Monday, March 04, 2024

Heads Up Media – Texas Wildfires Have Nothing to Do with Climate Change

A few days ago, a wildfire started in north Texas and grew quickly, driven by strong southwesterly winds. Named the Smokehouse Creek Fire, it has burned more than 1.1 million acres and is now the largest wildfire in Texas history. The mainstream media has been quick to blame climate change for the fire, with headlines like this one from NBC News: Wildfires ravage Texas amidst climate change crisis, or this one from ABC13 in Houston: How climate change is increasing wildfire risks across Texas. These stories are false; multiple lines of real-world data refute any connection between these fires and climate change.

NBC News claims:

The Texas Panhandle is no stranger to face-blasting winds nor roller-coaster dips in temperature. But the fires would not have had the same chance to take off if not for unseasonably warm temperatures and dry conditions made more likely by climate change.

ABC13 claims:

Additionally, climate change could increase Texan’s risks for wildfires over the next 30 years. ABC13 Meteorologist Elyse Smith has previously covered this topic through ABC’s Weathering Tomorrow initiative, which uses data from our partners at the First Street Foundation. It shows how wildfire risk, as well as heat, flood, and wind risks, will be impacted by climate change through the year 2050.

If either of these news outlets had bothered to do a ‘fact check,’ they would find their claims are unsupported by real world data.

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for Texas show that the state has experienced a declining trend in number of very hot days and a slight increase in precipitation

With fewer hot days and increased precipitation recorded in the long-term climate records, the claim that Texas is more susceptible to wildfires now that in the past because of climate change is clearly false.

Both media outlets suggested that the area where the fires are is drier than normal. This too is false.

According to the US drought monitor, the area now beset by the wildfire is not abnormally dry and certainly not experiencing drought conditions:

Nor is the adjacent region of Oklahoma caught up in the wildfire suffering under abnormally dry or drought conditions.

According to Climate at a Glance: U.S. Wildfires:

Wildfires, especially in arid parts of the United States, have always been a natural part of the environment, and they likely always will. Global warming did not create wildfires. In fact, wildfires have become less frequent and less severe in recent decades. One of the key contributing factors has been that the United States has experienced fewer droughts in recent decades than in periods throughout the twentieth century.

According to the National Park Service, wildfires in Texas have always been a part of the state’s history. However recently invasive species now cover much of the region. According to the Texas A&M Forest Service:

Invasive species cause many negative impacts to the Texas landscape, from the displacement of native trees to potentially wiping out entire species.

Much of the Texas panhandle region is overgrown with cedar, acacia and invasive mesquite trees which use up a lot of groundwater. Previously, natural fires in the region helped control the spread of this problem, but with modern fire suppression, fuel loads have increased.

Even the most recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of global climate agrees. On Page 90 – Chapter 12 of the UN IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. Emergence of Climate Impact Drivers (CIDs) the table in Figure 5 shows the incidence of “Fire weather” has not emerged from climate change:

Finally, recent satellite data show no correlation between wildfire acreage burned and carbon dioxide levels. In fact, global wildfire area burned declined substantially between 2000 to 2018, even as carbon dioxide levels increased. If climate change was driving an increase in wildfires you would see it in the global data, but it shows just the opposite.

Actual data and various lines of hard evidence show that there is no connection between climate change and the wildfires now ravaging parts of north Texas and Oklahoma, or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, once again the media is pushing the “climate catastrophe,” narrative in which every extreme weather event or natural disaster is caused by climate change, despite the clear evidence that this is false. In this case, rather than doing investigative due diligence, neither NBC nor ABC bothered to check facts before publishing these scare stories, which suggests that their reporters and editors are either lazy, incompetent, blinded by political ideology, or all three.

See original for graphics


Net-zero targets have hamstrung British prosperity

Britain’s ‘net-zero economy’ is booming, creating more better-paid jobs than any other sector, but it is all being put at risk by the government’s reversal on policies on electric vehicles and heat pumps.

That, at any rate, is what the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) wants us to believe. In a report this week, these groups claim that the net-zero target has spawned an industry worth £74 billion, up 9 per cent in just a year. It has created 765,000 jobs which are 1.6 times as productive as the average UK job and which offer average wages of £44,600, compared with £35,400 for the rest of the economy. Yet, ‘at a time when the US and EU are ramping up investment and tax breaks in the pursuit of clean industries setting up shop on their soil, the UK has been chopping and changing’, with ‘mixed signals, policy U-turns and contradictory political rhetoric’ discouraging investment. In other words, never mind about such trifles as the 2,500 jobs to be lost at Port Talbot as the blast furnaces are closed, taking with them Britain’s remaining capacity for primary steel-making – there are better-paid green jobs out there for anyone who wants them.

To claim that net zero has sparked an industrial boom in Britain, you have to be pretty inventive with the figures

This analysis falls at the first hurdle. The EU is doing pretty much the same as Britain in retreating from net-zero targets when they collide head-on with reality. Just as Rishi Sunak’s government put back the proposed ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, the EU – which never planned to ban them until 2035 in the first place – has revised its rules so that internal combustion engines will still be allowed after 2035 as long as they are capable of running on synthetic fuel. The German government, like Britain’s, was forced to water down proposals to ban gas boilers when it became clear how much it was going to cost households. As for the US, while Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act has made subsidies available for green energy projects, it has never imposed such tight targets for decarbonising the economy as Britain has. Indeed, America has more than doubled oil and gas output in the past 16 years as it sought energy security.

Moreover, the CBI’s claims are at odds with what is really happening to jobs in renewable energy in Britain and Europe. The Danish wind company Orsted – formerly Denmark’s national oil and gas producer – cut 800 jobs and suspended its dividend last month after losing £2.5 billion in the third quarter of 2023. In the past six months eight European solar companies have either gone bust or reported financial difficulties as China increasingly corners the market for clean energy. According to the Inter-national Renewable Energy Agency, 5.55 million of the world’s 13.7 million jobs in renewable energy are in China, and only 1.8 million in Europe. Why China? Because energy is a lot cheaper there, for one thing. But China certainly isn’t using clean energy to manufacture Europe’s wind turbines and solar panels – 60 per cent of the country’s electricity is still generated by burning coal.

Investment and jobs are welcome in clean energy, just as in any industry. However, there is little joy in celebrating the creation of ‘net-zero jobs’ if, overall, the target to achieve net zero is costing you many more jobs while you lose your remaining industrial base due to high energy costs and excessive regulation imposed by net-zero targets. Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe warned last week that Europe will lose almost all of its remaining chemicals industry over the next 20 years, in a speech that was woefully under-reported by a media more interested in his plans for Manchester United Football Club. One of the reasons, Ratcliffe said, was that in Britain his company is paying five times as much for its gas and four times as much for electricity as it does in the US. At the moment, Ineos in Europe is paying £130 million a year in carbon taxes, but by 2030 that will rise to £1.7 billion. The German industrials giant BASF has already announced that it is to shrink European operations while investing £8 billion in a new plant in China, as well as investments in the US.

To claim that net zero has sparked an industrial boom in Britain, you have to be pretty inventive with the figures. The CBI’s report doesn’t identify all the 23,750 businesses it claims as part of the net-zero economy, but the five it does name include a company that makes electrical transformers– which are used throughout the electricity industry, regardless of how electricity is being generated – and the waste company Veolia. The latter has been included, it says, because it manages landfill sites, which involves separating organic waste and collecting methane gas from waste tips. Yet landfill sites operators have been collecting methane for decades, long before net zero.

Investing in clean technologies is a good idea. Many of them will fail but some will go on to become great generators of wealth. But as China proves, you don’t need a legally binding net-zero target to make money selling the technology to others. As the US is showing, what really powers industrial growth is cheap energy. That is where Britain, like Europe, is falling down. If we are losing out on investment and job creation, that has less to do with the relaxation of one or two net-zero targets. Britain, after all, leads the world purely in terms of the reduction in territorial carbon emissions, which have halved since 1990. It has rather more to do with the expense and bureaucracy being imposed on businesses in a desperate attempt to reach overly demanding net-zero targets.


More Fabricated Nonsense About The ‘Hottest Evah’

Journalists are meant to be skeptical. But not on trendy causes, at least not in recent times

Thus a piece in The Daily Digest starts out “It seems impossible but some people still deny climate change science” and continues, beneath a caricature of Donald Trump:

“We all know somebody who thinks this ‘climate change stuff’ is a bunch of hogwash. Forty years ago, it was easier to understand, but as of late, it is pretty mind-blowing that some people can have this level of cognitive dissonance.”

But does the journalist (who we doubt was even around 40 years ago) really know such a person?

Or are they only talking to one another, and failing to examine assumptions or check facts because it’s, like, mind-blowing that anyone could disagree with us, man? But at a certain point even journalists sometimes check the details, and that’s when it really gets mind-blowing.

MSN ran the headline “US weather: Heat explosion to smash America in freak 20C winter heatwave” and said:

“The US is about to roast in a freak winter heatwave as a plume of sweltering air surges up from the tropics.”

Still, it’s a kind of progress that they then noted it’s a freak event, not a trend, and the heat is coming from the tropics not from your SUV.

And they also noted how cold weather elsewhere was breaking records in Alaska, even thickening fuel oil so furnaces and stoves stopped working, while NBC took notice of a snow storm that dumped two feet of snow on California.

These days we count it lucky when a story says “Norway hit by hurricane-force winds: Is climate change making Europe’s extreme storms worse?” and answers by saying “Unsurprisingly, many across the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and other storm-hit European countries this winter will be wondering whether climate change is partly to blame” then admits it’s not.

As in:

“This is the furthest through the list we have ever been at this stage,” a Met Office weather service spokesperson confirmed to Euronews Green last week.

But since storms only started being named in 2015, it’s not the best way of measuring climate change impacts.

‘It’s quite a complex issue and not quite as simple as [the] increasing frequency of heatwaves in the UK as a result of human-induced climate change,’ they added.”

Even though ‘human-induced climate change’ is not increasing the frequency of heat waves, nor has the UK seen an increase.

Meanwhile in The Atlantic an article that started “California’s Climate Has Come Unmoored / The weather of catastrophe is here” soon went on to detail how “unmoored” California’s weather has always been, from Joan Didion’s 1968 “Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse” to “The damage from the 1862 flood was so bad that it bankrupted the state.”

But it then concludes that, as everybody knows, everything has changed:

“Meteorologists have described it [the 1862 flood] as a once-in-30,000-years disaster, but there is reason to believe that another one could come much sooner, because the planet is warming, and warmer air holds more moisture.”

Again, the narrative has run away from the facts. On purpose, it seems.

The flood that might be coming is more real, far more real, than the one that actually did come.

The British Red Cross advises that:

“In the coming decades, it is predicted periods of hot weather and heatwaves will be longer and more extreme.”

Note the passive voice, which makes it hard to check who made the prediction. But we tried anyway, and found instead that according to the official British Met Office the UK in 2023, the “Hottest year ever”TM, the hottest day came in September and the heatwave in question “would not have been particularly unusual” during the summer, adding:

“The seven consecutive days with temperatures exceeding 30°C in the UK was the longest such spell on record with the previous longest runs five days in the Septembers of 1929 and 1911.”

Given the urban heat island effect it is fair to say that in fact a stretch of hot weather in September 2023 was nothing out of the ordinary, having happened a century ago, possibly more frequently.

Especially since, the Met adds of the September peak of 33.5°C at Faversham in Kent, on the 10th, that “While this is a notably high value it was not record-breaking, falling well short of the UK September record of 35.6°C set at Bawtry (South Yorkshire) on 2 September 1906.”

Yes, 1906.

What’s more, the hottest day of the year rarely comes so late, having “only occurred in September on four previous occasions in 2016, 1954, 1949 and 1919.”

So it’s episodic, cyclical and typical.

Except that in this hottest year ever, Britain didn’t break 30C in August, didn’t break 31C in July, and didn’t break 33C in June.

The tendency nowadays is to rely on theory not evidence. For instance in the New York Times “Climate Forward”, Manuela Andreoni writes of storms and flooding on the American east coast and south to Louisiana that:

“So far this week, Californians have not seen the kinds of weather-generated disasters that struck last winter, with flooding in Ventura County in December and in San Diego in January, my colleague Jill Cowan reports.

Storms are part of the natural cycle that replenishes the water supplies that several states will rely on during the drier months to come, Judson Jones, The Times’s meteorologist, told me.

‘The problem comes when there’s too much at one time,’ he said. Climate change makes that a lot more likely. Warmer air holds more moisture, which means storms in many parts of the world are getting wetter and more intense, as my colleague Ray Zhong explained during deluges last year.

Coastal areas are especially vulnerable to climate change, not just because of storms and floods, but from rising seas and erosion.”

OK, more likely, you say. Though the amount of extra moisture isn’t specified and would, you’d think, at least reduce drought.

But the real question is whether it’s actually making it more common. Climate is a complex phenomenon even in a world where many things are more complex than some people seem to think.

There are a lot of hypothetical mechanisms that could operate and might be worth testing if the result they could produce actually seems to have arrived.

But is the U.S. having more flooding?

As we’ve noted, California has been notorious for cycles of searing drought and inundating floods since anyone started keeping track.

As for, say, Louisiana, the U.S. National Weather Service (yes, we have Google on our computers, apparently unlike many journalists) says “On this page you learn what types of flooding are typical in Louisiana”.

Types, you’ll notice. Not just one. And it lists “Significant Louisiana Floods in 2005, 1927, 1965, 2011 and 1995.

The 1927 event, aka the “Great Mississippi Flood of 1927”, was “the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States”.

A century ago. Before there was climate.

Still, everybody knows that if something bad happens now, or something unusual, it’s proof that climate is way more climatic than it was before it was.


Why new green jobs are at risk if old industries die

All the post-pandemic talk of resurrecting Australia’s manufacturing sector and securing local supply chains seems like a lifetime away, amid talk that yet another manufacturer could go quietly into the night this year.

The fate of Qenos’s Melbourne and Sydney manufacturing plants is not yet set in stone, and the fact that the company – owned by China National Chemical – has recently spent money rebuilding a cooling tower at its Botany Bay plastics plant offers hope not all of its Australian facilities will be closed.

But if one or both of the plants are shuttered, they will join a raft of major plant closures since all the hullabaloo about securing domestic supply chains during the pandemic – including Incitec Pivot’s Gibson Island fertiliser plant in Brisbane, Exxon’s oil refinery in Melbourne’s Altona, a similar facility owned by BP in Kwinana, south of Perth, and Alcoa’s alumina refinery also in Kwinana. Similar threats hang over BHP’s nickel smelter in Kalgoorlie and refinery in Kwinana.

All of these plants are old, sub-scale by global standards, and suffer – compared to international competitors – from higher labour, gas and energy costs, and from rising pressure to comply with environmental standards.

But the threat to Qenos’s local facilities is also a timely reminder of the knock-on effects of the closure of manufacturing plants.

Tight gas markets have played a part in Qenos’s troubles – its gas bills reportedly doubled in 2023. But the major cause of its most recent problems was the shuttering in 2021 of Exxon’s Altona refinery, which supplied the LPG used as a feedstock for Qenos’s plastics production lines.

That happened under the previous Morrison government – and amid plenty of warnings about the downstream effects of its closure, including from Qenos, which was forced to close half the lines of its own production facility in the wake of the exit of the Exxon plant.

Any decision by BHP to close its Kalgoorlie nickel smelter will also ripple through the broader WA mining industry. The smelter supplies sulphuric acid, a by-product of its operations, to other parts of the state’s mining industry – and, in particular, to Lynas’s new cracking and leaching plant outside of Kalgoorlie.

As Lynas boss Amanda Lacaze said, the manufacturing and processing industry in Australia is an ecosystem, not a collection of unrelated operations.

And perhaps more important is the loss of the technical know-how that comes with the closure of these type of facilities.

Much is made of the loss of blue-collar jobs in manufacturing. But workers in these types of plants need substantial technical skills to keep these plants open, along with the expertise of chemists and a host of other professionals. And, despite the hype around “green jobs” in energy, hydrogen, lithium and rare earths, it is difficult to build that kind of expertise from scratch.

Companies that rely on gas for power and as an input are caught between the pressure to ditch fossil fuel extraction and the political and commercial cost of requiring gas producers to reserve more production for the domestic market.

Those pressures may mean that Australia is destined to shed the remaining industries that are dependent on petrochemical products as a feedstock.

Saving Australia’s remaining manufacturing and chemicals industries – and building new ones – will take actual policy designed to attract investment, backed by long-term support from successive governments of both political persuasions.




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