Doug L. Hoffman's blog
Evidently 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, a year long celebration of Earth's glorious variety of species and ecosystems. Unfortunately, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has failed to meet its ambitious goal: a significant slowdown in biodiversity loss by 2010. The AAAS journal Science has acknowledged this celebration with special News Focus section and a Review article. “After failing to meet its major conservation goal, the Convention on Biological Diversity is setting new targets for stemming the loss of species,” its lead article states. But the news is not all bad. In some countries, conservation efforts have helped species recover and reportedly large-scale deforestation in the Amazon has declined by 47.5% over the past 12 months. With eco-alarmists shifting their panicked attention from climate change to biodiversity, it is time to look at the facts.
With all of the hype over CO2 emissions, one fact that is not usually addressed is where all the CO2 is supposed to come from. Most assume that, in order to avoid the ravages of global warming, we need to shut down all our fossil fuel electric plants, park our cars and take to planting trees 24x7. But the assumptions used in the IPCC scenarios are seldom examined in detail. In reality they are based on projected changes in population, economic growth, energy demand, and the estimated carbon intensity of energy over time. A new study in the journal Science calculated cumulative future emissions based on existing infrastructure and found a surprising result. The investigators concluded that sources of the most threatening emissions have yet to be built. In other words, they made the whole thing up—the IPCC's models are making predictions based on a future that will never happen.
Even with all of the recent scandal surrounding the purveyors of climate change pap, many in the “news media” continue to crank out party-line articles blaming all of Earth's ecological woes on humanity. After decades of trying to alarm the public over a human caused “sixth mass extinction” and more recently, dwindling diversity, some in the media just can't let go of AGW as the root of all evil. A perfect example of this appeared recently in the font of misinformation that is Yahoo News. Blaming every human activity from hunting to climate change, science writer Jeremy Hsu has once again raised the specter of that old shibboleth, the Anthropocene Epoch. This is all a part of a developing trend to elevate falling species diversity to crisis level, mainly because the world's eco-activists need a replacement issue for climate change.
Even though climate scientists have not been able to identify all of the factors involved in climate regulation, or even develop trustworthy values for the ones they do know about, some eco-activists are proposing that we actively try to alter Earth's climate. Schemes to purposefully alter the environment on a global scale are called geoengineering, and it has been proposed as a way to counter act anthropogenic global warming and its side effects. The two main geoengineering options are limiting incoming solar radiation, or modifying the carbon cycle. Two articles, one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and another in Nature Geoscience, report that controlling climate through geoengineering would be difficult, if not impossible, and may do more harm than good. At a time when we cannot even predict how climate will change on its own, proposals to engineer climate change are best left as thought experiments.
In Europe and North America, the development of nuclear power effectively halted after the March 1979 accident in Pennsylvania at Three Mile Island. Until recently the building of additional nuclear reactors in most developed nations was unlikely. Meanwhile, the greatest hope of the alternative energy industry has been wind power, but people around the world are starting to question the safety and effectiveness of large wind farms. As the public's infatuation with “green” energy has faded, the resurgent nuclear power industry has been quietly ramping up its efforts to provide the energy the world will need in the future. Even ecological activists have come to realize that nuclear is the only viable option to fossil fuels. As a result, a nuclear surge is underway, with 52 new reactors under construction around the world and more in the planning stages. This about face in energy policy amounts to nothing less than a nuclear renaissance.
It is well known that carbon dioxide cannot directly account for the observed increase in global temperature over the past century. This has led climate scientists to theorize that many feedback relationships exists within the climate system, serving to amplify the impact of rising CO2 levels. One of these is the impact of rising temperature on the ability of the ecosystem to absorb CO2. The temperature sensitivity of ecosystem respiratory processes (referred to as Q10) is a key determinant of the interaction between climate and the carbon cycle. New research, recently published in the journal Science, shows that the Q10 of ecosystem respiration is invariant with respect to mean annual temperature, and independent of the analyzed ecosystem type. This newly discovered temperature insensitivity suggests that climate sensitivity to CO2 is much smaller than assumed by climate models.
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.
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.
For those who believe in anthropogenic global warming, carbon dioxide is public enemy number one. They warn that CO2 must be avoided at all costs or Earth will heat up uncontrollably causing all sorts of ecological havoc. One proposal for avoiding global warming is the sequestration of CO2 by trapping it at combustion sites or extracting it directly from the air. Supposedly, such sequestration could help avoid a large rise in atmospheric CO2 from the use of fossil fuels, avoiding the hellish fate that surely awaits mankind otherwise. Referred to as carbon capture and storage (CCS), the coal industry has seized on sequestration as a way to get greens off their backs and stay in business. However, it is not clear how effective different types of sequestration and associated leakage are in the long term, or what their consequences might be. A recent paper takes a critical look at the sequestration option.