Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #244

The Week That Was:  October 8, 2016 –  Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Changing Sun: Andy May has an interesting essay on Watts Up With That on variability of the sun and its influence on climate. Several decades ago, it was an accepted “fact” in physics that the intensity of the sun did not vary. Now, the issue is by how much. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that solar output varies little and has a small impact on the earth’s climate. Some solar observers disagree: the output of the sun varies significantly. Observations of other dimming stars support the latter view. If so, the IPCC may be significantly overestimating the influence of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas that the UN is attempting to regulate, though water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas.

May discusses variations in the earth’s orbit, which are generally accepted as explaining the current period of ice ages interrupted by brief warm periods. The current orbit parameters indicate that the earth is cooling – far more significantly than any calculated influence of CO2. [The high end guesses of major warming influence of CO2 remain guesses.]

May goes on to discuss a variety of proposed solar cycles, which are not generally accepted. However, given the long duration of some of the solar cycles, over 60 years and poorly understood, some solar cycles may have a profound, cumulative influence on the earth’s climate, though the annual impact may be small.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is the lack of uniformity of the earth’s surface. About 80% of the Tropics are water. The Tropics receive more solar energy than other parts of the globe. The Pacific is about one-third of the earth’s surface, and over two-thirds of the land mass are in the Northern Hemisphere. These characteristics lead to energy flows internal to the earth, that are poorly understood, and result in uneven regional influence at any particular time. These varying energy flows call into question efforts to measure global temperatures (surface-air) using thermometers a few feet off the ground. As May concludes:

“So, given that many natural climate cycles are much longer than 59 years and poorly understood; how can we have confidence in the IPCC calculation of man’s influence? We are not suggesting that man has no influence on climate, but we do not believe that man has caused most of the recent warming.

“A key take-away is that solar variability and the Earth’s orbit can have a large effect on global climate. But, the conditions on the Earth at the time of the solar change coupled with the uneven distribution of oceans, ice and land on the surface cause the impact of any solar change to be distributed unevenly. This delays the global impact on temperature and causes what we observe as long term oceanic cycles. These long-term cycles are not properly accounted for in the climate models.”

These variations in cycles produce to what is called an “interference pattern.” Some cycles are in-phase, producing a larger-than-normal impact on climate, others are not.

See links under Commentary: Is the Sun Rising?


Quote of the Week. Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” – Albert Einstein


Number of the Week: 4 years or a bit longer


Vanished Hot Spot: The paper by Wallace, Christy and D’Aleo on the inability to find the so-called hot spot, featured in the IPCC Second Assessment Report, was carried by Watts Up With That. The post has resulted in comments, including possible errors in some of the graphs. No doubt the comments will be addressed by the authors.

Also, one is reminded of the 2014 paper by Chris de Freitas et al., which reported that the warming trend reported by the government of New Zealand overestimated the actual warming trend by over 300%, using surface data from 1909 to 2009. The government reported a trend of 0.91 °C per century. The de Freitas et. al., paper “uses updated measurement techniques and corrects for shelter-contaminated data, produces a trend of 0.28 °C per century.” The difference is significant.

The de Freitas paper is not inconsistent with the finding of Wallace because the time frames are different, data are different, and the statistical techniques, though similar, are different.

The time frame of de Freitas was 1909 to 2009, Wallace 1959 to 2015, de Freitas used surface data, Wallace used atmospheric data from weather balloons; de Freitas used linear regression (apparently), Wallace used ramp-step regression. The advantage of the ramp-step regression is that it may highlight a significant change in the trend that straight linear regression does not. Also, it may give misleading trends. However, the same ramp-step occurred in all the datasets that Wallace analyzed indicating that something significant occurred in 1977, which the authors called the 1977 Pacific Climate Shift and others have called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).

Some critics of the work state that the “hot-spot” is not important. But it was very important for the IPCC in continuing its funding when it featured the hot spot in the Second Assessment Report (AR-2, 1996). Further, the hot spot was considered as one of the key lines of evidence by the EPA in its finding that greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, endanger public health and welfare. For purposes of government regulations, it is not what the science demonstrates, but what the courts believe. And the courts believed the EPA. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Measurement Issues – Surface.


IPCC Confidence: Another line of evidence offered by the EPA is the global climate models. Already, John Christy has shown that, except for the model by the Russian Institute of Numerical Mathematics, the global climate models greatly overestimate the warming of the atmosphere, where the greenhouse effect takes place.

In the Fourth Assessment Report (AR-4, 2007) by the IPCC, just before the EPA’s endangerment finding, the authors state high confidence in the climate models. In justifying considerable confidence in the climate models, the report states:

“Climate models are mathematical representations of the climate system, expressed as computer codes and run on powerful computers. One source of confidence in models comes from the fact that model fundamentals are based on established physical laws, such as conservation of mass, energy and momentum, along with a wealth of observations.”

The issue is not the laws of physics, but how well are they incorporated?

“A second source of confidence comes from the ability of models to simulate important aspects of the current climate. Models are routinely and extensively assessed by comparing their simulations with observations of the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and land surface…. Models show significant and increasing skill in representing many important mean climate features, such as the large-scale distributions of atmospheric temperature, precipitation, radiation and wind, and of oceanic temperatures, currents and sea ice cover.” [Boldface added.]

As stated above, the models greatly overestimate atmospheric temperatures.

A third source of confidence comes from the ability of models to reproduce features of past climates and climate changes. Models have been used to simulate ancient climates, such as the warm mid-Holocene of 6,000 years ago or the last glacial maximum of 21,000 years ago (see Chapter 6).

There is no discussion of the period 6,000 years ago to the 20th century, even though there were periods of pronounced warming, particularly the medieval warm period, which has been shown to be global on land. That period and the Little Ice Age are left out, as they were dismissed by Mr. Mann’s false “hockey-stick”, emphasized in the IPCC Third Assessment Report (AR-3, 2001)

“In summary, confidence in models comes from their physical basis, and their skill in representing observed climate and past climate changes. Models have proven to be extremely important tools for simulating and understanding climate, and there is considerable confidence that they are able to provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate change, particularly at larger scales.”

The models missed the long pause in rise of atmospheric temperatures, as well as the influence of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), thus are unsuitable for long-term projections. They do not have the credibility needed for government policy. Note there is no discussion of Mr. Santer’s hot spot – the vanished claimed human fingerprint – or Mr. Mann’s hockey-stick. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Defending the Orthodoxy.


Power Plan in Court: The written transcripts of the arguments before the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the administration’s power plan have not been posted (October 6), thus discussion will be reserved for a later date. However, one of the lead constitutional attorneys, the liberal icon Laurence Tribe, had an article in the Harvard Law Today justifying his position for defending coal companies from the administration’s plan. In Tribe’s view, the Plan and the EPA rule in question rewrite clear statutes, thereby exceeding the powers of the Chief Executive beyond those granted in the Constitution.

Tribe writes: “My central argument is that the text, context, and history of the 1990 statutory provision that EPA invokes to support the rule it seeks to impose on all fifty States does nothing of the sort but in fact destroys EPA’s claim of congressional authority.”

That Tribe should feel it necessary to write such an article addressing inaccuracies (made by his colleagues who criticize him for defending coal companies from what may be unlawful takings) illustrates the lack of tolerance and for freedom of speech found on many campuses. See links under The Administration’s Plan – Push-Back – Constitutional Issues


Court Deference: One of the major problems for those criticizing regulations by EPA or other government bodies in the US Courts of Appeals is the deference the courts give to government agencies in matters of science. The Appeals Court for the DC Circuit made it clear they will not tolerate arguments pointing out errors in EPA science, no matter how clear.

Some defenders of the Administration’s plan have argued that the courts should grant the same deference to government agencies in interpreting laws that they grant to government agencies in interpreting science. The courts should allow bureaucracies to interpret law anyway they wish? What will the courts do? See links under The Administration’s Plan.


Warming from Methane: As US natural gas production increases, thanks to deep underground hydraulic fracturing of shale, the EPA’s insistence on regulating production intensifies, even though it cannot legally do so. Thus, we have increasingly imaginative threats of global warming from methane (CH-4). In response to proposed EPA regulations, Fred Singer wrote a short note on the “threat” which was published in the Wall Street Journal on February 16 under Letters.

“While it is true that each molecule shows strong infrared (IR) absorption bands — and therefore CH4 qualifies (in theory) to be called a “greenhouse” (GH) gas — its actual climate impact is essentially zero — for three independent reasons:


“1. The number of molecules is too small — only 1% of CO2 and only 0.01% of water vapor (WV), the most important atmospheric GH gas

“2. Absorption by strong IR bands of WV overlaps (“shades”) those of CH4

“3. There is only a minor amount of energy in the IR emission from the Earth’s surface in the region of CH4 absorption bands.

“There are of course valid economic reasons for fixing leaks. But the proposed EPA regulations will have no perceptible effect on global climate, constitute a complete waste of resources, and put a heavy economic burden on the energy industry – with all costs, like any tax, passed along to consumers who can least afford them. However, they clearly demonstrate EPA’s lack of scientific expertise in fashioning regulations. Courts that normally “defer” to EPA should pay attention to this example.”


Ending Ice Ages: One difficulty facing those who consider the beginning and end of ice ages is what caused them to end, quite suddenly. After reviewing a great deal of prior work, physicist Donald Rapp suggests that it may have been an accumulation of dust on the great ice sheets covering much of the Northern Hemisphere, coupled with increasing solar intensity in northern latitudes, which led to their melting. His post in Climate Etc. may cause interesting controversy.


South Australia: The finger pointing about the black-out in South Australia continues, but it appears the major part of the problem is the high penetration of wind power in South Australia’s electricity mix. Wind power is unstable, and governments which are responsible for electricity reliability must provide reliable and timely back-up. On average, South Australia gets about 40% of its electricity from wind. But the average is deceptive, because actual output may go from maximum capacity to zero in a few minutes.

Terence Cardwell, who spent 25 years operating various power units, suggests a line of thunderstorms with severe winds approached, and the wind power operators shut down their generators to prevent damage. The problems associated with this shut-down cascaded through the system by causing safety mechanisms to trip to prevent overloads. The tripped lines included the interconnector designed to provide back-up power from a coal-fired power plant in the state of Victoria. That power plant uses brown coal, which produces far more CO2 per unit of electricity than black coal. A preliminary report from the Australian Energy Market Operator seems to confirm this view.

Cardwell adds: “The average price for electricity in South Australia with its 40% renewable energy is over $300 per megawatt hour. The average cost of electricity in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania is around $80.00 per megawatt hour.” See links under Energy Issues – Australia


Energy Security: Writing in the Financial Times, journalist Nick Butler comments on the changing threats to energy security:

“For most of the last half century, energy security has been defined in terms of Opec boycotts, the risk of the Strait of Hormuz being closed to oil tankers and the dangers of Russia cutting off gas supplies through the European pipeline network. In the last few years, however, much has changed. Now, energy security concerns are focused internally and the risks are concentrated around the networks that sustain complex modern economies.

“The networks are physical but they are controlled by electronic systems. The greatest threat on this updated analysis is that hostile forces – whether terrorists or state-sponsored cyber specialists – could penetrate and disrupt or destroy those systems. These fears are beginning to reshape public policy and that will affect how the energy business develops across the world. Two factors have contributed to the changing definition of energy security. First, there is no longer any sense that supplies are scarce. If anything, there is a shortage of buyers, a situation compounded by the achievement of virtual self-sufficiency in North America. Patterns of trade have shifted so the US is now a supplier of oil to Venezuela and of gas to the UK petrochemical sector via the Grangemouth refinery.”

The global energy outlook has dramatically changed, yet government bureaucracies cling to obsolete thinking. On top of that, the US President has ordered that all government agencies must include climate change when assessing national security, including energy security. Since the US government largely ignores the natural causes of climate change, will government agencies ignore the threat of wind storms such as what happened in South Australia? See links under Energy Issues – Non-US.


Additions and Corrections: Last week an article in the Wall Street Journal estimated that US producers of oil from shale have break-even costs in the range of $40 to $65 per barrel. Several readers suggested that the range from below $40 to about $55.


Number of the Week: Four years or a bit longer. Energy analyst Euan Mearns estimates that based on current trends, the US may become energy independent in four years or, with lower oil prices, a bit longer.

No wonder Donn Dears writes: “The primary danger for frackers today comes not from Saudi Arabia, but from the U.S. government and the EPA, which are bent on eliminating fracking so as to cut the use of fossil fuels…The frackers have won their war against Saudi Arabia, but can they survive attacks from the U.S. government?” See Energy Issues – US and Washington’s Control of Energy



1. Paris Climate Treaty to Take Effect in November

President Obama hails chance ‘to save the one planet we’ve got’

By Byron Tau and Amy Harder, WSJ, Oct 5, 2016


SUMMARY: “A climate treaty negotiated by more than 200 countries to cap emissions and curb the global rise in temperatures will go into force in November after the United Nations announced Wednesday the pact had reached the threshold necessary to formally take effect.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement the so-called Paris Agreement would enter into force on Nov. 4.

“The agreement aims to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels through individualized national limits on greenhouse gas emissions, though the deal doesn’t itself achieve that level of emissions cuts. World leaders hope to make more aggressive cuts within the deal in the years to come through the national plans to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

“The deal doesn’t legally require countries to curb emissions or take other steps on climate change—in the U.S. that would have likely required ratification by the Senate, which President Barack Obama was unlikely to get—but it does require countries to release their targets and report emissions.

“Seventy-three of 197 parties to the convention have ratified, including the U.S. and China, the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters. This week, a number of European countries voted to join the pact, and the European Union voted to move forward as well. Russia, Japan and Australia are among the countries that haven’t.”


2. China’s Corn Mountain

Market forces humble Beijing’s central planners once again.

Editorial, WSJ, Oct 6, 2016


SUMMARY: “Corn prices in China fell more than 20% in the past year, the result of Beijing’s decision to cancel a major subsidy program. That’s good news for farmers as well as consumers, but Beijing still wastes money by the bushel keeping prices of other grains high.

“In 2007 Beijing began buying corn at prices well above the global norm to encourage farmers to grow more, so less would have to be imported as animal feed. Naturally the acreage of land devoted to corn increased dramatically.

“Then market forces had their revenge. Farmers raising pigs, chicken and cattle balked at the high price of corn and switched to substitutes such as barley, sorghum, soybeans and cassava. Much of these feed grains were imported, enriching farmers in the U.S., Australia and elsewhere. Meanwhile, 240 million tons of corn, more than a year’s consumption, piled up in government granaries.”

“The problem of what to do with a mountain of rotting corn remains. State trading companies plan to export some of it, but the U.S. government estimates that China will have to write off $10 billion of spoiled grain.”

[SEPP Comment: Probably will not stop those who claim we are at the brink of starvation due to global warming.]


3. Oil Explorer Claims Major Alaskan Find

Caelus Energy says new field near North Slope could contain up to 2.4 billion barrels of oil

By Russell Gold, WSJ, Oct 4, 2016


SUMMARY: “A little-known energy exploration company said on Tuesday that it has made a world-class oil discovery in remote Alaska, potentially breathing new life into the state’s declining North Slope.

“Caelus Energy LLC, a closely-held firm backed by private-equity fund Apollo Global Management LLC, said it made the oil find in the shallow waters of Smith Bay, about 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

“The company says it expects to be able to extract between 1.8 billion and 2.4 billion barrels from the discovery, probably using barges built along the Gulf Coast, then towed to Alaska and permanently sunk in the bay to create man-made drilling islands.

“If those initial estimates prove to be correct, the discovery would be substantial—larger than Exxon Mobil Corp. ’s 2015 discovery off the coast of Guyana in South America.

“Caelus said it planned to build an $800 million, 125-mile pipeline that will carry the oil underneath state-owned waters to connect with existing pipelines.”

“Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said on Tuesday that the find underscores why it is important that Arctic land remains open to further exploration.

“’In this day and age of technology and regulatory requirements, I am sure it will be done safely,’ he said. ‘We look forward to the discovery being turned into oil in the pipeline.’”

[SEPP Comment: The proposed pipeline snakes along the coastline to the Trans Alaska Pipeline, to stay out of Washington-controlled waters.]



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