Doug L. Hoffman's blog
Many people have been pushing natural gas as the fuel of the future. Less polluting than oil or coal, the only thing holding gas back has been supply, causing a scramble for new gas fields using the latest drilling techniques. The conclusion of a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that drilling for natural gas in shale formations, using the process known as fracking, has seriously contaminated shallow groundwater supplies beneath Pennsylvania. Duke University scientists sampled well water across 175 kilometers of far northeast Pennsylvania centered on the town of Dimock, made famous by the film Gasland. The analysis does not indicate how pervasive such contamination might be.
Methane is an important greenhouse gas, 30 times more potent than CO2, but our knowledge of the methane cycle is woefully inadequate. Sediments on the ocean's floor contain immense quantities of methane and there are enormous fluxes of methane into and out of these sediments. Trapped frozen in ice, there are some 10,000 gigatons of carbon stored under the sea—twice as much carbon as contained in conventional fossil fuel reserves. Some scientists consider the release of this methane the single worst environmental danger we face as a species. A massive release of ocean floor methane could cause real runaway global warming that would have dramatic impact on life. But methane continually leaks from seabeds around the world, contributing to the total amount of carbon injected into the ecosystem. A new report finds that ocean methane concentrations have been underestimated by a factor of 10 to 20 fold.
International negotiators at a recent UN climate conference held in Bangkok repeated the demand that global warming this century be limited to no more than 2˚C. But while those attending the UN boondoggle stuck to the climate alarmist party line, results from a newly published Canadian government climate study concluded that “it is unlikely that warming can be limited to the 2˚C target.” The modeling based paper found that reaching the stated IPCC goal would require that greenhouse emissions “ramp down to zero immediately,” which means shutting down the global economy and banning the automobile. Moreover, starting in 2050 scientists would need to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, requiring a rush to implement controversial and possibly dangerous geoengineering programs. Why does the global warming lobby continue demanding the impossible? Perhaps it is because global warming isn't about climate change at all.
It is well known that water, H2O, is the single most important greenhouse gas. But water also plays a central role in determining the delicate balance of energy and mass that regulates the temperature of Earth. A wide range of predictions have been made regarding water in a warming climate, ranging from catastrophic droughts to increased monsoon rains and tropical storms. Conventional wisdom states that a warmer world is a wetter world. In a newly published paper in the journal Science, two researchers examine the Eocene (∼56 to 34 million years ago), looking for clues to the tropical climate–water relationship. Annual global temperatures during the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum (EECO) around 50 million years ago were as much as 12°C higher than modern values. The new results provide compelling evidence that the tropical engine of the water cycle was more active than predicted by current climate models.
Scientists have always thought that the vast majority of ice contained in the Antarctic ice cap was formed from frozen precipitation. Recent research has revealed that this is not totally correct. Over a large fraction of East Antarctica, the deepest part of the ice sheet contains ice that did not originate as surface snow but developed when subglacial meltwater was frozen onto the underside of the ice sheet. The amount of ice involved is much larger than the estimated volume of Antarctic subglacial lakes and may even exceed the volume of all glaciers on Earth outside of the two polar ice sheets. Current computer models predict that subglacial water escapes toward the ocean. These new findings indicate that water from areas of basal melting actually migrate to areas of basal freezing, something not accounted for by current ice sheet models. To scientists' surprise, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is getting thicker from the bottom up.
When night falls, many insects come out to feed, often on human food crops. Helping to turn back the pillaging insect hoards is an aerial armada of unsung and unloved heroes—bats. Bats are voracious predators of nocturnal insects, helping to control the populations of many crop and forest pests. Tragically, several migratory tree-dwelling species are being killed in unprecedented numbers by wind turbines across North America. Recent analysis presented in the journal Science suggests that reduced bat populations cause agricultural losses estimated at more than $3.7 billion/year and could rise as high as $53 billion/year if bats are driven to extinction. Oblivious to the carnage being caused by wind turbines, climate change alarmists and green political dupes have continued to push for rapid expansion of wind power. It is time to call a moratorium on wind park construction until a more realistic and less damaging policy can be formulated.
The world's oceans represent the major source of stored heat energy that helps to mediate Earth's climate. The ocean surface boundary layer, where the ocean and atmosphere meet, heat is exchanged, as are gasses like CO2. The rate at which these exchanges take place has major implications for the mechanisms controlling climate change. A soon to be published paper in the journal Science documents a new study of the ocean surface boundary layer and, to the investigators' surprise, reveals that the rate of energy dissipation within the boundary layer to be enhanced by 10 to 20 times. This indicates that the atmosphere does not supply the energy for the boundary turbulence, the ocean does. This contradicts the prevailing scientific wisdom and shows once again that computer climate models are constructed using false assumptions.
Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity's development.
An investigative report published by The New York Times identifies important but previously unnoticed environmental hazards in natural gas fracking. Potentially the most serious disclosure is that waste water from natural gas drilling wells can contain levels of radioactivity that far exceed Federal drinking water standards. And that is not the only significant problem reported. In other areas, the disposal of used fracking solution by re-injecting it into the ground may be contributing to earthquakes. With turmoil sweeping the world's major oil producing regions and demand for energy continuing to rise, the US has been developing new natural gas fields at an accelerating pace. In the rush for energy independence is America getting fracked?
There has been a resurgence of alarmist claims regarding the pending extinction of a majority of Earth's lifeforms due to human misdeeds—clearing rain forests, polluting the oceans and, of course, causing global warming. Perennial crank and misanthrope E. O. Wilson leads the parade of doomsayers, claiming that biodiversity is dropping and a sixth major extinction event is just around the corner. What evidence backs these claims? Why, computer model projections, naturally. The facts are researchers have identified 1.4 million animal species so far, and recently a pair of Brazilian researchers estimated that there are estimated 5.4 million yet-to-be-discovered animal species alone. The truth is, scientists have no idea how fast biodiversity is falling because they have no idea how many species there are on Earth. And the researchers put a price tag on finding out that is simply stunning.
Beginning in 2008, sunspots almost completely disappeared for two years. Solar activity dropped to hundred-year lows and the Sun’s magnetic field weakened, allowing cosmic rays to penetrate the Solar System in record numbers. More troubling, Earth's upper atmosphere cooled and collapsed by an unprecedented amount. Solar physicists openly wondered what was happening to our neighborhood star. Now, an international team of scientists funded by NASA claims to have figured out what was going on. Their explanation was just published in the March 3, 2011, edition of Nature.
Breakthrough Institute co-founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus returned to Yale University last month for a retrospective on their 2004 essay, “The Death of Environmentalism.” Rarely does a critical assessment of an inflamed public debate so clearly shine the light of reason on why a cause was lost. In their speech Shellenberger and Nordhaus, bloth life long environmentalists, argued that green politics and the climate change crisis were destroyed from within, by exaggerated scientific claims, fantasies about green jobs and “An Inconvenient Truth.” After detailing how climate change alarmists managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the authors go on to offer some advice for the green movement: 12 theses for a post-environmental approach to climate change. In effect, they are saying that the world needs to concentrate on solving the problems that matter to people—food, energy, economic development—and the environment will be fixed as a side effect.
Green advocates and climate change alarmists alike insist that the world shift to using only non-polluting, renewable energy sources, and the sooner the better. What is seldom mentioned is the enormous cost of retooling the world's energy infrastructure to use intermittent, unreliable wind and solar energy. A recent two part paper, appearing in Energy Policy, makes a reasonable attempt at stating the requirements to fix humanity's fossil fuel addiction and go all green. The analysis found that, to provide roughly 84% of the world's energy needs in 2030, would require around 4 million 5 MW wind turbines and 90,000 300 MW solar power plants, with the remaining 16% coming from solar photovoltaic rooftop systems, geothermal, tidal, wave and hydroelectric sources. Some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations show why the world economy cannot afford to go totally green.
One indication of how mature a scam has become is when it starts to attract the attention of trial lawyers. The recent spate of natural disasters has reminded people everywhere of how capricious the forces that govern our world can be. Floods in particular have destroyed crops, houses and lives in Australia, Pakistan, China and Brazil. While climate science remains too immature to blame humans for exacerbating the forces of nature by emitting greenhouse gases, there are ominous signs that climate change alarmists are becoming desperate enough to enlist the unholiest of allies in their cause—lawyers. An editorial in the February 20, 2011, edition of Nature Geoscience cites two new studies which claim to affirm the anthropogenic global warming/extreme weather link, opening the door for future litigation.
Given the ongoing controversy over global warming the question of whether humans can change Earth's climate is a familiar one. Lost in the fight over anthropogenic global warming is a more subtle and possibly more important question—how has climate changed people. In recent decades, the fossil record of hominin evolution and behavior, though still incomplete, has improved greatly. Triggered by a recent National Research Council (NRC) report, a perspective article in the journal Science poses the question, “did climate change shape human evolution?”