Through generous subsidies from the US government, secured by corn-belt politicians, 25% of America's corn (maize) crop is turned into ethanol for use in automobiles. Ignoring the negative impact this has on food production, agricultural runoff and land use, there is new talk of raising government mandated fuel mixture proportions to use even more ethanol. At the same time, the idea of turning farm and forest wastes into "cellulosic" ethanol, a biofuel to power cars and trucks continues to languish. Because of the ongoing economic slump, a plentiful supply of ethanol made from corn, and uncertainty among policymakers, companies have delayed plans to build commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants, some canceling them altogether. Evidently, even the hundreds of millions of dollars on offer from the Department of Energy (DOE) are not enough to lure investors to participate in this latest biofuel boondoggle. Industry understands what biofuel advocates do not—biofuels make no sense in terms of energy policy: neither environmentally nor economically. Instead of propping up wasteful and nonviable biofuel schemes, Congress should stop all biofuel subsidies and kill all ongoing ethanol projects.
Much concern has been raised by climate scientists regarding ice loss from the world's two remaining continental ice sheets. Rapid loss of ice-mass from the glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica are cited as proof positive of global warming's onslaught. The latest measurements involve the use of satellite gravimetry, estimating the mass of terrain beneath by detecting slight changes in gravity as a satellite passes overhead. But gravity measurements of ice-mass loss are complicated by glacial isostatic adjustments—compensation for the rise or fall of the underlying crustal material. A new article in Nature Geoscience describes an innovative approach employed to derive ice-mass changes from GRACE data. The report suggests significantly smaller overall ice-mass losses than previous estimates.
Black carbon is generated from burning both fossil fuels and biomass. Black carbon aerosols absorb solar radiation and are purported to be a major source of global warming. A recent study claims that the extent of black-carbon-induced warming is dependent on the concentration of sulfate (SO2) and organic aerosols—which reflect solar radiation and cool the surface—as well as the origin of the black carbon. The ratio of fossil-fuel-based black carbon to SO2 emissions has increased by more than a factor of two during the twentieth century, and the portion of black carbon from fossil fuels has increased threefold. This could account for a 30% increase in global warming from black carbon, which may account for a quarter of the warming usually attributed to CO2. Even worse, black carbon may be causing millions of deaths among those who have to breath it. Far from being green, climate science's demonizing of CO2 is damaging the pursuit of sound environmental policy.
It was only a matter of time before American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to say something so preposterous that she would win the coveted Crank of the Week award. That day has come with her conflation of the tragic floods in Pakistan and global warming. In a move that aligns the Obama administration with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Secretary, using typical bureaucratic doublespeak, managed to say that the disastrous floods in Pakistan cannot be blamed on global warming while at the same time hinting that climate change was to blame. “You can’t point to any particular disaster and say, ‘it was caused by,’ but we are changing the climate of the world,” she said, in remarks labeled “nutty” by critics.
Desperate to put the bad days of Climategate behind them, climate scientists are pronouncing the matter over and done with. After all of the revelations and disclosures surrounding Climategate, and all of the public mea culpas, a change in attitude by those in the climate science community would be welcome. A turn to greater openness regarding methods and data, along with less overt political boosterism. But evidently, that is not in the cards. Starting off with an editorial titled “Climategate closed,” the journal Nature Geoscience presents a number of troubling statements from people involved with climate change. Though calling for scientists to “be humble,” the tone of the commentaries is that no wrong was really done and nothing has changed. The only change that needs to be made is making a greater effort to “inform” the public and skeptics. Clearly, climate scientists just don't get it—they cannot simply return to business as usual.
After dominating the US domestic news for most of the summer, the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has disappeared as quickly as it first burst on the scene at the end of April. Though BP and the government are still working on the “final fix” for the previously leaking deepwater well, when the “static kill” plugged the gusher media interest soon faded. A report issued by the National Incident Command (NIC) found that about 26% percent of the oil released from the runaway well was still in the water or onshore, but federal scientists believe that it is breaking down rapidly in both places. Even so, a re-instated ban on deepwater drilling stays in place, blocking further exploration and bringing howls of protest from gulf area governors and oil executives alike. In a strange example of unexpected consequences, the drilling ban, backed by most green groups, may be leading to greater environmental damage by increasing oil imports from America's neighbor to the north—Canada. It turns out that producing a barrel of oil from Canadian tar-sands generates 82% more greenhouse-gas emissions than does the average barrel refined in the US. And then there is the mess that extracting it leaves behind.
Like an overly familiar maniac from a series of Hollywood slasher movies, CO2 has lost most of its ability to scare the public. Carbon dioxide's diminishing fright mojo has sent climate change alarmists—and those in the media who lend them mindless support in trade for salacious headlines—casting about for a next gas molecule to scare the public with. A few trial balloons have been floated for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) but the rising star in the global warming shop of horrors is methane (CH4). Aside from having a familial relation ship with CO2 based on carbon, CH4 is a known greenhouse gas and is produced almost everywhere on Earth by decaying organic matter. Most recently, there were panicked warnings that Arctic seabed methane stores were being destabilized. The hype over methane has gotten so out of hand that a news focus article in Science (which is not a hot bed of climate change skepticism) has publicly stated the situation is being exaggerated.
This column is going to be a bit different from my usual fare. I have been doing some renovations to my house and one of the changes was to install a pair of 14 inch light pipes in the living room ceiling. My place is a log house with a lot of interior wood surfaces. This looks warm and comfy when the lights are on but without the lights it can be very dark, particularly on overcast days. While I had already converted most incandescent lights to more efficient CFLs, it still bothered me to be burning electric lights in the middle of the day. The house, being 18 years old, was in need of a new roof so it was easy to add some natural solar lighting to the interior at the same time.
Because of the ubiquitous computer chip, it has become much easier to construct models of natural phenomena than to study them in situ. This is a growing problem for science because it leads to an over dependence on modeling and diminishes motivation for actually getting out into the big messy world. A pair of articles in Nature Geoscience, focused on the ocean's nitrogen cycle, serve to underscore the problems that can arise when multiple models disagree with each other and with nature. More proof that computer models do not provide scientific evidence, just tales from the silicon chip.