this, Google "NASA measurements of Earth's greening."

So should we be on a breakneck race to replace fossil fuel with solar and wind?  Considering that the scientific community is, in reality, divided; the harm to civilization would be catastrophic should solar and wind fail, as they have up to this point; and that up to now, there has been little if any harm to the environment from burning fossil fuel, this author's answer is no.


Energy Independence Day: A Story of Shale and Sand

People over 50 remember the OPEC oil embargoes and Americans waiting in line to buy gasoline. We were the most powerful nation the world. We had won World War II, rebuilt Europe and Japan. Yet, here we were begging some faceless Middle Eastern Sheiks for a few gallons so we could get to work. It was both frustrating and humiliating.

The answers we got from our political leadership were pathetic. Yes, they authorized farmers to start making ethanol and gave tax credits to the big refineries to get them to blend it. Congress created a Department of Energy to look for new sources of energy. They came up with some interesting ideas, but most of them were far too expensive. Americans were told to slow down, dial back on the thermostat and buy more sweaters. In short, the days of affordable energy were over and we would just have to get used to it.

Adding insult to injury, we were told that it was our fault.

Without much help from the Department of Energy, some enterprising entrepreneurs began to explore the possibilities of unlocking enormous amounts of oil and gas trapped in shale formations deep in the earth. To accomplish this they would combine new technologies. The first involved vertically drilling up to a mile deep to reach the layer of shale. They next figured out how to turn the drill bits to drill horizontally into the shale formation. No small feat. The second was perfecting a somewhat proven process called hydraulic fracturing. By pumping water down the well at very high pressure, they could create tiny cracks in the shale allowing the oil and gas to be tapped. A key was to include sand with the water to hold those tiny fissures open when the water was pumped out. Not just any sand. It had to be extremely hard to withstand the enormous pressures. It also had to be spherical, unlike beach sand which is cubicle.  Rounded sand prevents plugging up the plumbing. Fortunately, the United States has some very large shale formations and significant reserves of that special sand.

At first our OPEC puppet masters, ignored this shale and sand revolution. But, a few years ago they began to take notice of the dramatic improvements in fracking technology. They also noticed the steady increase in U.S. domestic energy production. At the rate we were going, in a few years we might not need to buy their oil. They began to try to undercut American frackers in an attempt to bankrupt them. They opened their spigots and drove down the world price of oil. They also underwrote anti-fracking public relations efforts. The combination slowed growth, rig counts dropped but our production continued to climb.

It was a war. OPEC believed they could hold their breath longer than American frackers. They were wrong. I suspect that they were shocked to learn that efficient frackers in North Dakota and West Texas could make money on oil at less than $50 a barrel. Many of the OPEC members needed more than that to keep their governments afloat. It was a war that they could not win.

So, after two years of waging war on American fracking, on September 29, 2016 (Energy Independence Day) the once powerful international oil cartel surrendered. Although they didn’t announce it that way, it was on that day that OPEC decided to begin reducing their production, ceding market share to frackers. Oil prices began to rise. Their ability to dictate to the United States would be forever diminished. We will soon be energy independent. Congress changed the law and we began to export oil and gas again to eager buyers like China.

The frackers won the energy war. But, in a larger sense the war was won with good old American ingenuity. It was won with simple, basic things. As basic as shale and sand.


Sound (and light) reasons to tilt at windmills

Two simple words were enough to put me firmly in the anti-turbine camp: shadow flicker. How innocent — even poetic — it sounds, until you bear witness. If you haven’t and are undecided, I urge you to go online and find a video. It’s not hard.

It’s not exactly a trade secret that a tall object planted between you and the sun is going to cast a shadow. To provide a sense of scale, Jim Feasel, in a recent letter to the editor, has memorably written of St. Joseph’s Church with the steeple as a fan blade. As I’m in the UK, I’d change that to Big Ben, though it’s bigger than that. So we’re talking major flicker.

If you haven’t gone online to see one of those videos yet, just start blinking your eyes as you’re reading this. Now keep blinking them, slowly and regularly, until it gets annoying. Doesn’t take long, does it?

Or wait until it’s dark, sit yourself comfortably down, and ask a less-than-loved-one to flip the light switch on and off all evening.

Or imagine you live in a fridge and someone keeps opening the door. This scenario hits particularly close to home, as growing up, it drove my dad crazy when I kept doing that to check if the food was still there.

I don’t think any of these illustrations quite capture the torture of what it must be like to have to put up with shadow flicker hour after hour, day after day. Curtains don’t help. Nothing helps, except fleeing to a windowless bunker. The only relief comes when the sun god Ra shifts the running shadow over your enemies, or you manage to sell your house to someone who remembers and loves disco.

There are also noise issues (search “wind turbine sound” on YouTube, or sit under a flight path near a busy airport for an approximation); safety issues, including the thrilling prospect of ice flung at great velocity; politicians-steamrolling-the-locals issues; a lot of birds and bats that are going to have an unhappy ending; and real questions about just how beneficial these things are going to be once you have a look at the numbers.

“Is it worth putting our neighbors in this position for $65?” asked the author of that letter I mentioned. “We should not do it for all the money in the world, much less $65. Shame on all of us if we do.”

Yes, the planet would appreciate more green energy. But such projects often seem more motivated by greenbacks in the right pockets than high ideals.

If I had any say in the matter I’d only put these less than benign giants in the back yards of anybody in a position to approve them or profit handsomely from them. Naturally, the biggest wind farm of all would be placed in a ring around Washington, D.C., so the rest of the country could bask in the bloviated megawatts thus generated.


A Different War of Attrition

Steve Hayward’s recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece provides an important reminder of the life cycle of advocacy driven environmental issues and the importance of persistent, fact-based resistance to counter campaigns based on ideology and visions of impending catastrophes.

Going back to the 1960s, we have witnessed an unending series of apocalyptic threats created by ideologues who have tried to use them promote increased political control by entitled elites. In all cases running from the population bomb to the limits of growth, to the war on pesticides, and climate change over the last 30 years, the problem has always been activities promoting economic growth and the solution has always been a reduction in personal freedom, serious constraints on market-based progress, and increased control from the center. Federalism and the Constitutional based limited government are treated as quaint ideals that have long outlived their relevance.

Steve Hayward takes us through the five stages that climate change has passed through to go from the “center of public concern …into a prolonged limbo.” He bases his narrative on a 1972 article by Anthony Downs, Up and Down With Ecology.

The stated objectives of climate advocates have been to eliminate fossil fuels from the globe’s energy budget, to bring atmospheric CO2 levels down to pre-industrial levels, to promote wind and solar as substitutes for fossil fuels and reduce the carbon foot print of all. All of these objectives are championed as necessary to save the planet. The real objective has been increased political control of the economy by self-ordained elites. We should not forget that in the early 2000s, French President Jacque Chirac called for a world government. And, Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, prior to the 2015 meeting in Paris bluntly stated “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the industrial revolution. “

While some ideologues may have entertained the notion that decarbonization objectives could be achieved in a matter of a few decades, no one who understood how the world works could seriously believe that. Instead, advocate leaders championed lofty and unattainable goals recognizing that incremental progress was the real objective. And since the time of Kyoto, they have promoted actions that incrementally would reduce the role of carbon in the global economy. But over time the costs of forced decarbonization have become more apparent and as they have counter pressures has increased. Germany, the leading advocate for alternative energy, is rolling back its Energiewende in the face of growing emissions and costs and the US is undoing much of the Obama initiatives. Other nations, as evidenced by the Paris Accord, have moved from supporting binding targets and timetables to accepting a voluntary agreement that will be honored in the breach while they pursue economic growth and higher standards of living..

There are two major reasons why the march to global government and rapid decarbonization have stalled. First, the public has never ranked climate change as one of its top priorities. Nor has there been any indication that the public at large is willing to sacrifice the benefits that come from continued economic progress. Second, while those opposed to draconian climate change actions are relatively small in number and underfunded, they have been well focused and persistent in pointing out the flaws in the climate orthodoxy and the folly of mandated decarbonization. Climate advocates have imposed significant cost from their actions and policies but those costs are far less than they could have been. And, as Steve Hayward insightfully observed, “Treating climate change as planet scale problem that could be solved by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers. Causes that live by politics, die by politics.”


Being ‘green’ is easy, ignore facts

If you thought the “green movement” was more about self-righteous politics than clear-headed science, here are two tales that prove the point.

In Arizona a petition is being circulated in an effort to get on the ballot an initiative called the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment. This would require 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state to come from renewable sources by 2030.

The petition states: “The Amendment defines renewable energy sources to include solar, wind, small-scale hydropower, and other sources that are replaced rapidly by a natural, ongoing process (excluding nuclear or fossil fuel). Distributed renewable energy sources, like rooftop solar, must comprise at least 10% of utilities’ annual retail sales of electricity by 2030.”

To get on the November ballot petitioners must gather nearly 226,000 signatures by July 5.

If the measure passes it would necessitate the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix, which currently provides about 35 percent of the state’s electricity, even though it produces no carbon emissions.

If the state were to achieve the goal of 50 percent of its power coming from mostly solar and wind, both of which are intermittent, there would be no room on the grid for Palo Verde’s power, because reactors can’t be quickly turned off and on — it takes weeks of preparation.

“We would have to shut Palo Verde down during the day every day,” one plant official was quoted as saying by Cronkite News. “But that’s not how nuclear plants really work. Nuclear plants can’t just be shut down and then started up again.”

The most likely source of rapid start-up generation would be natural gas, which produces carbon emissions, especially when frequently idling.

Adding wind and solar to the power grid could increase the carbon dioxide output.

Retired electrical engineer Kent Hawkins wrote in February 2010 that “the introduction of wind power into an electricity system increases the fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions beyond levels that would have occurred using efficient gas plants alone as the providers of electricity equivalent to the firmed wind.”

This is because every kilowatt-hour of intermittent electricity introduced into the grid must be backed up by a reliable fossil-fuel generator. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the demand for electricity remains.

Starting and stopping natural gas-fired generators is inefficient, comparable to operating a car in stop and go traffic instead of steady and efficient on the open highway. Just like the car, the fuel consumption can double, along with the carbon emissions, negating any presumed carbon savings by using solar or wind.

Opponents of the measure say it will drive up power bills in the state. Proponents argue long-term benefits of solar power and reducing nuclear waste offset any immediate cost spike.

Meanwhile, in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to build $6 billion worth of offshore wind turbines while shutting down the nuclear-powered, emission-free Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y.

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, explained in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that the wind turbines will produce only 60 percent as much power as the nuclear plant being closed.

How will this gap be covered? You guessed it, natural gas.

“The irony here is colossal. Mr. Cuomo, who banned hydraulic fracturing despite the economic boon it has created in neighboring Pennsylvania, and who has repeatedly blocked construction of pipelines, is making New York even more dependent on natural gas, which will increase its carbon emissions,” Bryce writes. “At the same time, he has mandated offshore wind projects that will force New Yorkers to pay more for their electricity, even though the state already has some of the nation’s highest electricity prices.”

This past week NV Energy announced plans to contract to build six new solar power projects at a cost of $2 billion and double the state’s renewable energy capacity, but only if voters reject the Energy Choice Initiative on the November ballot that would end the company’s monopoly in most of the state and allow competition. No mention was made of how this might impact power bills.

In all three states emissions would likely increase, as well as power bills.

Being green is a state of mind. Just never let the facts get in the way.




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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