|The Week That Was
Jan. 1, 2005
1. New on the Web: MICHAEL CRICHTON'S BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL IS NOT ONLY A GOOD READ BUT PROVIDES USEFUL INSTRUCTION: IT EXPOSES THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF MUCH-FEARED GLOBAL WARMING AND THE VENALITY OF ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS. ABOVE ALL, IT SLAMS THE POPULAR RELIANCE ON "CONSENSUS" SCIENCE." [Comments can be made on the Crichton web site cited.]
2. "Realclimate" BLOGGERS TRASH CRICHTON BOOK
3. THE REAL OIL PROBLEM
4. GUEST EDITORIAL FROM CONGRESS ACTION (Dec. 12, 2004
5. THE TSUNAMI OF DEC 26, 2004: A SIMPLE EXPLANATION AND SOME POLITICAL
Freelance science journalist Dr. David Appell, who makes his career by blogging against GW skeptics, now has competition from <www.realclimate.org>
This new blog was started by Gavin Schmidt (NASA-GISS) to provide a "rapid response" to skeptics; his 9-person group includes such "worthies" as Michael Mann and Ray Bradley - of Hockeystick fame. (Nuff said.) Schmidt's attack on "State of Fear" is part of their maiden effort.
Acc to Science (24 Dec 2004, p. 2167), they are hosted by the PR firm Environmental Media Services , with undisclosed funding. "They hope to counter industry-supported sites such as <www.CO2science.org> ..." Science reports. "Visitors can chime in, but comments are screened before they are posted."
SEPP comments: EMS is the notorious Fenton PR group, with a
long history of ideological support for any environmental cause - no matter
Disdainful of oil economists in general and of MIT professor M. A. Adelman (Spring 2004 issue) in particular, Calvin Perrine (Fall 2004, p.3-5) discusses the perennial problems of "running out of oil" and the reality of the "oil weapon." I disagree with him on both issues.
The "real oil problem" has to do with the fact that oil discoveries took place in the wrong sequence. In the best of all worlds, the lowest cost, Middle-East oil should have been exploited first before high-cost sources were tackled elsewhere. But of course, the existence of sources only becomes known through exploration - and this has not been done in any systematic way. As a result, high-cost domestic US oil had to be protected in two ways: 1) through a quota-based import-control program , and 2) through production restrictions on domestic wells by quotas set by state agencies, the major one being the Texas Railroad Commission. This system worked, more or less, until about 1970 and kept the US price at around $2 a barrel.
Once US wells ran out of spare capacity, however, Middle East nations began to take over the concessions held by multinational oil companies and were able to raise prices and appropriate the profits ("rents"). The world price rose rapidly from about $3 to 12; inept meddling in negotiations by the State Department, plus the so-called Arab oil embargo merely speeded up the inevitable price rise.
All of this history has a bearing on the validity of M. King Hubbert's methodology, evidently embraced by Perrine and others; around 1956, he predicted the 1970 peak in US production. I consider his "prediction" to be a fluke -- and therefore doubt the predictions of an imminent peak in world production put forth by Kenneth Deffeyes , Colin Campbell, etc. and here by Calvin Perrine. (I do note that Perrine expects the peak to occur before 2014, about six years beyond the date given by Deffeyes in his book "Hubbert's Peak")
Looking at Hubbert's 1970 peak, it is easy to see that if not for the restrictions imposed by the Texas RR Commission, domestic oil production would have peaked much earlier. And after 1970, when the Oil Import Quota system ceased to be effective, domestic prices for "old oil" were frozen (by price regulation) while "new oil" had to be developed over time and later was subject to a disincentive "windfall profits tax." In other words, the location of the peak was controlled by regulatory factors and by oil prices, not by geology.
It is worthwhile to examine now the rather simple scheme adopted by Hubbert's disciples. It consists of three steps: 1) Estimate "Total Recoverable Oil" (TCO). 2) Curve-fit this TCO quantity to the area under a Gaussian. 3) Assume symmetry -- so that when one-half of the TCO has been lifted, you will have reached the production peak.
What's wrong : 1) TCO is a moving target -- even if based on best current geologic information. Its value depends on future exploration and production technology and on future price (which depends on many factors, including the availability of substitutes). 2) There is no reason why the production curve over time should be a Gaussian; all one can say for sure is that starting with zero production in the 19th century and eventual zero (or near-zero) production in future, there must be at least one peak somewhere. 3) There is no a priore reason to expect the production curve to be symmetric. On the contrary, with the existence of "backstops" like the Canadian tar sands and the Orinoco deposits, one would expect a long production tail well out into the future.
For what it is worth, the Energy Information Administration, in its Dec.
2004 report predicts world consumption of oil to rise smoothly from its
present 80 million barrels per day to about 120 mbd in 2025 -- and peaking
1) A selective embargo (that leaves total world production and price unaffected) is completely ineffective except perhaps for propaganda purposes. I cite here the "embargo" declared by Arab producers against the US in 1973 - or the converse and equally ineffective embargo declared by President Jimmy Carter against Iranian imports during the 1979 hostage crisis.\
2) A real supply reduction, whether by war, sabotage, or by an economically
irrational decision to shut-in production, will simply raise the world
price to all consumers, with the available oil going to the highest bidder.
The major hardships will not be inflicted on developed nations (as Perrine
suggests) but on poor nations that use mostly oil for electric generation,
heating, and transportation. The United States is blessed with huge coal
resources and derives in addition about 20 percent of electric power from
nuclear energy. It is nations like China that stand to lose if oil prices
by Kim Weissman <BEVDAV@worldnet.att.net>
THE UNITED LEAGUE OF NATIONS: Perhaps it's a case of collective
amnesia. Perhaps the United Nations headquarters isn't really in Manhattan
after all, but on another planet which hasn't had contact with Earth for
the last half-century. Or maybe the "Excellencies" (as the dictators
and kleptocrats who haunt the corridors of the United Nations are called)
are simply oblivious to reality because they are honored with seats on
human rights commissions rather than being condemned for their own human
rights abuses, as many of them justly deserve.
Our SEPP associate Dr. Thomas P. Sheahen writes a weekly science column for newspapers in Western Maryland. This week he answers some questions about
How does a tsunami happen ? And is there any way to predict them ?
A tsunami (also known as a tidal wave) is a secondary effect of an earthquake that happens underwater. Naturally, the more powerful the earthquake, the more powerful will be the associated tsunami. The disaster of December 26 began with an extremely powerful earthquake.
The magnitude of earthquakes is measured on the Richter Scale, where the numbers increase by powers of ten. An earthquake of magnitude 6 is ten times as powerful as a magnitude 5 earthquake. Magnitude 9 is 1000 times as powerful as magnitude 6. And so on.
When the tectonic plates around the earth move relative to one another, that's an earthquake. The epicenter is the point where the actual connection of the tectonic plates breaks. Slight motions (magnitude 2 earthquakes) happen all the time, and nobody notices. At magnitude 4 you definitely notice it, at magnitude 5 flimsy buildings fall down, and at magnitude 6 highway bridges might fall down. As the numbers go up, the likelihood of such an event gets smaller. There hasn't been a magnitude 9 earthquake for several decades.
On land, almost nobody falls into the crack opened up by an earthquake. People get killed by buildings falling on their heads. A really major earthquake (magnitude 7 or 8 ) that happens right under a city might kill 5000 people this way. We've all gotten used to hearing reports of such disasters about once per decade.
When the epicenter is under the floor of the ocean, something additional can take place. If the plates slide sideways relative to one another, no big deal. But if one plate slides underneath the other (known as subduction) then suddenly there is a step several feet high that wasn't there before. Instantaneously, the water in the ocean directly above also wants to have that step in it, but that can't happen with water, so instead the water starts to move to fill in the void. That moving water is what constitutes the tsunami. The motion is a pulse, a form of wave that is different from the usual up & down waves on the ocean.
The pulse of water is at most only as high as the step in the ocean floor, maybe 6 feet for a huge earthquake. But the pulse is also extremely wide: 100 kilometers (60 miles) is common. That wave starts to move outward from the epicenter. It's classified as a "shallow water wave" even when the ocean is two miles deep. Unlike ordinary waves (even big waves, as in hurricanes) this wave moves very swiftly, typically about 500 miles per hour. Moreover, it tends to stay together and doesn't lose much energy as it travels. There are physics reasons for all this, of course, but the details aren't crucially important here.
If you're out in a boat somewhere on the ocean as the tsunami passes by, your boat lifts up with the ocean surface. At 500 mph, even a 60-mile wide pulse passes beneath you in under 10 minutes, and so you barely notice. If you're underwater scuba-diving, it's definitely surprising because of the sideways drag, but that's over with quickly too. As long as there's nothing in the way, the pulse of water just gently spreads out over a very wide ocean.
All the trouble happens when the pulse of water collides with some land in its way. The ocean floor, which had been thousands of feet down out at sea, rises up gradually. The word "shoreline" means the place where the ocean depth is zero.
We are all familiar with ocean waves "breaking" on the shore. The forward speed of a moving wave drops to zero, and all that water bunches up as it approaches the shore, so the wave becomes a lot higher. The tip of the wave falls over itself and crashes below. At the beach, it's fun to splash in such waves, and surfers enjoy the really big breakers where they can find them. Such waves roll in about ten or 15 seconds apart; if you're standing in shallow water, it passes over you in about one or two seconds. A surfer who takes a wipe-out is underwater for 5 or 10 seconds. That rapid repeat-rate makes all the difference between fun and danger.
When a tsunami shows up at the shoreline, that same bunching up of water takes place as the forward speed drops. Although the pulse might be just a few feet high out at sea, the enormous width of the pulse means that a gigantic amount of water is going to keep moving toward shore. When it reaches the shoreline, the height of the pulse might be 15 or 20 feet, but the volume of water is huge -- it just keeps on coming. If the water pours in for ten or 15 minutes, it can easily flood all the low-lying land near the shore. It knocks down buildings and drowns unsuspecting people.
Many people would have avoided danger if they had been warned of the approaching tsunami. A seismic device that detected the earthquake and automatically set off an alarm would be needed. For most of the people living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the warning time would have been too short; also, the damage from a magnitude 9 earthquake is extremely severe anyway. But a warning system might have saved people on a beach several hundred miles away, in Sri Lanka or Thailand.
The question arises: at what level of intensity should a warning be issued? A magnitude 4 earthquake will produce a very tiny tsunami of no danger. How about magnitude 6? Nearly all earthquakes have subsequent aftershocks, and this one was no exception. The announcement of a magnitude 6 aftershock three days later sent people into unnecessary panic, but the associated tsunami was not troublesome. Again, the stronger the earthquake, the stronger the tsunami.
When will the next one come? The science of predicting earthquakes is very uncertain. The December 24 issue of Science magazine contained an article about earthquake warning systems. Talking about Japan, it said that a magnitude 7 or 8 offshore earthquake has a 40% chance of occurring in the next 10 years. That's about as accurate as predictions get.
Magnitude 9 earthquakes are very rare (a few per century), and may happen
either on land or under the ocean. The tsunami that resulted from the
earthquake of December 26 was the most devastating tsunami in recorded
The world's thoughts are with the victims of the tsunamis that swept
across South Asia Sunday, killing at least 23,000 and leaving millions
homeless. In the coming weeks and months, the priority must be to render
the survivors every possible assistance. The response so far has been
Referring to an article in The Independent (UK)
From: Max Beran [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Dear Mr Hari
It was perhaps inevitable, given the parlous state of environmental journalism, that someone would try to make a connection between the Tsunami disaster and global warming. But it was more than disappointing to find you, normally an eponymously Independent columnist, repeating junk science about Tuvalu and about extreme events caused by global warming.
No need to believe me (a retired Environmental Scientist who worked on climate issues in the Natural Environment Research Council). Just go to this website. Page 12 shows the Australian agency data and page 13 the much longer record from the University of Hawaii tide gauge.
Look at the graphs and then email me to say if you can see any detectable sea level rise. It's a disgrace that an entire society should be so far frightened out of its wits as to think of closing itself down and decamping. And you should be ashamed for being part of the myth-making that is responsible for their extreme reaction.
As to extreme events of a climatic variety, are you really unaware of the numerous studies that have failed to find trends in flood frequency, hurricane numbers, extreme winds, intense rainfall, up or down. This should hardly surprise, especially if you are one of the many with exaggerated trust in computer models, as these make no such predictions. Trends are imputed by many climate scientists but not on the basis of the models, and are usually in the conclusions surrounded by weasel words such as "potential" or "cannot discount" or "consistent with."
As to Alaskan temperatures, did you check out the source or are you just parroting Lynas? Having done for the Tuvaluans, attention is now being turned to the Inuits, using the same ammunition of self-serving statistics.
See past TWTWs for absence of recorded Arctic warming. But even
those data are suspect and likely contaminated. See, e.g., the measurements
of Urban Heat Island effect at Barrow, Alaska by K M Hinkel et al, Intl
J Clim 23, 1889, 2003. The UHI effect averages 2.2 C in winter and can
reach up to 6 C.