RealClimate logo

CNN is spun right round, baby, right round

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 January 2009

With the axing of the CNN Science News team, most science stories at CNN are now being given to general assignment reporters who don’t necessarily have the background to know when they are being taken for a ride. On the Lou Dobbs show (an evening news program on cable for those of you not in the US), the last few weeks have brought a series of embarrassing non-stories on ‘global cooling’ based it seems on a few cold snaps this winter, the fact that we are at a solar minimum and a regurgitation of 1970s vintage interpretations of Milankovitch theory (via Pravda of all places!). Combine that with a few hysterical (in both senses) non-scientists as talking heads and you end up with a repeat of the nonsensical ‘Cooling world’ media stories that were misleading in the 1970s and are just as misleading now.

Exhibit A. Last night’s (13 Jan 2009) transcript (annotations in italics).

Note that this is a rush transcript and the typos aren’t attributable to the participants.

DOBBS: Welcome back. Global warming is a complex, controversial issue and on this broadcast we have been critical of both sides in this debate. We’ve challenged the orthodoxy surrounding global warming theories and questioned more evidence on the side of the Ice Age and prospect in the minds of some. In point of fact, research, some of it, shows that we could be heading toward cooler temperatures, and it’s a story you will only see here on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Ines Ferre has our report.


INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will the day after tomorrow bring a deep freeze like that shown in the movie? Research more than 50 years ago by astrophysicist Milanchovich (ph) shows that ice ages run in predictable cycles and the earth could go into one. How soon? In science terms it could be thousands of years. But what happens in the next decade is still up in the air. Part of the science community believes that global warming is a man-maid threat. But Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute predicts the next 20 to 30 years will actually bring cooling temperatures.

Dennis Avery is part of the ‘science community’? Who knew? And, while amusing, the threat of ‘man-maids’ causing global warming is just a typo. Nice thought though. Oh, and if you want to know what the actual role of Milankovitch in forcing climate is, look at the IPCC FAQ Q6.1. Its role in current climate change? Zero.

DENNIS AVERY, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The earth’s temperatures have dropped an average of .6 Celsius in the last two years. The Pacific Ocean is telling us, as it has told us 10 times in the past 400 years, you’re going to get cooler.

For those unfamiliar with Dennis Avery, he is a rather recent convert to the bandwagon idea of global cooling, having very recently been an advocate of “unstoppable” global warming. As for his great cherry pick (0.6º C in two years – we’re doomed!), this appears to simply be made up. Even putting aside the nonsense of concluding anything from a two year trend, if you take monthly values and start at the peak value at the height of the last El Niño event of January 2007 and do no actual trend analysis, I can find no data set that gives a drop of 0.6ºC. Even UAH MSU-LT gives only 0.4ºC. The issue being not that it hasn’t been cooler this year than last, but why make up numbers? This is purely rhetorical of course, they make up numbers because they don’t care about whether what they say is true or not.

FERRE: Avery points to a lack of sunspots as a predictor for lower temperatures, saying the affects of greenhouse gas warming have a small impact on climate change. Believers in global warming, like NASA researcher, Dr. Gavin Schmidt disagree.

I was interviewed on tape in the afternoon, without seeing any of the other interviews. Oh, and what does a ‘believer in global warming’ even mean?

DR. GAVIN SCHMIDT, NASA: The long term trend is clearly toward warming, and those trends are completely dwarf any changes due to the solar cycle.

FERRE: In a speech last week, President-elect Obama called for the creation of a green energy economy. Still, others warn that no matter what you think about climate change, new policies would essentially have no effect.

FRED SINGER, SCIENCE & ENV. POLICY PROJECT: There’s very little we can do about it. Any effort to restrict the use of carbon dioxide will hurt us economically and have zero effect on the Chicago mate.

Surely another typo, but maybe the Chicago mate is something to do with the man-maids? See here for more background on Singer.

FERRE: As Singer says, a lot of pain, for no gain.

Huh? Try looking at the actual numbers from a recent McKinsey report. How is saving money through efficiency a ‘pain’?


FERRE: And three independent research groups concluded that the average global temperature in 2008 was the ninth or tenth warmest since 1850, but also since the coldest since the turn of the 21st century.

DOBBS: It’s fascinating and nothing — nothing — stirs up the left, the right, and extremes in this debate, the orthodoxy that exists on both sides of the debate than to even say global warming. It’s amazing.

This is an appeal to the ‘middle muddle’ and an attempt to seem like a reasonable arbitrator between two opposing sides. But as many people have previously noted, there is no possible compromise between sense and nonsense. 2+2 will always equal 4, no matter how much the Hudson Institute says otherwise.

FERRE: When I spoke to experts and scientists today from one side and the other, you could feel the kind of anger about —

That was probably me. Though it’s not anger, it’s simple frustration that reporters are being taken in and treating seriously the nonsense that comes out of these think-tanks.

DOBBS: Cannot we just all get along? Ines, thank you very much.

Joining me now three leading experts in Manchester, New Hampshire, we’re joined by Joseph D’Aleo of the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project. Good to have with you us.


DOBBS: He’s also the cofounder of The Weather Channel. In Washington, D.C., as you see there, Jay Lehr, he’s the science director of the Heartland Institute. And in Boston, Alex Gross, he’s the cofounder of Good to have you with us.

Well that’s balanced!

Let’s put a few numbers out here, the empirical discussion and see what we can make of it. First is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has very good records on temperatures, average temperatures in the United States, dating back to 1880. And here’s what these numbers look like. You’ve all seen those. But help us all — the audience and most of all me to get through this, they show the warmest years on record, 1998, 2006, and 1934. 2008 was cooler, in fact the coolest since 1997. It’s intriguing to see that graph there. The graph we’re looking at showing some question that the warming trend may be just a snapshot in time. The global temperatures by NOAA are seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1995.

So let me start, if I may, Joseph, your reaction to those numbers. Do you quibble with what they represent?

D’ALEO: Yes, I do. In fact, if you look at the satellite data, which is the most reliable data, the best coverage of the globe, 2008 was the 14th coldest in 30 years. That doesn’t jive with the tenth warmest in 159 years in the Hadley data set or 113 or 114 years in the NOAA data set. Those global data sets are contaminated by the fact that two-thirds of the globe’s stations dropped out in 1990. Most of them rural and they performed no urban adjustment. And, Lou, you know, and the people in your studio know that if they live in the suburbs of New York City, it’s a lot colder in rural areas than in the city. Now we have more urban effect in those numbers reflecting — that show up in that enhanced or exaggerated warming in the global data set.

D’Aleo is misdirecting through his teeth here. He knows that the satellite analyses have more variability over ENSO cycles than the surface records, he also knows that urban heat island effects are corrected for in the surface records, and he also knows that this doesn’t effect ocean temperatures, and that the station dropping out doesn’t affect the trends at all (you can do the same analysis with only stations that remained and it makes no difference). Pure disinformation.

DOBBS: Your thoughts on these numbers. Because they are intriguing. They are a brief snapshot admittedly, in comparison to total extended time. I guess we could go back 4.6 billion years. Let’s keep it in the range of something like 500,000 years. What’s your reaction to those numbers and your interpretation?



DOBBS: Go ahead, Jay.

LEHR: Lou, I’m in the camp with Joe and Fred Singer and Dennis Avery, and I think more importantly, it is to look at the sun’s output, and in recent years, we’ve seen very, very low sunspot activity, and we are definitely, in my mind, not only in a cooling period, we’re going to be staying in it for a couple decades, and I see it as a major advantage, although I think we will be able to adapt to it. I’m hopeful that this change in the sun’s output will put some common sense into the legislature, not to pass any dramatic cap in trade or carbon tax legislation that will set us in a far deeper economic hole. I believe Mr. Obama and his economic team are well placed to dig us out of this recession in the next 18 months to 2 years, but I think if we pass any dramatic legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, the recession will last quite a few more years and we’ll come out of it with a lower standard of living on very tenuous scientific grounds.

DOBBS: Alex, the carbon footprint, generation of greenhouse gases, specifically co2, the concern focusing primarily on the carbon footprint, and of course generated by fossil fuels primarily, what is your thinking as you look at that survey of 130 — almost 130 years and the impact on the environment?

ALEX WISSNER-GROSS, CO2STATS.COM: Well, Lou, I think regardless of whatever the long-term trend in the climate data is, there a long- term technological trend which is that as time goes on our technology tends toward smaller and smaller physical footprint. That means in part that in the long term we like technology to have a smaller environmental footprint, burning fewer greenhouse gases and becoming as small and environmentally neutral and noninvasive as possible. So I think regardless of the climate trend, I think we’ll see less and less environmentally impactful technologies.

Wissner-Gross is on because of the media attention given to misleading reports about the carbon emissions related to Google searches. Shame he doesn’t get to talk about any of that.

DOBBS: To be straight forward about this, that’s where I come down. I don’t know it matters to me whether there is global warming or we’re moving toward an ice age it seems really that we should be reasonable stewards of the planet and the debate over whether it’s global warming or whether it’s moving toward perhaps another ice age or business as usual is almost moot here in my mind. I know that will infuriate the advocates of global warming as well as the folks that believe we are headed toward another ice age. What’s your thought?

Curious train of logic there…

D’ALEO: I agree with you, Lou. We need conservation. An all of the above solution for energy, regardless of whether we’re right and it cools over the next few decades or continues to warm, a far less dangerous scenario. And that means nuclear. It means coal, oil, natural gas. Geothermal, all of the above.

DOBBS: Jay, you made the comment about the impact of solar sunspot activity. Sunspot activity the 11-year cycle that we’re all familiar with. There are much larger cycles, 12,000 to 13,000 years as well. We also heard a report disregard, if you will, for the strength and significance of solar activity on the earth’s environment. How do you respond to that?

Is he talking about me? Please see some of my publications on the subject from 2006, 2004 and 2001. My point above was that relative to current greenhouse gas increases, solar is small – not that it is unimportant or uninteresting. This of course is part of the false dilemma ‘single cause’ argument that the pseudo-skeptics like to use – that change must be caused by either solar or greenhouse gases and that any evidence for one is evidence against the other. This is logically incoherent.

FEHR: It just seems silly to not recognize that the earth’s climate is driven by the sun.

Ah yes.

Your Chad Myers pointed out it’s really arrogant to think that man controls the climate.

This is a misquoted reference to a previous segment a few weeks ago where Myers was discussing the impact of climate on individual weather patterns. But man’s activities do affect the climate and are increasingly controlling its trends.

90 percent of the climate is water vapor which we have no impact over and if we were to try to reduce greenhouse gases with China and India controlling way more than we do and they have boldly said they are not going to cripple their economy by following suit, our impact would have no — no change in temperature at all in Europe they started carbon — capping trade in 2005. They’ve had no reduction in groan house gases, but a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in the standard of living. We don’t want to go that route.

What? Accounting for the garbled nature of this response, he was probably trying to say that 90% of the greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour. This is both wrong and, even were it true, irrelevant.

DOBBS: Alex, you get the last word here. Are you as dismissive of the carbon footprint as measured by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

GROSS: No, not really. But I think in the long term, efficiency is where the gains come from. I think efficiency should come first, carbon footprint second.

DOBBS: Thank you very much. Alex, Jay, and Joe. Folks, appreciate you being with us.

FEHR: Thank you.

In summary, this is not the old ‘balance as bias‘ or ‘false balance‘ story. On the contrary, there was no balance at all! Almost the entire broadcast was given over to policy advocates whose use of erroneous-but-scientific-sounding sound bites is just a cover for their unchangable opinions that nothing should ever be done about anything. This may make for good TV (I wouldn’t know), but it certainly isn’t journalism.

There are pressures on journalists that conspire against fully researching a story – deadlines, the tyranny of the news peg etc. – but that means they have to be all the more careful in these kinds of cases. Given that Lou Dobbs has been better on this story in the past, seeing him and his team being spun like this is a real disappointment. They could really do much better.

Update: Marc Roberts sends in this appropriate cartoon:

596 Responses to “CNN is spun right round, baby, right round”

  1. 451
    Mark says:

    Dan, 444, if your forcast says “Rain coming over the west areas in the morning” and then it turns up in the afternoon, that, from the MOTS (man on the street) view is inaccurate.

    It’s why people say “You can’t even get the weather right!!!”. They don’t see “rain DID happen, like forecast), they see “there wasn’t rain in the morning like you said”.

    And IIRC, “skill” is more about how much more accurate you are with a model over just guessing “like yesterday”. Which is why skill goes down in settled weather (high pressure ridge for the UK sitting off the coast for a month) than in chaotic weather.

    If it really IS the same as yesterday for a month, that month’s skill is zero, even though you’ve been 100% accurate (near enough). You didn’t gain anything from running the model.

    Yet, when the weather changes daily, “like yesterday” is right 0% of the time.

    A model that is right 10% of the time is 10% more accurate and infinitely more skillful (10/0%).

  2. 452
    Mark says:

    Gurk. Forgot to finish.

    Dan, that is why I used accuracy too. It was advisedly picked. If your system is out and it is travelling at 10 kts rather than 8kts, the 1 day forecast has the system about 200 miles further on. When that day turns up, the system is 240 miles further on. Or about 4 hours travel. A forcast for the midday now occurs at home-time.

    And that is a result not of skill but of accuracy.

  3. 453
    Nigel Williams says:

    Hi James! Thanks for your comments.

    Others here have shown that the life time energy output of nuclear struggles to get much past even – the energy inputs for extraction, construction, disestablishment and disposal practically balancing the plant’s output over its life.

    Others here have shown that a mix of renewable energy sources can provide a healthy proportion of energy for even the USofA – the most energy hungry nation in the known universe.

    Others here have shown that wind and solar move into positive energy balance after just a few years, and after that they are indeed ‘free’ and clean.

    So we don’t really need to put nuclear into the mix with its insoluble difficulties, do we? We have better solutions that we can build today that don’t entail any significant on-going risk at all. So let’s use them eh? The main thing is that we start now and get it done soon.

    And of course we have to change to match it. We have to reduce our energy consumption at the personal and corporate scale. We have to accept that just maybe we should adopt a speed limit on roads that is safe for simple light-weight but highly efficient electric cars, and let the fossil-fuelled monsters boil up by the roadside if they must. Change in ways we cannot comprehend. Accept that the legitimate pursuit of happiness is not synonymous with rampant consumption. We have to all be part of the solution – to get in behind or at least to get out of the way.

    In varying degrees many of us live in fear of climate and resource wars, we fear for the safety of our children, the issues that confront us are fully comprehensible only by the omniscient, and we feel sadness at our own impotence, and anger at our incompetence for having bought our families to this moment in the history of our world.

    The Dali Lama once said:
    If you wish to experience peace – provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause others to know that they are safe. If you want to understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another better understand. If you wish to heal your sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another…

    That’s not a bad place to start. And I think that’s what we are – each in our own way – trying to do in this discussion.

  4. 454
    Dan says:

    As for the MOTS, he may not like it but it is a matter of education. The MOTS may think the forecast is wrong but he would be wrong because he does not know or understand how forecasts are made or evaluated from a scientific perspective. Here in the US, I am constantly having to explain to people what a “30 percent chance of rain” really means. And that “rain” in this case means measurable rain (0.01 inches or greater). Many people welcome proper explanations just as do I about topics I know little about (or just enough to be dangerous!). Unfortunately, there are also many people who stubbornly refuse to be educated about the subject. Which gets back to global warming denialists as well.

    As for forecast accuracy, there is no question that forecasting in the lower latitudes is generally much more accurate than in the mid and higher latitudes simply because the daily meteorological variation in the lower latitudes is much less. And indeed, those lower latitude areas tend to require somewhat less forecast skill (tropical systems and mountainous areas excepted of course). In fact, climatology and persistence forecasts are hard to beat in lower latitude locations. But enough about weather analysis for now.

  5. 455
    James says:

    Nigel Williams Says (22 January 2009 at 6:54 AM):

    “Others here have shown that the life time energy output of nuclear struggles to get much past even…”

    Only by using some rather… um, “creative”, shall we say? figuring, along the lines of the AGW denialists who try to e.g. blame increased CO2 on volcanic activity.

    “Others here have shown that a mix of renewable energy sources can provide a healthy proportion of energy for even the USofA…”

    And I’m one of them :-) You seem to persist in missing my points, which are first, that a “healthy proportion” is not enough – we need to replace (including “negawatts”) ALL fossil fueled generation, and second, that some ways of implementing renewables, such as covering over large areas of land with solar thermal generation, aren’t healthy.

    “Others here have shown that wind and solar move into positive energy balance after just a few years, and after that they are indeed ‘free’ and clean.”

    Again, that depends. Covering existing roofs with solar panels is clean; covering large areas of formerly open land is not.

    “So we don’t really need to put nuclear into the mix with its insoluble difficulties, do we?”

    Your problem, perhaps, is that you’ve got this fixed idea of “insoluble difficulties”, which in the real world are in fact quite easily solved, and less difficult to handle than the problems posed by equal amounts of wind & solar generation.

    “And of course we have to change to match it. We have to reduce our energy consumption at the personal and corporate scale. We have to accept that just maybe we should adopt a speed limit on roads that is safe for simple light-weight but highly efficient electric cars…”

    I’d go part of the way with that, but say that instead of speed limits we just need more lightweight cars. I think my Honda Insight, at about 1850 lbs, is oversized & overweight, and would really like to have the same drivetrain in a Lotus Europa chassis…

    “We have to all be part of the solution – to get in behind or at least to get out of the way.”

    Something else I agree with. But why, then, are you so adamantly standing in the way of part of the solution?

    [edit – OT]

  6. 456
    Mark says:

    Dan, you’re getting skill wrong maybe.

    “Skill” in terms of measuring the efficacy of a weather simulation is how much better than “Today will be the same as yesterday” you got.

    “And indeed, those lower latitude areas tend to require somewhat less forecast skill”

    May be cart-before-horse here. You can’t GET good skill on the lower lattitudes because they are stable. Hence, you have fewer chances to do better than “Today will be the same as yesterday”.

    This is why skill is such a bad word to use here. There is a very specific meaning to the word in weather prediction measuring. And it doesn’t mean “How clever were you”, it was “How much better than dumb persistence were you”.

    The Met Office lost one of its targets because the summer was long and persistent. Therefore the “skill” metric that the target was based on could not be realised: too many days WERE the same as the day before. And unless your model gets it wrong, it will not say anything different.

  7. 457
    Joepublic says:

    Eric Swanson Says:
    15 January 2009 at 9:29 PM

    RE: #76 & #80

    J. Bob, you may be educated, but do you really understand? The claim that climate change did in the Vikings in Greenland ignores the fact that there is no conclusive proof that climate change was the cause. About the same time that the Eastern Greenland colony vanished, Iceland was hit with the Black Death, which killed about half the population. After that, there was lots of free farmland available in Iceland, which the Greenlanders might have taken advantage, assuming that they weren’t also wiped out by the Plague. And, you ignore the impacts of volcanoes, such as Kuwae in 1453, which would likely have been much worse than the effects of Tambora in 1815, which caused the “Year Without Summer” in New England and Northern Europe. Besides, Europe is not the world.

    Is the fact that viking remains are still being dug out of the permafrost enough proof of the past being warmer than today, but that is only local, [edit]

  8. 458
    Dan says:

    This is getting into semantics. No, I am not getting skill wrong. Per post 444, I wrote that skill is in reference to simply using local climatology or persistence. Specifically, a skill score is the percentage improvement of a forecast with respect to a reference forecast (climatology or persistence). Accuracy is the average closeness between a forecast and observed values.

  9. 459
    Mark says:

    Dan, yes, it is semantics.

    If I used the word “Barratry” with regards to a ship, that is the rebellion against the captain by officers. If I use the word with regards to a solicitor, that is the abuse of legal process by baseless filing of a lawsuit.

    Your post on 458 is the first time I’ve seen you explain the term and then not misuse it (“And indeed, those lower latitude areas tend to require somewhat less forecast skill”), or, if accurate, use the nominal everyday term of “skill” as in “how clever must you be to do it”.

  10. 460
    Mark says:

    Joepublic, it isn’t necessary to show climate did for the Vikings. All that is needed to be shown is that they died because the term “Greenland” was a misnomer and doesn’t mean that it was a lush area suitable for farming and sustained development.

    I.e. if the weather was terrible, they would die. It would then mean that the “Greenland” is not proof that there was a warmer period.

  11. 461
    Nigel Williams says:

    James. To be honest I think you and I are expending more energy on this than will ever get spent on building any ‘new generation’ nukes.

    Lets agree to disagree and move on to discussing the numerous more likely solutions to energy supply and emissions that we know are out there littering our common ground.

  12. 462
    Francois Marchand says:

    RE 450 : France does reprocess its nuclear waste, and that of Japan also, by the way (at La Hague, near Cherbourg).

  13. 463
    Richard Steckis says:

    Your response to #167:

    “The station drop out ‘effect’ is just fake, and if you don’t like GISS, then use another analysis – it doesn’t matter. – gavin]”

    Is it? Virtually every rural weather station in Western Australia (without a major airport and therefore a large town) has no data in GISS beyond 1992. The dropout includes Australian Climate Reference Network stations administered by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (e.g. Wandering, Bridgetown and Cunderdin).

    [Response: The records that are in the GHCN are put there by the regional bureaus. You need to ask ABM why they pick the stations they do to release the CLIMAT record (see Petersen and Vose, 1997 for details). However, if there was such a jump in the large scale indices in 1990, you should be able to see GISTEMP shift in comparison the RSS record for instance. You don’t. The figure used in the D’Aleo piece seems to be an average simply of each individual station (without taking anomalies or adjusting for areas). Thus changing the number of stations shifts the mean temperature of the average station (depending on whether you drop out a tropical station or polar stations for instance). This has absolutely nothing to do with estimating the global mean anomaly. Thus it is fake. – gavin]

  14. 464
    Dan says:

    No. Mark, sorry to disappoint you but I have not misused the term. When you have a graduate degree in the field, over 25 years experience and use the concept everyday, let’s talk. I explained the term only because it was becoming clear you did not have a handle on it. I assumed you did. I was wrong on that so I realized you needed a clearer definition. Otherwise, I suggest waiting until you have a better overall understanding.

  15. 465
    Dan says:

    For some reason, my last several sentences got cut off when I pasted them:
    Once again, a skill score is the percentage improvement of a forecast with respect to a reference forecast (climatology or persistence). In lower latitudes, a lower skill score will *not* adversely affect the forecast nearly as much as higher latitudes simply because climatology and persistence are often excellent “forecasts” in those low latitude regions. Thus my sentence (“And indeed, those lower latitude areas tend to require somewhat less forecast skill”) was spot on. And those are my last words on the subject. There’s plenty more you can read elsewhere.

  16. 466
    Richard Steckis says:

    To follow up. Of the 21 Australian Reference Climate Stations in Western Australia. 8 (or 38%) have incomplete data in GISS (dropout usually 1992). Of particular interest is that the station at Cape Grim (Tasmania) is not even in GISTEMP. Cape Grim is not only a climate reference station it is also one of the international air quality stations in the NOAA air quality network. Go figure.

  17. 467
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard Steckis,

  18. 468
    Mark says:

    Dan, if that is all true, then you are missing out words *you* know are meant and therefore are blind to their lack.

    And leaving those words out are like leaving “solicitor” or “ship” out of a discussion that mentions barratry.

    Your statement about the lower latitudes requiring less skill is incorrect by your known meaning of the word “skill”. It is impossible to HAVE high skill by your known meaning of the word “skill”. It isn’t that it is not necessary, it is that it is not available.

    Although thinking about it, if you’re missing “to get the same accuracy” then you are now getting it right. You can, for these areas, get 85% correct forcast without needing a model that shows skill, whereas in the temperate latitudes, you need a lot of “skill” to make 85% forecasts correct.

    Then again, that shows what I said at the start: you are seeing words there you didn’t put because you are so immersed in it you can’t see the wood, you only see “tree”.

  19. 469
    SecularAnimist says:

    william wrote in #442: “Forth Generation Nukes are the only way to supply the power to replace the Coal Plants that will no longer be built.”

    That is very clearly not the case, since wind turbines are already replacing more coal-fired power plants “that will no longer be built” than are new nuclear power plants (of any generation).

    According to WorldWatch Institute, the 15,200 megawatts of new wind turbines installed worldwide in 2006 will generate as much clean electricity annually as 23 average-sized US coal-fired power plants — that’s 23 coal-fired power plants that need not be built. And approximately 20,000 megawatts of new wind turbines were installed in 2007, 31 percent more than in 2006 — that’s even more coal-fired power plants that need not be built because they’ve been pre-emptively “replaced” by wind turbines.

    WorldWatch also notes that “over the past 15 years, the costs of wind-generated electricity have dropped by 50 percent, while efficiency, reliability, and power ratings have all experienced significant improvements … wind power remains competitive with new natural gas plants and will become increasingly competitive with coal as more countries put a price on carbon.”

    Meanwhile, WorldWatch reports that in 2007, “global installed capacity of nuclear power grew by less than 2,000 megawatts … The new nuclear capacity is equivalent to just one tenth of the new wind power installed globally in 2007.”

    With all due respect to my fellow commenters, nuclear proponents are beating a dead horse — a costly, dangerous and toxic dead horse. Wind and solar are where the world’s energy economy is headed, not nuclear.

  20. 470
    Hank Roberts says:

    A heartfelt plea:
    The nuke/anti/nuke/anti/… tangents popping in at RC happen on and off, sputtering, with little effect but distraction from attempts to focus on the topic’s subject..

    There’s a heck of a good thread or six discussing this in a good blog next door:

  21. 471
    SecularAnimist says:

    By the way, I don’t know if any moderators are still reading this thread, but if you are, I have a trivial question. Or maybe another commenter will know this:

    What is the phrase “spun right round, baby, right round” in the title of this article about? Is that a reference to a song or something?

    [Response: Here (if you can stand it). – gavin]

  22. 472
    Tom Dayton says:

    I hate reminders that I’m not so young.

    Boy George song: You Spin Me Right Round.

    A news-timely choice of post title, given the old boy just got sent to prison. Again.

    [Response: The original was by Dead or Alive in 1985 (and I remember that coming out too). – gavin]

  23. 473
    EL says:

    In RE 409 Galvin,

    If I said superman had 4 years to save the world then what impression would you have? It’s not that I disagree with the urgency of his statements but how it was expressed. This is exactly what I was referring to, when I was speaking of people getting passionate about the topic. To give you an example of how this is going to be understood by the average person; go ask your grandmother what that topic means to her. In general, people are going to relate this to ideas like Mayan 2012 predictions. His expressions are based more on passion then science.

    I believe it would be very wise of this man if he was more careful in his choice of wording. His message would have been more effective, if he had worded it as you did in your response to me. Perhaps he should consider allowing some other scientist, perhaps yourself, to proof read his statements. While I may be sounding like a pot calling the kettle black, I know first hand how bad writing effects interpretation of meaning. People really need to stick with the science closely on this topic and stop venturing off of it. While his wording may have been unintentional, he needs to look at everything coolly and dispassionately and express it in the same fashion.

    Anyway lets move on:

    I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that we can curb global emissions within a decade or two. I think Obama may be able to slow the increase in C02 emissions in the US but to reduce them I think is unlikely.

    The first problem is due to projected increased demand on the us power system. This projection is expected to be as high as 30%. So we have to account for that increased consumption of power with our ideas of reducing carbon output. This leads to major problems with utilities to come up with this power in a non-co2 producing fashion.

    While on the surface this problem may seem easy to solve, its not. First the power grids are not designed to accept sources such as wind and solar technology. So in order to make use of that technology, you would need to redesigned the power grid. There is also an issue with the economics of wind and solar power. It would be very expensive to produce enough electricity with these technologies to meet the projected demand. So that brings us to the devil, nuclear technology.

    Nuclear technology is the only method that is ready to solve this problem. However nuclear technology has it’s own major problems and some of them are worse then the C02 problem. The first problem is what do you do with massive amounts of waste coming from thousands of nuclear plants. Demand on the power grid grows about 2% a year in the US, so this technology is going to produce 2% more waste every year. I would also like to point out that nuclear fuel isn’t an infinite resource. So you’re going to have the same old conflicts, just in new areas. The last problem is how would you deploy it globally? It has many military applications and would likely be abused. If you don’t deploy it then developing nations are going to continue to burn fossil fuels.

    The next problem is global in nature. For every coal plant that we shutdown in the US, China or another developing country will be launching one. We do not have the political capacity to make China stop using c02 based technology. China is the banker of the USA and can do anything that it likes. (Which worries me to no end, I don’t think Americans realize the danger of bankers. But that is another topic for another topic for another day.) So the only way that we are able to get the rest of the world to change over from Co2 based technologies, is to do it with a good example. We need to develop a technology that works better then the current one. I fear that we are going to rush this and make it look bad to the rest of the world. This would kill America politically and economically, not to mention a continuation of C02 emissions.

    Just my thoughts…

  24. 474
    Hank Roberts says:

    Just this morning, I’ve heard three climate or biology scientists say (local and national radio science shows) that we have “a few years” to make the change.

    I think they’re thinking of the midterm elections, and they’re right.

  25. 475

    Re EL’s post on renewables, I think it is a mistake to assume that developing economies need to be dragged kicking and screaming to the use of renewables. China in particular has made great strides in this regard–even if some, like the “Olympic generation capacity,” may have been over-hyped to a degree.

    For example, here is a (now year-old) story on Chinese turbine manufacture:

    A more recent source tells us that:

    “China’s top economic planning body has unveiled an ambitious target to expand the country’s wind power generating capacity to 100,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020, according to reports on Tuesday.

    The plan from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is five times the previous target, the report in Shanghai Daily said. Global wind power currently stands at 94 gigawatts (94,000MW).

    “The NDRC has just recently completed an internal meeting to discuss the possibility of increasing wind power capacity to 100,000MW,” Shi Pengfei, vice president of Chinese Wind Energy Association, was quoted as saying. “It’s not 20,000MW or 30,000MW as previously targeted.”

    “China hopes to have 15% of its electricity generation coming from renewable sources by 2020. Most of this is expected to come from hydropower and wind.”


    I think it is clear that deployment of renewables is part of their development strategy, especially the export of related equipment such as the turbines referred to in the first story.

    (Note that according to the American Wind Energy Association, US wind capacity reached about 24,000 MW in 2008, and the AWEA hopes for 30% of US capacity to be supplied by wind by 2030.)

  26. 476
    JCH says:

    “I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that we can curb global emissions within a decade or two. I think Obama may be able to slow the increase in C02 emissions in the US but to reduce them I think is unlikely. …” – EL

    The numbers aren’t in, yet, but it’s getting pretty obvious global emissions have been cut in a fairly significant way since last July.

  27. 477
    EL says:

    476 – That’s because we are in the modern version of the great depression. Any lower C02 emissions during this period is only a temporary effect and will resume once the economy picks back up.

    475 – The doe is projecting around 128 Gigawatts by 2030 from wind power. They also project an additional 22 gigawatts from solar panel technology by 2030. So add this together and be optimistic and say 150 gigawatts by 2030. The demand for electricity is expected to increase 235 gigawatts by 2030.

    These projections are optimistic that we are going to solve our problems with transmission in the grid.

    Galvin, you should take a look at this:

    It’s a projection of international coal consumption by the department of energy. Take a very long look at the projections for Asia.

  28. 478
    Ray Ladbury says:

    EL, OK, we have what you think. Do you have any actual facts to support it? How about some anecdotes? On the side of what is possible, last year, the town of Juneau, AK was cut off from its usual supply of cheap hydroelectric power. Suddenly, power was expensive, and people responded by cutting their consumption by 30-35%–on a dime, no preparation, no technological breakthroughs. It is pointless to argue about how we will meet demand for power until we know how much power we really need to supply, and we will not know that until we pick some of the plentiful low-hanging fruit. We don’t know until we see what sorts of energy-saving technologies will be available for us to use–and to sell to developing countries, as well. EL, I don’t expect you to get all the way to “Yes we can,” in a week, but could you try to get as far as “Maybe we should try…”

  29. 479
    EL says:

    478 – You can look at the various projections at the department of energy web site. The link in post 477 shows the projected coal usage by various countries around the world up to 2030. You can also look through various projections and forecasts on their web site.

    It’s not politically possible in most places to force people to make drastic cuts in consumption. For example, the Chinese government has been nervous over the economic fallout. If their GDP drops below a certain rate of grow then they may be looking at a revolt. In terms of energy, you have to understand that if that consumption got cut, so would the jobs that consume it. For a solution to be viable, it needs to be able to handle consumption and be globally available.

    I’m not suggesting that nothing should be done about this problem. However, I do think that we are going to need to define the problem in more detail, before we can set out to solve it. One thing I don’t want to see us do is trade one bad technology for another.

  30. 480
    Hank Roberts says:

    > define the problem in more detail

    All you need is the edge, the worst and most imminent result.
    That’s ocean pH change.

    There are many examples where a scientist or group of scientists came across a new result, and people figured out a likely consequence that could be a problem, and hauled it into the laboratory and started looking into it — and meanwhile back in the barn, some other consequence grew much faster and wasn’t noticed til much later.

    CO2 rate of change is one of those. We have upwards of a century of attention paid to what it changes in the atmosphere and climate, and a few years of attention paid to what it changes in water.

    It’s one of those “duh, I wonder if this was so stupid it’ll do us in, thought it was a good idea at the time” situations.

    Germ theory. Antibiotic resistance. Fisheries. Market hunting. Heavy metals. Chemicals that are hormone mimics. Phonics. Chlorofluorocarbons. All sorts of areas that could have been done well if understood before they were either rolled out or replaced by “something better” that turned out to be worse.

    For CO2, it’s ocean pH that is changing the fastest and is already closest to values affecting the base of the food chain where most primary productivity (turning light into life) occurs.

    “… to-day we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand. The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time—perhaps for a long time.”

    Or if you don’t like “delicate machine” try “angry beast” for analogy.

  31. 481
    Hank Roberts says:

    > more detail

    “… If you ask me whether any of this is ever going to get done, if I were to bet on it, I would bet 20 per cent it’s going to get done and 80 per cent it won’t.

    But if it doesn’t get done, we’re going to be very sorry.”

  32. 482
    EL says:

    480 – I’m surprised you didn’t mention thermohaline circulation.

  33. 483
    EL says:

    481 – At least there is one guy in this world that agrees with me about the lack of information. He also seems to agree about getting people stop burning fossil fuels.

    However…. We completely disagree about the C02 removing from the atmosphere contraption. Leaves me wondering if he’s just trying to sell an idea or if this is an act of desperation.

  34. 484
    Hank Roberts says:

    > surprised … thermohaline circulation

    Well, I’m an amateur reader; I certainly even kept up with the abstracts, but I don’t recall suggestions that’s coming soon.“thermohaline+circulation”
    (even limiting that to post-2005, say, for contemporary work).

    EL, do you know something new since the last IPCC report on that?

  35. 485
    Hank Roberts says:

    Er, on the other hand, when I see Contributors’ names turn up in broad recent Scholar searches on a climate topic as I just did, I go to the right hand sidebar, look at their publications.

    Thermohaline circulation fact sheet

    Okay, yeah, add that.

    I wonder if a combination of slow or rearranged thermohaline circulation and pH change leads us into Peter Ward’s thesis. Burp.

    Okay, yep, add that.

  36. 486

    truth (#323): It’s true that a lot of the people you name get a lot of respect. However it’s not true that the government is bending over backwards to implement mitigation measures. On the contrary, at both state and federal levels, Australia is spending a lot more on pro-fossil-fuel infrastructure than green technology. The Labor party paid lip service to this stuff to get elected but the patience of the green movement is running out. Many people I speak to consider both of the major parties to be equally bad. They talk green to get elected, then renege once in power. I’ve been assembling a science advisory board for my campaign (Qld state election) and several people have told me they are willing to give advice as long as their names are not made public.

    I’m curious as to where the people you name “frequently put the AGW view”. I don’t see them all that often on TV and definitely not in the Murdoch press, which gives undue coverage to non-experts who clearly do not know what they are talking about (I don’t just mean I disagree with them; they write things that are obviously incorrect, like we are heading for an ice age, and do absurd curve fits to bolster their lack of evidence). This stuff has been cited here recently:


  37. 487
    Mark says:

    EL, 473.

    And for every coal station the US put up, ten countries will put up one and say “But THEY’RE doing it too!”.

    I thought the US was a World Leader.

    And if someone goes first, it should be the ***leader*** right?

    Or is it now the leader stands at the back and tells everyone else “Charge!!!!”…

  38. 488
    Chuck Booth says:

    This morning, CNN ran an interesting video segment on the thinning of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and its tenuous connection to the main ice sheet. After the video, the host turned to CNN meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf, and said something like, “But, you’re not convinced, are you?” No, he is not, and he suggested that global warming may well be part of a natural cycle of warming and cooling, noting that there is a growing ice shelf in the Arctic (I’m pretty sure he said “shelf” and not “sheet”). Is it possible he is forgetting that this is winter in the northern hemisphere and so, naturally, there is more sea ice in the Arctic? Or did he somehow miss the news that the summer extent of the ice cover has been shrinking? Or is it me who is confused?

    [Response: If he said either “shelf” or “sheet” he is demonstrated his ignorance. You’re not confused. Wolf obviously is. I don’t mean to be disparaging, but what does a meteorologist know about ice shelf dynamics?–eric]

    [Response: Well, many meteorologists (or other members of the public) can (and do) keep informed on this issue if they like – the ACIA report was a great intro into Arctic changes for instance. It’s not because he’s a meteorologist that he’s mistaken. – gavin]

  39. 489
    Ray Ladbury says:

    EL–Funny how you put no faith in the scenarios and trends shown by climate models (based on physics) and yet accept mere projections of existing trends on energy use as gospel. Selective credulity? I agree that if we were still in the era of cheap, consequence-free fossil fuel energy, those trends might stand a chance. We ain’t there.
    Let’s be clear. Reality has changed. There will be winners and losers as a result of those change. I’d guess, however, that the winners are much more likely to be those who create the new reality (e.g. energy infrastructure, sustainable economy) than those who arrive late to the party.
    You are accepting projections as if they were natural law–as if human beings had no volition and could make no choices for change.

  40. 490
    jcbmack says:

    I remember 1985, myself.

  41. 491
    EL says:

    Concerning models, the problem comes when people try to get too specific with their results. This problem is mostly due to lack of information. Take this story for an example:

    Did Global Warming Boost Katrina’s Fury?

    In the above story, they make a claim that global warming contributed 7% of the power of Katrina. The problem is that there isn’t enough information collected to make these kind of claims. You would have to have information from seismic, orbital, sunspots, ocean circulation, and everything else (a long list) to even have the ability to make such a claim. Not just some snapshot of information either, but a decent sized period of it, and lots of computer power to process it. The truth is, many vultures are more then happy to swoop down on people who are afraid for profit and politics.


    There is a whole lot of reasons that I believe that emissions are dangerously difficult to stop. The first one of course is the projections as you mentioned. The next is the projections from people who are in the solar and wind industry. One of the largest reasons however is observations of people in general.

    Have a look at this survey:

    You’ll notice that global warming is at the very bottom of the list of worries. This means that we are going to have to navigate our way out of this mess with pure innovation. We need to develop a technology that is BETTER and CHEAPER then our current technology for us to have any success. That is just the reality of this situation.

  42. 492
    SecularAnimist says:

    EL wrote: “We need to develop a technology that is BETTER and CHEAPER then our current technology for us to have any success.”

    We already have such technologies: wind turbines, photovoltaics and concentrating solar thermal. They are better: they enable us to harvest free, abundant, ubiquitous wind and solar energy forever, and end forever our reliance on costly, scarce, toxic fuels of any kind. And when ALL the costs of fossil fuels are taken into account, they are cheaper too. In some instances they are already cheaper than fossil fuels, even when the costs of carbon are “externalized” as they mostly are at present. And with economies of scale, and new technologies like thin-film photovoltaics, the cost of wind and solar energy is steadily declining.

    The estimates from the US DOE and the IEA of the growth potential for wind and solar are laughably low:

    … experts from the Energy Watch group, say the International Energy Agency (IEA) publishes misleading data on renewables, and that it has consistently underestimated the amount of electricity generated by wind power in its advice to governments. They say the IEA shows “ignorance and contempt” towards wind energy, while promoting oil, coal and nuclear as “irreplaceable” technologies.

    In a report to be published today, the Energy Watch experts say wind-power capacity has rocketed since the early 90s and that if current trends continue, wind and solar power-generation combined are on track to match conventional generation by 2025.


    Today’s report compares past predictions about the growth of wind power, made by the IEA and others, with the capacity of wind turbines actually installed.

    It says: “By comparing historic forecasts on wind power with reality, we find that all official forecasts were much too low.”

    In 1998, the IEA predicted that global wind electricity generation would total 47.4GW by 2020. This figure was reached in December 2004, the report says. In 2002, the IEA revised its estimate to 104GW wind by 2020 – a capacity that had been exceeded by last summer.

    In 2007, net additions of wind power across the world were more than four-fold the average IEA estimate from its 1995-2004 predictions, the report says. “The IEA numbers were neither empirically nor theoretically based,” it says.

    And whereas the US DOE has estimated that wind energy could supply 20 percent of US electricity by 2030, the American Wind Energy Association points out that the potential is much greater:

    Installed wind energy generating capacity is now over 20,000 MW. The installed wind power fleet is expected to generate an estimated 48 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind energy in 2008, just over 1% of U.S. electricity supply, powering the equivalent of over 4.5 million homes.

    By contrast, the total amount of electricity that could potentially be generated from wind in the United States has been estimated at 10,777 billion kWh annually — more than twice the electricity generated in the U.S. today.

    A recent cover story in Scientific American outlined a plan for producing most of the USA’s electricity from concentrating solar thermal power plants by mid-century. And of course Al Gore’s group has set forth a detailed plan for generating 100 percent of US electricity from carbon-free sources within ten years.

  43. 493
    Rod B says:

    SecularAnimist (492), if Energy Watch (an unbiased group I assume) is correct, wind and solar energy production would have to jump by 6-7 times current production in the next 20+ years (I’ll give them an extra five) while production from coal, gas, nuclear and hydro would have to decrease by around 30%. While they accuse the IEA of being deliberately misleading with their forecasts, is Earth Watch willing to bet the farm on their’s? There is not a chance in Hades. (Unless I am misreading what they forecast which was solar and wind production would equal all other production — 50-50 — in 2025.)

  44. 494
    Hank Roberts says:

    > a claim that global warming contributed 7% of the power of Katrina

    Wait, you’re
    1) reading a _newspaper_article_ and
    2) saying “there isn’t enough information collected to make these kind of claims.”

    With you so far. The newspaper reporter should have … oh, wait …

    Then you say you’d need
    3) “information from seismic, orbital, sunspots, ocean circulation, and everything else (a long list) to even have the ability to make such a claim.”

    Uh, this is a newspaper article. You need a citation to a reliable source to be credible with me, and presumably you — don’t you think?

    So what did the newspaper article say, first?

    It said:
    — Headline: “…Boost Katrina’s Fury?” (Headline writer responsible)
    — Subhead: “Experts: Rise in Temperature Added More Water to Storm’s Surge” (Well, that’s attributed to the experts — storm surge)
    Story: “… in the early 1970s it would have had less moisture to fuel its powerful storm system, and less rain. That would have meant less water to pummel an outdated system of levees ….”

    Okay, so — where did you get “power” as you claim someone said?

    Then they refer to Trenberth, “Our estimate is that rainfall from Katrina was about 7 percent enhanced by global warming,” so there’s the 7 percent.

    And then the article says:

    “Trenberth’s research is augmented by the work of a number of other scientists who are finding evidence that the greenhouse effect … is boosting the power of great storms to an alarming degree. Kerry Emanuel,… believes major storms have increased in intensity and duration by a whopping 50 percent just since the 1970s.

    Other research that reaches similar conclusions will be published shortly.”

    But they don’t say who is going to publish more soon. Hard to check.

  45. 495
    EL says:

    SecularAnimist – 50/50 generation by 2025 is so liberal.

    IEA’s response:

    494 – Would you rather have one from here?

    “BOULDER—Global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005”

  46. 496
    Hank Roberts says:

    EL, that’s a letter (GRL publishes letters). At least point to the paragraph with the actual numbers in it. What does “About half of the extra” mean, out of context? If you just want scary lines of text, you can find them. No argument. If you want understanding, read more.

    55 other hits cited that piece, so there’s likely something there:

    You disputed “7 percent of the power” saying that couldn’t be based on (something or other).

    So — look at least at the whole letter _about_ the research:

    “… global warming explained about 0.45 degrees Celsius [0.81 degrees Fahrenheit] of this rise. Aftereffects from the 2004-2005 El Niño accounted for about 0.2 degrees Celsius [0.4 degrees Fahrenheit]. The Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO), a 60-to-80-year natural cycle in sea surface temperature, explained less than 0.1 degrees Celsius [0.2 degrees Fahrenheit]…. The remainder is due to year-to-year variability in temperatures.

    … looked beyond the Atlantic to temperature patterns throughout Earth’s tropical and midlatitude waters. He subtracted the global trend from the irregular Atlantic temperatures–in effect, separating global warming from the Atlantic natural cycle. …

    That’s much more from the fake-quoted “7 percent of the power” eh?

    And this text is still from the press release. You can find the science. I did not do it for you, I just suggested where to start.

    Look for the science, don’t just carp about newspaper stories.

  47. 497
    Alan Neale says:

    Re #493: Is the IEA unbiased I wonder ? If they have continuously underestimated winf power then it is only fair for someone to point it out regardless of you insinuating that they are somehow biased and hence incorrect ?

    The issues revert around base load needs and peak load requirements. Thats one of the reasons why gas is used, for peak load and reduction in Co2 emissions relative to coal. Nuclear and coal provide base load and hydro and gas for peak load. I am sure though that Solar thermal and wind can supply a lot of the base load and peak load requirements can be managed more efectively via smart grids.

    Ar you prepared to give anything else a chance except fossil fuels ?

  48. 498
    Ray Ladbury says:

    EL, All it would take to elevate climate change significantly would be a repeat of the 2005 hurricane season–whether or not warming contributed to it. Public opinion is pretty fickle. Policy cannot be. We will not innovate ourselves out of this mess, because we don’t have time to do so. Conservation will be essential in order to buy that time.

  49. 499

    Apropos the wind power discussion, I had a chance to chat with some folks this past week who have 4 1.2MW wind turbines on their land out in West Texas.

    Wind is approaching the point of being an epidemic. It’s much cheaper than solar and there’s enough news coverage, positive and negative, that it’s hard to imagine anyone with a windy location hasn’t given it some thought. I’m getting ready to ask for permission to erect a turbine to see if the ridge I live on has viable power. I don’t need the electricity, but it would be interesting to see if the prevailing southerly breezes here can produce significant amounts of power.

  50. 500

    EL, your cite as I read it says that the IEA projections are based on “business as usual” scenarios, not build potential, and that that is the explanation for their consistent underprediction of wind capacity. It’s nice to know they aren’t biassed, but you still can’t use their figures to try to set upper bounds on future wind power development–at least, not with any credibility.

    It seems likely that the trend will accelerate, given the probability of a more supportive legislative environment in the US. (Perhaps it’s worth noting that the IEA, too, calls for more incentives for renewables in the same item you cite.)