|The Week That Was
Jan. 21, 2006
NO TWTW ON JAN. 28. WE WILL BE AT NOVA UNIVERSITY IN DANIA, FL, PLANNING AN AGU SESSION (Baltimore May23-26) on "SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES: MEASUREMENTS AND PROBLEMS"
In response to reader comments, another revision:
For planning purposes, pls indicate yr interest and preferred alternate time frame. Cost per person will be about $2000, depending on date and type of cabin. We may also be able to get special transatlantic airfares to Copenhagen.
New on the Web: Noted economist David Henderson presents devastating criticism of the IPCC process. While focused on the economic aspects of the IPCC reports, it has even greater relevance to the scientific portions dealing with climate change.
"The built-in process of peer review, which the IPCC treats as a guarantee of quality, does not adequately serve this purpose, for two reasons. First, providing for peer review is no safeguard against dubious assumptions, arguments and conclusions if the peers are largely drawn from the same restricted professional milieu. Second, the peer-review process as such, here as elsewhere, is insufficiently rigorous. Its main purpose is to elicit expert advice on whether a paper is worth publishing in a particular journal. Because it does not normally go beyond this, ' peer review does not typically guarantee that data and methods are open to scrutiny or that results are reproducible.'
"the IPCC process is not to be viewed as self-sufficient, all-embracing
and authoritative. Rather, it should be seen as an exercise which can
both be improved from within and supplemented by establishing other sources
of ideas, information and advice."
Global warming agitprop: Columnist Bill Steigerwald takes a dim view
of the GW series by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker (Item #1) -and
Lovelock has turned into a mystic: "Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable" (Item #2). Well, Sir David King proclaims that the Antarctic will be the only habitable place on Earth by 2100. [I fear that couples wishing to breed will face an agonizing choice.]
Plus a considered response by Allan MacRae
Prof. Roger Pielke, Jr., takes editor of Science to task over his
partisan editorials (Item #3):
Another devastating Pielke comment on Kennedy (Item #4), plus a pertinent
comment by Fred Singer:
Editorial writers like to excoriate EPA for not setting tighter air-pollution standards - science be damned. Obviously, they have not read Joel Schwartz' review of the science (TWTW Jan 14, 2006). Reader Mac Ross points to the existence of overwhelming natural background (Item #5).
Nuclear energy pioneer Clinton Bastin exposes some common myths about Plutonium in a letter to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Item #6). [Keep this important information handy.]
And finally, another satire, contributed by reader Craig Hollinshead
(Item #7) --celebrating the discovery that green plants produce methane.
You'd think The New Yorker would practice fair-and-balanced journalism -- for its readers' sake, at least.
The elite weekly's readership -- disproportionately smart, wealthy and liberal -- includes many powerful people in the overlapping worlds of politics and media. It's a good bet few of them faithfully devour National Review or Reason magazines. So if they are ever going to be confronted with "the other side" of an important, complex and overheated debate like global warming, they'll have to get it from The New Yorker.
When The New Yorker last spring cranked out "The Climate of Man," an epic three-part harangue on how global warming is melting the Earth's polar ice cap and glaciers, it didn't pretend to strive for balance. Elizabeth Kolbert, who has mounted a crusade to prove that global warming already is here and that industrial man is the chief culprit, wrote the series.
Most of the liberal mainstream media, of course, fawned over Kolbert's shameless exercise in scaremongering. In an open letter to New Yorker Editor David Remnick, however, the late Jude Wanniski scolded Remnick for allowing Kolbert to produce such blatant faith-based agitprop. He called what Kolbert did "un-journalism."
Kolbert, who has since followed up with several smaller articles on climate change, is a global warming fundamentalist. For her there is no room for doubt or further research, much less honest debate.
The science already is indisputable. No chance computerized climate models are flawed. No chance natural, long-term global climate cycles are at work. Mother Earth is in dire peril. The only disbelievers are evil Exxon-slicked scientists or Bush-administration yahoos.
As Wanniski predicted, the series, which will be released as the book "Field Notes from a Catastrophe" in the spring, probably will win a Pulitzer. It's being compared favorably by the Religious Left to "Silent Spring," Rachel Carson's overwrought, scientifically challenged indictment of DDT that debuted in The New Yorker in 1962.
"The Climate of Man" already has won a big journalism award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It's nicely written. It contains The New Yorker's usual quota of trivial detail. It's 100 percent politically correct. But it's not close to being fair-minded or intellectually honest, because, as Wanniski knew, it never was intended to be.
The New Yorker never would have dreamed of offending its politically sheltered subscribers by giving an important skeptic like Fred Singer the chance to explain his position to them. Though derided by global warming promoters as a hired tool of Big Oil, Singer is an expert on global climate change with a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton. He's president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project research group (www.sepp.org) and his dozen books include "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate."
Singer wasn't interviewed by Kolbert. But if he had been, the man they call the "Godfather of Global Warming Denial" would have wanted The New Yorker's two-million readers to know the single most important thing he knows about global warming:
"The question of the human contribution to climate change, the amount
of it, is a matter of great scientific debate," Singer told me last
week. "But no matter how it comes out, the question of global warming
itself has not much fundamental scientific content and probably is of
little importance to humanity generally."
In the 1970s, James Lovelock became one of the world's most celebrated
environmental scientists after he proposed the Gaia theory, the idea of
Earth as a self-sustaining organism with a built-in control system that
keeps the environment in balance and the planet fit for life. Writing
in The Independent (UK) newspaper, Lovelock warns that the world has already
passed the point of no return with global warming, and that climate change
will kill billions of people in this century as the Earth reaches a "coma''
state from which it may not recover for 100,000 years.
Beyond the Point of No Return
"We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma," Lovelock writes. "She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences."
Lovelock predicts that by the end of the century the temperature will rise 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperate regions such as Europe and the U.S., and 5 degrees Celsius in the tropics. "Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 per cent of the Earth's surface we have depleted to feed ourselves," Lovelock explains.
If Lovelock is correct, the outlook is grim for the human race, and for the planet. "Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable," Lovelock writes.
Nuclear Energy May Be Key to Survival
"Civilisation is energy-intensive and we cannot turn it off without crashing, so we need the security of a powered descent," Lovelock writes. "Sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of emissions. The worst will happen and survivors will have to adapt to a hell of a climate."
Lovelock is a leading thinker in environmental science whose holistic view of the planet sometimes puts him out of step with others in the environmental community. For example, Lovelock supports further development of nuclear energy as the only clean source of energy that can be developed in time to slow the effects of global warming and head off the disaster he believes is coming. According to Lovelock, who views the Earth as a living organism, human civilization is not only a large part of the problem but also a "precious resource" for the planet.
"We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady," he says. "Most of all, we should remember that we are a part of it, and it is indeed our home."
James Lovelock: The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years -- The Independent
Environment in crisis: 'We are past the point of no return' -- The Independent
Climate Change Will Kill Billions, Scientist Says -- The Independent
Comment on Lovelock from Allan MacRae <email@example.com>
I was ready to dismiss James Lovelock as just another eco-nut/flake but decided to visit his website at http://www.ecolo.org/lovelock/index.htm
Lovelock is on the right track about a few things:
1. Lovelock is correct about wind power - it is a mere enviro-token and is not a viable alternative means of generating significant amounts of electricity. The best proof is the excellent German report (see Fig.7 - Falling Substitution Capacity): "E.On Netz Wind Power Report 2005, Germany" http://www.eon-netz.com/EONNETZ_eng.jsp
2. Lovelock is also correct about nuclear power, but with qualifications - IF you accept that greenhouse gases are causing catastrophic global warming, then one of the few viable current solutions is nuclear.
However, the science of global warming suggests that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will not cause catastrophic global warming, but rather a warming of less than one degree C.
An examination of Lower Troposphere (LT) temperature trends as measured since December 1978 by satellites shows no warming trend in LT from 12/1978 to 04/1997, just oscillation around zero - then the huge 1997-98 El Nino spike peaking in 04/1998 which quickly reversed itself; possibly 0.2 degree C warming from 2000 to 2005. The pattern of this data does not support CO2 as a significant driver of warming. LT temperatures are available at: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/t2lt/tltglhmam_5.2
So Lovelock's "end of life as we know it by human-made global warming" scenario seems a bit farfetched.
A more probable scenario is another ice age within 5000 years. The following paragraphs are extracted from: http://www.apegga.org/whatsnew/peggs/WEB11_02/kyoto_pt.htm
"During the past two million years, the Earth has been as ice-age cold as it has ever been, experiencing more than 30 glaciations. In the past 800,000 years, the pattern has been approximately 100,000 years of extensive glaciation, interspersed with warmer interglacials of around 15,000 years. By studying climate changes through these previous cycles, we surmise that the next ice age is less than 5,000 years ahead. At that time, large portions of North America will be buried under kilometres of ice."
A final note on the relatively minor role that CO2 plays in global warming, also from the above apegga.org report:
"Through most of the last 500 million years atmospheric CO2 content
has been higher - up to 18 times higher - than at present. Strikingly,
the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was more than 10 times higher than
today's value during the Ordovician glaciation, around 440 million years
ago. CO2 is simply a minor driver in the many factors that influence climate."
In an editorial in the 6 January 2006 issue of Science editor Donald Kennedy writes, "The consequences of the past century's temperature increase are becoming dramatically apparent in the increased frequency of extreme weather events ..."
In a letter published in Science 9 December 2005, written to correct
another set of unsupportable claims published in Science about extreme
weather events, I wrote (here in PDF),
And even though my brief discussion of hurricanes got lost in the page-proof process (a correction is pending), recent research indicates no increase in the global frequency of tropical cyclones (e.g., Webster et al. 2005), and no long-term increase in the number or intensity of storms striking the U.S. (e.g., Landsea 2005). In short, there is no evidence to support Prof. Kennedy's claim of an "increased frequency of extreme weather events" that can be attributed to increasing global temperatures.
This issue is about more than simply getting the science right. In advancing
an explicitly political agenda from a very influential position, Prof.
Kennedy is making claims for particular policy actions that won't work
as advertised. As we have written umpteen times here, and backed with
research, yes greenhouse gas reductions make sense, but not as a policy
instrument for addressing the escalating societal impacts of extreme events.
While I have sympathies for Prof. Kennedy's politics, as a matter of policy,
Professor Kennedy's argument is simply wrong.
Does Donald Kennedy read at all beyond his own editorials?
Prof. Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, not only associates hurricanes
with global warming but also commits the further error of confusing correlation
and causation by implicitly assuming that any climate warming is necessarily
anthropogenic. How would his editorial have read if published 40 years
ago in the midst of a climate-cooling period that covered 1940 to 1975
-- while carbon-dioxide levels were rising rapidly? If he were to read
current issues of Geophysical Research Letters (published by the American
Geophysical Union), he would learn that the suite of temperature measurements
from surface thermometers, balloon radiosondes, and satellite instruments
does not match what greenhouse climate models predict - a conclusion reached
already six years ago by a panel of experts assembled by the National
Research Council-National Academy of Sciences.
In this week's Science magazine, editor Donald Kennedy opines that "Not only is the New Orleans damage not an act of God; it shouldn't even be called a 'natural' disaster." Could it be that he sees the significance of millions of people and trillions of dollars of property in locations exposed to repeated strikes from catastrophic storms?
Unfortunately, not at all.
Prof. Kennedy is a Johnny-come-lately to exploiting Katrina for political advantage on climate change. He writes, "As Katrina and two other hurricanes crossed the warm Gulf of Mexico, we watched them gain dramatically in strength. . . We know with confidence what has made the Gulf and other oceans warmer than they had been before: the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human industrial activity, to which the United States has been a major contributor."
I suppose one could make the convoluted case that Prof. Kennedy is [just a bad writer/only talking about statistics/dumbing-down the science/anticipating inevitable future research results] and didn't really mean to link Katrina's damage (or Katrina) with global warming. But he did, clearly. The current state of science doesn't support such claims. Let's review:
From Kerry Emanuel's [MIT] homepage:
"Q: I gather from this last discussion that it would be absurd
to attribute the Katrina disaster to global warming?
From Webster et al.(2005) in Science (PDF):
". . . attribution of the 30-year trends [in hurricane intensity] to global warming would require a longer global data record and, especially, a deeper understanding of the role of hurricanes in the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, even in the present climate state."
From RealClimate [pro-GW blog]:
". . .there is no way to prove that Katrina either was, or was not, affected by global warming. For a single event, regardless of how extreme, such attribution is fundamentally impossible."
From Rick Anthes at UCAR (who effectively used the "act of god" metaphor in his essay):
"Whatever the relationship between hurricanes and global warming turns out to be, it is not likely to be simple, and we will never be able to attribute a single event like Katrina to a changed climate."
We criticized Donald Kennedy just last week for advocating policies related to extreme weather events that simply cannot work, and this week he backs that up with more of the same. If one actually cares about the impacts of hurricanes, it makes no sense to express concern about hurricane damage without mentioning coastal population growth and development. As I have written previously, our continuing focus on the issue of hurricanes and global warming is not simply about getting the science right. It is about advocating policies that can save lives and mitigate damage. Global warming is important, hurricanes are as well, but you can't kill those two birds with a single stone. You can't (PDF).
For an argument for policies that hold far more promise for dealing with
hurricane impacts than those being advocated by Professor Kennedy, have
a look at this op-ed (in PDF) that Dan Sarewitz and I had in the L.A.
Times last fall. Reflecting upon Prof. Kennedy's recent editorials, I
not sure what is worse - the repeated advocacy of really bad policy on
the pages of the nation's leading scientific journal or the deafening
silence of the relevant scientific community in the face of these arguments
It is one thing to misinterpret the facts. It is another to totally disregard them. For example:
"We know with confidence what has made the Gulf and other oceans warmer than they had been before..." (Kennedy)
The Gulf of Mexico was not significantly warmer than average this past fall, and certainly not the warmest it has ever been in recorded history. To imply that the water temperatures were the warmest ever is not factual.
The Gulf is always very warm in September, yet we do not always see storms like Rita and Katrina, despite the readily available 'fuel'. Usually, atmospheric conditions prevent such large storms from occurring there, but it was obvious that atmospheric conditions were favorable for just about any disturbance to develop last season. The difference between last year and the last 10 years was the amazingly favorable atmospheric environment, not the water temperatures.
Posted by: Jim Clarke at January 19, 2006 08:47 PM
Every five years, the Clean Air Act requires the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to revise federal air quality standards for smog and soot. It is a stressful moment. When Carol Browner, President Bill Clinton's administrator, tightened standards in 1997, industry and its friends in Congress erupted in protest, and a federal appeals court said the rules were unconstitutional. The regulations did not actually take effect until Justice Antonin Scalia ruled in 2001 that Ms. Browner had the right to issue them and had done so properly.
Now it is the turn of Stephen Johnson at the E.P.A., only this time it is the scientists and environmentalists who are upset, and not without reason. Last month, Mr. Johnson proposed new rules governing fine particulate matter, known as soot. The most dangerous of these are microscopic specks that can cause significant inflammation and arterial damage in the bloodstream and the lungs.
At best, Mr. Johnson's proposed rules represent only a modest tightening of the Browner rules - despite considerable additional research over the last few years, some 2,000 studies altogether, expanding the list of adverse health effects associated with fine particles (especially among children) and, collectively, pointing to the need for stronger standards.
Industry has also complained. While the standards do not deliver cleaner air on their own, they set in motion the regulatory machinery and capital investments aimed at achieving cleaner air. Industry has a point when it says it is already spending money on cleaner fuels, engines and power plants.
But more can be done. According to E.P.A. estimates, particle pollution kills about 20,000 people every year and hospitalizes many more. Mr. Johnson's critics complain that he either ignored or rejected the advice of not only his staff scientists but also the agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The chairwoman of that committee, Rogene Henderson, has said publicly that she was surprised and disappointed by Mr. Johnson's decisions, that the battle wasn't over, and that the panel would continue to press its case.
Mr. Johnson has conceded that his proposal is based only on studies completed
before 2002 and has said his agency will consider more recent studies
before a final decision in September. This is the least he can do. Science
marches on, and there is no excuse for an agency charged with protecting
public health to be bringing up the rear of the parade.
I am intrigued by what the EPA will do about PM particles that are blown into the southern United States form the North African deserts. On the east cost of Brazil there are thick sediments deposited by these NA dust storms. I attach a PDF file of one of J.M. Prospero's (U of Miami, a leader in measuring these dusts) papers on this subject.
Mac Ross (formerly USGS)
Americans should have better understanding of plutonium, a man-made element discovered by Nobel Laureate Glenn Seaborg and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, in February 1941. They should know that claims that plutonium is highly toxic, "a little dab will kill you" and "a speck can cause cancer" are false.
Plutonium-238 provides energy for instruments, computers and cameras aboard vehicles that travel into deep space such as Voyager II, Galileo at Planet Jupiter and Cassini at Planet Saturn. Its production at the Savannah River Plant was discontinued in 1983, and we now must buy it from Russia. (Sometimes it is not clear who won the Cold War!)
Plutonium-239 is a product of nuclear power plant operation, but intimately mixed with other plutonium isotopes that make it unsuitable for use in nuclear weapons. With diminishing supplies of fossil fuels, particularly oil and natural gas, recovery of plutonium from used nuclear fuel and its efficient use in existing and advanced nuclear power plants will be essential. Nuclear material in spent nuclear fuel planned for disposal at Yucca Mountain, and depleted uranium at uranium enrichment plant sites, could be used to produce all of the electricity needed by America for hundreds of years.
Excess nuclear-weapons plutonium is being shipped to the Savannah River Site where it will be fabricated into fuel assemblies so that the plutonium will be destroyed by its use to produce electricity in nuclear power plants. The plutonium not destroyed will be rendered unsuitable for use in weapons by other plutonium isotopes produced during nuclear irradiation.
The report "Toxicological Profile for Plutonium and Compounds" (December 1990), prepared by the Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the Centers for Disease Control in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provides results of studies by medical doctors of workers exposed to plutonium. These studies indicate a possible beneficial health effect and certainly no adverse health effect.
The first study was begun in 1952 on a group of 26 workers with plutonium at Los Alamos during World War II for the Manhattan Project. They have now been studied for 37 years (as of 1990, the year of this report). Follow-up has included extensive medical examinations and urine analyses to estimate plutonium body burdens, which showed plutonium deposition ranging from 2,000 to 95,000 pico-curies plutonium with a mean of 26,000 pico-curies. Mortality in this group as compared to that of United States white males in the general population was significantly less than expected (2.0 vs. 6.6 in a comparable number of the general population). In addition, no cancers occurred during this extensive follow-up.
A study of an additional group of 224 male workers at Los Alamos was begun in 1974. Average whole-body deposition was estimated at 19,000 pico-curies of plutonium. Mortality, adjusted for age and year of death, was compared to that of United States males in the general population. Among this group, 43 deaths were observed as compared to 77 in a comparable number of the general population. The number of deaths due to cancer was considerably lower than expected, 8 vs. 15 in the general population, including only one lung cancer vs. five in the general population.
A study of 7,112 workers at the Rocky Flats plutonium facility during 1952-1979 showed comparable results. Observed deaths of workers were significantly less than those in comparable numbers of general populations (452 vs. 831). Cancers were also less (107 vs. 167).
False claims of dangers are often made by persons for their own purposes
and agenda and not for benefit to their fellow citizens. Such claims lead
to wasteful government expenditures of hundreds of billions of dollars
and increases in the national debt.
"...in a startling discovery, scientists have realized that plants
are part of the problem. According to a study published today, living
plants may emit almost a third of the methane entering the Earth's atmosphere.
The result has come as a shock to climate scientists."--Alok Jha,
The Guardian, 12 January 2006