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Posts from — August 2010

Let’s Stop Playing the Climate-Change Blame Game (Extreme weather alarmism unfounded)

There has been renewed talk in recent weeks about whether this summer’s scattering of extreme weather events is linked to anthropogenic climate change.

True, humans have altered the radiatively active portions of the atmosphere by adding greenhouse gases and aerosols. We’ve also altered the planetary landscape. These alterations are now part of the integrated global climate system that produces daily weather events—both extreme and benign.

So can our influence change the intensity of weather events? Yes.

Can it cause an event to happen that otherwise wouldn’t have? Conceivably.

Does it always act to make the weather more severe? No.

Are the changes detectable? Hmmm.

It seems that it is this issue of detectability that we often get hung up on. Otherwise, how do we know that human changes are having any impact?

Well, we know because, like I said, we’ve altered the active system.

“Detectability” is really just about trying to determine whether our alterations have produced a loud enough signal that it can be heard through the collective natural noise.

At least that is the purely scientific/statistical aspect of detectability.

There is a social/political aspect as well. For once detectability is established, then blame can be meted out, and with blame comes calls for retribution and regulation.

The latter is the reason why the issue has become front page news. And why there are comments and speculation in seemingly every news story about the role that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions may have played in every severe weather event. Folks are looking for someone to blame.

Acts of God are typically exempt for retribution. But acts of man? By God, someone is going to have to pay!

Once detectability has been established, this will open the door to blaming everything on anthropogenic climate change, and to a disregard of the fact that weather (including severe events) existed previously. After all, if you are going to sue someone for your Gulf Coast beach house being destroyed in a hurricane, are you only going to sue for 5% of the damage? Or even consider whether you should have built your beach house there in the first place?

Probably not. [Read more →]

August 31, 2010   2 Comments

“Wind Power Won’t Cool Down the Planet” (Robert Bryce exposes windpower’s dirty secret)

Robert Bryce continues to bear down on the failure of wind as a useful and beneficial source of utility-scale electricity, as shown in his recent Wall Street Journal article. (The full text is available on Bryce’s website and is provided below for convenience.)

In his latest book, Power Hungry; The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, Bryce detailed the rationale underlying the inadequacies of renewables, especially wind, and their inability to make any worthwhile contribution to inexpensive, reliable electricity supply or “save the planet.”

Research into this topic is expanding (see this review of 2010 study by Peter Lang) beyond existing vague, high-level, general analyses that do not account for all the factors at play in integrating intermittent and volatile wind into an electricity grid. Such incomplete studies lead to the wrong conclusions, and my critiques of examples of these by Milligan, Komanoff and Gross are available at the links provided.

In the absence of comprehensive, definitive studies to show these effects, in previous posts I have described my fossil fuel and CO2 emissions calculator as a working hypothesis and framework to do this with available information. The calculator shows it produces similar results to two other new studies.

Without careful evaluation of the outcomes, such policies as a Renewable Energy Standard or Renewal Portfolio Standard will result in a needless industrialization of our natural environment, and require a large commitment of national wealth with ineffective results. [Read more →]

August 30, 2010   15 Comments

Judith Curry Looks for Middle Ground in the Contentious Climate Debate (Jerry North, can you help her?)

“I am not afraid about the climate.”

- Judith Curry, quoted in Alexandre Mansur, “American Researcher Says That There Is Still a lot of Uncertainty About Global Warming, Época, May 1, 2010.

“Real Climate, I think they’ve damaged their brand. They started out doing something that people liked, but they’ve been too partisan in a scientific way.”

- Judith Curry, quoted in Eric Berger, “Judith Curry: On Antarctic sea ice, Climategate and skeptics.” August 18, 2010.

There is solid middle ground in the ever-contentious climate-change debate. And now is the time to welcome it, given that politics is not going to reverse in any detectable amount the human influence on climate.

And the shame of the post-Climategate era is that other scientists like Curry did not join her to right the wrongs of a profession that has become politicized, agendacized, and Malthusiancized. And perhaps no one more than Gerald North of Texas A&M epitomizes this lost opportunity. For North is a middle-of-the-roader who inexplicably went Left after Climategate, a story that I documented here at MasterResource.

Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle, whom I have previously identified as a straight shooter in the climate debate, recently posted an interview he did at his blog SciGuy with Professor Curry that is reprinted below (with permission). I also attach an appendix of another Curry interview. [Read more →]

August 27, 2010   4 Comments

Latest on the Death Spiral of Climate Alarmism (Is it time to focus on real environmental problems and not CO2?)

Ken Green at MasterResource published an influential post, The Death Spiral for Climate Alarmism Continues (June 2, 2010), that began with two quotations:

“We have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.”

- James Hansen, “The Threat to the Planet,” New York Review of Books, July 13, 2006.

“Desperation is setting in among climate alarmists who by their own math can see that the window is rapidly closing on ’saving the planet’.”

- Kenneth Green, ”A Death Spiral for Climate Alarmism, Redux?” MasterResource, September 30, 2009.

And what was true in June is even more true today as the failure to price carbon dioxide (CO2) is leaving Europe as the sacrificial lambs on an altar of climate-change inconsequentiality.

Here is the latest stanza on the death spiral as reported earlier this month in ClimateWire. [Read more →]

August 26, 2010   4 Comments

The Catastrophe That Wasn’t: The Gulf Oil Spill in Perspective

Picture your neighbor’s pool.  Unless you live in Malibu, it’ll contain about 6,000 gallons.  That’s the “Gulf” for purposes of discussion.  Now go to your garage, get a quart of oil and pour it in when he’s not looking.  Pretty good sense of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, right?

Nope, not even close.  Put a drop of that oil onto a sheet of paper and carefully cut it in half.  Now do it again and toss that quarter of a drop into the deep end.  Even this quarter droplet (about the size of the comma in this sentence) is about 10% too large, but NOW you have a sense of what 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf looks like.[1]

Now that we’ve grappled with the issue of scale, let’s look at the aftermath of this ‘catastrophe.’  According to the government scientists, seventy-five percent of that sliver of a droplet has now evaporated, been eaten by microbes, skimmed or burnt. (This estimate is in dispute, but every day the released oil is being reduced to get to that figure, if not beyond it.)

Now, you’re going to need to borrow your kid’s microscope for the rest of this exercise…. [Read more →]

August 25, 2010   17 Comments

Rent Seeking with Global Warming: From Enron to California AB 32

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is a co-chair of the committee supporting the California citizens’ ballot initiative, Proposition to suspend California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32).

The mainstream media has perpetuated a misperception that the Proposition 23 to suspend AB 32 is the work of, and funded by, sinsiter out-of-stater parties. That’s neither a real issue (what happens in California affects everybody) nor factually correct.

I can attest to the homegrown nature, having been involved for over four years—essentially since AB32 was first passed in 2006, as have others. The funding for opposition to the initiative has gotten very little attention by MSM, a phenomenon Mr. Coupal begins to correct in his featured column, reproduced below with permission, on the popular website FlashReport.

His editorial links Enron to regulating carbon dioxide (CO2). In fact, Enron had seven profit centers tied to pricing CO2 via cap-and-trade. Enron, as the following quotations attest, was vitally interested in what became AB 32. Here is some history of Enron, climate alarmism, and CO2 regulation (prominently including cap-and-trade):

“Since 1976, Enron [and predecessor company] employees have been at the forefront of developing air credit trading policies for governments and businesses…. Enron today is the largest and most sophisticated air emissions credit and allowance trading organization in the United States. Since 1990, Enron has participated in over 80 SOx allowance transactions and has also been active in establishing policies for trading NOx in the United States and carbon [dioxide] world-wide.”

- “Enron Corp.’s Participation in Air Trading,” Enron Capital & Trade Resources, November 4, 1996 (copy in files).

“If implemented, [the Kyoto Protocol] will do more to promote Enron’s business than will almost any other regulatory initiative…. The endorsement of [CO2] emissions trading was another victory for us…. This agreement will be good for Enron stock!”

- John Palmisano (December 12, 1997) from Kyoto, Japan. Quoted in Bradley, Capitalism at Work, p. 307.

“We are a green company, but the green stands for money.”

- Jeff Skilling, CEO, Enron Corp., quoted in Capitalism at Work, p. 310.

Jon Coupal is quite Californian and quiet critical of AB32. His article is thus reprinted in full. [Read more →]

August 24, 2010   6 Comments

Carol Browner Knows the Drill (a surprising advocate of hydraulic fracturing of gas)

In June 2004, EPA released a study examining the safety and performance of an energy technology known as hydraulic fracturing – particularly in the context of its use in coalbed methane wells, from which nearly 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were produced in 2008 (latest numbers).

The goal of the study was simple: Determine whether the fracturing of coalbed wells had the potential to adversely affect the quality and composition of underground sources of drinking water (USDW). EPA’s methodology: Research more than 200 peer-reviewed publications, and interview almost 100 different state regulators, environmentalists, and industry reps. EPA’s conclusion: No evidence linking the deployment of fracturing technology to drinking water contamination. Of course, since the study was released during the tenure of the previous president, its findings were rejected out-of-hand by environmentalists – never mind that the study itself was initiated during the Clinton administration by then-EPA administrator Carol Browner.

Interestingly, Ms. Browner crops up a number of times in the looking back at the history of EPA involvement with hydraulic fracturing – and not necessarily in ways you’d expect. Here she is in 1995, for example, blinding a plaintiff’s attorney with some science in explaining the concept of geological separation, and why that’s an important part in assessing the safety of the fracturing process:

There is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing at issue has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water (USDW). … Moreover, given the horizontal and vertical distance between the drinking water well and the closest methane production wells, the possibility of contamination of endangerment of USDWs in the area is extremely remote. (emphasis added)

Why is any of this important? Quite simply, if you’re looking to prove that fracturing activities contaminate groundwater – notwithstanding 60 years of evidence suggesting the opposite — first you need to prove the formations being fractured are communicating with the formations holding that groundwater.

Problem is, if you can’t prove it’s happening in coalbed methane formations (which reside only hundreds of feet from the water table), the job of proving it’s happening in shale formations (which reside several thousands of feet from the water table) becomes all the more difficult to do. And shale, after all, is the big prize here. Remember how coalbeds produced 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2008 nationwide? According to one report, natural gas development from shale could yield 5 trillion cubic feet by 2020. Not nationwide; that’s in a single state (PA). [Read more →]

August 23, 2010   5 Comments

(Book Review) James Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity” (alarmism on steroids)

Many scientists are concerned about the future and continue to study various aspects of our environment, including the climate. But, for Dr. James Hansen there is no doubt. Our world is headed for disaster unless we take immediate and drastic action to control greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2).

You have to give the man credit: He actually believes what he preaches. He shows pictures of his wonderful grandchildren and his concern for them is certainly evident. There is only one problem with what he shares: There is little evidence to support what he says.

Take this example:

Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril. The urgency of the situation crystallized only in the past few years. We now have clear evidence of the crisis, provided by increasingly detailed information about how Earth responded to perturbing forces during its history (very sensitively, with some lag caused by the inertia of massive oceans) and by observations of changes that are beginning to occur around the globe in response to ongoing climate change. The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet but also the survival of humanity itself—and the timetable is shorter than we thought. (Emphasis Added P. IX)

Now, the one thing that Dr. Hansen is not going to share with us is the “clear evidence” of a coming crisis. In fact there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Dr. Hansen may understand some scientific principles but he seems to lack any common sense. He talks about plants becoming extinct because they cannot migrate because cities and farms are in the way. Yet, any person who has ever planted a garden knows that seeds find a way of getting where they want to go.

Dr. Hansen, along with a number of other climate change alarmists (like Al Gore), believes that man is the chief cause of global warming, and that warming is generally harmful. In fact more people die from cold than die from heat. Not only that but increasing levels of carbon dioxide are generally beneficial to plants, enabling them to survive with less water. [Read more →]

August 20, 2010   42 Comments

A Skeptic of Climate Alarmism Speaks: Does Walter Cunningham Have More of a Case than His Critics Contend?

“As I have argued for years, we simply do not know the answer [to the sensitivity of climate to greenhouse gas forcing]. There is a wide margin of error in many of the ingredients that go into the [climate] models. For example, we do not know some of the radiative properties of the aerosols to a factor of 5. No matter how good your climate model is, you cannot compensate for that uncertainty. The range of uncertainty is broad enough to accommodate [Patrick] Michaels (well, maybe North) and [Jerry] Mahlman.”

- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), September 17, 1999

“One has to fill in what goes on between 5 km and the surface. The standard way is through atmospheric models. I cannot make a better excuse.”

- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), October 2, 1998

“We do not know much about modeling climate. It is as though we are modeling a human being. Models are in position at last to tell us the creature has two arms and two legs, but we are being asked to cure cancer.”

- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), November 12, 1999

The quotations above are what Gerald North privately believes–or believed prior to Climategate, an event that pushed him to the Left unlike his scientific colleague Judith Curry. I reproduce his quotations (there are many others) in light of a recent op-ed published by geophysicist and Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham in the Houston Chronicle , “Climate Change Alarmists Ignore Scientific Methods.”

Cunningham makes a number of worthy points that should not be dismissed by the political “mainstream” climate scientists such as Andrew Dessler at Texas A&M. Cunningham can find support from many sources, from pollsters to economists to physical scientists.

Consider all three in turn:

Public Concern: The public is fatigued by and skeptical of sky-is-falling environmentalism when most objective indicators of environmental welfare are trending positive. (Even the worst-case oil spill by “beyond petroleum” BP has not turned into the disaster that anti-technology, anti-capitalism environmentalists had expected and hoped–the subject of a forthcoming post at MasterResource.)

Political Economy: Programs to regulate CO2 are all pain and no gain. Compare the costs of any local, state, federal, or international climate program versus the associated temperature reduction. It is tears in the ocean of benefit versus economic waste and politicization–and a loss of freedom.

We know more than ever before how government failure of  regulating  CO2 is as great or greater than the alleged market failure of not regulating CO2. International and national efforts to regulate CO2 smell so bad that more and more environmentalists are holding their nose.

Physical Science: Cunningham’s case against high-sensitivity warming can find support from not only middle-of-the-roaders such as Gerald North of Texas A&M (see quotations above) but also the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on close inspection.

Here are two salient IPCC quotations that were part of John Droz’s recent post at MasterResource: [Read more →]

August 19, 2010   6 Comments

Obama Gives Oil and Gas a Cold Shoulder (Ducking Houston on his recent visit)

President Obama did not include Houston on his visit to Texas last week rallying his base and raising funds for Democrats for the November elections. The President was originally expected to be here but ended up in Austin and Dallas. Was this bypass a duck-out? After all, Congressman Kevin Brady (R. Tx.) pointedly invited the president to meet face-to-face with Houston energy workers on the other Gulf Crisis—the federal offshore drilling moratorium that threatens tens of thousands of jobs here and in much of the Gulf Coast region.

Sure, Obama’s Texas visit was not about helping Republican candidates or hosting a Tea Party event. But why couldn’t the president reserve an hour to talk to workers whose livelihoods depend on Houston’s largest industry – an industry that is being victimized by the President’s everyone-is-guilty drilling policy? “I have seen enough to know that people are hurting,” said Michael Bromwich, Obama’s hand-picked moratorium advisor, recently. Surely the president needs to talk to the oil and gas workers in order to share that understanding—and to know that time is of the essence when it comes to lifting the moratorium.

Obama’s cold shouldering of the industry is no accident. It is an open secret that the White House intelligentsia (called by some the “‘green’ dream team”) does not like oil or even natural gas. They like solar, wind, and other esoteric energies that just happen to be more expensive and less reliable—and, on close inspection, environmentally suspect.

For a president interested in job creation, and at least nominally in favor of energy affordability, Obama is proving to be his own worst enemy and at odds with the average American. The polls reflect public concern with the explosive growth in government being driven by the party in power. From health care to energy, most Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. [Read more →]

August 18, 2010   5 Comments