Thursday, September 08, 2022

Is Extreme Weather Causing the World’s Rivers to Dry Up?


A recent CNN article entitled “The World’s Rivers are Drying Up from Extreme Weather. See How 6 Look from Space” purports to argue that rivers such as the Colorado, Yangtze, Rhine, Po, Loire, and Danube are dwindling due to “a painful lack of rain and relentless heat waves.” The article concludes that “the human-caused climate crisis is fueling extreme weather across the globe,” which is responsible for making these rivers shrink in both length and breadth and, potentially, become virtually impassable.

While it is true that these rivers are indeed in low-flow conditions, it has long been argued that floods, droughts, and streamflow are driven by several factors in addition to precipitation. Yes, a lack of precipitation over an extended period of time will likely cause low flows in the area’s rivers. But it is not necessarily true that the existence of low flows indicates that a lack of precipitation was the culprit. Humans need water not just to survive, but to carry out a variety of water-intensive industries including paint and coating manufacturing, paper mills, wineries, and pesticide and other agricultural chemical manufacturing, for example. Agriculture too has a high demand for water, and the simple increase in population may tax existing water supplies.

So, it is unrealistic to simply assume that low flows in the six rivers upon which the CNN article focuses are caused by a lack of rainfall and the “relentless heat waves” that have supposedly swept the planet. In fact, the usual mantra from the climate alarmists is that rainfall will increase, not decrease. The rationale for this is that warmer conditions will lead to more evaporation (remember that more moisture can be held in saturated air at warmer temperatures than at colder temperatures), which, in turn, lead will to more rainfall, since “what goes up, must come down.” But, contrary to the actual physics, we are told that the climate becomes more “variable” under climate change in what has been referred to as “climate weirding.” This helps climate alarmists to argue that both floods and droughts will increase, as well as that both more snowfall and less snowfall is indicative of climate change.

To determine whether CNN is correct in suggesting that rivers are drying up due to “the human-caused climate crisis,” let’s take a closer look at some of these rivers.

Let’s start close to home. The Colorado River is cited as the first example, and, although CNN attributes its drying to the “historic drought in the US West,” they do not suggest that this drought is human induced. They do mention, however, that “around 40 million people in seven states and Mexico rely on the river’s water for drinking, agriculture and electricity.” But an evaluation of the current conditions from the USGS National Water Dashboard indicates, as shown below, that many stream gauge stations in western Colorado and Utah are near normal, and in New Mexico and Arizona, they are above and much above normal.

The black and dark blue dots indicate streamflow that is either at or near a record high, and the current forecast is for more rainfall. In fact, the 20th Century was the wettest century of the past millennium. Lake Mead (highlighted by the CNN article) is drying up, not because the streamflow in the region has gone to near zero, but, as University of Alabama climate scientist Roy Spencer shows, because the population of the “desert” has grown so much that the water resources of the region cannot support the water demand.

Next, the CNN article focuses on the Yangtze River in central China. The controversial Three Gorges Dam lies on the Yangtze River, and operation of the dam greatly affects the water levels of both the upstream and downstream portions of the river. Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, but it also serves to enhance the shipping ability of the Yangtze River by controlling streamflow and reducing flood potential for downstream communities. It has adversely affected the landscape and ecology of the region, which is why it has become highly controversial, both domestically and internationally.

Earlier this year, an article in Science Alert (from a published study in Geophysical Research Letters) suggests that the biggest climate change threat to East Asia arises not from drought but from “atmospheric rivers” that will increase rainfall from more frequent and more severe events. So, which is it—lower flows or more flooding?

The remaining four rivers on which the CNN article focused lie in Europe—the Rhine in Germany, the Po in Italy, the Loire in France, and the Danube in Romania. For the Rhine, wetland restoration in the German mountains has had an impact on summer flow, particularly because “the recession flow following the peaks is higher” (i.e., the decrease in flow following the flood peak is increased), which would, according to Wetlands International, cause the water to drain faster, thereby creating a low flow sooner. The Po, too, is low due to a drought, but its flow was lower seventy years ago—well before purportedly manmade global warming took hold. The effect of draining wetlands and extensive industrialization also has had an effect on the river. Euronews reported an expert’s view that while the Loire is “drier than usual this year,” some of the photos of the Loire “are at least a dramatisation of the situation.” And the Danube in Romania is affected by extensive urban land development, the loss of flood plains, and deforestation. All three will exacerbate floods but decrease the flow during low flow conditions as little water exists in transit to the river to sustain the flow when rainfall is low.

However, the single most important factor that debunks the CNN argument that “the human-caused climate crisis is fueling extreme weather across the globe” that is causing the world’s rivers to dry up is in the pictures they choose to demonstrate their point. For five of the six rivers on which they focus (all but the Colorado River), their before-and-after aerial photography compares August 2022 to... August 2021—just one year before. The dramatic change in just one year leads to the inescapable conclusion that this is not a climate issue; rather, it is a normal change in yearly weather conditions and local effects in dam operations. Climate change is measured over periods of at least 30 years, not a single year. On the Colorado River, diminishing streamflow is not the culprit for the low flow conditions; the highly increasing demand for water by a rapidly growing population in the desert Southwest of the United States is a far better explanation.


Climate gains are ‘inconvenient truth’ — it’s not all bad news about the environment

By Bjorn Lomborg

In the 1920s, around half a million people were killed by weather disasters, whereas in the last decade the death-toll averaged around 18,000.

It’s easy to believe that life on Earth is getting ever-worse. The media highlight one catastrophe after another and make terrifying predictions. With a torrent of doom and gloom about climate change and the environment, it’s understandable why many people — especially the young — genuinely believe the world is about to end.

The fact is that while problems remain, the world is in fact getting better. We just rarely hear it.

We are incessantly told about disasters, whether it is the latest heatwave, flood, wildfire or storm. Yet the data overwhelmingly shows that over the past century, people have become much, much safer from all these weather events. Indeed, in the 1920s, around half a million people were killed by weather disasters, whereas in the last decade the death-toll averaged around 18,000. This year, just like 2020 and 2021, is tracking below that. Why? Because when people get richer, they get more resilient.

Weather-fixated television news would make us all think that disasters are all getting worse. They’re not. Around 1900, around 4.5% of the land area of the world would burn every year. Over the last century, this declined to about 3.2%. In the last two decades, satellites show even further decline — in 2021 just 2.5% burned. This has happened mostly because richer societies prevent fires. Models show that by the end of the century, despite climate change, human adaptation will mean even less burning.

And despite what you may have heard about record-breaking costs from weather disasters (mainly because wealthier populations build more expensive houses along coastlines), damage costs are declining, not increasing, as a percent of GDP.

But it’s not only weather disasters that are getting less damaging despite dire predictions. A decade ago, environmentalists loudly declared that Australia’s magnificent Great Barrier Reef was nearly dead, killed by bleaching caused by climate change. The UK Guardian even published an obituary.

This year, scientists revealed that two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef shows the highest coral cover seen since records began in 1985. The good-news report got a fraction of the attention.

Not long ago, environmentalists constantly used pictures of polar bears to highlight the dangers of climate change. Polar bears even featured in Al Gore’s terrifying movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” But the reality is that polar bear numbers have been increasing — from somewhere between five and ten thousand polar bears in the 1960s, up to around 26,000 today. We don’t hear this news. Instead, campaigners just quietly stopped using polar bears in their activism.

There are so many bad-news stories that we seldom stop to consider that on the most important indicators, life is getting much better. Human life expectancy has doubled over the past century, from 36 years in 1920 to more than 72 years today. A hundred years ago, three-quarters of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Today, it’s less than one-tenth.

The deadliest environmental problem, air pollution, was four-times more likely to kill you in 1920 than today, mostly through people in poverty cooking and heating with dung and wood.

Despite COVID-related setbacks, humanity has become better and better off. Yet doom-mongers will keep telling you the end is nigh. This is great for their fundraising, but the costs to society are sky-high: we make poor, expensive policy choices and our kids are scared witless.

We also end up ignoring much bigger problems. Consider all the attention devoted to heatwaves. In the United States and many other parts of the world, heat deaths are actually declining, because access to air conditioning helps much more than rising temperatures hurt.

However, almost everywhere, the cold quietly kills many more. In the US, about 20,000 people die from heat, but 170,000 die from cold — something we rarely focus on. Moreover, cold deaths are rising in the US, and our incessant focus on climate change is exacerbating this trend, because politicians have introduced green laws that make energy more expensive, meaning fewer people can afford to keep warm. Lacking perspective means we don’t focus first on where we can help most.

On a broader scale, global warming prompts celebrities and politicians to fly around the world in private jets lecturing the rest of us, while we spend less on problems like hunger, infectious diseases, and a lack of basic schooling. When did politicians and movie stars ever meet for an important cause like de-worming children?

We need some balance in our news, but that doesn’t mean ignoring global warming: it is a real problem, caused by humanity. We just need perspective. To know what to expect from a warming planet, we can look at the damage estimates from the economic models used by the Biden and Obama Administrations, revealing the entire, global cost of climate change — not just to economies, but in every sense — will be equivalent to less than a 4% hit to global GDP by the end of the century.

Humanity is getting more prosperous every day. In a separate report, the United Nations estimates that without global warming, the average person in 2100 would be 450% better-off than today. Global warming means people will only be 434% richer they say. That is not a disaster.

Climate change fear is causing life-changing anxiety. You might be hearing nothing but bad news, but that doesn’t mean that you’re hearing the full story.


California Dreamin’

On August 25, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to ban the sales of new internal-combustion vehicles in the Golden State by 2035 because of climate change, of course.

According to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, “We can solve this climate crisis if we focus on the big, bold steps necessary to cut pollution. California now has a groundbreaking, world-leading plan to achieve 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035.”

So, in just 13 years, the most populous state in the Union has decided it will outlaw its citizens from purchasing new gasoline-powered vehicles. And more than a dozen other states have indicated they already have, or soon will, adopt regulations that will do the same.

This begs many questions, foremost among them: Do Americans desire electric vehicles (EVs)? The answer to that important query is a resounding no.

Per a recent survey by AAA, only “one-quarter of Americans say they would be likely to buy an electric vehicle (powered exclusively by electricity, i.e., not a hybrid) for their next auto purchase.”

As the AAA survey indicates, there are many reasons Americans remain reluctant about buying an EV, including “higher purchase price,” “concern there are not enough places to charge,” “concern about running out of charge when driving,” “unsuitable for long-distance travel,” “high cost of battery repair or replacement,” and “unable to install a charging station where they live.”

Aside from the fact that the vast majority of Americans remain hesitant, if not resistant, to purchasing an EV, it is also important to note that EVs are not as environmentally friendly as their advocates claim they are.

Unlike their gasoline-powered counterparts, EVs require a huge amount of rare earth minerals, specifically for the production of their batteries. As CNBC recently reported, “Producing electric vehicles leads to significantly more emissions than producing petrol cars. Depending on the country of production, that’s between 30% to 40% extra in production emissions, which is mostly from the battery production.”

Keep in mind, most of the mines that produce the rare earth minerals necessary to produce EV batteries exist in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, which rely on child labor.

What’s more, charging EVs requires substantial amounts of electricity. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, “The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles — the same amount of electricity an average American home uses each day to run appliances, computers, lights and heating and air conditioning.”

Several states, especially California, are in the midst of transitioning their electric grids from fossil-fuel-based power sources to renewable energy power sources, which is already overburdening their systems and leading to rolling blackouts.

In fact, just days after California announced CARB’s new rule, the California Independent System Operator issued this alert:

“Consumers are urged to reduce energy use from 4-9 p.m. when the system is most stressed because demand for electricity remains high and there is less solar energy available. The top three conservation actions are to set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, avoid using large appliances and charging electric vehicles, and turn off unnecessary lights. Lowering electricity use during that time will ease strain on the system, and prevent more drastic measures, including rotating power outages.”

If California’s electric grid is already on the verge of rolling power outages, which requires that residents refrain from charging their EVs during evening hours, how in the world could the grid handle a much larger share of the state’s residents charging EVs in the years to come?

Simply put, it cannot.

In recent years, California has become the locus of ill-considered progressive policies, which many states have unwisely followed. Unfortunately, California’s absurd decision to ban the sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles in just over a decade is quite possibly one of the most asinine policies conceivable. It will do little to combat so-called climate change, however, it will do lots of damage to hard-working Californians, who will have less agency, freedom of movement, and access to reliable and affordable energy.


No realism in sight about Australia's electricity supply

In their frantic efforts to avert a long forecasted but never arriving climate disaster, activists have managed to bring on a very real energy Armageddon plunging Europe back into a new dark age, and Australia may yet follow.

Australia has so far been spared scenes of citizens queuing for hours to buy coal (Poland), reverting to wood fires to heat their homes (Germany), or businesses facing closure due to energy costs (the UK), but power prices have skyrocketed, the grid has become considerably less reliable and it is set to get worse.

When the Liddell power station in NSW closes in 2023, almost 2 gigawatts of reliable supply will vanish from the system. That may not sound like much compared to the almost 60 GW of generating capacity in the National Energy Market, but it represents firm, dispatchable (that is, it can be switched on and off at command) power in a market that is increasingly dominated by renewables, the output of which is dictated by the sun and the wind.

Even with Liddell still operating the grid’s problems are bad enough. As previously noted in this publication (‘Transition to Lunacy’, 30 July) the government is expected to pay perhaps $1.7 billion to major power users who agreed to stay off the grid during a full-blown power crisis mid-year, and electricity prices still spiked. In Queensland wholesale power prices more than doubled to an unheard-of average of $323 a megawatt-hour in the June quarter. When brown-coal-fired power stations ruled the old state grids 20 years ago, wholesale power might have cost about $40 a megawatt hour.

More closures are to follow Liddell. Origin Energy will shut the 2,880 megawatt Eraring coal-fired power station in 2025, and Victoria’s Yallourn power station (1,480 MW, brown coal) is scheduled to close in 2028. To put those closures in perspective, when Victoria’s Hazelwood power station representing just 1,600 MW closed in 2017, the Australia Energy Regulator later noted that average electricity spot prices increased between 85 and 32 per cent across the eastern states.

The new Labor government has not only proved oblivious to this looming crisis, it has placed near impossible conditions on the one major, reliable generator to be built, a $600 million 660 MW gas-fired plant at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter region of New South Wales.

The Morrison government pushed through construction of this generator, designed as a fast-reaction plant to meet peaks in demand, in the teeth of opposition from activists and Labor. Since then Labor has reversed its opposition but only on the condition that 30 per cent of gas used by the generators is green hydrogen from day one of operation, expected to be in December 2023. Further, all of the plant’s gas supply has to be hydrogen by 2030, or in just eight-years time.

Although the plant can run on hydrogen as opposed to vastly more convenient natural gas, there are no sources of green hydrogen in that region or any significant sources anywhere else in Australia. During the federal election in February, Labor declared that it would set aside another $700 million for the Snowy Hydro Authority, which will run the plant, to make green hydrogen on the site. In other words the government wants to build a renewable energy power plant on site to generate power which will then use scarce fresh water to create hydrogen. The resulting hydrogen will be used to power the gas plant to produce electricity.

To have any chance of meeting the 30 per cent target consistently, the project will also need some so far undiscovered means of storing hydrogen safely in large enough quantities, to tide the gas plant over long periods when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.

One of those who tried to convince the government, specifically the Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen, that this eccentric approach just would not work was Snowy Hydro chief executive Paul Broad. As well as publicly declaring that the commercial use of hydrogen as a fuel was years away, Broad also tried to tell the government that, with Liddell closing, the grid needed several peaking plants, not just one. Those plants could then be powered up very quickly when the wind dies over large areas of the eastern seaboard, which is expected to happen all too frequently, and turned off when it starts to blow again. This is not an efficient way to run any grid, and will certainly not be cheap, but activists will still have their wind farms and the lights will remain on, for now.

All that sensible advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears with Broad resigning in late August, citing clashes with Energy Minister Bowen.

Another problem contributing to friction between the two men was that of the Snowy 2.0 project. Conceived as a giant water battery using existing dams by the conservative government of Malcolm Turnbull in 2017, the capital cost of the project has blown out from the original estimate of $2 billion to more than $5 billion, not counting extensive work on transmission lines to connect the project. The project is now expected to cost more than $10 billion, with no hope of recovering even a portion of that cost from revenue.

With the National Energy Market, the grid for Australia’s east coast, heading towards potential disaster when Liddell closes in 2023, drastic measures are required. Coal and gas plants must be kept open and, if necessary, diesel plants found and put into service, just as the South Australian government did in 2017 in response to a massive state blackout. The SA plants are still there as backup generators and, at 276 megawatts available at any time, they can contribute vastly more power in an emergency than the much-vaunted Hornsdale battery at Jamestown.

However, the Federal government shows little sign that it understands the problem, let alone the need to devise a workable solution. To date the new Labor government has only made things worse.


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