Friday, April 01, 2022

Antarctic Sea Ice Minimum Is Nothing Unusual

It’s another climate calamity. Greenpeace has said this year’s decline in the extent of Antarctic sea ice was unprecedented since measurements began.

It goes to show that some climate watchers have no idea about natural variation, seeing every change as being due to creeping climate change.

Such is the case with reporting of recent data from the National Sea Ice Data Center, which shows that this year Antarctic sea ice reached the lowest extent in the satellite record (post-1979).

The previous record was set in March 2017, at 2.1 million square kilometers, but by 20 February this year, it was 1.98 million square kilometers.

The extent of Antarctic sea ice is very sensitive to atmospheric and oceanic conditions. It will grow when it’s cold enough and because there are no land barriers the ice is thin meaning it can be moved easily by winds, covering a large area.

This year the record low was partly due to strong winds pushing ice away from the Ross Sea. This is not due to global warming, it’s natural variability, or in other words, weather.

This year’s record low occurred in a similar way as the 2017 low. Both times there was an earlier than average maximum sea-ice extent, followed by a rapid decline.

Since 2017 the sea-ice extent stayed well below average for two years, returning to near-average in 2020.

You only have to take a quick look at the data to realize that Antarctic sea ice has a lot of year-to-year variabilities. See figure 1 from the journal Nature.

The highest Antarctic sea-ice minimums were reached in 2008 (3.69 million square kilometers) and 2013 (3.68 million square kilometers) but in 2015 and 2016 the minimum dropped considerably.

With this much variability, it is hardly surprising a record low has been attained this year.

Such interannual variability contradicts the predictions of some climate models that it should decrease in response to increased greenhouse-gas emissions.

Global warming could have a role in this new record, but it is far too early to tell. I expect that next year the extent of sea ice reverts back to average.


Chile’s Economic Destruction is a Preview of what’s in Store for Biden’s America

For some years now, we have followed the work of Douglas Pollock, a civil industrial engineer from the University of Chile, who shows what happened in his country when it followed the sort of climate and energy policies now being promoted by President Joe Biden. Pollock has written widely in his country, and spoken at conferences around the world to explain the devastating economic impact of Chile’s wrong-headed policies. His efforts to warn institutions about the unnecessary harm that fighting climate change is causing resulted in his views being banned in Chile and throughout Latin America. Thankfully, Americans can still hear his cautionary tale. “Please don’t follow Chile!” warns Pollock. “Chile is no longer the thriving country it was until the early nineties.”

In his presentation at the Dec 3, 2019, conference of the Arlington Heights, Illinois-based free-market think tank, The Heartland Institute, Pollock gave a Chilean history lesson that should send chills down the backs of anyone concerned about the long-term impacts of Biden’s climate change plans. Held in Madrid in conjunction with the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Heartland’s event gave Pollock the opportunity to demonstrate what happens when a country goes hog-wild on climate policy. He showed a slide that said, “Chile has become the world’s most important emerging country for its outstanding climate behavior,” and so he won the UN’s “Champion of the Earth” award in December 2017. Chile is “the cuddliest cuddly toy to the UN,” said Pollock. “What an honor!” he concluded sarcastically.

Pollock explained that things started to go awry in Chile when, between 2006 and 2010, ministries of energy, environment, and a superintendent of the environment were formed. Then sensible and cost-effective energy sources started to be curtailed, while wind and solar power were boosted. In particular, Pollock spoke about two major energy projects (see table below), a 540 MW coal station, canceled in 2010, and a 2,750 MW hydro project, canceled in 2016. After three years of bureaucracy, the coal project had already passed all environmental reviews but was canceled by then-President Sebastián Piñera. The hydroelectric project was by far the world’s most efficient. Yet, after seven years and $250 million in bureaucratic machinations and trials, it too was finally repealed by then-President Michelle Bachelet.

Pollock said, concerning the hydro project:

“If it had been built, since 2018, that single plant would represent today more than 45% of the national hydroelectric generation, and more than 55% of the entire generation would come from hydroelectricity, the cheapest, the cleanest, the most stable, and fortunately the most abundant [energy source in Chile].”

Instead, Bachelet announced the construction of two power plants—wind and solar—as indicated in the table below, boasting that they would supply 70% of the power for Santiago’s subway. Concerning the project, Pollock cited the president:

“She said, ‘[This is the only project like this] in the entire world.’ She was right because I don’t know of any other country on planet Earth having done such nonsense. Electricity costs for the subway rose 210% from $47.6 to $100 per MWh.”

Even worse, in 2021, the 210 MW Cerro Dominador combined concentrated solar power and the photovoltaic plant was commissioned, the electricity from which, Pollock forecasted, would cost 25 times as much as the canceled 2,750 MW hydro project. Overall, he explained, the new wind and solar projects were expected to produce electricity eleven times more expensive than the canceled conventional power plants.

With these sorts of decisions, it is not surprising that, as illustrated by the following graph from the International Energy Agency, Chile, in 2019, had one of the highest industrial electricity rates in the world, not a particularly attractive calling card for businesses.


Australia: Carbon farming under scrutiny

Carbon farming is when the government pays farmers to plant trees etc. It can include reverting cleared land to native bush and conversion of crop-land to grass cover

Energy Minister Angus Taylor says significant criticisms of the nation’s carbon credits scheme – a rort, according to former senior government advisory chairman Andrew Macintosh – are “completely unfounded” and a direct attack on farmers, traditional owners and public servants.

In a speech to the Carbon Market Institute on Friday, Mr Taylor will accuse the Australian Conservation Foundation of “backing away” from the claims made by Professor Macintosh.

Separately, a flagged veto on some native forest regeneration carbon projects will begin next Friday, the government will announce. Under those changes, the agriculture minister will be able to stop projects if they are deemed to have an adverse impact on agricultural production and regional communities.

These native forest regeneration projects, along with other methods, generate ACCUs after being registered with the Clean Energy Regulator.

But the ACCU scheme has come under considerable criticism including from Professor Macintosh, a law academic at the Australian National University who has chaired the government’s Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee – the body tasked with ensuring the integrity of carbon offset projects.

Professor Macintosh told the ABC’s 7.30 program last Thursday that the nation’s carbon market had “degenerated to become a rort”. “Payments are being made to people to not chop down forests that were never going to be chopped down, to grow forests that are already there, to grow forests in places that will never sustain permanent forests,” he said.

But Mr Taylor will say many of those allegations – now being investigated by the ERAC and the regulator – had already been considered and “were not supported by evidence”.

“Many of (the market’s) participants are feeling aggrieved by accusations which do not appear to be substantiated by the academic papers,” he will say.


The unsustainable secret of almost half of Australia’s ‘sustainable’ funds

Is it ethical to invest in fossil fuels? Turns out almost half of Australia’s sustainable fund managers think so. Morningstar analysed the assets of 155 sustainable funds and found 74 of them had fossil fuel investments.

The bulk of these (65) had what Morningstar considers low exposure, meaning 7 per cent or less of their assets is invested in oil, gas or thermal coal.

But some had much more.

The worst offenders were Patrizia Low Carbon Core Infrastructure Fund with 47 per cent, followed by JP Morgan Global Macro Sustainable (20 per cent) and Maple Brown Asset Management Responsible Investment (18.70 per cent).

The data exposes the often ugly complexities of the responsible investment movement.

Unlike Europe, there is no ‘green taxonomy’ in Australia, meaning there is no accepted list of sectors that responsible investors are permitted to include in sustainably branded funds. This has allowed the ‘ethical’ tag to be slapped across some of the most environmentally degrading tactics, such as drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

None of the worst offenders fully disclosed their portfolio holdings. This means clients have limited ability to see exactly where their money is going. Most product disclosure statements have vague commitments to “take into account” environment, social and governance (ESG) factors or tout their membership of responsible investment bodies.

There are three possible explanations for why investment managers would stack ‘sustainable’ funds with uniquely unsustainable energy sources.

At this rate, it seems almost anything can be called sustainable. And that’s simply not sustainable.

The first two are rooted in the idea that investing in fossil fuels is, in fact, a sustainable practice. While this may sound counter-intuitive, it’s worth considering.

Exploring, extracting and exporting fossil fuels is a capital-intensive business. The divestment movement has worked to push up the cost of capital, making it harder for these companies to access both debt and equity to finance new projects. The Russia-Ukraine war and the resulting new focus on energy supply constraints and dependency on producers such as Russia might change this.

But ‘engagement’ via investor activism has increasingly become the strategy du jour, with the aim to use the power of the dollar to agitate for change. This has seen fossil fuel companies pen ‘climate plans’, setting out the blueprint for how they will survive in a green energy future.

The question is – can you really engage a pure-play fossil fuel producer into changing its stripes?




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