Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #388

The Week That Was: November 30, 2019, Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

Quote of the Week: “In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.” –Charles Mackay (1841)

Number of the Week: 63.6% of US electricity.

Yellow Turned Green? In the late 1800s, particularly in New York City, competition for circulation between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal led to an era known as yellow journalism, where the newspapers presented little or no legitimate, well-researched news and relied upon eye-catching headlines, exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or outright sensationalism to increase sales. How the term originated is in dispute, but the characteristics of the journalism are not. These include scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news, extensive use of dramatic pictures, or imaginary drawings, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and false knowledge from so-called experts.

Separating actual knowledge from mere speculation can be difficult. It is similar to distinguishing science from science fiction. Just like science, science fiction can be wonderfully imaginative, and incredibly complex, and it can use mathematics, the language of science. What separates science from science fiction is physical evidence. When mathematics is used to create complex models, the models must be tested against all relevant physical evidence. Failure to do so is to ignore the scientific method. And the model, when failing basic testing, becomes science fiction.

Particularly in its summaries and special reports the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is advancing ideas assumed to be scientific, while ignoring the real science, the scientific method of testing models assumptions, and concepts against data, physical evidence from observations and experiments. The IPCC emphasizes the parts of its claims that adhere to the scientific method, while downplaying the alarming portions of its claims that fail basic testing. The evidence presented by the IPCC is often contradicted by other evidence, frequently more compelling and dominant. To achieve their goal of stopping use of fossil fuels, on the claim that it will cause dangerous global warming, the IPCC and its followers have adopted the characteristics of yellow journalism.

Environmental (green) organizations have aligned themselves with the IPCC and are heavily supporting the goals of the IPCC. In short, the characteristics of yellow journalism are found in much green journalism, of which the IPCC special reports and summaries are a part.

Thus, the war on fossil fuels has taken on a double irony. The CO2 emitted during combustion is greening the earth, and at the same time, is causing plants to use water more efficiently. Environmentalists who are opposed to coal, oil, and natural gas are thus opposed to improving the health of the environment.

The fear of carbon dioxide, as promoted by the IPCC and the “greens”, is a fear of life itself. The propaganda run up for the next Twenty-fifth annual Conference of Parties (COP-25) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) starting December 2 in Madrid can be viewed as an attack on life itself. It is doubtful that President George H.W. Bush recognized what the agreement he signed would become. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy, Social Benefits of Carbon Dioxide, and Problems in the Orthodoxy.


Book Review – “Global Warming Skepticism for Busy People”: Roy Spencer is the former Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where he and Dr. John Christy received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for their global temperature monitoring work with satellites. Spencer wrote an exceptional book on the issues between knowledge and speculation as applied to climate science. Well written and easy to understand, the book discusses basic components of the major issues. It presents evidence from both sides, emphasizing that the greenhouse effect is well established, but the positive feedbacks are not. The fear of CO2 as promoted by the IPCC and others is attributed to the feedbacks. The book briefly discusses the benefits and costs of increasing CO2, with the costs lacking physical evidence, such as increasing sea level rise and ocean acidification.

Spencer cites the observations by Charles Mackay used in the Quote of the Week. It fits the current era in climate science very well. He asks five big questions:

1) “Is warming and associated climate change mostly human caused?

2) Is the human-caused portion of warming and associated climate change large enough to be damaging?

3) Do the climate models we use [to] proposed energy policies accurately predict climate change?

4) Would the proposed policy changes substantially reduce climate change and resulting damage?

5) Would the policy changes do more good than harm to humanity?

“The answers to all five questions need to be ‘yes’ in order to make substantial changes to our energy policies beyond what free market forces dictate. Yet, it is not obvious to me that the answer to any of the five is ‘yes.’”

Among the many issues he raises are the accuracy of natural energy flows, which are not well known. Without compiling knowledge from measurements, not calculations used in unvalidated models, we cannot establish that the warming from a doubling of CO2 will be different than a modest 1.2 º C, far less than claimed by the IPCC.

TWTW Comment: This estimate is consistent with estimates by William Happer, van Wijngaarden, and others. To achieve a doubling of CO2 from the current level of slightly over 400 parts per million (ppm) would require burning more fossil fuels than are known to exist in the world. Furthermore, it is doubtful that even this would be sufficient to prevent an inevitable future ice age, a true killer climate.

Spencer points out that just because a research paper assumes the cause of warming is CO2, it is not necessarily true, then states:

“Why don’t more papers tackle the thorny issue of determining how much warming is natural versus anthropogenic? For at least three reasons:

1) We cannot separate human from natural causes of warming (there are no human fingerprints).

2) We have only a poor understanding of natural causes of climate change.

3) We cannot compute how strong human-caused warming is from first physical principles (the climate sensitivity problem, discussed later).

Chapter 13; Why is Warming not Progressing as Predicted? addresses the big problem of IPCC’s reliance on climate models in its policies.

“Climate models [in use today] probably over-predict warming because they[the models] produce too much positive feedback, which is necessary for high climate sensitivity. The small amount of direct warming from a doubling of CO2 (a little over 1 deg C) is magnified by about a factor of three in climate models due to warming-induced changes in clouds and water vapor, while the [actual] observations suggest there is little magnification at all.

“The positive feedback processes contained in climate models are very uncertain, yet are responsible for most (about 2/3) of the warming the models produce.

While the models are indeed mostly made up of fundamental physical principles that are pretty well established, it is these few poorly known feedback processes that determine how serious the global warming problem will be. Out of hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code making up the models, it could be that only a few lines of code representing very uncertain assumptions about the climate system are mainly responsible for producing too much [predicted] warming.

“This is why I call the climate research community’s defense of the current climate models as ‘bait and switch’. The well-understood basic physical principles the models are built on produce only about 1 deg. C of warming in response to 2Xco2, [a doubling of CO2] while the additional 2 deg. C of warming they produce from positive feedbacks is very speculative. They sell you on the well understood physics supporting the 1 deg. C of direct warming, but then switch to the full 3 degrees of warming the models produce as similarly reliable.

“How clouds might change with warming (cloud feedback) is particularly uncertain, a fact that is admitted by modelers. The climate models cannot include the actual physics of cloud formation and dissipation because computers ae not nearly fast enough to be run with the fine detail contained in clouds. In fact, we don’t even understand some of the microphysical details of what happens in clouds, preventing us from modelling them even if computers were fast enough.”

According to Spencer the models have clouds forming at a humidity as low as 85% but in reality, they require a relative humidity of 100%. This is but one of many issues with the efforts to model the climate. To depend on the results of such modeling in establishing energy policy is absurd.

There are a number of good books on the weaknesses of climate science proclaimed by the IPCC and its followers. This is one of the finest.

As an aside, using Spencer’s numbers and IPCC’s logic one could say that the IPCC’s science is one-third science and two-thirds science fiction. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Life at Its Limits: Two papers, both published by the Nature group, bring up the extremes at which life on earth can exist. Both papers dealt with highly acid waters, far beyond any acidity caused (actually lowering of alkalinity) by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. One paper dealt with hydrothermal vents in ocean shallows and how life changed after an earthquake and a typhoon changed the warm sulfur-rich waters with possible recovery within two years. Only a few specialized animal species such as crabs, snails and bacteria live in the immediate vicinity of these vents.

The second paper dealt with one of the hottest, most acidic places on earth, the polyextreme geothermal Dallol–Danakil area in Ethiopia, where life has adapted to living with truly acidic waters, with highly positive Magnesium ion- and Calcium ion-dominated brines with a pH of approximately zero. It is not clear how the pH is measured, but highly diverse ultra-small archaea [single-cell life forms] were found. The persistence of life is amazing, contrary to claims that increasing CO2 endanger life on this planet. See links under Acidic Waters.


Death of a Glacier: In a publicity stunt in August, green groups mourned the passing of a glacier in Iceland. Breitbart reports that David Gunnlaugsson, Iceland’s prime minister from 2013 to 2016, thought differently about the passing:

“’Our climate changes, but humans adapt. Instead of scaremongering, we should approach this situation on a scientific and rational basis,’ Gunnlaugsson writes in the latest issue of the Spectator.”

“’When the glaciers were expanding, laying waste to what had previously been green meadows and farmlands, the people who lost their homes would hardly have been grief-stricken by the thought that one day that trend might be reversed,’ he proposes, noting that when Iceland was first discovered it was completely covered in forests.”

“’We Icelanders have witnessed severe changes to our natural environment,’ he says. ‘Iceland is a country of remarkable natural alteration, and we’ve had to adapt to that fact. We realise that humans need to respect natural forces, but history has also shown us the power of human ingenuity and our ability to survive.’”

It is doubtful that Mr. Gunnlaugsson will join the COP-25 party to save the planet.


Tipping Points: The Nature Group published another paper about Tipping Points, apparently beyond which changes to the climate system cannot be stopped. Since the earth’s climate has been warming and cooling for hundreds of millions of years, with wide differences in temperatures, it appears the latest is another exercise designed to frighten children. See links under Communicating Better to the Public – Exaggerate or be Vague? and Communicating Better to the Public – Make things up.


Additions and Corrections: Last week’s TWTW, discussed that the 2019 US crop yields were below the trend-line for the first time in six years. William Dwyer wrote that a benefit of this poor harvest may be the working down of some of the surplus of stocks from recent years. There is considerable tonnage of corn and beans remaining in storage silos from recent past years.

In discussing “protection insurance” last week, TWTW left out a key clause establishing the analogy. When gangsters offer “protection insurance” they usually have real control over the thugs that destroy businesses. In its demands of a $100 billion a year into its “Green Climate Fund”, the UN is implying it can stop CO2 emissions thereby stop dangerous climate change. The UN has no control over China’s CO2 emissions and CO2 is a bit player in climate change. Thus, the UN cannot control either and no one should feel compelled to pay for protection. See above discussion on Roy Spencer’s book and links under After Paris!


Number of the Week: 63.6% of US electricity. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2018 fossil fuels were used to generate 63.6% of US electricity, with natural gas generating 35.2%, coal 27.5%. Nuclear power generated 19.4%. Renewables generated 16.9%, with hydropower at 7%, wind at 6.5%, solar at 1.5%. biomass at 1.4%, and miscellaneous.

According to a chart used by CNN, the power sector demand for coal is projected to drop in 2020 to the lowest level since 1978. In the late 1970s, the US government banned the use of oil and gas for power plants, promoting coal as the replacement. It took ten years but eventually the US government realized the folly of banning oil, and especially gas, for power plants. Green groups promoting renewables often fail to mention their opposition to hydropower, which is included as a renewable.

See links under Energy Issues – US and https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3



Why Our Electrical System Isn’t Ready for a Lower-Carbon Future

By Jason Bordoff, WSJ, Nov 27, 2019


TWTW Summary: After discussing the California blackouts, the former senior director of the National Security Council and energy adviser to President Obama writes:

“California isn’t alone, as widespread power outages have left millions without power in recent years from India to Japan to Puerto Rico—the last causing triggering [sic]a humanitarian crisis.

“As harmful as these power cuts have been, their impact has been limited by the fact that electricity isn’t used more widely. The lights go out but our cars and trucks can usually keep moving. This will change if we move to electrify more of the economy in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change without properly investing in our electric grids.

“Climate change is already a severe and escalating threat, and stronger action to address it likely involves widespread (though not 100%) electrification of the economy, including transportation and buildings, and a dramatic increase in the share of electricity that comes from zero-carbon sources. [TWTW questions the assumption that climate change is a severe and escalating threat.]

“Electricity supplies, while highly reliable in the U.S., are still prone to outages, as California’s experience reminds us. To be sure, the situation in California is extreme. The necessity for power cuts to reduce fire risk follows years of underinvestment in equipment and safety at PG&E. But issues with electricity reliability are not unique to California. Customers in Maine and Florida, for example, averaged 40 hours of power cuts in 2017. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, there will be a nearly $95 billion investment gap in electricity grid modernization across the U.S. by 2020, increasing the risk of blackouts.

“Of course, fuel supplies are vulnerable, too. Pipelines can rupture, hurricanes can damage offshore platforms, and geopolitical instability can disrupt oil flows. Locally, when the power goes out, gas pumps stop pumping. Indeed, when the fuel supply is disrupted, the most frequent cause is loss of electrical power, which is why New York recently required gasoline stations to have backup generators.

“Still, the shift to electrification can exacerbate some of these fuel-supply vulnerabilities. It would be far more difficult to power electric vehicles with generators in an emergency than gas stations, for example, given that they are charged more diffusely at homes than at centralized charging stations. Moreover, the average car with a full gasoline tank can run for twice as long without refilling as an average fully charged EV.

“Oil shortages of the 1970s are a far more remote possibility in today’s highly interconnected global oil market. Furthermore, unlike electricity, when gasoline and diesel supply in a certain location is disrupted, other supplies may be brought in by other means like truck or barge from neighboring areas—assuming price signals provide the right economic incentive. Battery technology has improved dramatically, but electricity is more expensive and difficult to transport and store than liquid fuel for long periods.

Let’s remember as well that climate change is a global problem. A ton of greenhouse gas emissions contributes equally to the problem regardless of where it comes from. This means that keeping temperature rise in check will require widespread electrification of transportation not just in the U.S., but around the world. And the electricity system in many emerging markets is far less reliable than it is in the U.S. If you think recent power cuts may pose a barrier to electric vehicle uptake in California, imagine being a driver in Pakistan where electricity outages average more than 13 hours per day.

To be clear, electricity reliability concerns are not a reason to delay the electrification of transportation, buildings and other parts of the clean energy economy. Rather, California’s electricity crisis is a reminder that policymakers and industry need to prioritize improving electricity system reliability and resilience.

Following the oil shortages of the 1970s, countries came together and agreed to hold oil in strategic reserves to prevent similar supply crises in the future. Replacing strategic crude and refined product stocks with electricity storage of equal capacity is neither feasible nor cost-effective.

Rather, policymakers need to prioritize closing the current grid investment shortfalls and boosting reliability and resilience by building new transmission lines to relieve system bottlenecks and eliminate single points of system failure; expanding the use of microgrids and energy storage; leveraging grid modernization technologies; creating incentives for demand-side management and distributed generation; improving maintenance and system operation; and introducing new modeling and technology tools (such as artificial intelligence) to predict problems before they occur. [Boldface added.]

Electrifying the transportation sector will not happen if motorists worry that they won’t be able to reliably fuel up their cars. Assuaging those concerns requires regulators to prioritize investments to modernize our grids to improve our energy security. Northern California’s decade of planned blackouts should serve as a wake-up call to regulators everywhere to redouble efforts to boost the reliability and resilience of the electricity system in order to support the low-carbon transition.

[TWTW Comment: We cannot predict the weather, why assume we can predict weather dependent electricity generation?]


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