Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #334

Brought to You by www.SEPP.org, The Science and Environmental Policy Project

By Ken Haapala, President

Importance of Clouds: MIT Sloan Professor of Meteorology emeritus Richard Lindzen wrote TWTW stating that, in the past weeks, TWTW may have underemphasized the importance of clouds and overemphasized water vapor in their roles of causing climate change. Perhaps TWTW did because the role of El Niños in influencing atmospheric temperatures trends can easily be seen by looking at a graph of the entire record since December 1978. El Niños put a lot of water vapor into the air and temperatures peak quickly, then fall slowly as the moisture drops out. The influence is particularly strong in the Arctic, where there is little water vapor in the atmosphere. But the El Niño influence is not strong in the dry Antarctic, for reasons not clear.

Lindzen states that upper level cirrus clouds may have as great an influence as water vapor, and that poor model treatment of these clouds may be the main issue. (Cirrus clouds are the thin wispy ones composed of ice crystals occurring at altitudes between 16,500 feet (5 km) and 45,000 feet (8.5 km)). They can slow both incoming and outgoing radiant energy. In slowing outgoing radiant energy, they can have a significant greenhouse effect, causing the air to warm below them.

However, as Paul Homewood reminds us, a study by Clive Best and Euan Mearns showed a strong correlation between cloud cover and surface temperatures reported by the Hadley Center and the Climatic Research Unit (HADCRUT4) from July 1983 to December 2008 and corresponding cloud cover from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP). A decrease in total cloud cover (not just cirrus clouds) corresponded closely with an increase in temperatures. The researchers wrote:

“In conclusion, natural cyclic change in global cloud cover has a greater impact on global average temperatures than CO2. There is little evidence of a direct feedback relationship between clouds and CO2.”

Following Homewood’s post, on WUWT, Anthony Watts reminds us that former NASA senior climatologist Roy Spencer wrote on the role of clouds and temperatures in “The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Climate Scientists.”

“The most obvious way for warming to be caused naturally is for small, natural fluctuations in the circulation patterns of the atmosphere and ocean to result in a 1% or 2% decrease in global cloud cover. Clouds are the Earth’s sunshade, and if cloud cover changes for any reason, you have global warming — or global cooling.”

Of course, none of this is conclusive. However, it illustrates the simplistic thinking embodied in the reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The earth’s climate is the result of two dynamic fluids interacting with each other and the irregularly shaped land. The fluids are placed into chaotic motion by the earth’s rotation exposing the fluids and land to uneven warming by energy from the sun. All this is further complicated by changing exposure with the earth’s orbit around the sun, variation in the axis of rotation, variation in the energy emitted from the sun, and energy received by the earth from space. The IPCC attempting to explain changes in this complex system with changes of a bit player, carbon dioxide, is like attempting to explain a complex Shakespearian tragedy through the role of a minor character.

For generations, scholars have considered “King Lear’ to be Shakespeare’s greatest but least popular play. This work of genius challenges scholars for an understandable explanation. Trying to explain “King Lear” through the role of a minor character, such as Curan, is absurd. So is the effort to explain a brief period of climate change through the role of carbon dioxide. According to its web site, the IPCC has been operating for 30 years. It is time that it realizes its explanation is failing. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Measurement Issues – Atmosphere.


Quote of the Week: “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” ― Richard P. Feynman

Number of the Week: 8%


Importance of Verification: The University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH), global temperature trend has been updated for October and posted on Roy Spencer’s web site. One reader noted a discrepancy between UAH data and the data from RSS (Remote Sensing Systems) and NOAA STAR (Center for Satellite Applications and Research), which show a greater warming trend than is shown in UAH data. John Christy responded to the comment as follows:

“Thank you for the comment. These differences have been noticed and discussed in our publications. For the latest, see Christy et al. 2018 IJRS https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01431161.2018.1444293


“You are correct in the differences over the period of NOAA-12 and NOAA-14. As discussed in the paper, as we perform an objective procedure relying on data from the non-drifting (at this time) and better-calibrated NOAA-15 to deal with some of the spurious warming in NOAA-14 whereas RSS and NOAA do not. They retain the warming of NOAA-14 relative to NOAA-15 which lifts their time series higher as you noticed. That is the main reason for the difference. As we show using radiosondes with consistent instrumentation, all satellites have relative warming vs. the sondes in this period, but UAH’s is much reduced due to our adjustment procedure. Note that the procedure was developed without any use of the radiosonde information.


“Here are the trend DIFFERENCES for 1979-2005 (period of MSU influence), tropics, satellite minus radiosondes (performed at radiosonde grid areas only). This from Table 3


UAH +0.045 +/- 0.066

RSS +0.116 +/- 0.070

NOAA +0.111 +/- 0.069

UW +0.117 +/- 0.069


“Similarly, for the satellite minus Reanalyses average. (full tropical coverage.)


UAH -0.008 +/- 0.039

RSS +0.066 +/- 0.049

NOAA +0.091 +/- 0.053

UW +0.064 +/- 0.040


“As you can see, UAH is insignificantly different from the other systems, whereas RSS, NOAA and UW are significantly warmer.

By comparing their data with data taken by other methods using different instruments, UAH was able to adjust for orbital drift, in time of day, which occurred with NOAA-14. Why RSS, NOAA STAR, and the University of Washington group (UW) do not adjust for the orbital drift is known only to them. In the 1990s RSS strongly criticized UAH for not adjusting its data for orbital decay.

The difference noted by Christy underscores the need for verification of calculations from one set of instruments with results from different sets of instruments. There may be some quibble as to which set of data better reflects the changing climate, but the main point is clear, the models are significantly overestimating the warming of the atmosphere, where the greenhouse gas effect occurs. See links under Measurement Issues – Atmosphere.


Expanding Speculation as Knowledge? Writing for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, David Whitehouse alerts us to a peculiar change in the latest IPCC report – Special Report 1.5 (SR1.5).

“The IPCC appears to have secretly changed the definition of what constitutes ‘climate’ by mixing existing and non-existing data

The definition of ‘climate’ adopted by the World Meteorological Organisation is the average of a particular weather parameter over 30 years. It was introduced at the 1934 Wiesbaden conference of the International Meteorological Organisation (WMO’s precursor) because data sets were only held to be reliable after 1900, so 1901 – 1930 was used as an initial basis for assessing climate. It has a certain arbitrariness, it could have been 25 years.


“For its recent 1.5°C report the IPCC has changed the definition of climate to what has been loosely called “the climate we are in.” It still uses 30 years for its estimate of global warming and hence climate – but now it is the 30 years centred on the present.


“There are some obvious problems with this hidden change of goalposts. We have observational temperature data for the past 15 years but, of course, none for the next 15 years. However, never let it be said that the absence of data is a problem for inventive climate scientists.


“Global warming is now defined by the IPCC as a speculative 30-year global average temperature that is based, on one hand, on the observed global temperature data from the past 15 years and, on the other hand, on assumed global temperatures for the next 15 years. This proposition was put before the recent IPCC meeting at Incheon, in the Republic of Korea and agreed as a reasonable thing to do to better communicate climate trends. Astonishingly, this new IPCC definition mixes real and empirical data with non-existing and speculative data and simply assumes that a short-term 15-year trend won’t change for another 15 years in the future.


“However, this new definition of climate and global warming is not only philosophically unsound, it is also open to speculation and manipulation. It is one thing to speculate what the future climate might be; but for the IPCC to define climate based on data that doesn’t yet exist and is based on expectations of what might happen in the future is fraught with danger.


“This strategy places a double emphasis on the temperature of the past 15 years which was not an extrapolation of the previous 15 years, and was not predicted to happen as it did. Since around the year 2000, nature has taught us a lesson the IPCC has still not learned.


“With this new definition of climate all data prior to 15 years ago is irrelevant as they are part of the previous climate….”

For purposes of the IPCC, climate change was not significant until 15 years ago? The globe did not warm with the major El Niño of 1998 with temperatures falling off thereafter? Such a view certainly avoids having to explain why temperatures did not reach 1998 levels until the El Niño of 2015-16, as seen in the UAH satellite data. Such an explanation avoids having to explain messy natural variation and the inconvenience of explaining why ice cores show changes in CO2 followed changes in temperatures. Which is the opposite of what Mr. Gore claimed that changes in temperatures following changes in CO2. Perhaps the IPCC now considers the climate has been stable until the industrial revolution?

In the approved Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of SR1.5, the specific definition for global warming is found in Box SPM 1, on the next to the last page. It states:

“Global warming: The estimated increase in GMST [Global mean surface temperature] averaged over a 30 – year period, or the 30 – year period centered on a particular year or decade, expressed relative to pre – industrial levels unless otherwise specified. For 30-year periods that span past and future years, the current multi-decadal warming trend is assumed to continue.”

As Anthony Watts points out in WUWT, the fine print in footnote 5 on page SPM-4 of SR1.5 states:

“Present level of global warming is defined as the average of a 30-year period centered on 2017 assuming the recent rate of warming continues.” [Boldface replacing fine print]

The IPCC now describes major changes in its methodology with footnotes in fine print. Is this the IPCC’s definition of transparency?

Some may quibble about the importance of this change. However, this UN report was prepared to support an UN agreement to curtail the use of valuable fossil fuels and to buttress the UN demand for billions of dollars in annual payments from developed countries for imaginary damage done by CO2-caused climate change. According to the IPCC, it was agreed to by all countries represented. However, the U.S may not have approved it. An accounting of the actual voting is not available.

“This Summary for Policymakers was formally approved at the First Joint Session of Working Groups I, II and III of the IPCC and accepted by the 48th Session of the IPCC, Incheon, Republic of Korea, 6 October 2018.” [Subject to edit]

The list of drafting authors is extensive, but not the votes.

There is no established, hard evidence showing CO2 will cause a warming other than laboratory results showing a modest increase in temperatures with increasing CO2 above pre-industrial levels. The warming since pre-industrial times, whatever the cause, has been largely beneficial. Subsequent TWTWs will have additional discussions on SR1.5. See Whitehouse’s full article under Challenging the Orthodoxy and links under Defending the Orthodoxy.


Cost of Electricity: Writing in Master Resource, Alan Brooks brings attention to an updated report by the Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin, which shows natural gas combined cycle, wind, and residential solar photovoltaic technologies to be the least-expensive ways to generate electricity across much of the United States – assuming unreliable generation of electricity has no cost. According to the report: “The technologies examined for generating electricity included: coal (bituminous and sub-bituminous, with 30% and 90% carbon capture and sequestration [CCS]).”

The report has several major problems. First, except for special cases, CCS does not exist on a commercial scale. Second, the major issue for comparing different types of electricity generation is reliability, not cost of generation. A sensible question would be what are the costs of reliable electricity to a hospital, a subway system, modern office buildings, etc.? The costs of generation avoid the issue reliability; thus, such studies are woefully incomplete. See links under Energy Issues – US.


Additions and Corrections: Anthony Watts graciously carries TWTW on his blog, WUWT. Two readers have made comments that need repeating. One reader correctly stated that US Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were first enacted in 1975 under President Ford, not President Carter, who followed President Ford. A second reader commented on the development of the new supercritical CO2 Brayton Cycle turbine which does not require a phase change to operate once the gas is compressed to a supercritical fluid in a closed system. The reader stated that if it works, it may be a real game changer such as “fracking” and LED lights. It would be well worth the $80 million the Department of Energy contributed to the project. See http://euanmearns.com/every-big-bit-helps/#more-22657


Number of the Week: 8% Jo Nova reports on a report by researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment who calculate that 16 out of 197 countries are on track to meeting their carbon dioxide goals they agreed to in the Paris Agreement. See links under After Paris!



1. How Greens Humiliate Themselves

Their latest lawsuit would have Exxon pretend that climate policy is succeeding.

By Holman Jenkins, WSJ, Oct 30, 2018


SUMMARY: The journalist writes:

“Despite its general lack of merit, a lawsuit by the New York attorney general’s office is an entertaining symbol of all that has gone wrong with the green movement in the era of climate-change politics.


“Exxon is accused of failing to adopt sufficiently penitential accounting for its oil and gas projects in light of climate regulations that, ahem, don’t exist. Indeed, politicians around the world have declined to enact the green wish list even when given the chance, notwithstanding their endless verbal opposition to climate change.


“Presume for a moment the accusations against Exxon are accurate. Then greens should actually be glad because Exxon has spared them future embarrassment when the company is forced to increase the recorded value of its assets to account for the failure of green politics to deliver the expected carbon regulations.


“Words are challenged to express how laughable this case is. Before getting lost in distinctions that Exxon internally draws (and the attorney general muddles) between project-specific costs and policies that would suppress demand for fossil fuels generally, let’s remember a few things.


“Like all businesses, Exxon seeks to take only those risks that will pay off, and has every incentive to anticipate future regulatory costs correctly. The attorney general’s office and its green backers have an entirely different purpose: They want Exxon to use its internal disciplines to prevent oil and gas development even if it would pay off.


“The mood ring the greens are wearing is not a pretty color. They can’t enact meaningful curbs through the political process. They failed to use the courts to hold Exxon and others liable for global warming, never mind that the damages they sought would have been paid by producing more oil and gas (and therefore more greenhouse gases).


“They have not succeeded in slowing the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, but now are suing Exxon for not pretending otherwise in its accounting. It’s almost as if extorting Exxon’s participation in a fantasy of green success has become a substitute for actual green success.


“The lawsuit is the last dribble of the grand inquisition launched by now-departed Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, subsidized (as we later learned) by outside climate lobbyists. Mr. Schneiderman was forced to leave office in May due to his practice of hitting women he was dating. He set out originally to prove that Exxon had lied about climate science, which Mr. Schneiderman apparently believed is devoid of uncertainties. (Exxon had pointed to uncertainties.)


That fell through, perhaps when his staff opened any of the reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These not only testify to the continuing uncertainties, but ironically have themselves become a five-volume testament to science’s inability to reduce these uncertainties despite tens of billions invested in climate science.


“Here’s another embarrassment. Since climate change moved to center stage and became the holy cause of the green movement 20 years ago, greenhouse gases have grown faster than ever. The climate-change lobby has devolved into an angry cult. It does not seek to build bridges to others. It has run, by now, an exhaustive experiment showing conclusively that hysterical doom-mongering and vilifying skeptics as the equivalent of Holocaust deniers is a recipe for political failure.


“Most of all, it has abdicated on the crucial grounds of cost and benefit, though it’s entirely possible to envision climate-related policies that would meet a cost-benefit test. Investing in basic science and research is almost always high-return. All governments must tax something; most governments tax hundreds of things. A carbon tax is one strategy that could command support across the political spectrum if sold with a touch of the conciliatory mind-set that is crucial to democracy.


“The idea was not alien to the green movement, before it went insane. In the 1990s, environmentalists promoted a ‘double dividend’ strategy—in which a carbon tax would be used to reduce taxes on socially useful activities like work and investment. As Resources for the Future’s Richard Morgenstern said in a 1996 paper: ‘Taxes on labor discourage work effort; those on savings reduce the pool of capital available for investment; and those on investment discourage risk-taking.’”

After a few words on politics and extreme views the journalist concludes:

“No less observable is the bad faith of the New York attorney general’s office. It debases itself and the law by trying to invent some kind of complaint against Exxon merely as payback for its green allies.”


2. ‘Saudi America’ Review: The Truth About Fracking?

The author claims that an entire industry is overloaded with debt and poised for collapse. The reality seems to be quite different. R. Tyler Priest reviews “Saudi America” by Bethany McLean.

By R. Tyler Priest, WSJ, Oct 31, 2018


SUMMARY: After introducing the author of “Saudi America” as previously exposing accounting irregularities at Enron, the Associate professor of history and geography at the University of Iowa and the author of “The Offshore Imperative: Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in Postwar America” writes:


Ms. McLean is now trying to make the case that shaky financing has set up the fracking industry for a similar collapse. In ‘Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World,’ she argues that the industry is so overloaded with debt that it may never generate free cash flow. Half of this slim volume is preoccupied with the spectacular rise and fall of Chesapeake Energy’s Aubrey McClendon, whom Ms. McLean casts as the face of the industry. She echoes Forbes magazine’s epithet, calling him ‘America’s most reckless billionaire.’ Skeptical about the ‘rosy claims of American energy independence, and how it would restore the country’s depleting geopolitical power,’ she says that the ‘truth about fracking’ is that it is unsustainable. McClendon’s death in a March 2016 car accident was ‘the punctuation marking the end of an era.’


Except that it clearly was not. The short sellers Ms. McLean relied upon for her Enron reporting may have turned out to be right, but that doesn’t mean the ones she quotes frequently in ‘Saudi America,’ such as Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates and David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, are equally prescient about shale. ‘If it weren’t for historically low interest rates,’ she writes, ‘it’s not clear there would even have been a fracking boom.’ That assessment exaggerates the burden of debt and plays down the technological breakthroughs that helped make the U.S. the world’s largest producer of both oil and natural gas. There is more to this story than Aubrey McClendon and cheap money.



“From 2014 to 2016, poor returns on capital and negative cash flow were serious concerns for frackers. But that’s a common problem for any rapidly growing, capital-intensive industry. It has been a regular—though not permanent—feature of the petroleum business for 150 years. Ms. McLean focuses on a period when the industry suffered one of the worst price collapses in its history. Many exploration and production companies went bankrupt, but they were primarily undercapitalized or had invested in marginal resources at the outset. If Ms. McLean’s analysis were correct, the market downturn after 2014 would have created much more carnage than it did. Now that prices have recovered, fracking is starting to generate free cash flow, especially for the larger independents with sturdier balance sheets, better lease positions and the ability to innovate. By drastically reducing production costs in places such as the Permian Basin in West Texas, U.S. shale operators have been able to beat Saudi Arabia in a price war and emerge healthier than before.


“In a book meant to be read quickly, Ms. McLean often dashes off quick points that are poorly reasoned. She asserts, for example, that the growth of U.S. oil-and-gas exports has undermined America’s security interests abroad, noting that U.S. shale has emboldened Russia’s Vladimir Putin to use oil and gas as political tools. But she fails to consider how Russia’s power would have been bolstered if oil prices had continued to rise past $147 a barrel in 2008. Ms. McLean also suggests that America’s new energy abundance has exacerbated instabilities in oil-exporting countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela and could potentially create a power vacuum in the Middle East. This raises the question of whether Ms. McLean would prefer the U.S. be more dependent on energy from the Middle East and stable—yet stably corrupt—regimes in Venezuela and Nigeria. Moreover, if fracking is as financially unviable as Ms. McLean argues, she would have to admit that the problems it poses for American foreign policy are not long-term.


“We are ‘losing the race’ to a renewable energy future, Ms. McLean concludes, by hitching our hopes to the promise of a ‘Saudi America.’ Despite the Trump administration’s pro-fossil-fuel policies, Ms. McLean insists that oil and gas are on their way out, to be replaced by renewables sooner then we think. Describing herself as ‘stunned’ to learn that several large private-equity investors were turning away from oil and gas ‘for the simple reason that they didn’t think the profits would be there for much longer,’ she seems unaware that in the time since the mid-2014 crash private-equity firms have raised more than $50 billion to pour into shale drilling.


“Ms. McLean is glib about how easy the shift away from fossil fuels will be. She recommends a controversial 2015 study by Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, who declared that a complete transition to renewables in this country by 2050 is ‘technically and economically feasible with little downside.’ A group of 21 scholars in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, however, found major faults with the study’s methods and conclusions.


“The race to protect humanity from the worst effects of climate change surely depends upon decarbonizing our energy system, but fracking has a role to play in the long process of adjustment. The oil that fracking produces in the U.S. causes less environmental harm than that extracted in many other parts of the world, and natural gas from shale is a vital ‘bridge fuel’ for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions throughout our energy sector. As Ms. McLean’s antihero, Aubrey McClendon, once implored: ‘Embrace natural gas to reduce our importation of oil and embrace natural gas to reduce our consumption of coal.’”



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