Friday, February 01, 2019

The whole ‘narrative involving the polar vortex is just another pseudoscientific scam’

By physicist Dr. Lubos Motl

The polar vortex is some distortion of the shape of the warm and cold regions and winds and their boundary that makes the Arctic "reach" to zones that expect to be warmer. It's great but you can't really get a polar vortex without some wind from the North – cold Arctic wind that actually brings the boundary and the whole chilly air mass to Chicago, and does so sufficiently quickly so that the air doesn't get heated up much during the journey.

If you think just for a little while, you will immediately conclude that such episodes of very cold weather have always taken place (you remember some of those decades ago, to say the least) – and when they were extreme enough, they were always caused by a polar vortex. The polar vortex doesn't depend on the human activity or the modern era at all. Half a century ago, journalists didn't write "polar vortex" during every cold spell but it was a polar vortex, too.

Because the poles are warming a bit faster, the temperature difference between the warmest zones and the Arctic has shrunk a bit in the recent century – perhaps by a degree Celsius which means by a few percent (from 40 °C to 39 °C, to invent some numbers – but the precise numbers depend on the exact question). This smaller difference implies that there's less clear "stratification" or separation of the different latitudes. So the polar vortex may be more frequent, indeed. But it's also less intense because, you know, the Arctic which sends this chilly air is less chilly than in the past – because this is basically the Earth's region where the global warming was fastest!

When you quantify such things, you will realize that the frequencies of well-defined cold spells and the temperatures of the worst ones may change at most by a few percent or a few tenths of a degree – the two opposite effects above largely cancel – so there is really no change that anyone could detect. On top of that, if you measure the variability by some uniform measure involving "integrated squares", it is rather clear that global warming has made this variability (and therefore extremes) a bit smaller, after all – because the temperature on Earth got a bit more uniform and the non-uniformities of the temperature on Earth is more or less the source of the temporal variability of temperatures at each place, too (because the temporal temperature variability at a fixed place is largely "feeling" the spatial variability elsewhere due to the changing direction of the wind).

This whole "narrative" involving the polar vortex is just another pseudoscientific scam, a subset of the general climate change and environmentalist scams. What's annoying is that the scientific terminology is being abused to promote some totally silly anti-scientific beliefs among the gullible laymen. And needless to say, "polar vortex" isn't the only scientific term that is being abused like that.

On one hand, you could say: It's nice that the journalists talk about the "polar vortex". The public may learn some atmospheric physics from the newspapers, isn't it great? On the other hand, the actual main purpose of this term, "polar vortex", is for the journalists to sound credible and convey a thesis about the climate that is absolutely idiotic. Cold spells like that didn't exist before 1776 or some year like that! They're caused by SUVs or coal power plants!

Sorry, the latter statement is a sign of the speaker's absolute scientific illiteracy – and it's way more harmful and stupid than the notion of "polar vortex" is useful and intelligent. At the end, rather normal people have always used the phrase "Arctic air" or terms involving "North" to describe the sudden arrival of very cold weather. They may use "polar vortex" now – which is somewhat more complete in its description of the shape of the masses of cold air (just to be sure, not "every" cold day is due to a "polar vortex").

But the increase of accuracy or knowledge from the "Arctic air" to the "polar vortex" is much smaller than the decrease of people's scientific literacy when they unlearn that the weather was always changing approximately equally – and instead start to believe that the weather was free of extremes a few century ago. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of science which is much worse than the ignorance of the term "polar vortex". "Polar vortex" is superficially being written in the newspapers to increase the readers' understanding of the air masses – but in practice, the main lesson that they're supposed to learn is the nonsensical thesis that "polar vortices" are man-made!

You know, the leftists used to agree with such things. They were mocking Christians for believing that the world wasn't there 6,000 years ago, that there was the Big Flood, Creation, and other wonderful Biblical events. Everyone should know about the longevity of the Earth. Cosmology, astrophysics, geology, archaeology, and genetics have all determined that the world around us – and even most of the important objects and processes – are billions or at least "many millions" years old.

To believe that something major didn't exist thousands or hundreds of years ago – mammals, trees, stars, mountains, seasons, days and nights, sexes, competition, races, rainbows, cold spells, earthquakes, anything like that – means to be a hopeless, scientifically illiterate imbecile. And this is what the deceitful media are trying to gradually make out of millions of readers and viewers – while they're pretending that they're making them smarter by occasionally using some scientific jargon.

Sorry, science isn't about the jargon. Science is about the content, especially the most essential insights. The fact that nothing fundamental has changed about Nature or weather in recent centuries is a cornerstone of the scientific world view and inkspillers and demagogues who are eroding this understanding of the world among the readers need to be punished.


As it got hotter in Spain, less people died. Thank air conditioning and electricity

Cheap energy might save more lives than expensive “climate-changey” energy?

Researchers looked at 47 major cities in Spain, from 1980 to 2015 and checked 554,491 deaths. Even though temperatures have risen, less people are dying of heat in Spain. Apparently human ingenuity, energy and air conditioners were more than able to keep up with climate change. The population is older but less vulnerable to heat now than it was forty years ago.

Air conditioners rose from 5% of the population to 35% during the study period.

Oh the dilemma — to save lives, should we build more windmills to try to change the global climate or aim to get 100% of households access to an air conditioner?

Welcome to the dire threat of climate change:

The relative risk of death fell as temperatures rose (According to the model used).

From the Discussion in the paper:

The temporal evolution of heat-related mortality risks here found is, in general, consistent with those reported by previous studies in some other countries [12–15], which provide evidence for a decrease in vulnerability to climate warming despite the ageing of societies. For example, in Spain, the proportion of people [...]


Fossil-Fuel-Burning Elon Musk Finds an Enemy in WaPo

But other climate crusaders are allowed to do business as usual without fear of Leftmedia vilification. 

If there’s one thing The Washington Post has no shortage of, it’s irony. This week, the global-warming-will-surely-kill-us outlet reported that “Tesla chief Elon Musk’s corporate jet flew more than 150,000 miles last year, or more than six times around the Earth, as he raced between the outposts of his futuristic empire during what he has called ‘the most difficult and painful year’ of his career.”

The Post says these excursions underscore “an awkward dynamic for one of the world’s most outspoken crusaders of renewable energy: In September, a few days after calling fossil fuels ‘the dumbest experiment in human history,’ his plane burned thousands of pounds of jet fuel flying 300 miles from L.A. to Oakland so Musk could view a competitive video-gaming event.”

This self-righteous behavior has precedent, of course. As the Post concedes, “Musk is far from the only corporate leader to depend on the speed, flexibility and privacy of flying across the world on a private plane, and his high-profile role as chief executive, visionary and hype man for multiple companies helps explain why he would rely on it so heavily to get around.”

Yet there is hardly as much finger-pointing and lamenting over hypocrisy when it comes to other climate crusaders like Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Bill Nye. These alarmists and many others regularly traverse the globe via airplanes for the sole purpose of vilifying the fuel that gets them places.

Just last week, MarketWatch reported, “Despite global warming being one of the major issues discussed at Davos every year, some 1,500 private jets are expected … at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, according to an estimate from Air Charter Service, up from 1,300 last year.”

Nobody in Davos has apparently heard of Skype.

Tesla’s mission is honorable. In fact, renewable energy is a worthy goal. But the agenda, rhetoric, and egregious hypocrisy surrounding the industry is repugnant. Musk undoubtedly deserves some criticism for his hypocritical behavior, but so too does the Post for its sanctimoniously looking the other way when it serves the Left’s broader agenda. In addition to Musk, the Davos story further demonstrates that elitists never actually practice what they preach. But coverage of leftist duplicity isn’t necessarily created equal.


Big new natural gas discovery in the North Sea

Good for Britain, which presently imports most of its gas from Russia and the Gulf

One of China’s biggest oil companies has rejuvenated the “lifeblood” of the North Sea after unveiling its biggest gas discovery in more than a decade.

China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or CNOOC, together with French oil major Total and Italy’s Edison revealed a 250 million barrel discovery in one of the oil basin’s most depleted areas.

CNOOC tried and failed to drill for gas at the Glengorm field twice in 2017 before striking the quarter billion barrel discovery some 20 years after it was first mapped out for exploration.

The Glengorm find, off the east coast of Aberdeen, is the largest North Sea gas discovery since 2008 when Total unveiled a major gas discovery at its Culzean gas field


Australia:Eucalyptus trees cope fine with extreme heatwaves, defy climate models, survive 50C temps

What happens to a poor tree when you withhold rain for a whole month, then hit it with four days in a row of 43C temperatures? It was so hot, some of the leaves on these trees got close to 49-50 °C.

In at least one gum species in Australia, the answer is “not much”. They suck up lots of water from their deep roots and sweat it out until the heatwave passes. The trees become evaporative coolers “siphoning up” water. They cope so well, that not only did the trees not die, but their trunk and height growth were unaffected. Indeed, only about 1% of the leaf area even exhibited browning.

But with global warming running at a heady 0.13C per decade, you might wonder how many years will it take for the trees to adapt?

From the paper — “one day”:

The gums rapidly increased their tolerance for extreme heat, the researchers found. Within a day the threshold temperature for leaf damage had increased by 2C.

Righto. At the current rate of warming, the world might get two degrees hotter in 150 years.  So these trees can adapt 55,000 times faster.

The researchers say the trees were not just likely, but remarkably good with heatwaves:

“We conclude that this tree species was remarkably capable of tolerating an extreme heatwave via mechanisms that have implications for future heatwave intensity and forest resilience in a warmer world.”

This research (yet again) fits the hypothesis that life on Earth is well adapted to a wildly variable climate, probably because it happened all the time.  The researchers even looked to see if exposing trees to hot weather first would help adapt them to extreme heat, but found it didn’t matter. The trees ability to adapt was innate. They just coped.

The models didn’t predict this

As the trees transpired more, they also stopped photosynthesising — they shut down in a survival mode. This breaks a pretty long standing biology rule, and thus breaks most plant growth models (and some climate ones too).  It’s pretty central to plant biology, leaves give up water to bring in CO2. As plants transpire more, they absorb more CO2 and turn it into carbohydrate (i.e. more plant) which is photosynthesis.  We now know that rule breaks under extreme heat when trees take a sauna-break, stop working, and just … sweat. I’d probably do the same if my leaves were 50C.

As usual in the news, no one mentions that the models were totally wrong on this, they just say, they found “the opposite” and it needs revising.

The Australian –

"Scientists have long known about this evaporative cooling mechanism, known as transpiration. But current climate models suggest transpiration is closely related to trees’ photosynthesis rates, and that it declines during heatwaves.

The researchers found the opposite, with photosynthesis all but stopping but water use increasing.

“Our dynamic global vegetation models, particularly those that simulate the exchange of CO2 and water vapour between land and the atmosphere, will need to be revisited in light of these findings,” Professor Tjoelker said."

Then there is The Caveat we’ve come to expect. Good climate news always has a bad news rider:

"He said it was a “good news-bad news story”, suggesting that scientists had underestimated gum trees’ resilience but over-estimated their carbon fixing capacity."

 Since the trees kept on growing after the heatwave, any loss of carbon fixation measured in days or hours, seems pretty minor in the planetary scheme of things.



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