Topic: Energy and Environment

Global Warming Science — Utter Garbage

… at least, that’s what one might think about the state of the literature today after reexamining a paper by Isabelle Chuine et al. that was published a couple of years ago in the journal Nature (subscr. required). 

Chuine et al. claimed to have developed a method for estimating summer temperatures in the French wine region of Burgundy from 1370 to the present based on the dates that grapes were harvested. Using this method, the authors asserted that the summer of 2003 was the warmest summer in Burgundy since 1370. The study was offered up as yet one more piece of evidence that global warming is running amuck. 

But not so fast — it turns out that the estimates offered by Chuine et al. have absolutely no relation with observed temperatures and that no one ever bothered to check whether their estimates matched hard data when the two coincided. In a forthcoming paper for Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Douglas Keenan tears the Chuine paper limb from limb

More importantly, Keenan calls attention to the overall shoddiness of the scientific press today and the researchers publishing therein:

What is important here is not the truth or falsity of the assertion of Chuine et al. about Burgundy temperatures. Rather, what is important is that a paper on what is arguably the world’s most important scientific topic (global warming) was published in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal with essentially no checking of the work prior to publication.

Moreover — and crucially — this lack of checking is not the result of some fluke failures in the publication process. Rather, it is common for researchers to submit papers without supporting data, and it is frequent that peer reviewers do not have the requisite mathematical or statistical skills needed to check the work (medical sciences excepted). In other words, the publication of the work of Chuine et al. was due to systemic problems in the scientific publication process.

The systemic nature of the problems indicates that there might be many other scientific papers that, like the paper of Chuine et al., were inappropriately published. Indeed, that is true and I could list numerous examples. The only thing really unusual about the paper of Chuine et al. is that the main problem with it is understandable for people without specialist scientific training. Actually, that is why I decided to publish about it. In many cases of incorrect research the authors will try to hide behind an obfuscating smokescreen of complexity and sophistry. That is not very feasible for Chuine et al. (though the authors did try).

Finally, it is worth noting that Chuine et al. had the data; so they must have known that their conclusions were unfounded. In other words, there is prima facie evidence of scientific fraud. What will happen to the researchers as a result of this? Probably nothing. That is another systemic problem with the scientific publication process.

Unfortunately, few enviro-beat reporters take the time to critically examine the avalanche of papers crossing their desk claiming this, that, or the other. Fact-checking rarely if ever occurs. The Globe and Mail, for instance, was absolutely breathless about Chuine’s findings. After all, what a topical hook: global warming will screw up your pinot noir!

The lesson here is that you can’t assume that anything in the scientific literature has ever been given even a cursory critical review prior to publication. Peer-review means nothing. Swallow this stuff at your own risk. 

Why Not Mandate This?

There are two beliefs that animate government R&D policy in the energy arena.

Belief #1: If you subsidize it, it will come. Wanting technology x to succeed in the market is a simple matter of throwing government money at technology x.

Belief #2: Politicians have every right to tell market actors what to invest in and what to buy. George Bush’s preferences for what Detroit ought to build (engines powered by hydrogen-powered fuel cells) and his preferences for what we ought to put in our fuel tanks in the meantime (200 proof grain alcohol, which goes by the moniker “ethanol”) should rule the day.

OK then, why not both subsidize the creation of – and mandate the production of – cars run by air? It’s doable. It’s carbon-free. And what possible environmental complaint might anyone have? Sure, it might be costly, and the car might not perform all that well, but government dough is like magic – all will be made right.

Be Careful What You Wish For…

A couple of people over recent days have asked my opinion on the prospects for reform of agriculture policy should Democrats take over the House and/or the Senate. My usual reply is to lament the depressingly bipartisan nature of support for farm subsidies and trade barriers, and to also point out that the recent farm bill (implemented by a Republican congress) has been one of the most expensive in history: $23 billion last year. In a nutshell, I had thought that the prospects for reform could not be any worse under the Democrats than under Republicans.

It turns out that I may be wrong (yes, it happens occasionally). In a recent press release from Texas A&M University, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee (and probable chairman of that committee should the Democrats regain the majority in the House), Colin Peterson (D-MN) seems to support extension of the current farm bill, egregious though it is, but with yet more pork added.

Rep. Peterson would implement permanent crop disaster relief (I have blogged on this idea previously), and was indirectly quoted as calling renewable energy derived from crops ”the most exciting development in agriculture in his lifetime.”

Rep. Peterson does seem to have a point about the scope for the addition of expensive and agriculture-irrelevant rider amendments to ad-hoc disaster relief bills, but describing a permanent disaster relief program as a way to “save taxpayer dollars” is disingenuous, to say the least.

Rep. Peterson seems to have no truck with the idea that agriculture should contribute to deficit reduction, either: “I reject the idea that because we have a $9 trillion deficit, we have to get rid of farm programs. We didn’t cause that problem. In fact, agriculture was the only government initiative that actually spent less than was projected, $13 billion less so far. Besides, if you got rid of all agriculture programs, it wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit. So we need to do what’s right for agriculture, and that’s where I’m coming from.”

On ethanol, which my colleague Jerry Taylor has blogged about here, Rep. Peterson wheeled out the old “foreign oil dependency” issue and put his full support behind investing significant resources (that’s your resources) into more research into bio-fuels, describing the profits that investors are making currently from ethanol as “obscene.”

You said it, sir.

Energy Markets for Thee, but Not for Me

OPEC’s announcement last Thursday to cut crude oil production by 1.2 million barrels prompted this gem from Energy Secretary Sam Bodman: ”We continue to believe that it is best for oil producers and consumers alike to allow free markets to determine issues of supply, demand and price.”  Hearing frank talk about the virtues of free markets in the energy sector is indeed refreshing.  Too bad Bodman doesn’t take his own rhetoric seriously.  Why should oil supply, demand, and price be left to market actors but not ethanol supply, demand, and price?  Or wind energy supply, demand, and price?  Or ad infinitum?

Simply put, this administration believes that politicians should dictate energy choices, not markets.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have “Freedom Car” initiatives, clean-coal technology programs, massive new subsidies for nuclear power plant construction, or any of the political madness surrounding ethanol.

OPEC should tell Bodman they’ll embrace markets as soon as Bush does likewise. 

The Global Warming Cult

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle penned a spot-on essay the other day regarding the manner in which the warming crowd has donned the trappings of a religious cult.  The true faith has even managed to claim a large number of scientists who one might think would resist the rather unscientific nature of this particular belief system.  Her opening paragraph sets the tone:

GLOBAL WARMING is a religion, not science. That’s why acolytes in the media attack global-warming critics, not with scientific arguments, but for their apostasy. Then they laud global-warming believers, not for reducing greenhouse gases, but simply for believing global warming is a coming catastrophe caused by man. The important thing is to have faith in those who warn: The End Is Near.

Unfortunately, the media is largely blind to the increasing weirdness of the debate and seems to have signed on as PR operatives for the New Church of the Earth Redeemed.

This is a theme I’ve hammered on before in these pages, but Saunders does a better job than I have highlighting the rather unscientific demeanor of our self-proclaimed guardians of scientific truth.  Worth reading.

The Kyoto Charade

One of the things I keep trying to hammer home to the media is the extent to which legislative promises to meet environmental goal X sometime in the future have almost always been, and likely always will be, meaningless blather

The reason is simple. Voters love promises to accomplish wonderful things, but they don’t love burdensome policies to secure those wonderful things. Because the public’s attention span is quite limited to say the least, loud and vigorous promises to slay environmental dragons will harvest political capital while subsequent failure to actually slay those dragons will go relatively unnoticed and cost politicians little. 

More data confirming that insight (reported in Platt’s, subscription required) came our way yesterday courtesy of Cap Gemini, a global consulting firm. European greenhouse gas emissions rose 0.4 percent in 2005 despite the fact that meeting European obligations under the Kyoto Protocol requires emissions to decline 0.3 percent per annum from 1990 through 2012. According to Cap Gemini, Europe is 300 million metric tons of CO2 away from meeting its treaty obligations, which means that it is ”highly unlikely” (Cap Gemini’s words) that European obligations under Kyoto will be met. 

Examination of the emissions data over time reveals that the Protocol is having no detectable impact on European emission trends. Greenhouse gases come primarily from fossil fuels, which means that unless fossil fuels become very expensive via taxation or regulation, emissions will remain unaffected. European governments, however, lack the stomach to inflate the heck out of fossil fuel prices because the public has no appetite for such a thing. A poll conducted a few months ago (EUObserver.com, subscription required) for the European Commission, for instance, found that 59 percent of those (notoriously Green) Europeans surveyed were not “prepared to pay more for energy produced from renewable sources than for energy produced from other sources.”

Why do environmentalists put up with this political charade? I’ve been asking that of environmental leaders of late, and as best as I can tell, they tolerate this kind of duplicity from their political champions because they fear that the charade is the best they can hope for at present. Better that politicians pretend to be doing something important while actually doing something quite inconsequential than for politicians to tell the Greens to get lost altogether.  

Maybe so, but the environmental lobbyists are probably hurting their own cause in the process. After all, if the public thinks that meaningful and low-cost things are being accomplished to address warming today, they will be less inclined to support far more costly programs to do the same tomorrow.  

Fine with us.     

The Global Warming Debate is Over? It’s NEVER Over!

When you hear scientists declaring “the debate is over” about industrial emissions and their relationship to global warming, you are essentially hearing a radically anti-science argument. That, at least, is the bracing contention of Prof. Michael Shaughnessy in an essay just posted this morning for WorldNet Daily. An excerpt:

For honest, truth-seeking scientists, vigorous debate over scientific ideas is never really over. Scientists are supposed to seek truth first, as indicated by the scientific data collected. The pursuit of truth and data is never supposed to end for the scientist. The declaration that the global warming debate is over says more about global warming proponents’ agenda than it does about the science of global warming.