Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #424

The Week That Was: September 12, 2020
Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Quote of the Week: “An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature’s answer.” – Max Planck

Number of the Week: 10%

Review of the Greenhouse Effect: For the past few weeks TWTW used presentations by William Happer to discuss the greenhouse effect, which is how certain gases interfere with the loss of electromagnetic energy, particularly in the infrared frequencies, from the surface of the earth into space. The gases that slow the loss of energy (heat), keeping the earth warmer at night than it would be otherwise, are known as greenhouse gases. Starting in 1859, physicist John Tyndall described their influence through a set of experiments. Tyndall recognized that water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas, and without it land masses would freeze at night, making vegetative growth virtually impossible.

For over a century, additional experiments in many laboratories were used to further refine these calculations. Most greenhouse gases interfere with outgoing radiation in narrow ranges of wave lengths. However, water vapor influences a broad range of wavelengths. Thus, experiments in a laboratory using gases without water vapor may or may not be an actual reflection of what occurs in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the highly influential 1979 Charney Report emphasized that a slight warming by CO2 would cause a significant warming by water vapor, particularly over the tropics. Observations of the atmosphere have demonstrated that this is not correct. There is no significant amplification of warming from water vapor over the tropics.

As the concentration of a gas increases, its ability to cause a change in temperature diminishes; this is called “saturation,” and it is accurate as well as convenient to represent the change by a logarithmic curve. In the case of CO2, its importance begins to decline even below 100 parts per million (ppm), and at 400 ppm the influence of carbon dioxide (CO2) is close to full saturation. – having little effect. Thus, enormous increases in CO2 are needed to have even a minor influence on temperature.

Calculations by van Wijngaarten and Happer across the many absorption frequencies by H2O, CO2, CH4  (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxides) yield exceptionally good agreement with satellite-based temperature measurements. They showed that absorption by CH4 and N2O are both completely negligible, regardless of the fictional calculations of “Global Warming Potential” (GWP.)

Van Wijngaarten and Happer use the high-resolution transmission molecular absorption database (HITRAN), which simulates the transmission and emission of light in the atmosphere, to calculate the influence of a doubling of CO2 and a 6% increase in water vapor in the atmosphere. They arrive at an upper bound of 1.5 degrees K (C), more likely to be around 1 degree C, which is significantly less than the lowest estimate by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its climate modelers. See link under Challenging the Orthodoxy and https://hitran.org/about/.


Review of Changing Climate: Since its publication on June 3, on several occasions TWTW has discussed a paper by Professor emeritus Richard Lindzen, “An oversimplified picture of the climate behavior based on a single process can lead to distorted conclusions.” Among various assertions that are generally agreed upon are:

  • The two most important substances affecting climate today are water vapor and clouds.
  • Lindzen estimates that a doubling of CO2 would result a less than 2% disturbance in the flow of energy into and out of the earth’s climate system, well within disturbances caused by changes in water vapor and clouds. This would result in a change in global temperature of at most 1 degree C, occurring mostly in the higher latitudes. The tropics are remarkably stable.

Further, as discussed in the August 29 TWTW, Ross McKitrick and John Christy have demonstrated that all the CMIP6 models to be used by the UN IPCC have a systematic warming bias, many greatly overestimating the warming of the atmosphere. The estimates of actual warming come from 12 different datasets, 4 using satellites, 4 using weather balloons, and 4 from weather reanalyzes. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


When Whales Walked: The enormous body of evidence collected using modern instruments and methods shows that the climate modelers and the UN IPCC have greatly overestimated the warming caused by CO2 and the consequences of such warming. Given that the modelers have received billions in funding from governments and that the UN hopes to receive $100 billion per year to protect the earth from a dangerous warming that is not occurring, it is not surprising that the modelers will develop innovative ways to justify their erroneous claims.

Both Science and Nature Communications, advocacy publications, ran imaginative studies claiming to be able to calculate the sensitivity of the earth to increasing CO2 by using data supposedly representing the earth’s climate and its sensitivity to CO2 from tens of millions of years ago. To some readers, sensational headlines such as “Earth barreling toward ‘Hothouse’ state not seen in 50 million years, epic new climate record shows” indicate a lack of careful analysis.

Although the claimed time periods change with the publication, the studies focus on the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which is thought to have occurred about 55.5 million years ago. The papers use a lot of mathematics and mathematical tools to try to obtain patterns in irregular data in an effort to establish the sensitivity of the earth to changing CO2 over millions of years. Without going into specifics, one can question the underlying assumption: the earth has been remarkably stable for 56 million years, since the beginning of the Eocene. As Lindzen stated (with additions by TWTW in boldface):

  1. The core of the system consists in two turbulent fluids (the atmosphere and oceans) interacting with each other.
  • The earth’s climate system is never in equilibrium.
  • In addition to the oceans, the atmosphere is interacting with a hugely irregular land surface distorting the airflow, causing planetary scale waves, which are generally not accurately described in climate models. – Have the land masses changed? Have they changed the flow of the two turbulent fluids?

The 1990 book The Ocean in Human Affairs, edited by Fred Singer addresses a perplexing issue. What caused the earth to slip into its current period about 2.6 million years ago, the Quaternary, of about 100,000 year-long Ice Ages interrupted by brief warm periods of about 10,000 years?

Milankovitch cycles explain variation in the earth’s orbit and how this warming and cooling can cause variation in CO2, but not why did periods of glaciation begin, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Further, although alarmists use Milankovitch cycles they never ask: “How do the Milankovitch cycles cause changes in CO2 without causing changes in temperature first?”

The book suggests an answer to the first question, but not to the second which remains unanswered. The closing of the Caribbean (or Central American) Seaway separating North and South America and connecting Atlantic and Pacific may have changed the ocean circulations to set up the thermohaline circulation resulting in a surface flow of the North Atlantic towards the Arctic from the Caribbean towards Norway (the Gulf Stream), resulting in periods of glaciation from the Milankovitch cycles. The closing of the Seaway may have occurred about three to five million years ago.

(A side note: The thermohaline circulation is caused by the fact that more water evaporates from the North Atlantic than falls on it, thereby increasing the salinity and density. The cold dense water in the Arctic therefore sinks, creating the circulation. A deep southward current in the western North Atlantic results in upwellings at the Grand Banks (Newfoundland) and Georges Bank (between Nova Scotia and Cape Cod) bringing nutrient- and CO2-rich water near the surface, resulting in great increases in photosynthesis and waters generally rich with life.)

To assess how well these papers may address the role of CO2 in the warm period 56 million years ago and how they relate to today’s climate requires an understanding of major land features of the time, and how they may have changed the atmospheric and ocean currents. For this the paper in Nature Communications is particularly useful. It gives estimates of global mean temperature, from which Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) is calculated. Figure 1 of the paper gives the paleo-location of sites used in the study on a map of the globe. The four drill sites are between 30 degrees North and 30 degrees South latitude. Two are close to the equator. As Lindzen has written, the tropics are very stable; it is the temperature differences between the tropics and the poles that is important. Thus, the locations of drill sites used to make calculations of global mean temperatures are questionable.

Further, the map shows the Caribbean Seaway open and no significant distance between North America, Greenland, and Eurasia, all indicating that the ocean circulations were vastly different. Further, although the map shows a small Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica, other research (marine magnetic anomalies) shows the passage did not open until 29 million years ago and the deep Antarctic Circumpolar Current was not established until 24 million years ago. There may have been temporary openings and closings.

Also, early in the period, the Trans-Saharan Seaway covered what is now desert connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the South Atlantic Ocean.

More telling, is that the map shows that India is an island continent roughly at the equator, far separated from Eurasia, about 30 degrees North. Obviously, the Himalayas had not formed. Other research indicates the collision creating the Himalayas may have begun from 35 million to 50 million years ago. The formation of the immense 2,900 km (1800 mile) mountain range must have changed atmospheric circulations.

Further, the reference to the base map is a website which states:

“ODSN is the Ocean Drilling Stratigraphic Network. It was planned as an initiative of GEOMAR, Research Center for Marine Geosciences / Kiel and the Geological Institute of the University Bremen, intended to enhance availability and usage of data related to the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) and the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) in 1996….”

The last update was May 29, 2011. The last update to the GEOMAR web site is Aug 5, 2014.

It is strange that the two formerly distinguished journals would publish this research as significant and new. To give a biological perspective to the time period these studies claim to bridge, 50 million years ago the ancestor of blue whales, and all whales, walked the land on all fours, the Whale of Pakistan, Pakicetus. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy and https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/dynamic/himalaya.html, https://www.odsn.de/, http://digitallibrary.amnh.org/handle/2246/6950, https://www.odsn.de/odsn/index.html, https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/when-whales-walked-on-four-legs.html


Legal Smears? The State of Delaware has filed litigation against oil companies for not revealing the effects of dangerous global warming, that is not occurring. The litigation repeats charges against Willie Soon, a distinguished astrophysicist and a director of SEPP. As with previous claims against Soon, the litigation gives no evidence, just accusations. Apparently, many members of the legal community, including some state attorneys general do not understand what constitutes evidence. See links under Litigation Issues.


Wildfires: In tracking fires in the Pacific Northwest, meteorologist Cliff Mass expressed concern that the grassland fires found largely east of the Cascade Mountains might jump to the dry timber west of the Cascades or the timberlands may be accidently ignited by humans. As he stated:

“The bottom line of all this is that there is the potential for large fires in western Oregon or Washington, particularly south of Olympia.  The fuels are dry, the relative humidity will be low, and the easterly winds strong, if not extreme.     All it will take is a careless ignition…. which we must do everything to avoid.”

It is important to note that the weather events associated with these fires are not common but are part of nature. Further, the conditions have been intensified by government policies stopping people from clearing the fuel near their homes and the desire of many humans to live in or near the trees. See links under Seeking a Common Ground and Changing Weather.


Number of the Week: 10% As a study in the journal “Fire” states:

“…This study illustrates how the wildland-urban interface (WUI), which accounts for only a small portion of U.S. land area (10%), acts as a major source of fires, almost exclusively human-started.”

See link under Seeking a Common Ground



Finally, Wildfire Sanity?

When houses are burning down, electric cars and solar panels don’t seem much of an answer.

By Holman Jenkins, WSJ, Sep 11, 2020


TWTW Summary: The journalist writes about the sudden shift in opinions that climate policy is not the answer to California’s wildfires: After the opening statement he states:

“Even the do-gooder, nonprofit news group ProPublica plaintively asks in a headline, ‘They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?’ The article goes on to assert: ‘The pattern is a form of insanity: We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels keep building up.’

“I guess when thousands of people might be burned out of their homes, it concentrates the mind.

“But then why was California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s most quoted response to the fires ‘Never have I felt more of a sense of obligation . . . to face climate change head on’?

“Confusion abounds. One admirable New York Times article makes clear the immediate answer does not lie in climate policy: ‘Millions of Americans are moving into wildfire-prone areas outside of cities, and communities often resist restrictions on development. A century of federal policy to aggressively extinguish all wildfires rather than letting some burn at low levels, an approach now seen as misguided, has left forests with plenty of fuel for especially destructive blazes.’

“But another Times article on the same day insists that ‘the mechanism driving the wildfire crisis is straightforward: Human behavior, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.’

“Such sentences are a counsel purely of despair. People who take an interest in global warming can only conclude fires are unstoppable and must be endured as a result of our accumulated planet sins.

“I promise no long foray into social psychology, but take the most textbook finding of behavioral economics: ‘prospect theory,’ or the observed tendency of human beings irrationally to overvalue a bird in the hand vs. multiple birds in the bush.

“This discovery really tells us that people, in their mind’s eye, overweight a potential loss against a potential gain because the loss might be visible to others. Human beings are intensely social creatures even in the ways they systematically misconstrue their own interests. This is also why it’s such an enormous, heavy lift to get past virtue-signaling before we can speak rationally about key matters. We have to spend 20 minutes talking about climate change before we can spend one minute talking about policies that would actually affect wildfires.

“But, as I say, their houses burning down are an incentive for people to grow up.

“A bit of history: It’s been nearly 32 years since climate change became a mainstream political cause—I date the beginning to then-NASA scientist James Hansen’s public fight with the first Bush White House in 1989. In the decades that followed, as nature dictates, climate politics became institutionalized. Institutionalized means interest groups and business lobbies becoming self-sustaining based on the money that climate fears generate. A cynic might note that during this time the world’s greenhouse emissions rose more steeply than ever. Problems that become institutionalized aren’t solved. They become a multigenerational meal ticket by not being solved.

“And yet 32 years have taught us a few things. It was always implausible that the world’s politicians and electorates would require their economies to forgo the advantages of fossil fuels and so it has proved. But we also have discovered a lot about the likely track of future emissions. The world seems to be adhering to RCP 4.5, the second-lowest of the CO2 scenarios sketched by scientists. And not because of penny-ante handouts to solar panels and electric cars, but because of very large social and economic megatrends: urbanization, slower population growth, a shift to service- and digitally-based economies, advancing technology and a declining energy intensity of GDP. One example: Fracking led to a multiyear decline in U.S. greenhouse gas output. Last year, before the pandemic hit, global emissions would have been flat if not for China’s.

“Though this column has frequently mentioned the virtues of a carbon tax, nothing is more important for climate change than making sure this socioeconomic progress continues.

“Progress in politics is harder to come by, but I can point to some. In the past 24 months, it likely has become impossible for government and private agencies to continue peddling dire climate forecasts, as they have in recent years, based on an unrealistic, worst-case RCP 8.5 emissions scenario.

“A surprising thing has happened: Even greens have become embarrassed at the institutionalized dishonesty of such forecasts. (I cited a significant example in a column here in January.)

“If we can start being rational about fire-suppression policy, we can start being rational about climate change too.”


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