Poverty Is Not Sustainable

This article from Climate Resistance about the sustainability movement is terrific.  I want to excerpt a relatively long chunk of it:

It is our belief that Oxfam’s increasingly shallow campaigns reflect the organisation’s difficulty in understanding development and poverty, and the relationship between them. In other words, it seems to have lost its purpose. This is a reflection of a wider political phenomenon, of which the predominance of environmentalism is a symptom. We seem to have forgotten why we wanted development in the first place. It is as if the lifestyles depicted in Cecil’s painting were to be aspired to, were there just a little more rain. Development is a bad thing. It stops rain.

If we were to add a city skyline into the background of Cecil’s painting it might ask a very different question of its audience. Why are people living like that, with such abundance in such proximity? Of course, in reality, many miles separate the two women from any such city, but the question still stands; there is abundance in the world, and there is the potential for plenty more. Yet Oxfam have absorbed the idea from the environmental movement that there isn’t abundance. This changes the relationship between development and poverty from one in which development creates abundance into one in which development creates poverty; it deprives people of subsistence. But really, the city (not) behind the two women could organise the infrastructure necessary to irrigate the parched landscape, the delivery of fertiliser, and a tractor. The field could be in full bloom, in spite of the weather. The two women could be wealthy.

Oh no, says Oxfam. That’s not sustainable....

The myth of sustainability is that it is sustainable. The truth is that drought and famine have afflicted the rural poor throughout history – before climate change was ever used to explain the existence of poverty. Limiting development to what ‘nature’ provides therefore makes people vulnerable to her whims. Drought is ‘natural’. Famine is ‘natural’. Disease is ‘natural’. They are all mechanisms which, in the ecologist’s lexicon are nature’s own way of ensuring ‘sustainability’. They are checks and balances on the dominance of one species. To absorb what Hitler called ‘the iron logic of nature’ is to submit to injustice, if famine, drought and disease characterise it. We can end poverty, but not by restricting development. Yet that seems to be Oxfam’s intention. That is why we criticise it.

Hat tip:  Tom Nelson.

Posted on November 18, 2008 at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

When Energy Cutbacks are Frightening


Harvard plans to sharply reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years, Drew Faust, the university president, said.

The initial, short-term goal for the university will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from a 2006 baseline by 2016, Faust said yesterday in a statement.

In the winter of 1990, my Harvard-owned apartment had its heating fail.  I called the administration for weeks before anyone would show up to look at it.  By this time, I actually had ice on the inside of my window panes.  Walking into my freezing apartment, a maintenance guy placed a thermometer in the center of my room, and then just stood there staring at it for 5 minutes.  At this point he had not asked me about my problem, nor looked at anything remotely connected with the heating system.

He suddenly sprung into action, looked at the thermometer, and started to walk out of the room.  "Wait," I said.  "What is wrong?  Do you know how to fix it?"  The Harvard maintenance guy says "Your room is only 53 degrees -- by state law we don't have to do anything unless it is below 50.*"  And then he walked out, with me screaming at his back.  Only when I sent a letter to the University, copied to the fire marshal, explaining that all was well because I found the room stayed pretty warm if I kept the oven on "broil" 24 hours a day and left the oven door open all the time, did I get any action to fix my heating.

It is scary to think that a university so reluctant to spend any money on heating rooms even 20 years go now wants to reduce its energy use by 30%. 

Of course, we all know how these things work:  creative accounting.  The Enron guys were saints compared to the accounting games played in the carbon accounting and offset world.  Harvard will probably say that "Well, we were planning to build a massive coal-powered electricity plant right in the middle of Harvard Yard, and by cancelling the project, we have reduced our emissions 30% over what they would have been and therefore made our goal.  Don't laugh - the UN and EU are doing EXACTLY this every day.

* Note that I cannot remember the exact legal standard quoted to me, but I think it was 50.

Posted on July 9, 2008 at 11:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Ethanol Updates

Y'all may have already seen these -- being on vacation, I am a little late to the table on both.  The first is a report on the Missouri state ethanol mandate:

A report from a Missouri-based research organization debunks the claim that Missourians are saving money through a state law requiring that retail gasoline contain a minimum of 10% ethanol. The report is in reaction to an assertion by the Missouri Corn Merchandising Association (MCMA), alleging that Missourians will save more than US$ 285 million through the E-10 mandate in 2008, and nearly US$ 2 billion over the following decade.

The MCMA arrived at these numbers by taking the price difference between pure-grade gasoline and E-10 blended fuel, and multiplying it by Missouri's projected annual consumption.

However, the report by the Show Me Institute reveals two fundamental flaws with this calculation. One is that it fails to take into account the fact that E-10 blended fuel is cheaper because ethanol producers receive tax credits and other subsidies.

"Government officials cannot simply take tax dollars from the public, give those tax dollars to ethanol blenders, and then have ethanol supporters tell the public that ethanol is saving them money with cheaper fuel as though the subsidy never existed," write the report's authors, Justin P. Hauke and David Stokes.

The MCMA also does not take into account that E-10 blended fuel is about 2.5% less efficient than pure-grade gasoline, meaning that Missourians will be filling their tanks more often.

When both of these factors are taken into account, the ethanol blending mandates are shown to be costing Missourians about US$ 118 million per year.

The second is a World Bank report on the effect of ethanol mandates on food prices:

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush.

"It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House," said one yesterday....

[The report] argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

Other reviews of the food crisis looked at it over a much longer period, or have not linked these three factors, and so arrived at smaller estimates of the impact from biofuels. But the report author, Don Mitchell, is a senior economist at the Bank and has done a detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, which allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food supply.

The report points out biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had such a dramatic impact.

All this stuff was known long before Congress voted for the most recent ethanol mandates.  Why is it that the media, who cheerled such mandates for years, is able to apply any institutional skepticism only after the mandates have become law?  Are we going to have to actually pass some awful version of carbon trading before anyone will consider its inherent problems?

Posted on July 9, 2008 at 11:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wealth and the Environment

I have often argued that environmental cleanliness and wealth tend to follow a U-shaped curve.  Early industrialization tends to make air and water quality worse, but increases in wealth and technology over time tend to lead to an improved environment.  For example, nearly every air and water quality metric in the US has improved substantially over the last 40 years. 

To this end, I saw this chart in another context (Dr. Pielke was discussing the effect of land-use on regional climate changes) but I thought it was an interesting one to illustrate this point, and perhaps start to convince all those 20-somethings of the Obama generation that the world is not, in fact, spiraling ever downwards into economic decay.  This is a map of leaf area, bascially an index of forestation, for the Eastern US over the last 400 years.  Note the trend reversal since 1920.


I have argued for a while that trying to slam a halt to China's development as part of some misguided environmental effort may in fact achieve the opposite effect, locking China into the low-point of the U-shaped curve just at the point when increasing wealth may be pushing them to start cleaning up.

Posted on July 8, 2008 at 06:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Worst Thing I have Seen From a Major Media Company in Quite a While

The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) web site has an absolutely horrible kid's game called "Planet Slayer."  In this game, kids answer lifestyle questions and the program tells them when they should die because they have used up their "fair share" of the world's resources.  The less politically correct kids are, or the wealthier they are, the sooner they are told they should die.  Accepting the default, average choices in the games tells kids they should die when they are 9 years old.

Yeah, I know you think I am exaggerating.  Because this is likely to get pulled down soon, I will show you a series of screenshots from it.  Whether it gets pulled down or not, a major media company (with all of its famed multiple levels of editorial control) thought this was a good game for kids.  I actually delayed publishing this, because I wanted to make sure this was not some kind of hack or joke site.  But you can get there right from the ABC home page by clicking "science" in the top menu and clicking on the planet slayer game icon at the bottom of the science page.  I still wonder whether it's a put on - it's that bad.

Here is the landing page (click on any page to increase the size):


Yep, that little sign does indeed say "find out when you should die."  Here the game is explained:


Here is the first question:


With each question, if you choose any answer that might not indicate that you are a subsistence farmer in Africa living on a $1 a day, your pig gets fatter.  I really encourage you to check out the whole thing.  It is one politically correct litmus test after another.  My pig got slightly fatter, until I got to this one:


Answering that you spend any more than $10,000 AUS (about a 1:1 conversion with US dollars), your pig will get really fat.  The wealthier you are, the more evil you are in a direct relationship.  It is a point I have made for a while:  global warming alarmists consider their preferred solution to environmental issues to be universal poverty. 


There is me, really evil, because I earn a good living.  And, as we can see with this question, since I spend my money on ordinary stuff that I actually want, rather than where the authors would like me to spend it, I really suck.  When you hit the final button, you pig is actually exploded in a bloody mess  (yes, the red is blood).  As it turns out, I should have been strangled at birth:


Hat tip to Watts Up With That.  Really, in some ways this is an awesome game.   Never have I seen such a pure combination of Marxist-style zero-sum economics with science-challenged warming alarmism.

I don't think I need to bother refuting any of this.  If you are new to the site, you can find a basic refutation of zero-sum economics here and a series of resources on global warming, from a book to free Youtube videos, here.

Posted on May 31, 2008 at 03:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

The Carbon Offset Sausage Factory

For quite a while, I have been arguing that cap-and-trade schemes are inferior to straight carbon taxes because of their susceptibility to rent-seeking and manipulation.  At the top of the list of problems is the carbon offset issue, the notion that someone can create and sell an offset to cap limits by reducing CO2 emissions in some novel way.  The offset products that exist to day are tremendously suspicious, as I wrote here and here.  In particular, the ability to resell the same emission reduction multiple times is a real danger.

The Guardian has an interesting look at the offsets being created by that bastion of good governance and management science, the United Nations.

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism.

The key problem, as I have pointed out before, is how do you know the reduction is truly incremental?  How do you know that it would not have occured anyway:

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism....

One glaring signal that many of the projects being approved by the CDM's executive board are non-additional is that almost three-quarters of projects were already complete at the time of approval. It would seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra income in order to be built.

LOL, yes that might be a good indicator something is amiss.  The other problem, beyond the staggering amount of outright corruption one would expect from any UN-operated enterprise, is this oddity:

Any type of technology other than nuclear power can apply for credits. Even new coal plants, if these can be shown to be even a marginal improvement upon existing plants, can receive offset income. A massive 4,000MW coal plant on the coast of Gujarat, India, is expected soon to apply for CERs. The plant will spew into the atmosphere 26m tonnes of CO2 per year for at least 25 years. It will be India's third - and the world's 16th - largest source of CO2 emissions.

So nuclear plants, the one proven economic and scalable power technology that is free of CO2 emissions is the one technology that is excluded from the program?  But 4,000MW coal plants that can proves they are marginally more efficient than they might have been are A-OK?

Posted on May 21, 2008 at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

The Times Blunders on Ethanol (Even After I Explained it to Them)

Last week I tried to explain why the choice of plant, whether it be a food plant or a non-food plant, that is used to make ethanol is mostly irrelevant to whether ethanol mandates raise fuel prices, at least with current technologies.  I wrote:

Food prices rise not because food is converted to ethanol per se, but because the amount of grains going into the food supply decreases.  The issue is the use of farmer's time and resources and the use of prime cropland to grow plants for fuel rather than food for consumption.  The actual crop used to make the fuel, whether corn or switchgrass, does not matter to food prices -- it is the removal of farmers and cropland from food production that matters.  The only way cellulosic ethanol is likely to improve food prices in substitution for corn is by being more efficient per acre in fuel yields than corn  (which may turn out to be the case, but has not yet been proven in this country).  But even so, incremental improvements in yield don't help much, because we are talking about enormous (40-50% or more) amounts of US cropland that would have to be dedicated to fuel, whatever the plant technology, to meet the current ethanol mandates.

I almost didn't post this the first time around, because I thought it was so obvious.  But on Sunday the NY Times blundered right into the same silly assertion:

This does not mean that Congress should give up on biofuels as an important part of the effort to reduce the country’s dependency on imported oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What it does mean is that some biofuels are (or are likely to be) better than others, and that Congress should realign its tax and subsidy programs to encourage the good ones. Unlike corn ethanol, those biofuels will not compete for the world’s food supply and will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gases.

Of course, the ability to produce such biofuels with these magic powers has never actually been demonstrated, but I am all for them when and if someone invents them.  Efficient conversion, for example, of corn stalks, rather than corn itself, to fuel would be great and would solve this trade-off.  This technology does not exist today -- and only a lot of hand-waving can translate cellulosic ethanol successes in switchgrass to corn stalks.  Also recognize that even this has costs hidden to us non farmers, because corn stalks are used for a variety of purposes today.  My guess is that cellulosic ethanol from corn may be economically feasible, but only after some genetic modifications of the plant itself.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 08:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Our Fault? Who, Us?

This is funny, in a depressing sort of way:

Twenty-four Republican senators, including presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency suggesting it waive, or restructure, rules that require a five-fold increase in ethanol production over the next 15 years.

They make it sound like some weird EPA rule-making, but in fact the Senate, of which these folks are members, voted these provisions into law just 20 weeks ago.  Now, this is not a totally uncommon practice by lawmakers on the losing side of an issue to go to the administration to prevent enforcement.  And, in fact, I hope they are succesful.  But when the vote was taken 143 days ago, only 11 Republican Senators opposed the measure and one was a no-show for the vote (McCain).  So half of these 24 have buyer's remorse for legislation they voted for and on which the ink is barely dry. 

I have written on this enough, but ethanol makes no sense either as energy policy (it takes more energy to produce from corn than it provides) or as environmental policy (it does not reduce CO2 and causes ancillary environmental damage in terms of land and water use).  But Iowa is the first primary, and for some reason politicians just can't break the habit of pandering to Midwest farmers:

Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. analyst Kevin Book argued in a recent note to clients that Congress will not “turn on the corn belt” because of the significant number of votes held by ethanol-producing states.

Posted on May 5, 2008 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Cui Bono?

Here is something I didn't know:  Way back in the 1990's, Enron was lobbying hard for cap and trade legislation to create a lucrative new trading profit center for the company (HT Tom Nelson)

In the early 1990s Enron had helped establish the market for, and became the major trader in, EPA’s $20 billion-per-year sulphur dioxide cap-and-trade program, the forerunner of today’s proposed carbon credit trade. This commodity exchange of emission allowances caused Enron’s stock to rapidly rise.

Then came the inevitable question, what next? How about a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program? The problem was that CO2 is not a pollutant, and therefore the EPA had no authority to cap its emission. Al Gore took office in 1993 and almost immediately became infatuated with the idea of an international environmental regulatory regime. He led a U.S. initiative to review new projects around the world and issue ‘credits’ of so many tons of annual CO2 emission reduction. Under law a tradeable system was required, which was exactly what Enron also wanted because they were already trading pollutant credits.

Thence Enron vigorously lobbied Clinton and Congress, seeking EPA regulatory authority over CO2. From 1994 to 1996, the Enron Foundation contributed nearly $1 million dollars - $990,000 - to the Nature Conservancy, whose Climate Change Project promotes global warming theories. Enron philanthropists lavished almost $1.5 million on environmental groups that support international energy controls to “reduce” global warming. Executives at Enron worked closely with the Clinton administration to help create a scaremongering climate science environment because the company believed the treaty could provide it with a monstrous financial windfall. The plan was that once the problem was in place the solution would be trotted out.

With Enron out of the picture, the way is clear for new players to dominate this multi-billion dollar new business.  And look who is ready to take over from Enron:

The investment vehicle headed by Al Gore has closed a new $683m fund to invest in early-stage environmental companies and has mounted a robust defence of green investing.

The Climate Solutions Fund will be one of the biggest in the growing market for investment funds with an environmental slant.

The fund will be focused on equity investments in small companies in four sectors: renewable energy; energy efficiency technologies; energy from biofuels and biomass; and the carbon trading markets.

This is the second fund from Generation Investment Management, chaired by the former vice-president of the US and managed by David Blood, former head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

The first, the Global Equity Strategy Fund, has $2.2bn invested in large companies the company judges have “sustainable“ businesses, from an environmental, social and economic viewpoint. Mr Blood said he expected that fund to be worth $5bn within two years, based on commitments from interested investors.

Going green indeed.

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 08:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thoughts for the Day

Happy Birthday Vladimer Lenin Earth Day.  I have a few thoughts for the day:

Sucking the Oxygen Out of the Environmental Movement

Observe today how little of the discussion is about anything other than climate.  There are still many environmental issues in the world that can be improved by the application of man's effort and technology -- unfortunately, climate is the least of these but the issue getting the most attention.  Consider how the global warming panic has sucked the oxygen out of the environmental movement.  Ten years from now, I predict that true environmentalists will be looking back on the hysteria over trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere as a huge setback for real environmental progress.

Environmentalism and Socialism

If you attend any Earth Day events today, notice how many of the speeches and presentations and such are anti-corporate, anti-trade, anti-capitalist, anti-wealth screeds, and have little to do with the environment.  If you actually go to a live Earth Day event, you will see why the selection of Lenin's birthday was no accident.  You will not see this on the network news, because the media is sympathetic to the environmental movement and tends to edit the socialist rants out as PR protection for the environmentalists, knowing that American audiences would lose sympathy for them if they listened to the whole package. (This is mostly an American phenomenon - I have found from my brief travels in Europe that the media there does less such editing, perhaps because they know their audience is more comfortable with socialism).

The Climate Denier Trick

There are a lot of reasons not to be worried about "inaction" on global warming.  To justify the enormously expensive cuts in CO2 productions, on the order of 80% as supported by Obama and Clinton, one has to believe every element of a five-step logic chain:

  1. Mankind is increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
  2. Increased atmospheric CO2 causes the world to warm (by some amount, large or small)
  3. The increases in CO2 from man will cause substantial warming, large enough to be detectable above natural climate variations
  4. The increases in world temperatures due to man's CO2 will have catastrophic impacts on civilization
  5. These catastrophic impacts and their costs are larger than the enormous costs, in terms of poverty and lost wealth, from reducing CO2 with current technologies.

Climate alarmists have adopted a rhetorical trick that no one in the media seems willing to call them on.   They like to wage the debate over global warming policy on points one and two only, skipping over the rest.  Why?  Because the science behind numbers one and two are pretty strong.  Yes, there are a few folks who will battle them on these points, but even very strong skeptics like myself accept points one and two as proved. 

Here are some examples of how this trick works.  If, like me, you do not accept steps 3-4-5 in the above logic chain, you will be called a "denier."  When asked what a denier means, a climate alarmist will often position this denial as somehow disputing #1 and #2.  On the other hand, if one publicly accepts #1 and #2, the alarmist will shout "QED" and then proceed to say that strong action on CO2 is now justified.  When an alarmist says that the a consensus exists, he is probably correct on points 1 and 2.  But he is absolutely incorrect that a consensus exists on 3-4-5.

Don't believe me?  Think back to the early Republican debate, where the moderator asked for a show of hands whether [I can't remember the exact question] man was causing global warming.  The implication is that you either have to accept this whole logic chain or not.  One can see why Fred Thompson begged to have 90 seconds to explain his position, and why the moderator, presumably in the alarmist camp, denied it to him. 

Over the last year or two, skeptics have gotten a lot better at making their argument.  Most all of them, like I do, begin their arguments by laying out a logic chain like this and explaining why one can believe that man-made greenhouse gases cause warming without accepting the need for drastic climate action.  The result?  Alarmists have stopped debating, and/or have declared that the debate is "over."  Remember that last great Al Gore climate debate?  Neither do I.

The Single Best Reason Not To Be Worried About Climate

I could, and have, in my books and videos, made arguments on many points in 3-4-5 (links at the bottom of the post).  In four, no one ever considers the good effects of warming (e.g. on growing seasons and crop yields) and most every other problem is greatly exaggerated, from hurricane formation to sea level rises.  And in five, every time someone has tried to put a price on even small reductions in CO2, the numbers are so enormous that they are quickly suppressed by a environmentalist-sympathetic media.  Suffice it to say that even the climate-sanctimonious Europeans have not been willing to pay the price for even slowing down their CO2 growth (which has risen faster than in the US), much less reducing it.

But in this logic chain, there is little need to argue about four and five if #3 is wrong.  And it is.

The effects of CO2 acting alone on temperatures are quite small -- And everyone, even the alarmists, agree!  A doubling of CO2 concentrations, without other effects that we will discuss in a moment, will heat the earth no more than about 1 degree Celsius (though several studies recently have argued the number is much less).  This is not some skeptic's hallucination -- this is straight out of the IPCC third and fourth assessments [IPCC text quoted here].  In fact, the IPCC in their reports has steadily reduced their estimate of the direct contribution of CO2 on temperatures.  CO2, acting alone, warms the Earth only slowly, and at this rate we would see less than a degree of warming over the next century, more of a nuisance than a catastrophe.

But some scientists do come up with catastrophic warming forecasts.  They do so by assuming that our Earth's climate is dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the initial warming from CO2 by a factor of three, four, five or more.  This is a key point -- the catastrophe does not come from the science of greenhouse gases, but from separate hypotheses that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback. This is why saying that greenhouse gas theory is "settled" is irrelevant to the argument about catastrophic forecasts.  Because these positive feedbacks are NOT settled science.

In fact, the IPCC admits it does not even know the sign of the most important effect (water vapor), much less its magnitude.  They assume that the net effect is positive, and in fact strongly so - on the order of 60-80% feedback or more, nearly unprecedented numbers for a long-term stable physical system [more on feedback and its math here].  This is particularly ironic because alarmist Michael Mann, with his hockey stick, famously posited that temperatures over the last 1000 years were incredibly flat and stable until man started burning fossil fuels, a proposition that is hard to believe if the climate is dominated by strong positive feedback.   Note that when people like Al Gore say things like "tipping point," they are in effect hypothesizing that feedback is greater than 100%, meaning that climate can be a runaway process, like nuclear fission.

In fact, with the 100 or so years of measurements we have for temperature and CO2, empirical evidence does not support these high positive feedbacks. Even if we assign all the 20th century warming to CO2, which is unlikely, our current warming rates imply close to zero feedback.  If there are other causes for measured 20th century warming other than CO2, thereby reducing the warming we blame on CO2, then the last century's experience implies negative rather than positive feedback in the system.  As a result, it should not be surprising that high feedback-driven forecasts from the 1990 IPCC reports have proven to be way too high vs. actual experience (something the IPCC has since admitted).

However, climate scientists are unwilling to back down from the thin branch they have crawled out on.  Rather than reduce their feedback assumptions to non-catastrophic levels, they currently hypothesize a second man-made cooling effect that is masking all this feedback-driven warming.  They claim now that man-made sulfate aerosols and black carbon are cooling the earth, and when some day these pollutants are reduced, we will see huge catch-up warming.  If anything, this cooling effect is even less understood than feedback.  What we do know is that, unlike CO2, the effects of these aerosols are short-lived and therefore localized, making it unlikely they are providing sufficient masking to make catastrophic forecasts viable.  I go into several reality checks in my videos, but here is a quick one:  Nearly all the man-made cooling aerosols are in the northern hemisphere, meaning that most all the cooling effect should be there -- but the northern hemisphere has actually exhibited most of the world's warming over the past 30 years, while the south has hardly warmed at all.

In sum, to believe catastrophic warming forecasts, one has to believe both of the following:

  1. The climate is dominated by strong positive feedback, despite our experience with other stable systems that says this is unlikely and despite our measurements over the last 100 years that have seen no such feedback levels.
  2. Substantial warming, of 1C or more, is being masked by aerosols, despite the fact that aerosols really only have strong presence over 5-10% of the globe and despite the fact that the cooler part of the world has been the one without the aerosols.

Here's what this means:  Man will cause, at most, about a degree of warming over the next century.  Most of this warming will be concentrated in raising minimum temperatures at night rather than maximum daytime temperatures  (this is why, despite some measured average warming, the US has not seen an increase of late in maximum temperature records set).  There are many reasons to believe that man's actual effect will be less than 1 degree, and that whatever effect we do have will be lost in the natural cyclical variations the climate experiences, but we are only just now starting to understand.

To keep this relatively short, I have left out all the numbers and such.  To see the graphs and numbers and sources, check out my new climate video, or my longer original video, or download my book for free.

Update: Very relevant article by Roy Spencer on the over-estimation of feedback in climate models.

Many of us, especially those who were trained as meteorologists, have long questioned the climate research community’s reliance on computerized climate models for global warming projections.  In contrast to our perception that the real climate system is constantly readjusting to internal fluctuations in ways that stabilize the system, climate models built upon measured climate behavior invariably suggest a climate system that is quite sensitive - sometimes catastrophically sensitive — to perturbations such as those from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to articulate our ‘hand-waving’ concerns in ways that the modelers would appreciate, i.e., through equations.   

After years of pondering this issue, and after working on our two latest papers on feedbacks (Spencer et al., 2007; Spencer and Braswell, 2008, hereafter SB08), I believe that I can now explain the main reason for this dichotomy.   Taking the example of clouds in the climate system, the issue can be introduced in the form of a question:

To what extent are climatic variations in clouds caused by temperature change (feedback), versus temperature change being the result of cloud variations? 

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Algae have extraordinarily diverse sex lives

OK, I buried the lede.  The post is actually not the sex lives of algae.  But I was fascinated that CNN chose to list this among the "story highlights" of this article.  The story supports my sense that if biofuels are ever going to make sense, they are not going to be made from corn.  The story also reinforces the notion that biofuels are just another type of solar energy, though they are in fact even more inefficient than our not-there-yet solar panels in converting sunlight to usable energy.  The only reason biofuels currently look more economic than solar are the enormous operating subsidies and the much lower capital costs  (though even the latter is open to argument since biofuels have huge capital costs in terms of land, but that generally is factored in as "zero" because the land is already being farmed.)

Before you get too excited about algae, note from the picture that the algae at this farm is grown in plastic packets that I would bet my life require more hydrocarbons to produce than the algae inside them provides.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Global Warming / Biofuel Tragedy

Time, not always my favorite publication, hit on a couple of points I have made recently in an article called the Clean Energy Scam.  This article has been around for a few weeks but I am only just now getting to it.

First, I made the point just the other day that inordinate focus on global warming is crowding out other more important environmental issues, sucking the oxygen out of causes like private land trusts that are attempting to preserve unique areas.  As Time says:

The Amazon was the chic eco-cause of the 1990s, revered as an incomparable storehouse of biodiversity. It's been overshadowed lately by global warming

Much has been made of Brazil's efforts to reduce imported oil.  Too much credit has been given to ethanol -- most of Brazil's independence came from a number of domestic oil developments.  However, Brazil has been a leading promoter of ethanol through government policy, and this focus on ethanol has had a lot to do with deforestation in the Amazon, as rising crop prices due to biofuel mandates have spurred a rush to clear new land.  Now, US and European ethanol policies are just accelerating this trend:

This land rush is being accelerated by an unlikely source: biofuels. An explosion in demand for farm-grown fuels has raised global crop prices to record highs, which is spurring a dramatic expansion of Brazilian agriculture, which is invading the Amazon at an increasingly alarming rate.

it never made any sense that a fuel that requires more energy to produce than it provides could ever be "green," but only now are the politically correct forces accepting what I and others have been saying for years:

But several new studies show the biofuel boom is doing exactly the opposite of what its proponents intended: it's dramatically accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of saving it. Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to be environmentally disastrous. Even cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists and eco-investors as well as by President Bush as the fuel of the future, looks less green than oil-derived gasoline.

The rest of the article is quite good.  I don't like to criticize where other people choose to spend their charitable dollars, but it is just amazing to me that environmentally-concerned people could give $300 million to Al Gore just to squander on advertising.  (By the way, Al Gore claims to have not only invented the Internet, but to have "saved" corn ethanol from government defunding).  I think about how much $300 million could have achieve in private land trusts trying to buy up and preserve the Amazon, and I could cry.  But all I can do is plug along and give what I can.  I donate to both the Nature Conservancy and World Land Trust.

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Biofuel Update: They Still Suck

I feel like I have said what needs to be said on biofuels.  Subsidizing and mandating biofuels with current technologies is terrible fiscal policy, bad environmental policy, ridiculous energy policy, and, perhaps most important, disastrous for the world's poor.

In case you missed all these arguments, Q&O has a pretty comprehensive post here.

Posted on April 4, 2008 at 07:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Can't Anyone Solve Problems Without the Government?

Here is today's lament in the Arizona Republic:

Government plans to more than double the size of Petrified Forest National Park appear to be in jeopardy because Congress has failed to come up with the cash to buy surrounding properties.

The upshot: An irreplaceable treasure of dinosaur bones and Indian ruins may be lost as ranchers sell off their properties for subdivision and development.

And Petrified Forest is not alone. A study to be released April 8 by the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, says 56 federal historic and recreation sites "could lose land inside their borders to developers this year." Others on the list range from Gettysburg National Military Park near Philadelphia to Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

Here is an idea:  All you folks who are worried about these "treasures" can pool your money and buy the properties yourselves.  That way you can either take charge of the preservations or donate the land to the government to do so.  This is how many public parks came into being in the first place, from private donations.

Of course, this was back in the days when environmental groups actually spent their money on the environment.  Today, they spend their money instead on lobbying.  The more modern approach is not to spend your own money on the environment, but to lobby the government to force other people to spend their money on the environment.  That is why people have apparently donated $300 million dollars (!) to Al Gore to create an advertising campaign dedicated to trying to spur government action on CO2.  Rather than donating money to help solve the problem, people now donate money to push for government coercion.

Besides representing the modern approach to environmentalism  (ie don't work the problem, just lobby the government to force other people to work the problem), Gore's campaign also represents a new frontier in rent-seeking.  He has managed to get people to donate $300 million dollars to advocate government action that will likely have very little actual impact on the climate, but may have a huge impact on Al Gore's managed $5 billion investment fund.  Congrats, Al.  Even the kings of rent-seeking at ADM would not have had the cojones to ask folks to donate to a charitable advertising fund to support their subsidy requests.


Posted on March 31, 2008 at 07:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Trying to Market Poverty

An announcement in the AZ Republic yesterday:

Best-selling author Bill McKibben, who wrote one of the first books on global warming, will be the featured speaker at a roundtable discussion on sustainability Tuesday afternoon at the Burton Barr Central Library...

In his latest book, McKibben argues that accelerated cycles of economic expansion have brought the world to the brink of environmental disaster.

Instead, he suggests that we should be creating smaller, more sustainable local economies. 

I have never fully understood the word "sustainability," but in this context, doesn't it mean "poorer"?  It strikes me that McKibben is trying to sell poverty, or at least advocating that everyone voluntarily become poorer.  He is successful with middle-class soccer moms at the library only to the extent that he hides this fact and calls poverty something else  -- in this case "smaller, more sustainable local economies."

By the way, does jetting from city to city across the country to sell his book make him a sustainability expert?  If he believes what he says, why doesn't he just sell his book within a 50-mile radius of his home?

Sustainability is always for thee and not for me.

Posted on March 22, 2008 at 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Solar Has A Ways to Go

I have not ever been able to make solar installation on my house get a reasonable payback, even with rising electricity rates, the best location in the country for solar, and huge government subsidies.  Large solar installations remain a publicity stunt, a sort of really expensive indulgence bought to garner the "green" title:

Scott Gustafson runs the numbers on the solar installation at the revamped Phoenix convention center:

capital cost:  $850,000
operating costs:  not provided
annual electricity savings:  $15,000
return on investment (ignoring operating costs and interest):  1.7%

Solar is still a fine toy for the rich and public figures like Al Gore looking to disguise their true carbon footprint.  But the economics aren't there yet for big boy investors -- its still off by an order of magnitude, at least.

Hopefully, this will change as high energy prices encourage innovation.

Posted on March 18, 2008 at 08:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Why Is "Big Soybean" Getting A Pass?

Would an oil company get roasted for this or what:

Call it a soybean spat. The University of Minnesota isn't going to receive any research funding from the state's soybean growers council until the two parties have a heart-to-heart talk next week.

The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council voted to temporarily suspend its financial support after a study co-authored by U researchers in the journal Science said increased use of biofuel crops like corn and soybeans could worsen global warming, not lessen it.

The council typically picks up the tab for $1 million to $2 million a year for research on such things as how to increase soybean yields and how to improve marketing, said Jim Palmer, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

The funding relationship has gone on for decades and was good until now, both the growers and the university said.

The study, published Feb. 7 by the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group, warned that converting prairie or peatland to cropland for corn and soybeans would release more carbon stored in plants and the ground as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

My dad is a University of Iowa grad and has tried for years to get them to demonstrate a higher quality of scholarship around the ethanol issue.  Good freaking luck.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Food-Miles: Most Moronic Metric Ever?

For some reason, a group of people on this earth have convinced themselves that food-miles, or the distance food had to travel from the farm to the table, is somehow relevant to the environment.   Food-miles is one of the best examples of the very common environmental practice of looking at a single factor out of context of the entire system. I have written about the food-miles stupidity before.

We actually have a name for the system in which food-miles are reduced to their theoretical minimum:  Subsistence farming.  It used to be that most food was grown just a few feet from the table where it was eventually eaten because nearly everyone was a subsistence farmer (or hunter or gatherer).  We abandoned this system, and thereby increased food miles, for a number of reasons:

  • It is very inefficient, not just from labor inputs but from a land use standpoint as well.  Some places are well suited to potato or rice production and others are less so.  It makes a ton of sense to grow things on soils and in climates where they are well-suited rather than locally everywhere. 
  • It doesn't work very well in a lot of areas.  Subsistence farming here in Arizona is not very practical, and would use a ton of water
  • It leads to starvation.  Even rich countries like France were experiencing periodic famines just 150 years ago or so.

But the main reason food miles and local subsistance farming is stupid is that it has nothing to do with environmental health.  Everyone looks at the energy to transport food, but no one looks at the extra energy cost (not to mention the land use cost) of growing food locally in climates and soils to which the food is not well-suited.  To this point:

European consumers shunning imported food supposedly to limit climate change should not make African farmers a scapegoat, a Brussels conference has been told.

In Britain, several supermarkets have begun labelling products flown into the country with stickers marked “air-freighted,” to reflect concern about the contribution of aviation to global warming.

But Benito Müller, a director at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, dismissed the concept of food miles as “an extremely oversimplified indicator” of ecological impact.

Saying he was “really angry” with the implicit message that agricultural produce from Africa should be avoided, Müller claimed that less greenhouse gas emissions are often emitted from the cultivation and transport of such goods than they would be if grown in Europe.

Strawberries imported from Kenya during the winter, he maintained, have a lower “carbon footprint,” a measure to ascertain the effect of a method of production on the environment — than those grown in a heated British greenhouse, even when their transport by air from Africa is taken into account.

Posted on February 25, 2008 at 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Ethanol Update

Q&O has a great extended post on the ongoing ethanol fallacy.  But the farmers love the rent-seeking:


Posted on February 24, 2008 at 07:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Ethanol and Deforestation

From an AP report:

The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes, researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to biofuels as a response to global warming.

The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change have not taken into account almost certain changes in land use worldwide if ethanol from corn — and in the future from other feedstocks such as switchgrass — become a prized commodity.

"Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate global warming," concludes the study published in Science magazine.

Promoters of biofuels often hold up Brazil as an example of a model ethanol mandate.  Forget for a moment that in fact ethanol still makes up only a small percentage of the transportation fuel market in Brazil.  Think of all those satellite photos we used to see of farmers burning the Amazon to expand cropland:


I know that correlation is not equal to causation, but the fact is that this land clearing, which has always one on, really accelerated after the Brazilian ethanol mandates and subsidies.  My prediction is that careful academic work in the coming years will pin the blame for a lot of the destruction of the Amazon on ethanol.

Moonbattery has a fitting conclusion:

The study's findings aren't likely to change government policy, since ethanol mandates are a political boondoggle that only dupes expect to have any effect on the climate. If the first caucuses were held in Hawaii, they'd be forcing us to run our cars on macadamia nuts instead of corn.

Posted on February 8, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

An Environmental Plea

If the word "environmentalist" wasn't so corrupted, I would consider myself to be one.  For years, the main charity I have supported with my money and my advocacy has been private land trusts like The Nature Conservancy.  Just because I don't think that governments should quash individual rights to force people not to develop their own land does not mean that I don't think certain pieces of land are worth protecting from development.  But I do it the old-fashioned way -- I and others spend money to buy that land.  Here is more on why I (mostly) like  groups like the Nature Conservancy and here is a post wherein I lament the shift in charity from spending your money to achieve goals to spending money to lobby the government to force other people to achieve your goals.

Of course, my claim to be an environmentalist just because I, you know, spend my money and time on private conservation efforts would be laughed off because I take the wrong stand on certain litmus test environmental issues (e.g. global warming, of course).  In this world, someone who buys a silly and environmentally worthless $19.99 carbon offset has more environmental street-cred than I do.

So I guess it is nice, at least for once, to be in agreement with those "real" environmentalists:

The government's bid to make fuel consumption more environmentally friendly will involve petrol and diesel being mandatory blended with 2.5pc biofuel from this April and the country's leading supermarket chain is aiming to use twice this amount at over 300 of its petrol stations.

But campaigners believe this is not the green alternative people think they are getting.

Jenn Parkhouse from Norwich Friends of the Earth said: “From April, people will have no choice but to contribute to the destruction of forests, the eviction of small farmers and rising food prices which will mean more hunger.

“More and more people now realise the need for a strong movement to stop the destruction caused by the biofuel industry and the legislation which encourages it.”

Posted on January 29, 2008 at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Ethanol Follies Continue

Remind me to not cry any tears next time GM complains about government regulation:

In an audacious move Sunday, General Motors demanded that the federal government step in and create a national ethanol fuel station infrastructure at the same time the company announced that it has invested in Coskata, a cellulosic ethanol startup company.


Coming on the heels of federal legislation that set national mandates for ethanol production, GM’s strategy amounts to federal guarantees for its investment in the ethanol industry.


“We need to grow E85 (ethanol) stations,” said GM CEO Rick Wagoner at a Detroit Auto Show news conference. “It is time for the U.S. government to do it through regulation.”

The article goes on to document the strong rent-seeking history of Coskata.

One small bit of good news is that the media seems to finally be catching on to the ethanol subsidy farce.

It’s great that our politicians have discovered the need for new energy technologies. But it appears that Washington is determined to put its money—our money—on the wrong horse. Right now, researchers are studying a host of energy solutions, including hydrogen, high-mileage diesel, plug-in hybrids, radical reductions in vehicle weight and cellulosic ethanol (made from cornstalks, switchgrass or other nonfood crops). It is far too soon to say which of these holds the most promise. But, instead of promoting experimentation and competition to find the best solutions, politicians seem ready to declare ethanol the winner. As a result, our nation could wind up with the worst of both worlds: an “alternative” energy that is enormously expensive yet barely saves a gallon of oil.

Posted on January 15, 2008 at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Subsidize Biofuels, Destroy the Rainforest

Not much comment necessary for the following, except to say that I don't think one should be able to call this an unintended consequence of US biofuel and corn subsidies when 1) the results are utterly predictable and 2) folks like myself publicly predicted it.

The US is the world's leading producer of soy, but many American soy farmers are shifting to corn to qualify for the government subsidies. Since 2006, US corn production rose 19% while soy farming fell by 15%.

The drop-off in US soy has helped to drive a major increase in global soy prices, which have nearly doubled in the last 14 months. In Brazil, the world's second-largest soy producer, high soy prices are having a serious impact on the Amazon rainforest and tropical savannas.

"Amazon fires and forest destruction have spiked over the last several months, especially in the main soy-producing states in Brazil," said Laurance. "Just about everyone there attributes this to rising soy and beef prices."

High soy prices affect the Amazon in several ways. Some forests are cleared for soy farms. Farmers also buy and convert many cattle ranches into soy farms, effectively pushing the ranchers further into the Amazonian frontier. Finally, wealthy soy farmers are lobbying for major new Amazon highways to transport their soybeans to market, and this is increasing access to forests for loggers and land speculators.

Posted on January 8, 2008 at 02:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Staggering Arrogance

This is a story that most people who care for humanity would consider good news:

After years of secret preparation, the world's cheapest car will be unveiled in Delhi this week...At 100,000 rupees (£1,290), the People's Car, designed and manufactured by Tata, is being marketed as a safer way of travelling for those who until now have had to transport their families balanced on the back of their motorbikes.

Ratan Tata, 70, chairman of the family-run business, who has spearheaded the race for a cut-price car, wrote on the company website: 'That's what drove me - a man on a two-wheeler with a child standing in front, his wife sitting behind, add to that the wet roads - a family in potential danger.'

But Tata hopes also to create a 'new market for cars which does not exist', making them accessible to India's booming middle classes made recently rich by an economy growing at around 9 per cent a year. ...

Last year just over one million cars and seven million motorbikes were sold in India. Tata wants to transform some of those motorbike buyers into car owners and believes that the company can eventually sell up to a million People's Cars a year. Analysts say the project could revolutionise car prices, not just in India, but globally. Several other manufacturers have similar products in the pipeline.

Awesome.  This is a story about three quarters of a billion people who have lived in poverty, well, forever, starting to join the middle class.

But many environmentalists, about 100% of whom I would venture to say own a car themselves, oppose this transition to prosperity:

'There is this mad rush towards lowering the prices to achieve mass affordability,' said Anumita Roychoudhury, of the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi. 'If vehicle ownership increases very rapidly, we'll have a time bomb ticking away. When you lower the price that drastically, how will you be able to meet the safety and emissions standards? There are no clear answers yet.'

I would challenge this person to design a car that doesn't crash test better than a motorbike.  This is just incredible arrogance, attempting to deny millions of people the prosperity which western environmentalists already share.  (via Maggies Farm)

Postscript: The fact is that environmental quality in every developing nation tends to follow a J-curve.  Early stage development tends to muck things up a bit (think air quality in 1018th century Pittsburg or in China today) but things improve as people get wealthier.  Places like China and India are in some of the lowest reaches of that J-curve.  Attempting to freeze their development in place not only arrogantly denies these folks prosperity, but also cuts off future environmental gains that come with wealth.

Posted on January 7, 2008 at 08:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Now I'm Really Mad at Ethanol Subsidies

OK, I was mad at the waste of tax dollars for ethanol programs that do nothing for the environment or to reduce net fossil fuel consumption.  I was mad that a technology that in no way reduces CO2 production but does introduce radical new land-use-related environmental problems could be sold as an environmental panacea, rather than the corporate welfare it truly is.  I was mad we have decided it is more important to subsidize corn farmers than to continue to provide the world's poor with cheap food.  And I was flabbergasted that Congress could call for production of more corn-based ethanol than is physically possible with our entire corn crop.

But I really am mad now that ethanol subsidies are making craft beers rarer and more expensive to make:

A global shortage of hops, combined with a run-up in barley prices, is sending a chill through Arizona's craft-beer industry.

The hops shortage threatens to boost prices, cut into profits and close down brewpubs. It could change the taste and consistency of treasured local ales.

In Bisbee, "hop heads" already are weaning themselves from Electric Dave's India Pale Ale. Dave Harvan closed his 7-year-old Electric Brewing Co. in November, citing the scarcity and high cost of ingredients.

So why aren't as many farmers growing hops and barley?  Because the government is paying them ridiculous jack to grow corn so we can burn food into our cars:

Papazian attributed the barley prices to ethanol subsidies that have raised the price of corn, the main ingredient in the alternative fuel. As a result, farmers have switched to barley for livestock feed, which has pushed up prices.

The hops situation is more complex. Years of overproduction and low prices led farmers to replace hops fields with more profitable crops. Add to that corn subsidies that have caused farmers to replace hops fields with corn, a drought in Australia that affected yields and heavy rains in Europe that ruined much of this year's crop.

Posted on January 4, 2008 at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Christmas Tree Recycling

Most cities offer Christmas tree recycling, which for most people just means they haul the brittle, dried-up skeleton of their tree back onto the roof of their car and dump it in some big collection area.  The city then grinds up the trees and uses them for mulch, and infinitely more elegant solution than burying them all in a landfill.

Or is it?

If I were to care about limiting CO2, wouldn't I advocate for wrapping all of those trees in Saran Wrap and burying them in the deepest hole I could find?  Decaying Christmas tree mulch will eventually give up its carbon back to the atmosphere as CO2, or, theoretically worse, trace amounts of methane.  Aren't the holidays a perfect opportunity to sequester all that carbon underground?  While global warming catastrophists argue that young, growing forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere, what they do not mention is that older forests do the opposite, as new tree growth has flattened out and older trees are dying and decaying.  If we really wanted to sequester carbon via forests, we would cut down all the old growth forests and bury the logs, while planting new fast growing saplings.  While no one would advocate for such an approach, the next best approach is to cut down lots of trees and build long-lived houses out of them.

Posted on December 20, 2007 at 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Environmentalists Want Us To Celebrate Squalor

I really want to thank Michael Tobis at environmentalist hang-out Grist.   For years people have accused me of over-reading  the intentions of climate catastrophists, so I am thankful that Tobis has finally stated what climate catastrophists are after (emphasis in the original, but it is the exact phrase I would have highlighted as well)

Is infinite growth of some meaningful   quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think   so, but economists habitually make this   claim without bothering to defend it with anything but, "I'm, an   economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it's   worked until now".

Such ideas were good approximations in the past. Once the finite   nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations. You know, the gods of Easter Island smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn't. The presumption of growth is so pervasive that great swaths of economic theory simply fail to make any sense if a negative growth rate occurs. What, for instance, does a negative discount rate portend? ...

The   whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft   landing is down; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just   to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology   but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita   impact but can target it.

Decline isn't bad news in an airplane. Decline is about reaching your destination. Perhaps there is some level of economic activity beyond which life gets worse? Perhaps in some countries we have already passed that point? Could the time where we'd all be better off with a gradual decline have arrived? How much attention should we pay to the folks who say we should keep climbing, that there's no way we can run out of fuel, that we'll think of something?

So there it is, in the third paragraph, with no danger of misinterpretation.  These folks want economic decline.  That's a fancy way of saying "We want you poorer."

I could spend weeks writing about the fallacies and anti-human philosophy embedded in these four paragraphs, but here are just a few reactions.

The Zero Sum Fallacy

Every generation has people, like Mr. Tobis, who scream that we are all living in a petri dish and this is the generation we run out of Agar.  Of course they are always wrong.  Why? 

Well, first, the prime driver of economic growth is not resources but the human mind.  And the world of ideas has no capacity limits.   This is an  issue that Julian Simon wrote about so clearly.   Tobis is trying to apply physical models to wealth creation, and they just don't apply.  (and by the way, ask the passengers of TWA flight 800 if decline isn't bad news in an airplane).

Further, if we talk about the world of resources, we currently use a trivial fraction of the world's resources.  By a conservative estimate, we have employed at most (including the soil we till for agriculture, extracted minerals, etc) less than 0.0001% of the earth's mass.  In terms of energy, all energy (except nuclear) comes ultimately from the sun  (fossil fuels, hydropower reservoirs, etc are just convenient storage repositories of the sun's energy).  We currently use an infinitesimal percentage of the sun's energy. I wrote much more on the zero-sum wealth fallacy here.  And here is my ancestor blogger in Coyote Broadsheet making the same fallacy as Mr. Tobis back in the 19th century, writing on the Peak Whale Theory.

Wealth Benefits the Environment

Just like actual 20th century data tends to undermine catastrophic climate forecasts, experience over the last century tends to contradict the notion that growth is devastating to the environment. 

We can find the best example right here in the environmental Satan called the USA.  The US has cleaner air and water today than in any time in decades.  Because of technology and growth, we can produce more food on less land than ever -- in fact the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has shrunk for years, allowing forests to steadily expand in the US for over eighty years (that is, until the environmentalists got the government to subsidize ethanol).   No one in Brazil would be burning huge tracts of the Amazon if they enjoyed the agricultural productivity we do in the US.  Sure, we have done some things that turn out to be environmentally bad (e.g. lead in gasoline) but our wealth has allowed us to fairly painlessly fix these mistakes, even if the fixes have not come as fast as environmentalists have desired. 

I will confess that the Chinese seem hell bent on messing up their air and water as much as possible, but, just like the United States, it will be the wealthy middle and upper class of China that will finally demand that things get cleaned up, and it will be their wealth, not their poverty, that allows them to do so.   Similarly, I don't think CO2 reduction will do much of anything to improve our climate, but if we find it necessary, it will be through application of wealth, not squalor, that we overcome the problems. 

Here is a simple test:  Which countries of the world have the worst environmental problems?  Its is the poorest countries, not the wealthiest.

Growth / Climate Tradeoffs

For the sake of argument, let's assume that man-made global warming increases severed storm frequency by 20%, or by 3 or 4 extra hurricanes a year (why this probably is not happening).  Even a point or two knocked off worldwide economic growth means hundreds of trillions of dollars in lost annual GDP a century from now (2% growth yields a world economy of $450 trillion in a century.  3% growth yields a world economy $1,150 trillion in a hundred years.)  So, using these figures, would the world be better off with the current level of hurricanes, or would it be better off with four more hurricanes but $700 trillion a year more to deal with them.  Hmmm.  Remember, life lost in a hurricane correlates much higher with poverty in the area the hurricane hit rather than with storm strength, as demonstrated by recent cyclones in Asia.  This general line of reasoning is usually described as warmer and richer vs. cooler and poorer

I cannot speak for Mr. Tobis, but many environmentalists find this kind of reasoning offensive.  They believe that it is a sin for man to modify the earth at all, and that changing the climate in any way is wrong, even if man is not hurt substantially by this change.  Of course, in climate, we have only been observing climate for 30-100 years, while climate goes through decadal, millennial, and even million-year cycles.  So it is a bit hard to tell exactly what is natural for Gaia and what is not, but that does stop environmentalists from declaring that they know what is unnatural.  I grew up in the deep South, and their position sounds exactly like a good fiery Baptist minister preaching on the sins of humanity.

More from Jerry Taylor, who got Tobis started on his rant in the first place.

Postscript:  Here is an interesting chicken or the egg problem:  Do you think Mr. Tobias learned about man-made global warming first, and then came to the conclusion that growth is bad?  Or did Mr. Tobis previously believe that man needed to be fewer and poorer, and become enthusiastic about global warming theory as a clever packaging for ideas most of the world's population would reject?  The answer to this question is a window on why 1)  the socialists and anti-globalization folks have been so quiet lately (the have all jumped onto global warming); 2)  no one in the global warming movement wants to debate the science any longer  (because the point is not the science but the license to smack down the world economy)  and 3)  why so much of the Bali conference seems to be about wealth transfers than environmentalism.

Posted on December 14, 2007 at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Question About Nuclear

I was perusing the US electricity generation data a minute ago, and noticed this trend in nuclear generation in the US (all numbers in millions of MW-hours, from here):


I am wondering at the fall of 300 million megawatts-hours from 1999 to 2006.  My guess is that maybe some of the really old US government-owned plants closed.  But to the extent that this decline is due to aging plants and regulations limiting capacity, it strikes me that if someone in government really wanted to come up with a plan by 2020 to reduce CO2 in utility plant emissions, that regaining a portion of this lost nuclear capacity might be the cheapest and fastest approach.  After all, 300 million MWH is about 20% of total coal-fired generation and about 45 times more capacity than the sum of all US generation from non-hydro renewables (which don't really reduce CO2 anyway).

Posted on December 11, 2007 at 04:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Mandating the Impossible (Not to Mention the Stupid)

Here is a snippet from the energy bill that just passed the House:

On Thursday, just over a year after winning the majority, Democrats in the House of Representatives voted through an energy bill that represents a stark departure from the administration’s approach. It would raise vehicle fuel efficiency (Cafe) standards for the first time in over 30 years, by 40%, to 35 miles per gallon for both cars and light trucks and SUVs. A renewable energy standard mandates that utilities generate 15% of their power from renewables by 2020. It would set a renewable fuel standard aiming to generate 36 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2022. A tax package would roll back some $13.5bn in oil industry subsidies and tax breaks to help pay for $21bn worth of investments in clean energy development, mainly in the form of investment tax credits for wind and solar, along with the development and purchase of plug-in hybrid vehicles. And it would raise efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.

Let's look at a couple of pieces very quickly.  Recognize that this is based on 10 whole minutes of research, far more than a busy Congressman could possibly be expected to muster.

  1. They want 15% of power generation from renewables by 2020.  I am not sure if this includes hydro.  If it does, then a bunch of Pacific Northwest utilities already have this in the bag.  But even if "renewable" includes hydro, hydro power will do nothing to meet this goal by 2020.  I am not sure, given environmental concerns, if any major new hydro project will ever be permitted in the US again, and certainly not in a 10 year time frame.  In fact, speaking of permitting, there is absolutely no way utilities could finance, permit, and construct 15% of the US electricity capacity by 2020 even if they started today.  No.  Way.   By the way, as a sense of scale, after 35 years of subsidies and mandates, renewables (other than hydro) make up ... about .27% of US generation.
  2. The Congress is demanding 36 billion gallons of ethanol.  Presumably, this is all from domestic sources because Congress has refused to drop the enormous tariffs on ethanol imports.  But the entire corn harvest in 2004 of 11.8 billion bushels would make only 30 billion gallons of ethanol.  So Congress wants us to put ALL of our food supply into our cars?  Maybe we can tear down the Amazon rain forest to grow more.
  3. By the way, I am all for cutting all subsidies to any industry for any reason, but when they say "industry subsidies and tax breaks" for the oil industry, what they mostly mean is this:

These were leases for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico signed between oil companies and the Clinton Administration's Interior Department in 1998-99. At that time the world oil price had fallen to as low as $10 a barrel and the contracts were signed without a requirement of royalty payments if the price of oil rose above $35 a barrel.

Interior's Inspector General investigated and found that this standard royalty clause was omitted not because of any conspiracy by big oil, but rather because of bureaucratic bungling in the Clinton Administration. The same report found that a year after these contracts were signed Chevron and other oil companies alerted Interior to the absence of royalty fees, and that Interior replied that the contracts should go forward nonetheless.

The companies have since invested billions of dollars in the Gulf on the basis of those lease agreements, and only when the price of oil surged to $70 a barrel did anyone start expressing outrage that Big Oil was "cheating" taxpayers out of royalties. Some oil companies have voluntarily offered to renegotiate these contracts. The Democrats are now demanding that all these firms do so -- even though the government signed binding contracts.

Update:  More thoughts hereMy climate skeptic video is here.

Posted on December 10, 2007 at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Al Gore vs. the Environment

Yesterday, I noted Al Gore bragging that he played a critical role in passing current biofuel mandates, making him the father of ethanol, not just the Internet.  The great goddess of irony is having a field day:

Environmentalists are warning against expanding the production of biofuels, noting the proposed solution to global warming is actually causing more harm than it is designed to alleviate. Experts report biodiesel production, in particular, is causing the destruction of virgin rainforests and their rich biodiversity, as well as a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents of biofuels read like a Who's Who of environmental activist groups. The Worldwatch Institute, World Conservation Union, and the global charity Oxfam warn that by directing food staples to the production of transport fuels, biofuels policy is leading to the starvation and further impoverishment of the world's poor.

On November 15, Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior unfurled a large banner reading "Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate" and blockaded a tanker attempting to leave Indonesia with a cargo full of palm oil. Greenpeace, which warns of an imminent "climate bomb" due to the destruction of rich forests and peat bogs that currently serve as a massive carbon sink, reports groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and Flora and Fauna International have joined them in calling for an end to the conversion of forests to croplands for the production of biofuels

"The rush to address speculative global warming concerns is once again proving the law of unintended consequences," said James M. Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute. "Biofuels mandates and subsidies are causing the destruction of forests and the development of previously pristine lands in a counterproductive attempt to improve the environment.

"Some of the world's most effective carbon sinks are being destroyed and long-stored carbon is now being released into the atmosphere in massive quantities, merely to make wealthy Westerners feel like they are 'doing something' to address global warming. The reality is, they are making things worse," Taylor noted.

Posted on December 3, 2007 at 09:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Let Us Not Forget This

It is good to know that Al Gore is proud of supporting, even "saving," corn-based ethanol (from a pro-ethanol site):

Vice-President Al Gore
Third Annual Farm Journal Conference, December 1, 1998

"I was also proud to stand up for the ethanol tax exemption when it was under attack in the Congress -- at one point, supplying a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to save it. The more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely-used product, the better-off our farmers and our environment will be."

It is good to know that when the economic and environmental toll from our disastrous subsidization of corn ethanol is finally tallied, we will know where to send the bill.

HT: Tom Nelson

Update: More Here on Ethanol Craziness

Posted on December 2, 2007 at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Memo to Fact Checkers and Editors on Ethanol

Let's forget all the other issues surrounding ethanol for a moment  (we'll mention a really bad one below), and just consider one fact that is beyond dispute.  Ethanol has an energy content per gallon that is only about 65% of that of gasoline.  So, another way to put it is that it takes a bit over 1.5 gallons of ethanol to replace 1 gallon of gasoline.  There is nothing suspicious or sinister about this (ethanol is flawed for other reasons) or at all controversial. 

Therefore, when your paper prints something like this:

"The number of plants under construction is truly frightening," said Ralph Groschen, a senior marketing specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture who closely watches the state's ethanol development. The country could go from 7 billion gallons of capacity now to 12 billion gallons, or about roughly 10 percent of U.S. gasoline capacity, in a few years, according to Groschen.

You need to understand that you and everyone else are failing at simple math.  In 2004 the US consumed just over 140 billion gallons of gasoline.  So, already, our media has failed the math test.  12 billion gallons would be 8.6%, but we will give them a pass on rounding that to "roughly 10 percent."  But this 8.6% only holds true if gasoline is replaced by ethanol 1:1.  Using the actual figures cited above, 12 billion gallons of ethanol is about 7.8billion gallons an a gasoline equivalent, which would make it  5.6% of US gasoline usage in 2004, and probably an even smaller percentage if we were to take the worlds "gasoline capacity" at face value, since surely capacity is higher than production.

I know it seems petty to pick on one paper, and probably would not be worth my time to bother if it was just this one article.  But this mistake is made by every MSM article I have ever seen on ethanol.  I can't remember any writer or editor ever getting it right.

By the way, if you want more on what is wrong with ethanol, check my past posts

Finally, the other day I pointed out how much of our food crop is getting diverted to fueling our cars, with negligible effect on CO2 or oil imports.  If you really want to be worried about ethanol, note this:

Biofuels need land, which means traditional food crops are being elbowed off of the field for fuel crops. Biofuel production is literally taking the food out of people’s mouths and putting into our gas tanks. Already, increased food costs sparked by increased demand are leaving populations hungry. The price of wheat has stretched to a 10-year high, while the price of maize has doubled.

Need more land? Clear cut some forest. Is there a word beyond irony to describe a plan to mitigate climate change that relies on cutting down the very trees that naturally remove carbon from the atmosphere? Stupidity, perhaps? The logic is like harvesting a sick patient’s lungs to save her heart. Huge tracks of Amazon rainforest are being raised to the biofuels alter like a sacrificial lamb, and the UN suggests that 98 percent of Indonesia’s rainforest will disappear by 2022, where heavy biofuel production is underway.

Still need land? Just take it. The human rights group Madre, which is backing the five-year moratorium, says agrofuel plantations in Brazil and Southeast Asia are displacing indigenous people. In an editorial published on CommonDreams last week, Madre Communication Director Yifat Susskind wrote, “People are being forced to give up their land, way of life, and food self-sufficiency to grow fuel crops for export.”

Posted on November 30, 2007 at 02:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Burning the World's Food in Our Cars

It is good that doom mongers like Paul Ehrlich have been so thoroughly discredited.  But could anyone have imagined that not only are we not facing "Population Bomb" style famines, but we are in fact spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money to promote burning food in cars?

I am not sure how anyone thought this was a good idea, since

  1. Every scientific study in the world not conducted by an institution in Iowa have shown that corn-based ethanol uses more energy than it produces, does not reduce CO2, and creates new environmental problems in terms of land and water use.
  2. Sixty seconds of math would have shown that even diverting ALL of US corn production to ethanol would only replace a fraction of our transportation fuel use.

Apparently, Nebraska has reached a milestone of sorts: (HT Tom Nelson)

With three new plants added in November, annual corn demand for ethanol production in Nebraska passed the 500-million-bushel mark for the first time, using 37% of Nebraska's corn.

How much fuel has this produced?

"Today, that ambitious directive has become a reality." Sneller says "At current rates, Nebraska plants will use 514 million bushels of corn annually to produce 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol. By the end of 2008, Nebraska plants will process 860 million bushels into 2.3 billion gallons of ethanol. Distillers grain, a co-product of ethanol production, is widely accepted and marketed as a superior livestock feed."

This is enough ethanol to replace about a billion gallons of gasoline (since ethanol has less energy content than gasoline).  This represents about  0.7% of US gasoline usage.  The cost?  Well, I don't know how many billions of subsidy dollars have flowed to Nebraska, but there is also this:

Corn prices have remained virtually unchanged since World War II. Increased demand from ethanol production has raised average corn prices by 70% and is driving an economic resurgence in rural Nebraska, according to Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

So we have spent billions of taxpayer dollars, have diverted about 40% of Nebraska's corn output, and we've raised prices on corn 70% all to replace less than a percent of US gasoline usage.  If we could really do the fuel balance on the whole system, we would likely find that total fossil fuel usage actually went up rather than down through these actions.

Never have I seen an issue where so many thoughtful people on both sides of the political aisle united in agreement that a program makes no sense since... well, since farm subsidies.  Which, illustratively, have not gone away despite 80 years of trying.  As I wrote here:

Companies are currently building massive subsidy-magnets biofuel plants.  Once these investments are in place, there is going to be a huge entrenched base of investors and workers who are going to wield every bit of political power they can to retain subsidies forever to protect their jobs and their investment.  Biofuel subsidies will be as intractable as peanut and sugar subsidies and protections.

Posted on November 28, 2007 at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

The Government Trap

From the NY Times via Maggies Farm:

The rescue of the Florida Everglades, the largest and most expensive environmental restoration project on the planet, is faltering.

Seven years into what was supposed to be a four-decade, $8 billion effort to reverse generations of destruction, federal financing has slowed to a trickle. Projects are already years behind schedule. Thousands of acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat continue to disappear, paved by developers or blasted by rock miners to feed the hungry construction industry.

The idea that the federal government could summon the will and money to restore the subtle, sodden grandeur of the so-called River of Grass is disappearing, too.

If, forty years ago, individuals who cared about the Everglades had banded together with private money, they could have bought up and preserved huge tracts of land around the current National Park.  Instead, as so many activists do today, rather than trying to rally private action they lobbied the government to do something about it.  Once the ball was thrown into the Feds' court, all incentive for private action disappeared, and as is so often the case, the Feds bungled their way $8 billion to little effect.

Posted on November 14, 2007 at 08:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Garbage Nazis

Apparently, the garbage nazis have won the contract in Seattle.  To remind you, here were some of their proposals in their bid for the contract:

If [CEO Chris] Martin is allowed to implement what he calls "my best idea, my get-people-riled-up thing," we could all soon be subject to a kind of garbage audit, too. He wants to bring the equivalent of the red-light camera to your front curb. Just as the traffic camera captures you running through a stoplight, CleanScapes' incriminating photos would catch you improperly disposing of a milk carton. (It belongs in the recycling bin.)

He also has advocated mandatory waster audits, whatever those are.  This is the choice that libertarians face every day -- we can either vote for a party that wants to listen to our phone calls or the party that wants to search our garbage.  Put a pizza carton in the recycling, you spend a night in the box.  Put a milk carton in the trash, you spend a night in the box.

It's never too early to start google bombing the company's home page:  Garbage Nazis

Posted on October 24, 2007 at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Giant Trash Island

I am more than willing to believe that too many people treat the oceans as a big trash can.  In particular, I have written before about how Southern Californians in general seem to love to leave their trash lying aboutHowever, I am going to call bullshit on this article:

In reality, the rogue bag would float into a sewer, follow the storm drain to the ocean, then make its way to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists.

The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii.

Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, said his group has been monitoring the Garbage Patch for 10 years.

"With the winds blowing in and the currents in the gyre going circular, it's the perfect environment for trapping," Eriksen said. "There's nothing we can do about it now, except do no more harm."

The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s, said Chris Parry, public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco.

Uh, right.  Funny that it does not seem to show up in satellite photos.  Again, I am not minimizing the fact that a lot of jerks litter and the trash ends up in the ocean, but the floating island of trash twice as big as Texas and growing by 10x every decade?   I'll file that right next to the story of the grandmother who tried to dry her cat in the microwave.

Posted on October 23, 2007 at 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Backyard Nuclear Reactor

I couldn't make the return on investment (even with a 50% government subsidy and in one of the best solar sites in the world) work for solar on my home in Phoenix, at least at current prices and technology.  Maybe I can justify a backyard nuclear reactor?

Hat tip:  Another Weird SF Fan

Posted on October 22, 2007 at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Patented NY Times Sneer

Yesterday, I talked about my fondness for private conservation projects.  Today, the NY Times makes it clear that they are not so fond of private conservation.  In an article about environmentalist-triggered death of logging in the west, the Times observes that many rich folks are taking up the opportunity to buy large tracts of western forests for second homes and ranches.

William P. Foley II pointed to the mountain. Owns it, mostly. A timber company began logging in view of his front yard a few years back. He thought they were cutting too much, so he bought the land.

Mr. Foley belongs to a new wave of investors and landowners across the West who are snapping up open spaces as private playgrounds on the borders of national parks and national forests.

Cool, a win-win -- conservation without use of tax funds or government coersion.  But instead of being thrilled, the Times adopts their patented sneering tone they use with anything having to do with wealth.

The rise of a new landed gentry in the West is partly another expression of gilded age economics in America; the super-wealthy elite wades ashore where it will.

Hmm, I would have thought it an example of how increases in wealth in the US has always driven higher environmental standards and more conservation.  The NY Times tries to portray this as something like turning national parks into sprawling suburbs, lamenting the "increase in density," but this is just a joke and a product of a bunch of New Yorkers who have never really spent time in Montana.  There is zero danger of any kind of urbanization here, and their very story belies this fact when it talks about 640 acre lot sizes. 

The real problem for them seems to be one of access, and they lament that these new owners tend to put up no trespassing signs rather than allowing public access as private loggers used to.  But in so arguing, the Times is trying to have it both ways.  Eliminating recreation access from western lands is a HUGE priority for environmentalists.  In fact, though many in America don't know it, within a few decades it may be impossible to drive into national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.  I know and work with the management of the National Parks, and many of their leaders do not consider their job finished until they get all the visitors out of the parks.  So throwing up no trespassing signs to recreators is exactly what environmentalists want on these lands.  What they don't like, because many are openly socialist, is private ownership of these lands.  They know that increasingly, because they have gotten so good at filing lawsuits and forcing public lands officials to do their bidding, that public ownership means, effectively, ownership by the environmental groups. 

Posted on October 13, 2007 at 07:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Private, For-Profit Environmentalism

I toured a commercial seahorse farm here in Hawaii this afternoon.  It was really an interesting tale, of a couple who saw a problem with the over-catching of wild seahorses and attacked it with a private farming effort.  Not only has private seahorse farming cut the capture of wild seahorses for pets almost to zero, it also produces a better pet (their seahorses born in captivity are taught to eat dead shrimp rather than live food, they live much longer than wild seahorses, and they are easier to breed).  Kudos to these folks.  I love seeing private action solving environmental issues, and their story gets me interested again in the many proposals to allow ownership of tigers and rhinos in private farms to save those species.  Their website is here, and if you are in the market for a pet seahorse, I highly recommend their product. 

  The biggest threat to seahorses is the same one faced by rhinos and tigers:  The huge Asian market for fertility drugs based on these animals.  Generally, any animal included in Asian folks wisdom as improving sex in some way is on the fast track to endangered status.  I am hoping that Viagra may turn out to be a savior for these species, as a substitute, in the same way John D. Rockefeller saved the whales in the 19th century with cheap kerosene.  Maybe the Sierra Club should take some of the huge funds they allocate to paying off Congressmen for more regulations and direct it to Viagra donations to China.

Posted on October 12, 2007 at 07:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Environmentalists are Anti-Change, Not Pro-Environment

Here in Hawaii, much of the talk is about the Hawaiian Island ferry service that was supposed to start up this summer.  Most of you who have not spend much time here would probably expect that there already exists some kind of ferry service between the islands.  But for some reason, there is no such service.  Lacking you own boat, the only way to get to the island that I can see right across the water (I can see Maui right now from the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii) is for me to drive forty miles south to an airport, get on an airplane, fly to the Maui airport, and then drive tens of miles to my destination.  Those of you who live in San Francisco, imagine if the only way to get to Oakland were by airplane.  One would think a ferry service would not only be a great service for residents and tourists, but would be a huge environmental benefit, giving folks an alternative to driving and flying.

Well, not according to the Sierra Club,
which has sued to block the ferry service on environmental grounds.  Of course, absolutely everything Hawaii uses comes in by ship, and there are always ships coming in and out of port, not to mention hundreds of fishing boats.  But we just can't have this one extra boat.  It makes much more environmental sense to the Sierra Club that people drive miles and miles to an airport and fly between the islands than to take a sensible ferry.

Note, by the way, as an added libertarian bonus, the ferry service seems to be entirely for-profit and does not appear to involve any major government subsidies.  Though I could be wrong about that, there are always hidden ways to subsidize such efforts.

Update: The main reason for opposition is that the ferry will make it easier for "undesirable" people to come to Maui and make the place less, uh, desirable.  First, it is unclear to me why the ferry service should be held accountable for future environmental damage that might be committed by its passengers - certainly airlines are not held to the same standard.  Second, this is snobbery, not environmentalism.  It is the same argument that prevented the red line in Boston from being extended to Lexington -- the upscale residents didn't want an easier path for the undesirables to get in.  So now Lexington residents have to drive for miles if they want to ride the train.  My sense is that this kind of faux environmentalism has become a very popular way for the reach to keep the middle class and poor at bay.  See:  Hamptons.

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

A Bad Idea

Hopefully, the idea of burning food to power automobiles is finally being discredited.  It's amazing to me that environmentalists, of all people, who for years have criticized America's love affair with cars, have been at the leading edge of advocating government subsidies to shovel our food supply into our SUV's.  Particularly when corn ethanol creates more CO2 and other pollutants than it eliminates.  More on the insanity of biofuels here and here.

Posted on October 10, 2007 at 11:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Green Security State

Via Hit and Run:

Chris Martin, Coldplay lead singer founder and frontman of the CleanScapes waste removal agency, is bidding for a piece of Seattle's garbage collection contract.

If Martin is allowed to implement what he calls "my best idea, my get-people-riled-up thing," we could all soon be subject to a kind of garbage audit, too. He wants to bring the equivalent of the red-light camera to your front curb. Just as the traffic camera captures you running through a stoplight, CleanScapes' incriminating photos would catch you improperly disposing of a milk carton. (It belongs in the recycling bin.)

"We could do it the nice way," he says, meaning his company would e-mail you pictures of your detritus, along with helpful information about separating out recyclables. Or, he says, CleanScapes could send the pictures on to municipal inspectors, and "the city could enforce its own laws." (While the city has sent warning letters, no fines have ever been issued, according to Seattle Public Utilities.)

The vast majority of recycling is a net loss, both in dollars and in energy.  Only a few items (scrap iron, aluminum cans, bulk news print) make any sense at all in curbside recycling programs.  Milk cartons are not one of them.  The rest of the curbside recycling we do is merely symbolism actions that demonstrate our commitment to the cause, much like reciting a liturgy in church (Interestingly, the more honest environmentalists have admitted this, but still support the program because they believe the symbolic action is an important source of public commitment to the environment).

I guess it is not surprising to see folks like Mr. Martin bring the full power of the state to bear to make sure you are sorting your milk cartons correctly.  After all, in previous generations, the powers-that-be in small towns would employ people to watch for folks skipping out on church, and nations like Cuba still use neighborhood watches to spy out political heresy.  It's just a sign of the times that now such tactics are being used to smoke out environmental heresy.

Posted on October 2, 2007 at 08:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

American Middle Class Snobbery

I could probably fill this blog with absurd examples of American middle class snobbery, but I thought this one from TJIC was particularly good:

…Eleven tonnes of papayas were dumped outside the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry yesterday by Greenpeace in protest at … open-field trials of genetically-modified crops.

…people flocked to load up on the free papayas, ignoring the environmental organisation’s campaign against … GM fruit…

Many passers-by, who mostly knew nothing about transgenic fruit, said they did not care about any health risks.

They were just thinking about how hungry they were…

A while back I wrote about this same phenomenon:

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice. He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease. He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the Nike factory.

Much of the opposition to factory wages in Asia can be boiled down to members of the American middle class saying "I would never accept that job at that rate, so they should not either."

Posted on September 18, 2007 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Environmentalists and the Third World

While we can argue about the projected impacts of man-made global warming (my skeptics site here), it is almost certain than any solution that puts a real dent in CO2 production will bar from the middle class about a billion people who are just climbing out of subsistence poverty.  TJIC notes a particularly odious proposal by environmental groups to encourage human power over industrialization in the third world:

See, first world Volvo-driving environmentalists!  We can help the Third World! All we need to do is build them human hamster wheels, so that they can set their children to work pumping water, instead of using nasty diesel pumps (like we do here in the First World, while our children attend soccer practice or piano lessons).

Don't miss the really awful animation from the environmentalist's site.

Posted on September 10, 2007 at 08:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

OK, Maybe I Was Serious

A while back I suggested, part tongue-in-cheek:

Once trees hit their maturity, their growth slows and therefore the rate they sequester CO2 slows.  At this point, we need to be cutting more down, not less, and burying them in the ground, either as logs or paper or whatever.  Just growing forests is not enough, because old trees fall over and rot and give up their carbon as CO2.  We have to bury them.   Right?

Now, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore writes:

There is a misconception that cutting down an old tree will result in a net release of carbon. Yet wooden furniture made in the Elizabethan era still holds the carbon fixed hundreds of years ago.

Berman, a veteran of the forestry protest movement, should by now have learned that young forests outperform old growth in carbon sequestration.

Although old trees contain huge amounts of carbon, their rate of sequestration has slowed to a near halt. A young tree, although it contains little fixed carbon, pulls CO2 from the atmosphere at a much faster rate.

When a tree rots or burns, the carbon contained in the wood is released back to the atmosphere....

To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less. Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to grow more trees and to produce more wood. That means we can then use less concrete, steel and plastic -- heavy carbon emitters through their production. Trees are the only abundant, biodegradable and renewable global resource.

Posted on August 29, 2007 at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Um, I think they are all non-native

I thought it was kind of silly how often I have seen blogs commenting on the story about Bette Midler cutting down her own trees in Hawaii.  We should be supporting her property rights, not searching around for trivial examples of supposed hypocrisy.  However, I did note this line from Midler's spokesman:

"The whole idea with cutting the trees down was with the idea of improving the lot with native species" instead of the nonnative, invasive species that had grown there, Graham said. "It's unfortunate that a mistake was made."

Given that the island rose out of the sea as volcanic molten lava, my wild guess, without having a degree in botany, is that most all the plants and animals in Hawaii are non-native.  For example, the Big Island only rose out of the sea less than 500,000 years ago.  I am pretty sure no trees came up with the lava.

This strikes me as a common form of environmental anthropomorphism -- "Normal" is defined as the condition in which man has observed things over the last 200 or so years, a blink of the eye in geologic time.  So the only allowable plants and animals are those that existed at the moment man started to observe a certain location.  In the same way, "normal" for world temperatures is defined as what we observed them to be in about 1950.  Climate and nature and geology follow multiple cycles and trend lines, some of which stretch for millions of years.  It is hubris to say that we know what "normal" is.

Posted on August 22, 2007 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (58)

Sample Environmental Requirements

Often businesses complain about ridiculously tedious environmental regulation and paperwork, and they don't seem to get much sympathy.  The usual opposing response is just to say "oh, you guys just are mad that you can't dump dioxin in the river any more."

But I am here to tell you -- many of the requirements are really, really detailed, time-consuming, and of questionable value.  To demonstrate this, I am going to let you into my life for a minute.  Among the many recreation facilities we operate (my business described here), we run a small pair of marinas on Blue Mesa Lake in Colorado.  At these marinas we rent boats, have a fuel dock, and do some light boat maintenance for customers.  We are renting the facility from the government (specifically the National Park Service), and as our landlord they provided all the facilities.

When we inherited the facilities from the previous tenant, they were in awful condition.  We have had to spend a lot of money brining the government's facilities up to standard, removing years of hazardous waste, etc.  Our reward was to get audited by the EPA and the NPS.  For those of you who are interested in what environmental regulation looks like to a small business, you may view a pdf of our audit results.  You can't possibly read everything, but skim through the findings to get the general idea.  And as you are reading, note that this is a GOOD audit -- we were actually commended in Washington for the work we had done cleaning up the place.  And still this work list remains.  Remember also while reading this that I don't run a chemical plant or a steel mill, this is a small marina on a lake.

For those who don't want to scoll through all 52 items, here is one, chosen at random:

Audit Finding:
Each container of hazardous chemicals in the workplace was not labeled, tagged, or marked with the following information:
- Identity of the hazardous chemical(s) contained therein; and
- Appropriate hazard warnings.

For example:

  • A white plastic bucket was observed with no label in the flammable cabinet at the maintenance yard;
  • Three unlabeled 55-gallon drums were observed at the maintenance yard, one of which had a sign of leakage;
  • An unlabeled plastic white bottle was observed on one of the blue drums at the maintenance yard;
  • A red flammable container was observed next to the flammable cabinet at the maintenance yard. The cap was not on. It was noted that the container was partially full with water;
  • Two red and one blue unlabeled drums were stored at the back of the maintenance yard. The blue drum had signs of leakage;
  • The carbon dioxide cylinder in use at Pappy's Restaurant had a worn label;
  • Two unlabeled spray bottles were observed in Pappy's Restaurant washing room;
  • An unlabeled bucket was observed in Pappy's Restaurant washing room under a shelf on which detergents are stored;
  • Unlabeled partially full buckets were observed in Pappy's Restaurant washing room;
  • An unlabeled spray bottle was observed in the maintenance room for the showers at Elk Creek; and
  • An spray bottle that contained purple liquid was observed in the shower maintenance room at Lake Fork.  The bottle had a worn label.

Update:  From the looks of this fish, maybe we are putting something odd in the lake!

Update:  Here is another good one:

Audit Finding:
Concessioner staff had not submitted an ozone-depleting substance (ODS)-containing equipment registration form and fee with the State of Colorado.

Good old Colorado.  Colorado is one of the states I have to have a special license to sell eggs

Here is a quick contest -- I will send a free  copy of my book (my global warming book or my novel BMOC) to the first reader who can email me with a link to the correct Colorado web page with information and/or forms for the ODS-containing equipment registration.  I can't find it.

Update 2:  I can be a man and admit when another man has bested me.  So I must admit that though it is my environmental audit, TJIC has a much better post on it than I have.  Maybe because he seems to have read more of it than I have.

Posted on August 16, 2007 at 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Save the World -- Stop Recycling

My wife and I had our familiar recycling argument this weekend (Wife:  You need to put that stuff in the recycling;  Me:  Recycling makes zero sense for anything except scrap steel and aluminum, all the rest is just a liturgy of belief we perform for the church of the environment, where labor costs are assumed to be zero).

Anyway, thinking about it more, I have had a revelation.  If we define our biggest environmental problem as CO2 production,shouldn't we stop recycling of plastic and paper?  In the first case, we are burying hydrocarbons unburned, putting the carbon back underground.  Each bottle not recycled represent a few more hydrocarbon molecules that must be dedicated to plastics rather than fuel.  In the case of paper, if we don't recycle then we are using trees to sequester CO2 and bury it back in the ground as paper and cardboard.  Once trees hit their maturity, their growth slows and therefore the rate they sequester CO2 slows.  At this point, we need to be cutting more down, not less, and burying them in the ground, either as logs or paper or whatever.  Just growing forests is not enough, because old trees fall over and rot and give up their carbon as CO2.  We have to bury them.   Right?

Yeah, I know it's silly, but is it any more silly than this:

In the last few months, bottled water — generally considered a benign, even beneficial, product — has been increasingly portrayed as an environmental villain by city leaders, activist groups and the media. The argument centers not on water, but oil. It takes 1.5 million barrels a year just to make the plastic water bottles Americans use, according to the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, plus countless barrels to transport it from as far as Fiji and refrigerate it. ...

Dave Byers, 65, from Silver Spring, Md., discussed the issue with his wife, Pat, on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a 90-degree Saturday. “I think it should be banned, actually,” he said of bottled water.

If you care about the environment, I say buy more bottled water, and throw the bottle away.  You too can sequester some carbon.

Posted on August 14, 2007 at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Ethanol Get's Slammed

Finally, the blinders are coming off and the media is starting to wake up to the absolute travesty that is the Congress's promotion of ethanol.  From Rolling Stone(!) emphasis added.

This is not just hype -- it's dangerous, delusional bullshit.  Ethanol doesn't burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption -- yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World. And the increasing acreage devoted to corn for ethanol means less land for other staple crops, giving farmers in South America an incentive to carve fields out of tropical forests that help to cool the planet and stave off global warming.

So why bother? Because the whole point of corn ethanol is not to solve America's energy crisis, but to generate one of the great political boondoggles of our time. Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 -- twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans. Ethanol itself is propped up by hefty subsidies, including a fifty-one-cent-per-gallon tax allowance for refiners. And a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that ethanol subsidies amount to as much as $1.38 per gallon -- about half of ethanol's wholesale market price.

Hurrah!  Unfortunately, I fear we may be waking up too late.  Already, billions of dollars are being invested by politically connected companies on the promises of subsidies and promotion of ethanol extending out to the end of the universe.  At this point, ethanol may be as entrenched as agriculture subsidies, the education department, and depression-era alcohol regulation.  The government has no problem reneging on contracts with oil companies, but God forbid anyone deny Archer Daniels Midland the right to infinite subsidies.

Posted on August 2, 2007 at 09:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (56)

Environmentalism and the Division of Labor

Opposition to the world-wide division of labor, which creates so much wealth, is not new.  Ghandi, for example, was a strong proponent of maintaining home-based weaving and manufacturing in a wrong-headed defense of individual "self-sufficiency" against the rising tide of division of labor.  It was a philosophy that would keep Indians poor for another several generations, until they finally began entering the modern economy.  Anti-Globalization advocates, famous for trying to destroy downtown Seattle, have also tried to halt the global division of labor.

Most recently, reversing the global division of labor has become an environmental cause, with buy-local movements springing up all over.  Of course, the success of these efforts would be the express train to poverty -- there is a reason we don't manufacture clothing in every county in America, and it is demonstrated in part by this mess.

The argument these buy-local advocates use is that the global cross-transportation of goods is creating environmental problems, including more CO2.  They also argue that keeping production close to consumers would cause consumers to bear whatever environmental costs there are in manufacturing.  These arguments are absurd.  This might be true, if everything else were held constant, most particularly manufacturing efficiency (but probably not even then).  But of course these other elements would not be held constant.  The efficiency losses from loss of scale alone would dwarf savings in manufacturing costs.  And much of transportation costs are incurred moving extractive resources (eg coal, iron) and these transport costs would only go up if manufacturing destinations were more dispersed.  And all of this is without even discussing division of labor.

Today I saw a story about trash that really hammered home this point:

Contrary to current wisdom, packaging can reduce total rubbish produced. The average household in the United States generates one third less trash each year than does the average household in Mexico, partly because packaging reduces breakage and food waste. Turning a live chicken into a meal creates food waste. When chickens are processed commercially, the waste goes into marketable products (such as pet food), instead of into a landfill. Commercial processing of 1,000 chickens requires about 17 pounds of packaging, but it also recycles at least 2,000 pounds of by-products.

When you push animal-slaughter down to the household level, there is a huge loss in efficiency and increase in environmental impact.  Note how industrial farming, a huge bete noir of modern environmentalists, greatly improves recycling and reduces waste.  Yes, industrial farming seems to have a large environmental impact, but that is in many cases just because it is all in one place and visible.  Blowing these operations up does not reduce the damage, it just spreads it around and makes it less visible.  This kind of narrow-focus static analysis has become fairly typical of today's environmentalists.

Posted on July 26, 2007 at 09:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Those Dirty Nasty Steam Plumes

Don Surber writes:

The tax-exempt Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C., issued its annual list of the 50 dirtiest power plants in America. This is illustrated by a photo showing steam — water vapor — escaping from a cooling tower. Sigh.

I made this same point long ago, laughing at the huge number of air pollution reports that are illustrated with pictures of steam plumes.  I also showed how photographers seemed to try to photograph the steam plumes at sunset, trying to turn them brown-looking to make it look like pollution.  Unfortunately for pollution-report illustrators, power plants have been cleaned up enough that they don't really emit visible smoke plumes any more.


Posted on July 26, 2007 at 09:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Does this Make Sense?

I am just finishing up my paper "A Skeptical Layman's Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming," and one thing I encounter a lot with sources and websites that are strong supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) theory is that they will often say such-and-such argument by skeptics was just disproved by so-and-so. 

For example, skeptics often argue that historical temperature records do not correct enough for the effects of urbanization on long-term measurement points.  The IPCC, in fact, has taken the position that what is called the urban heat island effect is trivial, and does not account for much or any of measured warming over the last 100 years.  To this end, one of the pro-AGW sites (either RealClimate.org or the New Scientist, I can't remember which) said that "Parker in 2006 has disproved the urban heat island effect."

Now, if you were going to set out to do such a thing, how would you do it?  The logical way, to me, would be to draw a line from the center of the city to the rural areas surrounding it, and take a bunch of identical thermometers and have people record temperatures every couple of miles along this line.  Then you could draw a graph of temperature vs. nearness to the city center, and see what you would find.

Is that what Parker did?  Uh, no.  I turn it over to Steve McIntyre, one of the two men who helped highlight all the problems with the Mann hockey stick several years ago.

If you are not a climate scientist (or a realclimate reader), you would almost certainly believe, from your own experience, that cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside - the “urban heat island”. From that, it’s easy to conclude that as cities become bigger and as towns become cities and villages become towns, that there is a widespread impact on urban records from changes in landscape, which have to be considered before you can back out what portion is due to increased GHG.

One of the main IPCC creeds is that the urban heat island effect has a negligible impact on large-scale averages such as CRU or GISS. The obvious way of proving this would seem to be taking measurements on an urban transect and showing that there is no urban heat island. Of course, Jones and his associates can’t do that because such transects always show a substantial urban heat island. So they have to resort to indirect methods to provide evidence of “things unseen”, such as Jones et al 1990, which we’ve discussed in the past.

The newest entry in the theological literature is Parker (2004, 2006), who, once again, does not show the absence of an urban heat island by direct measurements, but purports to show the absence of an effect on large-scale averages by showing that the temperature trends on calm days is comparable to that on windy days. My first reaction to this, and I’m sure that others had the same reaction was: well, so what? Why would anyone interpret that as evidence one way or the other on UHI?

He goes on to take the study apart in detail, but I think most of you can see that the methodology makes absolutely zero sense unless one is desperately trying to toe the party line and win points with AGW supporters by finding some fig leaf to cover up this urban heat island problem.  By the way, plenty of people have performed the analysis the logical way we discussed first, and have shown huge heat island effects:

Uhi(Click for a larger view)

The bottom axis by the way is a "sky-view" metric I had not seen before, but is a measurement of urban topology.  Effectively the more urbanized and the more tall buildings around you that create a canyon effect, the lower the sky view fraction.  Note that no one gets a number for the Urban Heat Island effect less than 1 degree C, and many hover around 6 degrees (delta temperature from urban location to surrounding rural countryside).  Just a bit higher than the 0.2C assumed by the IPCC.  Why would they assume such a low number in the face of strong evidence?  Because assuming a higher number would reduce historical warming numbers, silly.

Oh, and the IPCC argues that the measurement points it uses around the world are all rural locations so urban heat island corrections are irrelevant.  Below are some sample photos of USHCN sites, which are these supposedly rural sites that are used in the official historical warming numbers.  By the way, these US sites are probably better than what you would find anywhere else in the world. (All pictures from surfacesations.org)  As always, you can click for a larger view.





You can help with the effort of documenting all the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN) stations.  See my post here -- I have already done two and its fun!

Posted on June 17, 2007 at 10:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Call-Your-Bluff Tax

Ross McKitrick has suggested a variation on a carbon tax that in effect challenges both Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) believers and skeptics to put their money where their mouth is.  I, for one, would accept this challenge.  He proposes a carbon tax on a sliding scale:

Suppose each country implements something called the T3 tax, whose U.S. dollar rate is set equal to 20 times the three-year moving average of the RSS and UAH estimates of the mean tropical tropospheric temperature anomaly, assessed per tonne of carbon dioxide, updated annually. Based on current data, the tax would be US$4.70 per ton, which is about the median mainstream carbon-dioxide-damage estimate from a major survey published in 2005 by economist Richard Tol.

He chooses the "tropical tropospheric temperature anomaly" because that is effectively the canary in the underground mine.  According to AGW theory, the troposphere (the lowest 10km of atmosphere) will be warmed more than the earth's surface.  McKitrick also says that AGW models show the tropics will be warmed more than high latitudes. 

This tax rate is low, and would yield very little emissions abatement. Global-warming skeptics and opponents of greenhouse-abatement policy will like that. But would global-warming activists? They should -- because according to them, the tax will climb rapidly in the years ahead.

The IPCC predicts a warming rate in the tropical troposphere of about double that at the surface, implying about 0.2C to 1.2C per decade in the tropical troposphere under greenhouse-forcing scenarios. That implies the tax will climb by $4 to $24 per tonne per decade, a much more aggressive schedule of emission fee increases than most current proposals. At the upper end of warming forecasts, the tax could reach $200 per tonne of CO2 by 2100, forcing major carbon-emission reductions and a global shift to non-carbon energy sources.

Global-warming activists would like this. But so would skeptics, because they believe the models are exaggerating the warming forecasts. After all, the averaged UAH/ RSS tropical troposphere series went up only about 0.08C over the past decade, and has been going down since 2002. Some solar scientists even expect pronounced cooling to begin in a decade. If they are right, the T3 tax will fall below zero within two decades, turning into a subsidy for carbon emissions.

At this point the global-warming alarmists would leap up to slam the proposal. But not so fast, Mr. Gore: The tax would only become a carbon subsidy if all the climate models are wrong, if greenhouse gases are not warming the atmosphere, and if the sun actually controls the climate. Alarmists sneeringly denounce such claims as "denialism," so they can hardly reject the policy on the belief that they are true.

Under the T3 tax, the regulator gets to call everyone's bluff at once, without gambling in advance on who is right. If the tax goes up, it ought to have. If it doesn't go up, it shouldn't have. Either way we get a sensible outcome.

I think many skeptics would jump at such a proposal (as long as there is some control on AGW supporters "restating" and "correcting" the satellite readings -- there is nothing AGW scientists are better at than "correcting" historical numbers that don't fit their story line).  One reason is that we skeptics know one of the AGW dirty little secrets:   In fact, against all predictions of the theory, the troposphere has been warming less than the surface.  Also, while I get conflicting inputs on whether the tropics or the northern latitudes should warm more, but if McKitrick is correct, the fact that the tropics have been warming less than higher norther latitudes (but more than southern latitudes) is also an inconsistency.  In case you don't keep a full set of tropospheric temperature histories sitting on your desk, here are several from Global Warming at a Glance.

Warming for the lower troposphere in the tropics, note the 0.2C anomaly (click any image for larger version):


Here is the lower troposphere for the Northern Hemisphere above the tropics which is warming more than the tropics, with a 0.3 degree anomaly


And here is a comparison of Global lower troposphere temperatures (in blue) vs. one compilation  by the GIS of measured surface temperatures in red.  Note the divergence, which is exactly opposite of what AGW theory says has to happen, given the surface temps have a 0.5 to 0.6 degree anomaly  Note that this may be because of some serious biases to ground based temperature measurement, but then that would mean that global warming is over-stated.


Look for my upcoming "Skeptical Layman's Primer to Anthropogenic Global Warming" or email me for a pre-release beta copy.

Posted on June 12, 2007 at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Signal to Noise Ratio

There is a burgeoning grass roots movement (described here, in part) to better document key temperature measurement stations both to better correct past measurements as well as to better understand the quality of the measurements we are getting.

Steve McIntyre
has had some back and forth conversations with Eli Rabbett about temperature measurement points, each accusing the other of cherry-picking their examples of bad and good installations.  McIntyre therefore digs into one of the example temperature measurement points Rabbett offers as a cherry-picked example of a good measurement point.  For this cherry-picked good example of a historical temperature measurement point, here are the adjustments that are made to this site's measurements before it is crunched up into the official historic global warming numbers:

Corrections have been made for:
- relocation combined with a transition of large open hut to a wooden Stevenson screen (September 1950) [ed:  This correction was about 1°C]
- relocation of the Stevenson screen (August 1951).
- lowering of Stevenson screen from 2.2 m to 1.5 m (June 1961).
- transition of artificial ventilated Stevenson screen to the current KNMI round-plated screen (June 1993).
- warming trend of 0.11°C per century caused by urban warming.

Note that these corrections, which are by their nature guesstimates, add up to well over 1 degree C, and therefore are larger in magnitude than the global warming that scientists are trying to measure.  In other words, the noise is larger than the signal.

  0.11C per century is arguably way too low an estimate for urban warming.

Posted on June 7, 2007 at 09:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ah, the Joy of Settled Science

Since many advocates of anthropomorphic global warming theory have declared the twenty-year-old science to be "settled," then there must not be very much controversy or disagreement in the peer review reader comments to the UN's Fourth IPCC report.  Except, no one seems willing to publicize these comments.  Even US government organizations paid for by taxpayers.  Steve McIntyre is again having to resort to filing FOIA's to get the details of climate research.

Update: It appears that Congress is taking a similar approach to climate research when it comes to openness about earmarks.

Posted on June 7, 2007 at 07:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Climate Scavenger Hunt (No Climate Expertise Required)

Anthony Watts is offering an opportunity to help out climate science and participate in something of a climate scavenger hunt.  What is considered the most "trustworthy" temperature history of the US comes from a series of temperature measurement points called the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN).  There are perhaps 20-25 such measurement points in each state, usually in smaller towns and more remote spots.  Some of these stations are well-located, while others are not - having been encroached by urban heat islands of growing towns or having been placed carelessly (see here and here for examples of  inexcusably bad installations that are currently part of the US historical temperature record).

Historically, climate scientists have applied statistical corrections to try to take into account these biasing effects.  Unfortunately, these statistical methods are blind to installation quality.  Watt is trying to correct that, by creating a photo database of these installations, with comments by reviewers about the installation and potential local biases. 

He has created an online database at surfacestations.org, which he explains here.  Your faithful blogger Coyote actually contributed one of the early entries, and it was fun  -- a lot like geocaching but with more of a sense of accomplishment, because it was contributing to science.

So why is it a scavenger hunt?  Well, my son had a double header in Prescott, AZ, which I saw was near the Prescott USHCN station.  Here is what I began with, from the official listing: 

PRESCOTT (34.57°N, 112.44°W; 1586 m)

That looks easy -- latitude and longitude.  Well, I stuck it in Google maps and found this.  Turns out on satellite view that there is nothing there.  So I then asked around to the state climatologist's office - do you know the address of this station.  Nope.  So I zoomed out a bit, and started doing some local business searches in Google maps around the original Lat/Long.  I was looking for government property - fire stations, ranger stations, airports, etc.  These are typically the location of such stations.  The municipal water treatment plant to the east looked good.  So we drove by, and found it in about ten minutes and took our pictures.  My entry is here.

Not only was it fun, but this is important work.  In trying to find some stations in several states, I actually called the offices of the local state climatologist (most states have one).  I have yet to find one that had any idea where these installations were beyond the lat-long points in the data base.  If we are going to make trillion dollar political choices based on the output of this network, it is probably a good idea to understand it better.

Posted on June 5, 2007 at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Skeptical Layman

I have completed my draft version 0.9 of a Skeptical Layman's Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming.  I am still editing it a bit before I publish it, but if you would like a pre-release copy, just send me an email.

Posted on June 1, 2007 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Air Conditioning May Be Causing Global Warming

But maybe not the way you think. 

Via Anthony Watts, Oregon State Climatologist George Taylor sends in a picture of one of the official temperature measuring sites that feed into the databases that are used to track global temperature. 

Here is the official temperature plot from "rural" Forest Grove.  Note the "global warming" that really takes effect around 1984.


Of course, this change might (just call me a holocaust-denying skeptic) be due instead to the fact that the adjacent building installed an air conditioner about 1984 that vented hot air on the thermometer.  If you have never seen one, the vented white box on about 4 foot legs and the small white cylinder on the metal pole next to it are the weather station station. 


Of course, setting the measurement station on a pad of hot asphalt and next to a reflective building are also best practices for getting a thermometer to read high.  The aptly name Mr. Watts has been running a great series on temperature measurement issues in his blog - just keep scrolling.

Update: Andrew Watts found the location on Google maps when I could not, probably because I was looking for a semi-rural area outside of town.  But apparently, this is one of the fastest growing communities in Oregon, and, like with many measurement spots over the last 100 years, a hotter urban environment has enveloped the measurement point.  The location is on the left, and I zoomed straight out on the right, so the location is still in the center.


In 1900, this thermometer was measuring the temperature of miles and miles of pasture.  Today, it is measuring the temperature of acres of asphalt in the middle of a growing city.

Posted on May 31, 2007 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)


Jim Goodridge, via Anthony Watts, has a 102 year temperature change plot for California.  These temperatures are without all the black-box corrections made by climate scientists - just straight out is the temperature going up or down.  Check out the map of California.  Skeptics often argue that some of the global warming we measure may actually just be the urban heating effect from asphalt and concrete and buildings and machinery impinging on measurement sites.  See if you can see the pattern.

Posted on May 30, 2007 at 09:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Whoa, I am Part of "Big Recreation"

All these years of writing about climate change, and I always have claimed that I was not in the pay of any interested industry groups.  Well, I guess I lied.  It appears "Big Recreation" is lobbying against greenhouse gas controls.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said: 

"The recreation industry’s true threats come not from climate change -- which has always changed and will always change -- but from the so-called global warming ‘solutions’ being proposed by government policymakers. Misguided efforts to ‘solve’ global warming threaten to damage the travel and recreation industry and consequently threaten the American dream."

This is probably true, though the ski resort guys don't agree.

For those who don't know, several years ago I quit both boneheaded Fortune 50 life and boneheaded startup life to run my own recreation business, where I am trying to push a vision of, and make a little money from, privatization of public recreation.  I am actually fairly well insulated from gas price shocks, though by accident rather than thought-out-in-advance strategy.  We have mainly taken over government recreation facilities where the customer base is local weekend traffic (rather than say cross-the-country-to-see-old-faithful travelers).   This is really by accident, because these facilities took less investment than the big national attractions.  As it turns out, when gas prices go up, we actually do a bit better, because people still want to camp and use their RV, but they do it 100 miles from home rather than 1000.

By the way, I am working on a skeptics primer to anthropogenic global warming, which is why blogging has been light.  If you'd be willing to read and comment on a pre-release version, email me and I will put you on the list for a pdf which will be coming in a week or so.  In the mean time, some of my previous work is here

Posted on May 25, 2007 at 09:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Climate Consensus - NOT!

This is an outstanding post that a reader sent me that offers a number of climate scientists in their own words taking issue with the climate consensus on CO2-driven anthropogenic global warming.  I won't convince you that man-made CO2 is not one cause for warming -- at this point in the science's development, that would be as big a mistake as declaring AGW theory "settled."  However, for those who get beaten about the head with "consensus" every time you ask a skeptical question about AGW, you should enjoy this article.  This is just one of the 13 vignettes on newly minted skeptics the author highlights:

Botanist Dr. David Bellamy, a famed UK environmental campaigner, former lecturer at Durham University and host of a popular UK TV series on wildlife, recently converted into a skeptic after reviewing the science and now calls global warming fears "poppycock." According to a May 15, 2005 article in the UK Sunday Times, Bellamy said “global warming is largely a natural phenomenon.  The world is wasting stupendous amounts of money on trying to fix something that can’t be fixed.” “The climate-change people have no proof for their claims. They have computer models which do not prove anything,” Bellamy added. Bellamy’s conversion on global warming did not come without a sacrifice as several environmental groups have ended their association with him because of his views on climate change. The severing of relations came despite Bellamy’s long activism for green campaigns. The UK Times reported Bellamy “won respect from hardline environmentalists with his campaigns to save Britain’s peat bogs and other endangered habitats. In Tasmania he was arrested when he tried to prevent loggers cutting down a rainforest.”

Here is a copy of the petition sent to the Canadian government which several of the people in the article refer to.  One taste:

Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada's climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant. Directing your government to convene balanced, open hearings as soon as possible would be a most prudent and responsible course of action....

While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policyformulation. The study of global climate change is, as you have said, an "emerging science," one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary....

"Climate change is real" is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural "noise." The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

It is signed by scientific no-names like Freeman Dyson and Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology, Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Posted on May 16, 2007 at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Someone Check the Thermostat! Part 2

In the past, I have argued that it is odd that climate scientists ignore the changes in solar activity in their models.  Despite the fact the sun's activity is at a very high level (vs. the past several hundred years) the most recent IPCC report says they think that earth's temperatures would have fallen in the 20th century absent anthropogenic effects.  So then why is this happening:

Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap, writes Jonathan Leake.

Scientists from Nasa say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period.

Since there is no known life on Mars it suggests rapid changes in planetary climates could be natural phenomena.

The mechanism at work on Mars appears, however, to be different from that on Earth. One of the researchers, Lori Fenton, believes variations in radiation and temperature across the surface of the Red Planet are generating strong winds.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, she suggests that such winds can stir up giant dust storms, trapping heat and raising the planet’s temperature.

Almost every planet in the Solar System has been found to be warming over the last several decades.  At what point do we turn our attention, at least in part, to Mr. Sun?  (Hat tip Q&O Blog)

Posted on April 30, 2007 at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Accounting for Offsets

Anybody who has been a part of a productive business (e.g. so this excludes almost all politicians and academics) will probably have experience with some type of profit improvement program.  Usually you are doing about a hundred things simultaneously to reduce costs.  When costs actually go down, you find yourself scratching you head - what actually made the difference.  Everyone will claim that their program or initiatives saved the company X amount of money, but when you add up all the X's, you get a number four or five times the actual improvement. 

Well, apparently the same dynamic occurs in carbon offsets:

An investigation by the Financial Times suggests that many carbon offsets are illusory, and that there is little assurance that purchasing carbon offsets does much of anything to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Specifically, the report found:

- Widespread instances of people and organisations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions.

- Industrial companies profiting from doing very little – or from gaining carbon credits on the basis of efficiency gains from which they have already benefited substantially.

- Brokers providing services of questionable or no value.

- A shortage of verification, making it difficult for buyers to assess the true value of carbon credits.

Who in the world would have every predicted this?  Well, it turns out a lot of people did, including me.  For example, I suggested that companies like Terrapass are probably selling their CO2 offsets at least three times:

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to consumers.  Since the electricity is often expensive, they sell it as “CO2-free” electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas, where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being “CO2-free”.  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people to whom they don’t have to pay dividends or interest —just the feel-good sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

I also suggested that there is an incredible opportunity for outright fraud:

This type of thing is incredibly amenable to fraud.  If you sell more than 100% of an investment, eventually the day of reckoning will come when you can't pay everyone their shares (a la the Producers).  But if people are investing in CO2 abatement -- you can sell the same ton over and over and no one will ever know.

Finally I argued that many of the abatement numbers make no sense:

Something smells here, and it is not the cow-poop methane.  This 100,000 pound [CO2 Offset] coupon retails for $399.75 (5x79.95) on the TerraPass web site. First, this rate implies that all 300 million Americans could offset their CO2 emissions for about $100 billion a year, a ridiculously low figure that would be great news if true. 

Lets look at solar, something I know because I live in Arizona and have looked at it a few times.  Here is the smallest, cheapest installation I can find.  It produces 295 CO2-free Kw-hours in a month if you live in Phoenix, less everywhere else.  That is enough to run one PC 24 hours a day -- and nothing else.  Or, it is enough to run about 10 75-watt light bulbs 12 hours a day -- and nothing else.  In other words, it is way, way, way short of powering up a star's Beverly Hills mansion, not to mention their car and private jet.  It would not run one of the air conditioning units on my house.  And it costs $12,000! Even with a 20 year life and a 0% discount rate, that still is more than $399.75 a year.  For TerraPass's offset claim to be correct, they have to have a technology that is one and probably two orders of magnitude more efficient than solar in Arizona.

[update:  Al Gore's house 221,000 kwH last year.  Call it 18,400KwH per month, that would require about 62 of these solar installations for $744,000.  I don't think $399.75 is really offsetting it]

Posted on April 26, 2007 at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Look at the Pollution! Oh, its Water, Never Mind

I think most of us are familiar with the clever movie poster for An Invconvinient Truth, with the smoke from a factory swirling into a hurricane:


In fact, this same picture of a white plume coming from a factory or power plant stack is often used to illustrate articles on pollution.  Just searching the first page of images googling "air pollution" gives us these relatively similar images illustrating air pollution articles:

Ap1 Ap2 Ap3 Ap4

Ap5 Ap6 Ap7 Ap8

Here is a big Roseanne Rosanadana Emily Litella moment for all of you using these images:  The big white cloud coming out of all those stacks is steam.  Water vapor.  H2O.  Though actually a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, no one has had the temerity to label water a pollutant (except in that great Bullshit! issue when Penn & Teller get environmentalists to sign a petition banning dihydrogen monoxide).  All of these guys are using big plumes of water vapor to panic people about pollution.  That is because most pollutants emitted by combustion are invisible.  Visible smoke was licked by most plants decades ago (here is the only "factory" picture in the google search I could find with actual smoke). 

Just to avoid being misunderstood, my point is not that pollution is OK because it is invisible.  My point is that these scare pictures are yet another example of how environmentalists feel its OK to ignore science to advance their agenda in public.  Sometimes they even go further, as Small Dead Animals points out, resorting to photo-shopping to make things seem worse, but the dreaded steam plumes are still there front and center.  (I noticed that several of the pictures above where photographed at sunset.  I thought at first this was to make them look prettier, but maybe they liked the effect because it made the steam look browner without photo-shopping).

I did not go too deep into the Google search, but I went far enough to award my personal favorite for a scare picture that has nothing to do with the point being made:


This one is a classic, with the sad-faced little girl and her asthma** inhaler super-imposed over a scene of "industrial pollution."  Except, the scene is from a nuclear power plant!  The unique shaped cooling tower is almost exclusively used on nuclear power plants, but the ultimate proof is the small nuclear reactor containment dome you can see to the right.  That plume, which is supposed to represent pollution, has to be 100% water.  There are no combustion products at a nuclear plant, and even if there were, given the way the cooling tower works, this can only be water vapor coming out of the cooling tower.  The really sad and pathetic thing is that this illustration is from the air pollution site at Battelle, which is a world-renowned private scientific and technical organization. 

What's my point?   I think that scientists and academics, in their increasing arrogance, have no respect for the general public.  The only way I can consistently interpret scientist's actions, for example around the global warming debate, is to hypothesize that they consider truth and facts important when talking to other scientists, but irrelevant when talking to the public because, in their mind, the public is stupid and its OK to tell them anything.  I will leave you with this quote from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) climate researcher and global warming action promoter, Steven Schneider:

[In talking to the public about the climate] We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

** By the way, there is growing evidence that increasing reported asthma rates are not correlated with outdoor air pollution. I wrote about this here, and hypothesized that the growth in asthma has coincided with the post-70s-energy-crisis steps everyone has taken to better insulate and seal up their houses and buildings, making indoor air pollution more of a problem.

Update: I started to think the dome I was calling a nuclear containment building might be telescope dome on the top of the building below.  It's not.

Posted on April 20, 2007 at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

In Any Other Context, This Would Be Quackery

I am reading a speech by Michael Mann, the author of the now famous climate hockey stick, which has been criticized by statisticians and climatologists alike.  In particular, I am fascinated by the claim that "there is a 95 to 99% certainty that 1998 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years."

Forgetting the problems with his analysis, and forgetting all the other evidence that we have that in the Medieval warm period, the earth was probably hotter than it was today, just look at that sentence on its face.  Is there any other context where we would take a scientists near certainty about the value of a climate variable 500 years before man even started measuring it as anything but quackery?  If there was a way to reasonably bet against the proposition that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium, I would do so even as a 1:1 proposition, but would leap at the chance to take the bet at 20:1 or 100:1 odds, which is essentially what Mann is proposing when he says he is 95-99 percent certain.

Posted on April 17, 2007 at 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

I'm Not Sure I Understand This

One of the difficulties that climate scientists face is that it is not that easy to come up with a single global temperature.  Before satellites, with limited measurement points and 75% of the world under water, global temperature is not much more than a guess.  With satellites, the job is easier but not wholly straight-forward.

Spencer and Christy have been using NASA data for a while to try to compute a global temperature, and have released new results  (the top graph is the whole earth, the second is the northern hemisphere, the third is the southern hemisphere):


The first oddity is one that the climate community struggles with but downplays in public.  It is that increases in these tropospheric measurements should be, if the theory of CO2-based anthropogenic global warming is correct, higher than temperature increases observed on the ground.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  Why ground temperatures increases should be higher than troposphere increases is something no explained by the standard greenhouse models (but is explained by alternatives).

The second oddity is the difference between the northern and southern hemispheres.  As you can observe, there really has not been any warming in the last decades in the south.  Why should that be?  One might assume it is because CO2 is produced mainly in the northern hemisphere, but my understanding is that scientists a while back determined that there was incredibly good mixing in the atmosphere and that CO2 concentrations don't vary that much around the globe.  I know that the northern hemisphere tends to have more temperature variability at the ground, since it has more land and land heats and cools faster than over the sea, but I am not sure this is sufficient to explain the difference.

Posted on April 16, 2007 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The 800-Year Lag

Until I watched the Global Warming Swindle, I had confined my criticisms of anthropogenic global warming theory to two general areas:  1)  The models for future warming are overstated and 2) The costs of warming may not justify the costs of preventing it.

The movie offered an alternate hypothesis about global warming and climate change that, rather than refute the magnitude of anthropogenic global warming, provided a counter hypothesis.  You should watch the movie, but the counter hypothesis is that historic temperature changes have been the result of variations in solar activity.  Rather than causing these changes, increased atmospheric CO2 levels resulted from these temperature increases, as rising ocean temperatures caused CO2 to be driven out of solution from the world's oceans.

I thought one of the more compelling charts from Al Gore's pPwerpoint deck, which made the movie An Invconvienent Truth, was the hundred thousand year close relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and global temperature, as discovered in ice core analysis.  The Swindle movie, however, claims that Gore is hiding something from that analysis in the scale of his chart -- that the same ice core analyses show that global temperature changes have led CO2 concentration changes by as much as 800 years.  (short 2-minute snippet of this part of the movie here, highly recommended).

Well, this would certainly be something important to sort out.  I have not done much real science since my physics days at Princeton, but my sense is that, except maybe at the quantum level, when B follows A it is hard to argue that B caused A.

So I have poked around a bit to see -- is this really what the ice core data shows, or is Swindle just making up facts or taking facts out of context ala the truther hypotheses about 9/11?  Well, it turns out that everyone, even the die-hard global warming supporters, accept this 800-year lag as correct (Watch the Al Gore clip above -- it is clear he knows. You can tell by the very careful way he describes the relationship).  Luboš Motl summarizes in his blog:

However, the most popular - and the most straightforward - explanation of the direction of the causal relationship is the fact that in all cases, the CO2 concentration only changed its trend roughly 800 years after temperature had done the same thing. There have been many papers that showed this fact and incidentally, no one seems to disagree with it....

The whole "group" at RealClimate.ORG [ed: one of the leading sites promoting the anthropogenic theory] has agreed that there was a lag. But they say that in the first 800 years when the influence of temperature on CO2 is manifest, it was indeed temperature that drove the gases. But in the remaining 4200 years of the trend, it was surely the other way around: CO2 escalated the warming, they say.

Frequent readers will know that I have criticized forward looking climate models on many occasions for being too reliant on positive feedback processes.  For example, in the most recent IPCC models, over 2/3 of future warming come not from CO2 but from various positive feedback effects (section 8.6 of the 2007 report). 

The folks at RealClimate.org are similarly positing a positive feedback mechanism in the past -- "something" causes initial warming, which drives CO2 to outgas from the oceans, which causes more warming, etc. 

I am not sure I have ever done so, so let me take a minute to discuss positive feedbacks.  This is something I know a fair amount about, since my specialization at school in mechanical engineering was in control theory and feedback processes.  Negative feedback means that when you disturb an object or system in some way, forces tend to counteract this disturbance.  Positive feedback means that the forces at work tend to reinforce or magnify a disturbance.

You can think of negative feedback as a ball sitting in the bottom of a bowl.  Flick the ball in any direction, and the sides of the bowl, gravity, and friction will tend to bring the ball back to rest in the center of the bowl.  Positive feedback is a ball balanced on the pointy tip of a mountain.  Flick the ball, and it will start rolling faster and faster down the mountain, and end up a long way away from where it started with only a small initial flick.

Almost every process you can think of in nature operates by negative feedback.  Roll a ball, and eventually friction and wind resistance bring it to a stop (except, apparently, on the greens at Augusta).  There is a good reason for this.  Positive feedback breeds instability, and processes that operate by positive feedback are dangerous, and usually end up in extreme states.  These processes tend to "run away."   I can illustrate this with an example:  Nuclear fission is a positive feedback process.  A high energy neutron causes the fission reaction, which produces multiple high energy neutrons that can cause more fission.  It is a runaway process, it is dangerous and unstable.  We should be happy there are not more positive feedback processes on our planet.

Since negative feedback processes are much more common, and since positive feedback processes almost never yield a stable system, scientists assume that processes they meet are negative feedback until proven otherwise.  Except in climate, it seems, where everyone assumes positive feedback is common.

Back to the climate question.  The anthropogenic guys are saying that when the earth heated, it caused CO2 to outgas from the oceans, which in turn caused more warming, which causes more outgassing, etc.  But where does it stop?  If this is really how things work, why isn't the Earth more like Venus?  If you are going to posit such a runaway process, you have to also posit what stops it.  So far, the only thing I can think of is that the process would stop when the all bands of light that are absorbable by CO2 are fully saturated.

But the feedback is worse than this.  I won't go into it now, but as you can see from this post, or from section 8.6 of the 2007 IPCC report, the current climate models assume that warming from CO2 itself yields further positive feedback effects (e.g. more humidity) that further accelerate warming, acting as a multiplier as great as 3-times on CO2 effects alone.

So here is the RealClimate view of the world:  Any small warming from some outside source (think Mr. Sun) is accelerated by outgassing CO2 which is in turn accelerated by these other effects in their climate models.  In other words, global temperature is a ball sitting perched on the top of a mountain, and the smallest nudge causes it to accelerate away.  This is the point at which, despite having only limited knowledge about the climate, I have to call bullshit!  There is just no way our planet's climate could be as stable as it has been long-term and be built on such positive feedback loops.  No way.  Either these folks are over-estimating the positive feedback or ignoring negative feedbacks or both.  (and yes, I know we have had ice ages and such but against the backdrop of the range of temperatures the Earth theoretically could have in different situations, our climate variation has been small).

Postscript:  The other day I mentioned that it was funny a group studying solar output felt the need to put in a statement validating anthropogenic global warming despite the fact that nothing in their research said any such thing.  Motl points to a similar thing in the ice core studies:

Well, the website tells us that the paper that reported the lag contained the following sentence:

  • ... is still in full agreement with the idea that CO2 plays, through its greenhouse effect, a key role in amplifying the initial orbital forcing ...

Again, this statement was included despite the fact that their study pretty clearly refutes some key premises in anthropogenic global warming theory.  It's become a phrase like "no animal was hurt in the filming of this movie" that you have to append to every climate study.  Or, probably a better analogy, it is like Copernicus spending a few chapters assuring everyone he still believes in God and the Bible before he lays out his heliocentric view of the solar system. 

Update: All this is not to say that there are not positive feedback loops in climate.  Ice albedo is probably one -- as temperatures rise, ice melts and less sunlight is reflected back into space by the ice so the world warms more.  My point is that it does not make any sense to say that positive feedback processes dominate.

Correction: Like a moron, I have been using anthropomorphic rather than anthropogenic to refer to man-made climate effects.  Oops.  Thanks to my reader who corrected me.  I have fixed this article but am too lazy to go back and edit the past.

Further Update:  The irony of my correction above juxtaposed against the title of the previous post is not lost on me.

Update to the Postscript: Oh my god, here it is again.  An NOAA-funded study comes to the conclusion that global warming might actually reduce hurricane strength and frequency.  Nowhere in the study did the researchers touch any topic related to anthropogenic warming -- they just studied what might happen to hurricanes if the world warms for any reason.  But here is that disclaimer again:

"This study does not, in any way, undermine the widespread consensus in the scientific community about the reality of global warming," said co-author Brian Soden, Rosenstiel School associate professor of meteorology and physical oceanography whose research is partly funded by NOAA.

Does the NOAA and other funding bodies actually require that this boilerplate be added to every study?

Posted on April 11, 2007 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

They Don't Want a Solution

Via Jane Galt:

The environmental movement has so far utterly failed to develop a coherent approach to replacing carbon producing power sources. Wind and solar are not such a coherent response without a massive breakthrough in battery technology, because variable sources are inadequate to provide base-load power. Also, they too have negative externalities: wind kills birds and destroys views, and many solar panels are loaded with gallium arsenide, a highly toxic substance that is apparently rather tricky to dispose of.

All this wouldn't be so bothersome if the environmental movement merely failed to provide realistic alternatives, but in fact, many environmentalists actively move to block new wind installations (I'm looking at you, Robert jr.) and nuclear power plants, spread hysteria over nuclear waste, and otherwise actively work against the cause they are trying to advance. As such, it is perfectly legitimate to demand why they are blocking the only things that have any realistic chance of replacing carbon-emitting power plants.

The answer, in my opinion, is that too many environmentalists flunk basic and economic knowlege, which is why so many people believe it is practical to replace a coal-fired turbine that pumps out 1,000 megawatts with a solar installation that will, in peak sun conditions, produce about 1 kilowatt per 150 feet of space, twelve hours a day; or wind farms, which average less than 1 megawatt per turbine in prime spots. In addition, the core of the environmental movement are people with a whole host of linked views about things like capitalism, consumer culture, and so forth; they find solutions that support, rather than changing, the existing system much less emotionally interesting than radical conservation strategies. Unfortunately, the latter are a thoroughgoing political failure, but the environmental movement has strenuously resisted adjusting to this reality. (Some leaders have, God bless them). As long as this attitude persists, the environmental movement is blocking change that could and should happen; it is perfectly legitimate, nay necessary, to tax them on this.

She only sortof answers her own question at the end.  The real answer is that many who currently lead the environmental movement don't want a technological fix that sustains economic growth without CO2 emissions.  The whole point of latching onto, and exaggerating, the theory of anthropomorphic global warming is to find a big new club to bash capitalism and wealth.  Just watch this segment of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! where film of environmental movements is shown.  All the rhetoric is not anti-polluter, it's anti-corprorate and anti-capitalism.  Many leading environmentalists want nothing less than to shut down the global economy, and if that means taking down every poor person in the world just to get at Exxon and General Motors, they are willing to do so.

Posted on April 10, 2007 at 11:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Quick, Check the Thermostat

Al Gore says that current global temperatures are the highest they have been in 1000 years.  A new study by the Institute of Astronomy in Zurich says that the "sun is more active now than it has been at anytime in the previous 1,000 years."  Related? 

Sunspots have been monitored on the Sun since 1610, shortly after the invention of the telescope. They provide the longest-running direct measurement of our star's activity.

The variation in sunspot numbers has revealed the Sun's 11-year cycle of activity as well as other, longer-term changes.

In particular, it has been noted that between about 1645 and 1715, few sunspots were seen on the Sun's surface.

This period is called the Maunder Minimum after the English astronomer who studied it.

It coincided with a spell of prolonged cold weather often referred to as the "Little Ice Age". Solar scientists strongly suspect there is a link between the two events - but the exact mechanism remains elusive....

But the most striking feature, he says, is that looking at the past 1,150 years the Sun has never been as active as it has been during the past 60 years.

Over the past few hundred years, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of sunspots, a trend that has accelerated in the past century, just at the time when the Earth has been getting warmer.

The data suggests that changing solar activity is influencing in some way the global climate causing the world to get warmer.

Of course, these poor scientists know that they could lose their jobs and be called Holocaust deniers if they don't acknowledge anthropomorphic global warming, so they do say:

Over the past 20 years, however, the number of sunspots has remained roughly constant, yet the average temperature of the Earth has continued to increase.

This is put down to a human-produced greenhouse effect caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.             (HT:  TJIC)

Which may actually be the case, but it is interesting that astronomers feel the need to say this without any evidence of such in their own study just to protect themselves from ostracism by the climate religionists.

However, even if the two are working in concert, the fact that solar activity explains some of the 20th century warming means that current climate models are WAY overestimating the impact of anthropomorphic warming. 

For example, the climate models in the current 2007 IPCC report assume that the world would have experienced no warming in the 20th century without man.  This is from Section 8, actual is the black line, the models without man are in blue, the models with man are in red:


In other words, the IPCC models completely ignore the increasing solar activity and assume 100% of 20th century warming was due to man-made effects, even the substantial warming before 1940 (and before the onset of truly heavy world-wide fossil fuel use).

Already, the models used by the IPCC tend to overestimate past warming even if all past warming is attributable to anthropomorphic causes.  If anthropomorphic effects explain only a fraction of past warming, then the current models are vastly overstated, good for stampeding the populous into otherwise unpopular political control over the economy, but of diminished scientific value.

Postscript: I cannot prove this, but I am willing to make a bet based on my long, long history of modeling (computers, not fashion).  My guess is that the blue band, representing climate without man-made effects, was not based on any real science but was instead a plug.  In other words, they took their models and actual temperatures and then said "what would the climate without man have to look like for our models to be correct."  There are at least four reasons I strongly suspect this to be true:

  1. Every computer modeler in history has tried this trick to make their models of the future seem more credible.  I don't think the climate guys are immune.
  2. There is no way their models, with our current state of knowledge about the climate, match reality that well. 
  3. The first time they ran their models vs. history, they did not match at all.  This current close match is the result of a bunch of tweaking that has little impact on the model's predictive ability but forces it to match history better.  For example, early runs had the forecast run right up from the 1940 peak to temperatures way above what we see today.
  4. The blue line totally ignores any of our other understandings about the changing climate, including the changing intensity of the sun.  It is conveniently exactly what is necessary to make the pink line match history.  In fact, against all evidence, note the blue band falls over the century.  This is because the models were pushing the temperature up faster than we have seen it rise historically, so the modelers needed a negative plug to make the numbers look nice.

Posted on April 10, 2007 at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Global Warming Movie

I finally watched the BBC special Global Warming Swindle and have to say that it presents a pretty good counter-hypothesis to the prevailing theory of anthropomorphic CO2 production to explain recent global temperature changes.  It also hits some good points on what might be motivating the hard core of the environmental movement beyond just concern about global warming, and why the costs of CO2 control are so high.

I have historically accepted the basic hypothesis of anthropomorphic global warming but have been skeptical of the exaggerated outcomes (Al Gore's 26 foot sea-level rise, for example, which is 17 times more than even the IPCC predicts over the next century) and have posited that a warmer but richer world may well be better than a cooler but poorer one.  I have also pointed out the uncertainties in the IPCC analysis that never get mentioned in the press, like the huge uncertainty in the feedback loops that drive much of the temperature change in current models.  For example, the IPCC admits they don't even know the sign of the largest feedback loop (clouds), which is a big uncertainty since about 2/3 or more of the warming in the models come not directly from CO2 but from these feedback loops.

Anyway, most of my past skepticism has been within the framework of these IPCC studies.  However, this documentary casts off the whole framework, offering a counter-hypothesis of solar activity to explain temperature variations.  I thought the most interesting part of the documentary was when they showed Al Gore from An Inconvenient Truth with a multi-thousand year plot of temperature and CO2.  The chart certainly looks compelling, but this movie makes the point that while the two lines move together, the CO2 line is lagging the temperature line by five hundred years.  Meaning that CO2 levels may be linked to temperature, but the causality may be opposite of that implied by Gore. 

The documentary goes on to offer solar activity as an alternative explanation, with graphs of moving curves of solar activity and temperature that seem to show at least as much correlation as Gore's CO2 graphs.  They hypothesize that rising temperatures driven by changes in solar activity heat up oceans over time and cause them to release CO2 into the atmosphere.  I don't think the evidence is definitive, but it certainly casts doubt as to whether we really know what is going on.  I always thought it a bit odd that people would search for the causes of changing temperatures without first checking out the sun, sortof like walking in a room that is too hot and trying to fix it without first checking the thermostat.  This is particularly true given new evidence that other planets are warming, presumably due to solar activity (unless, of course, it's an Exxon plot).

By the way:  Advocates of the anthropomorphic theory are criticizing this movie in part because it does not use Mann's hockey stick temperature chart.  Sorry, but if they want to claim the scientific high ground, I think they need to stop tying their argument to this weak study.  Statisticians have dumped on it repeatedly (apparently random white noise fed into their model produces a hockey stick) and the evidence for eliminating the Medieval warm period is based on the rings in one or two trees.

Posted on March 27, 2007 at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Coyote Warned You

Who would have ever predicted this...

BARNET, VT. -- Sara Demetry thought she had found a way to atone for her personal contribution to global warming.

The psychotherapist clicked on a website that helped her calculate how much heat-trapping carbon dioxide she and her fiance emitted each year, mostly by driving and heating their home. Then she paid $150 to e-BlueHorizons.com, a company that promises to offset emissions.

But Demetry's money did not make as much difference as she thought it would. While half of it went to plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide, the other half went to a Bethlehem, N.H., facility that destroys methane -- a gas that contributes to global warming. The facility has been operating since 2001 -- years before the company began selling offsets -- and Demetry's money did not lead the company to destroy any more methane than it would have anyway.

Well, I predicted it:

I don't have any inside information on TerraPass, the company made famous by providing the $399.75 certificates that offset all your emissions for a year.  I do know that the numbers don't seem to add up, as I wrote here and Protein Wisdom similarly wrote here.

However, I thought about their business model some (since I have been on a role with new business models) and it strikes me that it is brilliant.  Because I am almost positive that they are (legally) reselling the same carbon credits at least three times!...

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to consumers.  Since the electricity is often expensive, they sell it as “CO2-free” electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas, where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being “CO2-free”.  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people to whom they don’t have to pay dividends or interest —just the feel-good sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

My guess is that the majority of carbon offsets sold are for projects that would have gone ahead anyway, without the purchase of the offset (for example, planting trees or building power plants).  In this case, e-BlueHorizons is doing #3 after the plant was commissioned.   Caveat Emptor.  HT: Maggie's Farm

Posted on March 15, 2007 at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Do I Really Have To Listen to This

I'm am currently listening to a ski resort guy talking about climate.  I can feel his pain, as spring temperatures have certainly warmed in the mountains of California, hurting the ski industry.  Whether that is from CO2, cyclical variations, or changing output from the sun is a complicated question.  I read a lot about climate, and try to be thoughtful about it.  But, do I really have to be lectured to by someone who is lamenting CO2 emissions that are destroying the ozone layer?

Posted on March 14, 2007 at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Am I Anti-Science?

I promise, cross my heart, this is my last post on climate change for a while.  I thought my series of posts last week about the funny math of carbon offsets was the last, but Joe Miller at Catallarchy wrote something that caused me some introspection:

Just one caveat, though: I’m really, seriously, profoundly uninterested in your skepticism about man-made global warming. Personally, I think that the debate is just about as fruitful as a discussion of the relative merits of evolution and Genesis as models of the origins of the universe. It’s called scientific consensus, people. You seem to like it well enough for every other subject. And even if that overwhelming scientific consensus turns out to be wrong, it’s not like a debate here is going to help with that. When scientists are wrong, it’s up to, you know, like, other actual scientists to settle the question. A bunch of non-scientists googling studies that say what we like them to say isn’t accomplishing much, really.

Certainly I have always been in favor of facts and science over hysteria.  I criticized the rampant breast implant litigation in the face of science that showed no real long-term harms.  Ditto vaccinations.  So am I being a Luddite by, as an amateur, being skeptical of the scientific "consensus" on global warming?  Certainly climate change hawks want to paint my positions as "holocaust denial."  I had a few thoughts:

  • For what it is worth, I have actually read much of the 2001 IPCC climate report (not the management summary, which is a worthless political document, but the report itself).  Courtesy of JunkScience.com, who has posted some of the 2007 report, I have read key parts of that report as well.  So I have at least informed myself beyond random Google searches.  My original university training was as a scientist, and later an engineer, though neither in climate (physics and mechanical engineering).
  • The media has been known to declare a consensus ahead of its actual existence.  One example that comes to mind is a recent letter that a number of economists wrote supporting a Federal minimum wage increase, which much of the media spun into a "consensus" among economists that a minimum wage increase would be desirable and would not reduce employment.  I don't know Mr. Miller, but my bet is that some of the folks at Catallarchy might dispute this particular scientific consensus.
  • To even imply that there is a single consensus on something as complex and multi-faceted as anthropomorphic global warming is facile.  I will take the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" as a fair representation of what the media perception of the consensus is  (the IPCC report actually does not agree in full, but we will get there in a minute).  Taking that movie as our straw man, the "consensus" or hypothesis is as follows:
  1. The world has been warming for a century, and this warming is beyond any historical cycles we have seen over 1000 years  (ie, the hockey stick)
  2. The last century's warming is almost all due to man's burning of fossil fuels and other releases of greenhouse gasses
  3. In the next 100 years, CO2 produced by man will cause a lot more warming
  4. Positive feedbacks in the climate, like increased humidity, will act to triple the warming from CO2
  5. The bad effects of warming greatly outweigh the positive effects, and we are already seeing them today (polar bears dying, glaciers melting, etc)
  6. These bad effects, or even a small risk of them, easily justify massive intervention today in reducing economic activity and greenhouse gas production

I believe this is a mostly fair representation of the media reporting of the scientific "consensus", with the exception that the media never really goes into step #4, and assigns all the blame for 6-8 degree temperature rise forecasts to CO2.  But this split between #3 and #4 is important to understand the science at all, and is included in the IPCC report, so I will make it. 

This is a complicated string of logic, with multiple assumptions.  I hope you see why declaring a scientific consensus on all points of this hypothesis is facile.  So where is there a scientific consensus on all of this?  My interpretation from the recent IPCC report and other sources is:

  1. The world has been warming for a century, and this warming is beyond any historical cycles we have seen over 1000 years  (ie, the hockey stick)   There is a strong consensus on the first half.  We can argue about urban heat island corrections and ground vs. satellite all day, but the earth has pretty clearly warmed for a hundred years or so, after cooling before that.  The second half of the proposition is trickier.  The 2001 report relied on the Mann hockey stick to make the point that the 20th century is not just warmer but uniquely warmer.  I sense the 2007 report backing off this -- the Mann analysis has a lot of problems, and ongoing climate research continues to point to the great variability and cyclicallity of climate over time.  There is too much historical evidence, for example, of a warm middle ages for Mann to dismiss it with a few tree rings.
  2. The last century's warming is almost all due to man's burning of fossil fuels and other releases of greenhouse gasses.   The 2001 IPCC report implied about half of the century's warming was man-made.  The new report seems to put more of the blame on man.  My sense is this will move over time back to half and half -- the evidence today of increased solar activity is becoming too strong to ignore as a cause along with man-made CO2.  However, I recognize right now that I am out of step with the IPCC and perhaps the "consensus" on this.
  3. In the next 100 years, CO2 produced by man will cause a lot more warming.  CO2 production by man will cause more warming.  How much is the subject of models, which any economist or businessperson can tell you are notoriously flaky.  However, here is one fact that is part of the scientific consensus but you never hear in the media -- the relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentration and warming is a diminishing return.  In other words, the next doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere will have less impact on temperatures than the last doubling.  At some point, the effect of CO2 maxes out, and further increases in CO2 have no effect on temperatures.  My reading of the newest IPCC seems to imply that if the models predict about 6 degrees of warming over the next 100 years, of which about 2 is directly from CO2, while the rest are from positive feedbacks (discussed next)
  4. Positive feedbacks in the climate, like increased humidity, will act to triple the warming from CO2.  OK, this strikes me as the key point in the scientific consensus.  Hypothesized positive feedback loops in the climate are what take the IPCC models from results that are warmer but probably manageable to results that appear catastrophically warmer.  Their models assume that as the world warms a bit from CO2, other effects take hold, and the world will warm even more.  For example, they posit that if the world is warmer, more water evaporates into water vapor in the atmosphere, which is a strong greenhouse gas, which accelerates the warming.  I think it is absurd to say there is a consensus on this point, which is adding 2/3 or more of the warming.  The notion of positive feedbacks in nature offends my intuition --  there are just not that many such processes in nature, or else nothing would be stable -- but then again Einstein's intution was offended by quantum mechanics and he was wrong.  However, using the IPCC's own findings (starting in section 8.6 here) the IPCC admits to there not even being a consensus on the sign (ie if it is positive or negative feedback) of what they describe as by far the strongest feedback process (cloud cover)!  I don't know how you can declare a consensus if you admit you don't even know the sign of the largest effect.
  5. The bad effects of warming greatly outweigh the positive effects, and we are already seeing them today (polar bears dying, glaciers melting, etc)  It would be absurd to declare a consensus here because no one has really done much definitive work.   Most folks, including me, presume that since substantial warming would take us beyond the temperature range for which our bodies and our civilization has been adapted, the net effect would be bad.  But there are positive offsets to the negative effects (e.g. oceans rising) that you never really hear about in the press (longer growing season, for one) but which are in the IPCC report.  Climate scientists themselves have admitted there is no consensus on what effects that we are seeing today are due to warming.  Part of Antarctica (about 2%) shown in Al Gore's movie is warming, but most scientists now think that this may be due to cyclical variations in ocean currents, while most of Antarctica has actually been cooling of late.  Greenland is warming, but glaciers may not be receding as fast as once feared.  Polar bear populations, despite reports to the contrary, are increasing.
  6. These bad effects, or even a small risk of them, easily justify massive intervention today in reducing economic activity and greenhouse gas production.  Many climate scientists express an opinion on this, often definitively, but if one argues that I am not qualified to test the consensus as a layman on global warming, then certainly climate scientists are far from qualified in drawing any conclusions on this topic.  The effects of a worldwide rollback on CO2 production at current technologies could be catastrophic, particularly for a billion people in India and China just on the verge of emerging from poverty.  Even in some of the most dire forecasts for warming, it is a very open question with little consensus as to whether a cooler but poorer world is better.  In fact, one can argue that even the pious Kyoto-signing countries are voting with their actions, rather than their words, on this issue, since they have resisted taking the hard economic steps necessary to meet their targets.

OK, that is more than I meant to write.  My point is that the word consensus is an absurd word to apply to the topic of anthropomorphic global warming.  Some things we understand pretty well (the world is warming, in part due to man-made CO2) and some we understand less well (the effect of feedback loops).  And some issues, like whether the harms from climate change are worth the cost of avoiding them, are entirely outside the purview of climate science.

Update: Strata-Sphere has a funny bit of related snark:

Global warming on Neptune’s moon Triton as well as Jupiter and Pluto, and now Mars has some scratching their heads over what could possibly be in common with the warming of all these planets....

I still don’t know. Could there be something in common with all the planets in our solar system that might cause them all to warm at the same time?

On a serious note, he has some nifty graphs of historic earth temperature reconstructions (including Mann) vs. sunspot activity reconstructions (sunspot activity generally being a proxy for solar output).  Short answer:  Sunspot activity at historical highs, at the same time as historical highs in temperature. 

Posted on March 6, 2007 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

TerraPass Business Model

I don't have any inside information on TerraPass, the company made famous by providing the $399.75 certificates that offset all your emissions for a year.  I do know that the numbers don't seem to add up, as I wrote here and Protein Wisdom similarly wrote here.

However, I thought about their business model some (since I have been on a role with new business models) and it strikes me that it is brilliant.  Because I am almost positive that they are (legally) reselling the same carbon credits at least three times!

Think of TerraPass not as a company that hands out little certificates, but as a business who makes money through energy projects.  These projects generate electricity without producing CO2 (e.g. wind), or in the case of their cow-poop projects they generate electricity by converting a very bad greenhouse gas (methane) to a less bad one (CO2).

So, for each Kw they generate, there is a certain number of tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided vs. if they had generated the same Kilowatts with fossil fuels.  (How many tons depends on what fuel you assume the power would have been made with -- my guess is they assume coal, since that gives them the biggest offset, though in fact the marginal fuel in most areas is natural gas in peaking turbines, which produces a lot less CO2).

Anyway, they can claim some number of tons of avoided CO2.  But I am pretty sure they are reselling these abated tons at least three times!  Here is how I think it works:

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to consumers.  Since the electricity is often expensive, they sell it as “CO2-free” electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas, where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being “CO2-free”.  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people to whom they don’t have to pay dividends or interest —just the feel-good sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

All, by the way, entirely legal, though perhaps not wholly ethical if you really care about reducing CO2 emissions and not just being able to cover your ass to smugly deflect criticism.  This is actually a brilliant way to finance electricity projects, one that Enron wasn't even smart enough to dream up.

And there is nothing wrong with buying these certificates.  The International Star Registry has sold thousands (millions?) of people on the idea that they can have a star named after themselves.  Of course, no actual official body that names stars accepts these as real names, but that's OK, the certificate kind of makes a cool graduation gift (friends of ours did the ISF thing for my father-in-law after he died and my wife really liked it).

Postscript:  By the way, this ignores the ability of such a company to resell the same credits to multiple certificate holders, since the whole CO2 credit thing is pretty damn hard to audit and no one is even trying.  I don't think these guys are doing so, but someone will think of it.

Posted on March 2, 2007 at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Updates on the Smugness Coupons

For RSS readers who probably don't get the updates to posts, I have added a number of updates to my post on smugness coupons, also known as offset certificates.

Posted on February 28, 2007 at 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Smugness Coupon with Enron Accounting

Apparently one of the reasons all those stars at the Oscars were so pleased with themselves is that they all got a smugness coupon in their gift bags (emphasis added):

Hollywood's wealthy liberals can now avoid any guilt they might feel for consuming so much non-renewable fossil fuel in their private jets, their SUVs, and their multiple air-conditioned mansions. This year's Oscar goodie bag contained gift certificates representing 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gas reductions from TerraPass, which describes itself as a "carbon offset retailer." The 100,000 pounds "are enough to balance out an average year in the life of an Academy Award presenter," a press release from TerraPass asserts. "For example, 100,000 pounds is the total amount of carbon dioxide created by 20,000 miles of driving, 40,000 miles on commercial airlines, 20 hours in a private jet and a large house in Los Angeles. The greenhouse gas reductions will be accomplished through TerraPass' [program] of verified wind energy, cow power [collecting methane from manure] and efficiency projects." Voila, guilt-free consumption! It reminds us of the era when rich Catholics paid the church for "dispensations" that would shorten their terms in Purgatory.

Something smells here, and it is not the cow-poop methane.  This 100,000 pound coupon retails for $399.75 (5x79.95) on the TerraPass web site.  First, this rate implies that all 300 million Americans could offset their CO2 emissions for about $100 billion a year, a ridiculously low figure that would be great news if true. 

Lets look at solar, something I know because I live in Arizona and have looked at it a few times.  Here is the smallest, cheapest installation I can find.  It produces 295 CO2-free Kw-hours in a month if you live in Phoenix, less everywhere else.  That is enough to run one PC 24 hours a day -- and nothing else.  Or, it is enough to run about 10 75-watt light bulbs 12 hours a day -- and nothing else.  In other words, it is way, way, way short of powering up a star's Beverly Hills mansion, not to mention their car and private jet.  It would not run one of the air conditioning units on my house.  And it costs $12,000!  Even with a 20 year life and a 0% discount rate, that still is more than $399.75 a year.  For TerraPass's offset claim to be correct, they have to have a technology that is one and probably two orders of magnitude more efficient than solar in Arizona.

[update:  Al Gore's house 221,000 kwH last year.  Call it 18,400KwH per month, that would require about 62 of these solar installations for $744,000.  I don't think $399.75 is really offsetting it]

So if Al Gore and the Hollywood-ites start whipping out these coupons and claiming to be green, be very, very skeptical.  My guess is that TerraPass is less like a real carbon offset and more like, say, the International Star Registry, where you get a nice certificate for the wall and the internal glow of having a star named after you (which, officially, it really is not).  Both the star registry and TerraPass are selling the exact same thing -- fluff.  Actually, TerraPass's certificate is a bit cheaper than the star registry.  Smugness on sale!  Think of it as the "International Earth Good-Guy Registry."

Update:  This type of thing is incredibly amenable to fraud.  If you sell more than 100% of an investment, eventually the day of reckoning will come when you can't pay everyone their shares (a la the Producers).  But if people are investing in CO2 abatement -- you can sell the same ton over and over and no one will ever know.

Also, this is a brilliant way to finance a power station.  Say you want to build a wind power station.  Actual regular investors will, you know, want a return paid to them on their investment.  But TerraPass has apparently found a way to get capital from people without paying any return.  They just give these people a feel-good share of the lack of CO2 emissions and a little certificate for the wall, and TerraPass gets capital they never have to repay to build a power station they likely would have built anyway that they can then in turn sell the power from and not have to give any of the revenues to investors.  Smart.

More thoughts:  My guess is that TerraPass, when it sells the electricity from these projects to customers, is selling it on the basis that it is earth-friendly and causes no CO2 emissions.  This lack of emissions is likely part of the "bundle" sold to electricity customers.  But note that this would be selling the same lack of emissions twice -- once to TerraPass certificate holders, and once to the electricity customers.  I am sure they are both told they are avoiding X tons of emissions, but it is the same X tons, sold twice (at least).  Even Enron didn't try this. 

I really wish I had fewer scruples, because this would be a fabulous business model -- free capital, the ability to sell the same goods multiple times to different people, all the while getting lauded for saving the world in the press and getting invited to the Academy Awards.

Update #2:  LOL. IowaHawk is offering the same thing, but for the discounted rate of $9.95!  And with much better bumper stickers.  He also suggests a multi-level marketing approach.  Here are just two of many choices:



Posted on February 28, 2007 at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Is Climate Becoming More Extreme?

Bruce Hall at Hall of Record has performed a really interesting analysis.  He created a data base for each state which shows in what year that state's monthly temperature records were set.   So for each state, he has the years when the twelve monthly high temperature records were set (e.g. year of highest Arizona Jan temp, year of highest Arizona Feb temp, etc.) and the years when the twelve monthly low temperature records were set.  Here, for example, is his data for Arizona:


So, for example, the record for the highest July temperature was set in 1905 at Parker, Arizona with a scorching 127 degrees.  The entry in his database would then be Arizona-July:  1905.  He notes that there is a bias in the data toward more recent years, since if the record was set in 1905 and tied in 1983, only the newer 1983 date will show in the data.  I would also observe that this data is uncorrected for urban heat island effects (as cities urbanize they get hotter, and effect that is different than CO2-cause global warming and is usually corrected for in global warming studies).  There is also a bias towards the present in having more measurement points today than 100 years ago:  More measurement points means that, over a state, one is more likely to pick up the true high (or low).

Though I have other problems with the anthropomorphic global warming hypothesis, I have never really doubted that the world has warmed up over the last century.  So even I, a skeptic, would expect a disproportionate number of the all-time high temperatures to be in the last decade, particularly without UHI correction and with the bias discussed above.  The global warming folks would argue that the effect should be doubly pronounced, since they claim that we are seeing not just a general heating, but an increase in volatility (ie more extreme variation around the mean).

But Hall doesn't find this when he graphs the data.  Take the 600 state monthly high temperature records that exist on the books today (50 states times 12 months) and graph the distribution of years in which these records were set:


Assuming about 120 years of data, you should expect to see a high temperature record on average in a database of 600 records at 5 per year, which is precisely where we have been of late and well below the record years in the thirties (remember the dust bowl?) and the fifties. It seems to actually show a reduction in temperatures or volatility or both.  Hmm.

Of course, the US is not the whole world -- in fact, all developed land masses are only 25% of the world, so there is a lot not covered by such records.  Also, statisticians are welcome to comment on whether looking only at extremes in a data set is even meaningful.  But this sure isn't what you might expect from, say, watching the Oscar telecast or the nightly news.

Hall also has the low temperature records in his very comprehensive post, which, surprisingly, do show more activity in the last several decades.  He has a follow-up here.  Finally, Hall has summarized his data a different way in this post -- you have to click on the chart to really see it in all its beauty.  Just take a quick look.  I won't steal his thunder by reproducing it here, but suffice it to say it reminded me of some of the best examples in the book Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

Posted on February 28, 2007 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Global Warming "Good News"

Regular readers will know I am skeptical that anthropomorphic global warming and its effects will be as bad as generally predicted.  However, if I can work around this bias, I would like to cast the issue as neutrally as I can:  Man-made CO2 will likely cause the world to warm some, and the negative effects of this for man are likely higher than the positive effects.  Under some assumptions, these net negative effects of man-made warming could be astronomical in cost, while under other assumptions they will be less so.  Against this variable outcome, efforts to substantially reduce CO2 production world wide and prevent further increases of atmospheric CO2 concentrations will carry a staggering cost, both in dollars and the inevitable social effects of locking developing countries into poverty they are just now escaping (not to mention loss of individual liberty from more government controls).

The political choice we therefore face is daunting:  Do we pay an incredibly high price to abate an environmental change that may or may not be more costly than the cure?  Reasonable people disagree on this, and I recognize that I may fall in the minority on which side I currently stand on (I think both warming and its abatement costs are overblown, mainly because I have a Julian-Simonesque confidence in man's adaptability and innovation).

Against this backdrop, we have Kevin Drum declaring "More good news on the global warming front:"

Seeking to shape legislation before Congress, three major energy trade associations have shifted their stances and decided to back mandatory federal curbs on carbon dioxide and other man-made emissions that could accelerate climate change.

Here is my news flash:  Having some Washington lobbying organizations switch which side of this incredibly difficult trade off they support is not "good news."  Good news is finding out that this trade off may not be as stark as we think it is.  Good news is finding some new technology that reduces emissions and which private citizens are willing to adopt without government coercion (e.g. sheets of solar cells that can be run out of factories like carpet from Dalton, Georgia).  Or, good news is finding out that man's CO2 production has less of an effect on world climate than once thought.  Oddly enough, this latter category of good news, surely the best possible news we could get on the topic, is seldom treated as good news by global warming activists.  In fact, scientists with this message are called Holocaust deniers.  I wonder why?

Update: LOL

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

I Win $25 Million!!

Via Volokh:

Richard Branson is offering a $25 million prize for the development of a technology capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

I Win!


OK, I get that he is actually looking for some solar-powered device that plates out carbon from the air on a cathode, or whatever.  Or maybe a big nuclear-powered Air Products plant pumping liquid CO2 down an old oil well. 

By the way, I wonder if it will occur to anyone that if you really want to offset carbon, you probably need to clear cut old growth forests, bury the logs, and plant new trees.  I would guess that a newly growing forest absorbs a lot more CO2 than old-growth redwoods (anyone know?)  And no, I am not really suggesting it.  I got in enough email hot water a year ago when I suggested that if global warming was really to become a problem, we could reverse it pretty quickly with about 30 man-made Krakatoa's, made from the creative use of some of those H-bombs still lying around.  Maybe we could even use them to dig a new canal across Nicaragua, killing two birds with one stone.

Anyway, I like Branson's idea.  This kind of price approach has yielded some interesting results in other fields.

Posted on February 12, 2007 at 04:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Environmentalist and Anti-Capitalism

The Jawa Report links a pretty fun episode of Bullshit! that takes a poke at the environmental movement.  Don't expect to get a lot of new facts, but it is funny, particularly the classic "Ban di-hydrogen monoxide" petition.  But the real thing I took away from the video was just how anti-capitalistic the environmental movement is.  Listen to the slogans -- its much more about "anti-corporate greed" than anything about the, you know, environment.  Listen carefully for the part where environmentalists take personal responsibility for using computers and cars that the evil corporations produce.  That admission comes right after Teller's dialog.

Posted on February 12, 2007 at 03:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun

Q&O has a nice roundup on the science around the Sun and the Sun's well documented increase in intensity and its potential affect on global warming.  As I have mentioned before, there is a growing body of evidence that some warming has to be laid at the Sun's doorstep.

The best measurements of global air temperatures come from American weather satellites, and they show wobbles but no overall change since 1999.

That levelling off is just what is expected by the chief rival hypothesis, which says that the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do. After becoming much more active during the 20th century, the sun now stands at a high but roughly level state of activity. Solar physicists warn of possible global cooling, should the sun revert to the lazier mood it was in during the Little Ice Age 300 years ago.

Climate history and related archeology give solid support to the solar hypothesis. The 20th-century episode, or Modern Warming, was just the latest in a long string of similar events produced by a hyperactive sun, of which the last was the Medieval Warming.

There is a lot more.  I am not ready to say, though, that the substantial increases we have seen in atmospheric CO2 levels are not also having an impact.  That impact is just a lot less than warming-panic-spreaders like Al Gore would like to acknowledge  After all, it is much easier to demagogue your way through an election beating up Exxon and GM than by beating up the Sun.  And, after failing to take over the economy under the banner of socialism, statists want to use global warming to take a second shot at world domination. 

Why the CO2 contribution to warming exists but is greatly overstated is explained here.

Posted on February 12, 2007 at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Check the Thermostat!

While we all argue about man's impact on the climate (my most recent take here), why isn't anyone checking the thermostat?

The New Scientist report, along with other scientific assessments warning of global cooling, also come as a blow to the campaign -- led by David Suzuki and one of the directors of his foundation -- to portray all who raise doubts about climate change theory -- so-called skeptics -- as pawns of corporate PR thugs manipulating opinion. If the Suzuki claim is true, then the tentacles of Exxon-Mobil reach deeper into science than anyone has so far imagined.

Dramatic global temperature fluctuations, as New Scientist reports, are the norm. A Little Ice Age struck Europe in the 17th century. New Yorkers once walked from Manhattan to Staten Island across a frozen harbour. About 200 years earlier, New Scientist reminds us, a sharp downturn in temperatures turned fertile Greenland into Arctic wasteland.

These and other temperature swings corresponded with changing solar activity. "It's a boom-bust system, and I expect a crash soon," says Nigel Weiss, a solar physicist at the University of Cambridge. Scientists cannot say precisely how big the coming cooling will be, but it could at minimum be enough to offset the current theoretical impact of man-made global warming. Sam Solanki, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, says declining solar activity could drop global temperatures by 0.2 degrees Celsius. "It might not sound like much," says New Scientist writer Stuart Clark, "but this temperature reversal would be as big as the most optimistic estimate of the results of restricting greenhouse-gas emissions until 2050 in line with the Kyoto protocol."

It turns out that while we may be encountering some of the highest temperatures in a couple of centuries, the sun's output is also at its highest point in centuries:


Posted on February 6, 2007 at 09:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

I Find This Argument Uncompelling

I am skeptical of some but not all global warming claims, but must admit that even as a skeptic, I find this argument by James Lewis uncompelling:

Now imagine that all the variables about global climate are known with less than 100 percent certainty. Let's be wildly and unrealistically optimistic and say that climate scientists know each variable to 99 percent certainty! (No such thing, of course). And let's optimistically suppose there are only one-hundred x's, y's, and z's --- all the variables that can change the climate: like the amount of cloud cover over Antarctica, the changing ocean currents in the South Pacific, Mount Helena venting, sun spots, Chinese factories burning more coal every year, evaporation of ocean water (the biggest "greenhouse" gas), the wobbles of earth orbit around the sun, and yes, the multifarious fartings of billions of living creatures on the face of the earth, minus, of course, all the trillions of plants and algae that gobble up all the CO2, nitrogen-containing molecules, and sulfur-smelling exhalations spewed out by all of us animals. Got that? It all goes into our best math model.

So in the best case, the smartest climatologist in the world will know 100 variables, each one to an accuracy of 99 percent. Want to know what the probability of our spiffiest math model would be, if that perfect world existed?  Have you ever multiplied (99/100) by itself 100 times? According to the Google calculator, it equals a little more than 36.6 percent.

The Bottom line: our best imaginable model has a total probability of one out of three. How many billions of dollars in Kyoto money are we going to spend on that chance?

Yes, there is a point to be made that climate is really complicated.  However, I can still make correct and valid directional predictions without knowing the exact state of every variable.  For example, I can say with some certainty that, at least here in Arizona, that the temperature at 4PM is going to be higher than the temperature at 4AM, and probably by many degrees.  I can make this statement despite having no idea what the temperature at either time actually is.

I think one can say that the hypothesis is pretty strong that man-made CO2 is increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations which in turn is causing some warming.  Where Mr. Lewis probably has a point is on the issue of positive and negative feedbacks.  Most of the warming in the estimates in productions like "An Inconvenient Truth"  relies not on just CO2-driven warming, but warming from a variety of feedback processes.  These feedbacks are really really complicated and not well understood.  I discuss this issue of feedbacks both here and here and here.

(HT Maggies Farm)

Posted on January 17, 2007 at 01:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Global Warming Detente?

Though Cathy Young's article has the opposite title, I actually think that the global warming debate is cooling off a bit, with a bit more reason creeping into a debate so far dominated by ideologies as much as science.  More and more voices like this one are starting to be heard:

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy studies at UCLA and a self-identified liberal, noted this recently on his blog. Writes Kleiman, "To those who dislike a social system based on high and growing consumption and the economic activity that supports high and growing consumption and maintains high and growing demand (a dislike with which I have considerable sympathy), to those who think that the market needs more regulation by the state, to those who think that international institutions ought to be strengthened . . . global warming is a Gaia-send" -- since it justifies drastic worldwide public action to curb production and consumption. (Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, is a term used by many ecologists to refer to the earth as a living entity.) While Kleiman sympathizes with environmentalists, he notes that "their eagerness to believe the worst" -- for instance, in Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" -- "is just as evident as the right wing's denialism."

As an analogy, Kleiman cites many social conservatives' attitude toward the AIDS epidemic, which has been used to portray sex outside monogamous heterosexual marriage as fraught with deadly peril and to preach the message of premarital abstinence. (Kleiman doesn't explicitly say this, but his comments hint at another abuse of science: Many conservatives and gay rights activists, for different motives, have exaggerated the fairly tiny risk of HIV infection from heterosexual sex.)

The analogy between AIDS and global warming also extends to attitudes toward ways to remedy the problem. The religious right, Kleiman points out, pooh-poohs condoms as a way to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases because the effectiveness of such a remedy would undermine the abstinence message. Similarly, those on the left who embrace environmentalism as their substitute religion don't want to hear about scientific and technological solutions to climate change -- from nuclear power to geoengineering, the artificial manipulation of the global environment -- that do not include stepping up regulation and curbing consumption.

There is a growing number of voices in the scientific community that reject both denialism and alarmism on global warming. Roger Pielke, an environmental science professor at the University of Colorado, calls such people "nonskeptical heretics" -- those who believe that human-caused global warming is a real problem, but one that can be met in part with technological management and adaptation. Mooney has come to embrace such a viewpoint as well.

The NY Times actually chimed in on this same topic.  And I for a while have been promoting a skeptical middle ground in the global warming debate.

Update: Increasingly, folks seem to want to equate "skeptic" with "denier."  If so, I will have to change my terminology.  However, that would be sad, as "skeptic" is a pretty good word**.  I accept there is some CO2 caused warming, but I am skeptical that the warming and its effects are as bad as folks like Al Gore make it out to be (explanation here), and I am skeptical that the costs of an immediate lock-down on CO2 production will outweigh the benefits.  That is why I call myself a skeptic.  If that is now a bad term, someone needs to suggest a new one.

**Though I can't help but be reminded of the great Tonya Harding interview on the Dan Patrick Show, where the famous hubcap-wielder and kneecap-breaker said  "I’m not going to make a skeptical of my boxing career."

Posted on January 16, 2007 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Oh My God, We're All Going to Die

Headline from the Canadian, via Hit and Run:

"Over 4.5 Billion people could die from Global Warming-related causes by 2012"

In case you are struggling with the math, that means that they believe Global Warming could kill three quarters of the world's population in the next five years.  And the media treats these people with total respect, and we skeptics are considered loony?  It appears that the editors of the Canadian have taken NOAA climate research Steven Schneider at his word:

We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

However, this example is a very good one to again raise the issue of the skeptical middle ground on climate. 

The methane hydrate disaster case in this article may be extreme, but it is consistent in certain ways with the current climate theories of those who advocate various extreme warming scenarios that require massive government intervention (i.e. every climate study that the media chooses to report on).  To oversimplify a bit, their warming models work in two parts:

  1. Man-made CO2 builds up in the atmosphere and acts to absorb more solar energy in the atmosphere than a similar atmospheric gas mix with less CO2 would.  Most climate scientists agree that since CO2 only absorbs selected wavelengths, this a diminishing-return type effect.  In other words, the second 10% increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere has a smaller impact on global temperatures than the first 10%, and so on.  Eventually, this effect becomes "saturated" such that all the wavelengths of sunlight that are going to be absorbed are absorbed, and further increases in CO2 concentration will have no further effect on world temperatures.  No one knows where this saturation point is, but it might be as low as plus 2 degrees C, meaning the most we could raise global temperatures (without effects in part 2 below) is less than 2 degrees (assuming we have already seen some of this rise).  By the way, though I think what I have just said fits the climate scientists' current "consensus,"  nothing in the italics part ever seems to get printed in the media.
  2. As temperatures rise worldwide due to warming from man-made CO2, other things in the climate will change.  Hotter weather may cause more humidity from vaporized water, or more cloud cover, from the same effect.  As posited in the article linked above, some methane hydrates in ice or in the ocean might vaporize due to higher temperatures.  More plants or algae might grow in certain areas, less in others.  All of these secondary effects might in turn further effect the global temperature.  For example, more cloud cover might act to counter-act warming and cool things off.  In turn, vaporizing methane hydrates would put more greenhouse gasses in the air that could accelerate warming.

    Scientists typically call these secondary reactions feedback loops.  Feedbacks that tend to counteract the initial direction of the process (e.g. warming creates clouds which then reduce warming) are called negative feedbacks.  Feedbacks that tend to accelerate the process (warming vaporizes methane which causes more warming) are positive feedbacks.  Negative feedback is a ball at the bottom of a valley that rolls back to its starting point when you nudge it; positive feedback is a ball perched on top of a mountain, where one slight nudge causes it to roll downhill faster and faster.   Most natural processes are negative feedbacks -- otherwise nothing would be stable.  In fact, while positive feedback processes are not unknown in nature, they are rare enough that most non-scientists would be hard-pressed to name one.  The best one I can think of is nuclear fission and fusion, which should give you an idea of what happens when nature gets rolling on a positive feedback loop and why we wouldn't be around if there were many such processes.

    So it is interesting that nearly every climate model that you hear of in the press assumes that the secondary effects from CO2-based warming are almost all positive, rather than negative feedbacks.  Scientists, in a competition to see who can come up with the most dire model, have dreamed up numerous positive feedback effects and have mostly ignored any possible negative feedbacks.  In other words, most climate scientists are currently hypothesizing that the world's climate is different from nearly every other natural process we know of and is one of the very very few runaway positive feedback processes in nature.

I want to offer up a couple of observations based on this state of affairs:

  • Climate science is very hard and very chaotic, so there is nothing we really know with certainty.  However, we have a far, far, far better understanding of #1 above than #2.  In fact, models based just on effect #1 (without any feedbacks) do a decent job of explaining history (though they still overestimate actual warming some).  However, models based on adding the positive feedback processes in #2 fail miserably at modeling history.  (Several scientists have claimed to have "fixed" this by incorporating fudge factors, a practice many model-based financial market speculators have been bankrupted by).  We have no real evidence yet to support any of the positive feedbacks, or even to support the hypothesis that the feedback is in fact positive rather than negative.  I had a professor once who liked to make the lame joke that it was a bad "sign" if you did not even know if an effect was positive or negative.
  • Because global warming advocates are much more comfortable arguing #1 than #2, they like to paint skeptics as all denying #1.  This makes for a great straw man that is easy to beat, and is aided by the fact that there is a true minority who doesn't believe #1  (and who, despite everything that is written, have every right to continue to express that opinion without fear of reprisal).  Actually, even better, they like to avoid defending their position at all and just argue that all skeptics are funded by Exxon.
  • However, it is step #2 that is the key, and that we should be arguing about.  Though the most extreme enviro-socialists just want to shut down growth and take over the world economy at any cost, most folks recognize that slowing warming with current technology represents a real trade-off between economic growth and CO2 output.  And, most people recognize that reducing economic growth might be survivable in the rich countries like the US, but for countries like India and China, which are just starting to develop, slowing growth means locking hundreds of millions into poverty they finally have a chance to escape.

    I am going to simplify this, but I think the following statement is pretty close:  The warming from #1 alone (CO2 without positive feedbacks) will not be enough to justify the really harsh actions that would slow CO2 output enough to have any effect at all;  only with substantial positive feedbacks from #2, such that the warming from CO2 alone is tripled, quadrupled or more (e.g. 8 degrees rather than 2) are warming forecasts dire enough to warrant substantial activity today.

So that is why I am a skeptic.  I believe #1, though I know there are also things other than manmade CO2 causing some of the current warming (e.g. the sun's output is higher today than it has been in centuries).  I do not think anyone has completed any really convincing work on #2, and Occam's razor tends to make me suspicious of hypothesizing positive feedback loops without evidence (since they are so much more rare than negative ones).

More on the skeptical middle ground hereDiscussion of things like the "hockey stick" is here.  For a small insight into how global warming advocates are knowingly exaggerating their case, see the footnote to this post.

Update:  Increasingly, folks seem to want to equate "skeptic" with "denier."  If so, I will have to change my terminology.  However, that would be sad, as "skeptic" is a pretty good word.  I accept there is some CO2 caused warming, but I am skeptical that the warming and its effects are as bad as folks like Al Gore make it out to be, and I am skeptical that the costs of an immediate lock-down on CO2 production will outweigh the benefits.  That is why I call myself a skeptic.  If that is now a bad term, someone needs to suggest a new one.

Posted on January 9, 2007 at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

I Have Had This Same Conversation

I swear I have had this identical conversation with my relatives that TJIC has with his.  In particular, he gets at the issue of the hidden labor tax:

TJIC: OK, what’s the cost of trash separation?

X: Trash separation?

TJIC: Yes, trash separation. You don’t “recycle”, per se, your step is just putting in extra labor to separate your garbage into two piles -

X: It’s free.

TJIC: It’s free?  Would you say that it takes 30 seconds a day extra to separate trash?

X: No.

Y: More like 60 seconds.

TJIC: OK, 60 seconds per day is 6 hours per year.  At $50 / hour, that’s $300 of labor -

X: But that’s nonsense, because we weren’t going to get paid for that labor anyway.

TJIC: Yes, but you could have done something enjoyable with that time.

I wrote more about this here, where I also linked to a great Bullshit! episode on recycling.

Posted on January 2, 2007 at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Counting Coup for CO2

New numbers for US vs. European CO2 growth have been making the rounds, based on a Wall Street Journal article today.  Jonathon Adler at Volokh has the key numbers for CO2 growth rates:

U.S. E.U.
1990-1995 6.4% -2.2%
1995-2000 10.1% 2.2%
2000-2004 2.1% 4.5%

The Wall Street Journal tries to make the point that maybe the US somehow has a better approach to CO2 reduction.  Here is the reality:  Neither the US or the EU has done anything of substance to really reduce CO2 production, because at the end of the day no one can tolerate the political and economic costs associated with severe reduction using current technology.

But there is a story in these numbers.  That story goes back to the crafting of the Kyoto treaty, and  sheds an interesting light on what EU negotiators were really trying to achieve.

The Kyoto Treaty called for signatories to roll back CO2 emissions to 1990 levels.  Since Kyoto was signed in the late nineties, one was immediately led to wonder, why 1990?  Why not just freeze levels in place as they were currently?

The reason for the 1990 date was all about counting coup on the United States.  The date was selected by the European negotiators who dominated the treaty process specifically to minimize the burden on Europe and maximize the burden on the US.  Look at the numbers above.  The negotiators had the 1990-1995 numbers in hand when they crafted the treaty and had a good sense of what the 1995-2000 numbers would look like.  They knew that at that point in time, getting to 1990 levels for the EU was no work -- they were already there -- and that it would be a tremendous burden for the US.  Many holier-than-thou folks in this country have criticized the US for not signing Kyoto.  But look at what we were handed to sign - a document that at the point of signing put no burden on the EU, little burden on Japan, no burden on the developing world, and tremendous burden on the US.  We were handed a loaded gun and asked to shoot ourselves with it.  Long before Bush drew jeers for walking away from the treaty, the Senate voted 99-0 not to touch the thing until it was changed.

But shouldn't the European's get some credit for the 1990-1995 reduction?  Not really.  The reduction came from several fronts unrelated to actions to reduce CO2:

  • The European and Japanese economies were absolutely on their backs, reducing economic growth which drives CO2 growth.  I have not looked up the numbers, but the 1990s are probably the time of the biggest negative differential for the European vs. US economy in my lifetime.
  • The British were phasing out the use of carbon-heavy domestic coals for a variety of reasons unrelated to carbon dioxide production.
  • German reunification had just occurred, so tons of outdated Soviet inefficient and polluting industrial plant had just entered the EU, and was expected to be shut down and modernized for economic reasons over the 1990's.  The negotiators went out of their way to make sure they picked a date when all this mess was in their base number, making it easier to hit their target.
  • The 1990 also puts Russia in the base.  Since 1990, as the negotiators knew, the Russian economy had contracted significantly.
  • At the same time the American economy was going gangbusters, causing great envy among Europeans.

Kyoto was carefully crafted to make America look like the bad guy.  The European's goal was to craft treaty responsibilities that would require no real effort in Europe, with most of the burden carried by the US.  But times change, and the game is catching up with them.

Posted on December 18, 2006 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Hidden Energy Costs

I have long suspected, but can't prove, that most of the recycling we do is worthless.  I look in my recycling bin and think -- it's got to be cheaper to start with the raw material than what's in this bin.  The problem is hidden system costs.  For example, everyone thinks they are saving energy by recycling.  But in my town, as in most towns, recycling basically doubles the vehicle miles driven by the sanitation trucks to get all the waste out, because we get a visit from the "trash" truck and later in the week get a visit from the "recycling" truck.  Plus there is all that extra labor in the pickup and the sorting.  And that is all before the processing costs.  And all this is without even considering the staggering amount of "free" labor the recycling system gets from you and I as individuals.**

The Mises Blog has a link to the online video of a Penn & Teller Bullshit! show that takes on this very issue.  Since its Penn & Teller, its both funny and smart, and comes to the conclusion that only aluminum can recycling really makes sense.  All the rest is a big feel-good circle jerk that really saves no money or energy.  Its particularly funny when they put about 15 different colored cans in front of one guys home and tells him each is for a different type of material.  The one addition I would make is that reusing an object for its original use almost always saves money -- for example, we save Amazon boxes to use when we ship things out.

Along the same lines of hidden costs, this study sent to me by a reader looks at the total lifetime energy costs of automobiles, including their manufacturing and transportation as well as their fuel use.  I can't vouch for it's accuracy, but the results are somewhat surprising -- for example, most hybrids have lifetime energy costs higher than average for vehicles.

** But recycling is easy!  It hardly takes any time!  Well, let's say it takes only an incremental 1 minute a week from each individual in the country to recycle (a number that is lower than the actual, I think).  That translates to 260 million man-hours a year or the equivalent of 130,000 full time jobs.

Posted on November 27, 2006 at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Burning Climate Skeptics at the Stake

Ronald Bailey makes a plea for free scientific inquiry in response to Dave Roberts proposal vis a vis climate skeptics.  Mr. Roberts said, in part:

When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards—some sort of climate Nuremberg

Oh goody, yet another reason I will be put up against the wall come the progressive revolution.  I would give Mr. Roberts a helpful suggestion:  A better analog for prosecuting people over their scientific beliefs would be the Catholic Church's various attempts to stamp out heresy, including their prosecution of Galileo for his views that the earth orbits around the sun, rather than vice-versa.

My views on the reasonable skeptical middle ground on climate change here. (and more here)

Besides, I would argue that progressives like Mr. Roberts willful ignorance of the science of economics has been far more destructive than potential scientific misreadings of global warming.

Posted on October 23, 2006 at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Urban Heat Islands

For most city dwellers, the temperature increase in the summer time from the urban heat island effect (UHIE) dwarfs any temperature increase from global warming.  UHIE is the result of high population density, with lots of cars and equipment that generate heat and buildings and roads that seem to hold it in.  Many cities are several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.  The effect is so dramatic that correcting for this effect is a big part of the uncertainty in answering seemingly simple questions like "how much has the earth warmed in the last 100 years?"

Apparently, UHIE is a big problem in one of the world's densest cities, Tokyo.

The gleaming high rise buildings that crowd the cityscape may symbolize Japan's economic recovery but they have also converted this priciest of human habitats into vast heat-trapping canyons in what is known as the urban heat island (UHI) effect.

Heat churned out by air-conditioners, automobiles and human activity finds no escape, causing ambient temperatures, especially in the summer months, to rise by several degrees and forcing authorities to constantly look for newer ways to cool down a city on the boil....

A report released by the Tokyo Metropolitan government this year shows that average temperature rise in the capital over the course of the 20th century has been 3 degrees C....

Yamaguchi also told IPS that the number of days recording temperatures of over 35 degrees C has gone up to more than 35 days a year, concentrated around the three summer months between July and September. That contrasts with the 14 days recorded in 1975....

Tellingly, most of the deaths from the European heat wave several years ago where in cities, which tells me that UHIE had a contributing role more than global warming.  This is actually something we argue about from time to time in Phoenix.  Ocasionally the city considers steps to lower our albedo, such as requiring white (rather than black) roofs and looking at alternatives to dark asphalt for roads.

This has never been a big environmentalist issue.  My guess is that this is because environmentalists, at least in the US, have adopted a goal of increasing urban concentration and population densities.  I suppose it might be embarassing for them to admit the warming they are trying to get city dwellers to blame on CO2 may in fact be largely due to the environmentalists own urban planning approaches.

Posted on September 1, 2006 at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Skeptical Middle Ground on Warming

I did not see the ABC special the other night on climate, but I am told that as a skeptic of the extreme global warming scenarios, I was compared to both a holocaust denier and a tobacco executiveBoy, you gotta love free scientific inquiry!

One of the tricks of all debaters, not just climate folks, is to create a straw man opponent who is easy to knock down.  Now apparently this show did not even bother to interview a skeptic at all, but they chose as their straw man "people paid off by the oil companies who believe man has no effect on climate."

Well, gee, I certainly can see how with current state of knowledge it is getting tougher to credibly sell the "no impact at all" argument, but I would say that with climate and all its vagaries its still a position that a person can stake out and not be a wacko

There is, though, a middle ground of skepticism that falls somewhere between "man has no effect" and "temperatures will rise ten degrees and the world will end unless we make Al Gore our economic dictator."

One of the things they never explain on shows like ABC's is that most climate scientists agree that when other variables are held constant (more in a minute), increases in CO2 will only increase global temperatures by 1-2 degrees, some of which we have already seen.  It is seldom mentioned in the press that there is a strong diminishing return relationship between CO2 levels in the atmosphere and warming (leaving everything else equal for a moment).  So, the next doubling in CO2 concentrations will have substantially less impact on global temperatures than the last doubling.  This is something that most reputable climate scientists will agree with.

So, how do climate researchers get 6-8 degress of additional warming or more in their models?  They get it from positive feedbacks.  Most of Nature's processes are negative feedbacks -- push a pendulum one way, nature tries to bring it back to the center.  Positive feedback is like a rock balanced on the top of a mountain -- one little push and it starts rolling faster and faster.

Climate scientists posit (but as yet have not observed and can't prove) a number of feedback processes that might tend to amplify or dampen the effect of increase atmospheric CO2 on global temperatures.  The easiest to understand is the effect of water.  As temperatures rise due to CO2 concentrations, one might expect clear air humidity to go up worldwide (as higher temperatures vaporize more water) and you might expect cloud cover to increase (for the same reason).  If water vapor goes mostly to humidity, then global warming is accelerated as water vapor in clear air is a strong greenhouse gas.  One to Two degrees of warming from increased CO2 might then become four or six or eight.  If instead vaporized water mostly goes to cloudcover, the effect of CO2 is instead dampened since more clouds will reflect more sunlight back into space.

Generally, one can make two observations about how most of the climate models that make the news treat these positive and negative feedback loops:

  • Climate scientists tend to include a lot of positive feedback loops and downplay the negative feedback loops in their models.  Some skeptics argue that the funding process for climate studies tends to reward researchers who are most agressive in including these acclerating effects.
  • The science of these accelerating and decelerating effects is still equivocal, and their is not much good evidence either way between positive and negative feedback.  We do know that current models with heavy positive feedback loops grossly overestimate historic warming. In other words, when applied to the past, these positive-feedback-heavy models say we should be hotter today than we actually are.

My much longer article on the same topic is here, where I also address other things that may be happening in the climate and reasons why a poorer but colder world may be worse than a warmer and richer world.  I recommend to your attention this article, which is the best statement I can find of the skeptical middle ground. 

Posted on August 31, 2006 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Unintended Consequences at Work

A reader emailed me this article about the Endangered Species Act at work:

The sharp chirps of the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and the whine of chain saws sound discordantly in this coastal community of old pine forests....

The woodpecker's status as an endangered species requires special measures to try to prevent its extinction and restore its population, wildlife officials say. That's the law. Wildlife officials gave the town maps pinpointing woodpecker nests. No building or tree cutting is allowed within 200 feet of a nest tree without a federal permit. Some restrictions on development also apply to 75-acre circles around each nest site to provide foraging area for the birds....

Since word got around this spring that owners could face problems selling land or building houses where the birds lived, people have been rushing to clear undeveloped lots of pine trees and yanking the woodpecker welcome mat.

More than anywhere else in North Carolina, Boiling Spring Lakes is a place where the coastal development boom and the federal Endangered Species Act have collided.

"People are just afraid a bird might fly in and make a nest and their property is worth nothing," said Joan Kinney, mayor of Boiling Spring Lakes in Brunswick County. "It is causing a tremendous amount of clear-cutting."...

Bonner Stiller, a state lawmaker from Brunswick County, has owned a pair of lots as an investment here for more than 20 years. He cleared them recently. Stiller said he was sorry to lose the trees but wanted to protect his investment.

"You had to get in line to get somebody with a chain saw," Stiller said. "I have not a single pine tree left. Folks around here are terrified of the prospect of losing their property. That causes people to get out there and find out what they can do to protect themselves."

In the past, I have divided environmental law into two categories:  emissions law, which is not only consistent with but a must for the maintenance of a strong property rights regime; and land use law, which tends to be an affront to property rights.  You can read more on this distinction here.  This situation is a great example of why land use environmental law is such a problem.

Take a step back.  Consider that some (but by no means all) people in this country value the continued existence of the red-cockaded woodpecker.  There are several ways they might pursue this goal, which I will put in order of decreasing attractiveness:

  • They can get together, voluntarily pool their money, and seek to purchase land that might be habitat for the woodpecker and voluntarily set aside what is now their land from development.  This is the best solution, and the only one that operates without resorting to the use of force against individuals.  Oranizations like the Nature Conservancy and other land trusts work this way.
  • They can get the government to tax everybody in the country a few extra cents, flow these cents together into big dollars, and have the government buy the land (or seize it via eminent domain) and set it aside as open space or parkland.  This takes money by government force from people who don't value the woodpecker's survival, but at least it spreads the cost wide and thin.
  • They can get the government to declare that the twenty-five or thirty people who have these birds on their land can no longer do anything, from development to tree-cutting, on their land.  This option is the worst, because it lands the entire cost of the woodpecker's survival on just a few individuals, and it costs these individuals inordinately high amounts of money in the form of reduced property values  (if you can't do anything to a piece of raw land, the resale value effectively drops to zero).  I personally hold a piece of raw land for future development of a vacation or retirement home.  A substantial portion of my net worth is in this land.  If it were to be suddenly made worthless, much of my life's savings would be gone.

As an interesting note, I have ranked these options in descending order with an eye to fairness and individual rights.  However, if we instead rank these options from the perspective of the average Congressman and his/her political calculations, we actually get the reverse order!  The first option of private action is the worst from your average Congressman's point of view, because then there is nothing they can take credit for in their next election campaign.  The second option is better, but would involve a tax or deficit increase he might conceivably be dinged for.  The third is the best for our average politically-calculating Congress critter, since it results in an outcome he can take credit for with important interest groups, and the costs are almost totally hidden, and born by just a few people who don't have many votes and may not even be in his district.  Not surprisingly, this is the approach Congress has taken, via the Endangered Species Act.

There is some hope that this problem may eventually get worked out the right way, at least in Boiling Springs Lake:

The Nature Conservancy hopes to help. Since 1999, it has acquired about 6,500 acres that form a horseshoe around the center of town. The land, much of which is wetlands, has two groups of woodpeckers. Woodpeckers typically nest in clusters of 3 or more birds with one breeding pair and helpers. In time, the land could support six or eight clusters as the conservancy adds more land for a nature preserve.

Posted on August 22, 2006 at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

And the Winning Low Emissions Technology is...

The one the government did not support, plan for, or subsidize.

It increasingly looks like hybrids, particularly newer plug-in hybrids, will be the high MPG, low-emission technology winner in the foreseeable future.  The US and California governments, among others, have subsidized (and at times mandated) pure electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, natural gas powered vehicles, and fuel cell powered vehicles.  While some governments have come along with ex-post-facto promotions of hybrids (e.g. ability to use the carpool lane), hybrids have been developed and won in the market entirely without government help and in places like California, effectively in the face of government opposition (because they were stuck on zero emission vehicles, low-emission vehicles were opposed)

Plug in hybrids have many of the advantages of electric vehicles without the range problems.  They use standard gasoline so they avoid the new fuel distribution issues of natural gas and hydrogen.  And fuel cell technology may be great one day but is not there yet.  I was reminded of all this by this article by Stephen Bainbridge on why the EV-1 failed.

Update:  This reminds me of the 19th century transcontinental railroads - UP, SP, NP, GN etc.  Only one of these transcontinentals did not get any federal land grants or government financing -- the Great Northern of James J. Hill -- and not coincidently the GN was the only one not to go bankrupt in the close of the century.

Posted on August 16, 2006 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tragedy of the Commons

I have been a Tiger-lover for years, going back even before my days at Princeton.  Over the years, I have given to various tiger defense funds, generally with a feeling of hopelessness.  The total dollars someone can gain from stripping a tiger of all of its lucrative parts is almost drug-money high, due to the popularity of tiger bits in various Asian "medicines."

This proposal from Barun Mitra, as quoted by Cafe Hayek, is the first one I have seen that might have a chance.  He proposes to allow ownership and commercial farming of tigers, to give incentives to breed and preserve the species.  This is a classic tragedy of the commons problem, where current lack of clear ownership of the valuable assets (here, tigers) lead to harvesting without heed to the long-term value of the asset.

At present there is no incentive for forest dwellers to protect tigers, and so poachers, traffickers and unscrupulous traders prevail. The temptation of high profits, in turn, attracts organized crime; this is what happens when government regulations subvert the law of supply and demand.

But tiger-breeding facilities will ensure a supply of wildlife at an affordable price, and so eliminate the incentive for poachers and, consequently, the danger for those tigers left in the wild. With selective breeding and the development of reintroduction techniques, it might be possible to return the tiger to some of its remaining natural habitats. And by recognizing the rights of the local villagers to earn legitimate revenue from wildlife sources, the tiger could stage a comeback.

I've met a lot of World Wildlife Federation folks in my life, and can say that few of them trust capitalism and many hate it.  My gut feel is that these guys would rather see Tigers die off than end up as commercial herd-beasts, so I am pretty sure this proposal will never, unfortunately, get adopted.

Posted on August 16, 2006 at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

More on Climate

A week or so ago, I tried my best to lay out what I thought was a reasonable position on man-made global warming, while at the same time criticizing some of the Al Gore-type over-hype that's out there as climate change evangelists, to put it charitably, get out ahead of the current science. 

In a similar manner, I thought this article by Ron Bailey does a pretty good job at trying to find some stable ground in the climate change debate.

Posted on August 4, 2006 at 09:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Virtues of a Carbon Tax

Michael O'Hare and Matt Yglesias (via Megan McArdle subbing at Instapundit) makes this very good point about carbon taxes:

Tragically, if you tell people you're going to tax their ft ossile fuels, they freak out and your political career dies a swift and merciless death. But if you tell people you're going to subsidize alternative energy sources the people will like that. Functionally, however, these are basically the same thing, except for the fact that the tax method works much, much better.

This is unfortunately true.  As I have posted a number of times, I am skeptical that man-made global warming and the net of the problems (and opportunities) it brings will be bad enough to justify the economic cost of slowing or reversing CO2 emissions.  However, I can imagine being convinced that efforts to limit CO2 emissions are necessary.

Regulations on emissions, whether to the air or into shared waterways, is one of the few areas of government action that actually facilitate the smooth operation of strong property rights.  As I explained before, one could easily imagine a world of strong property rights bogged down in constant suits and counter-suits, as any property owner could rightfully sue over molecules of emissions that crossed their property line from another.  Certainly I can imagine private solutions and agreements that could have developed in the absence of government to sort this out, but government emissions restrictions, when done well, are not an unreasonable approach.

Of course, there are a lot of bad ways to manage emissions, and the government has tried about all of them.  New source controls, which are still debated and, incredibly, supported, represent all the worst of government hubris in trying to micro-manage solutions and technologies rather than just defining the desired outcome.  If anything, new technology subsidies (think ethanol) have been even worse, acting more like political pork and rent-seeking than intelligent pollution policy.

However, the government, especially the environmental lobby which tends to be full of technocrats and statists, greatly prefer the government micromanagement approach.  The impossibility of the task should be clear.  Take CO2 reduction -- to micromanage the reduction, the government would have to sort through every source of CO2, every available technology, and come up with a prioritized plan for investment to get the most reduction for the least $.  And even if the tried, they would be wrong, because this is a problem with a billion variables.  And even if they happen to get it right, they would not implement it, changing their plans the minute the Archer Daniels Midland lobbyist walked in the door. 

To understand the complexity, take one example: electric cars.  Hey, everyone loves the idea of electric cars -- they are zero emissions, right?  Well, sort of.  Actually they are emissions outsourcing devices, shifting emissions from the individual car's tailpipe to the power plant where the electrical charge is coming from.  Now, that power plant is a lot more efficient at burning fossil fuels, so often the net is better, but what if the marginal electricity production is coming from coal?  Does that net reduce CO2?  And, if electric cars reduce carbon emissions, does $10,000 investing in electric cars reduce more or less carbon emissions than $10,000 in solar?

These decisions are impossible to make, but we don't have to.  Every day, markets and price signals help individuals make such tradeoffs rationally.   That's why a carbon tax, that raises the price of CO2 emissions fairly directly, would be a much more efficient approach to managing emissions.

Update: People have asked about emissions trading.  Emissions trading schemes are OK, in that they help push emissions reductions towards the people who can do it most efficiently.  What I don't like about them is they are a government form of incumbent subsidy - basically industry incumbents get a tradeable asset of value, while new and future entrants do not.

Posted on August 2, 2006 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Climate Web Site

A couple of days ago I expressed frustration at finding a source for even-handed analysis of climate issues.  As someone who accepts more warming than zero but less than Al Gore espouses, I'd like to find a source of climate analysis that I could count on to look at all sides of the issue.  Recently the Prometheus web site was recommended to me.  I am still reviewing it, but you might want to check it out.

By the way, coming soon is the climate cage match to be held by the US House of Representatives.

Posted on July 27, 2006 at 09:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

A Skeptics Primer for "An Inconvenient Truth"

Update:  Please enjoy this post; however, I have published a (free) more comprehensive guide to the skeptics arguments concerning man-made global warming.  You can find the HTML version here and a free pdf download here.

A few days ago, my wife announced to me that she wanted me to take her to "An Inconvenient Truth", the recent movie vehicle for communicating Al Gore's views on climate change.  I told my wife that I found the climate issue incredibly interesting -- I have always had a passion for inter-disciplinary science and climate requires integration of bits not just from climate science but from economics, statistics, biology, and more.  I told her I would love to see a true documentary on climate change, but I was as interested in seeing a "science" film from the group that put this movie together as I presume she was in seeing a "even-handed" movie on abortion produced by the Catholic Church.

Never-the-less, she has insisted, so I put together a skeptic’s primer for her, which I will also share with you.  Note that I am not actively involved in climate research myself, so the following is my admittedly incomplete understanding of all the issues.  It is meant to raise issues that you may not find discussed in most global warming accounts.

Overview:  The earth has warmed by 2/3 of a degree to as much as a degree (all temperatures in Celsius) over the last 100 years, of which man may be responsible for no more than half through CO2 emissions.  The poles, which are important to all the global deluge scare scenarios, have warmed less than the average.  Man's CO2 emissions will warm the earth another degree or so over the next 100 years.  There is a possibility the warming will be greater than this, but scary-large warming numbers that are typical of most climate reports today depend on positive feedback loops in the climate that are theoretical and whose effect has not yet been observed.  The effects of warming will be a mix of positive and negative outcomes, recognizing that the former never seem to get discussed in various media scare stories.  If the effects of warming are a net negative on mankind, it is not clear that this negative outweighs the costs in terms of lost economic growth (and the poverty, disease, and misery that comes with lower growth) of avoiding the warming.  In other words, I suspect a warmer but richer world may be better than a cooler but poorer world.

The Hockey Stick:  The Hockey Stick graph as become the emblem, the sort of coat-of-arms, for the climate change intelligentsia.  Until recently, the climate consensus for the last 1000 years, taken from reams of historical records (things like the history of X river freezing in winter or Y region having droughts) was this:


This chart is from the 1990 IPCC climate report, and in it you can see features that both historians and scientists have discussed for years -- the warm period during the Middle Ages and the "little ice age" of the late 17th century.  Of course, this chart is barely better than a guess, as are most all historical climate surveys.  For example, 3/4 of the earth is water (where few consistent observations were taken) and only a small percentage of the rest was "civilized" to the extent of having any historical records.  In addition to historical records, scientists try to use things like ice cores and tree rings to get a sense of long-term global climate patterns.

This long-held consensus changed with Mann, et. al., a study that created a new climate picture for the last millennia that has immediately caught the fancy of nearly every advocate of climate Armageddon.


For obvious reasons, this graph is called "the hockey stick" and it is beloved by the global warming crowd because it hammers home the following message:  Climate has been incredibly steady over the past 900 years with a flat to declining temperature trend until man came along and caused a dramatic shift.  Based on this analysis, Mann famously declared that the 1990's were the warmest decade in a millennia and that 1998 was the hottest year in the last 1000 years.  (For real hubris, check out this recent USAToday graphic, which purports to know the world's temperature within .001 degree for every year going back two thousand years)

In fact, what Mann's chart shows for the last 100 years is about what I said in my overview - that the world has warmed a degree and that man maybe has contributed up to half of this.  Notice that tacked onto the end of the previous consensus view, the last 100 years seem like it might just be the start of another natural cyclical climate variation.    Not necesarily a reason for panic.  Ah, but Mann's chart!  That's a chart that anyone eager to have the government intervene massively in the economy is bound to love. It says that we are currently entering an unprecedented anomoly, and that the chief suspect for creating this change must be human civilization.

So is Mann right?  Well, a couple of things to note.  First, its instructive to observe how eagerly the climate community threw out its old consensus based on years of research in favor of Mann's study.  It’s unusual for a healthy scientific community to throw out their old consensus on the basis of one study, especially when no one had replicated its findings independently. Which no one has ever been able to do, since Mann has refused to share his models or methodology details.  In fact, it took a US Congressional subpoena to get any of his underlying models into the public domain.  This behavior by a scientist would normally engender ENORMOUS skepticism in the community -- normally, I mean, except for in climate science, where mountaintop revelation without 3rd party repeatability is OK as long as it supports a dire man-made climate catastrophe model. In short, climate change advocates wanted the study to be true, because it was such a powerful image to show the public.

Despite Mann's reticence to allow anyone to check his work, skeptics still began to emerge.    Take that big temperature bulge in the Middle Ages shown in the previous concensus view.  This bulge was annoying to climate interventionists, because it showed that large variations in temperature on a global scale can be natural and not necessarily the fault of modern man. But Mann made this whole medieval bulge go away.  How?  Well, one of the early revelations about Mann's work is that all the data before 1450 or so comes from studying the tree rings of one single tree.  Yes, that's one tree (1).  Using the evidence of this one tree, Mann flattened the temperature over the 500 year period from 1000-1500 and made the Medieval warm period just go poof.  Wow!

The bigger criticism of Mann has come from statisticians.  Two Canadian statisticians began questioning Mann's methodology, arguing that his statistical approach was incorrect.  They demonstrated that Mann's statistical approach was biased towards creating hockey sticks, and they showed how the Mann model could be applied to random noise and produce a hockey stick.   The climate change establishment did not take this criticism well, and tried their hardest to rip these two guys up.  In fact, you might have believed that the two had been molesting little boys or declaring the world is flat rather than just questioning another scientist's statistical methodology. 

Recently, a US Congressional Committee asked a group of independent statisticians led by Dr. Edward Wegman, Chair of the National Science Foundation's Statistical Sciences Committee, to evaluate the Mann methodology.  Wegman et. al. savaged the Mann methodology as well as the peer review process within the climate community:

It is important to note the isolation of the paleoclimate community; even though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community. Additionally, we judge that the sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent. Moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that this community can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility. Overall, our committee believes that Dr. Mann’s assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade of the millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium cannot be supported by his analysis.

Further, Wegman concurred on almost every point with the Canadians, coming to the conclusion that the hockey stick was deepfly flawed.  In most other scientific communities, the Mann analysis would have been sent to the dustbin along with cold fusion and Archbishop James Ussher's dating of the earth to October 23, 4004 BC. The problem is that the Mann chart has become too politically important.  Prominent men like Al Gore have waved it around for years and put it in his books.  No one in the core of the climate community can back away from the hockey stick now without the rest of the world asking, rightly, what else is wrong with your analyses?  If I seem too hard on the climate science community, then consider this quote from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) climate researcher and global warming action promoter, Steven Schneider:

We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

Now you know why, for all its flaws, you will continue to see the hockey stick in the press.  Because it is not about the facts, but about "scary scenarios" and "dramatic statements".

Has Man Been Causing the Warming?

Yes, some of it.  But its a little more complicated than the global warming community lets on.   First, note the last 100 years of the hockey stick.  The big upwards spike begins in 1900, long before any large man-made concentrations of CO2 were put into the atmosphere.  In fact, even those most fanatical about assigning maximum blame for climate change to man don't blame man-made effects for most of the first half of the 20th century temperature spike. 

Which begs the question, what caused the 1900-1940 spike of about 1/2 a degree?  Answer:  Nobody really knows.  Which begs the follow-on question:  If we don't know what caused the 1900-1940 run-up, how do we know that this same force is not responsible for some of the run-up since 1950?  Answer:  We don't.  As I will explain below, climate scientists trying to validate their models have reasons for wanting the post-1950 temperature rise to be all man-made.  But just because they assume it to be due to man-made rises in atmospheric CO2 concentrations does not make it so -- correlation does not equal causation.

Well, what else could be causing this increase?  It could at least partially be natural cyclical variations in climate that we don't really understand. Or it could be something more obvious, like, say, the sun was brighter.  I can imagine your reaction -- no way it could be just a brighter sun, Coyote.  I mean, that's the first thing the climate scientists would check if earth temperatures were rising, right?


This chart compiled from data by Judith Lean of the Naval Research Library and charted from her data at NOAA by Junkscience.com shows that interestingly, the sun's output does appear to be higher today than they have been in many, perhaps hundreds of years.  Would such increased activity be expected to result in higher earth temperatures?  I don't know, but if you think it odd that scientists talk about global warming without mentioning how hot the sun is, well, welcome to the world of climate science.   Its kind of like scrambling to find out why your room is too hot without first checking to see where the thermostat on the furnace is set.  More on the sun's variance and climate change here.

Future Warming:  The key question, of course, is about future warming - i.e., based on man's economic growth and projected output of CO2, how much can the world be expected to warm, say over the next 50-100 years.  I don't know what the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" will claim until I see it, but most recent studies have shown warming from 2-8 degrees (consistent with what is depicted by the USAToday graphic linked above).

There are lots of issues with these forecasts that occasionally might even get mentioned in the popular press.  Some issues are unavoidable, like the inherent complexity and unpredictability of climate.  Some issues probably could be avoided, like the egregiously bad economic forecasting that drives CO2 output forecasts in many of these models.  I won't delve into these issues much, except to say that we are dealing with massively complex systems. If an economist came up with a computer model that he claimed could predict the market value of every house in the world in the year 2106 within $10,000, would you believe him?  No, you would say he was nuts -- there is way to much uncertainty.  Climate, of course, is not the same as housing prices.  It is in fact, much, much more complex and more difficult to predict. 

All these forecasts are created by a pretty insular and incestuous climate science community that seems to compete to see who can come up with the most dire forecast.  Certainly there are financial incentives to be as aggressive as possible in forecasting climate change, since funding dollars tend to get channeled to the most pessimistic.   The global warming community spends a lot of time with ad hominem attacks on skeptics, usually accusing them of being in the pay of oil and power companies, but they all know that their own funding in turn would dry up rapidly if they were to show any bit of skepticism in their own work.

Leaving aside all the other modeling problems and focus on one fact: Most climate scientists would agree that if you focus narrowly just on the effects of CO2 on warming, that even under the most extravagant assumptions of CO2 production, the world will not warm more than a degree or two in total, some of which we have already seen.  The reason is that the effect of CO2 concentration on global temperature is logarithmic.  This means that increasing concentrations of CO2 have diminishing returns on temperature. For example, if the first doubling of CO2 concentration raises temperatures by a degree, then the next doubling may only raise it by a tenths of a degree.  This is because CO2 only absorbs sunlight and energy in certain frequency bands and this ability to absorb energy gets saturated, much like a pot of water can only dissolve so much salt before it is saturated.

There is fair amount of argument over just how saturated the CO2 layers are in terms of energy absorption, but most scientists will agree that at some point, in isolation, additional CO2 added to the atmosphere by man stops having any significant effect on global temperature.

So how do we get these dire forecasts of 6, 7, 8 degrees of warming? Well, I was careful to say the effect of CO2 in isolation maxes out.  To get to higher levels of warming, scientists posit "positive feedback loops" that augment the warming effect.  Positive feedback generally means that once a process gets going in a direction, there is some force that will accelerate the process faster or farther in the same direction.  Negative feedback means that once a process is moving there is some force that tends to try to slow the process back down. Positive feedback is a boulder balanced on the top of a mountain, where one push will cause it to roll down the mountain faster and faster; Negative feedback is a boulder in a valley, where despite lots of effort, the rock will keep coming to rest back where it started.

In global warming models, water vapor plays a key role as both a positive and a negative feedback loop to climate change.  Water vapor is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.  It comes into play because CO2 driven warming will put more water vapor in the atmosphere, because greater heat will vaporize more water.  If this extra vapor shows up as more humid clear air, then this in turn will cause more warming as the extra water vapor absorbs more energy and accelerates warming.  However, if this extra water vapor shows up as clouds, the cloud cover will tend to reflect energy back into space and retard temperature growth. 

Which will happen?  Well, nobody knows.  And this is just one example of the many, many feedback loops that scientists are able to posit but not prove. And climate scientists are coming up with numerous other positive feedback looks.  As one skeptic put it:

Regardless, climate models are made interesting by the inclusion of "positive feedbacks" (multiplier effects) so that a small temperature increment expected from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide invokes large increases in water vapor, which seem to produce exponential rather than logarithmic temperature response in the models. It appears to have become something of a game to see who can add in the most creative feedback mechanisms to produce the scariest warming scenarios from their models but there remains no evidence the planet includes any such effects or behaves in a similar manner.

So, is it reasonable to assume these feedback loops?  First, none have really been proven empirically, which does not of course necessarily make them wrong.  More damning is the fact that models using mostly positive feedback loops do a terrible job of modeling the last 100 years.  It is a perfectly reasonable back check on any model to see if it predicts history.   Most of the aggressive climate models (ie the ones that tend to get quoted in the press) turn out to predict a warming for the last 50 years far above what we have actually observed, which of course might make one suspicious of their ability to predict the future.  A while back, I said that climate scientists had a strong incentive to "claim" as much of the 20th century warming as possible and attribute it to man.  This is why:  The need to validate models that predict a lot of manmade warming over the last 50 years that hasn't shown up.  Scientists will tell you that they have fixed these problems, but we skeptics are fairly certain they have done it by adding artificial fudge factors of dubious scientific merit  (I will confess to my embarassment that I have done exactly this when I have created industry models for a consulting client).

But one can also answer these questions about positive feedback loops from a broader perspective.  Positive feedback loops are not unknown in nature but are much rarer than negative feedback loops.  The reason is that positive feedback loops lead to runaway processes that we seldom see in nature.  Atomic fission is one of these thankfully rare process, and one can see that it is probably lucky our universe is not populated with many such positive feedback processes.  In our daily lives, we generally deal with negative feedback:  inertia, wind resistance, friction are all negative feedback processes.  If one knew nothing else, and had to guess if a natural process was governed by negative or positive feedback, Occam’s razor would say bet on negative.  So, what about climate?  The evidence is equivocal, but to be fair there is an example in our near universe of a runaway global warming event - on Venus - though it occurred for reasons very different than we are discussing with man-made climate change.

Negatives (and Positives) of Warming: While I have some trouble with the science employed by global warming activists up to this point, it is on the topic of the effects of global warming that the science really gets flaky.  Now, certain effects are fairly likely.  For example, hurricane activity will likely increase with warmer ocean temperatures. Warmer ocean temperatures will also cause sea levels to rise, even without ice melting, due to thermal expansion of the water.  And ice will melt, though there is a really broad range of forecasts.

One reason that the ice melting forecasts are hard is because while me may talk about the world warming a degree, the world does not warm evenly.  Most climate models show the most warming on dry winter nights  (Siberian winters, for example, get a disproportionate share of the warming).  An extra summer degree in Arizona would suck; an extra winter degree in Siberia would probably be welcomed, and would likely extend growing seasons.

And it is here that you get the greatest silence from warming fanatics.  Because it should be self-evident that warming can be good and bad.  Warming can raise ocean levels and lead to droughts.  It can also extend growing seasons and increase rain.  It all depends on where you are and what forecast you are using.  The only common denominator is that most official warming reports, such as those from the UN, spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the negatives and very little time, if any, mentioning positive offsets.  One of the reasons for this is that there is a culture in which every environmental activist has been steeped in for years -- that man always ruins nature.  That everything man does is bad.  Growth is bad. Technology is bad.  To be fair, its not that many environmental scientists are hiding the positive offsets, it's that they have been programmed for years to be unable to recognize or acknowledge them.

Shouldn't We Fix it, Just to Be Safe:  If you get beyond the hard core of near religious believers in the massive warming scenarios, the average global warming supporter would answer this post by saying: "Yes there is a lot of uncertainty, but you said it yourself:  Though the doomsday warming scenarios via positive feedback in the climate can't be proven, they are so bad that we need to cut back on CO2 production just to be safe."

This would be a perfectly reasonable approach if cutting back on CO2 production was nearly cost-free.  But it is not.  The burning of hydrocarbons that create CO2 is an entrenched part of our lives and our economies. Forty years ago we might have had an easier time of it, as we were on a path to dramatically cut back on CO2 production via what is still the only viable technology to massively replace fossil fuel consumption -- nuclear power.  Ironically, it was environmentalists that shut down this effort, and power industries around the world replaced capacity that would have gone nuclear mostly with coal, the worst fossil fuel in terms of CO2 production (per btu of power, Nuclear and hydrogen produce no CO2, natural gas produces some, gasoline produces more, and coal produces the most).

Just halting CO2 production at current levels (not even rolling it back) would knock several points off of world economic growth.  Every point of economic growth you knock off guarantees you that you will get more poverty, more disease, more early death.  If you could, politically, even make such a freeze stick, you would lock China and India, nearly 2 billion people, into continued poverty just when they were about to escape it.  You would in the process make the world less secure, because growing wealth is always the best way to maintain peace.  Right now, China can become wealthier from peaceful internal growth than it can from trying to loot its neighbors.  But in a zero sum world created by a CO2 freeze, countries like China would have much more incentive to create trouble outside its borders.  This tradeoff is often referred to as a cooler but poorer world vs. a richer but warmer world.  Its not at all clear which is better. 

One final  statement:  I have lost trust in the scientific community on this.  There are just too many statements floating around like this one that make it clear that getting people converted to the global warming cause is more important than getting the science right.  Mann's refusal to share his data so that his results can be validated (or invalidated, as seems more likely now), the refusal to consider any dissenting views in its "scientific" conferences, the sloppy science uncovered, the willingness to absurdly blame every natural event on global warming  -- all these create the impression that global warming is a religion with doctrines that can't be questioned, rather than what it actually is -- a really, really chaotic and complex area of science we have only just begun to understand.

For other reading, probably the first place to look is the Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg in this book has probably the best counter-case to the enviro-disaster stories filling the media. He has become an object of absolute hatred among the anti-growth anti globalization fanatics who have latched onto climate change as the key to advancing their anti-technology and anti-capitalist political agenda. The attacks on him have become nearly as edifying about what drives the environmental movement as his book itself. The Economist has a nice article about his book and about the wild-eyed furious reaction of environmental activists to it. The Economist also editorializes here, and you can follow all the criticism and response here on Lomborg's site.

The site junkscience.com is invaluable, in fact with a better compendium of data on climate than most climate sites.  A good place to start is this article.

Other sources: This paper is a good roundup of all the issues I have addressed. Cato has a lot of other material here as does the Heartland Institute and at The Commons.  A great post from Silflay Hraka that is much more eloquent (and concise) than I am is linked here.

Update:  I have published a (free) more comprehensive guide to the skeptics arguments concerning man-made global warming.  You can find the HTML version here and a free pdf download here.

Posted on July 21, 2006 at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

Anecdotal Science

ABCNews is asking viewers to submit stories of evidence they have found for Global Warming in their back yard.

Witnessing the impact of global warming in your life?

ABC News wants to hear from you. We're currently producing a report on the increasing changes in our physical environment, and are looking for interesting examples of people coping with the differences in their daily lives. Has your life been directly affected by global warming? We want to hear and see your stories. Have you noticed changes in your own backyard or hometown? The differences can be large or small--altered blooming schedules, unusual animals that have arrived in your community, higher water levels encroaching on your property. Show us what you've seen.

So I submitted my story:

I can remember that just five years ago, the summers at my house used to be relatively cool and very wet.  Our summer temperatures never got much above 80 degrees, and it would rain every few days, at least.

The last couple of summers, temperatures have soared as high as 112 degrees at my house, and we have at times gone whole months without rain.

I am terrified at these effects of global warming.  Several of my "friends" have said they think this change has more to do with my move from Seattle to Phoenix, but they are clearly in the pay of the oil companies.

I have explained to them that ABC News and their climate reporting have educated me that small anecdotal blips in the local weather are scientifically valid proof of long-term global climate changes.

For example, my Exxon-butt-kissing friends tried to claim that for over a century, hurricane activity has followed a 20-40 year cycle, and that the recent upsurge in hurricane activity is due to the return of the "busy" end of the cycle.  I know from ABC that in fact our two-hundred years of burning fossil fuels have cause CO2 to build up and lurk in the atmosphere, ready to jump out and increase hurricane activity suddenly in 2005.

Its great to see that ABC has adopted the same lofty levels of scientific proof that are used by the rest of the environmental community.

Posted on June 22, 2006 at 10:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Uh, Oops

Via the Consumerist:

When Greenpeace mobilized to protest nuclear energy at a recent appearance by President Bush to promote his nuclear energy policy, they forgot to fill in all the boiler-plate.

From the Greenpeace anti-nuclear-armageddon flier. Capitals and brackets are theirs:

    In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world’s worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE].”

LOL.  By the way, I am not sure why those paranoid about global warming would refuse to reconsider nuclear power.   In that article, i pointed out that a different regulatory regimed would greatly reduce costs and actually enhance safety:

If aircraft construction was regulated like nuclear power plants, there would be no aviation industry.  In the aircraft industry, aircraft makers go through an extensive approval and testing process to get a basic design (e.g. the 737-300) approved by the government as safe.  Then, as long as they keep producing to this design, they can keep making copies with minimal additional design scrutiny.  Instead, the manufacturing process is carefully checked to make sure that it is reliably producing aircraft to the design already deemed safe.  If aircraft makers want to make a change to the aircraft, that change must be approved with a fairly in-depth process.

Beyond the reduction in design cost for the 2nd airplane of a series (and 3rd, etc.), this approach also yields strong regulatory benefits. For example, if the actuation screw for the horizontal stabilizer is deemed to be of poor or unsafe design in a particular aircraft, then the government can issue a bulletin to require a new approved design be retrofitted in all other aircraft of this series.  This happens all the time in commercial aviation.

One can see how this might make nuclear power plant construction viable again.  Urging major construction companies to come up with a design that could be reused would greatly reduce the cost of design and construction of plants.  There might still be several designs, since competing companies would likely have their own designs, but this same is true in aerospace with Boeing, Airbus and smaller jet manufacturers Embraer and Bombardier.

And a while back I linked to a story on how the ultimate fallout from Chernobyl was not nearly as bad as was feared.  That article said in part:

Over the next four years, a massive cleanup operation involving 240,000 workers ensued, and there were fears that many of these workers, called "liquidators," would suffer in subsequent years. But most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas "received relatively low whole radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels," a report summary noted. "No evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found, nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformations."

In fact, the report said, apart from radiation-induced deaths, the "largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost certainly contract terminal cancer. The report said that lifestyle diseases, such as alcoholism, among affected residents posed a much greater threat than radiation exposure.

Posted on May 31, 2006 at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)