Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #247

The Week That Was: November 5, 2016 – Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Svensmark Hypothesis Criticized: The Svensmark hypothesis that high energy cosmic rays can be a building block for cloud formation has been demonstrated in the laboratory, most recently by CERN. The cosmic rays are modulated by changes in solar wind, which are the result of solar activity. The activity of the sun is estimated by frequency and intensity of sunspots. An active sun results more solar wind and a corresponding net decrease in cloud formation. A dormant sun results in less solar wind and a corresponding net increase in cloud formation and a corresponding decrease in temperatures. This hypothesis is consistent with earlier thoughts about conditions in Europe during the Little Ice Age, when the skies were cloudy, winters were cold, and crops did not ripen, resulting in periods of famine.

The hypothesis has been criticized by a group headed by Eimear M. Dunne, part of the extensive CERN team, claiming that the Svensmark Hypothesis is insufficient to explain variation in cloud formation in global models. The gas-phase chemistry models for cloud formation are sufficient. Based on review of the abstract, it appeared that the researchers were using numerical (statistical) techniques to match data with the model, the numerical model being the paramount concept.

The procedure entails the significant assumption that the model is complete and valid. The assumption is highly questionable because the treatment of clouds in the global climate models is highly questionable and in need of improvement. Cloud formation is important not only due to the reflective capability of low-lying clouds resulting in less solar energy hitting the surface; but also, in the transfer of latent heat during the phase change of liquid water into water vapor, at the surface – then phase change of water vapor condensing into water droplets in the atmosphere. The phase change of liquid to gas absorbs heat, and the phase change of gas into liquid releases heat.

The Svensmark group at the Technical University of Denmark has responded to this challenge from the Dunne group, identified as CLOUD. The response starts with: “It is important to note that the new CLOUD paper is not presenting an experimental result, with respect to the effect of cosmic ray generated ions on clouds, but a result of numerical modeling.” The Svensmark response further states: “This type of numerical modeling is by no means new, and neither is the result that ions in these models apparently do not affect cloud formation. We have known this for about 7 years.” The conclusions are similar to other numerical model driven criticisms.

But, in the laboratory the hypothesis works. So, the real issue becomes what happens in the field – the atmosphere. There, nature provides an important experiment – Forbush decreases.

Forbush decreases occur when solar, coronal mass ejections result in plasma cloud (solar wind) passing the earth resulting in a significant drop in cosmic ray flux. Large drops in the cosmic ray flux result in a decrease in cloud formation (with a delay, a lag). The very tight statistical correspondence, with a lag of several days, between a major drop in cosmic rays and a major decrease in cloud formation indicates these are important events, events that general, smoothed numerical analysis may or may not capture.

As Svensmark states: “In conclusion, observations and experiments go against the above mentioned numerical model result. As I see it, something is missing in the prevailing theory. A solution to this problem is still worth pursuing.”

This exchange of ideas emphasizes an important step in the development of empirical knowledge. Since Galileo asserted that mathematics, not Latin, is the language of science, Western Empirical Science has relied heavily on mathematics, as illustrated in the quote above and last week’s TWTW quote from Einstein. But, numerical manipulation, mathematics, does not necessarily constitute knowledge. The knowledge comes from observations, both in the laboratory (experiment) and in the field. Even the most advanced computers cannot numerically create knowledge, the results must be verified by observations. See links under Science: Is the Sun Rising?


Quote of the Week. “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”– Eugene Wigner


Number of the Week: One Billion People


Antarctica Melting? Some US government agencies are blaming the possible melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet on carbon dioxide (CO2), creating fear of a sudden increase in sea levels. Geologist James Edward Karnis takes exception. In a coherent presentation, he produces evidence that the melting of the glaciers on the ice sheet, which is occurring in some glaciers, is the result of geological heat flow, not CO2 warming.

The deep earth, high geothermal heat flow in West Antarctica is associated with segments of the West Antarctic Fault / Rift System. The 5,000 mile-long (8,000 km) fault / rift system divides into two segments roughly at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, south of the Drake Passage. The west segment roughly follows the western part of the peninsula, then the Antarctic coast line and the east segment roughly follows the eastern part of the peninsula and the west edge of the Weddell Sea until it crosses the western part of the continent to the east edge of the Ross Sea, then out into Pacific Ocean.

There are 61 active and dormant (semi-active) hot-spots / volcanoes along this fault / rift system. (Iceland comes to mind as similar geothermal activity.) Further, many of the national and international Antarctic exploration stations are located at or near this fault / rift system, rendering surface temperature measurements questionable.

Karnis also brings up that: “Overall ice mass and extent of Antarctica has increased for 35 years. This strongly implies that Earth’s supposedly anomalously warmed atmosphere is not having any noticeable or direct effect on this continent’s glaciers. Glaciers, other than the ones being studied, are growing, not melting. And “most importantly, the role that geologically induced deep earth heat flow and chemically charged heated fluid flow likely play in bottom melting the three studied West Antarctic glaciers (Pope, Smith, Kohler) is not considered or even mentioned by those performing the research.”

These omissions by NOAA and NASA are serious and strange. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Methylmercury from Bacteria? Methylmercury is an organic compound of mercury that is often associated with eating fish and shellfish. Serious damage to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) may occur from eating large quantities. A noted example occurred by eating fish from Minamata Bay in Japan. [Inorganic (elemental) mercury far less toxic than methylmercury.] The EPA has used the fear of mercury in its campaign against burning coal and other fossil fuels The EPA’s studies of toxicity justifying this campaign are dubious at best.

In his discussion on the West Antarctic Rift / Fault system, Karnis cites studies that show methylmercury is produced by bacteria in geothermal vents. Other locations include lakes, rivers, soils and the open ocean.

Although methylmercury is naturally occurring, many researchers have mistaken its presence as evidence of burning of fossil fuels from far-away power plants. See links under Changing Earth.


Easterbrook’s Book: The second edition of Don Easterbrook’s book, “Evidence-Based Climate Science: Data Opposing CO2 Emissions as the Primary Source of Global Warming” is available. It includes data from experts in meteorology, geology, atmospheric physics, solar physics, geophysics, climatology, and computer modeling. The promotional material states:

“Increasingly, scientists are pointing to data which suggests that climate changes are a result of natural cycles, which have been occurring for thousands of years. Unfortunately, global warming has moved into the political realm without enough peer-reviewed research to fully validate and exclude other, more natural, causes of climate change. For example, there is an absence of any physical evidence that CO2 causes global warming, so the only argument for CO2 as the cause of warming rests entirely in computer modeling. Thus, the question becomes, how accurate are the computer models in predicting climate? What other variables could be missing from the models?”

Of course, the variables missing from the global climate models are a focus of TWTW. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Supreme Court Justice Thomas: To many “court watchers”, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas remains an enigma. In hearing cases, seldom he asks questions, or gives any indication of his leanings, or his thinking. Yet, many court watchers agree that he is exceptionally clear and forceful in his writing and his thinking, even if one may not agree. Perhaps that is why some people resort to personal attacks, because they cannot contend with him on his level.

In a rare public interview, Justice Thomas answered a variety of questions. Given the discussion on the Administration’s Power Plan, at the US Court of Appeals, presented in last week’s TWTW, of interest was a question on amicus briefs (friends-in-court). Thomas cited one by electrical engineers that explained the electrical grid to justices in a way the parties in the case failed to do. This remark prompted a search for the brief, which may have uncovered the correct one.

From a review of the 2001 brief, one can surmise that electricity on the grid is a flow of electrical energy, owned by no one, yet benefiting all who receive it. It is the energy that is transmitted, not electrons, and energy flowing onto a power grid energizes the entire grid. “A networked electric grid flexes, and electric current flows, in conformity with physical laws, and those laws do not notice, let alone conform to, political boundaries. If the transmission lines of the system cross state boundaries, then electric currents on the system necessarily do likewise.”

This prompts the unanswered question who is responsible for maintaining the flow of energy. The attorneys representing those suing the administration argue that the states and utilities generating the power are responsible. The administration has remained silent as to responsibility of maintaining the flow of energy, and has advocated power generation that is well-known to be interrupted, without warning. If the case goes to the Supreme Court, it will be interesting to see how Justice Thomas views the issues, including the public health and welfare issues. See links under Other News that May Be of Interest.


Technology Breakthroughs: Writing for Real Clear Politics Rob Tracinski notes a catch in virtually all renewable electricity schemes: “There’s a long distance from a theoretical breakthrough to a technology with predictable costs that justifies enormous investments in new energy infrastructure.”

“The problem with future technology is that it’s in the future. It requires technological breakthroughs that haven’t happened yet. For industrial-scale power generation, the kind that can support a First World lifestyle, that’s a big problem, because to replace existing systems requires construction on a vast scale and investments of trillions of dollars.”

Energy storage is a big issue with solar and wind. “There are three basic issues with battery storage: energy density, recharge times, and the total battery life cycle.” Each issue has its own uncertainties.

By committing to solar and wind, with heavy subsidies, politicians are gambling on technological breakthroughs, which may or may not occur, and are not predictable. Individuals, or companies may do so, and suffer the consequences if they fail or receive rewards if they succeed – as did such as George Mitchell in hydraulic fracturing. Politicians gambling on technological breakthroughs in setting policy are gambling with public health and welfare and the huge financial drains on the public through taxes and utility bills – a different level of risks. See links under Energy Issues – Non-US


Paris Agreement: According to the UN, and its supports, the Paris agreement is in effect. What that means to the US, and other countries that have promised to reduce CO2 emissions, who knows?

A treaty is legally enforceable in the US. Mr. Obama ignored the process of a legal enforceable treaty. The administration calls the Paris Agreement an executive agreement. Is an executive agreement legally enforceable in the US – particularly if Congress has not approved it?

The US election on November 8, may change everything. The US courts may change everything. The US administration’s arrogance in ignoring the US Congress, may change everything. Rather than leaving office with a legacy, Mr. Obama will leave office with a cloud of regulatory murk, that may employ lawyers for many years to come. See links under After Paris!


Additions and Corrections: Reader Stefan Björklund sent a photo of a building taken at a UN IPCC conference. The solar panels on the roof of the building were covered in snow. In the email the words “Dunkelflaute” and “Schneeflaute” appeared. Upon inquiry, Mr. Björklund responded that in German, “Flaute” means in business language there is a stagnation. “Dunkelflaute” means solar panel production is in stagnation due to darkness. We can all guess what “Schneeflaute” means.


Number of the Week: One Billion People. The February 14, 2009 TWTW reported that John Holdren testified at his Senate confirmation hearing to be the president’s chief science advisor that global warming will kill one billion people in a decade. This is the caliber of scientist Mr. Obama was referencing when he spoke: “Scientists say ….”



1. The Phony War Against CO2

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide has helped raise global food production and reduce poverty.

By Rodney W. Nichols and Harrison H. Schmitt, WSJ, Cot 31, 2016


Mr. Nichols, a physicist, and Mr. Schmitt, a geologist and former Apollo 17 astronaut, co-founders of the CO2 Coalition state:

National polls show that climate change is low on the list of voters’ priorities. For good reason: In the U.S., and for much of the world, the most dangerous environmental pollutants have been cleaned up. U.S. emissions of particulates, metals and varied gases—all of these: ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur—fell almost 70% between 1970 and 2014.

Further reductions will come from improved technologies such as catalytic removal of oxides of nitrogen and more-efficient sulfur scrubbers. This is a boon to human health.

But a myth persists that is both unscientific and immoral to perpetuate: that the beneficial gas carbon dioxide ranks among hazardous pollutants. It does not.

Unlike genuine pollutants, carbon dioxide (CO2) is an odorless, colorless gas. Every human being exhales about two pounds of CO2 a day, along with a similar amount of water vapor. CO2 is nontoxic to people and animals and is a vital nutrient to plants. It is also a greenhouse gas which helps maintain earth at a habitable temperature.

Fear of excessive warming from more CO2 in the atmosphere, including that released from human activity, has caused some people to advocate substantial and expensive reductions in CO2 emissions. But observations, such as those on our CO2 Coalition website, show that increased CO2 levels over the next century will cause modest and beneficial warming—perhaps as much as one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit)—and that this will be an even larger benefit to agriculture than it is now. The costs of emissions regulations, which will be paid by everyone, will be punishingly high and will provide no benefits to most people anywhere in the world.

In 2013 the level of U.S. farm output was about 2.7 times its 1948 level, and productivity was growing at an average annual rate of 1.52%. From 2001 to 2013, world-wide, global output of total crop and livestock commodities was expanding at an average rate of 2.52% a year.

This higher food security reduces poverty and increases well being and self-sufficiency everywhere, especially in the poorest parts of the developing countries. Along with better plant varieties, cropping practices and fertilizer, CO2 has contributed to this welcome increase in productivity.

The increase of atmospheric CO2 following the Industrial Revolution also has facilitated the expansion of natural vegetation into what had been barren areas, such as the edges of the Sahara and the Arctic. According to the U.N., the world will add 2.5 billion people over the next 30 years, most of them in developing countries. Feeding these people and assuring them a comfortable living standard should be among our highest moral priorities. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, the challenge can and will be met.

National policies must make economic and environmental sense. When someone says, ‘climate science is settled,’ remind them to check the facts. And recall the great physicist Richard Feynman’s remark: ‘No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles.’”


2. Big Oil CEOs Pledge $1 Billion to Fund Low-Carbon Technology

Move responds to pressure on climate goals but environmentalists say it isn’t enough

By Sarah Kent, WSJ, Nov 4, 2016


SUMMARY: The report states:

“Ten of the world’s biggest oil companies plan to invest an average of $100 million annually over the next 10 years in low-carbon technologies, the companies said Friday.

“The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which includes state-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Co., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC, said its investments will initially focus on carbon capture and storage technology and efforts to reduce methane emissions from the oil-and-gas industry. Those efforts could significantly improve the prospects for the sector in a lower-emission world.

“The pledged funding is the latest sign of the oil industry’s efforts to respond to pressure from governments, activists and increasingly investors. The announcement came on the same day that a climate treaty negotiated in Paris last year by more than 200 countries to cap emissions and curb global warming comes into force, potentially limiting the use of fossil fuels such as oil and gas.

Environmental groups said the oil companies’ pledge of $1 billion over a decade wasn’t close to enough and represents a tiny fraction of the group’s annual spending on finding and producing fossil fuels. It is a pledge of $10 million a year for each company, said Jeremy Leggett, chairman of the Carbon Tracker Initiative.”

“The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative was created in 2014 with United Nations backing to find ways the industry can support efforts to tackle climate change while continuing to produce its reserves. Its members include giant state companies and Europe’s biggest oil producers, but not the biggest American companies, such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. Together they pump about a fifth of the world’s oil and gas output.”



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