By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project
Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
Frigid Weather: Since Christmas North America, east of the Rockies, has been very cold. In addition, the Atlantic Seaboard experienced an intense Nor’easter that brought rain, ice, and snow from Georgia to New England. Climate change alarmists are attempting to blame the cold on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. How CO2 may cause a cooling of the earth is not clearly established in physical theory. Government funded entities, such as NOAA, that rely on numerical models, did not predict the cold more than a few days in advance. Yet, a private entity, WeatherBELL Analytics, was warning of a cold year-end as early as October.
WeatherBELL augments numerical models with historical analogs, examples of what happened when certain weather patterns occurred in the past. For 2017, the analysts asked what happened in the winter when a strong El Niño was followed by an intense Atlantic Hurricane season. They found prior analogs showing cold east of the Rockies, with the jet stream reaching further south than normal in the winter. How and why weather patterns in the tropical Pacific influence a possible southward shift in the jet stream is not clearly explained in the appropriate literature, such as on the NOAA web site.
NOAA is now projecting a La Niña, the counter pattern to an El Niño, may be forming. Over the last 5 years the world has enjoyed bumper crops in grains and oilseeds. A La Niña may have adverse effects on these commodities. For over 25 years, the US government has spent over $40 billion trying to establish that human emissions of CO2 will cause dire global warming, and has failed. It has produced no hard evidence, but only numerical models that project far into the future, but are not properly tested. The global climate models greatly overestimate warming in the atmosphere, where the greenhouse gas effect occurs. The public would have been better served if the moneys had been spent to better understand the natural variations in climate, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), rather than attempting to establish that CO2 dominates climate change.
On Climate Etc. Judith Curry has a summary of key sections in Bernie Lewin’s new book: “Searching for the Catastrophe Signal: The Origins of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” The account could be subtitled: “How bureaucracy overwhelms scientific inquiry.” See Article # 2 and links under Challenging the Orthodoxy, Changing Weather, and https://www.climate.gov/enso
Quote of the Week. “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widely spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”— Bertrand Russell – H/t William Readdy
Scientific Novel? The last report of the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) came ups with rates of sea level rise that have been justifiably criticized. Over the past several centuries, the rate of rise has been 7–8 inches (about 16–20 cm) per century. James Hansen, and others, formerly at the NASA-GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) on Broadway, NYC) came up with an exponential growth in sea level rise near the end of the 21st century.
The USGCRP built on this theme, stating that since 1993 the rate of rise increased from 11–14 cm (4–5 inches) between 1901 to 1990 to about 3 mm/year (12 inches/century) since 1993. The report states that satellite data supports the claim. However, the satellite data has some problems. For example, the December 9 and November 18 TWTWs stated there are calibration issues with the satellite data that have not been resolved. Now, there is another problem. According to the latest data from satellites (NOAA/NESDIS/STAR), sea levels have been stable (not appreciably rising or falling) for over two years. This is an example of errors introduced by making long-term projections from short-term data.
Undaunted, in December, some of the authors of the USGCRP report published a paper the plain language summary of which states
“Recent ice-sheet modeling papers have introduced new physical mechanisms—specifically the hydrofracturing of ice shelves and the collapse of ice cliffs—that can rapidly increase ice-sheet mass loss from a marine-based ice-sheet, as exists in much of Antarctica. This paper links new Antarctic model results into a sea-level rise projection framework to examine their influence on global and regional sea-level rise projections and their associated uncertainties, the potential impact of projected sea-level rise on areas currently occupied by human populations, and the implications of these projections for the ability to constrain future changes from present observations. Under a high greenhouse gas emission future, these new physical processes increase median projected 21st century GMSL rise from ∼80 to ∼150 cm. Revised median RSL projections for a high-emissions future would, without protective measures, by 2100 submerge land currently home to more than 153 million people. The use of a physical model indicates that emissions matter more for 21st century sea-level change than previous projections showed. Moreover, there is little correlation between the contribution of Antarctic to sea-level rise by 2050 and its contribution in 2100 and beyond, so current sea-level observations cannot exclude future extreme outcomes.” [Boldface added]
To state the language even more bluntly, “our knowledge of the Antarctic ice sheets is so intricate, that we cannot observe or test the physics underlying the knowledge for over 90 years, and by then it may be too late for tens of millions of people.” The key sales line is that we must demand government policies reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Worse, the once respectable American Meteorological Society (AMS) is broadcasting the phantom fear of dire sea level rise.
Choosing a descriptor for phantom fears is difficult. This paper calls for economically damaging current policy, based upon a fear far in the future, which cannot be tested for decades. A term from fiction may be suitable: a “historical novel” weaves enough historical fact to make an imaginary plot interesting. The term “scientific novel” may be appropriate here.
There is a significant problem with such scientific novels. The authors use Tidewater Virginia as an example of what may happen in the future if carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced. The example is terribly misleading. The Norfolk–Virginia Beach–Newport News MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) has a real problem unrelated to carbon dioxide. Groundwater extraction is causing the land to subside significantly, and it will continue to subside until alternative sources for water are developed. One wonders if members of the AMS recognize that its publications are misleading the public. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy, https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/ and
Svensmark Hypothesis: The Svensmark hypothesis has been criticized because it does not completely explain changing weather and climate. The hypothesis explains how cosmic rays modulated by the sun (solar wind) affect cloud formation in the atmosphere, which can have a significant impact on weather and climate change. It is not intended to be all encompassing, as some global warming advocates have claimed CO2 to be. We have other influences including aerosols from volcanoes, smoke, changing ENSO, changing ocean currents, etc. However, cloud formation from cosmic rays can be an important explanatory variable in understanding our changing climate. See links under Science: Is the Sun Rising? and Commentary: Is the Sun Rising?
Energy Storage: Donn Dears has a brief post summarizing work by physicist Howard Hayden that the most effective and least costly forms of electricity storage work best with baseload power – nuclear, coal or combined cycle natural gas (NGCC).
However, Roger Andrews has a rough analysis showing that in a highly specialized instance, a combination of PV solar and pumped hydro storage may work in northern Chile to supply the country the equivalent of 100% renewable power. The length of the country makes the transmission lines impractical. Such a project would be large, with high capital costs taking advantage of the “existence of natural depressions at elevations of 500m or more adjacent to the coast that can hold very large volumes of sea water and which form ready-made upper reservoirs.” The lower reservoir would be the Pacific Ocean.
The undertaking would be a massive undertaking with very high capital costs, greater than a nuclear plant of comparable capacity. Due to the unique nature of the area, it is unlikely that a similar project could be built elsewhere. See links under Energy Issues – Non-US and Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Solar and Wind
Offshore Drilling: The US probably has more restrictions on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas than any other oil rich country. Over the years, restrictions in Alaska have become so tight that the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) has been in danger of being closed because not enough oil was moving through the system. The TAPS 2002 – 2015 daily throughput average was 508,446, even though decades earlier the peak flow had been 2.1 million barrels of oil per day. The recently passed tax bill contained a provision removing unnecessary restrictions on drilling in a small part of Alaska’s North Slope. The greens are furious.
In addition, now the Trump administration is proposing to open nearly all the outer continental shelf for drilling, including Maine, California, Florida, etc., protecting only marine sanctuaries and Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The greens are even more furious. Of course, the drilling risks, competitive alternative sources of oil, and the possibility of future political shut-down add to the complications.
What develops and how offshore drilling will be regulated remains to be seen. See links under Change in US Administrations and http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/TAPS
Letter to Students: The December 24 TWTW linked to a response to students in Denmark on their fears of CO2-caused global warming. Ross McKitrick and Richard Lindzen were also contacted. McKitrick’s response is linked and similar to TWTW’s. Lindzen’s response was more direct: there is nothing that can be done to prevent global warming. He referenced the web site of the CO2 Coalition and a recent paper of his. See links under Science, Policy, and Evidence.
Number of the Week: 1.5%. Founded in response to the oil crisis in 1973, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates the World total primary energy supply (TPES) by fuel in million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe). (A better term is energy consumption, not supply.) In 1973, primary energy supply was 6,101 Mtoe with 0.1% from geothermal, solar, wind, tide/wave/ocean, heat and other. In 2015 primary energy supply was 13,647 Mtoe with 1.5% from geothermal, solar, wind, tide/wave/ocean, heat and other. Even though the consumption of energy has more than doubled, the price of coal, oil and natural gas have not skyrocketed. Further, wind and solar, though increasing, are not taking over energy supply as many seem to believe. See links under Energy Issues – Non-US.
1. Climate-Change Policies Can Be Punishing for the Poor
America should learn from Europe’s failure to protect the needy while reducing carbon emissions.
By Bjorn Lomborg, WSJ, Jan 4, 2018
SUMMARY: The author of the “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center writes:
“Freezing temperatures in the U.S. Northeast have pushed up heating costs, creating serious stress for many Americans. Although the rich world’s energy poor are largely forgotten in discussions about climate policies, they bear an unfair burden for well-meaning proposals. That reality is being laid bare this icy winter as energy and electricity prices surge.
“When we think about energy poverty, we imagine a lack of light in the world’s worst-off nations, where more than one billion people still lack electricity. This is a huge challenge that the world can hope to address as it reduces poverty and expands access to grid electricity, largely powered by fossil fuels.
“But there is a less visible form of energy poverty that affects even the world’s richest country. Economists consider households energy poor if they spend 10% of their income to cover energy costs. A recent report from the International Energy Agency shows that more than 30 million Americans live in households that are energy poor—a number that is significantly increased by climate policies that require Americans to consume expensive green energy from subsidized solar panels and wind turbines.
“Last year, for the first time, the International Energy Agency tried to calculate the global scale of this problem. The IEA estimates that in the world’s rich countries—those that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—200 million people are in energy poverty. That includes 1 in 10 Americans, although the IEA notes that the highest estimates for the U.S. approach 1 in 4.
“People of modest means spend a significantly higher share of their income paying for their energy needs. One careful study of energy usage in North Carolina found that a lower-income family might spend more than 20% of its income on energy. Among people with incomes below 50% of the federal poverty line, energy costs regularly consumed more than a third of their budgets.
“Europe, where renewable subsidies are about three times as high as in the U.S., provides a window into America’s possible energy future. Higher costs from policies like stringent emissions caps and onerous renewable-energy targets make it even harder for the poorest citizens to afford gas and electricity. In Germany, more than 30% of the population spends at least one-tenth of income on energy. Some estimates show that half of Greeks are in energy poverty, according to the IEA.”
After discussing calls for more stringent actions and that the more well off can afford such actions, Lomborg concludes:
“Climate change is a real challenge for every country, but we need to maintain some perspective. The United Nations’ climate-change panel estimates that global warming could cause damage amounting to 2% of global gross domestic product toward the end of the century. That makes it a problem, but not the Armageddon produced by some feverish imaginations.
“The best macroeconomic estimates suggest that meeting the energy commitments reflected in the Paris Agreement on climate change would cost the world about $1 trillion a year in slower growth and higher energy prices. When environmental campaigners claim that more draconian cuts are needed, they aren’t thinking of the people who will be most affected by sharply increasing energy bills.
“Instead of trying to slow growth, governments should accelerate spending in green-energy research so that alternative energy becomes cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuels. The solution to climate change need not punish the poor.”
2. From Soybeans to Corn, La Niña Could Shake Up Agricultural Markets in 2018
Grains, soybeans and other agricultural commodities are likely in for a wild ride if the La Niña weather pattern takes hold
By David Hodari, WSJ, Dec 31, 2017
SUMMARY: The journalist opens with:
“A weather phenomenon that has wreaked havoc on commodity prices in the past could return in 2018.
“Indicators currently suggest a 75% probability of a La Niña in the coming months, according to Stefan Vogel, head of Rabobank’s agricultural commodity markets research team. The weather pattern could inject volatility into markets like grains, soybeans and palm oil next year.
“La Niña is characterized by cooler-than-normal waters in tropical Pacific Ocean regions, which results in more precipitation in Southeast Asia and eastern Australia, said Kyle Tapley, a senior agricultural meteorologist at MDA Weather Services.
“The same conditions also lead to drier weather in southern Brazil, eastern Argentina and the southern U.S., he said. These areas set for dryness also happen to be critical to the global supply chain of grains and oilseeds.
“If La Niña materializes, investors of such markets could be jolted, analysts say.
“Prices for agricultural commodities have been nearly static in 2017 even as markets for other commodities and stocks have boomed. Investors may have been lulled into a false sense of security by the heavy supplies of grains and oilseeds seen in 2017, which tend to damp price volatility, said CME Group’s Erik Norland.
“If the temperature in the relevant part of the Pacific falls by more than one degree Celsius, ‘volatility explodes to 1½ times its normal level,’ Mr. Norland said.
“While the effects of previous La Niñas on futures markets have been inconsistent, investor bets on corn, wheat, and soybean options are near historic lows. Proprietary data from CME Group show that La Niña raises price volatility across those sectors.
“‘If the market moves in a sharp way and you’re short, holders of those positions are going to take a hit,’ Mr. Norland said.
“The last severe La Niña was in 2012 and caused a record-breaking heat wave and drought across the U.S. Midwest, Mr. Vogel said in a note. It eventually drove prices up to $18 a bushel for soybeans and $8 a bushel for corn, according to him. Soybeans’ average price over the past five years has been 38% below that level; corn’s has been 39% below its 2012 high. A return to those levels would constitute an 87% gain for soybeans and a 130% jump for corn.
The journalist then states similar views from other analysts.