Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #178

The Week That Was: May 2, 2015 – Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Uncertainty: On her web site, Climate Etc., Judith Curry posted her notes on her latest presentation of what she calls the Uncertainty Monster. The presentation was a keynote talk at the “2nd International Workshop on Econometric Applications in Climatology.” Linked in the post are the slides in her presentation, which are very useful in understanding the presentation.

Curry’s effort attempts to articulate the difference, in her view, between what we know and what we do not know about climate science. Her views began after Climategate, and have changed over the past few years. Confusion and ambiguity are common in the public and the climate community, and occur because all too often members of the community fail to distinguish between knowledge and ignorance; objectivity and subjectivity; facts and values; prediction and speculation; and science and policy.

In her view, the science as reported by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has institutionalized overconfidence. The overconfidence has resulted in disagreements based on: insufficient observational evidence; disagreement about the value of different classes of evidence (e.g. models); disagreement about the appropriate logical framework for linking and assessing the evidence; assessments of areas of ambiguity and ignorance; and belief polarization as a result of politicization of the science. To this list, SEPP would add that the IPCC and its parent organization, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have failed make it explicitly clear in every publication that their mission is not to understand all the influences on climate change, but purely the human one, thus ignoring major natural influences on climate change.

Curry goes on to describe what she calls the UNFCCC/ICCC ideology:

  1. Anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change is real
  2. Anthropogenic climate change is dangerous
  3. Action is needed to prevent dangerous climate change
  4. Deniers are attacking climate science and scientists
  5. Deniers and fossil fuel industry are delaying UNFCCC CO2 stabilization policies

Curry discusses major issues regarding the treatment of uncertainty, including that the often used Bayesian statistical methods, which have difficulty in dealing with true uncertainty, are subjective, and may lead to biased results. She suggests Bayesian methods may be appropriate for two-value logic: probability the hypothesis is true and probability the hypothesis is false. However, the climate problem requires evidence based logic with at least three values: 1) evidence for the hypothesis, 2) total ignorance (or uncommitted belief); and 3) evidence against the hypothesis.

She concludes with the statements:

“In the 5 years since I started stalking the uncertainty monster, we’ve seen a lot of intellectual progress on how to frame and approach this issue. It is becoming easier for scientists to do and publish research that challenges the consensus. That’s the good news.

“The bad news is that the interface between climate science and policy remains badly broken. Many politicians seem to have become uncertainty deniers, with President Obama leading the pack. The UNFCCC/IPCC is on a collision course with reality; it will be interesting to see how the Paris meeting goes next Dec, and how the IPCC AR6 will proceed. But science seems less and less relevant to what is going on in the policy arena. Which is fine; please get out of our way and let us do our science so that we can try to figure all this out by exploring the knowledge frontiers, rather than pledging allegiance to the consensus.”

In SEPP’s view, Curry’s assessments apply to the US National Assessment by the US Global Change Research Program as well as to the IPCC. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Quote of the Week: “A genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is 500 years away easier than he can a thing that’s only 500 seconds off. – Mark Twain, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” [H/t Bishop Hill]


Number of the Week: Plus 53%, plus 89%, and minus 10%


Preordained Policy: Ironically on April 23, the same day as Curry’s post, the Wall Street Journal carried an op-ed by Lamar. Smith, a Republican Congressman from Texas and chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, addressing the failures of the IPCC and the UNFCCC to provide rigorous science to address the human influence on climate change, particularly the influence of carbon dioxide emissions.

Rep. Smith expressed concern that the Obama administration recently submitted its pledge to the UNFCCC which would lock the U.S. into reducing greenhouse-gas emissions more than 25% by 2025 and “economy-wide emission reductions of 80% or more by 2050.” “The president’s pledge lacks details about how to achieve such goals without burdening the economy, and it doesn’t quantify the specific climate benefits tied to his pledge.

“Instead of letting political ideology or climate ‘religion’ guide government policy, we should focus on good science. The facts alone should determine what climate policy options the U.S. considers. That is what the scientific method calls for: inquiry based on measurable evidence. Unfortunately this administration’s climate plans ignore good science and seek only to advance a political agenda.

“Yet those who raise valid questions about the very real uncertainties surrounding the understanding of climate change have their motives attacked, reputations savaged and livelihoods threatened. This happens even though challenging prevailing beliefs through open debate and critical thinking is fundamental to the scientific process. [boldface added]

“The intellectual dishonesty of senior administration officials who are unwilling to admit when they are wrong is astounding. When assessing climate change, we should focus on good science, not politically correct science.”

Rep. Smith cites backs up his assertions with specific examples, including testimony by Judith Curry to his Committee a week before. [The conspiracy theorists will have fun with that.] See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Rebellion in Oklahoma? The EPA’s implementation of its “Clean Power Plan” is running into trouble. The plan is critical to the President’s pledge to the UNFCCC to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Mr. Obama apparently believes he can accomplish what he pledges by issuing Presidential executive orders. Others do not agree.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has issued a state executive order asserting the state will not comply with the EPA plan. The state legislature is considering legislation reinforcing the Governor’s executive order. Oklahoma may be the first of many states to rebel. The EPA may try to force a plan on rebellious states. The legal issues would take years to work out, long after Mr Obama leaves office. To complicate the issue, some members of Congress are now asserting any multi-state compacts, which the EPA is considering, require the approval of Congress. The next few years will not be boring. See links under Litigation Issues.


Measurement Issues – Atmosphere: For over twenty-five years Roy Spencer and John Christy (University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH)) have been monitoring global atmospheric temperatures using MSU/AMSU global satellites. The data starts in December 1978. Later joined by William Braswell, they are now undertaking the most extensive revision of the procedures and computer code they have used. The new set is termed as Version 6.0. The rationale for undertaking the change is that the calibration of the satellite instruments is not rock stable, over the years there have been channel failures, and that the satellite orbits change over time.

Another reason given is that data from the older MSU instruments were reasonable for calculating global average temperatures, the new AMSU instruments are superior for calculating regional variations in temperatures.

Rather than making the changes, then submitting them to a peer-reviewed journal for publication, a process that would take at least two years, the group has publically announced its proposed changes for public review, including on Roy Spencer’s web site. The announcement is considered a draft, subject to review, of what is being done. Appropriate suggestions are being considered.

The UAH satellite adjustments are empirically based adjustments, not climate-model based adjustments such as by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS). Interestingly, UAH data showed a shorter period of no warming (the pause or plateau) than the RSS data did. After the new adjustments, the new UAH dataset shows an eighteen year pause, in line with the RSS dataset.

In addition, the new UAH adjustments lowers the trend for more recent temperatures – earlier temperatures have faster warming, similar with results from the RSS approach. Land areas show a greater warming decadal trend since 1979 than ocean areas, and both trends are weaker than thermometer-based trends

As with the past, the UAH team is a sterling example of transparency in scientific research. No doubt some will be critical of what the team is accomplishing and SEPP, for example, may disagree on how UAH calculates trends. But, the team provides an example of how science progresses. See links under Measurement Issues — Atmosphere


Measurement Issues – Surface: The Global Warming Policy Foundation announced the formation of a team to examine the data integrity of surface datasets. For example, the disparity between the raw and final NOAA data needs detailed explanation, something with NOAA has not provided. The repeated announcements of hottest period in the record by NOAA and NASA often are inconsistent with US temperature setting records of the 1930s. The primary issue is not a grand conspiracy, to manipulate the data, but the overall impact of a series of adjustments to the surface temperature record. Any claim of conspiracy is secondary. The Berkeley team performed such an analysis several years ago, but it focused only on land-based data. The oceans remain about 71% of the earth’s surface. See links under Measurement Issues — Surface


The Vatican: The Pope may issue an encyclical to the Catholic Church on climate change, which follows the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR-5, 2013-14). If so, the limitations with the UN IPCC science discussed above, in the NIPCC reports, and in past TWTWs apply. The science is anything but compelling. As seen in India, China, and elsewhere, fossil fuel use has lifted millions from dire poverty. For many, the use of fossil fuels is a blessing. A rationale for preventing climate change by curtailing fossil fuel use seems to be contrary to the Catholic social teaching on “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.” See links under Expanding the Orthodoxy and http://www.nipccreport.org/


Thermodynamics: The April 18 TWTW expressed the view that not all the verbal variations of the Second Law of Thermodynamics apply to all forms of energy, in addition to thermal energy, which is based on the motion of atoms and/or molecules. Immediately, we received excited comments. Rather than addressing the comments individually, we are combining the comments with a more detailed explanation for this view. The explanation will focus on the verbal interpretations, not the mathematics. The explanation should appear in the May 16 TWTW if not before.


California Duck: Energy commentator Donn Dears, who has a wealth of experience with power plants and energy systems, has a solid explanation of the California Duck. The duck is a series of curves created by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) illustrating issues of adding solar and wind electrical generation to the traditional generation mix. An over generation risk may develop when the consumption is moderate, but the renewable power is heavy, such as mid-afternoon. The situation changes in the evening, when the sun goes down, the winds die, and consumption increases. Though not without its critics, the duck explains a developing cost problem for utilities and the consumer.

Add to this, the costs of maintaining traditional sources of reliable power, the energy policies of California may be creating difficult future problems. The Governor just issued an executive order calling for more renewable power. The question is at what point does the duck get so fat that it cannot waddle? See links under California Dreaming.


April Fools: In addition to nominees discussed in the April 18 TWTW, Governors Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Jay Inslee of Washington have been nominated for the SEPP’s April Fools Award. Hillary Clinton, Christiana Figueres of the UNFCCC, Angela Merkel, PM of Germany, Janet McCabe of the EPA, and William Chameides of Duke University have also been nominated for this prestigious honor. Please cast your vote or present a new candidate by May 8. Thank you.


Number of the Week: Plus 53%, plus 89%, and minus 10%. According to an April 3 report to Congress by Marc Humphries of the Congressional Research Service, from Fiscal Year 2010 to FY 2014, oil production in the US increased by 53%, total; 89%. on non-Federal lands; and declined 10% on Federal-controlled lands and waters. Correspondingly, natural gas production increased 22% total; 37% on private lands; and declined 31% on Federal-controlled lands and waters. Deep underground horizontal drilling with multi-port hydraulic fracturing has not been permitted on Federal lands and shut off from Federal waters. No wonder the Greens and their political adherents invent myths casting doubts on the safety of “fracking.”


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