Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #194

The Week That Was: August 29, 2015 – Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
THIS WEEK: By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Divergence: It is summertime in the US, and temperatures are warmer. Several readers have asked TWTW for comments on the recent claims that July 2015 was the hottest month ever and similar announcements by certain US government entities, including branches of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). These entities are making strong public statements that the globe continues to warm, and the future is dire. A humorist could comment that the closer we are to the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11, the hotter the globe becomes.

However, there are three significant forms of divergence that are being demonstrated. One divergence is the increasing difference between atmospheric temperatures and surface temperatures. The second divergence is the growing difference between temperatures forecast by models and observed temperatures, particularly atmospheric temperatures. This leads to the third divergence, the difference between the activities of what can be called the Climate Establishment and what is observed in nature.

The atmospheric temperatures are reported by two independent entities: the largely NASA-financed UAH entity at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) in California. The surface temperatures are reported by NOAA, NASA, and Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office, combined with those of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia. These measurements depend, in part, on the historic record maintained by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Unfortunately, for more than two decades, the historic record of the surface temperatures has been adjusted numerous times, without adequate records of the details and the effects. The net effect is an inflation of a warming trend, particularly obvious in the US where excellent historic records continue to exist. The UAH data have been adjusted, but the adjustments and effects have been publically recorded.

The divergence between the temperatures forecasted by the global climate models and the observed temperatures is becoming extremely obvious, particularly with the observed atmospheric temperatures. The adjustments to surface temperatures lessen this divergence somewhat, particular with the latest adjustments by the NCDC, where superior measurements taken by fixed or floating buoys were inflated to correspond with earlier, inferior measurements taken by ships. The director of NCDC, Tom Karl, was a lead author in the paper announcing this change. As a result, we should see announcements that sea surface temperatures, and global surface temperatures, are increasing, although the increase may be strictly an artifact of human adjustments rather than an occurrence in nature.

The questionable adjustments in reported surface temperatures leads to the third form of increasing divergence – the differences between what is reported by the Climate Establishment and what is occurring in nature. The Climate Establishment can be defined as those who embrace the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), particularly the assertion of a high confidence, a high degree of certainty, that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are causing unprecedented and dangerous global warming. Simply because data is adjusted to reflect the IPCC view, does not mean that the IPCC view is occurring.

The greenhouse effect takes place in the atmosphere, yet it is not being observed in the atmosphere. The satellite data, independently verified by four sets of weather balloon data, clearly shows it is not. There has been no significant warming for about 18 years. These data are the most comprehensive temperature data existing and are largely independent of other human influences that bias surface data such as urbanization, including building of structures and impervious surfaces, and other changes in land use. Those who broadcast claims of the hottest year ever, based on adjusted surface data, are actually emphasizing the divergence between science practiced by the Climate Establishment and Nature, and are not engaged in a natural science.

Unfortunately, many government entities and government-funded entities are involved in the Climate Establishment. The leaders of such government entities and funding entities demonstrate a lack of concern for institutional credibility, no respect for the scientific bases on which such institutions were built, including those who came before them and those who will replace them, and will leave their institutions in an inferior condition, rather than strengthen them.

It is important to note that not all government-funded entities are so involved. The National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), which is largely funded by the federal government (NASA) is a notable exception. See links under Measurement Issues.


Quote of the Week: “If we torture the data long enough, it will confess” Ronald Coase, Nobel in Economic Sciences, 1991 [H/t ICECAP]


Number of the Week: 0.7%


Ice Ages: Nature Communications published a new study proclaiming evidence that greenhouse gas concentrations drive the advance and retreat of glaciers, including those in the last Ice Age. The assertion was immediately emphasized by various organizations in the mass media. The opening sentence illustrates the quality of the work: “The ongoing retreat of glaciers globally is one of the clearest manifestations of recent global warming associated with rising greenhouse gas concentrations.” At best, the statement is a logical fallacy, petitio principii, better known as “begging the question.” That is, the main point of contention, the influence of greenhouses gases on temperatures, is assumed to be conceded.

The logic used in the abstract is similar to that Al Gore used in his film “An Inconvenient Truth.” Studies of carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperatures from ice cores with finer resolution than used by Gore showed that the inflection points [significant change in direction] do not match, and the CO2 inflection points lagged behind temperature inflection points by up to 8 to 10 centuries. If CO2 is the primary driver of temperature change, changes in its concentration should occur first.

In informal correspondence, physicist Donald Rapp, author of Ice Ages and Interglacials: Measurements, Interpretation, and Models, makes similar observations about the study, and states that the authors may have confused cause with effect. He emphasizes that no one really understands why and how the last ice age ended over a 10,000 year period from about 18,000 to 8,000 years ago. The hypotheses that have been advanced are highly speculative. We know that as the earth came out of the ice age, CO2 levels rose as the oceans warmed, but why did the oceans warm? See links under Un-Science or Non-Science?


Dramatic Sea Level Rise? A newly formed NASA Sea Level Change Team issued a press release stating it found dramatic increase in sea levels. According to team member Steve Nerem: “Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least 3 feet of sea level rise, and probably more.” The date not specified, except it is sometime in the future. Further, it may be completely unrelated to carbon dioxide.

The press release goes on to state: “Scientists estimate that about one-third of sea level rise is caused by expansion of warmer ocean water, one-third is due to ice loss from the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and the remaining third results from melting mountain glaciers. But, the fate of the polar ice sheets could change that ratio and produce more rapid increases in the coming decades.”

If the claims can be substantiated, the findings are significant, and disturbing. But as of August 29, there is little else to review other than the press release. The world-wide sea level rise that is claimed to be observed, 3 inches since 1992, significantly exceeds that observed using traditional tidal gauges. We must await the details, otherwise the whole episode just becomes an example of science by press release. See links under Lowering Standards.


Limits of Knowledge: The New York Times has an op-ed with the provocative, and perhaps misunderstood headline “The Case for Teaching Ignorance.” Understanding the limits of knowledge is an important part of education. Learning to form penetrating questions are often critical to advancing knowledge. The approach explained in the article is refreshing, compared with the unfounded certainty commonly found in professional life. See link under Other News that May Be of Interest.


Other Causes of Warming? According to recently published research in Advances in Space Research, the surface temperatures of many rocky planets and moons in the solar system can accurately be predicted over a broad range of atmospheric conditions and radiative regimes only using two forcing variables: top-of-the-atmosphere solar irradiance and total surface atmospheric pressure. The planets and moons considered are Venus, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Titan (a moon of Saturn), and Triton (a moon of Neptune). If the research is verified, then the case for global warming from increased greenhouses gases becomes weaker.

This analysis brings up an interesting issue raised by some global warming alarmists. At the surface, the atmospheric pressure of Venus is about 90 times that of earth at its surface. As the ideal gas laws indicate, this pressure, alone, will result in far greater temperatures on Venus than on earth. The atmosphere of Venus is about 96% carbon dioxide. Yet, many alarmists have warned that Venus is an example of what will happen on earth with the an increased greenhouse effect, not pressure, if human created greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere from three to four parts per 10,000. See links under Other Scientific News and http://nova.stanford.edu/projects/mod-x/id-pres.html


Number of the Week: 0.7% According to the US EIA, utility-scale solar generation by photovoltaics reached a record in the US in June 2015 with 2,765,000 MWh of electricity generated. This record was 0.7% of the total 361,698,000 MWh generated in the US for that month. See link under Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Solar and Wind.



Please note that articles not linked easily or summarized here are reproduced in the Articles Section of the full TWTW that can be found on the web site under the date of the TWTW.

1. Why Is the EPA Cleaning Up Mines?

Private mining companies have already shown they are better equipped to deal with the mess.

By Rhett Larson, WSJ, Aug 21, 2015


SUMMARY: The author, an associate professor of law at Arizona State University, opens with the blunt statement: “Images of the bright-yellow Animas River in Colorado, fouled by millions of gallons of toxic wastewater accidentally released from an abandoned mine by contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency last week, prompt a serious question: Why was the EPA even managing this waste in the first place? Mining companies that have the skills and experience to clean up such sites should be doing this work.”

“There are more than 557,000 abandoned hard rock mines in 32 states throughout the country. These sites often have been inactive for decades, and the responsible party either no longer exists or cannot be found. Abandoned mines can have devastating effects on the environment, and mismanaging them can lead to catastrophic spills like the one in the Animas River. Acids, heavy metals and toxic sediments from these spills can persist for years, preventing use of the water and harming agriculture, fishing, wildlife and recreation.”

The author cites specific examples of successful clean-up operations performed by private companies, then states that mining companies are reluctant to take on such tasks. If the EPA “disaster had occurred at the hand of a mining company, the firm and its leaders would face a public relations nightmare, and perhaps a legal one. Mining companies are understandably reluctant to risk such liability without some assurance that they will not be punished for accidents resulting from reasonable efforts to clean up somebody else’s mess.

“Three reforms can get the best people involved in cleaning up pollution from abandoned mines. First, mining companies that voluntarily agree to help remediate orphaned mines should be eligible for “Good Samaritan” permits for cleanup operations. These permits could provide that, if mining companies use the best available pollution prevention measures and otherwise comply with permit requirements, they would be shielded from liability under state and federal law.

“Second, companies that generate net ecological benefits by remediating orphaned mines should qualify for expedited permitting for other projects. New mines typically must obtain permits under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other environmental laws before they begin operations. When a mining company agrees to remediate an orphaned site in connection with a new mining project, the regulatory system should make such permits less expensive and easier to obtain.

“Third, states could form environmental credit markets that would enable mining companies to make money from activities that help the environment. When a mining company remediates an abandoned mine and improves water quality, it could receive credits allowing certain other limited discharges into that river or aquifer, so long as those discharges do not violate water quality standards. Even if the mining company does not itself have any use for the credits, it could sell them to another firm—say, a manufacturer whose operations release pollutants into the water.


2. Improved Storm Modeling Since Katrina Changes Insurance Equation

By Ben DiPietro, WSJ, Aug 27, 2015


SUMMARY: “Hurricane Katrina changed the way insurance companies and some corporations build catastrophe models and calculate the potential damage from a big storm, leading to more accurate damage predictions, better risk assessments and more strategic and cost-effective insurance policy decisions, some risk management experts said.

“Catastrophe storm models from when Katrina hit 10 years ago were fairly crude and largely used by insurers to assess portfolio exposure–basically attempting to understand how much risk a company or insurer had in a given geography, wind zone, earthquake zone or flood zone, said Steve Truono, vice president of global risk management and insurance at Starwood Hotels & Resorts. But those models in many cases were inaccurate and weren’t necessarily developed or tailored to address complications that might arise, he said.”

The article emphasizes the more accurate modeling by insurances companies of the costs of replacing losses, including how they collect and assess data from storms, rather than better modeling of significant storms. All this applies to risk management as seen at the corporate level.


3. The EPA’s Own Email Problem

Another government employee, another private account, another crashed hard drive.

By Kimberley Strassel, WSJ, Aug 27, 2015


Discussing the subpoena of Phillip North by a federal court in regard to EPA’s denial to a permit for the Pebble mine in Alaska, the author states: government workers don’t use private email because it is “convenient.” “They use private email to engage in practices that may be unsavory, or embarrassing, or even illegal. Let’s be clear about that.

“Mr. North was, until a few years ago, a biologist at the Environmental Protection Agency, based in Alaska. Around 2005 he became enmeshed in reviewing the Pebble Partnership’s proposal to develop a mine there. Mr. North has openly admitted that he was opposed to this idea early on, and he is entitled to his opinion. Still, as a government employee his first duty is to follow the law.

“In the normal course of law, Pebble would file for permits and the Army Corps of Engineers would get the first say over approval. The EPA has a secondary role. But records show that EPA officials, including Mr. North, had no intention of letting the process get that far. They set about to “pre-emptively” veto the mine, before Pebble could even file for permits. But for the EPA to so flagrantly insert itself into the process, it needed cause. This is where Mr. North and his private email come in.

“The biologist was deeply involved in most of the work on Pebble, and would later brag about his role in killing the project. He had briefed high-level officials; drafted an early “options paper” laying out the veto strategy; and taken a star role in the “science” the EPA would use to justify the 2014 veto. But perhaps Mr. North’s biggest contribution was as serving as a liaison to (and coordinating with) anti-mine activists.

“The EPA would ultimately claim that it acted ‘in response to petitions’ filed against the mine in 2010 by Native American tribes. But those petitions didn’t spring from nowhere. According to documents Pebble has given a federal court, Mr. North was working with those outside activists to engineer the petitions—from inside the EPA. He also worked with the activists, including a lawyer representing the tribes, to hone the EPA’s veto strategy. And he did this via a private email address. Why? Because he shouldn’t have been doing any of it.”

It gets weirder, in that Mr. North was one of those Obama employees whose government hard drives conveniently crashed. Only after Congress started investigating the Pebble scandal did the EPA inform lawmakers that Mr. North’s crash just happened to wipe out documents from the period in question.

“Mr. North, meanwhile, has fled the country. He retired from the EPA in the spring of 2013. The House Oversight Committee in July of that year asked him to appear for an interview. They went round and round on a possible date, until in October 2013 he claimed he was on a world boat tour, and that moreover his boat had suffered damage. He also hired a lawyer, who has not made Mr. North available for in-person or telephone interviews. He’s thought to be in Australia.

“That’s why Pebble in mid-August asked a federal court to subpoena Mr. North and his documents. The EPA for its part has continued to suggest that Mr. North was only a junior employee who had no real role in the veto process.”

After quoting the judge who expressed that the court would be surprised if the EPA were not as anxious as Pebble to obtain testimony and access to documents controlled by Mr. North, the author concludes that agencies such as the EPA “know exactly why their employees use private email. And they know the release of it means nothing but trouble.”


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