Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Funny numbers in TCPR 'Gore mansion' press release

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research made a splash last week with their press release claiming that energy usage in Al Gore's Nashville-area compound had actually increased ten percent since 'green' renovations had been completed.  TCPR was made news last year when they first brought Gore's conspicuous consumption to light. Although Team Gore denies any connection between TCPR's 2007 report and the subsequent renovations, the timing is, as they say, suspicious.

Your humble Heretic, of course, couldn't pass up an opportunity to highlight the latest release, joining countless others in the blogosphere.  I guess it is basic human nature that we are not as rigorous about fact-checking data that support our point of view.  It is also basic human nature that we try hard to find holes in data that appear to disagree with our point of view.  Sometimes such opposition research can yield results that further the cause of integrity in the AGW debate. 

Blogger Tim Lambert is no friend of the skeptic community, which no doubt made it easy for him to notice discrepancies between TCPR's 2007 release and last week's release.  At the risk of causing my readers to lapse into an eye-glazed stupor, let's look at the claims made in the two reports:
    February 2007 press release
  • Gore's 2006 energy consumption: 221,000kwh/year [i.e. 18,417kwh/month]
  • Average American household consumption: 10,656kwh/year [i.e. 888kwh/month]
  • Gore's consumption 20 times the average American household
    June 2008 press release
  • Gore's 2007 energy consumption: 213,210kwh/year [i.e. 17,768kwh/month]
  • 2006 monthly consumption: 16,130kwh
  • 2007 consumption 10% increase over 2006
  • 2007 consumption would power 232 normal homes for a month
The 2008 report's numbers are internally consistent, but they do not mesh with what was claimed in the 2007 report.  Comparing the annual numbers, Lambert noted that a 2006 total of 221,000kwh and a 2007 total of 213,210kwh yields a 4% decrease, not a 10% increase.  On the basis of this observation, Lambert declared TCPR to be an unreliable source and summarily dismissed the larger point raised in the newest press release (namely, that Gore consumes energy like a drunken sailor).

Looking only at this month's release, however, the numbers do work out: the monthly consumption increased from 16,130kwh to 17,768kwh, which is indeed a 10% increase.  This raises problems with last year's press release, though.  That report gave Gore's 2006 annual consumption as 221,000kwh, but 16,130 x 12 is actually 193,560kwh. 

Sorry for the blizzard of calculations; let me get to my point.  The biggest discrepancy appears to be an incorrect annual total in the 2007 press release.  To my knowledge, TCPR has never corrected or clarified this number, and as of this moment TCPR has not yet responded to my request for a clarification.

As long as TCPR allows this discrepancy to stand, its credibility in the AGW debate will be open to legitimate question.  I'm hoping that integrity will win out over the simple desire to score political points over Al Gore.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

eBay foils a good deed

Tom at Radio Free New Jersey has a tall, beautiful oak tree in his yard. He found that the tree was casting a shadow on the solar heater for his pool, so he planned to cut the tree down.

Then he had in inspiration: Why not leave the tree alone, and sell its carbon sequestration services to someone out there who was feeling guilty about their lifestyle? He would do a good deed, and for that he would be willing to put up with a slightly cooler swimming pool.

So, he put an ad on eBay, hoping to get a bid of $420 based on his calculation of how much carbon the tree would end up sequestering.

Alas, eBay yanked the auction after a few days without really explaining why. Tom speculates that eBay secretly knows that carbon credits are a scam, and thus is not willing for them to be sold on its site.

In my opinion, it is equally likely that the eBay folks accept the concept of carbon credits, and saw Tom's auction as mockery of the concept. Which it was, of course.

Bravo, Tom, for giving it a try. Perhaps you could find a way to contact the Gore estate; it seems that they could use a little feel-good P.R. right now.

When I think of all of the trees I've cut down on my property for one reason or another, and think about people who are more than willing to part with their money in the belief that the act frees them to maintain their wasteful lifestyles...... sigh...... what could have been.

If only we commoners could afford Al Gore's carbon footprint...

A year ago we saw that Al Gore was investing a lot of money in his Tennessee mansion to help it comply with U.S. Green Building Council standards.

You would think that after all of those improvements, we would see the efficiency improvements reflected in an overall decrease in the amount of energy consumed in Gore's home. You would be wrong.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research has been watching Gore's energy usage for a long time. It was their first press release about his wasteful lifestyle that appears to have prompted last year's renovations.

TCPR issued another report this week letting us know how things are going at the Gore estate:
In the year since Al Gore took steps to make his home more energy-efficient, the former Vice President’s home energy use surged more than 10%, according to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

[...]In the past year, Gore’s home burned through 213,210 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, enough to power 232 average American households for a month.
In addition to efficiency improvements, Gore relies on the purchase of carbon offsets to somehow make his off-the-charts consumption (both at home and in his extensive travel by private jet) okay.

What he has really done is prove that reliance on carbon offsets tends to lead to an increase in wasteful consumption. This makes sense, because carbon offsets amount to doing penance for your bad behavior without actually making an effort to modify the bad behavior.

June 20 UPDATE: Although the numbers in TCPR's June 17th press release are internally consistent, it is true that, as detractor Tim Lambert observes, the numbers are not consistent with TCPR's 2007 press release about Gore's 2006 consumption (linked above). It appears to boil down to a misstated number in the 2007 press release -- which to my knowledge TCPR has never corrected. I have asked them for an official clarification, and will post an update if and when I hear back from them.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tree-ring-based climate models further undermined by leaf-temperature study

Will this break the hockey stick for good?

We've known for a while about studies demonstrating significant shortcomings in the use of tree-ring data to infer historical climate information. Now University of Pennsylvania researchers Brent Helliker and Suzanna Richter have published a study in the British journal Nature that seems to drive another nail into the coffin of the methodology that was supposedly the basis of Michael Mann's discredited "hockey stick" graph (which can be seen in the post linked above).

From a June 11 AFP article (emphasis added):
The internal temperature of leaves, whether in the tropics or a cold-clime forest, tends toward a nearly constant 21.4 degrees Celsius (71 degree Fahrenheit), reports a study released Wednesday.

It had long been assumed that actively photosynthesising leaves -- using energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar -- are nearly as cold or hot as the air around them.

The new findings not only challenge long-held precepts in plant biology, but could upend climate models that use tree rings to infer or predict past and present temperature changes.

For decades, scientists studying the impact of global warming have measured the oxygen isotope ratio in tree-rings to determine the air temperature and relative humidity of historical climates.

Oxygen atoms within water molecules evaporate more or less quickly depending on the number of neutrons they carry, and the ratio between these differently weighted atoms in tree trunk rings has been used as a measure of year-to-year fluctuations in temperatures and rainfall.

"The assumption in all of these studies was that tree leaf temperatures were equal to ambient temperatures," lead researcher Brent Helliker told AFP. "It turns out that they are not."


Study Reference:
Helliker, Brent and Suzanna L. Richter. 2008. Subtropical to boreal convergence of tree-leaf temperatures. Nature. In press. doi:10.1038/nature07031

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another update on the remarkable winter of 2007-8

Last summer our part of Texas enjoyed one of its coolest summers in living memory, but this year we're roasting at more typical temperatures (mid to upper 90s). A rotten time for our 20-year-old home air conditioning system to give up the ghost, but we finally got that replaced a couple of weeks ago, so we're comfortable again.

Too bad we can't have a summer like they're having up in the Pacific northwest. As reported June 10 in the Seattle Times:

Seattle just experienced the coldest first week of June, according to climate records dating to 1891, said Cliff Mass, University of Washington metrologist. Both 1999 and 2008 share the record, with 1917 falling in second place, he said. "Just wait until tomorrow," he said, when temperatures are going to be even colder.

A heavy snow warning has been issued for the Washington Cascades and Olympics as a storm from the Gulf of Alaska plows into the state tonight.

And on June 11:

It doesn't seem fair, but it's the cold, hard truth — accent on cold: While Seattle hasn't seen a 70-degree day in more than two weeks, Fairbanks, Alaska, has had six of them in the past 10 days.

Just about everyone, it seems, is toastier than we are. You've heard of International Falls, Minn., the self-proclaimed "Icebox of the Nation?"? It's had four days this month in the 70s, topped off with a pleasant 75 on Sunday.

Across the Atlantic, the northern destination of Oslo, Norway, has been passing the 70-degree mark nearly every day recently, while even the Siberian city of Tomsk, Russia, hit the 70s last weekend.

Not that I'm suggesting anything. Highlighting local weather patterns for AGW propaganda purposes is a tricky business, because you have to choose your data points carefully. Chilly in Seattle (global cooling!), but sweltering in New York (global warming!).

This is the purpose of the "proof by anecdote" label for certain posts on this blog. You can prove just about anything anecdotally, if you choose the right anecdote. I try never to commit this fallacy on purpose here (the "proof by anecdote" label is your hint that I'm being facetious), but feel free to call me on it if you think I've let one slip by without admitting it.

(via ICECAP)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Youth indoctrination Down Under: Planet Slayer

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's website is hosting an online game called Planet Slayer.

The villains are hypocritical meat-eating bourgeois materialist greenhouse pigs. The heroes are those who, in the words of Ludwig von Mises Institute essayist Ben O'Neill, "[oppose] logging, nuclear waste, war, consumerism, and other evils, and [support] such good things as composting, clean transport, solar power, and protesting."

The site has all sorts of fun activities for the kids, including a calculator apparently intended to show them that they've already contributed more than their share of CO2, and that they would do well to go some place quiet and kill themselves.

I wish I was kidding. Here's the screenshot for the opening page of the when-you-should-die calculator (click to view full-sized image):

This site is supported in part by the tax dollars of the citizens of Australia (via Film Victoria). Hope you feel like you're getting your money's worth, my Australian friends.

The Sun: Now with a spot-free shine!

Science Daily reports from a Montana State University press release that an increasing number of solar scientists are puzzling over the fact that Solar Cycle 24 is still refusing to make an appearance, two years after Cycle 23 showed clear indications of leaving the stage:
The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites.

That's good news for people who scramble when space weather interferes with their technology, but it became a point of discussion for the scientists who attended an international solar conference at Montana State University. Approximately 100 scientists from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America gathered June 1-6 to talk about "Solar Variability, Earth's Climate and the Space Environment."

The scientists said periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual.

"It continues to be dead," said Saku Tsuneta with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, program manager for the Hinode solar mission. "That's a small concern, a very small concern."

History shows a strong correlation between long intercycle calm periods and global cooling. The press release notes that a 50-year sunspot-free period occurred in the 17th century, during what is now known as the Little Ice Age.

If this spot-free period persists, I suppose we'll know before too long whether or not the earth's climate truly responds to such changes in solar activity.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Seriously, who didn't see this coming?

It sure didn't take long.

The ink had hardly dried on Interior Secretary Kempthorne's directive designating the polar bear as "threatened" (based purely on hypotheticals and what-ifs, not on reality) when the environmental left showed why they pressed so hard for the designation. From a June 9 Associated Press story:
Two conservation groups plan to sue to protect polar bears from petroleum exploration and drilling off Alaska's coast.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment gave the federal government formal notice Monday that they will sue under the Endangered Species Act to protect the bears, which were listed as threatened last month by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

Do I need to say it again? The AGW scare is merely a tool used by certain parties to advance portions of their agenda that might not otherwise be enacted.

In this case, many in the environmental left are flat-out opposed to developing oil resources anywhere, and they have shown themselves to be masters at using regulation and litigation to head off new drilling in the United States. Arctic Alaska is by far the easiest target, because... well, polar bears are just so doggone cute!

In the current political climate (pardon the pun), what are the odds that this lawsuit will succeed? Never mind the fact that (as the article mentions) arctic exploration has led to zero deaths of polar bears and walruses in the fifteen years that "incidental harm" to these animals has been decriminalized within this context.