Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A modest request to those who believe in anthropogenic "climate change"

Despite the name of this blog, some time ago many in the CoGW abandoned the exclusive use of the term "global warming" to describe current climate trends. "Climate change" is the preferred term now, since many weather events in recent years do not appear to fit the perception of what we would see on an unnaturally warming planet.

I will continue to use "Anthropogenic Global Warming" (AGW) to describe this ideology. Although atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to increase, global temperatures have more or less plateaued in the past decade. Since the plateau occurred at a warm average temperature, we've been treated to innumerable accounts of the fact that recent years have been among the warmest in recent history. So, despite the use of the term "climate change", it's clear that proponents are invested in creating the public perception that the earth is continuing to warm (and that such warming will soon accelerate out of control).

Climate change really is a term of art, because it allows CoGW adherents to insist that all weather -- wet or dry, hot or cold -- validates the AGW orthodoxy.

Floods in China: check. Drought in China: check. More hurricanes: check. Fewer hurricanes: check. Summer ice melt in the Arctic: check. Winter refreezing of Arctic ice that exceeds that which originally melted: check. Collapse of the West Antarctica Ice Shelf: check. Net increase in Antarctic ice: check. Record warm winter in 2006-2007: check. Record cold winter in 2007-2008: check.

And so on.

This leads me to ask a question of those of you who believe that human activity is negatively and catastrophically impacting the earth's climate:

Is the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis falsifiable?

I am asking this within the context of the scientific method. Integrity demands that a scientist, when proposing a hypothesis, list the conditions whereby the hypothesis would fall apart:
We believe that this hypothesis sufficiently describes the reality we are studying, but if anybody can demonstrate any of conditions a, b, c, d or e, our hypothesis is fatally compromised and it's back to the drawing board.
So, AGW folks: can you name any condition (series of weather events, temperature trends, etc.) that would make you doubt the current orthodoxy, or are we witnessing the most bulletproof hypothesis ever?

UPDATE: After a quick Google search, I was pleased to discover that this question has already occurred to minds much greater than mine. As I composed this post earlier today, I had the folks at RealClimate in mind (among others). It turns out that Roger Pielke, Jr. tossed the following rhetorical grenade into the midst of a RealClimate discussion about how awfully cold Antarctica is right now:

There are a vast number of behaviors of the climate system that are consistent with climate model predictions, along the lines of your conclusion: “A cold Antarctica and Southern Ocean do not contradict our models of global warming.”

I have asked many times and never received an answer here: What behavior of the climate system would contradict models of global warming? Specifically what behavior of what variables over what time scales? This should be a simple question to answer.


The ensuing debate is pretty interesting.

Pielke followed up on the question in his own blog. The debate is pretty lively in the comment section over there as well.

(Found via: Seeker Blog)

Friday, February 22, 2008

NOAA, in a fit of common sense, points out the blindingly obvious

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, often found in the AGW camp, made a surprising admission today:
A team of scientists have found that the economic damages from hurricanes have increased in the U.S. over time due to greater population, infrastructure, and wealth on the U.S. coastlines, and not to any spike in the number or intensity of hurricanes.
More people and more stuff on the coast? Wow, more damage!

“We found that although some decades were quieter and less damaging in the U.S. and others had more land-falling hurricanes and more damage, the economic costs of land-falling hurricanes have steadily increased over time,” said Chris Landsea, one of the researchers as well as the science and operations officer at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami. “There is nothing in the U.S. hurricane damage record that indicates global warming has caused a significant increase in destruction along our coasts.”

In a newly published paper in Natural Hazards Review, the researchers also found that economic hurricane damage in the U.S. has been doubling every 10 to 15 years. If more people continue to move to the hurricane-prone coastline, future economic hurricane losses may be far greater than previously thought.

Al Gore, call your office.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Flex Fuel(ishness): Eco-hostile Ethanol

If you own a vehicle that depends to any extent on ethanol to run, you may want to set your latte down before reading the following from a February 7 AP article:

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

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

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

The researchers said that farmers under economic pressure to produce biofuels will increasingly "plow up more forest or grasslands," releasing much of the carbon formerly stored in plants and soils through decomposition or fires. Globally, more grasslands and forests will be converted to growing the crops to replace the loss of grains when U.S. farmers convert land to biofuels, the study said.

The rebuttal is pretty weak:

The Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers, called the researchers' view of land-use changes "simplistic" and said the study "fails to put the issue in context."

"Assigning the blame for rainforest deforestation and grassland conversion to agriculture solely on the renewable fuels industry ignores key factors that play a greater role," said Bob Dinneen, the association's president.

Gotta love that ethanol. Touted as an earth-friendly alternative to petroleum, instead it brings us deforestation, rising food prices, food shortages (especially in third-world countries), and lots and lots of CO2.

William Tucker writes in a February 13 American Spectator report that our country's current mentality regarding biofuels has roots going back more than 30 years:
From the beginning, the entire biofuels effort has been built on flimsy projections and dubious accounting that were seized upon by politicians eager to demonstrate they were "doing something" about energy. The whole fiasco can probably be traced to a single paragraph in Amory Lovins Soft Energy Paths, the 1976 book that inspired President Carter's embrace of "alternate energy" and convinced California Governor Jerry Brown that his state didn't need to build any more power plants. (Google "California Electrical Shortage" to see what happened there.) In one hasty brushstroke, Lovins outlined what a national biofuels industry might look like:
[E]xciting developments in the conversion of agricultural, forestry, and urban wastes to methanol and other liquid and gaseous fuels now offer practical, economically interesting technologies sufficient to run an efficient U.S. transport sector. The required scale of organic conversion can be estimated. Each year the U.S. beer and wine industry, for example, microbiologically produces 5 percent as many gallons (not all alcohol, of course) as the U.S. oil industry produces gasoline. Gasoline has 1.5 to 2 times the fuel value of alcohol per gallon. Thus a conversion industry roughly ten to fourteen times the physical scale (in gallons of fluid output per year) of U.S. cellars and breweries, albeit using different processes, would produce roughly one-third of the present gasohol requirements of the United States....The scale of effort required does not seem unreasonable.
In other words, since beer and wine were already one-twentieth the volume of our gasoline, a reasonable expansion of distilleries could supply us with one-third of our transportation needs. Unfortunately, this analysis contained a single oversight that has bedeviled biofuels ever since.

Notice that while Lovins estimated the size of the distilling industry, he never mentions the amount of land required to produce the crops. Hops and vineyards currently occupy 40 million acres of farmland. Using Lovins' figure of "roughly ten to fourteen times the scale," that gives us 480 million acres -- more than all of U.S. cropland put together.

Lovins also made a mistake. Although he mentioned that beer and wine are "not all alcohol," he forgot to factor this into the final equation. Wine is 12 percent alcohol and beer is about 5 percent, so let's take 7 percent as an average. This means we must again multiply those 480 million acres by a factor of fourteen. That leaves us with 6.5 billion acres - three times the area of the United States, including Alaska -- in order to produce one-third of our transportation fuel needs in 1977. On this fatal error was the entire U.S. ethanol industry built.
Regardless of how we got here, the news that ethanol is likely doing more harm than good is not likely to lead any time soon to a rethinking of our energy policy.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Punxsutawney Phil could be out of a job soon

Rick Kollinger:

(For those of you who don't know who Punxsutawney Phil is, you can read more here)

Groundhog Day 2009 update: A big HOWDY to all of you who arrived at this blog post via Google Image Search!

Groundhog Day 2010 update: See Groundhog Day 2009 update.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Allstate's prophets seek more profits in Florida

Allstate recently tried to push through a 42% premium rate increase on its Florida customers, using as its justification unscientific wild guess about future weather conditions, as this article reports:
Now we know why Allstate wanted a 42-percent increase in home insurance rates. The company is using an unapproved model that factors the growing threat of global warming.

Last month, company executives objected to a Senate subpoena. The state tried to suspend their license, and Governor Crist threatened to sue them.

Now Allstate executives said they aren't price gouging. They say they're just very concerned about climate change, and trying to make sure they keep rates in tune with the growing threat. The ocean is a hurricane's fuel tank. Warmer waters could mean more and stronger storms (though this is currently a subject of scientific debate).

"It's my professional opinion and others at Allstate, it appears that the increase in sea surface temperatures and the near term effect of hurricanes is something that is real and is a need that we need to consider for the protection of our insurers," said Allstate Floridian's Ryan Michel.

Kudos to the article writer for noting that the link between warmer waters and hurricane frequency and intensity has not been established.

Allstate's Florida customers really ought to ponder whether they really are "in good hands".

Monday, February 4, 2008

The polar bear: poster child of the environmental left

Sen. Inhofe's EPW staff has gathered a variety of scientific sources indicating that polar bears, the majestic icon of the CoGW, are not declining -- in fact, they are now near record high levels (at least double their population of half a century ago). Many of these extinction scenarios are floated using a raft of scientifically unsound assumptions.

And yet, yesterday we read this in the Los Angeles Times:
The Bush administration is nearing a decision that would officially acknowledge the environmental damage of global warming, and name its first potential victim: the polar bear.

The Interior Department may act as soon as this week on its year-old proposal to make the polar bear the first species to be listed as threatened with extinction because of melting ice due to a warming planet.
The environmental left candidly admits the importance of the polar bear as a cute, cuddly symbol of their cause:
Both sides agree that conservationists finally have the poster species they have sought to use the Endangered Species Act as a lever to force federal limits on the greenhouse gases linked to global warming, and possibly to battle smokestack industry projects far from the Arctic.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others," said Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. "And then there is the polar bear."
Keep in mind that the decline isn't actually occurring right now. The movement to get the polar bear listed as threatened is based on what-if computer scenarios.

But what if the assumptions are wrong, and the projected warming does not occur? No matter. Once the polar bear is listed, environmental law can more easily be used as a bludgeon for The Cause. Just about any human activity can -- with appropriate logical gymnastics -- be tied to climate change, so pretty much no human activity in America would remain beyond the reach of the environmental regulators.

The Times article lists a more obvious example:
Heavy industry has reason to fear. At least one part of the environmental community believes the bear's listing would provide the leverage to stop a coal-fired power plant thousands of miles away from the Arctic.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is known for his skepticism about global-warming measures, asked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall last week whether listing the polar bear could be used to halt the construction of a new power plant in Oklahoma City.

"The Endangered Species Act is not the vehicle to reach out and demand all of the things that need to happen to address climate change," Hall said, to Inhofe's apparent satisfaction.

Andrew E. Wetzler, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's endangered species project, said Hall misunderstands the legal principles underlying the act, which was fortified by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that carbon dioxide can be regulated as a pollutant.

If the builders of a coal-fired plant needed a federal permit, they would probably have to show how its emissions would not erode the polar bear's habitat or jeopardize its survival, Wetzler said.
If the drive to get the polar bear listed succeeds, the opportunity for environmentalist mischief will be boundless.