Topic: Energy and Environment

How Offal! Global Warming Threatens the World’s Haggis Supply!!

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.” In this edition, we cover an important story that we missed back in 2008.

People send us stuff. As a result of our recent Global Science Report on global warming ruining our bananas, one of our fans directed our attention to an important effect of climate change that we somehow missed, back in 2008, when the alarmists at the BBC wrote that it was threatening haggis.

Haggis, for the uninitiated, is sheep stomach stuffed with minced lung, liver, heart, tongue, suet, onions and oats. How offal!

While there’s no accounting for taste, it tastes as bad as it smells.

According to the story, there has been a rise in a parasite effecting Scottish sheep that renders the lung “unfit for consumption” (something that many of you probably thought was the case already).

And, so as not to miss the bandwagon, an official from the Scottish Agricultural College Veterinary Investigation Centre told the BCC that:

Part of the reason will be the parasite is able to live a pretty happy life on the ground because of higher temperatures. Maybe it’s climate change.

Or maybe not.

It turns out that another potential cause of the increase in the lung parasite is that Scottish farmers have reduced their application of parasite treatment due to declining infections of roundworm. The treatment of roundworm also killed the lung parasite.

There was no mention made in the BCC article as to whether global warming was behind the decrease in roundworm infestations.

Instead, the article went on the describe the events which took place in the World Haggis Eating Championship, won by Willie Robertson from Dunkeld, who managed to put away a pound of haggis in 125 seconds. For his victory, Mr. Robertson was awarded a trophy and a bottle of whiskey—no doubt a key feature in the rest of the day’s merrymaking.

BBC’s writing in the haggis story appears similarly merry. Here are the last three paragraphs of their report, verbatim, a candidate for first place in the 2008 International Nonsequitur Competition.

The championship was held as part of the 125th Birnam Highland Games, and attracted competitors from Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Climate change, meanwhile, has been blamed for affecting natural habitats in Scotland and across the world.

Most notably, scientists and conservationists say it threatens survival of polar bears.

Going Bananas: Another Climate Change Hustle

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

We hear that there is looming banana crisis in Costa Rica—the world’s 2nd leading exporter of the fruit—as this year’s crop is being threatened by an infestation of mealybugs, scale insects, and fungal infection.

Petulance, plagues, disease? It must be climate change, of course!

The Director of the Costa Rican Agriculture and Livestock Ministry’s State Phytosanitary Services, Magda González, told the San José Tico Times, “Climate change, by affecting temperature, favors the conditions under which [the insects] reproduce.” González estimated that the rising temperature and concomitant changes in precipitation patterns could shorten the reproduction cycle of the insect pests by a third. “I can tell you with near certainty that climate change is behind these pests.”

This is bananas.

But there’s a method to Gonzalez’ madness.  In it’s recent Warsaw confab on climate change, the UN has made it abundantly clear that one of its endgames is compelling “reparations” for climate damages cost by dreaded emissions of carbon dioxide.  The more that poorer nations make these claims—however fatuously—the more momentum builds to extract capital from me and thee.

May we humbly suggest that calling Ms. Gonzalez’ claim “fatuous” is really being too nice.  She should actually propose compensating the United States for all the excess bananas that are associated with warmer temperatures.

Figure 1 shows banana production in Costa Rica from 1961-2011. Figure 2 shows the temperatures there over the same period. We hate to burst anyone’s climate-change-is bad-bubble, but the correlation between these two variables is positive. That is, higher temperatures are associated with greater banana production (and yield).

  

 Figure 1. Annual production (tonnes) and yield (Hg/Ha) of bananas in Costa Rica (data from FAOSTAT)

 

Figure 2. Annual temperature anomalies in Costa Rica, 1961-2011 (data from Berkeley Earth).

And as far as precipitation goes, the trends down there are all over the place—some stations show trends towards increasing rainfall amounts, while others nearby, towards decreasing amounts.  The geography of the country, along with all sorts of external influences including tropical cyclone activity, sea surface temperature patterns, and larger-scale circulation systems in both the Pacific and Atlantic makes for a very complex pattern precipitation variability, both temporally and spatially, across Costa Rica.  It is virtually impossible to assess the influence of recent human-caused climate change in such a complicated and highly variable natural system.

So you have a situation where annual precipitation variability is high and where warmer conditions seem to be associated with greater banana yields. 

While it is probably not out completely out of the question that some sort of weather influence may, in part, play some role in the current affliction of the Costa Rica banana crop, to implicate human-caused global warming, you’d have to have gone completely…, well, you know.

But climate policy has always functioned best in a data-free environment, about the only way a cheap hustle like that of the Costa Rican National Phytosanitariest merits any attention at all.

Climate Change and Disease: USA Today Gets It Wrong

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger, from Cato’s Center for the Study of Science, review interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.


It’s  guaranteed: every article which is “part of a year-long series that explores the places and ways in which climate change affects us” will paint a horrific picture, a part of the strange universe of global warming journalism. 

Consider this: global warming has been with us as an issue for a quarter-century.  Everyone knows that it lengthens the beach season, but we have yet to see one article showing nubile females and tanned hunks frolicking on the shore. 

In 25 years of global warming hype, why hasn’t one article noted that it will increase the number of beach days? Where’s the beef?

In a recent USA Today article “Diseases on the move because of climate change,” The Campaign Continues.

It’s biblical. Brain-eating amoebas. Killer ticks. A fungus kills many among us. About the only thing missing from this one is all the deaths that will result from hail the size of canned hams.

It’s mind-boggling. 0.8°C ago, around 1900, life expectancy was one half what it is now. Malaria was endemic. Food and water-borne illnesses were real killers. All have been pretty much vanquished, despite dreaded warming.  Not a mention of this.

Such droning is probably why people tune this stuff out. There’s an epidemic of the real global warming-related malady, apocalypse fatigue, [1]  and still the Society of Environmental[ist] Journalists hasn’t gotten the email.

There’s no need to bring out climate change to explain recent patterns of the diseases that can be thoroughly accounted for by any of a large collection of confounding factors. We meant human-caused climate change as that’s the pernicious kind (it’s too bad we can’t ask our ancestors how much they liked the very natural ice age).

2013: Will U.S. Temperature Be Below Average?

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”


Last year, the annual average temperature in the contiguous United States was the highest on record (since 1895) according the data compiled by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).   This year, the temperature took a nosedive from the lofty heights of 2012.

As we pointed out in our coverage of the 2012 milestone, the influence of human-caused climate change on the U.S. temperature history (including last year’s record warmth), while undoubtedly present, is difficult to ascertain.

The role that anthropogenic “global warming” from the emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels plays is debatable—both in timing and magnitude. Almost certainly its influence is present and detectable in the U.S. annual average temperature record, but beyond that simple statement, not a whole lot more can be added with scientific certainty.

We now stand nearly a year later with more evidence of proof and point.

Through November of this year, the U.S. average temperature is only 0.53°F above the 20th century mean temperature (the default baseline used by NCDC). Last year the annual temperature was 3.24°F above it.

Figure 1. Average January-November temperature in the contiguous United States from 1895-2013 as compiled by the National Climatic Data Center (source: NCDC, Climate at a Glance).

With the cold start to December across the country, the annual temperature for 2013 has an increasingly good shot at coming  in below the 20th century average.  For this to happen, the U.S. temperature for December would have to average about 27.6°F. For the first 12 days of the month, the average has been 28.4°F,  and the forecast is for continued cold, so getting to the needed temperature is not out of the question.

If 2013 does come in below the 20th century average, it would be the first year since 1996 to have done so, and would end a 16-year long run of above average annual temperature for the U.S.  You can follow the chase here.

But even if the rest of the month is not quite cold enough to push the entire year into negative territory, the 2013 annual temperate will still be markedly colder than last year’s record high, and will be the largest year-over-year decrease in the annual temperature on record, underscoring the “outlier” nature of the 2012 temperatures.

Will 2013 mark the end of the decade and a half period of abnormal warmth experience across the U.S. that was touched off by the 1998 El Niño event, and a return to conditions of the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s? Or will 2013 turn out to just be a cold blip in the 21st century U.S. climate?

In either case, 2013 shows that the natural variability of annual temperatures in the U.S. is high (as is decadal and multi-decadal variability, see Figure 1)—an important caveat to keep in mind when you face the inundation of every-weather-event-is-caused-by-human-global-warming hysteria.

Stay tuned!

The Center for the Study of Science would like to thank Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics for his summary of December temperatures and the expected  temperatures for the rest of the year.

High-profile Paper Linking GMO Corn to Cancer in Rats Retracted

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

 

About a year ago, a major paper appeared in a high-profile scientific journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, claiming a link between genetically modified corn and cancer in rats. The findings were published by a research team led by Gilles-Éric Séralini of the University of Caen in France. It was widely trumpeted by people opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Simply put, making a GMO dramatically accelerates the normally slow process of traditional plant breeding, which takes many generations to stabilize some desired new trait in the plant genome, making the philosophical objections to it seem somewhat naïve.

While Séralini’s finding was heralded by anti-GMO activists as an “I told you so,” the paper was promptly, harshly, and widely criticized by geneticists and the general scientific community, many of whom lobbied the journal directly to address the shortcomings in the paper.

The most stinging criticism is going to sound painfully like what we see so often in environmental science, where researchers purposefully design an experiment likely to produce a desired results. Two months ago we documented a similar process that pretty much guaranteed that the chemical currently the darling of green enrages, bisphenyl-A, would “cause” cancer.

In Seralini’s case, the research team used a strain of rats with a known strong proclivity to develop cancer if left to age long enough, which is what they allowed, obeying the maxim that “if you let something get old enough, it will get cancer.”

Government Planning in Indiana with Federal Funds

According to popular myth, Democrats favor government planning of the economy and Republicans favor free markets. Today’s example of why this is baloney comes from the Republican governor of Indiana, Mike Pence. Before I get to the story, readers should know up front that I was a state budget official (2006-2008) in the prior administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). 

Yesterday, the Indiana Department of Energy Development announced that it will be “crafting a new energy plan for the state of Indiana.” Well, praise the Lord – the state’s energy planners are going to work with “stakeholders” to make sure Hoosiers won’t be forced to turn to whale oil lamps. No, seriously, Indiana is in trouble. According to the announcement, that’s because the state’s current plan apparently just hasn’t panned out: 

Indiana’s current energy plan, the Homegrown Energy Plan, was written in 2006. Since that time, Indiana’s cost of electricity for industrial customers has increased, causing Indiana to slip from 5th lowest in the country to 27th lowest. 

Oops. 

Okay, a new vision is clearly needed. Enter former radio host Gov. Mike Pence: 

“Here in Indiana, we make things, and we grow things,” said Governor Mike Pence. “These activities require enormous amounts of energy. In order to maintain our historic advantage for low cost of energy, we need a new, updated energy plan.” 

Whoa – that’s deep. Think about what Pence is saying: Hoosiers make things…Hoosiers grow things. Only a cold-hearted cynic doesn’t feel a tingle after contemplating such profound insights. 

As the saying goes, great leaders surround themselves with great people. Heading up the state’s development of a new energy plan is my former colleague, Tristan Vance. According to a press release announcing Vance’s reappointment, he has extensive experience working in state government. There’s no mention of Vance having real world experience in the energy sector that he’s now in charge of planning, but he did monitor the agency as a state budget official prior to heading it. 

Eh, close enough. 

Snark aside, there’s a deeper policy concern here that affects taxpayers in all states. Much of the Indiana Department of Energy Development’s funding comes from the federal government (about 70 percent if my reading of state budget numbers is correct). That means, dear federal taxpayers, you’ll be subsidizing the bulk of whatever “plan” the Pence administration comes up with.   

Now as I noted in an Indianapolis Star op-ed back in June, Indiana’s dependence on federal funds isn’t unique. Indeed, the other 49 states are similarly dependent on handouts from Uncle Sam. But state taxpayers should understand that federal funds are not a “free” lunch: 

The appeal of federal funds to governors is obvious: They get to spend additional money without having to raise taxes on their voters to pay for it. A problem with this arrangement is that it creates a fiscal illusion — state taxpayers perceive the cost of government to be cheaper than it really is. In effect, the federal money and a large part of the annual budget appears to be “free.”

But Hoosiers should be mindful that every dollar Washington sends to Indianapolis is a dollar taken from taxpayers in Indiana and the other states. (The return is actually less than a dollar since the federal bureaucracy takes its cut). The situation is no different when the federal dollars go instead to, say, Sacramento. In addition, economists have found that federal subsidies to the states lead to higher state taxes and spending in the long-run because the federal “seed money” creates a demand for more government.

One could argue that so long as Hoosiers have to send money to Washington, Indiana might as well get a share of the loot. That’s an understandable sentiment, but the blatantly self-serving manner in which the Pence administration goes about distributing the bounty should give Hoosiers pause.

Indeed, the self-serving manner in which the nation’s governors go about playing with federal funds should give all taxpayers pause. 

Major Sports Organizations Discuss Climate Change with Bicameral Task Force

Seriously?!?

Tomorrow [today] Rep. Henry A. Waxman and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, co-chairs of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, will host representatives from five of America’s major sports leagues, as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), to discuss the effects of climate change on sporting activities and the work these organizations are doing to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The group will meet for a closed-door discussion, followed by a press availability.

Now, admittedly, even as a climatologist, I do spend a fair amount of time discussing sports.

But I do so around the water cooler or at the local bar, not with Congressional task forces.

Your tax dollars are probably better served that way.