Doug L. Hoffman's blog
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.
According to a new report in Nature Geoscience, scientists are beginning to realize that previously ignored aspects of the terrestrial biosphere can act as key regulators of atmospheric chemistry and climate. Not only that, changes in the biosphere can happen quickly—in the course of a few decades. “Although interactions between the carbon cycle and climate have been a central focus, other biogeochemical feedbacks could be as important in modulating future climate change,” states the report. Because a number of these feedbacks can have a cooling effect, the impact on global warming predictions could be earthshaking. The problem is, these feedbacks are only poorly understood and they are so interrelated that modeling them will be difficult, if not impossible.
There are two major things the peoples of the world can do to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and protect the environment, and they don't involve wind or solar power. The first is to build new nuclear power plants, as people in Europe, Asia and elsewhere are doing apace. The second is to insist that your next automobile is either a pure electric or a plug-in hybrid. Auto manufacturers from Detroit to Shenzhen are racing to bring new vehicles to market, while forward looking cities like New York and Paris are installing recharging stations in anticipation of the electric future. As stated in The Energy Gap, electric and hybrid vehicles are the only way to cure the world's fossil fuel addiction.
Driven by a constantly expanding need for electricity, Chile is considering building seven new dams and a transmission line through its southern wilderness. This isolated land of condors and monkey puzzle trees is home to the third largest reserve of frozen freshwater in the world—the Southern Ice Field. Critics say the environmental risks have not been fully examined, and the risk to southern Chile's unique ecosystems is unacceptably high. Proponents of the dam project argue that hydroelectricity is a clean source of energy, just waiting to be tapped. Chile needs the 3500 MW/yr of power to meet its development goals and lacks indigenous oil or coal reserves. Moreover, the electricity from the dams would displace dirty generation, greatly reducing Chile's greenhouse gas emissions. Give all the benefits, why are so many people, within Chile and without, so opposed to the dams—opposed to the point of preferring new coal plants?
Throughout Earth’s history, there is evidence of large carbon dioxide releases, greenhouse conditions, ocean acidification, and major changes in marine life. About 120 million years ago (mya), during the early part of the Cretaceous period, a series of massive volcanic eruptions pumped huge amounts of carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere. During the Aptian Oceanic Anoxic Event, atmospheric CO2 content rose to about twice today's level. Eventually, the oceans absorbed much of that CO2, which significantly increased the water's acidity. The change reduced the amount of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the water, making it difficult for creatures such as some kinds of plankton to form shells. But the plankton did not die out. In fact, the geological record indicates that ocean biota can adapt to CO2 concentrations as high as 2000 to 3000 ppm—five to eight times current levels.
In news that signals a sea-change in European nuclear energy policy, Finland's parliament has voted to build two additional nuclear reactors to augment the four they already operate. When this expansion is complete, nuclear power will provide half of Finland's electricity. Following in Finland's footsteps, their Nordic neighbor Sweden has announced that it will also build new reactors. The intention being to replace the reactors at their 10 existing nuclear power plants when the old ones are shut down. This reverses a 1980 referendum that called for them to be phased out entirely. Sweden and Finland have concluded that greenhouse gases can only be cut and energy security guaranteed with continued or greater reliance on atomic power.