Should solar and wind power be subsidized? That is the question being asked by a current Wall Street Journal (WSJ) public poll. Generous funding from the federal government has led to explosive growth in US wind and solar power installations. Lost among the election year hoopla is the fact that many of those subsidies are set to expire soon unless Congress acts. Here is an opportunity for you to express your preference by voting online.
That large changes in solar radiation can affect Earth's climate is widely accepted. However, the hypothesis of solar-induced centennial to decadal climate changes, which suggests feedback mechanisms in the climate system amplifying even small solar variations, has not found acceptance among orthodox climate scientists. The climate change clique would rather place their money on greenhouse gasses—human generated CO2 in particular. It is true that satellite-based measurements of total solar irradiance show that mean variations during solar cycles do not exceed 0.2 W m−2 (~ 0.1% of the Sun's energy output). It has also been noted that relatively large variations of 5–8% in the ultraviolet (UV) frequencies can occur, though how this could change global climate remained a puzzlement—but perhaps no longer. From studying a significant climate shift 2,800 years ago, a group of scientists have concluded that large changes in solar UV radiation can, indeed, affect climate by inducing atmospheric changes.
The IPCC is working up to releasing pieces of its next climate report, starting in 2013. This has the world's climate scientists scrambling to get their latest work included in that dubious document. Foremost among those struggling for primacy of place are the computer modelers, those who study their own created worlds instead of the natural one around them. This report promises to be more contentious than the last one (AR4) in that the modelers have been racing to incorporate the effects of aerosols, soot and other airborne particulates that had previously been give scant attention. Early results suggest that aerosols have a much greater impact on regional climate than scientists had realized and that aerosols and clouds are providing some big surprises.
A new Current Biology paper proposes that the accumulated output of dinosaur flatulence could have changed the global climate during the age of the dinosaurs. Insert dinosaur fart joke here. No, seriously, this is a real report in an actual scientific journal. It just happens to be on a subject that the news media could not resist blowing out of proportion on their best day. Given that much of the CO2 in Earth's atmosphere was emitted by some form of living creature this is a serious area for study by environmental scientists. So after giving the chattering media magpies some time to calm down, here is a more serious take on this heady topic.
A study commissioned by the California legislature has just reported that, in order to achieve the state's aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions by 2050, the golden state will need to more than triple the percentage of electrical power it gets from nuclear energy. In the January 6, 2012, issue of the journal Science a paper outlining the report's findings was published and they may be a bit unsettling for deep green Californian ecologists. It finds that technically feasible levels of energy efficiency and decarbonizing the state's energy supply alone are not good enough. The answer? Here is a hint—electric vehicles powered by expanded nuclear energy.
The climate associated with global oceans undergoes natural variability with many time scales. A recent report in the Journal Science identifies atmospheric blocking over the North Atlantic as a major factor in such variability on time scales as short as a week. The correspondence between blocked westerly winds and warm ocean can be seen in recent decadal episodes, particularly from 1996 to 2010. It also describes much longer time scale Atlantic multidecadal ocean variability (AMV), including the extreme northern warming of the 1930s to 1960s, which predates the rise of human CO2 emissions that alarmists are convinced is causing all recent global warming.
Much fanfare was associated with the reappearance of sunspots earlier this year, marking the beginning of a new period of high solar activity. Now come a number of reports saying the Sun is most likely headed for a prolonged period of low activity, possibly rivaling the Maunder minimum. Three independent studies of the Sun's dynamics all predict that the next solar cycle will be significantly delayed and might even be skipped. The Maunder minimum is associated with a prolonged period of climate cooling known as the Little Ice Age. Whether Earth's climate is headed for a significant cooling trend has become a matter of heated debate, while at the same time NASA is warning that a quite Sun can also be a deadly Sun. In the 1850s, following a period of low sunspot activity, the largest coronal ejection event ever witnessed caused havoc with telegraphs and ship's compasses around the world. Such an ejection today could cause widespread power outages and failure of electronic equipment. Will our star turn both quiet and deadly?
Recent announcements about failing green companies have mostly flown under the major media radar. After all, when President Obama hops in Air Force One for a quick trip to a green business to make a speech about his administration's nonexistent energy policy that's worth covering—when that green business shutters its doors (after absconding with millions in tax credits) that's embarrassing, to green cheerleaders and the liberal media in general. Sadly, failure to revive the economy not withstanding, many actually believe that, if only we could provide more billions in subsidies, good green jobs would spring up like weeds. The reality is that green business cannot exists without government largess and that green economy we have heard so much about was stillborn—killed in its government funded womb by economic reality.
Despite warnings to the contrary, and waning public support, the all purpose boogieman climate change is once again getting credit for the recent spate of natural disasters in the US. Whether its flooding on the Mississippi, rain soaked fields too wet to plant, or rampaging tornadoes laying waste to whole towns the villain behind our misfortune is anthropogenic global warming. Reports from the scenes of devastation are sure to include at least one reference to climate change, which is of course caused by people. In essence, the yammering news media—who always needs a culprit to blame when disaster befalls a group of innocents—has placed the blame squarely back on humanity. That's right, we are responsible for the tragic deaths of hundreds of people caused by storm, flood and tornadoes. The chattering class once again demonstrates that they have bought the IPCC climate change scam: hook, line and sinker. They would rather mindlessly repeat the discredited memes of climate alarmists than think critically themselves.
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.
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.
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.
As public concern rises over the safety and ecological soundness of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the nuclear power industry is quietly ramping up to build new, smaller types of reactors that can be deployed as sealed power units. Russia is moving ahead with plans to locate floating nuclear power plants along its northern coast and a French company has designed a small offshore nuclear power plant called Flexblue. At the same time, efforts by the US Department of Energy's Savannah River Site to host a range of proof-of-concept units from several vendors has run afoul of bureaucratic infighting. Around the world, nuclear power is progressing, while former nuclear technology leader America founders.
An increase in tropical storm activity has long been predicted as a harmful side-effect of human induced global warming. Hurricanes are to become more frequent and more deadly. All of this is predicated on the notion that a hotter climate will result in more moisture in the atmosphere and more frequent tropical storms. As it turns out, this is only half true. There may be more precipitation in the temperate zone, but an increase in tropical storms is not predicted—even by the IPCC models.