An Inconvenient Truth

Post image for How Many ‘Wedges’ Does It Take to Solve the Climate ‘Problem’?

In An Inconvenient Truth (pp. 280-281), Al Gore enthused about a Science magazine study by Princeton economists Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala. The study concluded that, “Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know how to solve the carbon and climate problems for the next half century.” Gore claimed the policies Socolow and Pacala recommend, “all of which are based on already-existing, affordable technologies,” could reduce emissions below 1970s levels.

But Gore could not know the solutions are “affordable,” because the authors did not attempt to estimate costs. The study basically shows that if political leaders can somehow coerce everybody to use less energy and adopt low- or zero-carbon energy technologies regardless of cost, they can significantly reduce emissions by 2054. We needed Princeton professors to tell us that?

If An Inconvenient Truth were a balanced presentation rather than a CGI-embellished lawyer’s brief, Gore would have mentioned that Socolow and Pacala’s (S&P) study was a response to an earlier analysis, also published in Science, by New York University Prof. Martin Hoffert and 17 colleagues.

Hoffert et al. found that all existing energy technologies “have severe deficiencies that limit their ability to stabilize global climate.” They specificially took issue with the UN IPCC’s claim that “known technological options” could stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels at 550 parts per million (ppm) or even 450 ppm over the next 100 years. Noting that world energy demand could triple by 2050, they found that zero-carbon technologies that can produce 100 to 300% of present world power consumption “do not exist operationally or as pilot plants.” Bottom line: “CO2 is a combustion byproduct vital to how civilization is powered; it cannot be regulated away.” They concluded that it is not possible to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations and meet global energy needs “without drastic technological breakthroughs.”

I review this ancient history because Environmental Research Letters just published a study ‘updating’ (i.e. rebutting) the S&P analysis. The lead author is UC Irvine Prof. Steven Davis. One of three other co-authors is Martin Hoffert.

S&P estimated that seven “stabilization wedges” could limit atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 500 ppm by 2054. The Davis team estimates it will take 19 and possibly 31 wedges to solve the climate ‘problem.’ In other words, the challenge is much more difficult than S&P believed.

But what, you may be wondering, is a “stabilization wedge”?

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Post image for Is Flood Magnitude in the USA Correlated with Global CO2 Levels?

No — or, more precisely, not  yet — conclude R.M. Hirsch and K.R. Ryberg of the U.S. Geological Survey in a recent study published in Hydrological Sciences Journal.

“One of the anticipated hydrological impacts of increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is an increase in the magnitude of floods,” note Hirsch and Ryberg. Righto! Google “global warming” and “flood predictions,” and you’ll find more than 2.7 million sites where this hypothesis is affirmed or at least discussed. The researchers explain:

Greenhouse gases change the energy balance of the atmosphere and lead to atmospheric warming, which increases the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere, which in turn, potentially changes the amount of precipitable water.

Sounds plausible, but all weather is local or regional, and a lot more goes into making weather than average global temperature.  In addition, all flooding is local or regional, and a lot more goes into determining flood risk than local or regional weather patterns.

As Hirsch and Ryberg point out, “human influences associated with large numbers of very small impoundments and changes in land use also could play a role in changing flood magnitude,” and “at time scales on the order of a century it is difficult to make a quantitative assessment of the changes in these factors over time.”

That, however, did not stop good ol’ Al Gore from claiming that global warming is responsible for a decade-by-decade increase in the number of large floods around the world (An Inconvenient Truth, p. 106). Gore’s source was a chart from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Figure 16.5, p. 448): [click to continue…]

Post image for Is BOEMRE Harrassing Polar Bear Biologist Charles Monnett?

Last month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) suspended wildlife biologist Charles Monnett, who is being investigated by the Department of Interior’s (DOI’s) inspector general (IG). Monnett is the lead author of a 2006 study (linking loss of Arctic sea ice to the first documented finding of drowned polar bears.  The paper helped galvanize support for DOI’s listing of the bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Al Gore touted the study in An Inconvenient Truth.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) condemned the IG investigation as a “witch hunt” (Greenwire, Aug. 10, 2011, subscription required). Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Greenpeace sent a letter to DOI Secretary Ken Salazar accusing BOEMRE of trying to muzzle scientists whose research may impede the granting of permits to drill for oil and gas in the bear’s Arctic habitat.

The transcript of the IG’s February 23, 2011 interrogation of Monnett shows that the IG “sent agents with no scientific training to ask decidedly unscientific questions about bizarre allegations relating to the polar bear paper,” CBD and Greenpeace contend. I can’t help but agree. What’s going on? [click to continue…]

Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth bombarded audiences with image after image of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, forest fires, and drought, creating the impression of a world in climate chaos. Gore blamed the alleged upsurge in extreme weather on global warming, that is, mankind’s sins of emission. One of Gore’s mighty pieces of evidence was a dramatic increase in insurance payments for weather-related damages. As he writes in his best-selling book of the same title:

Over the last three decades, insurance companies have seen a 15-fold increase in the amount of money paid to victims of extreme weather. Hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wildfires and other natural disasters have caused these losses [An Inconvenient Truth, p. 101].

Gore presented a chart similar to this one:

Seeing is believing, right? The problem, of course, is not merely that correlation (warmer weather/bigger losses) does not prove causation. More importantly, the economic data depicted in the chart have not been adjusted (“normalized”) to offset increases in population, wealth, and the consumer price index.

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