Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #402

The Week That Was: March 7 / 14, 2020, Brought to You by www.SEPP.org

By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Quote of the Week: “Aqueous vapor is a blanket, more necessary to the vegetable life of England than clothing is to man. Remove for a single summer-night the aqueous vapor from the air which overspreads this country, and you would assuredly destroy every plant capable of being destroyed by a freezing temperature. The warmth of our fields and gardens would pour itself unrequited into space, and the sun would rise upon an island held fast in the iron grip of frost.” – John Tyndall (Heat: A Mode of Motion, 1861) [H/t William Happer]

Number of the Week: 15,000 parts per million (ppm) v. 400 ppm

Freeman Dyson: When mathematician, physicist, and philosopher Freeman Dyson died on February 28, the world lost an exceptionally brilliant humanist. Writing in the Quadrant, Australian Tony Thomas based his comments, in part, on an extensive interview by philosopher Arnis Rītups in the Latvian Journal Rigas Laiks. The interview gives an indication of the depth and extensive interests of Dyson. It is appropriately subtitled:

“Somehow the universe has a tendency to be as interesting as possible, more and more diverse, more and more interesting.”

At Cornell University, Dyson and Richard Feynman became friends and discussed quantum theory.

“This time—he [Dyson] was 25 then—coincided with the development of quantum electrodynamics theory, for which all of its authors—Schwinger, Feynman and Tomonaga—with exception of Dyson, received the Nobel Prize in 1965 (the Prize is usually awarded to no more than three scientists at a time). It took some time for Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, to recognize the approach by the young British mathematician and physicist as correct, but once he had, he appointed him a life member of The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which had been home to Einstein, von Neumann and Gödel. At the age of 30, without a doctoral degree—’I despise the system of academic doctoral degrees in higher education’—he became a professor at the world’s most prestigious institute of exact sciences.”

Dyson participated in atomic research as a means of nuclear pulse propulsion for interplanetary space travel as “a possibility of finding a reasonable way of getting rid of the produced nuclear weapons.”

“In the last decade [prior to 2016] Dyson has become one of the most authoritative voices to assert that ‘global warming’ is first of all not global (it is limited to the cold regions, winter and nighttime); and second, there is no scientific evidence that it is dangerous, and third, that the related ideology and propaganda turns people’s attention away from much more pressing problems. Convinced that all misunderstanding between science and religion is caused by science attempting to be a religion and vice versa, Dyson has never concealed his religiosity and, in the year 2000, added the Templeton Prize (worth one million pounds sterling) for contribution to the progress of religion and science to his array of more than twenty honorary PhDs from different universities.”

In another interview on You Tube, “The balance of carbon in the atmosphere”, Dyson discusses the importance of understanding the difference between observations and model outputs and that model outputs are no better than its inputs. For example, what are the quantities of carbon dioxide that are being absorbed by plants and going into the ground? This is not well understood and not modeled well. We will not know what will happen to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere without knowing how much is going into vegetation [and into the oceans]. Unfortunately, the US government is putting all its money into computer modeling and ignoring experiments that show what is occurring.

Ironically, some who should know better dismiss Dyson’s criticism of climate modeling because he is not a climate scientist. Yet, understanding the greenhouse effect requires an understanding of quantum theory along with probability theory, which Dyson understood but few climate “experts” do. Contrary to what journalists and politicians assert, it is not simple physics. See links under Science: Freeman Dyson, RIP.


Benefits of the Greenhouse Effect: John Tyndall was a prominent Irish experimental physicist noted for work in magnetism and diamagnetic polarity. He was a pioneer in infrared radiation, and he invented a differential spectrometer to detect the absorption of heat by small quantities of gases held in a sample tube. With such an instrument, he measured the relative infrared absorptive powers of gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, etc. Others had explored the idea of the greenhouse effect, that solar radiation can pass through gases, but part of radiation from the earth to space is absorbed. It was Tyndall’s experiments with exacting equipment that gave the ideas the needed experimental validity.

Tyndall recognized the differences in infrared absorption properties between dry air and moist air. In 1861 Tyndall gave an important paper “On the absorption and radiation of heat by gases and vapours” to the Royal Society which many consider as the founding of climate science. In 1896, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius made precise calculations, but ten years later recognized the calculations were erroneous after reviewing Tyndall’s 1861 paper.

As the above Quote of the Week illustrates, Tyndall found water vapor is the strongest absorber of radiant heat in the atmosphere and the principal gas controlling air temperature, particularly at night. Tyndall recognized that without the greenhouse effect much of the world would freeze at night, making it a barren planet with little, if any, complex life on land, except, perhaps, in the tropics. Without the greenhouse effect, growing plants would freeze. The claim by scientists at NASA-GISS that carbon dioxide is the control knob of the earth’s climate is contrary to both experimental and observational evidence.

See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rstl.1861.0001


Benefits of Carbon Dioxide and the Greenhouse Effect: Thebestschools.org published a lengthy, fact-filled dialogue on global warming with William Happer, who knew Freeman Dyson. This dialogue prompted the Quote of the Week. In it, Happer brings up that CO2 levels have been unusually low for the past few million years (about 300 parts per million (ppm)). One is tempted to state that the low CO2 is related to this Epoch of glaciation, the Pleistocene, over the past 2.6 million years. Indeed, it was concern with ice ages that prompted much of the early research on greenhouse gases, such as by Arrhenius. However, “there were ice ages in the Ordovician, some 450 million years ago, when the CO2 levels were several thousand ppm.” So, adding CO2 to the atmosphere will not necessarily protect the earth from another ice age.

In the dialogue is a clear graphic presentation of Radiation Transmitted by the Atmosphere, Figure 4, with the wavelengths of the radiation given. About 70 to 75 percent of the Downgoing Solar Radiation is transmitted through the atmosphere to the surface. About 15 to 30% of the Upgoing Thermal Radiation is transmitted from the surface to outer space, the balance keeps the atmosphere sufficiently warm to keep most of the land surface of the planet inhabitable.

In Figure 4 of that paper, The Total Absorption and Scattering by the Atmosphere is shown. As broken down into the Major Components: Water Vapor is the greatest greenhouse gas with the broadest cover of wavelengths; Carbon Dioxide (CO2) covers narrower sets of wavelengths; Oxygen and Ozone cover even narrower sets of wavelengths; Methane covers even narrower sets of wavelengths; and Nitrous Oxide covers the narrowest sets of wavelengths. If a set of wavelengths is covered by an existing gas adding a gas to the atmosphere which covers the same wavelength has little effect.

Figure 5 of the dialogue gives the temperature profile of the Earth’s atmosphere, for mid-latitudes (such as Princeton, NJ). One should realize that especially for the troposphere, altitude below the Tropopause (about 11 km at Princeton) the temperature profile is an idealized concept. The Troposphere is dynamic with convection changing the temperature profile constantly.

Happer goes on to identify significant errors that exist in global climate modeling, particularly on the sensitivity of the planet to increasing CO2. In the section Sub-titled “Logarithmic forcing by CO2” he presents how calculations from the HITRAN database for CO2, plotted on a logarithmic scale, give a triangular straight-line approximation of the absorption of CO2 at a surface pressure of one atmosphere and a temperature of 300K (27C, 80F). After numerous calculations he states:

“Most climate models do not focus on the thermal radiation to space, which we have discussed above, but on the ‘radiative forcing’ of the change of radiation transport at, or just above, the tropopause. This is because heating and cooling of the stratosphere and troposphere are nearly independent. Surface and tropospheric warming should be similar, with 10% to 20% more tropospheric warming than surface warming because of the release of latent heat into the troposphere from ascending air. The basic physics of radiation to space and radiative forcing at the tropopause are similar.”

Errors on the sensitivity of the atmosphere to increasing CO2 have been prevalent in all the recent reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its followers. In short, these government entities are ignoring the scientific method and not testing their models against physical evidence.

Happer discusses the benefits of increasing CO2 and discusses more “Bogeymen.” The summary states:

“The Earth is in no danger from increasing levels of CO2. More CO2 will be a major benefit to the biosphere and to humanity. Some of the reasons are:

  • As shown in Fig. 1, much higher CO2 levels than today’s prevailed over most last 550 million years of higher life forms on Earth. Geological history shows that the biosphere does better with more CO2.
  • As shown in Fig. 13 and Fig. 14, observations over the past two decades show that the warming predicted by climate models has been greatly exaggerated. The temperature increase for doubling CO2 levels appears to be close to the feedback-free doubling sensitivity of S =1 K, and much less than the ‘most likely’ value S = 3 K promoted by the IPCC and assumed in most climate models.
  • As shown in Fig. 12, if CO2 emissions continue at levels comparable to those today, centuries will be needed for the added CO2 to warm the Earth’s surface by 2 K, generally considered to be a safe and even beneficial amount.
  • Over the past tens of millions of years, the Earth has been in a CO2 famine with respect to the optimal levels for plants, the levels that have prevailed over most of the geological history of land plants. There was probably CO2 starvation of some plants during the coldest periods of recent ice ages. As shown in Fig. 15–17, more atmospheric CO2 will substantially increase plant growth rates and drought resistance.
  • There is no reason to limit the use of fossil fuels because they release CO2 to the atmosphere. However, fossil fuels do need to be mined, transported, and burned with cost-effective controls of real environmental problems — for example, fly ash, oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, volatile organic compounds, groundwater contamination, etc.

“Sometime in the future, perhaps by the year 2050 when most of the original climate crusaders will have passed away, historians will write learned papers on how it was possible for a seemingly enlightened civilization of the early 21st century to demonize CO2, much as the most ‘Godly’ members of society executed unfortunate ‘witches’ in earlier centuries.

“The global warming crusade has been driven by many forces: political imperatives, huge amounts of research funds for scientists willing to support politicians, crony capitalists getting rich from ‘saving the planet,’ the puzzling need by so many people to feel a sense of guilt, anxieties about overpopulation of the world, etc.

“But genuine science has not been one of the drivers. Widespread scientific illiteracy — alas, even in the scientific community — has facilitated this latest episode of human folly. I hope very much that this Focused Civil Dialogue contributes to increased scientific literacy.”

See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Methane Confusion: In a publication by the CO2 Coalition, W. A. van Wijngaarden and William Happer (W & H) bring up the confusion between water vapor and methane. In addition, an analysis by Sheahen, Wallace, and D’Aleo covers that same confusion, somewhat differently.

The abstract of the W & H paper states:

Atmospheric methane (CH4) contributes to the radiative forcing of Earth’s atmosphere. Radiative forcing is the difference in the net upward thermal radiation from the Earth through a transparent atmosphere and radiation through an otherwise identical atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Radiative forcing, normally specified in Watts per square meter (W m−2), depends on latitude, longitude and altitude, but it is often quoted for a representative temperate latitude, and for the altitude of the tropopause, or for the top of the atmosphere. For current concentrations of greenhouse gases, the radiative forcing at the tropopause, per added CH4 molecule, is about 30 times larger than the forcing per added carbon-dioxide (CO2) molecule. This is due to the heavy saturation of the absorption band of the abundant greenhouse gas, CO2. But the rate of increase of CO2 molecules, about 2.3 ppm/year (ppm = part per million), is about 300 times larger than the rate of increase of CH4 molecules, which has been around 0.0076 ppm/year since the year 2008. So, the contribution of methane to the annual increase in forcing is one tenth (30/300) that of carbon dioxide. The net forcing from CH4 and CO2 increases is about 0.05 W m−2 [per] year. Other things being equal, this will cause a temperature increase of about 0.012 C [per] year. Proposals to place harsh restrictions on methane emissions because of warming fears are not justified by facts.

However, as discussed above, in Figure 4 of Happer’s dialogue, the ability of methane to absorb upgoing thermal radiation cover very narrow wavelength frequencies when compared with carbon dioxide, but there is little overlap in frequencies covered. However, there is great overlap in the frequencies covered of the ability of methane to absorb upgoing thermal radiation when compared with water vapor, the dominant greenhouse gas. Thus, in air rich with water vapor, such as the Arctic in summer, or New Zealand, the additional greenhouse effect of methane is tiny, virtually non-existent. Calculations showing that methane has a greenhouse effect many times that of carbon dioxide are therefore meaningless.

As the Sheahen, et al. report states:

“Much of the discussion of the greenhouse effect has been rooted in an incorrect picture of the atmosphere: nearly all climate models begin by assuming ‘dry air’ as the gas.”

The climate modelers are modeling an imaginary atmosphere. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Authoritarian Progressives? The UN’s unsubstantiated claims of a “climate crisis” are having an impact on state politics in the US.

“The Progressive Era was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States that spanned the 1890s to the 1920s. The main objectives of the Progressive movement were addressing problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era

Progressives of the era included members of both parties intending to break down established centers of power and instituted changes to diffuse political and economic power in hopes to establishing the best system possible. John D. Rockefeller and the oil industry were favorite targets as well as political power in various localities such as Tammany Hall in New York City.

In various states, it now appears that claims of a “climate crisis” are opening the way for centralizing political power to a few. In Oregon, after her political opponents objected, the governor issued an executive order directing agencies to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In Virginia, the state legislators passed a law banning use of fossil fuels for the generation of electricity by 2045. Previously, the Virginia State Corporation Commission tried to assure that electricity would be generated at lowest possible cost. The legislature stripped it of such powers. Thus, utilities can earn a profit by generating electricity from non-fossil fuels, no matter how costly, if the source is currently fashionable to the state legislators.

SEPP submitted a brief report demonstrating the absurdity of the legislation, “Virginia’s New Electric Utility Regulations – A Compendium of Errors: Fighting an imaginary problem with an imaginary solution that will bankrupt the average citizen.” The main points are:

  • Fashionable threats have appeared in the past, such as the US running out of oil and natural gas.
  • Dangerous global warming is an imaginary problem, contradicted by 40 years of atmospheric temperature trends.
  • Wind and solar are an imaginary solution to reliable, predictable electricity from thermal sources and hydro-generation. Reliable electricity has produced the most prosperous era humanity has ever experienced.
  • The costs for implementation of Virginia’s new utility regulations are staggering, exceeding the state median household income for the first year alone. [Based on estimates for other states from CEI in last week’s TWTW.]

See links under Defending the Orthodoxy.


Number of the Week: 15,000 parts per million (ppm) v. 400 ppm: Although estimates vary somewhat, varying significantly over the globe, Sheahen, et al. estimated the average concentrations of water vapor over the globe is about 15,000 ppm while the current estimate for carbon dioxide is slightly more than 400 ppm. Using computer models that ignore water vapor until the end of the calculations is like driving a car without a steering mechanism. You may get someplace, but who knows where? See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.



1. Covid-19 Makes Oil Markets Sweat

Russia’s push for lower prices gets a boost from a demand shock. Can U.S. shale producers survive?

By Daniel Yergin, WSJ, Mar 10, 2020 [Before the WHO declaration of a worldwide pandemic]


TWTW Summary: The noted author on the oil industry states:

The oil-exporting alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia collapsed on Friday after almost four years. The OPEC+ deal, which the two countries brokered in 2016 after a debilitating 2014 price collapse, is over, called off by the Russians. Result: a free-for-all in the world oil market, lower prices and a battle for market share. The No. 1 target in Russia’s crosshairs is the U.S. shale industry.

John D. Rockefeller in the 19th century described this kind of battle as ‘good sweating’—low prices that put pressure on competitors. The term takes on added meaning now. The sweating in the market, as in a growing number of sick people, is a symptom of the new coronavirus.

The outlook for oil looked much better at the beginning of the year. The ‘phase one’ U.S.-China trade deal appeared poised to boost the world economy and increase demand for petroleum. But the coronavirus epidemic and subsequent shutdowns in China caused demand to plummet in the world’s largest importer of oil. Elsewhere demand has tapered.

The result has been an unprecedented shock to the global oil market. IHS Markit, where I work, estimates that in the first quarter of 2020 global demand cratered by 3.8 million barrels a day [b/d] compared with the same period in 2019. This would be the largest drop ever, bigger even than during the 2008 financial crisis. Before Russia’s decision on Friday, oil prices had already fallen almost 30% since the year began.

According to Statista, the 2019 daily demand was 100.3 million b/d.

The Saudis, who cut oil output in 2019, were pushing the idea of further cuts out to the end of the year by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its non-OPEC allies as a way to stem the price decline caused by the virus. But on Friday Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak delivered a clear message: Russia is not on board. Prices fell another 10%. On Monday Saudi Aramco announced it is slashing prices and boosting production, and the plummet followed.

The Russians provided a clue to their thinking on the virus by canceling the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the global conclave that is Vladimir Putin’s answer to Davos. It was scheduled for June. The Russians see a global pandemic that will continue to bring oil prices down. A production cut would be a Band-Aid that would work only for a few weeks.

Consider also the relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia last fall, during which he presented King Salman with a Siberian falcon, showed a growing relationship that extended beyond oil. But relations have since cooled, especially regarding oil. Moscow and Riyadh have different perspectives. Russia’s budget relies on $42 a barrel. Saudi Arabia needs a considerably higher price, particularly to fund its ambitious Vision 2030 reform program.

The two countries have a fundamentally different view of the growth in U.S. shale oil production. Saudi Arabia has largely accommodated itself to the idea that American shale is here to stay. Not Russia. Moscow has asked why it should restrain its oil output and surrender market share to its strategic competitor, the U.S. Since the 2016 OPEC+ deal, U.S. oil output has grown by 4.8 million barrels a day—almost a 60% increase.

Russia may be an energy superpower, but it has been overtaken by America, which produces more oil and more gas—and considerably more oil than Saudi Arabia. The U.S. is also on the way to becoming one of the world’s major exporters of natural gas, in its liquefied form. That provided another reason for Moscow to promote the ‘good sweating’ to stem U.S. production.

The market disarray is also Moscow’s payback for sanctions the U.S. imposed in December on the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is meant to carry Russian natural gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany. The sanctions forced the barge laying the undersea pipe to stop work abruptly—a week or so short of completion.

One can surmise that Moscow interpreted the sanctions not as punishment for invading Ukraine or interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but as a way to favor U.S. natural gas exports to Europe. Support for that theory came from President Trump, who in a tweet last summer announced that Europe would be buying ‘vast amounts of LNG’ from the U.S. He signed the sanctions bill a few months later. Moscow didn’t think this was a coincidence.

The author concludes that Russia and Saudi Arabia can tolerate low oil prices for a long time. Others believe that it may not be so long. See links under Oil and Natural Gas – the Future or the Past?


2. West’s Biggest Reservoir Is Back on the Rise, Thanks to Conservation, Snow

Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, reaches its highest level in six years after successful efforts to slash water use

By Jim Carlton, WSJ, Mar 11, 2020


TWTW Summary: The reporter states:

The largest reservoir in the Western U.S., Lake Mead, is rising again after more than a decade of decline, and at least some credit goes to the local National Hockey League team.

‘Reality check!’ Ryan Reaves, right wing for the Vegas Golden Knights, yells as he body-slams a man through a plate-glass window for excessive lawn watering in a television commercial. ‘Vegas is enforcing water waste big time.’

Ads like this began airing last year as part of a campaign by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to persuade the more than two million residents of this sprawling desert metropolis to use less water. Using a carrot-and-stick approach, including paying landowners to remove grass and fining for overuse, the agency said it has cut total Colorado River water consumption by 25% over the past two decades, even as the population it serves has grown around 50%.

The savings are crucial because Lake Mead, which is fed by the Colorado River, supplies more than 40 million people in seven states in the fast-growing Southwest and had dropped precipitously during a drought between 2000 and 2015, undermining a $1.4 trillion economy tied to the river, according to Arizona State University estimates. Expanded conservation across the region, combined with snowier winters in the Colorado’s headwaters, have reversed the decline. Since 2016, Lake Mead has risen 25 feet to 1,096 feet as of Tuesday, leaving it 44% full and at its highest level in six years.

An accompanying graph shows Nevada’s consumption of Colorado River water peaked at 100 billion gallons in 2002 and was down to 76 billion in 2018. Meanwhile, the Irvine Ranch Water District in Orange County, CA, has been able to cut its per capita drinking-water use by nearly one-fifth by conservation programs such as higher assessment rates based in increasing use. The report continues:

“One reason for the plunge in use has been a massive conversion of water-sucking turf grass to drought-tolerant lawns. In 2015, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California doled out about $350 million in rebates for conversion of water-intensive turf grass to drought-tolerant lawns—seven times what had been budgeted.”

Most of Nevada’s water is now recycled, including from sinks and showers. Much of the recycled water is returned to Lake Mead, where the Southern Nevada Water Authority has stockpiled enough water to account for about seven feet of the reservoir or more than two years of its allotted supply of 300,000 acre-feet a year.

With most water used outdoors, the agency focused on reducing consumption on the lawns and golf courses that carpet the Las Vegas Valley, which sits in a desert that receives only four inches of rain annually.

Building codes were amended to prohibit new turf in the front yards of new homes, while rebates were paid to yank out nearly 200 million square feet of grass–enough to cover 3,350 football fields.

The report concludes discussing golf courses that converted to desert landscaping.


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