Topic: Energy and Environment

Hurricane Bluster

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.”

When it comes down to scaring people into accepting onerous reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, it’s always a good idea to trot out the specter of increased hurricanes, despite the lack of backing for this in the science literature.

“Bluster” isn’t the name of an Atlantic hurricane (although it would be a good one*), but rather our description of the stories about new research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology projecting an increase in the frequency and magnitude of hurricanes as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

Publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, M.I.T.’s Kerry Emanuel projects a rather large increase in the global frequency of tropical cyclones as well as their intensity over the course of the 21st century.

Emanuel is the first to admit that the changes he found were largely of a different character to those in the generally accepted literature, which projects little change in the frequency of tropical systems (with perhaps even a slight decline) and only a slight increase in the future intensity.

The difference between Emanuel’s results and those from the bulk of other studies arises primarily for two reasons; 1) the future emissions scenario used to drive the global climate models; and, 2) the method of downscaling coarse climate model output to the finer scale necessary to model tropical cyclones.

When it comes to emission scenarios, Emanuel chooses to use the most extreme scenario, which more than triples the effective atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by the end of the century, while most other studies have used a more modest scenario which leads only to about a doubling. With new technologies opening up vast abundances of lower CO2-emitting natural gas available for power generation, the extreme emissions scenario used by Emanuel seems unlikely.

Great News from Greenland

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.”

I recently returned from a trip to Greenland’s Jokabshavn Glacier, which discharges more ice than any other in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Our route of flight from Reykjavik traversed the ice cap from about fifty miles north of Angmassalik to the airport at Ilulissat, on Disko Bay, about one-third of the way up Greenland’s west coast. In southeastern Greenland, we flew very close to the country’s second-highest peak, Mt. Forel (11,099 feet), and in the near future I will upload a image of a nearby mountain approximately 8,000 feet high completely covered by the ice cap.

It is obvious from the air that there is very little movement over the deepest regions of the ice, and the drift patterns in the lee of some of the submerged peaks are strongly suggestive of at least some regional accumulation. There is virtually no evidence for summer melt in the southeast, while the southwest portion of the ice cap is known to melt and refreeze at the surface on an annual cycle—I saw considerable evidence for multi-year, but small, lakes in that region.

In preparation, I read just about everything I could get my hands on, including a recent very remarkable paper by Dorthe Dahl-Jenson and about 70 coauthors. Dahl-Jensen heads up the Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. Dahl-Jenson’s team drilled to the bottom of the ice in northwestern Greenland, providing us with the first climate history of Greenland that includes the warmest period in the last interglacial period, from about 128,000 to 122,000 years ago, known as the Eemian. That was embedded in the Sangamon Interglacial, which ran from approximately 135,000 to 95,000 years ago. 

(For perspective, the last (Wisconsin) glaciation started then and lasted to (nominally) 10,800 years ago—that last date being about a blink of a geologist’s eye ago. Homo sapiens appeared in the ice age, and evidence is that proto-civilization developed while the hemisphere was glaciated.)

A Legal Blow to Cities That Want to Take Your Property

As Roger Pilon has previously noted, on Tuesday, June 25, the Supreme Court issued a decision that helps protect people’s property rights from greedy municipalities. On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed critical of that decision by Vermont Law School Professor John Echeverria, who considers it a blow to “sustainable development,” whatever that means. 

In the case, a Florida property owner named Coy Koontz Sr. wanted to fill and develop 3.7 acres of wetlands. To mitigate the wetland fill, Koontz offered to put 11 acres of his property (75 percent of the total) under a conservation easement. But the St. Johns River Water Management District denied the permit, saying it wanted either 13.9 acres of Koontz’s land (leaving him less than an acre, or just 5 percent of the total, for development) or for Koontz to spend a bunch of his money helping the district restore wetlands elsewhere.

Koontz sued, citing the Supreme Court’s Nollan and Dolan decisions. (Cato and the Institute for Justice filed an amicus brief supporting Koontz.) In the Nollan/Dolan cases, permits were granted on the condition that the property owners give some of their land to the public. The Supreme Court had held that such conditions were an unconstitutional taking of private property.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected Koontz’s argument, saying that there was a big difference between his situation and the Nollan/Dolan cases. In the latter cases, the permits were granted conditional upon the property owners giving up land. In Koontz’s case, the permit was denied unless he gave up land or money.

Echeverria considers these differences to be so clear and obvious that he is amazed that five Supreme Court justices were bamboozled into overturning the Florida court’s decision. After all, granting a permit conditional on giving up your land is completely different form denying a permit unless you are willing to give up your land. Moreover, giving you a choice between giving up your money or property is completely different from simply demanding that you give up your land.

Climate vs. Climate Change

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.”

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in the difference between climate and climate change.

This is on very public display in the president’s recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, which details a series of executive actions designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to control the future course of the climate.

In justifying the need for these actions, and why he doesn’t have time to wait for Congress to act, the president points to numerous recent examples of extreme weather disasters while linking weather extremes to climate change brought about by anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions.

In doing so, he goes awry of the best science.

Here’s why.

Did the President Give a Green Light to the Keystone XL Pipeline?

In his speech today laying out his Climate Action Plan, President Obama took a few minutes to address the Keystone XL pipeline.

The fate of the pipeline is still in the hands of the State Department, where the president said they are stilling mulling it over.

But he said today that he would only approve the pipeline if it did not “significantly exacerbate” carbon dioxide emissions and if the climate impacts of the pipeline were negligible. He said “The net effects of climate impact will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward. It is relevant.”

This is great to hear.

I testified before the House Subcommittees on Energy and Environment on exactly this topic back in the beginning of May.

Here is how I summarized the pipeline’s impact on the climate:

[I]f the Keystone XL pipeline were to operate at full capacity until the end of this century, it would, worst case, raise the global average surface temperature by about 1/100th of a degree Celsius. So after nearly 100 years of full operation, the Keystone XL’s impact on the climate would be inconsequential and unmeasurable. [emphasis in original]

According to the president’s criteria, that should pretty much guarantee his approval of the pipeline.

The President’s Climate Action Plan: Intervention Where It Isn’t Necessary

In his speech today, President Obama laid out his plan—formulated around executive action—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of mitigating future climate change.

Funny thing is, absent his Climate Action Plan, the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been on the decline for a decade, and now are at about the same level as our emissions in the early 1990s. In fact, the decline in emissions is taking place at a rate faster than the one sought by the president.

So why mess with a good thing? There is no way that introducing a bunch of new government regulations is going to improve the situation. If the Great Recession is any indication, the outcome of government involvement in the energy industry will be a poor one.

And to what end? As I have repeatedly shown, reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions has no significant impact on the future course of climate change.

On top of that, new science is accumulating that indicates that the future course of climate change is likely to be less steep than our current climate model-based estimates.

And despite the president’s long list of supposed climate wrongs that are consistent with human-caused climate change, there is an equally long list of climate wrongs that have been averted for reasons “consistent with” climate change.

Taken together, declining U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and declining estimates of climate change, should have been enough to convince the president that things were already on the proper track—no government intervention necessary.

But this administration is characterized by intervening where it is not necessary. The president’s Climate Action Plan is more of the same. 

Obama Tackles Global Warming — On His Own Authority

In a speech today at Georgetown University, President Obama will lay out his sweeping plan to address what he believes is our “moral obligation” to address climate change – apparently oblivious to serious studies questioning the extent and cause of the problem, to the futility of our acting alone as China, India, and others do nothing, and to the far-reaching economic effects his plan will have on an economy already struggling with regulatory overkill.

And he plans to do all of this not with the concurrence of Congress but in the face of congressional opposition. He will act unilaterally, by executive order. Yet he has that power, thanks to constitutionally dubious congressional delegations and court decisions stretching back over many years. See here for a detailed discussion of how the president came to have such awesome power.