Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #357

The Week That Was: April 20, 2019, Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Quote of the Week: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intend us to forgo their use.” – Galileo

Number of the Week: 4,300 premature deaths annually in the United States from maize (corn)

Clash of Ideas: The Great Barrier Reef is a cultural icon for Australia. The world’s largest coral reef system stretches over 2300 km (1400 mi) and is home to a great diversity of sea life. Academics and scientific organizations have claimed that the reef is dying from global warming / climate change and ocean acidification (lowering of pH).

Physics professor Peter Ridd of James Cook University challenged much of the dramatic pictorial evidence as misleading, claiming the living reef recovers from such stresses. The reef has experienced warmer and colder periods than today, and coral grows faster in warmer areas such as Papua New Guinea. Life is resilient. The University dismissed him unceremoniously. Ridd sued for unlawful termination of employment using crowd sourcing to raise the necessary funds. On April 16, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Brisbane found completely in favor of Ridd, though it is not clear if he will get his job back.

What is remarkable is the reasoning by the court, particularly on the concept of intellectual freedom. The Australian magazine Quadrant posted this reasoning but without a link, and it is reproduced below from the finding (paragraphs 6 through 11).

“The Concept of Intellectual Freedom

“Intellectual freedom is also known as academic freedom. It is a concept that underpins universities and institutions devoted to higher learning. Obviously, such institutions must have administrators that care for the governance and proper direction of the institution. However, the mission of these institutions must undoubtedly be the search for knowledge which leads to a quest for truth. In reality, intellectual freedom is the cornerstone of this core mission of all institutions of higher learning.

“This is so because it allows ideas to conflict with each other; to battle and test each other. It is within this “battle” that the strengths and weaknesses of ideas are found out. In this process, there comes “learning”. And with learning comes discovery.

“At its core, intellectual freedom mandates that academics should express their opinions openly and honestly, while inviting scrutiny and debate about those ideas. Unless opinions are expressed in this way, the growth and expression of ideas will be stifled, and new realms of thinking will cease to be explored. That will lead to intellectual and social stagnation and a uniformity of thought which is an anathema to the concept of higher learning and social progress.

“Intellectual freedom allows academics to challenge the status quo and encourage critical analysis. History tells of many people who did so.

“During the last 160 years, arguably the two most prominent scientists/academics to challenge the status quo have been Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. The ideas brought forth by both of these men were extremely controversial and offended several of their academic peers as well as many others in the greater society. That is how it should be and without intellectual freedom, the world would have been denied the benefit of ground-breaking thought and intellectual risk taking of the sort that encourages innovation and other scholastic enquiries.

“There is great power in intellectual freedom. But with great power there must also come great responsibility. There must, at times, be some degree of restraint so that there is no descent into anarchy. That is a fine balance and one that has challenged legal thinkers both past and present. And that, in turn, is why there is often an uneasy tension between those responsible for the administration of an institution of higher learning and those responsible for promulgating the ideas that give the institution their raison d’etre.

Clearly, Judge Vasta finds that consensus, groupthink, leads to intellectual stagnation and the clash of ideas is necessary for science to advance. As Jo Nova points out, James Cook University tried to suppress the work of the late professor Robert Carter, an editor of the reports by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). See links under Censorship and Suppressing Scientific Inquiry.


Corals Adjusting pH: Last week’s TWTW discussed a review of recent research actually measuring the biologic process of corals adjusting pH to promote calcification, growing their shells. The study was published in January, but TWTW saw no mention of it until it was reviewed by Craig Idso of CO2 Science. Corals evolved over 500 million years ago, when the concentration of CO2 was many times that of today. At various times concentrations may have been over 2000 parts per million (ppm) compared to 400 ppm today. Yet corals continued with calcification, leaving great deposits of carbonate materials in limestone and chalk, such as the White Cliffs of Dover.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may need to change its view that the greatest threat to the reef is climate change, causing coral bleaching. The link to the full paper on corals adjusting pH in sea water in Science Advances is found under “Challenging the Orthodoxy”; and see the link on questionable reports from the “Australian Research Council for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies” under “Below Bottom Line.”


Testing – Black Hole Image: The creation of an image of a black hole outline from data was an exacting effort. Last week’s TWTW carried an essay by Ray Jayawardhana, astrophysicist and dean of arts and sciences at Cornell¸ on how exciting it was:

“The transformation of the black hole from a mathematical oddity, emerging from Einstein’s theory of general relativity, to an observable fixture of the cosmos is a testament to humanity’s collective intellectual prowess, relentless curiosity and dogged perseverance.”

An article by Sam Walker, a former reporter, in the Wall Street Journal describes what an exacting process it was trying to develop algorithms, the processes for calculations, to mathematically describe the data from eight different telescopes from Chile to Hawaii and convert them to an image, a shadow of the black hole. The team eventually grew to 200 scientists who repeatedly tested different concepts.

Several important characteristics of the successful team emerge: the willingness to sacrifice personal issues to the team effort; the willingness to argue and constantly test concepts; and the desire to eliminate human bias and group think. The account is similar to accounts of the Apollo science team and their willingness to argue over what is the best way to land man on the moon and safely return him to earth. See Article # 1.


The Greenhouse Effect – Criticism: Physicist Donald Rapp took exception to a statement in last week’s TWTW: “The fear of CO2 is built on long-term forecasts / projections / predictions from global climate models that cannot describe what is occurring in the atmosphere today, where the greenhouse effect occurs.” Rapp is the author of a variety of books on the subject of climate change including the soon to be released 3rd edition of “Ice Ages and Interglacials: Measurements, Interpretation, and Models.” Rapp wrote TWTW:

“Not true!

“The fear of CO2 is based on the knowledge of the basic physics of IR [Infrared Radiation] transfer through the atmosphere, the measurements at the top of the atmosphere that show the earth is out of balance with more energy coming in than going out, the observation that over hundreds of millions of years, at least some of the extensive global climate changes of the past can be attributed to changes in CO2, and the simple observation that the rate of global warming over the past 140 years exceeds anything we could possibly expect from “natural” causes. The fact that global climate models lack numerical credibility, mostly because they cannot account for future changes in clouds and other factors as the earth warms, does not mean they are totally worthless as to the direction of future change. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“The fact that the specifics of future climate change are uncertain and the putative impacts of any level of climate change on human life (e.g. sea level, storms, floods, drought…) are even more difficult to predict, does not mean that we know nothing at all. A problem for climate change is that it is slowly evolving, and therefore it requires a very long-term point of view, which is contrary to most people’s ability to think. But the biggest problem is that neither side (alarmists and deniers) seem to be able to live with, and work within uncertainty. Both sides are sure they are right, with rigid assertions and pronouncements of things that are highly uncertain, and in many cases, likely not to be true.

“The climate is changing. CO2 is one of several important factors in that change. There is uncertainty as to how far these changes will propagate if we continue to add CO2 to the atmosphere, but the direction is clear. There is also uncertainty as to the impacts on human life, but the evidence is that the negatives outweigh the positives. The more the world can shift to renewable energy, the safer we will be. But this requires world cooperation, especially from China, and the small efforts made by the State of California are an effort in futility as long as China is allowed to run amok.”

He later added:

“However, the measurements at the TOA [Top of the Atmosphere] involve subtracting one large number from another. Estimating the earth’s imbalance is very inaccurate.”

Largely, TWTW agrees with Rapp, especially the need to measure the energy flow from the earth through the atmosphere to space, yielding the extent greenhouse gases interfere with the heat transfer process. IR cannot be measured from the surface. It must be done from space. We now have the ability to measure it. As importantly, we are measuring the actual temperature trends in the bulk atmosphere. We do not need to be handicapped by models based on assumptions made 40 years ago when this ability to measure did not exist.

Imagine the earth as a perfectly conducting body that has an absorptivity of 70% and an emissivity of 100%. It absorbs exactly as much light from the sun and emits exactly as much IR to outer space as does the earth itself. To the point, it absorbs exactly as much energy as it emits, as does the earth!!! Yet the temperature of the earth’s surface is 288 K (15 ºC), while that of the hypothetical body would be 255 K (–33 ºC). The rise or fall of the earth’s lower-tropospheric temperature is only vaguely related (if at all) to any imbalance in the absorbed-vs-emitted radiation. It all has to do with the heat-transfer processes in the atmosphere and, to some, extent the oceans.

Changes in the albedo of the earth, reflection of solar rays, can affect how much solar radiation is absorbed, and changes in evaporation, CO2 concentration, emissivity, and all sorts of terrestrial things can affect how much heat is retained, but the imbalance in radiation is quite ephemeral, temporary. A long-term imbalance could easily lead to temperatures of either infinity or absolute zero. The temporary imbalance, which is difficult to measure, positive or negative, is not as important as understanding what is occurring in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, according to reports, climate modelers preparing for the next assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR6, due 2021) are being requested to make the sensitivities of surface temperatures to a doubling of carbon dioxide even greater than they do now. The modelers have been asked to raise “equilibrium climate sensitivity” for a doubling of CO2, now between 2°C and 4.5°C, to 5°C (9F) or warmer. As John Christy and his team have shown repeatedly, already US climate models greatly overestimate the warming of the atmosphere – more of a bad estimate is a good estimate? Accepting this political demand is science?

If agencies of the US government such as NASA, especially NASA-GISS and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), were truly interested in calculating the greenhouse effect and how the greenhouse effect is changing with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, they would be focusing on refining measurements of what is occurring in the atmosphere, and not using outdated surface temperature data, which are a poor proxy for what occurs in the atmosphere. They certainly would not obey political demands from the IPCC. If the agencies follow the political “science guidelines” of the IPCC, these agencies no longer deserve the protection they have been given by politicians. See links under Models v. Observations.


A Glimmer of Hope? Cliff Mass, who is not a “climate denier” as if there is such a thing, writes on the efforts being made by NOAA to upgrade their standard weather model. Such upgrades are much needed. Based on the data Mass gives of the global skill of the 5-day forecasts, the US models trail behind the European Center, UKMET, and Canada. Unfortunately, NOAA’s latest version was released too early, it has bugs, and there are too few people who actually understand the model. Fortunately, a few key administrators appear to understand the problems and are working to solve them.

The problem raises a broader issue, why are glorified weather models, which cannot forecast beyond 14 days, being used to calculate the greenhouse effect? Why are these calculations used to make projections over hundreds years? Though crude now, direct measurement of the greenhouse effect can be refined. See link under Change in US Administrations.


An Actual Debate: SEPP board member Craig Idso of CO2 Science was tasked with debating Jeffrey Bennett, who has a Ph.D. in Astrophysical, Planetary, and Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Colorado and has extensive publications, including NASA publications. According to Francis Menton, “The official resolution for the debate was Resolved: There is little or no rigorous evidence that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are causing dangerous global warming and threatening life on the planet.”

It is refreshing that such a constructive debate is taking place. See link under Seeking a Common Ground.


Absurdity: The absurdity of using wind and solar for base-load electricity in Germany is exposed by German journalist Holger Douglas, translated by GWPF.

“The guaranteed output of PV is nevertheless 0%; for onshore wind it is only 1% and for offshore wind it’s 2%. In plain language, the 120 GW of renewables that we have built up over the last 15 years make almost no contribution to the secured output. We will never build a secure power supply with wind and PV alone. Ten years ago, we had around 100 GW of power from secure energy sources at our disposal – coal, gas, nuclear, biomass and hydroelectric plants.”

These forms of electricity generation cannot be relied upon to supply heat in the winter or refrigerate food in the summer. When timely electricity is needed, they have little value regardless of price. Using gas turbines to back-up these forms of generation is as efficient as driving an auto in stop-and-go traffic. Under current policies, in five years Germany will be experiencing significant problems. See links under Problems in the Orthodoxy.




SEPP is conducting its annual vote for the recipient of the coveted trophy, The Jackson, a lump of coal. Readers are asked to nominate and vote for who they think is most deserving, following these criteria:

· The nominee has advanced, or proposes to advance, significant expansion of governmental power, regulation, or control over the public or significant sections of the general economy.

· The nominee does so by declaring such measures are necessary to protect public health, welfare, or the environment.

· The nominee declares that physical science supports such measures.

· The physical science supporting the measures is flimsy at best, and possibly non-existent.

The seven past recipients, Lisa Jackson, Barrack Obama, John Kerry, Ernest Moniz, John Holdren, Gena McCarthy and Jerry Brown are not eligible. Generally, the committee that makes the selection prefers a candidate with a national or international presence. The voting will close on June 30. Please send your nominee and a brief reason why the person is qualified for the honor to Ken@SEPP.org. Thank you.


Number of the Week: 4,300 premature deaths annually in the United States from maize (corn). Ridiculous studies using EPA’s standards for statistics have been all too common – such as dental caries in infants from second-hand smoke. Now comes an estimate of 4,300 premature deaths annually in the US from increased fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from increased emissions of ammonia from increased use of nitrogen fertilizer. Where are the bodies? See links under Agriculture Issues & Fear of Famine.



1. Behind the Black-Hole Image: One Giant Leap for Teamwork

How a global team of scientists used relentless bias-testing to produce the black-hole image

By Sam Walker, WSJ, Apr 20, 2019


After an introduction of when Sheperd Doeleman began to think about the problem in the mid-90s, the former reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal writes:

“For years, Dr. Doeleman struggled to raise funds for his long-shot project. In 2008, a small technical breakthrough tipped the scales. The idea, he told me, ‘went from being impossible to improbable to having real potential.’

“The project, which calls itself Event Horizon Telescope, would ultimately raise more than $40 million and convince 60 institutes in 20 nations to offer resources, including eight of the world’s most expensive telescopes. Before all of that, however, Dr. Doeleman needed a team.

“Persuading scientists to join him was a tall order. ‘People have careers to think about,’ he says. His comrades had to be both obsessive and unfazed by the prospect of failure; self-starters who could operate independently in a startup environment with no assumptions or precedents. Above all, he says, they had to embrace a culture of trust, ‘one in which we can disagree but remain open to being convinced.’

“As determined as he was, Dr. Doeleman knew he was wading into the deep end. In business, any leader who bets audaciously on a new product or market position knows their work will be judged by the money it makes. In research, where the only currency is knowledge, experiments only succeed if the scientific community accepts the findings.

“Astronomers didn’t really know how black holes worked and had only indirect evidence they exist. In theory, they should look like dark rings. But whether Dr. Doeleman’s team produced a picture of a ring, an elephant or just an indeterminate blob, it was likely to be picked apart mercilessly.

“Put simply, Dr. Doleman, now an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, was about to gamble his career on a plan he was not certain he could execute and whose findings could be discarded over a single misstep. ‘It was like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down,’ he says.

“The only way to ‘see’ a black hole is to capture an image of its shadow. Rather than building one massive telescope, the EHT team wanted to combine the perspectives of many existing ones. “Instead of taking pictures, they would capture signals from electromagnetic waves tumbling around the black hole’s invisible contours. By feeding that data through an imaging algorithm, they hoped to construct a virtual rendering.

“Dr. Doeleman’s small team slowly grew to an army of 200 ranging from veterans like Sera Markoff, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam, to postdoctoral fellows like Kazunori Akiyama, who co-led the imaging group. As they puzzled over how to retrofit telescopes with atomic clocks or ship frozen hard drives from the South Pole, Dr. Doeleman gave them wide latitude to improvise.

“In April 2017, eight telescopes from Chile to Hawaii simultaneously focused on the same supermassive black hole, collecting five petabytes of wave-signal data. Once the data had been processed, the team held four exhaustive all-hands meetings to review it. The next step—reducing it all down to a single image—was the trickiest. This was where human bias might creep in.

“Analysts working in fields like intelligence or meteorology often make predictions that impact millions of lives. The persistent danger is that whatever they want to believe, or assume to be true, will override their objectivity. In his 2011 book ‘Reducing Uncertainty,’ former intelligence analyst Thomas Fingar wrote: ‘The line between analysis produced to inform and analysis produced to influence can be very vague.’

“On business teams, the central enemy is groupthink, which occurs when a group’s natural urge to seek agreement leads to catastrophically ill-advised decisions.

“The chief threat to the EHT imaging team was the consensus that black holes look like rings. To build an algorithm that predicts what data might ‘look’ like, they would have to make hundreds of assumptions. If they harbored any prejudice, even subconsciously, they might corrupt the formulas to produce nothing but rings.

“To test their algorithms for bias, the imaging team generated ‘fake’ data designed to evoke other shapes; a shadow, a crescent, even a snowman. If the algorithms still spit out rings, they were clearly biased.

“After clearing that bar, the team split into four groups. They were given separate algorithms and sent to four distinct locations to run the real telescope data. In July 2018, the four groups reconvened in a seminar room in Cambridge, Mass. to reveal their images. Although they used different algorithms and didn’t compare notes, a similar-size ring appeared in each of them, always brighter in the south. ‘That’s when we knew we had something,’ Dr. Doeleman says.

“In a final bias test, the team used real telescopes to collect data from oddly shaped celestial objects to make sure the algorithms translated those correctly. After scrutinizing their work again in two more teamwide reviews, they decided to accept three of the black-hole images and combine them into one.

“The last hurdle was to write six academic papers, submit them to journals for peer review and wait for them to be accepted.

“Finally, at a news conference on April 10, Dr. Doeleman unveiled the final image—a dark circular void surrounded by flares of orange and yellow. ‘We have seen what we thought was unseeable,’ he said. ‘We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole.’

“Some prominent skeptics weren’t so sure. George Capline, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, says it’s ‘way premature’ for the team to claim it ‘saw’ a black hole. Nevertheless, he said the team’s findings seem both solid and significant. ‘The technical accomplishment was quite amazing.’

“In science, ‘not everyone needs to be convinced,’ Dr. Doeleman says. ‘I fully expect there could be questions asked and points raised—and we welcome that.’ As far as he’s concerned, he says, ‘I’m more certain about this than just about anything.’ He considers the image ‘the biggest return on an investment in the history of astronomy.’

“If there’s a lesson to draw here, it’s about setting the bar high, distributing authority, encouraging collaboration across disciplines and, most of all, being relentlessly self-critical. ‘At every point we encouraged dissent and debate, looked at different viewpoints and interrogated the algorithms,’ Dr. Doeleman says. ‘We had done so much work that when nature smiled on us, we were ready.’

“In the torrent of post announcement coverage, Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist, was anointed by the media as the team’s chief algorithmic architect. Her response said a lot about the nature of the group. ‘I don’t know why I’m getting so much press,’ she told PBS. ‘Lots of people processing those petabytes of data—that’s what made it possible.’

“For Dr. Doeleman, the long pursuit of an image yielded something else he hadn’t expected. The more time passes, he says, ‘the more I’m just proud of the team. I think of the team as the thing that was built here.’



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