Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #336

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

By Ken Haapala, President

Quote of the Week: “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.” ― John Stuart Mill [H/t Matt Ridley]

Number of the Week: $1,096/MWh – An increase of 22 times

USGCRP Prophecies: On November 23, the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released the second volume of its two-part series on human caused global warming. The first volume. the “Climate Science Special Report (CSSR)” supposedly discussed the physical science but was largely confined to projections from poorly tested global climate models and physical events unrelated to increasing carbon dioxide. The current release came in time for the upcoming 24th Conference of Parties (COP-24) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Katowice Poland. According to official announcements, this conference will additionally include “the 14th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) and the third part of the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 1-3)” – international bureaucratic science at its best.

Unlike the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which supposedly provides scientific guidance on human-caused variations to climate, the USGCRP is obligated to provide scientific guidance on both human-caused and natural climate change. The USGCRP has conveniently forgotten the part concerning natural climate change. In the current report, the USGCRP avoids discussing nature and the need to substantiate its claims with physical evidence by stating:

“However, the assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.” Overview Chapter 1 p.1.

History is to be forgotten. In short, physical evidence cannot contradict USGCRP projections / predictions. The USGCRP created an illusory climate using complex climate models without a physical basis. As such, the entire 1100-page report can be viewed as an assembly of prophecies that may or may not occur in the next 25 to 100 years – no contradictory evidence needed. Only the evidence presented in the USGCRP report is valid. This attitude reflects the status of science in the parts of the 13 federal government agencies that participated in the report: Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health & Human Services, Interior, State, Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics & Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Hopefully, the entire agencies will not base policies on long-term prophecies from poorly tested models. For example, the Department of Defense needs to defend the country against real threats, not imaginary ones. According to the report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the Department of Commerce, is responsible for the organization and administration of the report. Perhaps the claims without hard evidence to support them should not be a surprise. For some years, NOAA has been prophesizing sea level rise far beyond anything that can be concluded from actual measurements, to include that sea levels will rise exponentially (ever more rapidly). Who said bureaucrats don’t have imagination?

Ironically, immediately prior to the new release, the Northeast US experienced, perhaps, the coldest Thanksgiving in 100 years. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy, Changing Weather, and http://sdg.iisd.org/events/unfccc-cop-24/


Trump v. Trump: The global warming chorus immediately seized on the new USGCRP report claiming the Trump administration is contradicting President Trump’s claims about global warming. Amusingly, some of the chorus interviewed people who worked on the USGCRP, who were political appointees under the Obama Administration. Part of the problem stems from the disorganization of the Trump administration after his election. The administration was not prepared. Another part of the problem is the behavior of the President, which can be described as erratic.

Another major part of the problem is the “slow-roll” of confirming appointees to key administrative positions. Democrats in the Senate are taking the maximum amount of time legally possible to permit voting on confirming or denying appointments. Although somewhat different, the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was a televised, highly publicized example of the “slow-roll.” Many key positions below heads of departments still need to be filled. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy.


Hard Evidence v. USGCRP: Much of the latest USGCRP report is vague and unsubstantiated. However, there are sections in the USGCRP report where the prophecies can be tested against hard evidence. It is far easier to explain these deficiencies to a non-expert audience than to explain deficiencies in the modeling. If the report were competently executed there should be no deficiencies in empirically testable claims.

Probably the most glaring deficiency, which goes to the overall competence of the report, is in the Agriculture section, apparently signed-off by the Department of Agriculture. Section 9 Agriculture of the Summary states:

“Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability. [Italics in original.]

“Climate change presents numerous challenges to sustaining and enhancing crop productivity, livestock health, and the economic vitality of rural communities. While some regions (such as the Northern Great Plains) may see conditions conducive to expanded or alternative crop productivity over the next few decades, overall, yields from major U.S. crops are expected to decline as a consequence of increases in temperatures and possibly changes in water availability, soil erosion, and disease and pest outbreaks. Increases in temperatures during the growing season in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture. Projected increases in extreme heat conditions are expected to lead to further heat stress for livestock, which can result in large economic losses for producers. Climate change is also expected to lead to large-scale shifts in the availability and prices of many agricultural products across the world, with corresponding impacts on U.S. agricultural producers and the U.S. economy. These changes threaten future gains in commodity crop production and put rural livelihoods at risk. Numerous adaptation strategies are available to cope with adverse impacts of climate variability and change on agricultural production. These include altering what is produced, modifying the inputs used for production, adopting new technologies, and adjusting management strategies. However, these strategies have limits under severe climate change impacts and would require sufficient long- and short-term investment in changing practices.” [Boldface and Italics added.]

It is the decline of agriculture productivity with the projected (guessed at) increase in temperatures that is most interesting. US crop yields are growing significantly in the Midwest and elsewhere. But the USGCRP would probably call this a temporary condition that does not contradict its prophesy. But the USGCRP would probably call this a temporary condition that does not contradict its prophecy. But crop yields are growing world-wide, including in the tropics, which are considerably warmer than the US, and will remain so unless the equator shifts (or the axis of rotation changes significantly).

According to Investopedia, the four countries that produce the most food in calorie content are, in descending order: China, India, United States and Brazil. [Note this is food, not high-value agriculture products such as flowers, bulbs, dairy, etc. Using greenhouses made of petroleum products in which the ambient CO2 is often doubled or tripled, The Netherlands is a major producer of agriculture products, flowers, bulbs, garden vegetables, etc. and not included in the list of producers by calorie content.]

Two of the four largest agriculture producers, in calorie content, are predominately between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn with climates that can be predominantly described as warm and humid, with or without a dry season. China and the US are largely outside the tropics, [Hawaii is not a major food producing area]. Apparently, the authors of the report are so enthralled with their modeling skills that they failed to look at a globe.

Further, the US is the major food producing exporter, but it is facing increasing completion from Brazil, which is largely in the tropics. According to reports, Brazil has increased agriculture production by 400% in 20 years, particularly in food crops such as soybeans, grains, and maize (corn) with much of the increase in Central Brazil, centered about latitude 16 degrees South. Parts of the Department of Agriculture are aware of this development, but apparently not those parts that participated in the USGCRP. See links under Agriculture Issues & Fear of Famine.


USGCRP v. DQA (IQA) The first National Climate Assessment was released in 2000, in the last year of the Clinton Administration. It earned the distinction as being the first government report to be consider deficient under the Data Quality Act (DQA), or Information Quality Act (IQA), of 2001. The IQA is a simple, short rider to an appropriations bill that directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue government-wide guidelines that “provide policy and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies”. Other federal agencies are also required to publish their own guidelines for information quality and peer review agendas.

Humanity evolved in the tropics about 200,000 years ago during periods of extreme climate change. The current warm period, the Holocene Epoch, started about 11,700 years ago. According to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the earth has experienced three periods of climate change since emerging from the depths of the last Ice Age into the Holocene Epoch. Agriculture began during the Greenlanddian Age, the warmest time of the Holocene Epoch. Civilization began during Northgrippian Age, warmer than today, about 8200 to 4200 years ago. During the subsequent cooling, about 4200 years ago, humanity suffered and cultures disappeared. These changes appear to be unrelated to carbon dioxide (CO2). Yet the USGCRP declares that climate has been stable for 12,000 years and humanity is threatened by global warming from CO2?

The Fourth National Climate Assessment offers no hard evidence, just vague assertions and claims that past climate change is no evidence about future climate change. It earns the distinction that it does not meet the standards of the Information Quality Act, and each page should be stamped: “Based on speculation, not hard evidence.” See http://www.stratigraphy.org/index.php/ics-chart-timescale


Climate Change Act of 2008: Writing for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Rupert Darwall states differences the UK’s Climate Change Act of 2008 has made for energy in that country as compared with the lofty goals of the Act. Rather than energy that is affordable, secure, sustainable, government chooses clear losers which cost the consumers much more; price volatility has increased; consumers have high costs with no benefits; what is called “smart grid” is actually rationing; and fuel poverty is re-defined rather than eliminated.

Among additional issues, the Act shows the dangers of politicians adopting a herd mentality and taking action that “feels good” rather than carefully thinking the issues through. Also, it shows how clever economists can manipulate numbers to make that which is very expensive appear to be cheap, such as using tricks such as discount rates, which few people understand.

Thankfully, the US Congress did not adopt cap-and-trade and other measures that punish the public under the guise of protecting it. No wonder the USGCRP and the UN bureaucrats are so insistent “we have no time left” to fight global warming / climate change. The public is catching on to the games these politicians and their supporters play. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Correcting Errors: Last week’s TWTW discussed errors independent British researcher Nic Lewis found in a widely-cited paper on ocean warming and how responsibly members of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reacted to this discovery.

Both Nic Lewis and Judith Curry have further comments on the issue. Those involved are to be thanked for their professional behavior. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Correcting Errors.


No Easy Energy Transformation: With detailed analysis, Roger Andrews of Energy Matters takes apart a report by the International Renewable Agency which claims to show that renewables can easily replace fossil fuels with low increases in costs to the consumer. The original study was supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany. It is doubtful that Andrews will receive any such support for his effective critique. But it is with appropriate critiques that our knowledge can advance – something bureaucratic government entities consider unneeded. See links under Questioning Green Elsewhere.


Number of the Week: $1,096/MWh – An increase of 22 times. Roger Andrews did a rough analysis on how much electricity would cost in California if the state goes 100% wind and solar using battery storage. Andrews estimates that electricity will cost about $1,096/MWh. This rough calculation has assumptions some may challenge.

Based on estimates by others, wind and solar would cost $50/MWh without storage. The current EIA estimate of levelized cost of onshore wind is $48/MWh. (Offshore wind is $125/MWh; Solar PV $59/MWh, Solar thermal is unknown). Compared with onshore wind alone, battery storage increases the cost of the electricity generation by 22 times.

Without storage, when wind and solar fail, electricity in California would have to come from elsewhere. Unlike Germany, where wind and solar failures tend to somewhat balance out depending on the season, lessening storage costs; in California wind and solar tend to seasonally fail simultaneously.

These calculations go to the extremely important point that wind and solar promoters and many politicians ignore – the costs of reliable electricity to the consumer. The cost of wind or solar generation may come down, but the costs of storage are devastating. It is in storage that major technological break-throughs are needed. Deploying more wind and solar does not benefit the public until the storage issues are solved. See links under Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Energy – Storage and https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/electricity_generation.pdf



1. Matt Ridley: Why Is It So Cool to be Gloomy

By Matt Ridley, WSJ, Via GWPF, Nov 17, 2018


The author of “The Rational Optimist” writes:

“The world is in better shape than most people think, but we’re more inclined to focus on bad news than good. Psychology can help explain why.


“Has the percentage of the world population that lives in extreme poverty almost doubled, almost halved or stayed the same over the past 20 years? When the Swedish statistician and public health expert Hans Rosling began asking people that question in 2013, he was astounded by their responses. Only 5% of 1,005 Americans got the right answer: Extreme poverty has been cut almost in half. A chimpanzee would do much better, he pointed out mischievously, by picking an answer at random. So people are worse than ignorant: They believe they know many dire things about the world that are, in fact, untrue.


“Before his untimely death last year, Rosling (with his son and daughter-in-law as co-authors) published a magnificent book arguing against such reflexive pessimism. Its title says it all: ‘Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.’ As the author of a book called ‘The Rational Optimist,’ I’m happy to include myself in their platoon, which also includes writers such as Steven Pinker, Bjorn Lomborg, Michael Shermer and Gregg Easterbrook.


“For us New Optimists, however, it’s an uphill battle. No matter how persuasive our evidence, we routinely encounter disbelief and even hostility, as if accentuating the positive was callous. People cling to pessimism about the state of the world. John Stuart Mill neatly summarized this tendency as far back as 1828: ‘I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.’ It’s cool to be gloomy.


“Studies consistently find that people in developed societies tend to be pessimistic about their country and the world but optimistic about their own lives. They expect to earn more and to stay married longer than they generally do. The Eurobarometer survey finds that Europeans are almost twice as likely to expect their own economic prospects to get better in the coming year as to get worse, while at the same time being more likely to expect their countries’ prospects to get worse than to improve. The psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania suggests a reason for this: We think we are in control of our own fortunes but not those of the wider society.


“There are certainly many causes for concern in the world today, from terrorism to obesity to environmental problems, but the persistence of pessimism about the planet requires some explanation beyond the facts themselves. Herewith a few suggestions:


“Bad news is more sudden than good news, which is usually gradual. Therefore bad news is more newsworthy. Battles, bombings, accidents, murders, storms, floods, scandals and disasters of all kinds tend to dominate the news. ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ as they used to say in the newspaper business. By contrast, the gradual reduction in poverty in the world rarely makes a sudden splash. As Rosling put it, “In the media the ‘newsworthy’ events exaggerate the unusual and put the focus on swift changes.”


“Plane crashes have been getting steadily scarcer, but each one now receives vastly more coverage.


This is part of what psychologists call the ‘availability bias,’ a quirk of human cognition first noticed by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s. People vastly overestimate the frequency of crime, because crime disproportionately dominates the news. But random violence makes the news because it is rare, whereas routine kindness doesn’t make the news because it is so common.


“Bad news usually matters; good news may not. In the prehistoric past, it made more sense to worry about risks—it might help you avoid getting killed by a lion—than to celebrate success. Perhaps this is why people have a ‘negativity bias.’ In a 2014 paper, researchers at McGill University examined which news stories their subjects chose to read for what they thought was an eye-tracking experiment. It turns out that even when people say they want more good news, they are more interested in bad news: ‘Regardless of what participants say, they exhibit a preference for negative news content,’ concluded the authors Mark Trussler and Stuart Soroka.


“People think in relative not absolute terms. What matters is how well you are doing relative to other people, because that’s what determined success in the competition for resources (and mates) in the stone age. Being told that others are doing well is therefore a form of bad news. When circumstances get better, people take those improvements for granted and reset their expectations.


“Such relativizing behavior affects even our most intimate relationships. An ingenious 2016 study by David Buss and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin found that ‘participants lower in mate value than their partners were generally satisfied regardless of the pool of potential mates; participants higher in mate value than their partners became increasingly dissatisfied with their relationships as better alternative partners became available.’ Ouch.


“As the world improves, people expand their definition of bad news. This recent finding by the Harvard psychologists David Levari and Daniel Gilbert, known as ‘prevalence-induced concept change,’ suggests that the rarer something gets, the more broadly we redefine the concept. They found in an experiment that the rarer they made blue dots, the more likely people were to call purple dots ‘blue,’ and the rarer they made threatening faces, the more likely people were to describe a face as threatening. ‘From low-level perception of color to higher-level judgments of ethics,’ they write, ‘there is a robust tendency for perceptual and judgmental standards to ‘creep’ when they ought not to.’


“Consider air travel: Plane crashes have been getting steadily scarcer—2017 was the first year with no commercial passenger plane crashes at all, despite four billion people in the air—but each one now receives vastly more coverage. Many people still consider planes a risky mode of transport.


“We’re even capable of fretting about the bounty of prosperity, as ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic highlights in his clever song, ‘First World Problems’: ‘The thread count on these cotton sheets has got me itching/My house is so big, I can’t get Wi-Fi in the kitchen.’ Sheena Iyengar of Columbia Business School became a TED star for her research on the debilitating modern illness known as the ‘choice overload problem’—that is, being paralyzed by having to choose from among, say, the dozens of types of olive oil or jam on offer at the grocery store. North Koreans, Syrians, Congolese and Haitians generally have more important things to worry about.”


2. In Oil’s Huge Drop, All Signs Say Made in the U.S.A.

Rising U.S. production and inventory, changing policies and a stronger dollar add to pressure on price of crude

By Stephanie Yang and Amrith Ramkumar, WSJ, Nov 23, 2018


SUMMARY: The journalists write:

“The downward spiral in oil prices is accelerating as a surge in crude production from a turbocharged U.S. petroleum industry runs into weaker global economic growth.


“Crude prices slid 7.7% Friday, their largest one-day drop since July 2015, and are now down by nearly a third since the start of October. The U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate futures, closed at $50.42 a barrel—its lowest level in over a year.


“As economic growth outside the U.S. has flagged, producers and traders are beginning to worry that demand for crude will also decline. In export-dependent Germany, a purchasing managers index hit a four-year low, well below the level economists were expecting. The steepness of the drop has prompted Saudi Arabia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to consider a plan to quietly cut production to bolster prices, according to people familiar with the matter.


“The idea would see the cartel retain the official output targets it set in 2016. But, because Saudi Arabia is overshooting those targets by nearly 1 million barrels a day, it would effectively be a cut. Such a move may help support prices without raising the ire of President Trump, who has been calling on OPEC to keep prices lower.


“Investors remain skeptical that the OPEC meeting in Vienna on Dec. 6 will be able to turn the tide on oil supply enough to support prices.


“A big reason why: the emergence of the U.S. oil industry as one of the world’s most important players. Ballooning shale production—American output has nearly doubled since the start of 2012—has made the U.S. a key supplier and exacerbated worries about a global glut of crude.


“‘I never thought I would hear these kinds of numbers coming out of the U.S.,’ said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA. ‘This is going to force OPEC’s hand.’


“This summer, the U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the largest crude-oil producer—a title it hadn’t held since 1973, according to the International Energy Agency. Monthly output in the U.S. was a record 11.65 million barrels a day in September and nearly the same amount in October, according to energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, while Saudi Arabia’s supply was nearly 11 million barrels a day last month and Russian production stood at 11.4 million a day.


“‘It used to be the world was divided into OPEC and non-OPEC,’ said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit, which projects the U.S. will be a net exporter of petroleum in the early 2020s. ‘Now it’s the world of the big three.’


“In recent weeks, that has been reflected in a bumper amount of oil in storage. U.S. crude stockpiles have climbed for nine consecutive weeks. Inventories advanced by 4.9 million barrels in the week ended Nov. 16, and rose more than 10 million barrels the week before, the largest one-week increase since February 2017.


“Bottlenecks in getting oil out of the prolific Permian basin in Texas have led to a big divergence in the benchmark prices of oil. The global benchmark, Brent crude, trades for roughly $9 more than West Texas Intermediate, which is harder to get to global markets.


“However, the U.S. has continued to pump oil and many expect those hurdles to be cleared next year as new pipelines are built, unleashing even more crude on the rest of the world.


“Uncertainty on the geopolitical front has also contributed to worries about oversupply.


“Mr. Trump has signaled a willingness to look past the killing of a prominent U.S.-based journalist in his relations with Saudi Arabia. And the U.S., after months touting strict enforcement of sanctions on Iran, granted more generous waivers than expected for eight governments to buy Iranian oil. This could lead to higher-than-expected supply from the Islamic Republic.

Saudi officials said Mr. Trump pressured their country into ramping up oil production to record levels ahead of the sanctions on Iran’s petroleum industry, the Journal has reported.


“‘They are trying to be as cooperative with us as possible,’ said Douglas Hepworth, chief operating officer at Gresham Investment Management LLC, a $7 billion commodities firm with about one-third of its assets in energy. ‘What triggered the whole thing was everybody in the world moving to full capacity to try and make the world safe for Iranian sanctions.’


“The strength of global production now threatens to overwhelm demand. This could pressure OPEC and its allies such as Russia to cut back when the group meets next month in hopes of regaining more direct control of global supply.


“Such a combination helped rein in the last oil price rout two years ago—defying skeptics who previously warned OPEC’s grip on world markets had slipped thanks to U.S. shale. In 2016, the cartel teamed up with Russia and a group of like-minded, non-OPEC oil producers. They throttled back hard and stayed disciplined, slowly draining the world of the buildup of inventory that now is starting to slosh around the world again. The big question is whether they can pull off the same sort of deal now, and how long it might take to drain supply again.”

The journalists discuss some future possibilities. But one thing is clear, oil production and price are not controlled by one group such as OPEC, Russia, independent producers, or big oil. All have an impact, but the independence of North American producers creates problems for those who seek to control the oil market.


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