Topic: Energy and Environment

Helping Out the Times

Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”

Let us see if we can help New York Times’ global warming reporter Justin Gillis out.

In his article yesterday about the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Gillis laments that the IPCC seems to be tamping down some of the more alarmist scenarios when it comes to the projected rate of rise of global temperatures and sea level.

Concerning projections of sea level rise, Gillis bemoans that the IPCC looks like (the final version of the Summary for Policymakers of the new report isn’t scheduled for release until the end of the this month at the conclusion of an IPCC editorial meeting in Stockholm) it will discount the “outlier” estimates that the rise this century will exceed five feet. Gillis writes “The drafters of the report went with the lower numbers, choosing to treat the outlier science as not very credible.”

When it comes to how fast the global average temperature is projected to rise, Gillis rues the possibility that the IPCC will lower its assessed value of the climate sensitivity, writing “In this case, the drafters of the report lowered the bottom end in a range of temperatures for how much the earth could warm, treating the outlier science as credible.”

As Congress Prepares for Vote, Syria’s Inflation Hits 257%

As prospects of a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria hang in limbo, the foreign exchange black market for the Syrian pound (SYP) has become increasingly volatile. In countries with troubled currencies, such as Syria, black-market exchange rates provide a reliable gauge of economic expectations. Judging by the erratic performance of the black-market Syrian pound/U.S. dollar (USD) exchange rate, the Syrian people’s expectations have been on quite the roller coaster ride, as the U.S. Congress prepares for what will likely be a very close vote on a Use of Force resolution.

  • Following Secretary of State John Kerry’s initial call for military intervention in Syria, on August 26th, the SYP experienced a one-day drop of 24%—reflecting Syrians’ heightened fears of U.S. military conflict.  
  • On August 29th, two events occurred that reversed this slide. In Damascus, the Syrian government renewed its attempts to crack down on black-market currency trading. And, over 4,000 miles away in London, the British Parliament voted down a motion authorizing military action in Syria. In consequence, the SYP rebounded by a whopping 26% over the course of two days.
  • The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of a use of force resolution seems to have once again raised Syrians’ expectations of a U.S. military strike, as it set the SYP on another slide. Since September 3rd, the pound has lost 10% of its value.

For some perspective on how the West’s march to war has affected Syria’s currency, and ultimately inflation, let’s take a look at how things have changed over the course of the past month: On August 6th, the black-market SYP/USD exchange rate was 205, yielding an implied annual inflation rate of 191%. As of September 6th, the black-market SYP/USD exchange rate sits at 250, yielding an implied annual inflation rate for Syria of 257%.

For more on the Syrian pound, see the Troubled Currencies Project.

Re: Did Global Warming Reduce the Impacts of Sandy?

And people thought I was being impertinent when I wondered in these pages whether or not global warming actually reduced the impacts of Superstorm Sandy.

Now comes this abstract from a paper by Elizabeth Barnes and colleagues just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States, costing a great number of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Whether events like Sandy will become more frequent as anthropogenic greenhouse gases continue to increase remains an open and complex question. Here we consider whether the persistent large-scale atmospheric patterns that steered Sandy onto the coast will become more frequent in the coming decades. Using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5 multimodel ensemble, we demonstrate that climate models consistently project a decrease in the frequency and persistence of the westward flow that led to Sandy’s unprecedented track, implying that future atmospheric conditions are less likely than at present to propel storms westward into the coast.

Just because global warming enthusiasts are quick to link all weather disasters to climate changes from human greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t mean they really are. In fact, just the opposite may be the case—global warming may be acting to avert some weather disasters. I know, I know, I am being impertinent again.

Social Cost of Carbon Goes Mainstream

I have been worried that the social cost of carbon was a concept a bit too esoteric to grab the public’s attention despite the vast importance that it may play in our daily lives. I have heard it described as “a little wonky” and “difficult for a mainstream audience.”

But my worries have been alleviated a bit with yesterday’s article in the Wall Street Journal by Keith Johnson.

The social cost of carbon, or SCC, is the current dollar amount that is assigned to the future damage that each emitted ton of carbon dioxide from human activities (mostly energy-related) is purportedly going to cause. (For a broader discussion of “social costs,” see here.)

Johnson hits the nail on the head in summarizing the significance of the SCC:

The number is important because the more costly carbon pollution is deemed to be, the greater the apparent economic benefits of new environmental regulations. The climate plan hinges on such regulations, including restrictions on new power plants that the Environmental Protection Agency is set to release in late September.

As I and others (including Johnson in the Journal article) have pointed out, there are so many variables whose values are unknown (or unknowable) involved in its determination that the SCC can be set at virtually any value that the user desires it to be.

Richard Lindzen on “Global Climate Alarmism and Historical Precedents”

Richard Lindzen, Professor Emeritus at MIT, and now a Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Center for the Study of Science here at Cato, has just published a paper called “Science in the Public Square: Global Climate Alarmism and Historical Precedents.” The paper is in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Lindzen begins with what he calls “The Iron Triangle,” an analog to a very popular aphorism coined by Ronald Reagan, that describes the generic and mutually beneficial relationship between Congress, the media, and special interest groups. Lindzen’s version is between scientists who make “meaningless or ambiguous statements” on climate change, which are translated into alarmist declarations by the global warming lobby, to which politicians respond by shoveling more money to the scientists. Dr. Lindzen cheekily calls this version the Iron Rice Bowl, the same phrase coined by Mao Zedong to describe lifetime employment in exchange for support of the communist state.

Lindzen, whose article is available here, notes this type of symbiosis supported two other particularly bad ideas. One was early 20th Century eugenics, which was enshrined by law in the United States, politically very useful in 1920s Germany, and institutionalized into the holocaust in the succeeding decade. For an exhausting and exhaustive insight on this process in Germany, you still can’t beat Robert J. Lifton’s 1986 book, The Nazi Doctors.

A similar dynamic surrounded the institutionalization of the obviously incorrect paradigm of  “the inheritance of acquired characteristics,” championed by Soviet agronomist Trofim Lysenko, under the enthusiastic support of Josef Stalin, who thought it would help bring about “The New Soviet Man,” by changing human nature genetically through physical experiences of the organism. The logic is as simple as this: if one, say, pumped iron incessantly with just the left arm, your children would be born with muscular left arms. Hogwash, but effective for a public that both feared its government and was scientifically illiterate. 

“The Situation in Biological Science,” published (and translated) by the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the U.S.S.R. in 1949 sits very close to Lifton’s book on my shelf at Cato. It is an exhaustive compendium on Lysenko’s “new genetics.” It claims authority, and if you spoke against it as a scientist, a trip to Siberia (or worse) wasn’t far away. With global warming alarmism, we are much more humane. Speak against it, and you will lose your government funding and maybe your job, but not your life.

Lindzen finishes with a bit of optimism, noting that the eugenics and Lysenkoism lasted about thirty years, which would mean that the Iron Triangle of climate alarmism is getting a little long in the tooth (it started in1988). 

Methinks Professor Lindzen is a bit optimistic. After all, most regulation of ionizing radiation and carcinogens is based upon the obviously wrong notion that a single photon or a single molecule can induce cancer. That was enshrined in the 1950s and lives on today.

The Tenuous Link between Stronger Winter Storms and Global Warming Becomes Even Weaker

Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”

Come the cold season, whenever there is some type of strong storm system near the U.S. Eastern Seaboard—be it a Nor’easter, a blizzard, or ex-hurricane Sandy—you don’t have to look very hard to find someone who will tell you that this weather is “consistent with” expectations of climate change resulting from human greenhouse gas emissions. The worse the storm, the more “consistent” it becomes.

The complete collection of climate science describes just how complex the physical processes are governing such storm systems. Teasing out any anthropogenic influence, including even the direction of any influence, is darn near impossible. Claims to the contrary are usually based on a highly selective assessment of the science or the data.

A case in point:

The latest en vogue explanation linking human greenhouse gas emissions to strong winter-season East Coast storms involves changes in the characteristics of the jet stream—a river of fast moving air in the atmosphere that influences both the strength and the forward speed of extratropical storm systems. A prominent (in the media, anyway) research study last year by Rutgers’s Jennifer Francis and University of Wisconsin’s Stephen Vavrus suggests that the declining temperature difference between the Arctic and the lower latitudes (adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere warms colder, drier regions more so than warmer, wetter ones—with the notable exception of Antarctica) has led to changes in the jet stream which result in slower moving, and potentially stronger East Coast winter storm systems.

An Example of the Abuse of the Social Cost of Carbon

In my recent op-ed for The Hill examining the Obama administration’s estimation of the social cost of carbon (SCC)—a measure of how much future damage is purportedly going to be caused by each ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted through human activities—I identified two major problems with their measure.

First, the administration’s SCC was based on an estimate of global rather than domestic damages from anthropogenic climate change—an odd scope for a measure designed to be incorporated in the cost/benefit analysis of U.S. rules and regulations governing domestic activities (such as the energy efficiency of microwave ovens sold in the United States). In fact, Office and Management and Budget (OMB) guidelines state that

Your analysis should focus on benefits and costs that accrue to citizens and residents of the United States. Where you choose to evaluate a regulation that is likely to have effects beyond the borders of the United States, these effects should be reported separately.

Instead of “reporting separately,” the administration’s SCC embodies “effects beyond the borders of the United States.”

Second, the administration recently revised (upwards) its initial calculation of the SCC. In doing so, it included updates to its underlying economic/climate-change/damage models, but it did not include any updates to the characteristics of the equilibrium climate sensitivity used by the models. Since the equilibrium climate sensitivity is the key factor in how much climate change will result from a given amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, and since there is mounting scientific evidence that the equilibrium climate sensitivity is better constrained and lower than that used in the initial analysis, there is no defensible reason why the new science was not included in the administration’s revised SCC calculation.

So that’s two strikes against it.