Monthly Archives: September 2012

Climate Change — It’s everywhere

Earlier this evening I read a BBC article about trees in East Anglia killed by a sudden rise in sea level some 7,000 years ago.

A few weeks ago I was reading an article in Live Science discussing the sudden changes in climate in the Sahara.   About 10,000 years ago the Sahara ecosystem changed when rain patterns shifted.   For about 2500 years the Sahara got lots more rain than it gets today…and then it stopped.

Some scientists believe that a severe drought about 5000 years ago caused Egyptian society to move up the Nile from Giza when the Nile no longer reached the sea.   And then the water returned.

Perhaps 1,000 years ago the Mayan’s civilization came to an end presumably because of a severe drought.

We live in an extraordinarily peaceful time climatically, the Holocene.    The last 11,000 years or so have been remarkably stable.     The easiest way to demonstrate this is to look at an ice core.

The Holocene has been a good time to be a resident of Earth.    East Anglia flooded and the Nile stopped flowing and the Mayan culture ceased to exist, but it could have been much worse.

Just imagine what the world must have been like 130,000 years ago  when the world temperature dropped 10 degree C in a mere 20,000 years.   235,000 years ago the climate dropped a similar amount in only 10,000 years.

Warm is good, cold is bad….just something to think about while your reading the latest IPCC boogie man reports.

Climate Change vs Global Warming

In the beginning….say 1985…. there was global warming and it was bad. Global warming has become a shortcut term for a warmer Earth; an Earth headed for disaster in the near future because of fossil fuels being burned by man.    In 1998 the warming of the Earth slowed a bit….and we all started worrying about Climate Change, and a second buzz word was created.

Whenever I see an article about the impacts of our changing climate I react and react in an odd way. I assume the article is about the ills of man caused climate change.   No mention of carbon is necessary.   The link is so firmly established that it is assumed.

We all must give credit where credit is due.  Al Gore, James Hansen and the IPCC have won the PR battle.  We all are using their language and their interpretations of that language.   Why must climate change be man caused and bad?  Why is natural climate change good and man caused climate change bad?

The world is warming for a whole bunch of reasons, some are man caused, some are not.  Some changes are good and some are bad.  So far at least, most of the impacts have been good.  If the Earth was a degree C colder,as it was in 1800, we would have difficulty feeding our population.

We all assume the terms Global Warming and  Climate Change mean man caused warming that is having a negative impact on society… before we start to read any article with Climate Change or Global Warming  in the title.

Congratulations Al.

Environmental Group Sues to Protect Seals

Wednesday ( September 12, 2012), the Anchorage Daily News ran a story titled Environmental group sues to protect ice seals.  The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the US Government because they have not listed the Ring Seal as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

I know nearly nothing about the Ring Seal…but I’m confident of one thing…the lawsuit will have absolutely no impact on the seals longevity.     Two reasons, science and China.

My experience has taught me that Environmental groups frequently make wild claims.   There are  many many individual environmental groups.  Each has it’s own agenda.  It is difficult to build anything without offending one or more of the groups  and too many use the courts to air their complaints.   They sue to stop roads, mines, bridges, and oil drilling.   They sued San Antonio to reduce water use.  Sometimes the lawsuits have merit, but too many are a giant waste of time.  An unnecessary expense for both the environmental group and the government.

The third paragraph of the article emphasizes my point.

  “Without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the ice seals don’t stand a chance in the long term,” said attorney Rebecca Noblin in the announcement of the lawsuit. “The plight of Arctic species like these seals demands immediate action to break our fossil fuel addiction.”

They have assumed that greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for the seals plight.    Maybe, maybe not.    Maybe the ice is melting for a whole host of reasons (natural climate variation or perhaps air pollution or soot), not just the one they have identified.   Maybe the seal can survive with much less ice than they think it can.
Let’s set the science aside and do a little simple environmental arithmetic.   We’ll start by assuming carbon emissions are impacting global climate and that coal use is the biggest driver of that emission total.   Let’s look at some coal use data courtesy of BP.
Coal Use By Country  (millions of tons oil equiv.)
Country            1970        1980         1990        2000       2010        2011     %of Total
USA                          309           389            483           569          526           502        13.5%
China                       163            305           507           710      1,676       1,839        49.4%
Germany               152            140            130              85             77             78           2.1%
UK                              96              71               65              37             37             31            0.8%
Russia                     n/a             n/a            181            105            90              91           2.4%
India                         38              57               96            144          271           296          7.9%
Japan                       60              58               76               99          123           117           3.2%
Total                   1,499       1,804        2,207        2,372     3,520       3,724         100%
Yep we in the good ole USA use lots of coal, 13.5% of the total.  Coal use in the world has increased by 2225 million tons of oil equiv. since 1970 and China is responsible for 75% of that total.   So far in 2012, the USA total is down about 17% below 2011 levels…and China and India continue to grow rapidly.
The Endangered Species Act will always only impact the USA.  The USA is no longer the big player in the coal/carbon dioxide game, China is.     So why sue the USA?    If the Center for Biological Diversity is right about the science (which is not a given), then they need to get China to change their ways or they will fail.
The lawsuit…from the seals point of view…is a waste of time.

Patrick Moore Interviewed on Fox Business

Yesterday, Melissa Francis  of Fox Business News interviewed Patrick Moore.   It’s worth a look.  I like what Dr. Moore had to say, but the interview could have been  better.

Ms. Francis made no effort to conceal her opinions.    She began the interview by pointing out that Antarctica used to be tropical and that this simple fact proves that the conventional wisdom (personified by the the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is wrong.   Dr. Moore is a scientist, and as a scientist, he clearly felt the need to soften her positions a bit by introducing words like probably and may into the discussion.

The interview would have been better if Ms. Francis had asked simple direct questions and let her guest speak.   He did a better job of summarizing his positions than she did.

Ms. Francis made the same mistake pro global warming advocates make every day.   Natural climate variation makes predicting climate very difficult.  The existence of variation doesn’t prove anything.  Too many climate scientists (the IPCC does this every day) assume recent climate variation proves they are right.

Natural climate variation makes predicting climate, and man’s impact on that climate. extraordinarily difficult.   Anybody that thinks they know the answer needs to study the science a bit more.

Dr. Moore, a former Greenpeace activist turned skeptic, was able to make his points.  Points like

  • Some warming is probably good, Siberia and Canada surely will benefit
  • natural climate variation must still be going on, any assumption that natural variation is not important is probably wrong.
  • man made climate variation is probably happening, but the impacts are probably less than climate hawks predict.
  • 30 years of Arctic data is a very small data set.
  • Arctic Ice is shrinking, but Antarctic Ice is growing

I left the interview dissatisfied.   Think how much better the interview would have been if Ms. Francis had left her opinions in the dressing room.

Energy Security — Not a Renewable Energy Story

I have just finished reading an article in Bloomberg News  titled Growing U.S. Energy Supply Alters Political Debate.  While I liked the article, I was disappointed by the inclusion of renewable energy rhetoric in an article about shale oil and gas drilling.

The first three paragraphs linked shale oil production to energy security and then linked renewable energy to a discussion of energy security too.   The remainder of the article talks about the changed political landscape that shale oil drilling has created.   So what’s my beef?

Renewable energy has very nearly nothing in common with oil production…..and they are constantly linked together by the press and global warming hawks.   Renewable energy is an alternate electricity source.   Oil is a transportation fuel.   Windmills may reduce the amount of coal or natural gas burned in power generation, but it has no impact on oil use or security of supply.

Security of supply is all about international politics.  Electric power comes from 5 main sources in the USA and they are all domestic.   As domestic supplies, foreign supply concerns are not an issue.

According to the  EIA (US Energy Information Administration) website

Notice, petroleum at less than 1% of supply.

Here is data for the first half of 2012, released last month by the EIA.

  • Coal                                 35.4%
  • Natural Gas                  30.4%
  • Nuclear                           19.5%
  • Hydro                                7.9%
  • Wind                                  3.8%

Coal is fading, natural gas is coming on strong, and wind is a small but growing part of the story.  Solar….forget about it.

Energy independence is all about imported oil   How do we reduce our reliance on foreign supplies?  Lets take a peek at the Bloomberg article.  The very first paragraph has problems.

Ever since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the US has been obsessed with energy security , including the desire to rely less on foreign oil and produce as much as possible at home.

Supply has never been the issue it should be in the USA.  Every President since Nixon has talked the good story…but domestic energy production  is now and always has been a secondary issue.  Production peaked 40 years ago and had been in steady decline until shale oil showed up in 2009.

USA Oil energy policy has been a story of a country attempting to protect foreign supply while arguing wildly about when and where oil should and could be produced locally.  ANWR, the coast of California, the Arctic Ocean, offshore in Florida; the notion that we would produce as much as possible at home is wrong.  There is no national consensus on this issue and there never has been.

The next paragraph sets the link between oil and gas and alternative sources of energy with the following statement

For just as long, the energy debate in the presidential election years has been over the need to take better advantage of our own natural resources: extracting more oil, gas and coal, on the one hand, or promoting conservation along with alternatives such as solar and wind power.

Conservation is a big part of our oil independence strategy, but wind and solar are not.   The third paragraph continues the link between energy security and renewable energy  and makes it sound much more important than it really is:

Discoveries of shale deposits and the rise of new energy technologies have reshaped the energy marketplace.  Big increases in renewable energy as well as domestic oil and gas production — combined with a declining market share of coal — change the terms of the old production-verses- conservation debate.

Big increases in renewable energy?   Sure.  But from a small base.   Renewable energy plays only a minor role in energy supply(see chart above).  The article intentionally makes renewable sources sound more important than they are and then incorrectly links them to the production-verses- conservation debate.

My only other complaint about the article is that it underplays the importance of natural gas in the renewable energy debate.   Natural gas is abundant and clean and could be used as a transportation fuel too.   Natural gas prices have collapsed, accelerating the switch from coal to natural gas and slowing the need for other clean choices…..Wow….another blog subject….stay tuned….