Topic: Energy and Environment

Current Wisdom: Swatting Away the Zika/Climate Change Connection

The Current Wisdom is a series of occasional 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 or of a more technical nature. These items may not have received the media attention that they deserved or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.

We hardly need a high tech fly-swatter (although they are fun and effective) to kill this nuisance—it’s so languorous that one can just put their thumb over it and squish.

Jeb Bush’s candidacy? No, rather the purported connection between human-caused global warming and the highly-publicized spread of the Zika virus.

According to a recent headline in The Guardian (big surprise) “Climate change may have helped spread Zika virus, according to WHO scientists.”

Here are a few salient passages from The Guardian article:

“Zika is the kind of thing we’ve been ranting about for 20 years,” said Daniel Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “We should’ve anticipated it. Whenever the planet has faced a major climate change event, man-made or not, species have moved around and their pathogens have come into contact with species with no resistance.”

And,

“We know that warmer and wetter conditions facilitate the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases so it’s plausible that climate conditions have added the spread of Zika,” said Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a lead scientist on climate change at WHO.

Is it really “plausible?”

Hardly.

The Zika virus is transmitted by two species of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, that are now widespread in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the globe (including the Southeastern U.S.), although they haven’t always been.

Salt and CO2 Better for Tomatoes, Now for Lettuce, Too

Wow, will bacon be next?

Last fall we wrote about the improvement in tomato taste that results from growing them in elevated carbon dioxide and seawater (Idso and Michaels, 2015). Now it looks like the same treatment improves lettuce. 

Enhancing crop nutritional value has long been a goal of the agricultural industry. Growing plants under less than optimal conditions for a short period of time generally increases their oxidative stress. To counter such stress, plants will usually increase their antioxidant metabolism which, in turn, elevates the presence of various antioxidant compounds in their tissues, compounds that can be of great nutritional value from a human point of view, such as helping to reduce the effects of ageing.

However, stress-induced nutritional benefits often come at a price, including a reduction in plant growth and yield, making it unproductive and costly to implement these practices in the real world. But what if there was a way achieve such benefits without sacrificing crop biomass, having our cake and eating it, too? An intriguing paper recently published in the journal Scientia Horticulturae explains just how this can happen, involving lettuce, salt stress, and atmospheric CO2.

According to Pérez-López et al. (2015), the authors of this new work, “few studies have utilized salt irrigation combined with CO2-enriched atmospheres to enhance a crop’s nutraceutical value.” Thus, the team of five Spanish researchers set out to conduct just such an experiment involving two lettuce cultivars, Blonde of Paris Badavia (a green-leaf lettuce) and Oak Leaf (a red-leaf lettuce and a common garden variety). In so doing, they grew the lettuce cultivars from seed in controlled environment chambers at either ambient or enriched CO2 for a period of 35 days after which they supplied a subset of the two treatments with either 0 or 200 mM NaCl for 4 days to simulate salt stress. Thereafter they conducted a series of analyses to report growth and nutritional characteristics of the cultivars under these varying growth conditions. And what did those analyses reveal?

Spin Cycle: Green Tax Credits Supplant Clean Power Plan to Meet Our Paris Commitment

The Spin Cycle is a reoccurring feature based upon just how much the latest weather or climate story, policy pronouncement, or simply poo-bah blather spins the truth. Statements are given a rating between 1-5 spin cycles, with less cycles meaning less spin. For a more in-depth description, visit the inaugural edition.

The Obama Administration is involved in an all-out effort to soften the severity of blow that the U.S Supreme Court dealt the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) last week.*

In the day following the Court’s ruling, White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz referred to the Supreme Court’s stay as a “temporary procedural determination” and then added that “[i]t is our estimation that the inclusion of [the extensions of the renewable energy tax credits] is going to have more impact over the short term [on greenhouse gas emissions]than the Clean Power Plan.”

We covered Schultz’s first statement in our Spin Cycle from last week, giving it our top award of five Spinnies.

Here we examine the second part of his statement, that the extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) and the production tax credit (PTC) on solar and wind power, approved by Congress last December “is going to have more impact over the short term than the Clean Power Plan.”

On its face, we must admit this is true. Primarily because, under the CPP, the states aren’t required to begin cutting power plant emissions until 2022—far outside what we would consider “over the short term.” So, by the letter of the (now stayed) law, the CPP wouldn’t have to result in any greenhouse gas reductions prior to 2022. Schultz statement lacks the proper context. Walking (instead of driving) to lunch one time next week would also produce “more impact over the short term [on greenhouse gas emissions]than the Clean Power Plan” (stayed or not).

Spin Cycle: White House Spins SCOTUS Stay on Climate Plan

The Spin Cycle is a reoccurring feature based upon just how much the latest weather or climate story, policy pronouncement, or simply poo-bah blather spins the truth. Statements are given a rating between 1-5 spin cycles, with less cycles meaning less spin. For a more in-depth description, visit the inaugural edition.

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As one of us has already noted, on Monday evening the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to put President Obama’s Clean Power Plan on ice—where it will remain until the justices get a chance to rule on the regulatory package themselves or until a new President sidelines it. The White House, whistling past a graveyard of unrecyclable solar panels (thanks to all the arsenic in them), blew up the vorticity of its spin cycle into relativistic speeds, calling it a “bump in the road” and a “temporary procedural issue.”

Over in the UK, Lisa Nandy, the shadow energy and climate minister knows why: “There is such strong support within the US for Obama’s efforts on climate change that I think this ruling will prove to be only a very temporary issue.”

Au contraire! According to a Yougov poll late last month, a grand total of 9 per cent of Americans think global warming is the most important issue confronting us. In only one country was there less support:  Saudi Arabia.

All of this ignores some facts on the ground. This is the biggest intervention by the Supremes in ongoing litigation since they stopped the partial Florida recount in December 2000 in the case that became Bush v. Gore. They only do stuff like this when there’s a lot at stake, irreparable harm will be done by not intervening, and at least five justices believe it more likely than not that the challenge will succeed.

You Ought to Have a Look: SCOTUS Stays Clean Power Plan, Paris Accord Imperiled, UN 1.5°C Nonsense.

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary. 

The big climate news of the week is, of course, that the U.S. Supreme Court put a stay on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan until the Plan’s detractors have their day in court.

Cato’s Ilya Shapiro summarized the situation succinctly:

The Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan is a welcome development. The regulations constitute an unprecedented assertion of agency authority – particularly the dubious invocation of Section 111 of the Clean Air Act to justify regulating power-plant emissions – so the Court had to step in to prevent irrevocable harm to the energy sector. As we saw last term in Michigan v. EPA, often it’s too late to fix administrative abuses judicially after the fact. Lawlessness must be nipped in the bud.

And this move may have foreshadowed the death knell of the Clean Power Plan altogether; the only question is whether the justices will have a chance to strike it down for good before the next president reverses it.

Lots has been written on it.  In addition to Ilya’s, below is a sampling of others offering good insights. There are many more, and we apologize to those whose comments should have made this list but were left off (through negligence or space).

Washington Metro Getting Ready for Bankruptcy?

As I noted last week, Los Angeles is not the only region experiencing declining transit ridership. Another is Washington, DC, where a recent report from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA aka Metro) revealed that ridership has fallen to the lowest level since 2004. Ominously, the agency’s financial situation is so bad that it has hired a bankruptcy attorney to help it deal with its problems and is reshuffling its top management, forcing at least one executive to retire.

As detailed in the actual report to the agency’s board, rail revenues and ridership in the first half of F.Y. 2016 are both down by 7 percent from the same period in F.Y. 2015. Metrorail ridership peaked in 2009, and if the second half of F.Y. 2016 is as bad as the first, annual ridership will be down as much as 30 percent from that peak despite a 15 percent increase in the region’s population. Bus ridership and revenue in 2016 is also down but by only about 3 percent below 2015.

A Two-Millennia Relationship Between Climate and Economic Data

Introducing their intriguing work, Wei et al. (2015) write that “investigating climate-society relationships has long been a hot topic,” noting that “many studies have demonstrated the important roles of climate change in facilitating the rise or fall of ancient communities.” However, they report that “intense arguments regarding the economic effects of global warming” remain to be clarified in such investigations.

Against this backdrop, Wei et al. set out to investigate the long-term relationship between the climate and economy of China. More specifically, they derived a 2,130-year long record of the Chinese economy based on 1,091 records extracted from 25 books on Chinese history and economic history, spanning the period 220 BC to 1910 AD. This new proxy was then statistically analyzed in conjunction with historical proxies of Chinese temperature and precipitation previously compiled by Ge et al. (2013) and Zheng et al. (2006), respectively. And what did that analysis reveal?

The three Chinese researchers found that warm and wet climate periods coincided with more prosperous and robust economic phases (above-average mean economic level, higher ratio of economic prosperity, and less intense variations), whereas opposite economic conditions ensued during cold and dry periods (where the possibility of economic crisis was “greatly increased”) (see Figure 1 below). They also report that temperature was “more influential than precipitation in explaining the long-term economic fluctuations, whereas precipitation displayed more significant effects on the short-term macro-economic cycle.”

In concluding their paper Wei et al. write that, “from a deep time perspective, our study may provide new insight into the current intense arguments regarding the economic effects of global warming.” Indeed it does; and that insight reveals a warmer (and wetter) climate favors economic prosperity. Given this data-derived relationship, why are the leaders of so many nations hell-bent on halting any future rise in global temperature, especially when two millennia of climate and economic data suggest such a rise would benefit the economy? As the late Casey Stengel would have said, “doesn’t anybody know how to play this game?”