The Week That Was: Nov 16, 2019, Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
By Ken Haapala, President, The Science and Environmental Policy Project
“’Theories of course, any bright physicist can make up theories. They could have nothing to do with reality.
“’You discover which theories are close to reality by comparing to experiments…’” – Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel co-Laureate in physics.
After Climategate: Ten years ago, a scandal in climate science broke. Hackers took over a thousand emails from Britain’s University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and revealed them in a series of releases. These provided the first solid evidence that the climate establishment was trying to suppress physical evidence that nature was not responding to increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claimed and the climate modelers predicted / projected. Many of the lead authors of the IPCC Assessment Reports were involved in this suppression of physical evidence, which is contrary to the principles of the scientific method.
Some academic institutions conducted investigations of the affair. Generally, but not in every instance, these investigations where the reverse of “show trials” – they were “show exonerations” – avoiding difficult issues and critical questions. The academic community demonstrated a desire to protect sources of revenues rather than to protect scientific integrity. Writing in his particular style, journalist James Delingpole gives a good overview of Climategate and its importance.
Judith Curry discusses the importance of Climategate on her blog. She discusses the timely evaluation by Ross McKitrick, who along with Steve McIntyre, exposed the poor use of statistics that went into the creation of Mr. Mann’s infamous “hockey-stick” used by the IPCC in its Third Assessment Report. [Versions of the hockey-stick appeared in the Summary for Policymakers, showing that human forcings are needed to explain increases in temperatures after 1950. (IPCC 2001, SPM-2). Note that TWTW questions both the accuracy of the reported sharp increase in surface temperatures after 1950 and that increases in CO2 can explain them.] As McKitrick demonstrates, by no objective criteria did the inquiries “exonerate” the scientists involved in Climategate.
Curry also discusses the concerns brought by McIntyre and the use of the algorithm (process of calculations) that created the “hockey-stick” as well as the deletion of the temperature records that contradict the hockey-stick. The deletion of data is contrary to the scientific method.
According to Curry, climate science is in a morass and she tried to suggest ways out of the morass, only to be attacked by others as being a climate heretic. It is becoming quite clear that the climate establishment cannot tolerate criticism, no matter how well intended – similar to a cult.
Five years ago, Curry wrote:
“The net effect of all this is that my ‘academic career advancement’ in terms of professional recognition, climbing the administrative ladder, etc. has been pretty much halted. I’ve exchanged academic advancement that now seems to be of dubious advantage to me for a much more interesting and influential existence that feels right in terms of my personal and scientific integrity.
“Climategate was career changing for me; I’ll let history decide if this was for better or worse (if history even cares).’”
She now writes:
“In the end, Climategate ended my academic career prematurely …. I realized how shallow the ‘academic game’ has become, and the games one needs to play to succeed. Throwing all that off has been personally and intellectually liberating for me.”
Curry brings up major issues, climate science as practiced is very shallow, superficial. It is built on assumptions about the atmosphere that physical evidence is demonstrating false. Increasingly, climate science is becoming more superficial. Yet, the findings of climate scientists, no matter how contrary to the scientific method, are popular among many political types who wish to exercise political control.
A purpose of the scientific method, developed over thousands of years but more intensely in Europe since about 1600, is to eliminate errors. Many examples from science and medicine demonstrate that established authorities do not wish to have their views challenged.
The scientific method provides a set of procedures to test concepts, ideas, to help determine if they are erroneous. Rigorous adherence to the scientific method requires repeated testing concepts or hypotheses against physical evidence when it is obtained. When the concepts or hypotheses fail such testing, they must be modified or discarded. This is an ongoing process that may take years or decades before a full understanding is established in complex issues such as climate. Regardless of their academic qualifications, when scientists disregard the scientific method for political favors, they become political lackeys, not scientists.
Over the next several weeks TWTW will discuss several US and European climate models, and how well the modelers are adjusting their models to increasing observations on what is actually occurring in the atmosphere. See links under Climategate Continued and Model Issues.
Climate Models vs. Surface Observations: Last week, TWTW discussed how much global climate models overestimate increasing atmospheric temperatures, even under a low CO2 emissions scenario. Ross McKitrick posted an interesting analysis showing how close HadCRUT4 surface observations are to going below the lower bound of climate model projections under the same low CO2 emissions scenario. [Due to manipulation of the historic record by NOAA and NASA-GISS in lowering past record temperatures in the US, TWTW does not consider the surface record as reliable. That said, the HadCRUT4 is probably better than other surface datasets.] After explaining some of the variation due to El Nino / La Nina, McKitrick states:
“I have indicated 2030 on the graph. That’s the year we all die, or something. But I think it’s more likely that will be the year by which the HadCRUT4 line drops out below the bottom of the CMIP5 RCP4.5 [the models used for the last IPCC Assessment Report (AR5, 2013-14)] ensemble once and for all. The El Nino disguised the model-observational discrepancy for a few years, but it’s coming back.”
In concluding McKitrick quotes comments by Hans von Storch made in 2013:
“Unfortunately, some scientists behave like preachers, delivering sermons to people. What this approach ignores is the fact that there are many threats in our world that must be weighed against one another. If I’m driving my car and find myself speeding toward an obstacle, I can’t simple yank the wheel to the side without first checking to see if I’ll instead be driving straight into a crowd of people. Climate researchers cannot and should not take this process of weighing different factors out of the hands of politics and society.”
See links under Models v. Observations.
Hidden Costs of Renewables: Almost daily announcements are made about the great breakthroughs in wind and solar generation of electricity and how the costs are plummeting. Yet, when politicians suggest removing tax subsidies from these industries, the promoters scream. There have been Federal subsidies to wind and solar in one form or another for over 25 years. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the Production Tax Credit was initiated in the US in 1992. In Germany, where the wind power industry is developed further, a cut in subsidies is resulting in major layoffs in the industry. Wind industry leaders are calling the reduction in subsidies a “crisis.”
The justification that wind is an infant industry that needs to be protected no longer applies. Simply, wind and solar cannot stand on their own because modern civilization requires reliable electrical power, which wind and solar cannot deliver. Instead, wind and solar require other sources to provide reliable power when they cannot, yet wind and solar do not pay for the costs of these required sources of power.
Texas provides another example of the deficiencies of wind and solar. The defunct energy company, Enron, convinced the legislators in Texas to favor wind power to the extent it is becoming an increasing burden to the Texas electricity consumers. According to the EIA, the major electricity generation sources in July were: 1) natural gas, about 27,500 MWh, 57%; 2) coal, about 9,000 MWh, 19%; 3) nonhydroelectric renewables, about 7,500 MWh, 16%; and 4) nuclear, about 3,700 MWh, 8%. The price of natural gas is going down, but the cost of electricity is going up, which makes little sense until one realizes that wind power has significant indirect costs paid by others.
In a video, attorney Mike Nasi, a member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, addressed this issue before a group of Indiana legislators. He spoke of the electrical market in which those who generate electricity bid at what price they will deliver it the next day. The system operator, for most of Texas it is ERCOT, accepts the lowest bid prices for what it expects to be its needs. Nasi said:
“Even though natural gas prices were down this year by 15%, power prices in the Texas market went up 40%. How does that happen? When you underestimate what the cost of renewable penetration is going to be in your grid. […]
“The biggest miss, other than transmission, the impact of subsidization. I think you all know this but when you get $23 a megawatt hour for putting wind on the grid, in the form of a subsidy, and the price of electricity drops low, and you only get that subsidy if you generate, you bid the price of electricity negative.
“You literally, in the Texas market, see one out of every three bids negative. In other words, paying to stay on the grid. So, that has two effects. One, it destroys and distorts the marketplace and, two, it erodes the capital of existing thermal: nuclear, coal, and, I will tell you, new gas. We could spend another hour talking about the myth that new gas is getting built. Take a look at the Texas market. See how much new gas is getting built. Close to nothing, because people and banks are not going to invest in a marketplace where a subsidy is driving the price of electricity to below zero.”
See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX#tabs-4
Number of the Week: $143 billion over 10 years. According to the American Wind Energy Association in arguing for the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC): “Investing in U.S. wind farms has spurred over $143 billion in private investment in our economy over the last 10 years.” It is doubtful if any industrial-scale wind power would have been built without the PTC.
To put the statement differently: Over 10 years, the Federal government has provided wealthy individuals and corporations with $143 billion in tax breaks (tax forgiveness) which were used to subsidize an inferior, unreliable method of electricity generation at the expense of reliable methods of electricity generation. See above and https://www.awea.org/policy-and-issues/tax-policy.
‘Golden Rice’ Review: Against the Grain
An estimated one million people—mostly children—die annually from vitamin-A deﬁciency. Golden rice could reverse that.
By Hugo Restall, WSJ, Nov 13, 2019
TWTW Summary: The reviewer of Golden Rice: “The Imperiled Birth of a GMO Superfood” writes:
“Why has it taken more than two decades to develop ‘golden rice, ‘ the genetically modified crop that promises to save millions of lives? The many delays have been costly. Every year an estimated one million people, mostly children, die, and another half a million more lose their eyesight, from vitamin-A deficiency. Golden rice—with its yellow grains rich in beta carotene, which the human body turns into vitamin A—could virtually eliminate this problem in countries where rice is the staple food.
“After scientists developed the first golden-rice prototype in 1999, it was predicted that the coalition of governments, universities and nonprofit foundations leading the effort would have seeds ready for farmers within three years. Twenty years later, Bangladesh is poised to be the first developing country where farmers can plant golden rice and sell it for human consumption. (The U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all approved the grain, but vitamin-A deficiency isn’t an issue in these countries.)
“Greenpeace and other opponents of genetically modified foods say the lengthy delays and false starts prove the project was ill-conceived from the beginning. Defenders of golden rice, meanwhile, hold environmentalists responsible for impeding the project. In 2013, for instance, vandals in the Philippines destroyed a site where an important test crop was ready to be harvested. Given the number of lives at stake, some have accused the activists of mass murder and sought to bring them to trial for crimes against humanity.
“As Ed Regis writes in ‘Golden Rice: The Imperiled Birth of a GMO Superfood, ‘ the truth is more nuanced. Other genetically modified crops, including those developed by companies with deep pockets, have taken a similarly long and expensive path to the dining table. And green activists didn’t slow down golden rice by much, at least not directly. The real villain, according to Mr. Regis, is the overly restrictive regulation of all genetically modified organisms world-wide, which delayed the progress of golden rice by more than 10 years.
“Most countries’ treatment of genetically modified organisms is based on the ‘precautionary principle, ‘ which requires that all hypothetical risks be addressed before development can proceed. The level of risk and the potential benefits are not weighed in the decision. Such an approach would stymie innovation in any field, but its effect on the breeding of new organisms is particularly harmful. The insertion of individual, well-understood genes into an existing crop is safer than traditional methods of genetic manipulation such as cross-breeding. The definition of what constitutes genetic modification, moreover, is arbitrary and many of the restrictions imposed on it are perverse. Take, for instance, the Rio Red grapefruit, which, as Mr. Regis tells us, is ‘a genetically modified mutant fruit plant five times over, ‘ including genetic manipulation via ‘repeated doses of thermal neutron radiation. ‘ Yet the Rio Red ‘is nowhere regarded as a GMO, nor is it labeled, regulated, or sold as such. ‘
“Golden rice also suffered from scientific setbacks. In 2009 the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, which is responsible for ‘the global development, introduction and free distribution of Golden Rice, ‘ selected a prototype for testing and development. When that effort didn’t pan out, the process had to be restarted, setting the project back another three years. But that delay could have been avoided or minimized: One of the many rules regulating the development of golden rice stipulated that, once scientists chose a particular prototype to pursue, all previous research materials had to be destroyed ‘to minimize the risk that seeds of those strains previously experimented with but subsequently rejected for further development work would somehow make their way onto farmlands and contaminate crops. ‘ This forced the team to start from scratch with each new prototype. The pursuit of a single prototype at a time, instead of several simultaneously, was itself also driven by regulatory restrictions. Assuming golden rice is a success—and there is every indication that it will be—its backstory will be a powerful argument in favor of scrapping the precautionary principle.
“Advocates of genetically modified food don’t want all the safeguards removed. They are quick to acknowledge that risks do exist. But these are the same risks inherent in the development of any new organism, genetically modified or otherwise. The goal should be to create rules based on science and cost-benefit analysis rather than irrational fear.
“It’s probably too optimistic to hope that environmentalists will reconsider their hatred of genetically modified foods. Mr. Regis notes that in 2001, after Greenpeace International’s genetic-engineering campaign coordinator, Benedikt Haerlin, admitted that golden rice ‘posed a moral dilemma ‘ for his organization given the claims that the grain could save lives, he quickly recanted and closed ranks against the project. This is ironic considering that the environment also benefits from genetically modified crops, which can reduce the area of land under cultivation as well as the use of fertilizer and pesticide.
After discussing other questionable objections, the author concludes.
“Golden rice is the world’s first genetically modified crop intended to benefit the consumer rather than the farmer. The biggest obstacle to putting such environmentally friendly, affordable and nutritious food on the world’s table is no longer scientific but political. As golden rice becomes available, the next step should be to educate legislators and the public about its benefits and the reasons that millions of children had to die waiting for it. Mr. Regis’s book, which explains the complex science of golden rice in a manner that lay readers can understand, will be an important contribution to that effort.”777