Monthly Archives: December 2012

European Travel — Some random thoughts and helpful hints

Christmas — the perfect time to change things up a bit and talk about my favorite pastime, travel.

My wife and I frequently travel in November, anxious to shorten the long Alaska winter.  This fall we returned to Europe, exploring new places and revisiting old favorites, mostly in Austria, Italy and Spain. Some random thoughts and observations.

I love to travel by train in Europe.   It is usually convenient, sometimes fast, and can be inexpensive. German trains tend to be relatively expensive while trains in Italy are among the cheapest I’ve encountered.   Fast trains don’t always go where you want to go which means it can sometimes be faster and cheaper to fly. Try getting from Rome to Barcelona on a train.

On this past trip we scheduled a train from Innsbruck to Verona around a scheduled Italian rail strike.  We knew when the one day strike would end, and purchased our tickets accordingly.  Sure enough the train showed up.  We had a great trip through the Alps by train.

Avoid what Italians call American coffee, stick with espresso or cappuccino.  I don’t know what happens at the border.  Coffee in Austria is OK, cross into Italy and it ….well….just stick to cappuccino.

If you want to experience slow service in Italy… for a meal with a credit card.   I once waited 20 minutes for my server to take my VISA card.  I finally gave up and put down a few euros….swoosh …it was gone in an instant, and my change arrived a minute or two later.

Sausages in Austria taste nothing like the American version of Vienna Sausages.

I’m a big fan of the breakfasts served in most hotels in Continental Europe;  wonderful breads, espresso drinks, yummy cheeses and cold cuts, maybe some eggs and/or bacon,  juices,  and fruits including some I’ve never seen before.

Question 1:  Why are egg yokes a darker color in Europe?

Question 2:  Does anybody grow seedless table grapes in Europe?

Question 3:  Who uses money changers? The kiosks are everywhere in Europe and the rates are awful.   Want to really get ripped off, cash a travelers check in a foreign currency. You get a lousy exchange rate, and get charged an additional fee because it’s a check.    Last year I read a guide book actually recommending them….how 1970’s.

ATM’s are everywhere and free.  And the exchange rate is better at an ATM too.  I’ve taken to charging stuff only when necessary.  Cash is king and you avoid the foreign currency fees on your credit card when you use ATM’s.

Question 4:  I wonder how much soda is taxed?  I was in a convenience story in Italy.  Wine started at 2 euro for a 750 ml bottle, a giant bottle of beer was 2.8 euro and a coke was 3 euro  for a small can.  My solution to this dilemma….drink wine.

Happy traveling

Carbon Dioxide — How much is too much?

My last post differentiated between air pollution and carbon dioxide.  It finished by posing a question.  If some carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is good,  when is there so much carbon dioxide that it becomes bad?

Climate activists answer this question unequivocally and with a confidence that confuses me .   There are so many variables and too many unknowns.  Confident, well paid scientists seem to be everywhere.

  • The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) states in their latest Synopses Report that they are 90% certain most warming since 1950 is man caused.
  • Climate activist James Hansen has said we must return to the 1990 level of carbon dioxide or we are all doomed.
  • Global Climate Project executive director  Josep Canadel sounded concern in a recent NY Times article.  He was worried — a goal of 2 degree C rise in temperature might not be attainable even with an immediate, large and sustained global mitigation effort.

Where they see clarity, I see problems, lots of problems.

Problem number 1 — temperature moves around a lot.

This is one of my favorite themes.   Past posts have used 4 different temperature graphs to demonstrate the variability.  I’d like to start by revisiting those graphs. The most accurate information is the newest and my favorite new data is satellite based.

In 1992 the IPCC said we’d be going up at .3 degree C per decade and that we’d be a degree C warmer by 2020 (using 1990 as a base year).  Well they were right until 1998.  In 2007 they altered their estimate to .2 degree C.   I wonder what they will say in 2014 in their next report.

Next we’ll add some UK data from East Anglia University. The data goes back to 1850;

Now for the Holocene chart from my last post:

And finally the Vostok Antarctic Ice Core that goes back 400,000 years:

The last 10,000 years look pretty harmless in the Vostok core.  One reason I am a skeptic — the correlation between carbon dioxide and temperature is flawed. It is easy to see in  Antarctic Ice Core graphs.  Sure, the charts (carbon dioxide and temperature) have the same shape generally, but there are lots of places where temperature and carbon dioxide diverge.

It looks to me like temperature leads…and carbon dioxide follows.  Temperature changes first, followed by a change in carbon dioxide.   Climate scientists insist the correlation is the other way around.

As any good scientist will tell you…a correlation proves nothing.  The correlation provides a starting point.  An experiment to confirm or deny the assertion assumed in the correlation is the next step in the process.

The earth is very difficult to study,  there are no spare Earths handy.  A proxy is needed, and the proxy used is computer modeling.  I don’t trust this type of science.  I miss the experimentation.  Climate scientists make assumptions, generate computer models, and use the output of the model to verify their assumptions.   Can you say SWAG.

Problem number 2 — We don’t know enough

The IPCC admits to not knowing lots of stuff.  A chart of Radiative Forcing  Components on page 39 of the 2007 Synopses shows  a low LOSU (level of scientific understanding) about several items that they admit could be important.

  • land use
  • carbon black
  • aerosols
  • the sun

In other areas of the text they acknowledge shortcomings in other important areas including

  • clouds
  • deep ocean currents

What do you do when you don’t know….you guess  or you leave it out of the model.  If you leave it out, it better not be important.  Lots of models are run with different guesses.  SWAG and WAG are here, there, everywhere!

Problem number 3 — Model results are inconsistent.

Table 3.1 on page 45 of the 2007 Synopses has the following data.  The Synopses uses Scenarios.  Each Scenario has an assumed carbon dioxide production profile that is described earlier in the same chapter of the document.  The chart is predicting temperatures that are expected at some time between 2090 and 2100.   The likely range includes 90% of the models.  Another 10% lie outside the stated likely range.

Scenario                      Best Estimate           Likely Range

B1 Scenario                  1.8 degree C               1.1 to 2.9
A1T Scenario              2.4 degree C               1.4 to 3.8
B2 Scenario                 2.4 degree C               1.4 to 3.8
A1B Scenario              2.8 degree C               1.7 to 4.4
A2 Scenario                3.4 degree C                2.0 to 5.4
A1F1 Scenario           4.0 degree C                2.4 to 6.4

The first three scenarios are unlikely (my opinion, the  Synopses states that no attempt has been made to quantify any of the scenarios). The assumptions built into the scenarios do not match the real world.   I’d guess we will actually end up somewhere in between the A1B and the A2 Scenarios.

The range of values is actually a bit less precise than this chart would indicate.  The predictions were made in 2007 but the base line they are adjusting from is the average value during the period from 1980 to 1999.   The world was warming steadily for that period, so all the numbers are inflated by about .2 degree C.  The temperature in 2000 was .2 degree C above their baseline.

Models that  agree are varying by anywhere from 2.7 to 3.4 degrees C only 90 years into the future.  10% of the model runs show even bigger changes.  That’s a lot of variation.  I guess I’m a bit pickier than the IPCC.  I think variation in model output makes the Climate prediction performed by the IPCC statistically unsupportable.

The IPCC must disagree.

The best estimate data point is then used by the IPCC in models that are then extrapolated centuries further into the future (table 5.1 page 67 of the 2007 Synopses).    Table 5.1 predicts very specific temperatures  hundreds of years into the future.  That’s one sloppy WAG.

What probability did the IPCC attach the their  best estimate?  Beats me. There’s no information provided.   The best estimate is probably the mean of a bell shaped curve of a relatively small data set, but that’s just a guess on my part.

I’d be the first to admit that carbon dioxide probably has warmed the planet…but quantifying that is an extraordinarily difficult task.  The IPCC likes to make it sound like they know the answer, but they don’t.  Nobody knows.

Carbon Dioxide is NOT Air Pollution

Last weekend I noticed something that I had missed literally for years.  Just about any story that discusses carbon dioxide and global warming includes a smokestack photo.   The photo shows visible air pollution….the unsaid message, visible air pollution and carbon dioxide are one and the same.  WRONG.

I will never understand how carbon dioxide, a necessary ingredient for life on earth, got labeled as a  pollutant, but it did.   The BBC ran a story on Kyoto that included the following photo:

The Huffington Post wrote an article touting carbon emissions at a 20 year low that included the following photo:

Carbon dioxide is colorless.   The articles are about carbon dioxide, but the photos are showing air pollution.   If the stack just had carbon dioxide coming out of it, there would be no visible smoke.   Air pollution is a serious health and welfare issue, and it is a cooling rather than a warming agent.

Since air pollution is not colorless, it blocks the sun, reducing the amount of energy that reaches the surface, a cooling event.  Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (like Methane and water vapor) are colorless so they allow more energy to reach the surface.  They then trap some of that energy as it is reflected back to space, a warming event.

If we didn’t have greenhouse gases, we would all freeze to death.

Air pollution from Chinese coal fired power plants make the air in Shanghai filthy.  Sure there’s some carbon dioxide involved….but the serious health issue is the cancer causing toxins in the exhaust that are polutants.  If the power had been generated using natural gas there would have been no toxins and 50% less carbon.  There is technology available to remove  toxins from coal exhaust, but too many plants in China don’t even try.

When I see a smokestack photo in a carbon dioxide article, I become a bit perturbed.   Why has this photo has been included?

Al Gore did the exact same thing for his cover art used to sell the DVD of An Inconvenient Truth.   Mr. Gore loves to equate air pollution to carbon dioxide, it’s a factually incorrect recurring theme in the film.

Carbon Dioxide probably does contribute to the warming of our planet,  but it is not a pollutant.

Pollution is defined as the contamination of air, water, or soil by substances that are harmful to living organisms.  Carbon dioxide is not harmful to living organisms.   Increased carbon dioxide probably makes the world a bit warmer than it otherwise would be….but warm is not necessarily bad.

We live in a stable warm part of the ice age called the Holocene.  For the last 11,000 years it has been warmer than the average of the last 2 million years.  Lots warmer.  Here is a graph of Holocene temperatures

Today the world is a bit colder than it was 8000 years ago.  Both the medieval warming period and the little ice age represent extremes in the last 1000 years that are not man caused.  Why are we supposed to be worrying about the last 60 years of this chart?

For carbon dioxide to be considered a pollutant it must be harmful to living organisms.   Carbon dioxide — harmful — I don’t thinks so.

Carbon dioxide and water are both necessary for life on earth and both are greenhouse gases.   Greenhouse gases keep the planet from being very cold at night.   Any argument for carbon dioxide as a pollutant must do two things.

  • It must more fully explain why water vapor, a much more important greenhouse gas, is not a pollutant too.
  • It must  learn how to model climate much better.   Today, climate models start less than 200 years ago and go hundreds of years into the future (wild extrapolation)…that’s way too short a period given the natural climate variation of the last 1000 years.

Generally throughout history, warm has been good, cold has been bad.  Today the earth is a bit colder than it was 8000 years ago, Why is that too warm?  Was the world too warm 130,000 years ago when it was much warmer than it is today?  The argument for calling carbon dioxide a pollutant must assume it is possible to have too much of a good thing.  But how much is too much?

Aaaahhh.  That’s the big question.

Kyoto Protocol Extended to 2020 by UN

Yesterday (Saturday December 8,2012), the BBC’s lead story on my browser feed was Climate talks: UN forum extends Kyoto Protocol to 2020.  Wow, I can hardly contain my excitement.   An agreement that doesn’t work has just been extended.

The Kyoto Protocol has always been a bureaucratic solution to the perceived science problem of man caused global warming.   The UN has put itself in charge of both the politics and the science. How convenient for them.

The Kyoto Protocol divides the world into two main categories, the developed world and the developing world.  Countries in the developed world must limit their carbon emissions, the developing countries have no such limitations.  The three biggest contributors in the world are China (28%), the USA (16%) and India (7%).  China and India are considered developing countries and the USA has not ratified the treaty.

The three biggest contributors in the world with 51% of the total are not required to do anything under the treaty.  Sounds like a recipe for failure to me.  The USA as the only developed country that did not ratify the treaty is frequently blamed for the failure of the treaty.  In this article the BBC keeps up that proud tradition.

The US – a major polluter – has never ratified the original 1997 protocol.

Per capita carbon use in the USA peaked in 1973.   As the Huffington Post noted in a recent article, USA production will be the lowest it has been in 20 years in 2012.  Yes, the USA uses more than it’s fair share of energy, but that’s true of all developed countries and we are improving.

China, according to the Global Carbon Project, produced 28% of the total in 2011 and was growing at 9.9% in 2011.   They alone were responsible for  .28*9.9% or 2.7% of the worlds growth in 2011.  The whole world grew at 3.0% in 2011.

This blog is dedicated to the notion that global warming science is full of guesses and questionable assumptions.  That said, I believe we are impacting our ecosystem and we should try to do better.    We all can do better…and China needs to do more….lots more.

China is the big player in the carbon game.    In 2011 China had about the same per capita emissions level as the average EU country and their population has a much lower standard of living.  China expects to grow their economy rapidly for many more years as their citizens become more affluent.   China needs to become more energy efficient.

I worry more about air pollution and population growth than global climate change.  I consider much of the money being spent by the UN and others to try to control climate, a squandering of our scarce resources.   We have our priorities wrong.   India will pass the USA within 20 years and become the worlds second leading carbon producer simply by growing their population!

The world bank estimates that China has 14 of the 18 most polluted cities in the world.   India will soon become the most populous country in the world and it will have a population density about 9 times that of the USA.    World population growth and the pollution of the planet are immediate problems that need more resources right now.

Saturday the UN extended an agreement that does not work for 8 more years.   Next year the 9th International Carbon Dioxide Conference meets  in Beijing.  So goes the strange world of climate politics.

NY Times notes Carbon emissions soar

Last Monday the Anchorage Daily News printed an article with a New York Times byline titled Carbon dioxide emissions soar.  It was a surprisingly bad article.

But it really isn’t fair to only blame the Times because the Anchorage Daily News edited the article before they printed it.  They shortened the article by omitting 5 paragraphs.  My local paper took a bad article and made it worse.

The Times article titled With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming is full of mistakes too.

The first paragraph tells us carbon dioxide will likely exceed the record levels of 2011 in 2012. Yup.  It’s been going up steadily for 150 years, so year 151 wouldn’t be much of a surprise.   We are also told efforts to limit emissions are failing.  Let us continue…the second paragraph:

Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.

Where to begin….the notion of ultimate warming is an odd one.   We live on a planet with dynamic climate that routinely varies by 1 degree C in a century all by itself.   Temperature changes in both short and long term cycles that are a part of natural climate variation.  This background noise makes it difficult to tell which is natural and which is man made.  Most climate change before 1950 is assumed by climate experts to be natural climate variation.

Here is some East Anglia University data that goes back to 1850.  There are single year changes approaching .4 degree C.  My favorite time, a period of  rapid cooling in the late 1870’s.

Still not convinced…let’s look at an Antarctic Ice Core that goes back more than 400,000 years.

The notion we can limit climate to a 2 degree C (3.6 degree F) range and that there is an ultimate temperature must ignore history.   In 2009, a goal surfaced to try to keep the world from warming by 2 degree C since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.   It had already warmed by more than a degree so the goal really was 1 degree C from 2009 levels.

The 3.6 degree F goal stated in the article is I believe the same goal.   This goal became very popular leading up to the climate meetings in Copenhagen in
December of 2009. That goal is not on the verge of becoming unattainable, it was unattainable in 2009 when it was adopted.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published their Fourth Synopses in 2007.  On page 67 is table 5.1.  That table states that we must reduce man made emissions by 85% from 2000 levels by 2050 to achieve the stated goal of 2 degree C. If we did that, the USA would have the same emissions level as Bolivia today.   That was never possible…and nobody in the press even noticed.

The next 5 paragraphs talk about the failed international efforts to reign in man made carbon emissions.   The paragraphs are full of advocates voicing concern, with only modest specific information, but I found no factual errors.

Paragraph 8 breaks the trend with some serious misinformation.

The new figures show that emissions are falling, slowly, in some of the most advanced countries, including the United States. That apparently reflects a combination of economic weakness, the transfer of some manufacturing to developing countries and conscious efforts to limit emissions, like the renewable power targets that many American states have set. The boom in the natural gas supply from hydraulic fracturing is also a factor, since natural gas is supplanting coal at many power stations, leading to lower emissions.

USA emissions are down for two mains reasons, the power switching noted, and reduced gasoline consumption because people are driving less and driving autos that get better fuel economy.  Germany had an aggressive Solar program that has been reduced in recent years to save money.  Spain, the second largest solar market in Europe has made significant cuts too for financial reasons.  Wind projects all across the developed world are being put on hold to save money.

Renewable energy plays almost no role in the current changes in the USA.   Environmental review of any major construction project takes years…and most green energy projects are still in the various stages of design or permitting with a very small number under construction.   The Times article exaggerates the current benefit of renewable energy.   It really is a hope for the future, not an alternative today.

The next paragraph goes like this

But the decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.

The paragraph is correct as far as it goes.   It sounds like China and India are two examples of developing countries using more energy which is accurate, and unnecessarily vague.  China matters and the Times has written the paragraph so that they seem to be a small part of a bigger problem….which is not true.

China passed the USA to become the biggest carbon dioxide producer in 2006.  Since then they have continued to increase emissions by about 8% per year. In 2011 they increased their emissions by 9%.  The Global Carbon Project estimates China’s share of the world total was 28% in 2011, more than the USA (16%) and the EU (11%) combined.  The USA will be down again in 2012 and China continues to grow their emissions.

India is growing rapidly, but from a much smaller base (7%).   It will matter more in time, but it is relatively less important right now.  Another factor not mentioned in the article is the increase in coal use in Japan and Europe because of reduced Nuclear Energy use following the Fukashima nuclear disaster.

The article quotes lots of people warning of disaster and finishes with two paragraphs of standard global warming gloom and doom.   Any article that has space (8 paragraphs) to express concern ought to include the China impact more completely.  China matters and the Times barely notices.

Arctic Ice Sheet Growing Rapidly

I have been traveling around Europe since late October.  Alaska greeted me with bone chilling cold as I exited the airport terminal on Sunday.  As I write this blog, the temperature at my house sits at a balmy -7 F (-21 C for everybody but the USA).  It has been cold most of the time I was gone.

This got me wondering about the Arctic Ice Sheet.   So I wondered over to the National Snow and Ice Data Center and took a look.  The Ice sheet is growing at a surprisingly rapid rate.  The site has lots of information about the Polar Ice Cap.

When looking at this data it is helpful if you ignore the 1979-2000 average data presented in grey.  Virtually all summer data in recent years is outside the grey area which is supposed to cover 95% of all data.  The grey data set is an object lessen of poor statistical analysis.   The aforementioned website has an interactive chart with better data that displays averages and standard deviations for the entire data set, but it doesn’t transfer well, so I used this one.

2012 was a big year for summer melt….and so far it has been a big winter for ice building.   Summer data appears to vary wildly, while the winter data is much more stable.  This is likely to continue due the the nature of sea ice.  First year sea ice has a higher salt content than ice that has been in the Arctic for a while.  This higher salt content makes it melt more rapidly than ice that is older. And there’s been lots of first year ice in the data set since 2007.

People searching for benefits of global warming talk about the shorter shipping routes the Arctic represents.   Environmentalist worry about Polar Bear habitat and excess rain and snow in Europe.   Yep, they are going to happen….but you better be quick.  Summer is an extremely short season and winter seems to last forever.

So far at least, the changes seen for most of the year have been relatively small when compared to the wild variation seen in summer.    If and when the Arctic gets a cold summer following a cold winter, then we will have more second year ice…and the ice will become more stable.  But until then the ice will continue to show wild swings in summer.  It really is more a measurement of past warming, and less so a warning flag of future warming.

But is it?  Recent studies argue that yes the ice melts faster when it is warm, but it also is impacted by pollution.  Air pollution discolors the ice, making is slightly less white, which helps it absorb sunlight in summer.   So maybe it’s a marker for air pollution.  Either way first year sea ice is more a marker of past woes and less a predictor of future woes.

If the trend of a warmer more polluted world continues then the summer ice free area will probably expand.   This is not a new experience for the Arctic.   130,000 years ago the Arctic was much warmer than it is today and it is widely believed that there was  less ice then than we have now.    And 20,000 years later it was much colder.

But this analysis is probably too simplistic too.  If the ice free period expands, then snowfall in the Arctic will likely increase too, which could bring on a new ice age cold period.  Or maybe not.

The current climate cycle for the earth is 2.5 million years old.   Any effort to predict long term trends using a 35 year data base is more than a bit speculative.   Talk about wild extrapolation.  It is virtually impossible to identify a trend in a 2.5 million year system using a 35 year data base that is more reactive than predictive.

Well.   What happens next?  I don’t know.   Time will tell.