Monthly Archives: August 2012

Nuclear Power — A Global Warming Test

Nuclear power presents an interesting group of problems for people trying to resolve their carbon dioxide/electrical power generation problem.   The world needs electricity.  Cheap electricity dramatically improves the quality of life for people living in poor countries.

Green Power is expensive. Environmental groups like carbon taxes, which don’t make green power cheap, it simply makes alternate forms of power more expensive.  Poor people all over the world are left without a choice.  And green power is unreliable too.

Nuclear power is economical and clean.   Many global warming worriers have been advocates of some form of nuclear power.   Unfortunately it can create serious environmental problems when mistakes are made and people will make mistakes.

There is no perfect solution.

Wind mills and solar panels provide clean power but only when Mother Nature feels like providing the resource.   Solar panels are both location and time specific, they only work in sunny places during daylight.  Wind is only successful in windy locations and much of the USA is not suitable for wind (the white and tan areas of the chart below).

I was not surprised that the best place in the USA to build wind is in the Aleutians in Alaska.  There’s an old saying about weather in the area that goes like this

It rains or snows and the wind blows 300+ days a year….and then there are 50 really bad days.

The best places to build wind ….are also the worst places to build wind.   Imagine wind farms in the Aleutians or the mountains in Montana or in the middle of Lake Michigan.   All have high installation costs, their own environmental problems and are a great distance from power centers.

Too many environmental groups like to make decisions based on the world they would like to have an not on the one we all share right now.   Their green solutions for power use ignore the real world.  Al Gore did this in his 2008  Op-Ed piece in the NY Times title The Climate for Change.

Mr. Gore’s goal was carbon free power in 10 years.   Today, 4 years later, we have not yet started down the path Mr. Gore advocated.   Why?   Because it was wildly impractical, and politically and financially unrealistic.  It ignored all the problems are a part of any carbon free solution…including Nuclear Power.

The electric power system we have right now needs reliable power.  What we call in the trade base load power.  Wind and Solar will not work as base load….and saying they will doesn’t make it so.

Suppose you live in Atlanta, what are your choices?

Solar is probably you best renewable choice….when the sun is shining.   The average solar panel works about 4 to 5 hours per day and are much more efficient in the summer than in the winter. It will help with the summer AC peak, but be of little use in winter.  It is the most expensive source of power widely available.

What are you going to do the other 20 hours of each day? I suppose one could build solar all over the country to increase the time covered.  Unfortunately, the USA is only 4 time zones wide, so there is going to be 16 hours a day, every day, when solar won’t work.

Wind, hydro and geothermal also have the same siting difficulty.   Good locations are far, far away.  That means transmission lines, lots of transmission lines and lots more wind turbines in many different locations to cover for the variability of wind production patterns.   And we still need a backup power plant for the dark, windless nights in winter.

Electricity is an on demand system, you turn on your light switch, the electric company provides the juice.   There is no storage (except for hydro).   The power must be available at all times.   The only electrical source….available in large quantities right now….that is carbon free…..is Nuclear Power.

NOW for the test, do you fear carbon emissions more or less than the risks Nuclear Power presents.  A single event on March 11, 2011 changed many minds.   A tsunami hit the Fukashima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and nuclear power lost much of its luster.

Despite the wishes of the green community, power plants will need reliable base load of some kind.  So what’s it going to be?  The choices are 1) coal, 2) natural gas or 3) nuclear power.  These are the only choices available right now.  No fair choosing something that doesn’t exist.

Hmmm.  Natural gas….but that’s for another post.

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Blue Spreckle Silliness

It’s been a cold windy August day in Anchorage.  Being a good Alaskan,  my thoughts immediately turned to my favorite winter hangout, Hawaii.    And when I think Hawaii, I occasionally ruminate on one of my favorite government waste issues, blue spreckles.

I was raised in Hawaii and I still have family there.   I have been walking a neighborhood in Manoa Valley in Honolulu for some 50 years now.  I have become a Manoa Valley blue spreckle expert.   Whaaat, you ask?

I suppose I should begin by describing a Spreckle.

Well, it’s a word I think I  made up some 30 years ago, but my wife insists she has heard it from others in Hawaii and I borrowed it.   OK, well maybe.  The word refers to 4 inch square reflective markers placed in highway road surfaces.    Here is a picture of a blue one provided by a supplier on his web site.

In the USA and Australia  blue spreckles are used to mark fire hydrants.  They are placed in a visible spot in the roadway so the fire department will know there’s a hydrant nearby.

I first began noticing them about 30 years ago.

These devises are supposed to help firemen find hydrants.   My question:   Do firemen regularly have difficulty finding hydrants?  Is this problem worthy of government expenditure?

My family has lived in the same house in Manoa since 1962 and I have seen the blue spreckle near the hydrant in front our house replaced at least 3 times. The life cycle of the spreckle seems to be about 10 years.   For the first few years after installation it sits there as a shiny reminder to us all that a hydrant is near. One day it gets damaged.   I don’t know what happens…but older paved roads frequently have many many spreckleless hydrants.   The spreckle will sit unrepaired for several years.  Eventually the spreckle is replaced, perhaps as a part of a city wide speckle replacement program.

Any given spreckle probably has a 50 to 70% chance of being operable at any given time.   So…if you were a firemen racing to a fire…..would you look for the spreckle….or would you just look for the hydrant….or would you do both?  Many firemen would be familiar with the area, and probably know the hydrant location in advance.    Perhaps the dispatcher has Google Earth and can give directions.

Do spreckles really save time?   How much time?   What is that time really worth?   Is there any time lost looking for spreckles that are not there?

If hydrants were used regularly and used regularly at night then the spreckle idea might have some merit.    Most hydrants are never used in an emergency, and most that are used are not particularly difficult to locate.    Spreckles don’t cost much (probably less than $30 each  installed), but, come on guys, in most cases they save no time.   I’d be willing to bet that they are useful less than 10% of  the time.

If every hydrant has it’s price increased by $120 (4 spreckles per hydrant) because of spreckles, is it worth it?  Each mile of waterline is going to have about 10 hydrants , so the cost for spreckles is about $1200 per mile of water main.   I’ll bet without knowing that only 1 in a 100 hydrants is ever used in an emergency …..if so the speckles cost $12,000 per incident.

That’s $12,000 per fire and the only possible benefit is a few seconds response time which may or may not exist.  If we assume there is a real benefit 10% of the time and the spreckle has a 70% chance of being there when needed, the cost per useful event goes from $12,000 to ((12,000*10)/.7)  or $171,000.

Up north in Alaska, we don’t use spreckles of any kind because the snow plows destroy them….and I’ll bet it has no impact on our fire insurance rates.

Ocean Health Index — An Interesting Concept

The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday: New ocean index scores world 60 out of 100.   Earlier in the week the New York Times ran a similar and better article titled Introducing the Ocean Health Index.  The USA gets a score of 63.    Slightly above the world average of 60.  Here is a diagram of the world score

I understand the notion that we need to have a way to measure the health of oceans, but this approach is so subjective.  30 scientists got together and came up with the ratings.   How do you measure sense of place?  How do you come up with scores by country?  I see SWAG everywhere.

I can understand a rating for Singapore or a Pacific Island Nation, but how do you come up with one number for all of the USA?   Singapore is a tiny place adjacent to the Ocean, and most Pacific Islands are going to only have a few variables.  The USA is going to include lots of places that are highly developed like the California coast and the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s also going to include all the coastline of Alaska and Hawaii.  And the USA gets a 63, whatever that means.

As I read the NY Times story, I wondered what they really were measuring…if a region can raise their score by adjusting what they consider to be important.

The index also allows individual countries to weight conservation values to reflect their beliefs on how the ocean should be best used. If a country thinks the best way to treat to the ocean is to preserve it, it can weight conservation factors more heavily in its score. If a country thinks the best use for the ocean is to extract resources from it, it can weight those factors more heavily.

Weighted for preservation, the global ocean score would be 67; weighted for high-resource extraction, the score would be 57.

We now have a new way to measure the oceans, a strange, wonderful, adjustable subjective measurement distilled down to a specific number.  It feels like a Metacritic movie review to me.

So much of environmental science is this subjective touchy feely combination of physical science and sociology.    Each country gets a number.   Ok.  But what does a 63 for the USA really mean?  A number for Poland probably makes sense, but any country with lots of coastline is going to present problems.   Brazil, Russia, Canada, and Chile are going to be difficult to calculate in a meaningful way.   The USA is a particular problem….when all that varied data gets averaged together… the answer must be pretty close to useless.

I really don’t get it.  I would prefer to know how different parts of the USA rate relative to each other.  How does the Gulf of Mexico off Florida differ from the area off Louisiana?  Louisiana is full of Oil Industry development, Florida bans it.

If I knew how those two areas differed in the study, I’d have had a better chance of understanding what the study actually valued.   I could come to an independent opinion of the study.  I would have preferred more regional data that concentrated on a measurement that was more purely scientific and less ……whatever this mix of ecology and sociology is called.

I’m a bit of a science snob.  I prefer physical sciences with real mathematics as a basis.  Social science is too much about trying to measure things that are difficult to accurately measure.   The number is an interesting concept….but in the case of the USA, it really doesn’t say much.

July Warmest Ever — In Lower 48 USA — since 1895

Last Wednesday, my local paper ran a story titled July was hottest month ever recorded in Lower 48.   Yep, it’s been warm in the USA.   It was 3.3 degrees F warmer than the average July of the 20th century.   It was a whopping 77.6 degrees.  Three of the five warmest years  since 1895 when the NOAA data base begins were very recent years (2006, 2011 and 2012).

All that didn’t surprise me a bit.   We should be seeing new records.  The records are only 150 years old and the world has warmed .9 degree C in that period.   The world has been warming steadily for a long time as this East Anglia University Chart demonstrates.

But I was surprised by the other two in the top five, 1936 and 1934.  Yep, 2012 beat out 1936 by .2 degree F or .11 degree C.  Both 1934 and 1936 were much colder years than any year in the 21ts century, a full .6 degree C colder.

What does this data tell me?    The world is warmer than it was a few hundred years ago.  But it also says the study just released by Dr. Hansen is crap.  Allow me to explain.

July was hot in 2012, no doubt about it, but it was beginning from a high base temperature.   Temperature is a relative function.  Today is in part a result of yesterday and tomorrow is impacted by the weather today.   In 1934 the average temperature for the year was a full degree F. colder than today, so the temperature relative to it’s base line was more extreme, lots more extreme, in 1934 and 1936 than it is today.

If I were to assume the UN is correct about carbon dioxide…there’s lots more carbon dioxide now than there was in 1934. Enough so that the whole world should be quite a bit warmer today than it was in 1934.   So if those years (1934 and 1936) had extreme weather…it was some serious heat.

Dr. Hansen and just about everybody else in the climate game agrees that the temperatures in 1934 and 1936 were not materially impacted by man caused activities.   So 2012 doesn’t prove the Dr. Hansen is correct, but 1934 and 1936 seem to prove to me that Dr. Hansen must have been wrong  when he said the following.

We now know that the chances these extreme weather events would have happened naturally — without climate change — is negligible.

If the dust bowl was more extreme than the weather we are seeing today, relative to the averages of the time, and it was natural,  then how does he know that 2012 wasn’t natural?

The WAG world of climate science is alive and well.

Climate Politics — Headlines first, Science if convenient

I have read many complaints by skeptics about the science Dr James Hansen practices.  I had never read any of his publications until last week.   I was surprised.  He appears to have designed a study (the subject of my last 3 blogs) with a successful outcome in mind.   I suspect he selected a specific 30 year period….and then built a rational around the selection.

Why would anyone even bother to complete any climate study with only a 30 year baseline?  A baseline that started in 1951?  I know of no good reason to begin in 1951.  Why only 30 years?  He has 150 years of direct measurement, in varying degrees of accuracy.  Why not 150, or perhaps 1000 years or a million years?  My best guess….publicity.  There hadn’t been any doom speak global warming articles in a while….the cause needed one.

I first saw the story shortly after it was released online at  Bloomberg News.  The following morning there was an article in my local paper.   The Bloomberg story quoted Dr. Hansen and talked about his results.  The local paper included a comment by  Dr. Cristy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville which specifically said the  study was flawed.   That was my first indication that the study used an odd base year.

The next day I read the study.

Today I googled  James Hansen extreme weather and looked at all the different news agencies that picked up the story.  The Washington Post, The New York Times,  ABC and many many more.   Dr. Hansen was given time to talk about his study on PBS.   Wow.  He’ll be on Letterman soon, I’d guess.  It’s good to be famous.

Dr. Hansen and other climate scientists have been getting away with sloppy science since the 1980’s.  It is a frequent refrain in climate politics.  My personal top three:

  1. The Mann Hockey Stick Graph,  with it’s questionable algorithms and odd sampling.
  2. Al Gore’s film, no further explanation necessary.
  3. The 2002 IPCC Synopses Report on Climate that included the unproven Mann study and excluded anything that disagreed.   The 2007 Synopses Report partially corrected the error by including information omitted from the 2002 Report.

Sloppy science and wild ass guessing rewarded by the press.  Darwin’s Theory of Evolution gets more scrutiny than global warming theory and the Scopes trial was a hundred years ago.  I don’t know why global warming theory gets a pass…but it does.

If the press did a better job, Dr. Hansen would be challenged when he makes outlandish statements.  After a few, he would become more careful, and the IPCC would be more careful too. I doubt Al Gore has any careful in his genes.

When the press is scientifically ignorant, we all lose.

James Hansen Study Revisited — Part 2

In my last post I began a detailed look at Dr. Hansen’s most recent attack on carbon dioxide.  I called his paper a statistical waste of time.   In this post I will explain why I said that.

Dr. Hansen has completed fairly complex statistical analysis of recent climate extremes using the period from 1951 to 1980 as a baseline.   He showed in his paper that the recent past has lots more extreme weather than his base case. He used statistical analysis to argue that the data was so extreme that it could not be natural.   He then concluded that man caused global warming was responsible.

I am reminded of a phrase attributed to Mark Twain:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Dr. Hansen stated he used the baseline time period because it was a calm period before the storm that is recent global warming.

Dr. Hansen’s analysis could prove to be an interesting argument if his baseline period is representative of climate history.  If it is not, his entire mathematical exercise is pointless.

Here is the East Anglia University Global Air Temperature Graph for the last 150 years

The baseline period used by Dr. Hansen appears to be a calm in the middle of a two storms.  The period from 1911 to 1943 has a slope that is almost as steep as the slope from 1980 to 2000 and the period is 50% longer.    Nowhere in the 150 years of the chart is there less temperature variation than in the baseline period used by Dr. Hansen.    Conclusion: The baseline is almost certainly flawed.

Now look at the change from year to year.  Wild year to year changes are scattered all throughout the chart.  And since about 2002 the chart shows remarkably little change.

The East Anglia University chart seems to argue that Dr. Hansen is guilty of big time data cherry picking.

There are two additional problems with his analysis.

  1. Worldwide temperature data is difficult to accurately measure.  The best data is Satellite data and it has only been available since 1979.  Good ocean data has only been around since about 1990 and Oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface.  Even today there are only 9 temperature sites below 60 degree S latitude. He used detailed statistical analysis that relied on relatively small changes in temperature.  He cannot be sure his data is accurate.
  2. He has not proven that the variation he calculated is not normal climate variation.   He has shown a correlation between rising temperature and severe weather….from a calm and false baseline.  It is probable that his baseline is flawed and/or the temperature changes he attributes to carbon dioxide might have some other cause, natural or man made.

Yes it is warmer today than it was 150 years ago, about a degree C warmer.  Is that statistically significant?  Probably not?  Is it wise to extrapolate from the most recent 50 year period in a climate cycle that is 2.5 million years old?  I think not.

Dr. Hansen needs to demonstrate that this 50 year period is extraordinary and a new trend.  This is a particularly difficult task in a system with wild natural fluctuations.  His very small baseline is probably insignificant mathematically.

Is the recent past statistically unusual?  I think not.   You make the call.  We live in the Holocene, a 10,000 year period of unusually stable climate.   Here is a chart of the last 4000 years using a Greenland Ice Core prepared last year.

Wild variation here, there, and everywhere.  Carbon dioxide was fairly stable until about 200 years ago.  4000 years of wild variation, 200 years of presumed carbon dioxide influence, in an unusually stable climatic era.  Hmmm.

And Dr. Hansen  publicly stated just last week

We now know that the chances these extreme weather events would have happened naturally — without climate change — is negligible.

The quotation states something he cannot possibly know with any degree of certainty and it implies that climate change is not natural…something he has assumed without proof of any kind.  This all sounds more like religion than science to me.

James Hansen Study Revisited — Part 1

I just finished reading Dr. James Hansen’s recent article, Perception of Climate Change in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.    Talk about disappointment.   The document is pure crap.

I have long considered Goddard Administrator and well known global warming hawk James Hansen to be a smart scientist that has specific scientific prejudices.  I am less sure today.   His recent article is all politics and no science.

The study makes about every amateur mistake possible in nine pages.  The study uses a ridiculously small data set, extrapolates wildly and draws conclusions based upon the assumptions that are built into the study.

Dr Hansen issued a press release that made the news saying that he knows global warming is responsible.

The study begins by using the months of June, July and August in a 30 year period form 1951 to 1980 as a base and compares that to the recent past.   Lots and lots of statistical analysis is added showing that the recent data lies well outside normal statistical variation.

Conclusion: global warming is causing the world to have more extreme climate.

Where to begin?    I have problems with the source information, the time period used and the assertion that a correlation is proof.  Lots of statistical data, but its all Classic Global Warming Science mumbo jumbo.

Dr. Hansen’s rational for selection of data is particularly enlightening and disturbing.  Here’s the rational taken from the first page of the article.

We choose 1951–1980 as the base period for most of our illustrations, for several reasons. First, it was a time of relatively stable global temperature, prior to rapid global warming in recent decades. Second, it is recent enough for older people, especially the “baby boom” generation, to remember.Third, global temperature in 1951–1980 was within the Holocene range, and thus it is a climate that the natural world and civilization are adapted to.

Bullshit.   If the time period is unusually stable in a long history of data, it should not be used because it will cause everything else to look unusual.  He is taking data that he acknowledges is exceptional and then he is assuming it is the norm.   And he is doing it because it is a time his audience can relate to!   I’m sorry….that makes no sense.

Dr. Hansen is well aware of the warm weather in the 1930’s and he also is well aware that a period in the late 1870’s had exceptionally rapid cooling immediately after rapid warming.  He also should know that recent studies show the medieval warming period was real and much warmer than today… and he should know that the Antarctic Ice Core records show wild temperature variations.  All are good statistical reasons not to use the time period he chose.  And he did it because it is a time people can relate to.

Huh.

Cherry picked data and phony excuses….in a peer reviewed scientific paper?

He tried to rationalize his data set by saying it is within the Holocene range.  All weather in the last 10,000 years is in the Holocene range….including some periods lots warmer and colder than today and man caused global warming had nothing to do with any of it.    The entire paper is a statistical waste of time.

Why bother…….climate politics of course! And he got his name in the paper too.