Friday, December 09, 2022

Why you cannot trust your weather forecaster

Even if you did know the address of Ed Maibach’s office, you could walk right past it without a second thought. It’s in an anonymous-­looking building in a perfectly ordinary stretch of the Virginia suburbs. The indistinct setting suits Maibach, who—due to the nature of his work—doesn’t list its physical location on his website. “Simply because,” he says, “there are a lot of crazy people out there who have a lot of anger and feel entitled to express their anger in really inappropriate ways, and sometimes really dangerous ways.”

Maibach’s professional endeavors are similarly discreet. Though he labors each day to alert Americans to the dangers of climate change, you won’t find him waving a NO FOSSIL FUELS banner from atop a tall building or protesting outside a congressional lawmaker’s home. Instead, this George Mason University professor deploys a behind-the-scenes strategy that would impress the savviest operators on K Street. Except rather than shilling for tech giants or Big Pharma, he works on behalf of the Earth.

About 13 years ago, Maibach identified a TV meteorologist in Columbia, South Carolina, who was willing to use his airtime not just to provide tomorrow’s forecast but to show viewers how climate change was impacting their local community. Over the next decade, Maibach would expand this experiment into what you might call a weather underground—a coast-to-coast network of TV weathercasters who believe that educating their audiences about global warming is as crucial as telling them when to bring an umbrella. The initiative, known as Climate Matters, has forced Maibach to confront a series of entrenched problems inside the broadcast-­meteorology community, including alarming levels of climate denial and skepticism, fears about alienating audiences, and the occasional harassment of participating weathercasters. Yet by the end of 2021, the Climate Matters network of meteorologists had penetrated into nearly every media market in the country, and Maibach had pioneered a promising new approach to a complex crisis.

Truth is, if you’ve recently watched the weather report on the local news in the Washington area, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen Maibach’s handiwork—the Climate Matters network now includes weathercasters at NBC4, WUSA9, WJLA7, and Fox 5. But like local-news consumers across the country, you wouldn’t have known that behind that telegenic meteorologist are a social scientist in his sixties and a team of academic researchers, data crunchers, and ex-weathercasters. “To a lot of our viewers, it’s lost on them how much work Climate [Matters] really is doing,” says Kaitlyn McGrath, a meteorologist at WUSA9. “But it is so far from lost on us.”


New coal mine for Britain

The government has been condemned for approving a new coal mine in Cumbria – Britain’s first in generations.

The Woodhouse Colliery project, near Whitehaven, has sparked fierce opposition from locals and environmentalists.

Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove has granted permission, saying the coal will be used for the production of steel and not for power generation.

But the government’s own independent adviser on climate change has condemned the decision, which will allow extraction of the fossil fuel until 2049 – a year ahead of the UK’s legally binding target to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

The Conservative former minister Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, said it would undermine UK efforts to reach net zero and “diminish” the country’s global influence on carbon.

Under development by West Cumbria Mining since 2014, the undersea mine will be the first deep pit to open in England since 1986. It is projected to increase UK greenhouse gas emissions by 0.4 million tonnes a year, the equivalent of around 200,000 cars.

The approval was branded “shameful” by countryside charity CPRE, while Friends of the Earth said it was “a misguided and deeply damaging mistake that flies in the face of all the evidence” on climate change.

Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said Rishi Sunak had been exposed as a “fossil fuel PM in a renewable age”, who had “given up on all pretence of climate leadership”.

And Lord Deben said: “This decision grows global emissions and undermines UK efforts to achieve net zero.

“It runs counter to the UK’s stated aims as Cop26 president and sends entirely the wrong signal to other countries about the UK’s climate priorities. The UK’s hard-fought global influence on climate is diminished by today’s decision.”

The developers say it will create 500 jobs providing coking coal for the steel-making industry, which has previously been heavily dependent on Russia.

But a wave of objections following its approval by the county council in 2020 resulted in the plan being “called in” last year for a final decision by the communities secretary.

Today’s decision by Mr Gove brings an end to the planning wrangle but will spark renewed protest in the area

Green groups warn that the new pit will damage the UK’s reputation internationally and undermine its ability to persuade others to make sacrifices to tackle global warming.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said the decision was a “significant” setback for the UK’s efforts to meet legally binding targets to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

“This is an appalling decision,” said Mr Bosworth. “Approving this mine is a misguided and deeply damaging mistake that flies in the face of all the evidence. The mine isn’t needed, will add to global climate emissions, and won’t replace Russian coal.

“The market for this coal is rapidly disappearing as UK and European steelmakers recognise that green steel is the future, and this mine risks becoming an expensive stranded asset.”

Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said the decision came just weeks after Mr Sunak stated his aim to make Britain a “clean energy superpower”.

“The UK government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership,” said Dr Parr.

Lord Deben warned there may be no domestic use for Woodhouse coal after 2035, while International Energy Agency projections predict an 88 per cent decline in demand for the product globally by 2050 if emission reduction plans succeed.

But Woodhouse’s annual contributions to UK emissions will exceed the total projected from all open UK coal mines to 2050, he said.

Locking in the use of coking coal sends a strong signal to the market that low-carbon steel production via direct hydrogen reduction of iron is “not favoured by government”, narrowing the UK’s options for climate action, said Lord Deben.

The former chief executive of British Steel Ron Deelan agreed: “This is a completely unnecessary step for the British steel industry, which is not waiting for more coal as there is enough on the free market available.

“The British steel industry needs green investment in electric arc furnaces and hydrogen, to protect jobs and make the UK competitive.”

The CPRE’s interim CEO Tom Fyans said the decision was “out of touch” with the needs of Cumbria, the country and the planet.

“This absurdly retrograde decision will shackle us to the past at the precise moment the steel industry is transitioning to an environmentally sustainable future,” he said.

“Instead of grasping the opportunity to lead the world in a clean and green industrial revolution, here we are clinging onto the dirty coal that powered and poisoned the Victorian era. This shameful decision beggars belief. It will degrade the countryside, pollute the atmosphere and makes a mockery of the government’s legally binding climate commitments.”

The decision risks a fresh Conservative split, with Tory MPs including senior former ministers Kwasi Kwarteng, Robert Buckland and Tobias Ellwood having already voiced their opposition.

But at least 31 MPs from the party’s Northern Research Group signed a letter last year demanding the mine go ahead, including local MPs Trudy Harrison, Mark Jenkinson, Simon Fell and John Stevenson.

NRG chair Jake Berry hailed the green light for Woodhouse as “good news for the North and for common sense”.

“We must decide policy on the facts and it’s clear here we have made the correct decision,” said Mr Berry, the MP for Rossendale and Darwen.


Chicken Little Propaganda Dressed As Science Permeates New Climate Report

The Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO have delivered their ­biennial dose of depression about the climate in their latest State of the Climate report.

The climate has warmed by 1.5C and there is barely a single benefit – it is all ­disaster.

It is often said, “if it is too good to be true, it probably is” and you are being conned. What about too bad to be true? Can a gently warming climate have no significant benefits at all?

The only marginally encouraging part of the report is about northern Australia. There might have been a slight reduction in cyclone numbers, and there has been a bit more rain in recent decades.

Apart from that, the report reads like the Book of Exodus – one disaster after another. Only the frogs and boils are missing.

But it is significant that the period when Egyptians were building pyramids, which was hotter than today’s climate, is often called the Holocene Climatic Optimum.

The word “optimum” was an indication that scientists working in the era before climate alarmism could see some advantage of a warmer climate.

A sure sign that the report tries too hard to find disaster is when it discusses coral bleaching and the Great Barrier Reef.

It stresses that there have been four bleaching events in the past six years, which it implies were devastating. But for some reason, the report fails to mention that this year the reef recorded its highest amount of coral since records began in 1985.

This proves that all the hype about coral loss from bleaching was greatly exaggerated. But the report writers were obviously ­untroubled by the contradictory evidence.

They ignored it.

And they also ignore the fact that corals grow about 15 percent faster for every degree temperature rise, and that almost all the corals on the reef also live in much warmer water near the equator.

We should expect better coral, and it should extend further south. That is not too bad, is it?

Why doesn’t the report mention that the extra CO2 in the atmosphere improves the water utilization efficiency of dryland plants, which occupy most of Australia, and that this has caused plants to thrive?

According to NASA satellites, there is a “greening” of Australia of at least 10 percent. Overall, the world has seen the area of green leaves expand by the equivalent of twice the area of the United States in just 35 years.

In a changing climate, there will be winners and losers, and it might be that the net effect is a major problem. But if the report writers will not even mention the good bits, how can we have any confidence in its findings?

The latest report should ring alarm bells – but not just about climate. Is this an excellent tool of propaganda, or is it a scientific statement?

We should all worry about whether groupthink has taken hold of the BOM and CSIRO.

We should worry when the BOM says it has recently adjusted all the temperature records, reducing the temperatures a century ago by up to a degree. Can we have any confidence they did this with good scientific reason?

And we should worry about the BOM’s claims that the fire seasons are now much worse than in 1950. Why is all the information on huge bushfires before 1950 ignored – like the devastating 1851 Victorian bushfire and the 1939 fires?

It is not like there is no data before 1950.

Did they ignore that data for a good reason? Is this similar to the US fire statistics, which are often reported by authorities as having a major increase in fire acreage burnt since the early 60s, but fail to mention that there was almost 10 times more acreage burnt in the “dust-bowl” period in the 1930s?

In the next decades, Australian governments plan to spend hundreds of billions attempting to prevent climate change. Before we do that, maybe we could spend a few million doing an audit of BOM and CSIRO reports.

Maybe we would find that adapting to a changing climate is by far the best way to proceed. We might even find that some of what we have been told is wrong.

Why will the conservative parties not commit to an audit? Who would argue against a bit of checking of the science, when the Great Barrier Reef statistics prove scientists got something badly wrong?

And the latest report is a sure sign that the BOM and CSIRO are drifting into political advocacy rather than science, observation, and objective prediction.


ESG superannuation funds are bad investments

This year Australian ESG superannuation funds lost over 10 per cent of their members’ wealth.

Business, where the profit motive is explicitly dominant and where the hundreds of millions of direct and indirect owners want to see it remain the crowned ruler, might be expected to reject spending that syphons off profits to political causes… And yet, nearly every firm funnels funding to politically acceptable causes, in the main involving those of a social and environmental nature.

Sometimes, pressured by governmental regulatory stances, like the soon-to-be mandatory reductions on the top Australian emitters, a growing number of firms also engage in expenditure that replace fossil fuel derived energy with more expensive wind and solar. Also important is the avoidance by superannuation fund managers of investments in firms deemed to be involved in globally harmful activities within the ‘Environment, Social and Governance’ (ESG) framework. Once targeted at avoiding gambling, tobacco, and alcohol, the hallmark of these causes is now environmentalism, particularly avoiding fossil fuel producers.

Stocks favoured by sentiment will see their values rise in relation to their underlying earnings. But can this persist indefinitely without it being matched by increased profits?

Canstar and Chant West are among the organisations that monitor superfunds’ performances. About half of the funds scrutinised adopt the contemporary ESG doctrine that involves seeking to exclude firms producing fossil fuels from within their portfolios.

For many years, firms following this approach could offer credible claims that they were also performing well in terms of their overall returns. This is no longer the case. The following table draws from the superannuation fund monitors to show the ten worst fund performers in 2022, alongside the funds’ average performances over the past five years and their ESG status.

The six funds having performed worst are all ESG oriented, avoiding investments in firms mining coal and other hydrocarbons. This year they lost over 10 per cent of their members’ wealth. Those ESG funds that previously had strong performances were heavily invested in tech and property stocks, which had experienced above average gains. Tech stocks have now seen falling prices; this may also be true of property but most property funds have extensive holdings of un-listed investments (Virgin Money is one property fund that exclusively invests in listed property and showed an 11 per cent fall in value this year). Added to this is another factor: the recent buoyancy of the coal, gas, and oil stocks that the boycotting of which leaves ESG funds disadvantaged compared to funds that are more purely focused on returns.

Most funds’ marketing material includes words that warn that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance, while extolling their past success. Thus Unisuper, which has divested from coal stocks, still has on its site that it led the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) pack in terms of returns as at August 2021. But during 2022, Unisuper has lost 4.4 per cent of its members’ wealth. Similarly, with remarkable chutzpah, having this year lost 15 per cent of its members’ funds, Australian Ethical is running a TV promotional campaign featuring outlandish characters extolling the fund’s virtues, ‘Because I want my environment like I want my stocks – THRIVING!’

As a consumer protector, APRA has the power to force chronic under-performing funds to merge with a better-performing fund; four were forced to do so this year. However, now that the ESG funds have become demonstrably vulnerable to this sanction, industry bodies are calling for its dilution – even to prevent the under-performers being named, ‘If linked to deliberate strategies for climate change or other ESG issues.’ To buttress this protection of ESG under-performers, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors is seeking to intensify ESG reporting requirements, the objective of which is to ensure few stand-outs. ESG reporting is already mandatory in the UK, EU, New Zealand, and Canada.

The share of wind and solar in global electricity supply has risen from zero at the turn of the 21st century to 10 per cent today (22 per cent in Australia with policies aiming at over 80 per cent). These are intrinsically high cost and low reliability energy sources. But private sector subsidy-seekers and institutional support on the back of the confected climate scare together with government subsidies have underpinned their growth. How will this be affected by newly evident financial realities in a competitive market for superannuants’ savings, where the savers’ prime concern is the returns they receive?




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