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Posts from — March 2010

Reconsidering the Dessler/North Op-Ed on Settled Alarm, Climategate-as-Distraction (Part III in a series)

[The other parts of this series on the activism of Texas A&M climatologists are here: Part I, Part IIPart IV, and Part V]

Scientists find themselves fighting science when it comes to the highly unsettled physical basis of climate change. An example of this is the March 7th Houston Chronicle op-ed by two Texas A&M climate scientists (and four colleagues from other universities), “On Global Warming, the Science is Solid.”

I took general exception to their piece in Part I in this series, titled “Andrew Dessler and Gerald North on Climategate, Climate Alarmism, and the State of Texas’s Challenge to the U.S. EPA’s Endangerment Finding.” Chip Knappenberger yesterday took issue with their claim that the Texas Petition was flawed because it “contains very little science.”

This post critically reconsiders the op-ed, which argued, in effect, that the science behind climate alarmism is settled and that Climategate is a distraction from the core issues. Just the opposite may well be true.

Some Background

Evidently, Dr. Dessler wrote this op-ed and got sign-on from other Texas scientists to make it a ‘consensus’ statement. Here is how the Houston Chronicle attributed it:

This article was submitted by Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; Katharine Hayhoe, research associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas Tech University; Charles Jackson, research scientist, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin; Gerald North, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; André Droxler, professor of earth science and director of the Center for the Study of Environment and Society, Rice University; and Rong Fu, professor, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin. 

I refer to the piece as Dessler/North because the activist-oriented Dr. Dessler is the leader, and the most distinguished climate scientist of the six named authors is Dr. North.

Criticism of Dessler/North (et al.) Piece

A critique follows with the exact language of the (entire) op-ed in quotation and black and my comments in blue for ease of reading. [Read more →]

March 19, 2010   4 Comments

The Texas Petition against the U.S. EPA’s Endangerment Finding: A User’s Guide (Part II in a series)

[The other parts of this series on the activism of Texas A&M climatologists are here: Part IPart IIIPart IV, and Part V]

“Texas’ challenge to the EPA’s endangerment finding on carbon dioxide contains very little science….”

- Andrew Dessler, Gerald North, et al….., “On Global Warming, the Science Is Solid,” Houston Chronicle, March 7, 2010. [Also see yesterday's Part I post on Dessler/North.]

Last month, the State of Texas filed a petition for reconsideration in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (summary here) against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Petition lays out why the EPA’s reliance on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide an assessment of climate change science was a very bad idea.

After documenting flaws in the scientific literature, flaws in scientific behavior, flaws in the IPCC process, and flaws in the IPCC’s conclusions, Texas asks the EPA to re-examine its conclusions regarding climate change and its potential impacts on human health and welfare, and this time, not to rest its conclusions on the biased opinion of the IPCC.

In other words, Texas asks the EPA to do the work themselves—something they are mandated to do anyway.

The complete Texas Petition is available here in a single pdf file. But for easier navigatation, we have broken the full Petition up into its individual sections, and linked them into the Table of Contents page, which is reproduced below.

Hopefully, this will enable you to read through it in a more directed fashion so that you can go straight to which ever section you may be most interested in and see how Texas lays out its case for Reconsideration. [Read more →]

March 18, 2010   6 Comments

Andrew Dessler and Gerald North on Climategate, Climate Alarmism, and the State of Texas’s Challenge to the U.S. EPA’s Endangerment Finding (Part I in a series)

[The other posts in this series on the activism of Texas A&M climatologists are here: Part IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V]

On March 7th, the Houston Chronicle published an editorial by two Texas A&M climate scientists, Andrew Dessler and Gerald North (et al.):  “On Global Warming, the Science is Solid.” The op-ed argued that Climategate was a mere distraction and that climate science was settled in favor of alarm–both points being intended to challenge the State of Texas’s Petition for Rehearing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s endangerment finding, which was based on a belief of “settled science.”

A week later, a response/defense followed in the Chronicle, written by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott: “State Suing for Responsible Scientific Conclusions.” His argument was that significant scientific uncertainties (nonsettled science) were tweaked away at Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England, and major errors in the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have come to light.

Challenging the Dessler/North (et al.) Op-Ed

The general problem of the Dessler opinion piece was oversimplification and the use of half-truths. I took issue with it in this (unpublished) letter-to-the-editor that I sent to the Chronicle: [Read more →]

March 17, 2010   5 Comments

What Real Scientists Do: Global Warming Science vs. Global Whining Scientists

According to M. Mitchell Waldrop, editorial page editor for Nature, “global-warming deniers . . . are sowing doubts about the fundamental [climate change] science.” Further, Waldrop argues in his op-ed “Climate of Fear, “scientists’ reputations have taken a hit.”

Let’s ignore the snarky reference to “deniers” and ask: is science and are scientists under attack? The answer is Yes. But in an intellectual sense, isn’t this the essence of falsifiable, non-verifiable  physical science?

Climategate (et al.) is not simply about “deniers” and Waldrop’s complaint that skeptics are “stok[ing] the angry fires of talk radio, cable news, the blogosphere and the like.” It’s much more nuanced than that.

As a quick aside, perhaps Dr. Waldrop can be forgiven for failing to see the big picture. To critics (can he tolerate them?), he is a deer in the headlights of universal, Internet-quick scientific scrutiny. And there are a lot of smart ‘amateurs’ mixing it up with the pros (who likes competition?).  Consider the view of his colleague-in-arms Paul Ehrlich, who profoundly stated in the same March 10th editorial: “Everyone is scared shitless, but they don’t know what to do.”

Perhaps we can help them. [Read more →]

March 16, 2010   17 Comments

Climate Mitigation: Costs versus Benefits (reassessing Robert Frank’s call for policy action)

In a recent New York Times article, economist Robert H. Frank–“The Economic Naturalist”–argues that fighting global warming through government intervention entails a small cost and promises a large benefit. Yet to cast serious doubts on his claim, all we need do is quote from U.S. government and IPCC reports. We find that even in a textbook implementation, it’s not obvious that government mitigation efforts deliver net benefits.

Of course in the real world, if the politicians and/or EPA starts intervening in the energy sector, their actions will be far from the economist’s theoretical ideal. Then the case for such policy activism falls apart.

Frank’s Pros/Cons of Intervention

Frank’s opening paragraphs nicely summarize his views on climate policy:

FORECASTS involving climate change are highly uncertain, denialists assert — a point that climate researchers themselves readily concede. The denialists view the uncertainty as strengthening their case for inaction, yet a careful weighing of the relevant costs and benefits supports taking exactly the opposite course.

Organizers of the recent climate conference in Copenhagen sought, unsuccessfully, to forge agreements to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. But even an increase that small would cause deadly harm. And far greater damage is likely if we do nothing.

Frank goes on to quote a new MIT study, which paints an alarming scenario of damages from warming if world governments sit on their hands. In contrast, Frank argues that the cost to the economy of limiting greenhouse gases is not in the same ballpark. He sums up with, “In short, the cost of preventing catastrophic climate change is astonishingly small, and it involves just a few simple changes in behavior.

So if the risks of inaction are potentially catastrophic, while the costs of preventive government measures are relatively trivial, then who but a fool or a stooge for Big Oil would question the need for immediate intervention? [Read more →]

March 15, 2010   3 Comments

Understanding the Limits of Wind Power: Key Industry Terms

Two characteristics of industrial wind power crucially inform the public policy debate.

First, wind turbines have little or no “capacity value”; i.e., they are unlikely to be producing electricity at the time of peak electricity demand. Therefore, wind turbines cannot substitute for conventional generating capacity responsible for providing reliable electricity to customers.

Second, a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity from wind has less value than a kWh of electricity from a reliable (“dispatchable”) generating unit; i.e., from a unit that can be called upon to produce electricity whenever the electricity is needed by electric customers.

These issues are important because “wind farm” developers and lobbyists have misled the public, media and government officials by making false claims and by using terms intended to confuse their listeners.

To address this problem, this post explains a few key electric industry terms that are important in understanding the critically important differences between the quality and value of

(i) the high cost, intermittent, volatile and unreliable electricity produced by wind turbines and

(ii) the lower cost, reliable and more valuable electricity produced by generating units that can be called upon to produce electricity whenever it is needed by electric customers.

Failure to understand the terms has led to faulty decisions by government officials and misunderstanding and incorrect reporting by media officials.

1. Generating Capacity

Generating capacity, measured in kilowatts (kW) or megawatts (MW), is a unit’s ability to produce electricity at an instant in time. This term can be confusing because there are two very different measures of generating capacity:

1. Nameplate capacity, which is the capacity rating shown on the nameplate attached to the generator by the manufacturer. (“Rated capacity” is often used synonymously with “nameplate capacity.”)
2. Summer capacity and winter capacity, which for many units (e.g., fossil-fueled) are often different from nameplate capacity because the unit’s ability to produce is affected by air temperature. [Read more →]

March 14, 2010   13 Comments

Howlin’ Wolf: Paul Ehrlich on Energy (Part I: Demeaning Julian Simon; Energy as Desecrator; Doom from Depletion)

[Editor's note: Part II in this five-part series examines Dr. Ehrlich's failed predictions in energy. Part III examines Ehrlich's conservation(ism) views.]

“Most of our colleagues don’t seem to grasp that we’re not in a gentlepersons’ debate, we’re in a street fight against well-funded, merciless enemies who play by entirely different rules.”

- Paul R. Ehrlich, quoted in Stephen Dinan, “Climate Scientists to Fight Back Against Skeptics,” Washington Times, March 5, 2010.

“Everyone is scared shitless [about the attacks from climate-science critics], but they don’t know what to do.”

- Paul Ehrlich. Quoted in “Climate of Fear,” Nature, March 11, 2010.

Paul Ehrlich is back in the news regarding Climategate and the IPCC controversy.  How ironic!  Dr. Ehrlich’s multi-decadal over-the-top pronouncements of doom-and-gloom, and his arrogant behavior towards his critics (Julian Simon in particular), might qualify as Malthusgate.

And part of Malthusgate is Dr. Ehrlich’s protégé on energy, John Holdren, who has been prone to radical pronouncements and wild exaggeration time and again (and even joining in on the global cooling scare)–and with little remorse.

I do not know of any mainstream scientist who has been more errant in his worldview predictions and who has gotten away with more sub-intellectual behavior. When the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) dared publish an essay by Simon, Ehrlich fumed: “Could the editors have found someone to review Simon’s manuscript who had to take off his shoes to count to 20?”

Name calling, ignoring contrary evidence, perverting the peer review process–this did not start with Climategate.

Julian Simon–Ehrlich’s Victor

Julian Simon (1932-98) tirelessly examined the statistical record relating to human welfare[1] to conclude, “Malthusian diminishing returns theory does not fit these observed facts and is not compelling intellectually; a theory of endogenous invention is more persuasive, in my view.”[2] Elsewhere he added, “I’m not an optimist, I’m a realist.”[3]

For three decades, Paul Ehrlich (1932- ), a biologist at Stanford University, has been the arch foe of Julian Simon’s views of natural resource scarcity, population growth, and the future human condition. Ehrlich’s dissatisfaction with Simon carried over to the personal realm. He likened Simon to “an imbecile,” a “flat earther,” and a “fringe character.”[4] As late as 1991 Paul and Anne Ehrlich belittled Simon as “an economist specializing in mail-order marketing.”[5] Only in their 1996 book did the Ehrlichs refer to Simon by his professional affiliation—Professor of Business Administration at the University of Maryland.[6]

Ehrlich’s doomsayer worldview proved popular, drowning out Simon’s optimistic but less newsworthy view from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s books attracted a variety of top publishing houses and sold in the millions. Simon’s empirically laden books, confined to the academic market, sold in the thousands. Paul Ehrlich appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over a dozen times, reaching millions more with his message of impending crises. Simon was able to give some major lectures, but he was never able to share his views with a national audience in any medium.[7] Ehrlich, meanwhile, refused to give Simon an opportunity to debate him.[8] [Read more →]

March 13, 2010   6 Comments

U.S. Wind Industry: Turbine Construction Won’t be Domestic

The wind industry is showing increasing signs of desperation as some unpleasant realities are emerging despite the unending propaganda storm from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Not only has it come out that Big Wind lobbied (and helped produce!) a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that slagged a Spanish study showing the epic failure of wind economics in Spain, but now, wind energy executives are admitting that they can’t obtain parts to build wind plantations unless they’re built abroad.

And, showing that hubris knows no bounds, they’re also lobbying for the U.S. to up the ante on wind, passing a renewable energy standard that would guarantee wind energy profits into the indefinite future.

According to The Hill, wind executives are engaging in a lobbying-flurry on Capitol Hill this week, going after the “Buy American” agenda that Senator Chuck Schumer is pushing with regard to renewable power projects funded with stimulus grants. Schumer has become somewhat agitated to learn that most (79%) of the US stimulus money spent on renewable energy has gone overseas creating manufacturing jobs abroad, but creating little but taxpayer debt here in the U.S.

The Hill quotes Donald Furman, senior vice president with Iberdrola Renewables as admitting that Schumer’s buy-American plan “will cause my company not to build the number of projects that it was going to build simply because we can’t get the equipment that would satisfy the requirement.”

This admission is only surprising because it was made in public. Anyone who knows that China’s labor rate is under $1.00 per hour, and that China holds 95% of the rare earth elements needed to produce most renewable energy systems could have told you that manufacturing of renewable equipment is going to happen mostly in China.

A second major focus of the industry lobbying this week is pushing Congress to approve a Renewable Electricity Standard, which would require utilities to supply ever greater amounts of electricity from renewable sources. The windmongers are pushing for a standard that would require 25 percent renewable energy in the US supply by 2025, a level that is not only more aggressive than existing House and Senate targets, but is almost certainly completely unattainable, and would be both expensive, and detrimental to energy system stability.

All of this comes atop a burgeoning wind power scandal uncovered by Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Through Freedom of Information requests, Horner has obtained evidence that a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory which bashed a high-profile Spanish study of wind power’s many failings was ginned up by lobbyists from the AWEA, the Global Wind Energy Council, and the uber-liberal Center for American Progress, all with the cooperation of the EPA, and the DOE.

Renewables have their place (such as off-grid solar), but the only way to determine what that place is would be through removing subsidies and regulatory mandates from all energy sources and letting the market sort it out. Setting that utopian wish aside, it’s hard to argue that wind power is a good investment if you have to gin up lame government reports to slam your critics; build your parts in China; subsidize the energy at historic levels; and still have to adopt mandates to force your wind power onto an unwilling market.

March 12, 2010   1 Comment

Empty Shell: The Unbearable Lightness of U.S. CAP (A critical look at Marvin Odum’s Op-Ed)

Yesterday (Mar. 9), the Houston Chronicle published an op-ed by Shell Oil CEO Marvin Odum titled, Why Shell Oil Co. and I are staying in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. It’s pretty thin on substance. Kinda reminds me of that ’80s film, “The Unbearable Lightness of Rent-Seeking.”

Maybe Mr. Odum got his marching orders from The Hague (Netherlands), or maybe he really believes cap-and-trade is good for the oil (and natural gas) business. These are strange times. Confusion abounds in high places.

In this post, I provide a running commentary on Odum’s column.  Odum’s verbiage is indented; my comments follow in bold type. 

Today, Washington is having the wrong energy and climate debate, and the future of the U.S. economy may be the biggest casualty.

A rather amazing statement, considering that the party of cap-and-trade controls the White House and the leadership of both the House and Senate. Saint Barack, Czarina Browner, Lisa Endangerment-Finding Jackson, General Boxer, and Inquisitor Waxman occupy the commanding heights of energy and climate policy in the nation’s capital, yet “Washington is having the wrong energy and climate debate.” How did they let that happen? Odum offers no explanation.

Rather than developing sensible legislation that creates a viable market for low-emission energy while developing more of our own oil and gas resources, Washington is engaged in a snowball fight over the science of global warming.

Yep, move along, nothing to see here. “Snowball fight” indeed. Top IPCC-affiliated scientists conspired to bias the peer-reviewed literature they would assess, ignored research that did not fit into the “nice tidy story” they wanted to tell, and violated the UK freedom of information act to prevent independent researchers from checking their data and methods. These IPCC insiders repeatedly flouted U.S. Government standards of openness and transparency, rendering the IPCC reports  unsuitable as basis for policymaking, as Peabody Energy documents in its 240-page examination of the Climategate files. [Read more →]

March 11, 2010   5 Comments

Can Utility-Scale Batteries Rescue Intermittent Renewables? (Improvement, market shakeout, but no ‘silver bullet’)

All interconnected transmission and distribution (T&D) grids have one thing in common. Their operators must continually dispatch generators to keep the network’s supply and demand in balance at all times and to maintain its voltage and frequency within very tight tolerances.

The “simultaneity problem” is not shared by oil or natural gas or coal. It is a tough reality for electricity that Thomas Edison and countless inventors since him have tried to solve via affordable battery storage. 

So where are we today in terms of cost per kWh to use batteries to store power and, in the case of intermittent technologies, firm power? For utility scale battery systems, expect to pay between $1,000/kW and $4,000/kW, according to the Electricity Storage Association. The DOE’s optimistic assessment estimates those costs will drop to around $500/kW by 2012.

Such adds at least a half cent per kWh to the cost of electricity.

Latest Technologies

There are about a dozen technologies vying for a piece of the utility-scale energy storage market, especially advanced battery technologies such as lithium ion and sodium sulfur batteries, pumped hydro, and compressed air energy storage. In this post, we’ll review the state-of-the-art of battery technology, a few interesting projects, and get a glimpse of the next generation of utility-scale batteries.

You should also note the few U.S. projects over the past few years and the large number number of battery technology companies chasing those projects. Several companies have since left the battery market or redefined their products. Little data on installed costs is available but included when available. Expect a major market shake-out over the next year or two.

The ongoing dissolution of the traditional electricity sector structure also seems to call for increased reliance on big batteries wherever feasible. One consequence of deregulation is that, in many states, generation and T&D are no longer planned in an integrated fashion by one entity—the local utility. Energy storage in general, and batteries in particular, can help stabilize the intermittent nature of nondispatchable renewable energy sources, for load leveling and peak shaving, substation standby power, or as fast acting reserves for system regulation control (ancillary services). Storage also has a critical role to play in securing the nation’s energy infrastructure, much as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve does for oil, and bulk gas storage does for balancing seasonal natural gas demand and supply. [Read more →]

March 10, 2010   9 Comments