Sunday, January 1, 2012

And some "change of year" thoughts on climate change

The year has been quite mixed for those who follow the climate change debate. Those who have developed the CO2/temperature theories and predictions on which much Government action has been based, remain largely as much or more in control as they have been in the past. Governments in place, whether in Europe, Australia or the United States are sufficiently convinced that the theoretical predictions of future higher temperatures are correct that quite significant changes in fuel policy have been put into place. This change is now placing greater reliance on renewable power sources, with natural gas seen as the back up and replacement power source during the transition away from historic fuels. And the historic fuels of the late twentieth century, coal, oil and nuclear power are being consigned to the scrap yard as fast as legislation and political power can move them.

Yet at the same time the economic realities are biting into the renewable energy business. In Spain the largest solar power station is just coming on line but the funding to continue the transition (which some of us might designate as the experiment) is beginning to disappear.
Even if government cuts do not deepen, which is unlikely, the Ernst & Young report claimed that a gap of $22.5bn on investment in renewable energy and subsidies is likely to emerge across 10 leading world economies in less than four years. Among them is the UK where the shortfall is estimated to be $5bn, while in Spain – effectively confirming Kistner's fears – it would be $6bn.

The Ernst and Young report came out in November, and reflects a growing concern about the ability to find the financing required to continue construction of wind and solar farms, even as the fossil fuel plants are being closed. European finances are in a difficult phase for other reasons, but in addressing rather large problems elsewhere, the funding and subsidies for renewable energy are likely to be reduced. The problems of a growing gap between the power that will be required in the future and that which will be available are so far being glossed over, but that is not an issue that can be hidden forever.

The arguments over the need for reducing the production of carbon dioxide continue to prevail in the mainstream. However, much as there was a change from Anthropogenic Global Warming to Climate Change, when the planet didn’t take the hint and follow the predicted model temperatures (even when assisted with a little judicious “adjustment” of recent trends, as the individual state temperature study revealed) so now there is the beginning of a move to change the concern from Climate Change to the increase in Extreme Climate Events induced by the changes in the atmospheric composition.

This allows those who wish to gut the current methods of energy production to make claims that any extreme event (including those where there is a lower than normal temperature) can all be laid at the feet of fossil energy production. This argument fails to consider that the study of events, such as cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes have been going on for decades. Professor Curry implies that Kevin Trenberth was the initiator and instigator of this change in focus, and NOAA wants to allocate “the blame.” (Which sort of implies that before we had a power grid that perhaps we didn’t have extreme events.) Naturally the role that atmospheric compositional changes has in influencing these events will be evaluated by theoretical models – and naturally that will require more funding for bigger and better computers and more time build and run the models and to address the issues that arise . . .

The problem with establishing an industry built around modeling climate change and its effects is that in order to justify next year’s budget new ideas have to be advanced each year in order to keep those government dollars running and after a while it becomes harder to find those new concepts. The role of attribution of extreme events seems to be one of those newly developing tangents.

After a while the need for justification requires that somewhat wilder claims will be made, and while the main stream press is remarkably supine in accepting the statements made in published papers, there are times where credulity is challenged (on both sides). A relatively rare look at the truth of conflicting claims in two opposing op-eds appeared in the Houston Chronicle recently. The two pieces that were reviewed were an op-ed in Salon which lauded the arguments that extreme events are getting worse, all due to climate change. The review compared this with an editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette which suggested that the Global Warming theories were losing their credence.

The first article had eight statements of fact which were:
By my reckoning, the strong evidence scorecard is 2 correct, 2 mostly right, 1 mostly wrong, and 3 wrong. I think this means that the author is able to type with one eye closed and his finger stuck in one ear. It’s difficult to argue that climate change is not a hoax when half of your debating points are the equivalent of hoaxes.
On the other hand, by putting up a plot of recent temperature trends he undercut the argument of the writer in the Gazette with no further criticism needed.

Which I suppose brings me to my ending gripe for this post. Those who are concerned over global levels of carbon dioxide have been every effective in selling the message that if you disagree with them, then you are saying that global warming is not happening. You are therefore a denier, and, by association with those who denied the Holocaust, you are an idiot.

One of the consequences of the Hockey Stick graph that Michael Mann has partially built a career on was that it denied the presence of the Little Ice Age. He has since, grudgingly, changed his mind and admitted its existence, but the recognition that the globe has been warming since the depths of the LIA has been neglected. Explanations for that warming trend have to be provided and the relative proportions of natural and anthropogenic warming properly evaluated before a truly valid discussion can be had over the role of the atmospheric composition, as opposed to the solar variations, on our climate. Just saying that the only thing that explains the change is rising CO2 becomes less persuasive as global temperatures fail to follow the predictions that, for example, Dr Hansen made in starting the whole shebang.

But those discussions are not held. With the imposition of the assumption that carbon dioxide is driving global climate change and forcing weather events to be increasingly extreme the goal posts are moved so that we do not discuss the weakness of the underlying argument.

The global financial changes are going to force governments to face more squarely the relative costs of their commitments to reducing carbon emissions. As they do so, they will need to justify backtracking from some of their earlier promises. At such time, while theoretical scientists demand more money their programs, justification and validation will be under increasing scrutiny and competition for funds may change the playing field. In future years it may be said that the high water marks of the climate movement were either just before the Copenhagen summit, or with the passage of the recent agreement in Durban. From here it may be increasingly downhill.

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