The Week That Was
May 5 , 2007
Quote of the Week:
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible," -- Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
At the meetings of the EGU (European Geosciences Union) in Vienna I presented my case against the main conclusion of IPCC-AR4-WG-1, namely their claim that current GW is anthropogenic. No dispute but much stony silence in the audience.
Then, on to Northern Italy to plan a paleo–climate experiment in the Dolomites (measuring the hotly disputed time durations of the very regular sedimentary layers). And finally, all roads must lead to Rome – for a Vatican-organized climate conference (April 26-27). See the report (ITEM #1)
1. VATICAN CLOSES CLIMATE CONFERENCE, SOME PANELISTS CONSIDER WARMING BENEFICIAL
International Herald Tribune
Associated Press, April 27, 2007
VATICAN CITY: Vatican officials closed a conference on climate change Friday that heard from scientists, ministers and religious leaders about the negative — and sometimes positive — impacts of climate change.
"Not all the scientific world is crying disaster," Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told Vatican Radio at the start of the two-day conference he hosted. "There are a good number of scientists who consistently don't view these climatic changes in a negative light, and in fact say that these phenomena recur over the course of years and eras and sometimes they can have favorable results for agriculture and development."
He stressed that the Vatican had to look at the issue with precaution, however, in light of the Roman Catholic Church's social doctrine, which says that while man dominates God's creation, he is also its custodian.
That said, some of the invited panelists were of the view that a warming planet is not all bad.
Among them was Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. The organization publishes the weekly online newsletter CO2 Science, which often reports on what it says are the benefits of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Other invited guests disputed any benefits, saying the increase in global temperatures was dangerous to the Earth and its most vulnerable people.
"Rising temperatures will see entire regions experience major declines in crop yields, up to one third in Africa, with rising numbers of people at risk from hunger," Britain's environment minister, David Miliband, said in an extract of his speech to the conference that was published in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet. "Whole eco-systems from coral reefs to rain forests face collapse and many species will face extinction," he wrote.
There was no word on whether any official Vatican document would emerge from the closed-door debate. Four years ago, Martino hosted a similar conference on genetically modified foods — which he supports — and the Vatican has yet to issue any document on that similarly charged topic.
Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to the conference at its start, saying he hoped that the initiative would contribute to "encouraging research and the promotion of lifestyles and production and consumption models that respect creation and the real needs of sustainable progress for people."
Benedict spoke out about the need to care for the environment on Sept. 1, when the Italian Catholic Church celebrated its first Earth Day. In that message, he lamented the deterioration of the planet that had made the lives of the poor "especially unbearable."
SEPP COMMENTS: I am fairly optimistic about the outcome of the Vatican climate conference.
While Stefan Rahmstorf (Germany) predictably echoed the IPCC (and promised even worse), he was ably contradicted by Lord Monckton (in discussion) and esp by Prof Antonino Zichichi who blasted the IPCC and all climate models in his well-received talk. Zichichi enjoys a great reputation in Italian science and has excellent standing in the Vatican,
I was able to give a lecture after all, filling in for Indur Goklany (who was forced to cancel because of illness). I also presented the evidence against human cause of current warming (and against the IPCC conclusion), by showing that the "fingerprints" of temperature observations disagreed with those of all GH models.
In his prepared talk, Dr Craig Idso spoke about the benefits of CO2 for agriculture and water use.
The second day was dominated by talks of several bishops, who all spoke about the danger of GW and the threat to the world's poor. I had earlier summarized Dr Goklany's conclusion that the main problem for developing countries is poverty not climate change.
Finally, in my third intervention, I argued that a warmer climate must be better for humanity -- not worse. By simple logic: one cannot argue that a colder climate and a warmer one are both bad. I am not sure the bishops were listening but I think that Cardinal Martino was impressed. His concluding statement did not show any climate alarmism.
Someone should have quoted the strong skeptic statement of George Cardinal Pell in The Australian 10 May 2006:
'pagan emptiness and fears about nature have led to hysteric and extreme claims about global warming. In the past, pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.'
2. IPCC - THE GREENPEACE IN THE CHICKEN COOP
From the Politics Weblog Archive DetNews.com
The Detroit News
Fri, May 4, 2007
Excerpts from the CBO report:
"Regardless of how the allowances were distributed, most of the cost of meeting a cap on CO2 emissions would be borne by consumers, who would face persistently higher prices for products such as electricity and gasoline. Those price increases would be regressive in that poorer households would bear a larger burden relative to their income than wealthier households would."
"The CBO noted that the proposed cap-and-trade allocation method "would increase producers profits without lessening consumers costs. In essence, such a strategy would transfer income from energy consumers among whom lower income households would bear disproportionately large burdens to shareholders of energy companies, who are disproportionately higher-income households."
"Researchers conclude that much or all of the allowance cost would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Those price increases would disproportionately affect people at the bottom of the income scale. For example, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the price rises resulting from a 15 percent cut in CO2 emissions would cost the average household in the lowest one-fifth (quintile) of the income distribution about 3.3 percent of its average income. By comparison, a household in the top quintile would pay about 1.7 percent of its average income."
"A cap-and-trade program for CO2 emissions would tend to increase government spending and decrease revenues."
"The higher prices caused by the cap would lower real (inflation-adjusted) wages and real returns on capital, indirectly raising marginal tax rates on those sources of income."
To read the full CBO report, see http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/80xx/doc8027/04-25-Cap_Trade.pdf
3. SCIENTIFIC ALLIANCE NEWSLETTER
4th May 2007
Cutting carbon dioxide emissions means compromises for the green movement This week sees the publication of the IPCC Working Group 3 report on climate change mitigation. This takes as given the work already published by WG1 (the scientific basis) and WG2 (impacts and adaptation) and proposes ways in which the extent of climatic changes can be reduced. In our view, the major role ascribed to carbon dioxide by the IPCC remains an unproven hypothesis, and the extent to which emission reductions can influence future temperatures therefore equally uncertain. Nevertheless, it is interesting to look at the debate about how the swingeing cuts called for could be achieved.
First off is the target itself. The Fourth Assessment Report takes a figure of 550ppm as the level below which CO2 concentrations in the air should be contained to avoid 'dangerous' climate change. However, there is now a school of thought (perhaps the modern equivalent of the Jacobins) that claims that evidence now shows anything over 450ppm to be dangerous. To achieve such a figure purely by cutting down on fossil fuel use would mean essentially de-carbonising the economy of the industrialised world while ensuring that the present developing world progresses only along a low-carbon route.
Such a dramatic change might be possible if politicians and the general population could be convinced it was necessary. The world would, in effect, have to be put on a war footing, with carbon dioxide emissions as the enemy to be defeated. There is no evidence that we are yet anywhere near such a situation. More to the point, there are deep splits in the ranks of environmental activists - the shock troops of the green army - about what weapons are acceptable.
The only proven source of the steady base load electricity necessary for a modern society to function is nuclear fission. James Lovelock - deeply pessimistic about the effects of what he calls global heating - recognises this. However, Greenpeace and others stick to their long-established opposition to nuclear power. Some people see bio-fuels as an important component of a lower-carbon future. Others believe they are a distraction and cause more environmental problems than they solve.
Of course, these are not the only options, but they illustrate the point that specific technologies should not to be rejected out of hand. It is ludicrous to suggest that we could rely on wind and solar power entirely. And the agenda for some seems to be to eliminate all private transport and scale back international trade enormously, to take us back to smaller, self-contained economic units; the very reverse of a globalisation trend which has been in progress for centuries.
We also see reported again (for example in the Times and Independent of 3rd May) the concept of seeding the ocean with iron to allow massive algal blooming. If done on a large enough scale, this could result in significant carbon sequestration. But there is a school of thought which finds such 'technical fixes' unacceptable, even if they prove to work and have no negative effects. For them, the only answer is to move back to a more primitive society, almost certainly supporting a smaller population.
When the range of views held by those who insist something must be done is so wide, it is difficult to see real concerted action happening anytime soon.
The perils of carbon off-setting In the meantime, there is carbon offsetting. Disliked by the purists who see it as an excuse not to change lifestyles (but to allow hundreds to delegates to travel to Bangkok for the latest IPCC meeting...), there nevertheless seems to be a role for paying to reduce emissions somewhere else in the world, as long as there is a net global saving. The market for carbon credits (the primary mechanism by which emission rights are traded) grew three-fold from $10bn in 2005 to $30bn last year, according to the World Bank. That represents a large transfer of funds from the industrialised to the developing world, which, in principle, must be good. But it all depends what the money is spent on, and how much of it actually reaches the intended target.
The problem, as the Financial Times reported on 26th April, is that many projects are unverified, and a number of intermediaries are making large profits from clients buying carbon credits. The result may be that companies are paying over the odds for carbon savings, which may have been undertaken in any case, without carbon credits being paid for. Responsible companies are making sure that they know which projects they are funding and that the work is actually done. Even then, it needs careful analysis to make sure that installing a wind turbine in Africa (for example) is actually doing some good for the local community and not just salving consciences or (heaven forbid) jumping on a PR bandwagon.
Church of England now converted to green Anglicanism The parallels between environmentalism and religion are now getting closer: too close for comfort, some may say. It has already been reported elsewhere that the Church of England has published a booklet of 'green commandments'. Members of the Anglican Communion are being exhorted to reduce their carbon footprint via a range of practical energy-saving measures. All sensible stuff if you want to use less energy: car-sharing, taking local holidays, using a toaster rather than a grill, etc.
The point is that carbon reduction has rapidly taken on a moral dimension. This is further evidence of a trend for us all to be shamed into cutting our energy consumption. Whether this will work is another thing. We fairly quickly got the message that drinking and driving was dangerous. We accepted that smoking is a health hazard and that being forced to inhale other people's smoke was unpleasant. Saving energy must also surely be a good thing, within reason. But until it can be demonstrated that carbon dioxide is bad for us, it must be doubtful that many people will be shamed into a state of carbon neutrality.
Gas shortages in view again? According to a report in the Times on 30th April, the forthcoming energy White Paper will not address the issue of how additional gas storage capacity is going to be provided in the UK. The recent mild winter may have led to a false sense of security, but only 18 months ago gas stocks were very low, prices shot up and the country's energy security rested on a knife edge. The same could happen again if next winter is a cold one. The government has an obligation to the electorate to provide energy security, and will not be thanked if it fails.
Temperature records This April in the UK has set a new record. Provisional figures from the Met Office are for an average temperature of 11.1°C, which will be seen by some as a clear sign of global warming. The only problem is that the previous record (of 10.6°C) was set in 1865. Records are set and broken somewhere every day of the year, and we should be cautious about drawing inferences from individual ones.
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4. GORE'S GURU DISAGREED
The Financial Post, Toronto, Canada
Saturday, April 28, 2007
In the history of the global-warming movement, no scientist is more revered than Roger Revelle of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Harvard University and University of California San Diego. He was the co-author of the seminal 1957 paper that demonstrated that fossil fuels had increased carbon-dioxide levels in the air. Under his leadership, the President's Science Advisory Committee Panel on Environmental Pollution in 1965 published the first authoritative U.S. government report in which carbon dioxide from fossil fuels was officially recognized as a potential global problem. He was the author of the influential 1982 Scientific American article that elevated global warming on to the public agenda. For being "the grandfather of the greenhouse effect," as he put it, he was awarded the National Medal of Science by the first President Bush.
Roger Revelle's most consequential act, however, may have come in his role as a teacher, during the 1960s at Harvard. Dr. Revelle inspired a young student named Al Gore.
Dr. Revelle would change Gore's life, particularly since the climate-change field had become cutting edge, with Dr. Revelle adding to the excitement by giving his students advance notice of the fruits of his research.
"It felt like such a privilege to be able to hear about the readouts from some of those measurements in a group of no more than a dozen undergraduates," Gore later explained. "Here was this teacher presenting something not years old but fresh out of the lab, with profound implications for our future!"
Calling him "a wonderful, visionary professor" who was "one of the first people in the academic community to sound the alarm on global warming," Gore thought of Dr. Revelle as his mentor and referred to him frequently, relaying his experiences as a student in his book Earth in the Balance, published in 1992. Gore's warmth for Dr. Revelle cooled, however, when it became clear that he had misunderstood his former professor: Although Dr. Revelle recognized potential harm from global warming, he also saw potential benefits and was by no means alarmed, as seen in this 1984 interview in Omni magazine: Omni: A problem that has occupied your attention for many years is the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, which could cause the earth's climate to become warmer. Is this actually happening? Revelle I estimate that the total increase [in CO2] over the past hundred years has been about 21%. But whether the increase will lead to a significant rise in global temperature, we can't absolutely say. Omni: What will the warming of the earth mean to us? Revelle There may be lots of effects. Increased CO2 in the air acts like a fertilizer for plants ... you get more plant growth. Increasing CO2 levels also affect water transpiration, causing plants to close their pores and sweat less. That means plants will be able to grow in drier climates. Omni: Does the increase in CO2 have anything to do with people saying the weather is getting worse? Revelle People are always saying the weather's getting worse. Actually, the CO2 increase is predicted to temper weather extremes ... .
While Gore in the late 1980s was becoming a prominent politician, loudly warning of global warming dangers, Dr. Revelle was quietly warning against taking any drastic action.
In a July 14, 1988, letter to Congressman Jim Bates, he wrote that: "Most scientists familiar with the subject are not yet willing to bet that the climate this year is the result of 'greenhouse warming.' As you very well know, climate is highly variable from year to year, and the causes of these variations are not at all well understood. My own personal belief is that we should wait another 10 or 20 years to really be convinced that the greenhouse is going to be important for human beings, in both positive and negative ways." A few days later, he sent a similar letter to Senator Tim Wirth, cautioning "... we should be careful not to arouse too much alarm until the rate and amount of warming becomes clearer."
Then in 1991, Dr. Revelle wrote an article for Cosmos, a scientific journal, with two illustrious colleagues, Chauncey Starr, founding director of the Electric Power Research Institute and Fred Singer, the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite. Entitled "What to do about greenhouse warming: Look before you leap," the article argued that decades of research could be required for the consequences of increased carbon dioxide to be understood, and laid out the harm that could come of acting recklessly: "Drastic, precipitous and, especially, unilateral steps to delay the putative greenhouse impacts can cost jobs and prosperity and increase the human costs of global poverty, without being effective. Stringent controls enacted now would be economically devastating, particularly for developing countries for whom reduced energy consumption would mean slower rates of economic growth without being able to delay greatly the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Yale economist William Nordhaus, one of the few who have been trying to deal quantitatively with the economics of the greenhouse effect, has pointed out that '... those who argue for strong measures to slow greenhouse warming have reached their conclusion without any discernible analysis of the costs and benefits ... . ' It would be prudent to complete the ongoing and recently expanded research so that we will know what we are doing before we act. 'Look before you leap' may still be good advice."
Three months after the Cosmos article appeared, Dr. Revelle died of a heart attack. One year later, with Al Gore running for vice-president in the 1992 presidential election, the inconsistency between Gore's pronouncements -- he claimed that the "science was settled" then, too -- and those of his mentor became national news. Gore responded with a withering attack, leading to claims that Dr. Revelle had become senile before his death, that Dr. Singer had duped Dr. Revelle into co-authoring the article, and that Dr. Singer had listed Dr. Revelle as a co-author over his objections. The sordid accusations ended in a defamation suit and an abject public apology in 1994 from Gore's academic hit man, a prominent Harvard scientist, who revealed his unsavory role and that of Gore in the fabrications against Dr. Singer and Dr. Revelle.
That was then. Would Dr. Revelle, if he were still alive, believe that global warming now demands urgent action? We can never know. We do know, however, that Dr. Revelle had no time for the alarmist views of Al Gore in the 1980s. We also know that those whose views Dr. Revelle respected continue to caution us against precipitous action: Dr. Revelle's colleague and friend, Fred Singer, is among the most prominent of Al Gore's critics, and economist William Nordhaus, generally considered the leading expert in the field, continue to warn of the economic danger of climate alarmism.
We also know that the science is still not settled, and that in the years since Dr. Revelle's death, new research from many of the world's most respected scientists bears out the cautions that Dr. Revelle bequeathed us.
LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com - Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute, divisions of Energy Probe Research Foundation.