Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #392

The Week That Was: December 28, 2019, Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

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

Quote of the Week: When asked, what he would tell a generation living 1,000 years from now, Bertrand Russell (1959) replied:

“I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral:

“The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.” – Bertrand Russell (1959)

Number of the Week: Three-Fold Increase in Fish

The Worst of Times or The Best of Times: According to the United Nations, its supporting organizations, and many other organizations engaged in what they consider to be science, we are in a climate crisis, or climate emergency. The cries of children that adults have robbed them of their future are repeated on supposedly rational forums and publications. The future is dire and we must change our ways or face extinction.

Yet by many objective standards, this decade might be the best, most prosperous decade humanity experienced in recorded history. The differences between what the UN and its supporters claim and what the data show are stark. Taking advantage of the “lull” in news that occurs over the holidays, this TWTW and the next will present data supporting the assertion that we are living in the best of times in modern history with fewer weather related deaths, per capita, emphasized herein and other data on agriculture, prosperity, war, etc. emphasized next week.

In his essay, “We’ve just had the best decade in human history. Seriously,” Matt Ridley discusses some of the issues that will be presented. But he does not discuss the reasons. Human imagination can greatly benefit humanity. Unfortunately, it can be perverse as well.

Perhaps the greatest gift of humanity to humanity is the scientific method. Developed over millennia in many cultures, it began to reach great fruition in western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and was adopted by westernized countries. The scientific method has been applied to many industries and activities, raising the standards of living far beyond subsistence farming. Also, the method gave rise to horrific weapons. For years, the scientific method was referred to as western science.

One of the best teachers of the scientific method in English was the Nobel co-laureate in physics Richard Feynman. He told stories to make critical points. One such story was of primitive Pacific Islanders observing the activities at a World War II landing strip and building similar facilities out of wood and straw with hopes that airplanes would arrive bringing wonderful items. He called this mind-set Cargo-Cult Science. The trappings and symbols of a science do not make a science.

In a famous lecture presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association in 1966, Feynman gave his view of what science is. After a long introduction with stories he states:

“This phenomenon of having a memory for the [human] race, of having an accumulated knowledge passable from one generation to another, was new in the world–but it had a disease in it: it was possible to pass on ideas which were not profitable for the race. The race has ideas, but they are not necessarily profitable.

“So, there came a time in which the ideas, although accumulated very slowly, were all accumulations not only of practical and useful things, but great accumulations of all types of prejudices, and strange and odd beliefs.

“Then a way of avoiding the disease was discovered. This is to doubt that what is being passed from the past is in fact true, and to try to find out ab initio [from the beginning] again from experience what the situation is, rather than trusting the experience of the past in the form in which it is passed down. And that is what science is: the result of the discovery that it is worthwhile rechecking by new direct experience, and not necessarily trusting the [human] race[’s] experience from the past. I see it that way. That is my best definition.”

[Comment: The first [human], [from the beginning], and boldface were added by TWTW.]

It is the constant need to recheck rather than trust past beliefs that is giving rise to a great disparity between the UN science with its interpretation of the world, and what many independent critics of UN science state is occurring in the world. The UN work is built on a science that is being outdated by observations over the past 40 years. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Seeking a Common Ground.


Contradicting a Climate Crisis – Our World in Data: As stated on its website, the independent organization Our World in Data presents data to address:

“Poverty, disease, hunger, climate change, war, existential risks, and inequality: The world faces many great and terrifying problems at the same time. It is these large problems that our work at Our World in Data focuses on.

“The world has the resources to do much better. And thanks to the work of thousands of researchers around the world who dedicate their lives to studying the world’s largest problems we often have a good understanding of them. But we believe that a key reason why we fail to achieve the progress we are capable of is that we do not make enough use of this existing research and data: the important knowledge is often stored in inaccessible databases, locked away behind paywalls and buried under jargon in academic papers.

“The goal of our work is to make the knowledge on the big problems accessible and understandable. As we say on our homepage, Our World in Data is about Research and data to make progress against the world’s largest problems.”

The website also gives its principal supporters to include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, German businesswoman Susanne Klatten, and the London-based Nuffield Foundation (2015 & 16). A host of other sponsors and donors is listed. In 2014, independent researchers Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser posted their extensive work on Natural Disasters website of Our World in Data. In November 2019 this work was revised. The summary states:

· Natural disasters kill on average 60,000 people per year, globally.

· Globally, disasters were responsible for 0.1% of deaths over the past decade. This was highly variable, ranging from 0.01% to 0.4%.

· Deaths from natural disasters have seen a large decline over the past century – from, in some years, millions of deaths per year to an average of 60,000 over the past decade.

· Historically, droughts and floods were the most fatal disaster events. Deaths from these events are now very low – the most deadly events today tend to be earthquakes.

· Disasters affect those in poverty most heavily: high death tolls tend to be centered in low-to-middle income countries without the infrastructure to protect and respond to events.

Under the specific heading of Annual deaths from natural disasters the authors state:

“In the visualization shown here we see the long-term global trend in natural disaster deaths. This shows the estimated annual number of deaths from disasters from 1900 onwards from the EMDAT International Disaster Database.1

“What we see is that in the early-to-mid 20th century, the annual death toll from disasters was high, often reaching over one million per year. In recent decades we have seen a substantial decline in deaths. In most years fewer than 20,000 die (and in the most recent decade, this has often been less than 10,000). Even in peak years with high-impact events, the death toll has not exceeded 500,000 since the mid-1960s.

“This decline is even more impressive when we consider the rate of population growth over this period. When we correct for population – showing this data in terms of death rates (measured per 100,000 people) – we see an even greater decline over the past century. This chart can be viewed here. [Chart not shown in TWTW but shown on the website.]

“The annual number of deaths from natural disasters is also available by country since 1990. This can be explored in the interactive map.”

These findings directly contradict the claims of a climate crisis or climate emergency by the UN and its supporters. Very simply, despite increases in population, death tolls from natural disasters are not increasing. Claims of human cause are irrelevant. Death tolls have fallen drastically, thanks to a number of reasons including increased resilience which can result from increased prosperity. The authors give multiple sets of data for the US and the Globe for weather events such as Flood, Wind, Heat, Cold, Weather events, etc. The claims of the UN and its supporters do not stand up to analysis.

Further, the Global Tropical Cyclone Activity shows no increase in frequency and accumulated energy during its entire dataset from 1971 to November 30, 2019. The claims of climate crisis are false. See links under Seeking a Common Ground.


UN Fables Not Facts: The UN has created a parody, a mockery, of the scientific method by demanding precise values for vague concepts it has created and by substituting fables for facts. The clear issue is what will happen to temperatures with a doubling of carbon dioxide? The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) promotes the values in the 1979 Charney Report, asserted by US climate modelers without any supporting evidence. The laboratory results of a modest warming in the range of about 1 ºC (about 2 ºF) were greatly amplified by presumed increases in the most significant greenhouse gas – water vapor. There was no experimental or observational evidence offered to support the claim – only speculative calculations that might be erroneous.

Without addressing the core question, what will happen if CO2 doubles, the UN IPCC focuses on offering various scenarios, storylines or fables, on what may happen as countries increase CO2 emissions. Thus, much of the discussion is on which fable is more likely to happen?

Feedbacks and equilibrium climate sensitivity and are also mishandled and assigned values that are speculative. There may be a number of positive or negative feedbacks. But these need to be demonstrated by experiment on atmospheric gases or by atmospheric observations. They have not been convincingly demonstrated.

As discussed in last week’s TWTW, in his new paper Richard Lindzen addressed the important issue of the temperature difference between the equator and the polar regions during the last major ice age and the last major warm period. The temperatures in the tropics did not change much from the cold era to the warm era. Thus, we should not expect a strong tropical “hot spot” during the current warming. Observational evidence of temperature trends show one is not occurring, thus a strong positive feedback from water vapor is not occurring. The US models have not been adjusted to reflect the absence of a strong positive feedback which, in 1979, the US modelers insisted existed, but never demonstrated.

Similarly, the UN IPCC concept of an equilibrium climate sensitivity has little meaning. The earth has never been in climate equilibrium, except for erroneous mathematical simulations of the earth’s climate such as appeared in the infamous “hockey-stick.” One could argue that at the peak of an ice age or peak of a warm period the earth is at a climate equilibrium, but that would be quickly debunked by those who recognize the Milankovitch cycles, discussed in last week’s TWTW.

In Climate Etc. former climate modeler Judith Curry discusses what harm is there in recognizing that the key issue is how much warming will occur from a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) from today? The question is: what is important for humanity now? Thus, making the UN claims of warming from the 1880s frivolous. She also posts a counter argument to her position by a defender of the UN position. In the Curry post and the counter argument a new concept is introduced: TCRE, transient climate response to cumulative carbon emissions, i.e., the relationship between temperatures and cumulative emissions.

The TCRE concept appears to have little value. If the current levels of atmospheric CO2 are not causing significant warming of the atmosphere, why introduce new concepts that avoids the singular issues? How much atmospheric warming is occurring from CO2 today? Secondly, how much will occur with a doubling of CO2? Yes, there is uncertainty about the climate in the late part of this century.

But we do not understand the natural causes of climate change and they are more significant than human emitted greenhouse gases. We cannot predict next month’s weather, why expect more precise predictions for 80 years from now? See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Defending the Orthodoxy.


Scenarios: In the first of two parts, Roger Pielke Jr. describes how the use of scenarios has been distorted by the climate science community. He states:

“Scenarios of the future have long sat at the center of discussions of climate science, impacts and adaptation and mitigation policies. Scenario planning has a long history and can be traced to the RAND Corporation during World War 2 and, later (ironically enough) Shell, a fossil fuel company. Scenarios are not intended to be forecasts of the future, but rather to serve as an alternative to forecasting. Scenarios provide a description of possible futures contingent upon various factors, only some of which might be under the control of decision makers.”

Unfortunately, the IPCC presents scenarios, which can be called fables, as plausible outcomes, with the worst occurring if the nations of the world do not submit to UN control of CO2 emissions. The UN has no control of natural variability, and the IPCC ignores it. See link under Science, Policy, and Evidence.


Energy Poverty: Writing in Real Clear Energy, Katie Tahauha of the Texas Public Policy Foundation addresses unfortunate new terms selected by two English dictionaries. She states:

“It’s that time of year. As New Year’s Eve approaches, we look back on 2019 seeking nuggets of wisdom from twelve more months of the human experience. Unfortunately, the Word of the Year selections from two top dictionaries reveal just how misplaced this year’s priorities were.

“The Oxford English Dictionary selected ‘climate crisis’ as the term that ‘reflects the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year.’ Striking a similarly dismal note, Dictionary.com’s selection was ‘existential.’

“A better word of the year for 2019? Energy poverty.”

She goes on to state:

“Even household chores pose a threat without energy. Nearly 4 million perish annually from preventable lung and heart disease caused by inhaling soot when cooking over an indoor fire. The natural gas or electric stoves we take for granted would literally save lives in developing countries.”

TWTW may disagree with the size of the estimates of those who die from preventable lung and heart disease from indoor fires but agrees that indoor cooking and heating fires are preventable health threats. See links under Questioning the Orthodoxy.


Number of the Week: Three-Fold Increase in Fish. Since 2010, researchers at Southern Cross University have been studying the impact of the very salty discharge from a desalination plant near Sydney, including periods when the plant temporarily ceased operations. The lead researcher stated:

“’There was a 279 per cent increase in fish life. It is an important result, as large-scale desalination is becoming an essential component of future-proofing the water supplies of major cities, such as Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne’ Professor Kelaher said.”

The paper’s abstract states:

“At 12 times before, eight times during, and four times following the cessation of discharging hypersaline brine, we sampled reef fishes at two outlet sites and two close reference sites, as well as four reference sites that were located from 2–8 km from the outlet. At each site and each time of sampling, five 50 m video transects were used to sample reef fish assemblages. Following the commencement of discharging, there was a 279% increase in the abundance of fish around the outlet, which included substantially greater abundances of pelagic and demersal fish, as well as fishes targeted by recreational and commercial fishers. Following the cessation of discharge, abundances of fishes mostly returned to levels such that there was no longer a significant effect compared to the period prior to the commencement of the desalination plant’s operations. Overall, our results demonstrate that well-designed marine infrastructure and processes used to support the growing demand for potable water can also enhance local fish abundances and species richness.”

If such increases in fish population are confirmed by studies of other discharges from desalination plants, then the news is extremely positive. Desalination has become practical, affordable, alternative to groundwater pumping in coastal areas where land subsidence has become a problem, such as the Tidewater region of Virginia. [There is some issue about terminology: is a 279 per cent increase an almost threefold increase or an almost fourfold increase?] See links under Other News that May Be of Interest



1. PG&E: Wired to Fail

The utility has sparked deadly fires and pipeline explosions, left millions of Californians in the dark and gone bankrupt twice in less than 15 years. Here’s what went wrong.

By Russell Gold, Rebecca Smith and Katherine Blunt, WSJ, Dec 28, 2019


TWTW Summary: The reporters write:

“PG&E Corp. Chief Executive Tony Earley liked the idea the minute he heard it. He would change the signature line on company emails —’PG&E is committed to protecting our customers’ privacy’— to promote safety instead.

“Six months after a top state regulator suggested it, nothing had happened.

“‘We have one more level of governance to go through before we can change,’ Jack Hagan, the regulator, recalled Mr. Earley saying.

“‘I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He couldn’t get it done.’

“For the past 15 years, PG&E has plotted a round trip from one bankruptcy to another. In between, it navigated the aftermath of a catastrophic natural-gas pipeline explosion and a series of increasingly demanding green-energy mandates from state regulators.

“Managing that push and pull would have challenged any company. It proved to be especially challenging for a plodding utility undergoing management upheaval, heavily regulated and saddled with aging, neglected equipment.

“Executives were so focused on the past and the future that the present sneaked up on them. PG&E’s electric lines, after years of deferred maintenance, were threatening drought-parched California. When the Camp Fire started to burn in late 2018, eventually killing 85 people, it was the first of four fires that PG&E reported it sparked that day. It was its 408th of 2018, and the 1,961st since record-keeping started in mid-2014.

“Thousands of pages of documents and scores of interviews show Mr. Earley, like the CEO before him and the one who followed him, struggled to steer the ship. One tried to reimagine the company. When that failed, the next one labored to return to the basics of safely delivering power. The last was left to face the consequences.

“‘We acknowledge that we’ve fallen short in the past, too many times with tragic consequences,’ PG&E said in a written statement, adding that it has made many needed changes in personnel and practices. ‘We know we have much more work to do to meet the challenge of safely providing electric service in a changed and changing climate.’”

Skipping over many efforts by company executives the account brings up an important point on renewable energy:

“California Regulators kept up the pressure to meet the state’s aggressive renewable energy goals.

“By 2012, PG&E was spending more than $1.2 billion a year to meet the targets, more than double what it spent in 2003, according to PG&E filings, and it was projected to top $2 billion by 2015. Mr. Peevey, the utilities commission head, addressed concern that Californians faced a ‘rate bomb’ as the deals kicked in.

“‘There is no free lunch here,’ he told state senators, explaining that the contracts, though expensive, were making California an energy leader, and costs for future projects would fall.

“By 2015, the state found PG&E was paying an average of 12 cents a kilowatt hour for renewable electricity. Four years earlier, it paid less than 8 cents.

According to an accompanying chart, in 2012, when PG&E was spending $1.2 billion on renewable targets, it spent $0.47 billion on electric maintenance and $0.32 billion on gas maintenance.

[TWTW Comment: This report is a decades-long account on the inability of PG&E to satisfy all its masters, including its stock and bond holders, regulators, politicians etc. But the reporters fail to mention that the ultimate master, those to whom the Constitution of the State of California grants final power, is the State Legislature.]


2. The Roundup Stickup

A trial lawyer allegedly argued it’s cheaper to be extorted than sued.

Editorial, WSJ, Dec 25, 2019


TWTW Summary: The editorial states:

“Tort lawyers often use the threat of jackpot verdicts to extort settlements from business targets. But when does a shakedown become criminal extortion? Last week the federal government charged Timothy Litzenburg for allegedly crossing that legal line.

“Mr. Litzenburg, 37, made a name for himself at the Miller Firm in Virginia, where he was part of a team suing Bayer on behalf of a groundskeeper who said the weed killer Roundup caused his cancer. Trial lawyers profit by taking a hefty chunk of a settlement or damages. But when Mr. Litzenburg opened his own law firm last year, he allegedly had a different business model in mind.

“The feds say the extortion plot began in September when Mr. Litzenburg sent a draft complaint to ‘Company 1,’ identified by the Wall Street Journal as Amsterdam-based chemical maker Nouryon. The lawyer said the company had created chemical compounds used in Roundup and ‘knew of the carcinogenic properties of these chemicals but failed to warn’ users about the risks, the federal complaint says.

“Mr. Litzenburg allegedly followed up his draft lawsuit threat with an offer, which he repeated in emails and recorded phone calls. The company could pay the plaintiff $5 million, enter into a $200 million ‘consulting arrangement’ with him and his associates, and avoid what Mr. Litzenburg allegedly described as ‘the parade of horribles that has been the Roundup litigation for Bayer/Monsanto.’

“‘Another thing I can guarantee and warrant: in the absence of a so-called ‘global’ or final deal with me, this will certainly balloon into an existential threat’ to the company, Mr. Litzenburg allegedly wrote in an email. The federal complaint says he warned that ‘defense costs and cost to ultimately resolve the thousands or tens of thousands of cases would be well into the billions, setting aside the associated drop in stock price and reputation damage.’

“Mr. Litzenburg also allegedly said that ‘even if you guys win cases and drive value down,’ there was unlikely ‘any way for you to get out of it for less than a billion dollars. And so, you know, to me, uh, this is a fire sale price that you guys should consider.’

“If the company paid up, Mr. Litzenburg allegedly said he’d discourage others from filing future lawsuits. To deter plaintiffs, he’d even consider participating in a pre-trial deposition to which the company could bring its own toxicology experts, ‘and we ask the wrong questions,’ creating a ‘transcript where I basically got whacked,’ Mr. Litzenburg allegedly said in a recorded call. The transcript could be ‘kept in a vault somewhere to pull out if you ever got bothered by someone that didn’t know me or whatever,’ he said, according to the complaint.

“Instead of agreeing to Mr. Litzenburg’s alleged offer, the company called federal prosecutors”.

The editorial states that the subject did not respond to requests for comment, and his attorney claims that documents may contain inaccuracies. The editorial continues

“Mr. Litzenburg will get his day in court, but the entire Roundup litigation is a stickup. The Environmental Protection Agency and international regulators have conducted extensive research and concluded that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, isn’t carcinogenic. That evidence hasn’t stopped three juries from imposing more than $2.4 billion in penalties. Judges have cut those cumulative damages to some $189 million, and the verdicts are being appealed. But Bayer faces Roundup lawsuits from some 42,700 plaintiffs.

“Mr. Litzenburg may have figured he could get away with his alleged extortion because he’s seen first-hand the damage that junk-science litigation can do regardless of the truth.”


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