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Avery and Singer: Unstoppable hot air

Filed under: — david @ 20 November 2006

Last week I attended a talk by Dennis Avery, author with Fred Singer of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years (there is a summary here). The talk (and tasty lunch) was sponsored by the Heartland Institute, and was apparently enthusiastically received by its audience. Still whoozy from a bit of contention during the question period, a perplexed member of the audience told me privately that he thought a Point/CounterPoint discussion might be useful (he didn’t know I wrote for realclimate; it was just a hypothetical thought). But here’s my attempt to accommodate.

Note: The Points are paraphrases from the slides and my notes from Avery’s talk.

Point. The existence of the medieval warm and the Little Ice Age climate intervals, and the 1500 year D-O cycles in glacial climate, proves that the warming in the past decades is a natural phenomenon, not caused by human industry at all.

CounterPoint. The existence of climate changes in the past is not news to the climate change scientific community; there is a whole chapter about it in the upcoming IPCC Scientific Assessment. Nor do past, natural variations in climate negate the global warming forecast. Most past climate changes, like the glacial interglacial cycle, can be explained based on changes in solar heating and greenhouse gases, but the warming in the last few decades cannot be explained without the impact of human-released greenhouse gases. Avery was very careful to crop his temperature plots at 1985, rather than show the data to 2005.

Point. Hundreds of researchers have published on the Little Ice Age and Medieval warm climates, proving that there is no scientific consensus on global warming.

CounterPoint. Natural and human-induced climate changes both exist. Studying one does not imply disbelief in the other.

Point. Human populations of Europe and India thrived during the medieval warm time, so clearly warming is good for us.

CounterPoint. No one asserts that the present-day warmth is a calamity, although perhaps some residents of Tuvalu or New Orleans might feel differently, and the Mayans may have been less than enthusiastic about the medieval climate. The projected temperature for 2100 under business-as-usual is another matter entirely, warmer than the Earth has been in millions of years.

Point. NASA identified a huge energy hole over the tropical Pacific, which sucked out as much heat as doubling CO2. NASA scientists asked modelers to replicate this, and they failed, by 200-400%, even when they knew the answer in advance!

CounterPoint. This appears to be a reference to Chen et al., 2002. Satellite data from the equatorial Pacific showed an increase in IR heat flux to space of about 5 W/m2 from 1985 to 2005, and a decrease in reflected visible light of about 2 W/m2, leaving a 3 W/m2 change in net heat flux.

Avery’s implicit promise would seem to be that with rising CO2, the heavens will part and let the excess energy out, a Lindzenesque mechanism to nullify global warming. The measured change in heat fluxes in the equatorial Pacific is indeed comparable to the radiative effect of doubling CO2 but the CO2 number is a global average, while the equatorial Pacific is just one region. The measurements probably reflect a regional rearrangement of cloud cover or ocean temperature, a decadal variation with no clear implication at all for the global mean heat budget of the Earth. The global heat imbalance has been inferred (Hansen et al, Science, 2005), and it is consistent with rising greenhouse gas concentrations and transient heating of the ocean.

A word about models in science (as opposed to in think-tank economics, Mr. Avery’s home turf). Models would have little use if they were so easy to bend into any answer we thought we knew about in advance. One can always be critical of models, but there is no model that avoids global warming by parting the heavens, or that is exquisitely sensitive to solar variability but insensitive to CO2, the worlds that Mr. Avery wishes for.

Avery’s talk also dusted off many of the good old good ones, like the cosmic-ray / cloud connection, the temperature lead of CO2 through the deglaciation, the Antarctic warming, the cooling during the period 1940-1970, the now-resolved satellite temperature discrepancy from ground temperatures, and even the ancient CO2 band saturation myth.

In addition to Chen, Avery offered to us the work of Maureen Raymo and Gerard Bond. Bond didn’t think his work cast any doubt on the possibility of anthropogenic warming, neither do Raymo or Chen. Hint: if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, the accent on the fourth syllable of foraminifera, not foraminifera.

Point. Environmentalists do what they do because they miss having their mommies reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to them. They like getting all scared.

CounterPoint. To hybrid-phrase Thomas Jefferson and Richard Feynman, I tremble for humanity when I reflect that nature cannot be fooled. You’re damn right I’m scared.


209 Responses to “Avery and Singer: Unstoppable hot air”

  1. 151
    Doug Watts says:

    Re: 148: Good comment, Dan. As important is that the banning of DDT created a broad economic incentive for farmers and former DDT manufacturers to develop more benign pesticides and herbicides. This effort then evolved to developing techniques (rather than treatments) that eliminated the need for chemicals altogether: organic farming.

    Organic farming was totally scoffed at for decades for many reasons. Ironically, in New England today, organic farming is becoming the preferred option and is actually saving a lot of small farms from going under. It’s not just that organic farming has multiple external benefits compared to intensive chemical agriculture — it’s that organic farming is actually more profitable, especially for small farms.

    I think there’s a very useful and important analog/lesson here as we discuss CO2 reductions. Pollution prevention can save money and create new economic opportunities if done the right way. But first we have to get over the conceptual hump and begin to look at the phase out or alteration of one particular technology as an opportunity rather than a sacrifice.

    This is why discussion and research into energy efficiency, rather than bickering about the various negative impacts of various energy sources, is critical. It’s the waste of energy that is the real problem. Pollution is waste, and by definition, wasteful.

    People in New England know this instinctively during the winter, when we stack up hay bales around our house foundations and put up plastic tape against small crevices on our windows. When your furnace is going full blast and you can feel the 10 degree air streaming in through a crevice, you tape it up, rather than turning the thermostat higher to compensate for all the super cooled air leaking into the house that the furnace then has to warm from scratch.

    People in northern climes know this instinctively and I think it is critical that this “old” intuitive knowledge is brought front and center to the discussion. Cheers.

  2. 152
    Paul G says:

    === Re: 3 147 by Doug Watts: ===
    “This is a classic example of an externality that is not factored into the price of electricity derived from coal burning power plants.”

    ===

    Where do I say I don’t agree with that? I am saying, is that if all these externalities were factored in, we the consumer, would pay much higher energy costs. So far, the general public has shown little, if any entheusiasm to be forced to pay for all the externalities.

    In spite of the supposed broad public support for “action” on AGW, I see little to indicate that we are actually prepared to pay, truly pay, for whatever action may really be required.

    Regards,

  3. 153
    Doug Watts says:

    And C02 reduction would be massively more expensive then a simple ban on the use of DDT in North America. Our costs for energy would rise by an amount that millions would not be able to afford, without any observed benefit for decades. I don’t believe we are willing to pay that price as of yet.
    —–
    I have to disagree with this in part due to the lack of supportive evidence. First, it creates a self-fulfilling prophesy that “proves itself” by citing itself as evidence.

    Even a layman like myself is aware that energy is being massively wasted in the U.S. Energy is not used efficiently, even by the abilities of existing technologies. In Maine, where I live, the various govts. are spending money to retrofit peoples’ homes with energy efficient windows, insulation etc. rather than handing out vouchers for heating oil, required in great part because the people cannot afford to have the insulation etc. done. But we’re still just scraping the surface of the surface of what can be done.

    In New England, the place I’m familiar with, our entire infrastructure and community design for the last 50 years has been constructed along the rubric of very cheap energy. When energy is cheap, it becomes cost-effective in the short-term to waste it. If heating oil is dirt cheap, it doesn’t make sense to insulate your house. It’s actually cheaper to not insulate and let the heat leak outside because the oil is so cheap. We in New England are now paying dearly for this short-sighted strategy which has been totally dependent on cheap fuel.

    It will take awhile — and take money — to turn it around. But it has to be done and it can be done in discrete, incremental steps. In my opinion, throwing our hands up in the air and saying it cannot be done without having even tried is a defeatist attitude.

    And lastly, the benefits of using energy more efficiently will not take decades to reveal themselves. It cost me and my wife $600 to fill our heating oil tank. Everything we can do to use that oil more efficiently during this winter will immediately accrue to us in actual cash savings. Just turning out the bathroom light saves us money. Taking a bath and leaving the hot water to stand until it reaches room temperature, rather than draining the tub immediately, allows the heat in the water to warm the room (and increase the humidity).

    We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities. Every little bit helps. It can be done. But we have to be creative, dogged and determined. Cheers.

  4. 154
    Dan says:

    re: 150.

    I have yet to see a single credible reference that DDT was the reason a lot of people died in Africa after it was banned. Sadly, drought and famine are common there. The DDT factor is small in comparison.

    No, CO2 reduction would not be massively more expensive. Specifically, as an example, we know from recent experience from the 1990s onward with SO2 and NOX emission reductions in the US that similar claims from the fossil-fuel powered electric generating industry were simply not accurate, misleading or not rue. Yes, emission controls cost a lot but the economic and environmental benefits are generally not considered in the balance. Furthermore, for the most part, those same fossil-fuel electrical generating companies that had to add emission controls are still making substantial profits. Clearly the expense was not vital to their operations or bottom line. Nor did it cripple the economy as they consistently and loudly claimed it would prior to 1990 (when the Clean Air Act Amendments were passed). So I’d say their credibility on emission control and energy net costs is extremely shaky at best and certainly quite one-sided. Furthermore, the observed benefits of those emission controls were measured within years. In the past two years, additional NOx emission controls have been added whose benefits have also been specifically measured via significantly lowered background ground-level ozone concentrations.

    As for people not willing to pay the price, polls have shown quite the opposite. People are willing to pay if they know what the costs are and where the benefits are coming from.

    By saying “no one” is calling for a 90 percent reduction, it was in the context of only considering scientists and policy makers. I should have been clearer about that. George Monbiot is neither; he is a journalist/screenwriter/blogger. Fine, those are a dime a dozen on lots of issues. As someone once said, “On the Internet, anyone can pretend to be a star expert.”

  5. 155
    James says:

    Re “And C02 reduction would be massively more expensive…”

    I’ll tell you a simple way to reduce CO2 that doesn’t cost anyone a dime – at least from a certain perspective. Most states in the US impose a sales tax, typically around 5-6%. Simply switch that to a CO2 tax (on fossil-fuel generated electricity, gasoline, etc) that collects the same revenue as the sales tax did.

    Immediately after the change, therefore, people are paying on average exactly what they did before. However, they now have a much greater incentive to conserve energy, and to invest money in that conservation. Companies likewise have a considerable incentive to conserve, as this allows them to produce goods at lower cost, and so compete better.

    (This can even be extended to exert pressure on other countries, such as China. China’s economy is driven in large part by cheap exports. If those goods have to pay a CO2 tariff when they’re imported, the manufacturers have incentive to reduce the CO2 used in their production.)

    The thing about this is that, as far as I can tell, no one ever directly loses money under this system. They can choose to do nothing, and go on paying about the same overall tax as before, or they can choose to conserve/invest, pay lower taxes, and save money on the pre-tax cost of energy. Their choices impact their long-term profitability, of course, but so does every other choice made in the marketplace.

  6. 156
    Marco Parigi says:

    ==== Comment # 141 by Tosh: ====
    “This appears to be a simplification of what is a cost and what is a common good. I am guessing that if the full lifecycle ‘costs’ and ‘common good’ of electricity sourced from coal power were fully accounted for and understood by consumers, consumers would be very happy to ‘pay the extra cost’ of solar and or wind power.”
    ====

    Consumers will be very displeased with greatly increased energy costs, even if it becomes necessary or mandatory. It is this resistance to higher costs by consumers that explains why little action has been taken so far. We are happy to support action against AGW in theory, but not so much in reality.

    ==== Comment # 142 by Dan: ==== etc. etc.

    This thread demonstrates significant economic naivety regarding GHG reductions. The *Cheapest* way for the world to reduce them is through Carbon Taxes. The next cheapest way is via Globally traded GHG emmission quotas. The carbon tax is not really a net cost to consumers because the money can be reinvested into the community in Carbon neutral ways. The loss of competitiveness of the country is neutralised if the tax rate is fixed globally. Taxes can be increased, emissions quotas can be decreased over time to get the desired result. Alternative energies will become relatively cheaper and the most cost effective ones will be taken up first. Experiments will show that voluntary reductions from concerned citizens will not resolve the core issue which is a “tragedy of the commons” problem (see game theory). Kyoto does address the core issue, but citizens need to be accepting of higher energy prices (taxes) first and foremost if they want to help in their own way! Vote for governments that will introduce these taxes and emissions trading, that is the most important way individuals can help!

  7. 157
    Doug Watts says:

    I have yet to see a single credible reference that DDT was the reason a lot of people died in Africa after it was banned. Sadly, drought and famine are common there. The DDT factor is small in comparison. — Dan.

    Thanks again, Dan. I have seen a disturbing re-emergence of a myth surrounding DDT in the last year.

    Unfortunately, I have first-hand experience with DDT in New England, which was saturated with the stuff before and during my childhood and teenage years. I say unfortunately because I am now 42 and am just now seeing fairly healthy populations of native bird species that were almost completely absent when I was growing up. Bald eagles. Osprey. Great Blue heron. Green heron. American bittern. Bluebirds.

    Bald eagles have still not recovered in southeastern Mass., where I grew up. We have maybe 2-3 breeding pair now, at Assawompsett Pond. Where I live now on the Kennebec River in Maine, bald eagles still have very high levels of DDE in them that is impairing their ability to give birth. American eels in Maine are full of DDE, based upon recent assays conducted at the University of Texas lab on behalf of my friends at Friends of Merrymeeting Bay. Their website (google the name) contains PDFs of the analyses.

    Some people have an interest, economic or otherwise, in attempting revisionism and applying this all anew to the very simple but critical issue of addressing CO2 emissions and all of the other pollutants arising from fossil fuel burning. It’s a very old and tired debate which I have little interest in engaging in. There is a path to getting out of it, but it requires dropping entirely the “you must prove it” mentality. It’s argument for argument’s sake, just like the very funny Monty Python sketch of the same topic.

    And I know, because I am constantly litigating against various corporations in Maine who are harming Maine’s rivers, that arguing for argument’s sake is a viable strategy if one is committed to the status quo and is resistant to any consideration of improving one’s environmental performance, even if doing so would actually increase profitability in the long term.

    Curtailing fossil fuel emissions is just not about CO2. This is fallacy. Curtailing Mercury and SO2 and NOX emissions is critical to people, esp. children and wildife. Ground Level Ozone Pollution (GLOP) is incredibly bad for people with asthma in the Northeast U.S. Its precursors are due to fossil fuel combustion, much from coal burning plants. Loons and waterfowl in Maine are chock full of mercury, again from coal power plants.

    Acid precipitation has literally killed dozens of otherwise pristine watersheds in Eastern Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. SO2 and NOX are the primary culprits. The bedrock underlying these rivers is crystalline, granitic and has no buffering capacity. The pH is too low for trout and salmon to live in them. This is about much more than CO2 and climate change. Air pollution is air pollution. I think that is a simple and clear message that people can understand. Certainly people who have children with asthma. They understood it in the 1970s. I think they can today.

  8. 158
    Paul G says:

    === Re: Comment # 156 by Marco Parigi: ===
    This thread demonstrates significant economic naivety regarding GHG reductions. The *Cheapest* way for the world to reduce them is through Carbon Taxes. The next cheapest way is via Globally traded GHG emmission quotas. The carbon tax is not really a net cost to consumers because the money can be reinvested into the community in Carbon neutral ways.
    ===

    Of course the carbon tax would be a net cost to us. By forcing consumers to spend this new tax on CO2 reductions, consumers would have less money for items such as: education, medical insurance, retirement, etc..

    We CAN put a tax on CO2 if we like, but because it is envisioned that we MUST reduce CO2 emissions in the order of 50% to 75% (90% if you ask George Monbiot :)), the amount of the carbon tax would have to be huge, and the economic dislocation would be massive.

    At present, I see no sign of the general public being supportive of measures that drastic.

    Regards,

  9. 159
    Marco Parigi says:

    The thing about this is that, as far as I can tell, no one ever directly loses money under this system. They can choose to do nothing, and go on paying about the same overall tax as before, or they can choose to conserve/invest, pay lower taxes, and save money on the pre-tax cost of energy. Their choices impact their long-term profitability, of course, but so does every other choice made in the marketplace.

    There is one slight flaw in this argument in that again using game theory, one country doing it doesn’t address the tragedy of the commons problem. Emmissions intensive industries tend to be exported to countries with a lower tax, thus being no net reduction. Getting every country to measure and truthfully report on it, and having a protocol (Kyoto) as a reference to measure your progress helps unilateral measures succeed, however.

  10. 160
    Doug Watts says:

    With all respect to Marco Parigi (and i think he is correct), the major conceptual hump is and will always be externalities. Externalities, as I use the term here, is just seeing birds in your yard and butterflies on your flowers. This has immense meaning and value to people and always has and always will.

    If an economist type person wants to quantitatively estimate the elusive “what are people willing to pay for?” — just look at bird feeder and bird seed sales. Look at pet food sales. Humans are innately bound to, and love and cherish their environment and the animals that live with them in it. It is hard wired into our genome. To address climate change and pollution (to me, the same thing) we need scientific specialists. Obviously. But we also need scientific generalists. And we need skilled and stubborn historians, as the top post on the Greenland climatological record illustrates.

    At any point in the analytical process, the skills of a certain specialty move to the forefront, and later recede. Each specialty contributes to the whole. But to make sense of the whole, all of us, from all specialties, must become generalists or else we become unable to make sense of the data we have generated. This defeats the entire purpose for gathering the data.

    Compartmentalizing has its value at certain moments, but becomes disastrous at other moments, just like a microscope at 10X power and 1000X power, naked eye view, or a telescope reveals certain things but makes you blind to other things.

    Our brains have evolved to work at all powers, from the micro to macroscopic, and to constantly shift back and forth and utilize pattern recognition to conceptualize the sensory data. That’s who and what we are.

  11. 161
    Ike Solem says:

    Re #156, #138, etc.

    When you talk about the cost of replacing coal-fired plants you seem to ignore the economic benefits of a renewable energy manufacturing industry, which includes solar, wind turbines and biofuels. This will mean a shift in the economic structure away from oil importers and coal producers, but you’re ignoring the overall economic picture by focusing on just the fossil fuel industry.

    Carbon trading is a failure, even though similar proposals did work for CFC’s and other ozone-depleting chemicals. William Schlesinger writes about this in the most recent issue of Science; the problem is that there are a huge number of factors that play into global CO2 emissions, from deforestation to industrial fossil fuel use to charcoal burning to cement production, and no ‘cap-and-trade’ scenario can possibly address all these different sources. The article is at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/314/5803/1217

    The fossil fuel industry enjoys massive federal tax subsidies, such as the oil depletion allowance and so on. Simply switching these tax subsidies away from fossil fuels and toward renewables (for example, allowing solar panel factory construction costs to be a write-off, or switching agricultural subsidies to sustainable biofuel schemes) would have a hugely beneficial effect on the availability and cost of renewable energy.

    In short, your economic viewpoint seems narrow and naive; you should look at the bigger picture.

    While I’m not trying to ‘demonize’ the fossil fuel industry, it is clear that the industry has been actively promoting the climate denialists (such as Singer and Michaels) for quite some time now, and their positions are scientifically unsupportable. I’d rather see the domestic fossil fuel industry invest in biofuel plants (petroleum engineering and biofuel engineering have many similarities) than in public relations operations – and some US firms are actually doing just that. There’s no getting around the basic need to cut off foriegn fossil fuel imports, however.

    Given that CO2 emissions are accelerating and that the Stern Report predicts economic catastrophe from unchecked global warming, the rational economic strategy should be one of massive investment in renewable energy. China, for example, is now planning the world’s largest solar plant, and their stated reasons are economic.

    Note: The CO2 emission rates were 1% a year before 2000, and a recent study by the Global Carbon Project, supported by World Meteorological Organization studies shows 2.5% per year since 2000. The article is available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6189600.stm This isn’t alarmist (though anyone who is paying attention should be alarmed!) – it’s fact-based reality. Good topic for a realclimate contributer?

  12. 162
    Demesure says:

    Tuvalu is the poster child of AGW used repeatedly but misleadingly by alarmists to illustrate the disasters to come in a warmer world. Using this example largely refuted by recent satelitte observations only serves to discredit the author.
    Tuvalu, like many other volcanic islands in the region is simply sinking at a rate of more than 5mm/year, just like many other regions in the world (England is naturally sinking at a rate of 3mm/year!). As to the sea level there, satellite measures (Topex/Poseidon and Jason) show that from 1993 to 2005, no sea rise occured there and some regions even witnessed a decrease: see the data of University of Colorado here.

    BTW, for more than 20.000 years, the mean sea rise rate has been about 7 mm/year, with some peaks at 50mm/year (5m/century) , well before the current GHG concentrations. Who should we blame ?

  13. 163
    Marco Parigi says:

    Re: 161In short, your economic viewpoint seems narrow and naive; you should look at the bigger picture.

    This is rich. You are lecturing about the economics of reducing CO2 and you have links to articles by authors who have no economics expertise. It seems that this forum has gone full circle, starting with criticizing a person with economics experience for lecturing on climate change- To environmentalists lecturing on economic details.
    If you have doubts about the merits of carbon trading I suggest you read the following link selling hot air. Not only does it seem that greenhouse emissions trading is working to reduce emissions, but that the side benefit is increased energy prices in areas like Europe (which is further enabling further CO2 reductions), and a large transfer of associated money from the first world to the third world (albeit mainly China) on UN approved project of greenhouse emmission reduction.

    and the full survey by The Economist:
    Survey of the environment

  14. 164
    Marco Parigi says:

    Re 145: That is the silliest thing I’ve read in months. You’re saying that during any of the historic ice ages, the increased snowfall (weather) that occurred can’t be attributed to the ice age (climate). Of course there is a causal relationship between the short-period chaotic phenomenon of weather and long-period climate. Can you even suggest any way in which they could be independent?

    On climate science there are bona fide climate scientists who would agree that the causal relationships found so far are tenuous at best. see:
    http://climatesci.atmos.colostate.edu/2006/08/22/real-climate-post-on-weather-and-climate/#comments

    On your example, during the ice ages, are blizzards more severe? Cold snaps more common? Is there any evidence for this. The causal links between global temperature averages and CO2 are established historically. Causal links between global warming and *more* deadly weather events in general needs more than the model to fit the data. It requires statistical forecasting accuracy similar in kind to the southern oscillation index (el Nino). If warm ocean sections are said to be causing weather events, it should just be a matter of measuring temperatures of the ocean and we can predict droughts, floods etc. in a statistical sense. Ocean currents are a little bit akin to weather also we can’t really predict how they will change in the future, with or without global warming.

    [Response: To everyone on this thread, please keep the tone civil. On the ice ages issue, any definition of cold snap that used a fixed temperature threshold (such as below -10 C in New York) will obviously lead to more occurences then than now (given that there was an ice sheet over the city). Each other kinds of extreme, such as hurricanes, need to be examined separately and in many cases it is not (yet) clear how large any effect might be. -gavin]

  15. 165
    Marco Parigi says:

    Re:Of course the carbon tax would be a net cost to us. By forcing consumers to spend this new tax on CO2 reductions, consumers would have less money for items such as: education, medical insurance, retirement, etc..

    No-one will be *forced* to pay the tax. This is a democracy we are talking about – we will demand to pay the tax :). Revenues can be spent on the needy for say…. education, medical insurance, retirement… in a carbon neutral way if that is what is demanded by voters.

  16. 166

    Re “A lot of people died when DDT was banned. It may have been fine (and affordable)to ban DDT here, but it was not in Africa.”

    It wasn’t banned in Africa, either, so it’s difficult to attribute any deaths there to the ban.

    [Response: No more on DDT, please. Take it to Deltoid. -gavin]

  17. 167

    Re “It is hard wired into our genome.”

    I doubt it. The human evolutionary specialty is flexibility of behavior. Whatever E.O. Wilson said, humans are not ants. We have a certain degree of free will.

  18. 168
    Hugh says:

    Ref: 162 demesure

    Here’s a couple of quotes from:
    Church et al (2006)Sea-level rise at tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean islands, Global and Planetary Change (53)
    They seem challenge your understanding of the situation in Tuvalu. From a quick read it would appear that your ‘source’ for the “no sea level rise” might not have meant such concrete assertions to have been attributed to the “raw data” that they used.

    Church et al acknowledge the isostatic subsidence issue but still come down on the side of 2±1 mm/yr.

    “A number of recent studies (Leuliette et al., 2004; Church et al., 2004; Holgate and Woodworth, 2004; Cazenave and Nerem, 2004) also confirm the global average sea-level rise from altimeter studies, with estimates varying over a small range depending on the details of the calculation. In direct contrast, Morner (2004) shows a plot (his Fig. 2) of sea-level variations from October 1992 to April 2000, based on TOPEX/Poseidon data, ostensibly showing that there is no rise in GMSL. This is described as being “raw data”, and appears to be cycle-by-cycle (10 day) averages of global mean sea-level. Unfortunately, there is neither a description of the data that were used to produce this figure, nor a reference to its source. In order to be a meaningful estimate of global mean sea-level, a number of corrections would have been necessary, including wet tropospheric path delay, dry tropospheric path delay, ionospheric path delay, sea-state bias and tides, but it is unclear which, if any, of these well-known and understood corrections have been applied.”

    “Over 1950 to 2001, the relative rate of sealevel rise at Funafuti estimated from the reconstruction is 1.6±0.5 mm/yr. A more recent analysis using tide-gauge data from 1978 to 2004 inclusive indicates a sea-level rise of 2.3± 1.6 mm/yr relative to the NTC tide-gauge benchmark.
    This is higher than, but statistically consistent with, the earlier estimate of 0.8±1.9 mm/yr. Taken together, we conclude that a best estimate of the rate of relative sealevel rise at Funafuti is 2±1 mm/yr.”

    Regards

  19. 169
    Dan says:

    re: 158. “…the economic dislocation would be massive.”

    Once again this is a red herring. All the evidence to date, as I previously cited, has shown exactly the opposite has occurred when emission controls were applied. The economic impact was minimal at best relative to other factors. The 1990s had some of the strongest economic growth in US history while some of the strongest emission controls were applied.

  20. 170
    Bryan Sralla says:

    Re #152: “I’d rather see the domestic fossil fuel industry invest in biofuel plants (petroleum engineering and biofuel engineering have many similarities) than in public relations operations – and some US firms are actually doing just that. There’s no getting around the basic need to cut off foriegn fossil fuel imports, however.”

    Finally we agree on something. In fact, the petroleum industry is investing significantly in biofuels. Genetic engineering of switchgrass is being researched with fervor at the Noble Foundation in Oklahoma and other labs. The Noble Foundation is an offshoot of Noble Energy (a large independent oil company). I have been told by a reliable source that their research is very promising. Stay tuned.

    The petroleum industry is the modern-day haygrower, the automobile the horse. It may be that indeed we end up growing some hay again.

  21. 171
    Bryan Sralla says:

    Re #170: Sorry, my last comment was directed at #161.

  22. 172
    Sashka says:

    Re: #1

    How about “cannot be explained without human-released greenhouse gases”?

    Some would say that you cannot prove a negative. The fact is, we cannot explain it without human-released greenhouse gases. This is as much as can be said, IMHO.

  23. 173
    James says:

    Re #159: “There is one slight flaw in this argument in that again using game theory, one country doing it doesn’t address the tragedy of the commons problem. Emmissions intensive industries tend to be exported to countries with a lower tax, thus being no net reduction.”

    In a simplistic analysis, this is true. However, if those countries that impose the CO2 tax also impose equivalent tariffs on the imported goods produced by those exported emissions-intensive industries, it would seem that the net effect on CO2 would be positive. For a concrete example, say the industry is exported from the US to China. That factory won’t be selling just to the US, but to anyone in the world who’ll buy. So if it reduces its CO2 footprint to get a better competitive advantage in the US market, that will also reduce its footprint in the entire world, no?

    Secondly, there are the diplomatic and technical aspects. It’s going to be extremely difficult to persuade countries like China and India to reduce CO2, if the US and other developed nations aren’t willing to take the lead in doing so. Likewise, the developed nations have more capital to invest in low-CO2 tech, which the developed world can adopt when it is proven.

  24. 174
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I have been told by a reliable source …..
    Can we assume that’s public news, not insider information (per the SEC rules)?

  25. 175
    Sashka says:

    Re: #119

    statements about climate and weather models do not equal conclusions about the real world

    I wonder which side will emphasize this fact during the cirrent Supreme Court hearings.

  26. 176
    Bryan Sralla says:

    Re #173: The Noble Foundation is a private non-profit research organisation. The foundation was created by the Noble family prior to Noble Energy (previoulsy Noble Affiliates) becoming publicly traded. They are not offically related any longer. Here is some history:
    http://www.noble.org/Admin/WhoWeAre/index.htm

  27. 177
    Bryan Sralla says:

    Re #173: Hank, here is some additional information on Noble’s switchgrass research:
    http://www.noble.org/press%5Frelease/features/2006/switchtosg/index.html

    Also interesting is the fact that Mr. Fleischaker is also the president of an Oklahoma oil and gas exploration company.

  28. 178
    Paul G says:

    === Comment # 169 by Dan: ===
    “Once again this is a red herring. All the evidence to date, as I previously cited, has shown exactly the opposite has occurred when emission controls were applied. The economic impact was minimal at best relative to other factors. The 1990s had some of the strongest economic growth in US history while some of the strongest emission controls were applied.”
    ====

    My civil reply: :)
    Dan, reducing pollutants is one thing; reducing CO2, by the levels advocated, say 50% to 60% is another. I believe the costs would be quite possibly, very high. And if enacted too quickly, could cause large scale economic disruption. But since I am at this site to learn something, I will attempt to keep an open mind.

    Regards,

  29. 179
    Marco Parigi says:

    Re: 173 :Secondly, there are the diplomatic and technical aspects. It’s going to be extremely difficult to persuade countries like China and India to reduce CO2, if the US and other developed nations aren’t willing to take the lead in doing so. Likewise, the developed nations have more capital to invest in low-CO2 tech, which the developed world can adopt when it is proven.

    Broadly, your arguments are spot on! I wish the general population would see the light. It appears the best diplomatic approach to developing countries is to bind them to accurately measuring and disclosing their emmissions. This opens the door to future caps, and they can be involved with carbon trading with projects such as methane capture, sequestration etc.

  30. 180
    james goodman says:

    re 173/179: diplomacy? i am not sure you can lump china and india together here nor assume that the US/developed countries are in any position to take the lead. china’s one child policy may be seen as the most significant CO2 curtailment initiative of any country over the last 20 years; ultimately any fair global carbon trading mechanisms must acknowledge this for what it is. if for example a system was adopted that gave the same annual (or lifespan?) CO2 allowance per person globally then there should probably be national credits for such initiatives that limit population and avoid future CO2 emissions

  31. 181
    Dan says:

    re: 178. My last comment on this since this conversation is clearly going nowhere: For the second or third time, it was clearly shown in the 1990s that reducing pollutants by 50% within 10 years or less did not come close to causing “large scale economic disruption”. Time and time again that “economic havoc” canard is brought out despite the track record which shows the complete opposite is true. There is simply no objective evidence (i.e. other than from the vested-interest fossil-fuel generators who have quite little credibility based on what has happened in the recent past) whatsoever to support the tired claim that CO2 reductions will cause economic havoc. Certain politicians and coal-fired power producers saying it will happen have little to stand on.

  32. 182
    Jan says:

    #140 and others,

    the lowest death rate per produced kWh is from nuclear power plants. (Including Chernobyl etc.) If you really want to save lifes, renewable energy is not the way. End of story. Also, harsch climate reduces life span not the opposite. Anything else is pure nonsense. In Sweden the indoor climate is kept at 18C whatever the temperature outside (i.e -10 C or colder). But take a look at UK and their crappy building quality. People are actually freezing to death in doors during the winter. Not mentioning the shortened lifes due to reduced function of the immune systems. Warmer climate in UK would save lifes, not take them, but this effect will not be seen in Scandinavia.

    Sweden has the highest CO2 taxes in the world (and that goes for the other taxes too). This country is expecting an annual growth of 4% or moore this year. That is from an already high level of living standard. Then, of course, it is possible to tax CO2 to its extinction. There are also tax reductions available if you exchange your oil burner to a heat pump.

    But in my view, shouldn´t there first be hard evidence that there is a connection between (anthropogenic) CO2 forcing and (unwanted) climate change? I have yet to see such an evidence, not mere speculations or models breaking apart in their contact with reality. To my knowledge the recent cooling (3 yrs now) of the oceans has not been predicted anywhere, except by the solar theory fans. And don’t get me wrong, I am equally tired of the denialists as the alarmists.

  33. 183
    Sashka says:

    Re #182

    How can you not understand it, Jan. The modelers can predict what will happen in 100-300 years, but not in 3 years. ;-)

    I think you are quite right in that UK, Sweden (also Canada and North-Central USA) will only benefit from the climate change. The problem is that tropical countries will suffer. It won’t be fair to ignore their problems, especially because it’s us who produce most CO2.

  34. 184
    Neal J. King says:

    re: 183, Sashka:

    Are you possibly leaving out of consideration the expectation that GW will eventually kill the Gulf Stream current? That would lead to rather cold winters in the UK, and I think in the Nordic countries as well.

  35. 185
    Sashka says:

    Re: #184.

    Expectation? There is no such expectation. There is a remote possibility. It is so remote that nobody in a right mind would dare to estimate the probability of such event over given time horizon.

    Then again, not everyone agrees that Gulf Stream is so important for the climate in Nordic countries. For example Dr. Seager of Columbia University happens to think otherwise:

    http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/div/ocp/gs/

  36. 186
    Neal J. King says:

    re: 185, Sashka:

    - Not knowing a specific timeframe for something is not the same as knowing that it will never happen.

    - The director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute seemed to think this was worth some consideration in 2003: http://www.whoi.edu/institutes/occi/viewArticle.do?id=9986

    I’m not in a position to evaluate their relative degrees of expertise on this matter.

  37. 187
    Sashka says:

    I didn’t say we ought to know specific timeframe. We don’t even know that it it will ever happen. And we cannot estimate a probability of such event: not in this century, not ever. All this story is essentially a speculation. It is kind of like talking about bacteria living under Martian ice. A good story but we simply don’t know.

    The personal experise of the good director of WHOI is not really the matter. He is not an active scientist anyhow but his talk was surely proofread by extremely competent stuff. Seager is addressing a lot more narrow issue, though.

  38. 188
    Doug Watts says:

    RE: Economic disruptions, small or large scale. This phrase is by definition subjective. It needs to be either discarded or supplanted with specifics and the evidence to support those specifics. Its standalone use fosters unproductive “data less” debates. For example, the invention of the automobile created an enormous economic disruption for the horse drawn carriage industry — but created a massive increase in the previously non-existent asphalt and paving industry. The examples are endless and obvious. Let’s attempt, if we can, to focus on measurable and quantifiable terms of reference whenever possible. That’s what makes this site different and useful. Cheers.

  39. 189
    Marco Parigi says:

    Re 188: Let’s attempt, if we can, to focus on measurable and quantifiable terms of reference whenever possible. That’s what makes this site different and useful.

    In a purely economic sense estimations of costs of reducing GHG’s vs. costs of Global warming(assuming climatological predictions estimated by experts) go as follows. Estimates of costs of Global warming range from zero to 50 trillion dollars over a period of a few decades. The costs of reducing GHG’s by moderate amounts over the timescale of a few decades can be minimal *IF economists recommendations are followed!*. Most think-tanks are of the opinion that a moderate amount should be allocated for GHG reductions as a kind of “insurance” against the most expensive estimations of cost of GW.

  40. 190
    Paul G says:

    === Re: Comment #181 by Dan ===
    “re: 178. My last comment on this since this conversation is clearly going nowhere: For the second or third time, it was clearly shown in the 1990s that reducing pollutants by 50% within 10 years or less did not come close to causing “large scale economic disruption”. Time and time again that “economic havoc” canard is brought out despite the track record which shows the complete opposite is true. There is simply no objective evidence (i.e. other than from the vested-interest fossil-fuel generators who have quite little credibility based on what has happened in the recent past) whatsoever to support the tired claim that CO2 reductions will cause economic havoc. Certain politicians and coal-fired power producers saying it will happen have little to stand on.”
    =====

    Dan, reducing pollutants peripheral to an energy source can often be accomplished without severe cost. The ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel we have now is an example.

    CO2 is a much different matter in that we will require completely new power sources. Since new nuclear is taboo, that appears to be solar and wind power. And both fail the 7/24/365 supply test, so we still must keep a backup energy source. The costs would be enormous, and disruptive.

    In my province Alberta, new wind farms have recently been curtailed. Why? The grid can not handle the sudden ebbs and surges from windpower beyond a certain level.

    Secondly, the traditional power plants have to be ready to pick up the slack, at very short notice, when wind speeds are low so there is the huge extra cost of now having two power sources. Wind power is erratic and unreliable and more expensive.

    While positive changes should be made, I also don’t buy the arguement of many environmentalists who proclaim a rosy transition to clean energy. The recently released Stern report highlights the heavy and ongoing costs there would be to reducing CO2 emissions.

    Regards,

  41. 191

    Re “the lowest death rate per produced kWh is from nuclear power plants. (Including Chernobyl etc.) If you really want to save lifes, renewable energy is not the way. End of story.”

    That is hardly the end of the story. And your factoid about deaths per kwh is wrong if you factor in the non-immediate deaths caused by Chernobyl, which are estimated to be in the thousands if not tens of thousands.

  42. 192
    Dan Hughes says:

    Some real-world data obtained by a German company operating large amounts of wind-farm power are summarized here and the report by the company is online here. Information about wind power in Ireland is available here. The actual operational information from the German company are not very encouraging.

    The number of deaths due to the Chernobyl accident seems to be disputed. The Wiki entry has links to many different sources. It seems to me that the authoritative sources, IAEA and WHO, have much smaller numbers than organizations that I would classify as ‘political’ with a well-known anti-nuclear-power bias and axes to grind.

  43. 193
    Dan Hughes says:

    In #119 above it is stated: ” ..statements about climate and weather models do not equal conclusions about the real world…” and later ” a reasonable inference that this applies to the real world also.” Seems to me to be in contradiction; unless of course ‘conclusions’ does not equal ‘reasonable inference’. Whatever the case, I completely agree that statements about models do not equal conclusions about the real world. Following are some additional thoughts regarding chaos and weather and climate relative to the model calculations.

    ” … and you can indeed calculate the Lyapunov exponents …” I will agree that in the case of ODEs, for which all, each and every one, of the time constants for all modeled physical phenomena and process are very accurately resolved the exponents can be determined in this way. However, ODEs and a system composed of algebraic plus ODEs plus PDEs and associated boundary conditions and with many stopping criteria are far from the same thing. Discretization of the PDEs introduces additional parameters into the equations that represent the models; at least three for the spatial increments and one for the temporal increment and several for the various stopping criteria.

    ODE solvers actually solve the system to machine accuracy, and importantly, convergence of the discrete approximations is always a part of the analyses. The AOLGCM codes do not solve the equation system. Accurate resolution of the time constants for the modeled physical phenomena is not a consideration. Convergence of the discrete spatial grid is also not a consideration. Many of the parameterizations are intended to supply models for phenomena and processes that occur on significantly smaller spatial scale than the discrete resolution can supply. I think that I can state that very likely the major consideration relative to resolution of temporal and spatial phenomena and processes is that the run time for the calculation be reasonable.

    In the absence of a convergence study for both the temporal and spatial increments and stopping criteria, one does not know that the numerical methods are even operating in the asymptotic range for the theoretical truncation errors. While the theoretical truncation errors might be of second order, for example, the actual calculations might correspond to larger truncation errors. As other examples, imposed algebraic sub-grid models can easily increase the magnitude of the truncation errors as can numerical approximations to boundary conditions. Under these conditions, the exponents determined by calculations are those for the numerical methods, or lack thereof, for that calculation. The exponents so determined in no ways whatsoever correspond to those for the continuous equations. And they certainly do not represent that real-world weather or climate is chaotic.

    Additionally it seems to me that ultimately, far, far into the future, weather models and climate models will tend to converge toward a common calculation. That is, eventually, AOLGCMs will be of sufficient detail relative to physical phenomena and accurate temporal and spatial resolutions that the weather will simply be an outcome of the calculations.

    While as you say, no one considers the various Lorenz models to represent the real world, they are almost always invoked whenever discussions of chaos and weather arise. In this sense I think whatever is used to “illustrate certain phenomenology” should be a reasonable and correct analogy, or simpler model, of the issues under discussion. The continuous ODEs of these models are in no ways representative of the status of investigations of chaos in either weather models/codes or the real world.

    Finally, I would like to ask what are the ramifications of the fact that the existence of attractors for the continuous equations is not known has on all the discussions relative to calculations that seem to demonstrate chaotic behavior. That is, if in fact attractors do not exist do the interpretations of the calculations as showing chaotic behavior remain correct? Aren’t attractors necessary in order for the calculated trajectories to be meaningful and usable. Should not the ranges of the parameters for which existance of the attractors and the chaotic behavior is possible also be known.

    Thank for you all corrections and additional information.

  44. 194
    Marco Parigi says:

    A lot of discussion has been made regarding Solar and wind as “solutions” or great white hopes for CO2 reduction. This contradicts what is happening in the real world. It appears the “most effective” (ie. most cost effective) current process is the capture of methane etc. or as I like to put it the Reduction Of GHG’s Other Than Co2 (ROGHGOTCO2). Also inferrable to where money from carbon neutralisation is likely to go to after all ROGHGOTCO2 is exhausted will be Carbon sequestration in Coal fired power plants. Given this, huge (energy) investments into renewables is excessively wasteful and driven by (economically) naive voters in major democracies. Voters should be pushing for direct investments in ROGHGOTCO2 urgently, approvals of new plants that include Carbon sequestration, and Carbon trading which will automatically discover the most effective systems of each individual geographical location.

  45. 195
    James says:

    Re #194: I disagree. One of the benefits of solar is that we don’t have to wait around for government and/or industry to get off their collective behinds. Even now, individuals can, with a bit of ingenuity, install solar systems that greatly reduce their household load, often with a reasonable payback period on their investment. Methane capture, OTOH, is not something I’d expect the average homeowner to be able to do – at least not without running afoul of zoning laws :-)

    As for carbon sequestration, I confess I just can’t think of any way to do it efficiently. If you’ve got a coal plant, you’d somehow have to capture the hot exhaust gasses going up the smokestack, separate the CO2 from the N and trace gasses, compress it or react it with something, transport it to the played-out oil well or wherever you plan to sequester it, and pump it into the ground. Seems like doing all that is going to use up a significant fraction of the energy you expected to get from burning the coal to begin with.

    Of course this isn’t as bad as my favorite sequestration suggestion, which involved growing tanks of algae under artifical light in disused mines. The CO2 would be piped in from the powerplant, which would also run the lights :-)

  46. 196
    Marco Parigi says:

    Re: 195 I disagree. One of the benefits of solar is that we don’t have to wait around for government and/or industry to get off their collective behinds. Even now, individuals can, with a bit of ingenuity, install solar systems that greatly reduce their household load, often with a reasonable payback period on their investment. Methane capture, OTOH, is not something I’d expect the average homeowner to be able to do – at least not without running afoul of zoning laws

    The amount of energy generated by the solar cells only reaches the amount of energy used to make the cells after two and a half years (on average) Installing solar cells involves an inflexible investment with long term breakeven in CO2 emissions and in dollar terms. Compare this with spending the same amount to a “Carbon Neutral” company. The GHG reductions are immediate, the most efficient reductions are sold to you, and there is no real minimum or maximum you can spend on GHG reduction in this way. An example of the principle was applied by The Economist newspaper in their recent “survey of the environment”
    Quote from the Economist Environment survey “This survey, which generated about 118 tonnes of carbon dioxide from flights, car journeys, paper production, printing and distribution, has been carbon-neutralised through the Carbon Neutral Company. The cost was £590; the money was spent on capturing methane from an American mine.”

    And at the moment it is quite clear that no-one has to wait for the government, little ingenuity is required (just a bit of economic common sense). When solar starts to make economic sense, carbon neutral companies will be using this invested money on solar electricity!

    As for carbon sequestration, I confess I just can’t think of any way to do it efficiently. If you’ve got a coal plant, you’d somehow have to capture the hot exhaust gasses going up the smokestack, separate the CO2 from the N and trace gasses, compress it or react it with something, transport it to the played-out oil well or wherever you plan to sequester it, and pump it into the ground. Seems like doing all that is going to use up a significant fraction of the energy you expected to get from burning the coal to begin with. Of course this isn’t as bad as my favorite sequestration suggestion, which involved growing tanks of algae under artifical light in disused mines. The CO2 would be piped in from the powerplant, which would also run the lights

    Why be so speculative? Plenty of Coalmines/power stations are already sequestering their emissions for other reasons. I’m sure there is plenty of information on how they are cost-effectively doing it if you google it. As far as I know, They are using the depleted underground mines where the coal was dug up with simple systems that “pump” it and keep it there. I think the latent pressure of the hot gases means that no extra energy is used to get it there.

  47. 197
    Hank Roberts says:

    For example: http://www.eei.org/newsroom/press_releases/010807.htm

    Next Generation Power Plants Now Coming On Line
    Washington, DC (August 8, 2001)

    “Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle (IGCC) – Converts coal into a low or medium BTU gaseous fuel, which lends itself to pollutant removal. The now clean, synthetic fuel gas is then combusted in a gas turbine to generate electricity. Excess heat is put to work in a conventional steam turbine generator, producing even more electricity. Gasification offers feedstock and product flexibility, the potential for greater than 60 percent efficiency, and near zero pollutant emissions. The high process efficiency limits carbon dioxide production and because it occurs in concentrated form, allows for its capture. Typically, more than 99 percent of the sulfur pollutants are captured and converted into sulfuric acid or elemental sulfur, both salable by-products. Nitrogen oxide emissions are about one-tenth those of a conventional power plant. Any trace elements in the coal stay with the ash, which is either converted to an inert glass-like slag or a dry solid with cement-like properties.”

  48. 198
    James says:

    Re #196: “The amount of energy generated by the solar cells only reaches the amount of energy used to make the cells after two and a half years (on average) Installing solar cells involves an inflexible investment with long term breakeven in CO2 emissions and in dollar terms.”

    OK, so that means that all the energy generated after the first 2.5 years represents a net gain, no? As for it being a long-term investment, what’s wrong with that? Seems to me that this apparent inability to think beyond the next election, paycheck, or quarterly profit is at the root of a lot of our problems. We need more people like my neighbor, who a few years ago planted a couple of sequoia trees to shade his horse pasture. He was 88 then…

    And #197: “The high process efficiency limits carbon dioxide production…”

    Now this I truly don’t understand. Unless I’ve completely forgotten my chemistry, you have X atoms of carbon per ton of coal. React it however you want, and the end result is that each carbon atom winds up combined with two oxygen atoms. Sure, you can increase process efficiency up to a point, but there’s only so much energy you can get out of ton of coal.

    Until someone shows me differently, I can’t help but think these are in the same vein as the “hydrogen economy”: it sounds good until you get into the details, and serves to obfuscate the need for real changes.

  49. 199
    Roger Smith says:

    “Plenty of Coalmines/power stations are already sequestering their emissions for other reasons”

    I think you must be living in the future. I’ve heard of some limited testing in the US soutwest, and also using CO2 to revitalize oil fields, but not of any IGCC coal plants currently sequestering their carbon. The local power companies describe this as in the research stage. There are only a handful of these plants in operation in the world, and someday they’ll probably be more.

    Also, the carbon offsets mentioned above are probably just cherry-picking the easy and cheap emissions reductions that some sector is eventually going to have to make anyway (landfill methane, etc). Who is auditing them to make sure they wouldn’t have happened anyway?

  50. 200
    Hank Roberts says:

    >process efficiency limits carbon dioxide production …. ‘don’t understand’
    Google: +coal +efficiency for comparisons of old and new technology, in terms of energy produced for a given amount of coal turned to carbon dioxide.


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