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Published: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 13:01:45 -0500

 



2016 Hottest Year Since Good Record Keeping Began in 1880, Says NOAA and NASA

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 11:30:00 -0500

The folks at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who are in charge of the satellite temperature dataset that starts in 1979 declared 2016 as the warmest year in that record earlier this month. Now the researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA have released their data and both also report that 2016 is the hottest year in their land and sea datasets stretching back to the 19th century. From NOAA: During 2016, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 137 years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.07°F (0.04°C). The first eight months of the year had record high temperatures for their respective months. Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016). The record warmth in 2016 was broadly spread around the world. During 2016, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.57°F (1.43°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record of 2015 by 0.18°F (0.10°C). ... During 2016, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.35°F (0.75°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record of last year by 0.02°F (0.01°C). From NASA: Earth's 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures. The 2016 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NOAA scientists concur with the finding that 2016 was the warmest year on record based on separate, independent analyses of the data. Because weather station locations and measurement practices change over time, there are uncertainties in the interpretation of specific year-to-year global mean temperature differences. However, even taking this into account, NASA estimates 2016 was the warmest year with greater than 95 percent certainty. ... Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months. October, November, and December of 2016 were the second warmest of those months on record — in all three cases, behind records set in 2015. According to their data, the NASA researchers report most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. While now all three U.S. temperature records show this past year as the hottest, researchers disagree on its significance. For example, in a statement NOAA researcher Gavin Schmidt observes: "2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series. We don't expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear." On the other hand, in a press release satellite temperature UAH researcher John Christy asserted, "The question is, does 2016's record warmth mean anything scientifically? I suppose the answer is, not really. Both 1998 and 2016 are anomalies, outliers, and in both cases we have an easily identifiable cause for that anomaly: A powerful El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event. While El Niños are natural climatic events, they also are transient. In the study of climate, we are more concerned with accurately identifying long-term temperature trends than we are with short-term spikes and dips, especially when those spikes and dips have easily identified natural causes." Interesti[...]



Climate Intervention Finally Discussed in Latest National Global Change Research Plan Update

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 12:30:00 -0500

Most environmental activist groups are resolutely opposed to allowing experiments that aim to test and develop various geoengineering ideas as an emergency backup cooling plan for the earth. For example, the Friends of the Earth want a global moratorium on any such experiments. Why? Geoengineering conflicts with sustainable and just solutions to the climate crisis," declares FOE. "Real climate justice requires dealing with root causes of climate change, not launching risky, unproven and unjust schemes." One of the more intriguing ideas is to reflect sunlight back into space as way to cool the planet. In one proposal the stratosphere is seeded with reflective sulfur dioxide particles. The eruption of the Mt. Pinatubo volcano that injected millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere in 1992 functioned as a natural experiment that lowered global average temperature by around 0.7 degree Celsius for several months. Another proposal is to have specially designed ships spray seawater into the air so that salt particles functioning as cloud nuclei can whiten, and thus make more reflective, low-level maritime clouds. At the Marrakech United Nations climate change conference in November, Cambridge University researchers Hugh Hunt and Peter Wadhams expressed their frustration with environmentalist obstructionism with regard to geoengineering experiments to test the feasibility of cooling the climate. Neither is in favor of geoengineering as the first resort, but that humanity should have some idea if it would work should global average temperature rise faster and produce worse consequences than currently projected. They discussed one possible experiment in which maritime clould whitening might be tried at a relatively small scale at the edge of the Arctic sea ice to see if it could reverse the recent steep decline in Arctic summer sea ice. Protests from Green activists in 2011 managed to derail the SPICE experiment (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Enginieering) in which researchers would hoist a hose using balloons a kilometer into the air to spray water vapor. The goal was merely to see if such a pipeline would work. Amusingly, some activists have scheduled a Global March Against Geoengineering (and Chemtrails) for April 23 this year. Cowed by activists and beholden to the misbegotten precautionary principle, the U.S. government has not sanctioned research on an emergency backup cooling system. That may change. As President Obama is departing, U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has just issued it National Global Change Research Plan 2012–2021: A Triennial Update that opens the door a tiny crack to such research. The USGCRP is not endorsing experiments but does note: While climate intervention cannot substitute for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the changes in climate that occur, some types of deliberative climate intervention may someday be one of a portfolio of tools used in managing climate change. The need to understand the possibilities, limitations, and potential side effects of climate intervention becomes all the more apparent with the recognition that other countries or the private sector may decide to conduct intervention experiments independently from the U.S. Government. An immediate next step for USGCRP is defining the scale and scope of observations and modeling capabilities necessary to detect the signal of any future field experiments above baseline conditions and natural variability, and to evaluate their consequences. Such research would also define the smallest scale of intervention experiments that would yield meaningful scientific understanding. USGCRP will use its scientific understanding of natural processes, such as natural carbon sequestration or dynamics of atmospheric particulates, to inform potential pathways for carbon removal and albedo modification. Approaches would include evaluating the capabilities of current models to represent any proposed climate intervention measure and to evaluate its implications over time, [...]



Obama: Clean Energy Future Is Irreversible and Will Outlast Trump

Mon, 09 Jan 2017 16:40:00 -0500

President Barack Obama declared that "one of the reasons I ran for this office was to make America a leader in this mission" to address the problem of man-made climate change. He made this claim to a legacy last October when the Paris Agreement on climate change achieved enough signatories to come into effect. Also in his statement hailing the Paris Agreement, Obama noted that "the skeptics said these actions would kill jobs." Yet, he noted that even as U.S. carbon dioxide levels fell to their lowest levels in two decades, more jobs were created. Now, as a parting shot, President Obama writes an article today, "The irreversible momentum of clean energy," in the journal Science. In his article, President Obama apparently believes that the irreversible momentum of clean energy is all gain and no pain. First, he correctly notes the decoupling over the past 8 years of energy and carbon emissions from economic growth in the U.S. economy. He writes: Since 2008, the United States has experienced the first sustained period of rapid GHG emissions reductions and simultaneous economic growth on record. Specifically, CO2 emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5% from 2008 to 2015, while the economy grew by more than 10%. In this same period, the amount of energy consumed per dollar of real gross domestic product (GDP) fell by almost 11%, the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy consumed declined by 8%, and CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP declined by 18%. These figures are from the Economic Report of the President 2017, but comparing them with the preceding 8 years (2000 to 2007) shows a somewhat less rosy picture. For example, according to St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank U.S. real GDP grew by 15 percent between 2000 and 2007 and by 13.5 percent between 2008 and 2015. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) energy use per dollar of real GDP declined by around 15 percent between 2000 and 2007 while falling by only 13 percent between 2008 and 2015. Also according the EIA, CO2 emitted per dollar did fall slightly faster (18 percent) than it did in the preceding period (14 percent between 2000 and 2007); most likely as the result of the recent switch from coal to cheap fracked natural gas and more wind power production to generate electricity. Interestingly, the president's article notes that lower CO2 emissions occurred as power plants switched from coal to natural gas which was "brought about primarily by increased availability of lower-cost gas due to new production techniques." Just couldn't bring himself to mention the f-word, fracking. Given the economic chaos generated by the financial crisis, it would be hard to draw any firm conclusions from comparing U.S. job creation between 2000-2007 period and the 2008-2015 period. Nevertheless, just as background, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment rose by 6.5 million in the first period and by 2.2 million in the second period. To be fair, U.S. employment rose from its 2010 nadir by 10.8 million by 2015. In his Science article, the president cites various studies that suggest in an increase of 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 would lower global GDP by as much as 5 percent below what it would otherwise have been without any man-made warming. To get some idea of what that would mean consider what would happen if current U.S. GDP of $16 trillion were to grow at the 2 percent per year rate experienced during the Obama administration from 2015 until 2100 in the absence of warming. By then U.S. GDP would exceed $86 trillion dollars. If global warming were to lower GDP by 5 percent that would mean that GDP in 2100 would be a little more than $4 trillon dollars lower at $82 trillion. Now if the U.S. economy were to grow at the historical average of 3 percent per year, GDP in 2100 would stand at $197 trillion and a 5 percent climate change penalty would reduce that to only $187 trillion. That $10 trillion reduction in 2100 is equivalent to lowering the economic growth rate between now and then from 3 percent [...]



No Global Warming Hiatus After All Redux?

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 07:30:00 -0500

A new study bolsters the controversial 2015 study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers that adjusted sea surface temperatures in an attempt to take account of measurement changes from ships to scientific buoys. After the adjustments were made to the record, the researchers reported: Here we present an updated global surface temperature analysis that reveals that global trends are higher than reported by the IPCC, especially in recent decades, and that the central estimate for the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century. These results do not support the notion of a "slowdown" in the increase of global surface temperature. The NOAA researchers concluded that the oceans are warming at 0.12 degrees Celsius (0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 2000, which is nearly twice as fast as earlier estimates of 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade. This rate is similar the warming that occurred between 1970 and 1999. As I noted at the time: "It could be that everyone else is wrong and the new study is right; but it could be also that it is an exercise in confirmation bias. Only time and more research will tell." Interestingly, a February 2016 article by prominent proponents of man-made climate change in the journal Nature Climate Change essentially contradicted the NOAA study and reported: It has been claimed that the early-2000s global warming slowdown or hiatus, characterized by a reduced rate of global surface warming, has been overstated, lacks sound scientific basis, or is unsupported by observations. The evidence presented here contradicts these claims. As I noted at the time, Nature News reported: An apparent slowing in the rise of global temperatures at the beginning of the twenty-first century, which is not explained by climate models, was referred to as a "hiatus" or a "pause" when first observed several years ago. Climate-change sceptics have used this as evidence that global warming has stopped. But in June last year, a study in Science claimed that the hiatus was just an artefact which vanishes when biases in temperature data are corrected. Now a prominent group of researchers is countering that claim, arguing in Nature Climate Change that even after correcting these biases the slowdown was real. Now comes a new study in Science Advances by the independent group of researchers associated with Berkeley Earth which parses the sea surface data and finds that the adjustments made in the NOAA study are largely correct. The study notes that the modern buoys tend to have a cold bias compared to those made earlier by oceangoing ships. Once this bias is taken into account sea surface temperatures have been rising steadily which suggests that there has been no "hiatus" in global warming. The press release from the University of California, Berkeley notes: The new study, which uses independent data from satellites and robotic floats as well as buoys, concludes that the NOAA results were correct. The paper will be published Jan. 4 in the online, open-access journal Science Advances. "Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books," said lead author Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group. ... "Only a small fraction of the ocean measurement data is being used by climate monitoring groups, and they are trying to smush together data from different instruments, which leads to a lot of judgment calls about how you weight one versus the other, and how you adjust for the transition from one to another," Hausfather said. "So we said, 'What if we create a temperature record just from the buoys, or just from the satellites, or just from the Argo floats, so there is no mixing and matching of instruments?'" In each case, using data from only one instrument type – either satellites, buoys or Argo floats – the results matched those of the NOAA group, supporting t[...]



Georgia Tech Climatologist Judith Curry Resigns over 'the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science.'

Wed, 04 Jan 2017 12:05:00 -0500

(image) Climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology Judith Curry has announced her resignation effective immediately on her blog, Climate, Etc. I have long found Curry to be an honest researcher and a fair-minded disputant in the ongoing debates over man-made climate change. She excelled at pointing out the uncertainties and deficiencies of climate modeling. Given the thoroughly politicized nature of climate science her efforts to clarify what is known and unknown by climate science caused her to be pilloried as "anti-science" by other researchers who are convinced that man-made global warming is leading toward catastrophe. In her blog annoucement Curry explains her resignation:

A deciding factor was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science. Research and other professional activities are professionally rewarded only if they are channeled in certain directions approved by a politicized academic establishment — funding, ease of getting your papers published, getting hired in prestigious positions, appointments to prestigious committees and boards, professional recognition, etc.

How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus career suicide (I have worked through these issues with a number of skeptical young scientists).

Let me relate an interaction that I had with a postdoc about a month ago. She wanted to meet me, as an avid reader of my blog. She works in a field that is certainly relevant to climate science, but she doesn't identify as a climate scientist. She says she gets questioned all the time about global warming issues, and doesn't know what to say, since topics like attribution, etc. are not topics that she explores as a scientist. WOW, a scientist that knows the difference! I advised her to keep her head down and keep doing the research that she thinks interesting and important, and to stay out of the climate debate UNLESS she decides to dig in and pursue it intellectually. Personal opinions about the science and political opinions about policies that are sort of related to your research expertise are just that – personal and political opinions. Selling such opinions as contributing to a scientific consensus is very much worse than a joke.

Curry adds that with her resignation her "fall from the ivory tower that started in 2005 is now complete." Curry continues, "At this point, the private sector seems like a more 'honest' place for a scientist working in a politicized field than universities or government labs — at least when you are your own boss."

The good news is that Curry is not bowing out climate research and the climate change debate; she plans to continue and increase her blogging on climate research and climate policy. As she notes, "Once you detach from the academic mindset, publishing on the internet makes much more sense, and the peer review you can get on a technical blog is much more extensive. But peer review is not really the point; provoking people to think in new ways about something is really the point. In other words, science as process, rather than a collection of decreed 'truths.'"

I advise everyone concerned about climate change research to attend to her blog. I certainly will continue to do so.




2016 Warmest Year in Satellite Record: Global Temperature Trend Update

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 17:15:00 -0500

(image) "Globally, 2016 edged out 1998 by +0.02 C to become the warmest year in the 38-year satellite temperature record," notes Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center in a press release from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Christy adds, "Because the margin of error is about 0.10 C, this would technically be a statistical tie, with a higher probability that 2016 was warmer than 1998. The main difference was the extra warmth in the Northern Hemisphere in 2016 compared to 1998." Globally, the atmopshere in 2016 was +0.505 C° warmer than the 30 year average (1981-2010) whereas 1998 was +0.484 C° warmer than that average.

Given that the satellite data trend tends to be lower than the trends based on thermometer readings from around the globe it is likely that other groups will also be declaring 2016 to be the warmest year in their records stretching back to the late 19th century. I'll report their results when they become available.

Global Temperature Report: December 2016

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.12 C per decade

December temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.24 C (about 0.43 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.19 C (about 0.34 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.30 C (about 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December.

Tropics: +0.21 C (about 0.38 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December.

(image)

"The question is, does 2016's record warmth mean anything scientifically?" Christy said in the press release. "I suppose the answer is, not really. Both 1998 and 2016 are anomalies, outliers, and in both cases we have an easily identifiable cause for that anomaly: A powerful El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event. While El Niños are natural climatic events, they also are transient. In the study of climate, we are more concerned with accurately identifying long-term temperature trends than we are with short-term spikes and dips, especially when those spikes and dips have easily identified natural causes.

"Some records catch our attention because we usually struggle to cope with rare events. For example, the Sept.-Nov. record heat and dryness in the southeastern U.S. (now a thing of the past) will be remembered more than the probability that 2016 edged 1998 in global temperatures. So, from the long-term perspective, 2016's record may be less noteworthy than where the month-to-month temperature settles out between warming and cooling events."




Trump's Two Good Cabinet Choices

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 00:01:00 -0500

Judging from the reaction to some of Donald Trump's Cabinet choices, there are two types of businesspeople Democrats distrust: those who behave as you would expect businesspeople to behave and those who don't. Neither Andrew Puzder nor Rex Tillerson has found many champions in the opposition party. Puzder, chosen to head the Department of Labor, is head of CKE Restaurants, parent company of the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast-food chains. In that job, he has learned a lot about hiring and managing employees—the "labor" that is the focus of the department's activities. For some reason, it comes as a shock to many people that Trump would nominate someone who opposes big increases in the minimum wage. "Instead of creating a living wage," Puzder wrote last year, "the fight for dramatic minimum-wage increases could leave millions with no wage at all." This happens to be standard economic theory. No less a liberal authority than Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, in 1998, mocked those "who very much want to believe that the price of labor—unlike that of gasoline, or of Manhattan apartments—can be set based on considerations of justice, not supply and demand." Puzder deserves credit for creating jobs: CKE and its franchisees employ some 90,000 people. Not surprisingly, he doesn't like government dictates that raise his outlets' costs and reduce their profitability. He is candid about the advantages of machines, which, he has pointed out, never show up late or file lawsuits. His background gives him a different perspective than a labor activist would offer. But union champions rarely join Republican Cabinets. Unlike some Trump appointees—I'm looking at you, Ben Carson—Puzder won't need a crash course on the issues his department handles. Nor is he hostile to compromise. Based on an interview in March, the Los Angeles Times reported that "he's not against a minimum wage higher than today's federal level of $7.25 an hour, or even to indexing the minimum to inflation." Puzder could mitigate some of Trump's worst impulses. During the presidential campaign, he argued that "every candidate should support a path to legal status—short of citizenship—for illegal immigrants." Tillerson, picked for secretary of state, is not a cartoon version of the Texas oilman. As president of the Boy Scouts of America, he pushed to allow gay troop leaders. Exxon Mobil has donated to Planned Parenthood. The right-wing Family Research Council warns that Tillerson "may be the greatest ally liberals have in the Cabinet for their abortion and LGBT agendas." Most notably, he endorsed a carbon tax to combat global warming—and Exxon Mobil has lobbied Congress to pass one. Having someone with that viewpoint in the most important foreign policy job could be helpful to the planet. Critics think he will put the interests of big oil above those of the American public. But CEOs are not free agents. They are used to serving the interests of shareholders while catering to customers. As head of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson profited from high oil prices. But had he gone to Ford, he would have acquired a new preference for cheap fuel. There's no obvious reason that Tillerson can't similarly shift his allegiance to serving the public interest (to the extent his boss allows). Besides, his background invites merciless scrutiny of any decision that affects his old industry. He can expect to be held to a tougher standard on such matters than anyone else would be. Tillerson came to the president-elect's attention at the suggestion of Robert Gates, who served ably as defense secretary under George W. Bush and Barack Obama and endorsed Hillary Clinton. Gates' recommendation ought to carry bipartisan weight, even if his consulting firm has done work for Exxon Mobil. Tillerson hasn't been a diplomat, something he has in common with John Kerry, Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. But like diplomats, he has spent a lot of time [...]



The Successful Progressive Conspiracy to Burn a 'Climate Heretic'

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 17:20:00 -0500

The politics surrounding the science and policy of climate change is really, really nasty. Name-calling and ad hominem attacks are rampant. The recent wikileaks release of John Podesta's emails (Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign manager) uncovered a remarkable effort by minions at the Center for American Progress to silence University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. whose research suggested that climate change has not yet caused any discernible uptick in property damage. Pielke details his ordeal in an op-ed "My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic" over at the Wall Street Journal. As Pielke explains: Much to my surprise, I showed up in the WikiLeaks releases before the election. In a 2014 email, a staffer at the Center for American Progress, founded by John Podesta in 2003, took credit for a campaign to have me eliminated as a writer for Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website. In the email, the editor of the think tank's climate blog bragged to one of its billionaire donors, Tom Steyer: "I think it's fair [to] say that, without Climate Progress, Pielke would still be writing on climate change for 538." The only acceptable narrative for the activists over at the Center for American Progress is that climate is making the weather worse resulting in ever more property damage and anyone questioning the politically correct story must be drummed out of polite society. So what did wikileaks reveal? Among other things, an email from ThinkProgress chief editor Judd Legum to major Democratic donor (and climate warrior) Tom Steyer bragging about how he had successfully trolled FiveThirtyEight statistical analysis website proprietor Nate Silver into getting rid of Pielke. Why go after Pielke? Because he had published an article at 538 based on his research daring to point out that so far climate change had not boosted "normalized" property damage. Normalized basically means taking into account the fact that as a result of economic and population growth there is more property and lives at risk from bad weather. Pielke's conclusion elicited fury from activists and some climatologists. Silver published a rebuttal to Pielke by MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel. Interestingly, Emanuel's rebuttal did not actually question Pielke's data showing that normalized damages had not been increasing. Instead, Emanuel cited studies in which climate models projected, among other things, that future warming would generate more powerful hurricanes that would cause more damage. Emanuel made an interesting distinction between trend detection and event risk assessment. He offered an illustration in which researchers report that the number of bears in a forest had just doubled. In this case, mauling statistics (trend detection) based on earlier bear populations would not be a reasonable guide to the mauling risks (event assessment) forest strollers would now face. "When it comes to certain types of natural hazards, there are more bears in the woods," wrote Emanuel. "For example, there is a clear upward trend in overall North Atlantic hurricane activity by virtually all metrics, over the past 30 years or so, though the cause of this is still uncertain." Emanuel's claim was written in 2014. But are there in fact as a result of climate change more hurricanes lurking in the North Atlantic woods? A recent analysis looking at historical changes in Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms by researchers at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory finds that "the historical tropical storm count record does not provide compelling evidence for a greenhouse warming induced long-term increase" in the North Atlantic. Emanuel and other modelers believe that warming will strengthen hurricanes. In other words, bigger bears will roam the woods. However, a September, 2015 study by researchers at NOAA's National Hurricane Center reported that "the global frequ[...]



Trump on Energy: "The Best of Any President Since Reagan"? Q/A With Alex Epstein

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 17:09:00 -0500

"What [Trump] has said about energy...is the best of any president since Reagan," says Alex Epstein, who is the president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, a think tank devoted to exploring how new technology can improve the planet. Trump, says Epstein, has so far been an advocate for "Americans to reach their full energy potential."(image)

Epstein is the author of the excellent 2014 book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which, in his signature, clear-eyed style, argues that cheap and abundant hydrocarbons have made human flourishing possible. (Read Ron Bailey's 2015 review.) "Man...survives by impacting nature," he told Reason's Nick Gillespie. The environmental movement, however, "says [this] essence of human survival is bad. And that's wrong."

In our latest podcast, Epstein and Gillespie discuss hydraulic fracking ("our energy prosperity has depended on the ignorance of politicians"), global warming (he prefers the phrase "climate danger"), solar and wind power ("the unreliables"), Ayn Rand's influence on his work, and what we can expect from Trump on energy.

Click below to listen to that conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

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California's New Cow Fart Regulations Totally Stink

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 11:48:00 -0500

(image) Livestock are responsible for roughly 15 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, but if you think getting people to stop driving their cars or using electricity is a difficult task, good luck preventing cows from farting.

California is going to try.

"This bill curbs these dangerous pollutants and thereby protects public health and slows climate change," said Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement when he signed the bill in September, against the wishes of the state's farmers.

The law won't stop cows from farting, of course, because cows are notoriously disrespectful of human-passed laws. Instead, it will make life more difficult for dairy farmers in California.

Dairy farms will be required to reduce methane emissions to 40 percent below their 2013 levels by 2030. The state will spend $50 million help offset the cost of so-called "dairy digesters," which are intended to capture methane spewed from cows and convert it into electricity. After that, the state's Air Resources Board will have the authority to set whatever regulations they deem necessary to reach the stated goal.

Cow farts—or "bovine entric fermentation" if you want to sound smart—pump a lot of methane into the environment. A single cow can produce up to 130 gallons of methane in a single day (even that's not as bad as what dinosaur farts could do), and methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Even if California were to find a way to stop cows from farting—or, more likely, if it were to regulate all its dairy farms out of existence—there would be a miniscule impact on global methane levels. California isn't even the leading producer of agricultural methane in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

On a global scale, the tiny microbes that grow on the roots of rice plants produce 30 percent of all agricultural methane on Earth.

California's not the first to target cows in an effort to rein-in global warming. Some ethical vegetarian groups have allied with global warming activists to call for reducing the number of cows in Africa.

The attack on dairy cows is part of a broader effort to reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Doing that means giving a lot more power ot the state's Air Resources Board, which now finds itself in the business of regulating what comes out of bovine buttocks. According to an Associated Press report this week, the board is hoping California's proposal will be a model for other states to follow.




Record Temperatures and Record Grain Yields

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 10:15:00 -0500

Those of us who try to monitor the torrent of climate change studies frequently come across various projections that just seem like a total waste of their researchers' time. The impacts of future climate change on crop productivity nearly a century hence is one such area. This particular blog post is provoked by a new study in Nature Climate Change purporting to predict that wheat yields will fall by 4.1 to 6.4 percent for every 1℃ increase in global average temperature. Some of the same researchers estimated in a 2014 study in the same journal that global wheat production will fall by 6 percent for each degree Celsius of further temperature increase. Other researchers projected that higher temperatures will also significantly lower corn yields in France, the U.S., Brazil, and Tanzania by "4.5, 6.0, 7.8 and 7.1% per °C at the four sites, respectively." While these projections claim to take into account efforts to adapt, the researchers all seem to be technological pessimists who more or less assume that farmers and crop breeders will be stuck using techniques and crop varieties not much different from the ones they have now. Actually, crop breeders in the United Kingdom are already working to create a "super wheat" genetically modified with enhanced photosynthesis. In greenhouses, this boosts yields by 15 to 20 percent and the researchers are planning on field trials next year. In addition, the GMO wheat is even more productive when carbon dioxide levels are higher. In South Australia, researchers are figuring out how to add beneficial microbes (endophytes) that boost wheat yields by 10 percent. American researchers detail in a November 16 article in Science how they are working on another technique to boost photosynthesis that could increase yields by 15 to 20 percent. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the world has warmed at a rate of 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade since 1951 which implies that global average temperature has increased by nearly 0.8 degrees Celsius. Even as the world warmed, the World Bank reports that per hectare yields of coarse grains (including wheat and corn) have increased from an average of 1,400 kilograms per hectare in 1961 to 3,900 kilograms per hectare in 2014, an increase of 280 percent. It bears noting that world grain production (including wheat) reached a record high this year, which has been declared by the World Meteorological Organization to be the warmest year ever in the instrumental temperature record.[...]



Climate Policy Actually Slowed Decarbonization Trends

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 15:20:00 -0500

Forty rich countries agreed in the Kyoto Protocol to cut by 2012 their future greenhouse gas emissions by around 5 percent below what they were emitting in 1990. The United States, which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, would have been required to cut its emissions by 7.2 percent below their 1990 levels. A new study, "Does Climate Policy Matter?," by the folks at the eco-modernist Breakthrough Institute looks how greenhouse gas trends fared before and after the treaty was negotiated. The Breakthrough analysts point out that the downward trend in carbon intensity (that is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to produce a unit of GDP) and upward trend in generating low-carbon energy for signatory countries actually slowed once the Kyoto Protocol was finalized in 1997. From the analysis: Overall, the carbon intensity of economies that were party to the Kyoto Accord fell more rapidly in the decade before the agreement was signed than in the decade after. In the 10 years before signing, the compound annual growth rate for carbon intensity was -0.7%. In the 10 years after signing it was only -0.2%. Similarly, the low-carbon share of energy was growing at an annual rate of 1.0% in the ten years prior to 1997, and only at a rate of 0.3% annually for the ten years after, meaning deployment of clean energy stalled or slowed in comparison to fossil fuels in these countries after they signed Kyoto. Interestingly, the Breakthrough analysts conclude that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have actually fallen faster since 2010 than they would have had the the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade scheme been adopted by Congress. The U.S. trend toward lower carbon dioxide emissions was helped along by the global financial crisis, a weak recovery, and the ongoing switch from coal to cheap natural gas for electricity generation. Despite Germany's much-vaunted Energiewende, the Breakthrough report notes, "Germany's share of clean energy grew at 2% annually before 2007 and only 1% annually after 2007, and the carbon intensity declined at 0.5% annually before 2007 but has been almost flat since then." So will the Paris Agreement on climate change make a difference? The Breakthrough report cites a 2015 MIT climate modeling study that estimated the effect that the Paris commitments would have on climate in 2100. The Breakthrough report observes that the MIT study ... ... projects global atmospheric concentrations of carbon in 2100 at 710 ppm assuming full implementation of INDCs, versus 750 ppm in the absence of them, which translates to a difference in temperature increase above pre-industrial levels of 3.7 versus 3.9 degrees Celsius. What becomes clear in looking at climate policy as it has been implemented at the international level is that most countries have only been willing to commit to decarbonization targets that are consistent with expected business-as-usual trends, accounting for measures that they have intended to take in any event. So is international climate policy just "full sound and fury signifying nothing?" The Breakthrough report concludes: Even should the next [U.S.] administration withdraw from the Paris Agreement and abandon the Clean Power Plan, the United States might outperform the commitments that the Obama administration made in Paris if it keeps the nation's nuclear fleet online, continues tax incentives for deployment of wind and solar energy, and stays out of the way of the shale revolution. By contrast, a Democratic administration indifferent to the fate of the nation's existing nuclear fleet and hostile to shale gas production might ultimately slow US decarbonization trends. For folks worried about climate change, one big helpful de-regulatory step that could be taken by the new administration would be not just to keep exi[...]



Energy Poverty Is Much Worse for the Poor Than Climate Change

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 13:30:00 -0500

Some 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2016 report. About 2.7 billion still cook and heat their dwellings with wood, crop residues, and dung. In its main scenario for the trajectory of global energy consumption, the IEA projects that in 2040, half a billion people will still lack access to electricity and 1.8 billion will still be cooking and heating by burning biomass. The agency defines the initial threshold for modern energy access as 250 kilowatt-hours (kwh) for rural and 500 kwh for urban households per year. How much is that? "In rural areas, this level of consumption could, for example, provide for the use of a floor fan, a mobile telephone and two compact fluorescent light bulbs for about five hours per day," the IEA explains. For comparison, in 2015 the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. household was 10,812 kwh—43 times the IEA's energy access threshold for rural households. In September the United Nations issued 17 new sustainable development goals that are supposed to be achieved by 2030. Universal access to affordable and clean energy is number 7. To achieve this goal, the U.N. says countries can "accelerate the transition to an affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy system by investing in renewable energy resources, prioritizing energy efficient practices, and adopting clean energy technologies and infrastructure." The transition to renewable energy resources in poor countries was discussed in "Scaling of Innovative Solutions for Mitigation and Adaptation," a side event at the U.N. climate change conference in Marrakech, Morocco, last week. The panel highlighted the distribution of solar lanterns to poor households in Africa and the distribution of small solar panels that can be used to for lighting and to recharge mobile phones. Giving poor people access to such technologies is certainly better than nothing, but that still leaves them mired in energy poverty. The eco-modernist Breakthrough Institute takes a very different view than the U.N. in a new report, Energy for Human Development. Eco-modernists argue that through technological progress humanity will increasingly withdraw from nature, enabling a vast ecological restoration over the course of this century. The Breakthrough report rejects any approach based around small-scale energy projects aimed chiefly at supplying tiny amounts of electricity to millions of subsistence farmers. "There is no nation on earth with universal electricity access that remains primarily agrarian," the authors note. "Modern household energy consumption has historically been achieved as a side effect of electrification for non-household purposes such as factories, electrified transportation, public lighting, and commercial-scale agriculture." Rural electrification has always come last, after urbanization and economic development have taken off. For example, in the U.S. nearly 90 percent of city dwellers had electricity by the 1930s but only 10 percent of rural Americans did. Given this universal growth dynamic, the Breakthrough writers call for prioritizing energy development for productive, large-scale economic enterprises. Copious and reliable energy will accelerate the creation and spread of higher-productivity factories and businesses, which then will generate the opportunities for a better life; that, in turn, will draw poor subsistence farmers into cities. They further note that energy access and electricity access are not the same thing. In fact, in 2012 electricity accounted for only about 18 percent of the energy consumed globally. "Efforts to address energy poverty must address needs for transportation fuels and infrastructure, and for[...]



Ending Energy Poverty vs. Climate Change Mitigation: New at Reason

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 13:30:00 -0500

(image) Some 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2016 report. About 2.7 billion still cook and heat their dwellings with wood, crop residues, and dung. In its main scenario for the trajectory of global energy consumption, the IEA projects that in 2040, half a billion people will still lack access to electricity and 1.8 billion will still be cooking and heating by burning biomass. In its new report, Energy for Human Development, the eco-modernist Breakthrough Institute make the case that ending energy poverty for hundreds of millions of poor people should be prioritized over efforts to mitigate future climate change. They correctly argue that "it is untenable morally and practically to insist that global climate change targets be balanced upon the backs of the poorest people on earth."




Trump Will 'Keep an Open Mind' About the Paris Climate Change Agreement

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 15:45:00 -0500

(image) During the presidential campaign Donald Trump suggested that man-made climate change was a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese.* In addition, he declared that he would "cancel" the Paris climate change agreement. Today during an luncheon interview at the New York Times, president-elect Trump seems to have backtracked bit with regard to the Paris Agreement. From the Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump said on Tuesday that he would "keep an open mind" about whether to pull the United States out of a landmark multinational agreement on climate change.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly said he would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. But on Tuesday, he said, "I'm looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it."

Just exactly how to square his climate change open-mindedness with his promises to somehow revive the coal industry and deregulate fossil fuel production is not clear.

Addendum: Apparently Trump also told the Times reporters and editors that with regard to climate change, "I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much."

*As astute commenters have pointed out the hoax line was from a 2012 tweet. I hope that my error did not unduly confuse readers.