Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Three Question Climate Change Knowledge Test

Climate change is a scientific discussion that has been hijacked by political considerations.  Many people have strong opinions about climate change and too many of those opinions are based on political rather than scientific reality.   Politics are here, there and everywhere.  And the UN, a strangely political place, is the recognized world expert.  Need I say more.

With that in mind I have developed a simple 3 question test.  If you already know all the answers, congratulations!

Question 1. —  What is Climate Sensitivity and how does it impact the global climate debate?

Most people have never heard of Climate Sensitivity.  Some will be well aware of the idea, but not know the name.  Others are simply unaware of the arguments.  A general knowledge of how climate sensitivity is used by the global warming doom crowd is important.

Carbon dioxide is a weak greenhouse gas.  Water vapor and methane are strong greenhouse gases.   As carbon dioxide changes in the atmosphere, it is predicted to make changes in other climate variables.   IF the model assumes a high climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide then small changes in carbon dioxide cause big changes in climate.  Low sensitivity produces much less change.   Many UN modelers assume a fairly high carbon dioxide sensitivity.  This high sensitivity leads to “tipping points” and gloom and doom.

Climate models are run by computers. These computers use carbon dioxide as a key input variable.  They then predict temperature years and centuries into the future.   UN approved climate models do not agree with each other.   Models can vary by as much as 5 degrees C by the year 2100.

As time goes by computers get faster, more information becomes available and the models are adjusted.  Predictions made just 10 years ago have proven to be wildly high.  Either the climate sensitivity was too high or … they have failed to properly consider natural climate variation.

Question 2. — What is natural climate variation?

If you don’t get this one right, you’re really not paying attention to the science.

We live in an ice age time.  We have been in an ice age for the last 2.5 million years.  For the last 11,000 years we have been in the Holocene, an oddly steady period of climate history.  Climate during the Holocene has been warm and stable.  Ice cores go back about 700,000 years.  The Holocene is the only climate period during that time that has stayed warm for 11,000 years.   The norm is colder.  Much colder.

Here is a copy of a Vostok Antarctic Ice Corps showing climate variations at the drill site.

This chart starts in the present time and then goes back 400,000 years.  Another widely used chart displays the last 50,000 years of the chart beginning at the oldest with the newest dates at the right:

It’s easy to see the Holocene.  20,000 years ago New York City was covered in ice…and 130,000 years the world was warmer than it is right now.   This wildly changing climate is called natural climate variation.

Now lets look at the last 10,000 years using a Greenland Ice Core:

This chart ends with year 2009.  Man has only been able to influence climate for perhaps 200 years.  Any variations seen before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (the blue on the chart) must, by definition, be something that man did not cause.  Three times in the last 10,000 years it has been more than a degree warmer than it is right now.

What change is natural and what is man caused?  This is one very difficult science problem.

Question 3 — How is electricity stored?

This is a bit of a trick question.  Generally, electricity is not stored.   Power generation is an on demand business.  You turn on the light switch, the utility provides the electricity and the lights go on.  The utility grid has a bit of excess capacity running all the time so that it can maintain a stable grid.

A small amount of electricity is stored in batteries, but batteries are expensive and have manufacturing and disposal problems.  Batteries are not now a viable option.  People are working hard to solve this problem.   But in science, wishing doesn’t make it so.  When the solution is found…we can consider it, but for right now we have to look at what is available today, not what might be there in 10 or 20 years.

Electricity is not stored, any electricity provided must be immediately used by the grid.  Electrical demand varies throughout the day and the electric utility has to vary production to meet that demand.  Demand usually peaks just before sunrise and again in the early evening.  Wind and solar are only available when mother nature feels like it.  Germany, the largest solar power market in the world is so far North that solar provides almost no power in the winter.   Munich, which is in Southern Germany, has the same latitude as International Falls, Minnesota.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases statistics every month on power generation in the USA.  Here is the data for a 12 month rolling average including October 2015.

Coal   Natural Gas    Nuclear    Hydro     Solar     Renewable (inc. wind)

35%         32%              19%           6%           0.6%                          7%

Natural gas burns much cleaner than coal but does create some carbon dioxide when burned.  Hydro and Nuclear are clean (from a carbon dioxide perspective)   All four are unpopular with environmentalists for various reasons and they represent about 92% of all power production.

Wind is the most difficult to predict alternative fuel, and it’s the least reliable.   Places with lots of wind relative to other sources of power have odd things happen from time to time.  When the wind really blows, Germany gets so much power from wind that they have to pay neighboring countries to take the energy.  A US utility made news a few months ago when it gave away electricity during peak wind production.  A  cheap reliable battery network would fix this problem.  Unfortunately none exists right now.

Whenever I encounter a global warming true believer I ask them the same simple question.   What is your opinion on Nuclear Power?  Coal represents 35% of total load now and most environmentalists want that at zero.   Where is that capacity going to come from?   There is only one currently available source that can bridge the gap to a better world with wind, solar and cheap batteries and that choice is Nuclear.

Which of course begs the question.   What do you fear more, Nuclear Power or global warming?  I myself am skeptical about the science that touts global disaster, but they could be right.  On the chance that they might be at least partly right…. I support more Nuclear Energy.  How about You?