|The Week That Was
July 23, 2005
New on the Web: Sam Thernstrom explains why advanced technologies present the only realistic long-term hope for reducing the rate of emission of greenhouse gases.
The G8 meeting, with its unresolved contradictions,. is eminently forgettable. To gain further perspective, read a summary of the critical House of Lords report dismissing the IPCC and Kyoto (Item #1).
Summing up, Lord May, president of the Royal Society, said the G8
communiqué on climate change was a "disappointing failure",
a view challenged by Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary. It was
"absolute rubbish" to say the G8 had made no progress on climate
change. [The Sunday Times, 10 July 2005]. Take your pick.
Who will be the "Poster Boy" of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)? After Ben Santer and Michael Mann, will it be Jim Hansen or Tim Barnett? You decide.
In the absence of any solid confirmation of anthropogenic global warming, the IPCC has always latched on to "spectacular" claims to bolster their pre-conceived conclusions. In the First Assessment Report, in 1990, it was "broad consistence" between models and observations of 20th century temperatures. Both show a general warming -once you ignore the cooling period of 1940 to 1975 and ignore major solar influences on climate.
Well, IPCC-FAR didn't fly. So in 1995 they cranked things up a bit for the Second Assessment Report (SAR). It featured the notorious "balance of evidence" phrase suggesting a human influence. To support this meaningless but ominous-sounding conclusion, they relied on text changes in the main report to make it "conform" with the government-approved Summary for Policymakers (Courtesy of Ben Santer and John Houghton). Santer also doctored a crucial graph to make it suggest human influence.
After SAR came TAR, the Third Assessment Report, issued in 2001. Its Summary claimed "new" evidence, which turned out to be the infamous Hockeystick, which "reconstructed" the climate history of the past millennium to make the 20th century appear to be the warmest (Courtesy of Michael Mann). This spurious piece of work has now been thoroughly discredited. So what next?
I predict that Assessment Report #4 (AR4) will feature "Heat Storage in the Ocean" as evidence for human-caused GW, plus the claim that "more warming is in the pipeline" even if we stabilize GH-gas levels in the atmosphere. This is supposed to justify urgency of CO2 control.
But whose heat storage work will they use? Hansen's or Barnett's? Both papers, published in Science (2005) to great fanfare, are as wrong as wrong can be - but never mind that. Listen to these choice quotes. (You will find details in Item #2):
"The debate over whether there is a global warming signal
is over now-- at least for rational people."---Tim Barnett, Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, at the American Association of the Advancement
of Science annual meeting on Feb. 17, 2005. According to the Scripps researcher,
political leadership is now needed to avert a global disaster.
The current flap in Washington is about a Congressional attempt to deal with the Hockeystick issue - not the science but whether research supported by public funds should be available to other scientists for independent verification. You'd think there would be cheers; after all, this is fundamental to good science. But it has raised a firestorm within the Beltway; the rest of the nation is unconcerned -- The Wash Post has been particularly nasty ("A Bid to Chill Thinking" by David Ignatius) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/21/AR2005072102186.html?referrer=emailarticle
You can learn the real story from Item #3. Of course, a NY Times editorial (7/23/05) attacks Congressman Joe Barton (R-Tx) but praises Sherwood Boehlert of New York -("an enlightened moderate on environmental issues") and Senator Pete Domenici from New Mexico. ("A longtime global warming skeptic, Mr. Domenici [held] the first in a series of hearings intended to lead to meaningful and politically acceptable emissions controls.")
Well indeed, a remarkable consensus on Global Warming dangers emerged at the hearing of the Senate Energy Committee on July 21, 2005. Surprised? You shouldn't be; the four witnesses were carefully selected and managed to diddle the assembled senators, who mostly failed to ask searching questions. (Item #4)
Noted climate scientist Hans von Storch has some trenchant and skeptical thoughts about the Hockeystick controversy and what it means for science generally (Item #5).
To appreciate the need for reproducibility of results in science,
see famous errors and hoaxes in http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,13026,1083411,00.html
The ins and outs of methane policy and GH effect (Item #6). Scottish
energy woes (Item #7). And finally, a NYT editorial we agree with - on
nuclear fusion energy. (Item #8).
SHOWING what a skilful politician he is, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his role as president of the G8, managed to simultaneously read the burial service for the Kyoto Treaty while declaring the corpse still breathed.
In a sense, though, he is right. The issue of global climate change and how to deal with it is still very much alive. What is dead is Europe's attempt to impose its highly regulated socialist model of climate control on the rest of the world, striking a calculated economic blow at the US in the process.
So the need to ensure what Blair calls "a new dialogue" on reducing greenhouse gas emissions proceeds on a transparent and well-informed basis is crucial. It is by no means obvious that it will. According to Australia's Minister for the Environment, Ian Campbell, the challenge is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 50 per cent "some time this century". England has a target of a 60 per cent reduction by 2050. This would involve a substantial rise in the cost of energy, particularly carbon-based energy.
Yet the reaction of the Australian and other governments to rising petrol prices is to deny all blame and emphasise their policies are helping to prevent an even bigger rise. These are the people who will cut emissions by 50 per cent to 60 per cent?
I chose this example because it conveniently links in to the report of the Select Committee on Economic Affairs of the Britain's House of Lords on the Economics of Climate Change.
The report was released on July 6, obviously to coincide with the G8 meeting, where climate change was one of the main issues put on the agenda by Blair. The report deserves attention, because it raises serious questions about the way the global warming issue is being handled by governments and about the reliability and probity of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the key international body behind the global warming forecasts governments rely on. The first chapter of the report dismisses Kyoto and says the public needs to be told of the costs that will be imposed on it if the far more telling initiatives needed to tackle climate change in any significant way are introduced.
"The fuel protests of 1999-2000 [when the Howard Government dropped the indexation of petrol excise] are testimony to the sensitivity of the public to even modestly rising energy prices," the report says. "Substantial increases in energy prices must be an integral part of any policy for reducing carbon emissions."
It wants the British Government to come clean on the cost of its emission target, but there is no sign it or any other government is keen to do that. Equally important, the report raises serious questions about the integrity of the IPCC, with the clear implication that a dangerous amount of politics is being mixed in with the science of global warming projections.
One example it picks up is what it calls the Henderson/Castles critique. David Henderson is a former chief economist at the OECD and Ian Castles is a former commonwealth statistician and senior Australian policy adviser.
Henderson and Castles have criticised the economics behind some the key IPCC scenarios on global warming that are driving government policy on greenhouse in many countries, including this one. The IPCC's response has been personal denigration of Henderson and Castles and an attempt to dismiss their arguments as of no consequence.
In contrast, the Lords committee found that they had performed a valuable public service, commenting that without them the debate now swirling around the emissions scenarios would never have taken place. All the witnesses, other than the IPCC's own, supported Henderson and Castles. And they aren't the only ones questioning the IPCC's work. The British Treasury, for example, doubted the growth figures used in the scenarios. The committee was incredulous to find the IPCC had no intention of reviewing its scenarios before their next assessment of climate change.
The committee was also highly critical of the involvement of political representatives in drafting policy summaries. It quoted one witness who said government sensitivities meant wording that suggested costs of climate control would be large, for example, might "upset" governments who were claiming they would be small and easily bearable, and only agreed-wording was used.
The committee said it not only could see no justification for this government involvement, but it opened the way for climate science and economics to be determined, at least in part, by political requirements rather than the evidence. The committee also found some evidence that scientists who did not agree with mainstream scientific consensus on the IPCC were dropped from its panels and less qualified experts substituted. One case was an expert on malaria, Paul Reiter, nominated by the US Government and rejected by the IPCC.
"We cannot prove that Professor Reiter's nomination was rejected because of the likelihood that he would argue warming and malaria are not correlated in the manner the IPCC reports suggest. But the suspicion must be there ... It seems to us that there remains a risk that [the] IPCC has become a 'knowledge monopoly', in some respects unwilling to listen to those who do not pursue the consensus line."
Kyoto is dead, but there is a high risk what follows it will also be deeply flawed -- if governments uncritically accept, as they now seem to, that the IPCC's projections on climate change are a sound basis for future policy.
As the committee concludes: "The science of climate change leaves considerable uncertainty about the future".
Action against the risk of global warming is prudent. But governments and their citizens need untainted scientific and economic evidence about the extent of global warming and the costs and benefits of various responses before they can react sensibly.
MSNBC staff and news service reports, April 28, 2005
The researchers, some of them working for NASA and the Energy Department, went a step further, implicitly criticizing President Bush for not taking stronger action to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
They said the findings confirm that computer models of climate change are on target and that global temperatures will rise 1 degree Fahrenheit this century, even if greenhouse gases are capped tomorrow.
If emissions instead continue to grow, as expected, things could spin "out of our control," especially as ocean levels rise from melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the NASA-led scientists said. "The climate system could reach a point where large sea level change is practically impossible to avoid."
The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, is the latest to report growing certainty about global warming projections.
More than 1,800 technology-packed floats, deployed in oceans worldwide beginning in 2000, are regularly diving as much as a mile undersea to take temperature and other readings. Their precise measurements are supplemented by better satellite gauging of ocean levels, which rise both from meltwater and as the sea warms and expands.
Researchers led by NASA's James Hansen used the improved data to calculate the oceans' heat content and the global "energy imbalance." They found that for every square meter of surface area, the planet is absorbing almost one watt more of the sun's energy than it is radiating back to space as heat - a historically large imbalance. Such absorbed energy will steadily warm the atmosphere.
The 0.85-watt figure corresponds well with the energy imbalance predicted by the researchers' modeling of climate change through a supercomputer, the report said.
Computer models, which are numerical simulations of climate change, factor in many influences on climate, including greenhouse emissions. Such gases, produced naturally but also by humans burning fossil fuels, trap heat as they accumulate in the atmosphere.
Significantly, those emissions have increased at a rate consistent with the detected energy imbalance, the researchers said.
"There can no longer be genuine doubt that human-made gases are the dominant cause of observed warming," said Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "This energy imbalance is the 'smoking gun' that we have been looking for."
Fourteen other specialists from NASA, Columbia University and the Department of Energy co-authored the study.
Scientists have found other possible "smoking guns" on global warming in recent years, but Klaus Wassermann, a leading German climatologist, praised the new report for its innovative work on energy imbalance. "This is valuable additional supporting evidence" of manmade climate change, he told The Associated Press.
Average atmospheric temperatures rose about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the 20th century, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-organized network of scientists, says computer modeling shows they will rise between 2.5 degrees and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100, depending on how well emissions are controlled.
The Science study said the excess energy stored in the oceans means a 1-degree Fahrenheit rise in atmospheric temperatures is already "in the pipeline." This agrees with findings of U.S. government climate modelers reported last month.
Besides raising ocean levels, global warming is expected to intensify storms, spread disease to new areas, and shift climate zones hundreds of miles, possibly making farmlands drier and deserts wetter.
The researchers also pointed out that the Earth has significant "thermal inertia," which delays changes to the planet's energy balance. And they used that point to urge policymakers to take action.
"This delay provides an opportunity to reduce the magnitude" of climate change "if appropriate action is taken," they wrote in the study. "On the other hand, if we wait for more overwhelming empirical evidence of climate change, the inertia implies that still greater climate change will be in store, which may be difficult or impossible to avoid."
President Bush has said that while he believes manmade emissions are tied to global warming, it's not known just how closely and that therefore drastic steps like mandatory emission curbs are unwarranted.
"We do not know how much effect natural fluctuations in climate may have had on warming," he said in a major climate policy speech in 2001. "We do not know how much our climate could, or will change in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it."
"No one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming," he added, "and therefore what level must be avoided."
The administration instead is relying on technology improvements and voluntary steps to reduce emissions over time.
Scientists on AAAS Panel Warn That Ocean Warming Is Having Dramatic
Strong new evidence shows that ocean temperatures are rising because of human activity, and the impact on people and ecosystems worldwide could be severe, scientists on a AAAS panel warned Thursday.
Appearing on a panel at the 2005 AAAS Annual Meeting n Washington, D.C., the scientists warned that global warming is already having an impact on plant and animal species, with one citing a massive die-off of ocean birds in the Bering Sea during the late 1990s.
The evidence-based on computer models and observations in the field-is so strong that it should put to an end any debate about whether human-caused global warming is a real phenomenon, said Tim Barnett, a research marine physicist in the Climate Research Division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego.
"The temperature-driven impact that these models predict over the next 30-40 years is severe, not only for the Western United States, but for China and Peru," Barnett said.
"Other parts of the world will face similar problems," he added in an unpublished paper released to reporters. The climate models "suggest that these scenarios have a high enough probability of actually happening that they need to be taken seriously by decision makers...if it is not already too late."
Scientists are already seeing that over the past decade, the ice mass of Greenland has begun to decline, said Ruth Curry, a research specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Fresh water is accumulating in the nearby ocean, and the ocean water is becoming less dense.
If the trend continues, Curry said, it could have a "radical" impact on ocean ecosystems. Further, it could lead to a slowing or stalling of the water-flow patterns in the Atlantic that pump warm water from the tropics toward the north Atlantic and carry cold water south. That, she said, could lead to dramatically colder winters ranging from Scandinavia and the United Kingdom to the East Coast of the United States and Canada.
Barnett said his research is important because the search for evidence of global warming has tended to focus on the atmosphere. But 90 percent of global warming goes into the Earth's oceans, he said.
Along with his Scripps colleague, David Pierce, Barnett used a combination of computer models and hard, observed evidence to reach their conclusions. They determined that warming measured in the world's oceans closely matched the results predicted in computer models for warming caused by human activity.
When the models assessed whether the ocean warming could be caused by volcanic or solar activity, Barnett told reporters, the answer was stark: "Not a chance."
Sharon Smith, co-director of the Oceans and Human Health Center at the University of Miami, said warming is already having an impact on Arctic ecosystems. She cited a vivid example: In 1997, a highly unusual plant bloomed in the warming waters of the Bering Sea, changing the color of the water. A bird called the short-tailed shearwater, which usually locates its prey by sight in the clear ocean waters, was no longer able to see its prey. Hundreds of thousands of the birds died, Smith said.
"The present rapid melting of ice is going to disrupt the physical systems and biological systems that have evolved over long periods of time," Smith told reporters. And once lost, she added, "it will not come back."
According to Curry, ocean warming is driving a disruption of the Earth's freshwater balance. Evaporation rates over warmer tropical and subtropical oceans have increased by about 10 percent in the past 20 years. But instead of falling over the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, it is instead falling over the far north in North America, Europe and Asia. That at least partly accounts for a drought in the Western United States and elevated rates of river runoff in the Arctic.
The inevitable conclusion, Barnett said, is that arguments attacking the accuracy of climate-model predictions are "no longer tenable." The reality of global warming is likely to be underscored by changes that millions of people will feel in their lives.
Models have predicted that the western United States will face a water crisis within 20 years, he said. Peruvian officials have estimated that with continued warming, the glaciers of the Andes will be gone within a decade; other estimates show that two-thirds of the glaciers in Western China could be gone by 2050. Those developments would leave millions of people without sufficient summer-time water for drinking, bathing and farming.
The Kyoto climate change treaty went into effect this week for the nations
that signed it. Barnett acknowledged that if the United States had signed
it, the country would have been at a disadvantage against countries like
China and India that were not covered by its terms. But given the environmental
trends, he said, "it's time now for nations that are not part of
the Kyoto protocol to reconsider."
Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has written letters to Drs Michael Mann, Ray Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes (MBH), requesting information related to their publication [Nature 1998] of the so-called Hockeystick graph, showing Northern Hemisphere temperatures over the past 1000 years, as obtained from a statistical analysis of various proxy data. The Hockeystick has been used by the IPCC  as important evidence for the existence of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
Mr. Barton's letter has raised a firestorm of responses, many of which accuse him of attempting to intimidate scientists. These include the AAAS and other scientific groups, the Chair of the House Committee on Science Mr. Boehlert, and a member of the Barton Committee Mr. Waxman. Here I attempt to clarify the controversy by discussing three separate questions:
1. Is the 20th century the warmest in the past 1000 years -as suggested by the Hockeystick and claimed by the IPCC report? Probably not. Many other investigators [e.g., Soon and Baliunas 2003, Moberg et al 2005] have shown that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) around 1100 AD was at least as warm as the past century. This scientific issue appears to be settled, with even the IPCC and its supporters [Houghton, Rahmstorf, Cubash, etc] backing away from the Hockeystick, claiming that it is not really needed to support the IPCC conclusion of substantial AGW.
2. Is the MBH analysis correct or should it be withdrawn from publication by its authors? Contrary to claims, e.g., in the AAAS letter, the initial referees never conducted a detailed review of the 1998 Nature paper. Nor did the IPCC conduct such a review - in spite of the fact that the MBH result disagreed strongly with other published results and even with an earlier IPCC report that clearly showed the MWP and a Little Ice Age (from about 1400 to 1850 AD). The inescapable conclusion is that the IPCC wanted to believe the MBH result because it supported their preconceived notion about AGW. The AAAS letter also seemed oblivious of the fact that in this quest the IPCC routinely used evidence selectively, altered text in an approved report just before printing, and even doctored a crucial graph.
It finally fell to two Canadian researchers, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (MM), to take on the forbidding task of conducting a detailed audit of the MBH work. In their first publication in 2003, MM found that the underlying data had been manipulated in a number of ways. When MM recalculated temperatures with corrected data (but retaining the MBH methodology), they obtained a quite different temperature history, bearing no resemblance to the Hockeystick. As far as I am aware, this conclusion by MM has not been challenged.
In a follow-on audit, MM found that the statistical methodology used by MBH was faulty and would produce a Hockeystick-shaped temperature graph even when random data were fed into the MBH computational scheme. This conclusion by MM has been supported by some scientists and disputed by others, including MBH. It is an issue that can and should be resolved by statisticians, not necessarily climate experts.
3. The key issue has to do with accountability and bears on both the practice of science and the role of the Congress. The essence of progress in science is to make it self-checking by allowing results of one group to be reproduced independently by others. In fulfilling its responsibilities, Congress needs to determine:
a) Whether this particular scientific issue has sufficient consequences for public policy to merit Congressional attention
b) Whether in this instance publicly funded research is being withheld to the scientific community to impede scientific verification. MM and MBH disagree, with the latter citing a letter from the National Science Foundation as legal justification.
c) Whether the NSF letter is consonant with NSF policies; and
d) Whether NSF policies require change.
I am not competent to judge jurisdictional issues within Congress. I also believe that in the long run the scientific community is best qualified to police its own affairs and weed out scientific error and malfeasance. Unfortunately, the climate issue has become so polarized that hard positions are being taken on the Hockeystick issue that preclude its timely resolution by normal scientific procedures. This has affected even such respected journals like Science and Nature, which are no longer wiling to provide a forum for conflicting views.
Congress can help the scientific community in this instance by providing
such a forum through hearings where such conflicting views can be freely
aired and where it can be determined if MBH are willfully withholding
information necessary for independent replication of their results.
A remarkable consensus on Global Warming dangers emerged at the hearing of the Senate Energy Committee on July 21, 2005. Surprised? You shouldn't be; the four witnesses were carefully selected and managed to diddle the assembled senators, who mostly failed to ask searching questions.
1. Ralph Cicerone, incoming president of the National Academy of Sciences, repeated the usual litany by reciting selectively from the June 2001 NAS report. While paying lip service to uncertainties, he managed leave the impression of a substantial 20th-century human-caused warming - ignoring the cooling between 1940 and 1975 that has always created problems for advocates of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Cicerone is not a climate scientist but an atmospheric chemist. [His seminal paper some 30 years ago pointed to the possible destruction of stratospheric ozone by chlorine. In my opinion, he should have shared the Nobel Prize awarded to Rowland and Molina; but his work has little to do with global warming.]
2. Sir John Houghton, former head of the IPCC science group, is indeed competent in climate science. But his testimony linked a putative warming to mass deaths from heat waves and other disasters. Pure speculation, without scientific support. When asked by Sen. Craig Thomas if he still supported the now thoroughly discredited Hockeystick curve, one of the pillars of the 2001 IPCC report, he dismissed its importance for AGW ("not a big issue"). Interesting! IPCC no longer accepts Hockeystick!
Houghton did not mention that the patterns of temperature changes of the past does not agree with what one would expect from the greenhouse theory. He also omitted to mention that the Russian Academy's climate group (led by Yury Izrael, a vice-chairman of the IPCC) does not support the science underlying the Kyoto Protocol.
3. Mario Molina (MIT and Scripps), an atmospheric chemist and certainly no climate expert, managed to spout off on topics he is even less qualified on. He opined that warming would produce negative economic impacts -- contradicting the published conclusions of competent economists. He also claimed that CO2 levels could quadruple and that the warming response was "nonlinear." Sounds ominous, doesn't it? Perhaps he was just ignorant of the fact that the response is logarithmic (which means that increasing levels add very little to any warming.)
He also opined that "uncertainty is no excuse for inaction" - citing the wholly inappropriate analogy of car insurance. Yet when later asked by Sen. Craig Thomas just what action he would recommend, he -- and the other witnesses - suddenly claimed to be "just scientists." In response to Sen. Larry Craig, none of them endorsed nuclear energy outright but waffled by listing it as one of many options to fossil fuels.
4. Jim Hurrell (NCAR) is a very competent meteorologist. Perhaps that is why I was quite disappointed by his testimony. The 20th century is certainly not the warmest in the past 10,000 years - or even in the past 1000 years. And when he made the observed sea level rise of 15-20 cm in the last century sound threatening, he forgot to mention that sea levels have been rising at that rate for the past several thousand years - and have risen by 400 feet(!) since the peak of the last ice age 18,000 years ago.
The Senate Energy Committee needs to listen to the other side - or better still, organize an open science debate.
S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at
the University of Virginia and former director of the US Weather Satellite
Service (now NESDIS-NOAA). He authored "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global
Warming's Unfinished Debate" (Independent Institute, 1999) and coauthored
research papers in 2004 demonstrating that temperature observations do
not support the conclusions of leading climate models. He is a Fellow
of the American Geophysical Union, the American Physical Society, and
the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
A Few Comments on Today's Senate Energy Committee Climate Hearing
This morning the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing (http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=1484) on "Climate Change Science and Economics". I have read through the testimonies of Panel 1 and there is little surprising or new to be found. I do have random comments below.
NCAR's Jim Hurrell observes, "... it should be recognized that mitigation actions taken now mainly have benefits 50 years and beyond now."
This point would seem to be generally appreciated by experts in climate science and policy but is generally lost in the more general debate. Why does this matter? The asymmetry in the timing of costs and benefits makes it incredibly hard to justify action on mitigation - my tongue-in-cheek characterization of this approach to mitigation is "Please bear these costs but you personally will never see any benefits, other than the psychological benefits of aiding future generations." Such arguments don't work for social security and they won't work here. In addition, the reality of the time lag of benefits illustrates the futility of using current climate events to justify mitigation action. Even if people take action, there can be no scientifically valid argument that such actions will lead to a better climate in their lifetime (warning tongue-in-cheek comment coming) - "Want fewer hurricanes in 2007? Drive a Prius!" Actually, not so-tongue-in-cheek, this exact strategy was tried by Scientists and Engineers for Change and Environment2004.org leading up to the 2004 elections and we all know how Florida turned out. It was a misuse of science to suggest that the 2004 election had any impact on future hurricane frequency. It is similarly a misuse to suggest that climate mitigation should be viewed as an effective policy option for issues such as malaria and disasters (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000220misjustifications_.html).
Sir John Houghton, former chairman of the IPCC, states the following, "Data from insurance companies show an increase in economic losses in weather related disasters of a factor of 10 in real terms between the 1950s and the 1990s. Some of this can be attributed to an increase in vulnerability to such disasters. However, a significant part of the trend has also arisen from increased storminess especially in the 1980s and 1990s (http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Testimony&Hearing_ID=1484&Witness_ID=4228)."
This is simply scientifically incorrect and politically irresponsible. No part of the trend in economic losses related to weather since the 1950s can be attributed to increased storminess (though we'd welcome learning of any research to the contrary). We discussed this in some depth here: (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000312climate_change_and_r.html) and here: (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000321climate_change_and_r.html), and even the 2001 IPCC says as much.
If climate scientists want to be believed when they discuss science in
highly politicized contexts, then a good place to start would be to be
accurate when making scientific claims. It would also be a good idea for
scientists to call their colleagues on statements that are unjustified
by the scientific literature, even when those colleagues are advocating
policies that they themselves may happen to favor. This was the message
of Hans von Storch when he visited Boulder a few weeks ago (see this Der
Spiegel essay: http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000343a_climate_of_staged_.html).
In the long run both science and policy will be better served through
candor and community-established norms of scientific rigor, even if there
may be short-term political benefits in playing fast and loose with science.
The "hockey stick" was elevated to an icon-status by the IPCC. While in the technical part of the TAR, the reconstruction of the last millennium's temperature was presented with the proper caveats and uncertainties, in the publicly more visible parts of the TAR these caveats were less and less emphasized. The result is that in many quarters the hockey stick is considered to be an unquestionable indication of the detection and attribution of anthropogenic climate change.
The problem was, and is, that the methodology behind the hockey stick has not been adequately tested. The methodology was not properly explained in the original "Nature" publication. Scientists still have difficulties what exactly is "in" the method. We have tested the method in the artificial laboratory of the output of a global climate model, and found it to significantly underestimate both low-frequency variability and associated uncertainties.
Our work focuses on multi-century simulations with two global climate models to generate a realistic mix of natural and externally (greenhouse gases, solar output, volcanic load) forced climate variations. Such simulations are then used to examine the performance of empirically based methods to reconstruct historical climate. This is done by deriving "pseudo proxies" from the model output, which provide incomplete and spatially limited evidence about the global distribution of a variable. These pseudo proxies serve as input in reconstruction methods - the result of which is then compared with the true state simulated by the model. Obviously, this is a valid test of the reconstruction method, independently of the ability of the model to capture accurately the historical temperature record.
Our simulation study was published in "Science" after proper review. The response was surprising - almost no open response, a bit in the media, and many colleagues who indicated privately that such a publication would damage the good case of a climate protection policy. It would play into the hands of the "sceptics".
It seems that exaggerating claims pass the internal quality checks of science relatively easily, whereas more reasoned and scientifically accurate claims find an unwelcome audience among scientists. The practice of scientists exaggerating threatening perspectives of anthropogenic climate change and its implications serves not only the purpose of supporting a policy perceived as "good" but also personal agendas of career and public visibility. The problem is, however, that the desired public attention can only be achieved if these perspectives are continuously topped by even more threatening perspectives.
Thus, the credibility of climate science is endangered, and its important
role of advising policy (in the naive sense of "knowledge speaks
to power") becomes an unsustainable practice. We have a situation
similar to the case of "tragedy of the commons". In this talk
I first present the methodical critique of the hockey stick methodology
then engage in a rather personal discussion about the problem of post-normal
climate science operating in a highly politicized environment.
In The New Republic Gregg Easterbrook describes the Bush Administration's "Methane to Markets" partnership (EPA site). Easterbrook argues that the Bush Administration has not gotten enough credit in the media for this program, which he characterizes as being as significant as successful implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. He suggests,
"The press corps is pretending the anti-methane initiative does not exist in order to avoid inconvenient complications of the Black Hat versus White Hat narrative it has settled into regarding global warming. In this narrative, the White House is completely ignoring building scientific evidence of artificially triggered climate change; everything Bush does is wicked; everything the enlightened Euros do is noble. The narrative is simple and easy to follow--plus, it's pretty easy to get supporting quotes from Democratic politicians and enviros. The drawback to the narrative is that it isn't true. But why should that stop the nation's reporters and editorialists?"
Easterbrook also observes, "That Bush is not doing enough regarding the greenhouse effect is a different and plausible complaint."
Easterbrook refers to NASA's ubiquitous James Hansen to support the importance of methane policy. Hansen wrote five years ago, "Non-CO2 greenhouse gases are probably the main cause of observed global warming, with CH4 causing the largest net climate forcing. There are economic incentives to reduce or capture CH4 emissions, but global implementation of appropriate practices requires international cooperation."
Four years ago Easterbrook advocated a methane-first approach and explained why he thought it would meet resistance:
"Last year James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a NASA affiliate, began to champion a methane-first approach. But, for ideological and geopolitical reasons, the idea has yet to catch on. Enviros laud Hansen for declaring in 1988 that he was "ninety-nine percent" certain an artificial greenhouse effect had begun. But many grow spitting mad when he suggests that action against methane offers more bang for the buck than action against carbon dioxide. What the hard-core enviros want is punitive fossil-fuel restrictions that screw big oil and big coal; a relatively painless global-warming fix that lets fossil fuel off the hook would leave the movement's left heartbroken. Moderate enviros worry that a methane-first strategy would cause complacency about carbon dioxide emissions, though Hansen always makes clear that something will eventually need to be done about carbon, too."
Easterbrook continues this argument in this week's TNR,
"Yet reporters who write reams about carbon dioxide rarely mention methane, and some environmentalists become actively upset when the potential for methane reduction is raised. Why? Because the United States is the world's number-one emitter of carbon dioxide. (At least for the moment; if current trends hold, China will pass us.) Keeping the focus on carbon dioxide is the blame-America-first strategy. The European Union, on the other hand, is a leading emitter of methane, given the natural-gas energy economies of many Western European nations. Talk about methane reduction makes Europe uneasy. In the regnant global warming narrative, the United States is always bad and the European Union is always good. Raising the methane issue complicates that narrative."
However one feels about methane policy, Easterbrook's essay raises the
increasingly important question: How do we break out of the two-sided
debate on climate change to open discussion of new and innovative options
55% of Scotland's electricity is provided by 2 nuclear plants, the more extensive of which, Hunterston, is to close in 2011.
Windmills only provide 0.3% of our power. Micro-generation , as the name suggests, can do only a small fraction of even that. This is not a serious solution.
Nuclear is reliable, non-polluting, CO2 free & at 2.3p per unit (or less for new reactors) easily the most economical power source.
According to http://www.helptheaged.org.uk/CampaignsNews/Poverty/WinterDeaths/default.htm"
If we do not replace our current nuclear plants with at least equal capacity we are going to have massive blackouts & even more deaths.
Our MPs have a duty to do something serious about this -- not playing around with token & subsidised windmills unnecessarily pushing up our electricity bills.
Lenin once said that socialism would be achieved by "Soviet power
& the electrification of the whole country" - It is unfortunate
to see the present generation of "socialists" instead embracing
Luddism to usher in a new dark age.
A standing joke among scientists is that fusion power - the holy grail of those seeking a boundless supply of energy to supplant fossil fuels - is always decades away. That has been the guesstimate for half a century, and it remained the guesstimate last week when an international consortium announced that it had finally resolved an internal struggle over where to site an experimental nuclear fusion reactor. It will be in southern France, with Japan receiving some consolation-prize benefits.
According to a timeline issued by the consortium, this new reactor could put the world on a path toward a commercial fusion reactor by 2050. Or maybe not. The task is so daunting that fusion power may never prove practical. Even so, it is a dream worth pursuing in a world that may be desperate for new energy sources as fossil fuel supplies dwindle and global warming rises.
Fusion reactors, which smash atomic nuclei together instead of splitting them, as a conventional nuclear reactor does, are undeniably alluring. They would produce no greenhouse gases, would rely on abundant sources of fuel and would be safer than current nuclear reactors, and their radioactive waste would be easier to handle. But fusion - the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and the awesome blast of the hydrogen bomb - has proved devilishly difficult to harness for peaceful purposes.
The experimental reactor is projected to take eight years to build and will play host to another 20 years of experiments at a total cost of $10 billion to $15 billion. The United States, a minority partner, is expected to pay some $1.1 billion toward construction. That seems a reasonable contribution toward a project that the Energy Department has ranked at the top of its priority list.
Now a battle is brewing in Washington over how to finance the American contribution. Some in Congress want the department to find additional funding for the international project without gouging domestic fusion research, or else drop out of the collaboration entirely. Others believe that the collaboration should take precedence and domestic research should be cut and fitted around it. That seems the more reasonable approach. Fusion is at least half a century away from yielding practical power. It is in no position to claim a disproportionate slice of today's Energy Department budget.