Topic: Energy and Environment

The Case for Pulling the U.S. Out of the Paris Climate Accord

EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt has argued that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is a bad deal for the U.S. because it doesn’t bind China and India. But that implies it could be fixed by imposing the same ruinous terms on developing countries—which would in fact just spread the damage. The real reason for pulling of the Paris Accord is that it is a futile gesture based on empty and dishonest premises.

The first thing to note is that the same computer models that say global warming is a problem also say that Paris will not fix it. If one were to graph the standard warming projections over the next century with and without Paris, the two lines overlap almost exactly. Whatever greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration we would have reached in the year 2100 without Paris, we will reach it shortly thereafter with. For all its costs, the Paris treaty will have almost no effect on global warming, and by depleting global income it will make it harder for countries to adapt and innovate in response to whatever changes occur. Thus not only does Paris not solve the problem, it arguably makes it worse.

This, by the way, was equally true of the earlier Kyoto Protocol: all cost and no benefit. Under current technology and economic realities we have only two options: do nothing and adapt to whatever changes the climate will undergo over the next century, or take a lot of costly and futile actions today and adapt to whatever changes the climate will undergo over the next century. There has never been a third option involving costly actions today that stop the climate from changing.

Good News for Earth Day: A Negative Result from Ocean Acidification

In 2012, Stanford’s Daniele Fanelli published a provocative paper, “Negative Results are Disappearing in Most Disciplines and Countries” in the prestigious about-science journal Scientometrics. It demonstrated a remarkable increase in the number of papers reporting “positive” results, meaning those that found data in support of a prior hypothesis.

The reasons are manifold and in part to do with the way that we fund science. Research proposals usually include some statements of hypotheses that serve as the rationale for funding. For example, one might hypothesize that global warming will increase heat-related death, reduce crop yields, or cause wars. And, almost always, the funded scientists will find evidence to support each hypothesis.

Part of this has to do with the way agencies dole out the dough. There’s usually a meeting of five or so folks who wade through maybe a hundred proposals. There’s general discussion about which ones are worth funding, often centering around objectives and hypotheses. Upon funding, research that does not support a funded hypothesis will threaten a grant renewal.

“Ocean Acidification” will be, in our humble opinion, the next in a long line of ends-of-the-worlds that we have come to be used to. Global cooling, acid rain, stratospheric ozone depletion, tropospheric ozone increases, and global warming come to mind, in sequential order, soon to be followed by ocean acidification as our environmentalist friends become frustrated with any real meaningful policies to forestall our heretofore torpid warming.

Oddly enough, there are vast areas of the central Atlantic and Pacific oceans with naturally very low pH, or relative acidity, compared to the rest of the sea, and their relative acidity changes are large, compared to any small changes that humans have foisted on the ocean. Given that there’s often considerable biodiversity in these regions, isn’t it odd that virtually all research findings show ocean acidification to be deleterious? Kloekel (2010) performed a meta-analysis of nearly 600 findings and found approximately 97% deleterious results. That only 3% were salutary seems odd on a world where ocean pH naturally varies so much.

A recent “exception” was just published—deVries et al. (2016) in Scientific Reports. They set out to “examine the long-term effects of moderate increases in pCO2 and temperature” on the stress physiology and the hard exoskeleton of shrimp. It is a standard meme that decreasing pH, in general, is bad for hard-shelled organisms. They varied the pH and the temperature in a controlled laboratory setting. The working hypothesis was that lowered pH (more “acidic”) along with high temperature would elicit a stress response and render the shell more brittle.

Didn’t happen. Contrary to their initial thinking, the mantis shrimp exhibited an “apparently large tolerance range for changes in environmental pH and temperature.” More specifically, they found that “N. bredini showed no changes in growth, molting, enzymatic and protein indicators of oxidative stress, exoskeleton morphology, calcium content, or mechanical properties in response to experimental pH and temperature stressors,” which findings, in their words, suggest “that this species has evolved compensation mechanisms to cope with significant environmental change.” And if this one species has developed compensation mechanisms, it is not an illogical stretch to assume that other intertidal species have done so too.

Consequently, alarmist concerns for the future well-being of marine life in response to the twin evils of ocean acidification and warming are tempered (again) by observations showing that life tends to find a way to cope with the many challenges it faces.

 

References:

deVries, M.S., Webb, S.J., Tu, J., Cory, E., Morgan, V., Sah, R.L., Deheyn, D.D. and Taylor, J.R.A. 2016. Stress physiology and weapon integrity of intertidal mantis shrimp under future ocean conditions. Scientific Reports 6: 38637, DOI:10.1038/srep38637.

Kroeker, K.J., et al, 2010. Meta-analysis reveals negative yet variable effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms.  Ecology Letters, (2010) 13: 1419–1434 doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01518.x

Four Decades of Carter’s ‘Moral Equivalent of War’

Forty years ago tonight, President Jimmy Carter delivered his Address to the Nation on National Energy Policy, better known as the “Moral Equivalent of War” speech. Seated behind his ornate desk in the Oval Office and wearing a sober pinstriped suit, he offered a litany of dark predictions:

  • “The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out.”
  • “Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980s the world will be demanding more oil than it can produce.”
  • “World oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But some time in the 1980s it can’t go up much more. Demand will overtake production. We have no choice about that.”
  • “We can’t substantially increase our domestic production…”
  • “Within ten years we would not be able to import enough oil—from any country, at any acceptable price.”
  • “If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.”

Global Science Report: Hypotheses Masquerading as Facts in Federal Report on Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.

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.”

However, in addition to some very wet periods, the [Southeast] region has also experienced periods of extreme drying.
- U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2014

The quote above is from the 2014 federal report, Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Southeastern Region. Given the title and the subject, one would have to conclude that our government is telling us that this is a result of climate change.

“Authoritative” documents such as this often wind up in legal proceedings, as the “science” backup for proposed regulations. As such, statements of this ilk should be based upon some semblance of reality.

We find that many of these “factuals” are indeed subject to test. The one above is yet another assertion that climate change, presumably caused by emissions of carbon dioxide, is the cause of an increase in the frequency or severity of “extreme” events.

Floods and droughts qualify. After all, a flood is merely a cases of extreme high streamflow, and a prolonged drought will result an extreme low. Further, it is hard to find any weather extreme, any hurricane, tornado or wildfire where some apparent authority finds a television camera and does not blame it on global warming.

Bad Timing for a Carbon Tax

Last week, The Washington Post reported an “administration official” indicated the Trump White House was considering a new tax on carbon dioxide emissions. This seems incredible for a number of reasons.

It’s never a good time to champion a brand new tax, and recent science developments make it seem an especially bad one. A year ago lower atmospheric temperatures peaked with the big (and natural) El Niño. This temporarily wiped out the recent “pause” in warming that shows up in so many records. But now those temperatures are in rapid decline, with the March satellite readings back down to their pre- El Niño values. If they stay in that range for several months, the pause will be back.

If that happens, there will be no net lower atmospheric warming all the way back to 1994—almost a quarter of a century ago.

Even without another hiatus in warming, the disparity between forecast and observed warming will continue to grow.

People are now beginning to realize that there are other problems with the computer models with serious climate implications. There is a big one lurking in the bottom 50,000 feet of our atmosphere. These models all predict that the upper portion of this zone in the tropics should be warming even more than the surface. But the “tropical hot spot” simply refuses to show, as pointed out last month by University of Alabama’s John Christy, in testimony before the House Science Committee.

Observed (green) and predicted (red) warming rates from near the surface (bottom of chart) the stratosphere (above the top data point). The difference between predicted and observed changes in the high altitudes are in the range of an entire order of magnitude. The weather implications are discussed in this post.

Protect Your Privacy and Save Money by Telling NHTSA No to the Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Mandate

Comments on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s proposed vehicle-to-vehicle communications mandate are due next on Wednesday, April 12. This is one of the rules that was published just before President Trump was inaugurated. If approved, it will be one of the most expensive vehicle safety rules ever, adding around $300 dollars to the price of every car, or (at recent car sales rates) well over $5 billion per year. 

Despite the high cost, the NHTSA predicts the rule will save no more than 31 lives in 2025, mainly because it will do little good until most cars have it. Yet even by 2060, after consumers have spent well over $200 billion so that virtually all cars would have it, NHTSA predicts it will save no more than 1,365 lives per year. 

The danger is not that it will cost too much per life saved but that mandating one technology will inhibit the development and use of better technologies that could save even more lives at a lower cost. The technology the NHTSA wants to mandate is known as dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), a form of radio. Yet advancements in cell phones, wifi, and other technologies could do the same thing better for less money and probably without a mandate.

For example, your smartphone already has all the hardware needed for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Since more than three-fourths of Americans already have smartphones, mandating similar technology in new cars is redundant. Since that mandate will take more than a decade to have a significant impact on highway safety, NHTSA could see faster implementation using smartphones instead. It could do so by developing an app that could communicate with cars and provide extra features on the app that would encourage people to download and use it.  

All of the benefits claimed for the DSRC mandate assume that no other technology improvements take place. In fact, self-driving cars (which will work just as well with or without vehicle-to-vehicle systems) will greatly reduce auto fatalities, rendering the projected savings from vehicle-to-vehicle communications moot.

A mandate that one technology be used in all cars also opens the transportation system to potential hackers. The communications would necessarily be tied to automobile controls, which means that anyone who understands it could take control of every car in a city at once. If individual manufacturers were allowed to develop their own technologies, the use of multiple systems would make an attack both more difficult and less attractive.

There is also a privacy issue: vehicle-to-vehicle also means infrastructure-to-vehicle communications, raising the possibility that the government could monitor and even turn off your car if you were doing something it didn’t like, such as drive “too many” miles per year. That’s a very real concern because the Washington legislature has mandated a 50 percent reduction in per capita driving by 2050. Oregon and possibly other states have passed similar rules.

Comments on the proposed rule can be submitted on line or mailed to:

Docket Management Facility, M–30
U.S. Department of Transportation
West Building, Ground Floor, Rm. W12–140
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE.
Washington, DC 20590.

More Fun with Not-so-Dumb Organisms and the U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change

Last time around, we brought forth evidence against organismal “dumbness”—the notion that species found only in defined climatic environments will go extinct if the climate changes beyond their range. We picked on cute little Nemo, and “found,” much like in the animation, that his kind (Amphiprion ocellaris) could actually survive far beyond their somewhat circumscribed tropical reef climate.

The key was the notion of plasticity—the concept that, despite being linked to a fixed genetic compliment, or genotype, the products of those genes (the “phenotype”) changed along with the environment, allowing organisms some degree of insurance against climate change. How this comes about through evolution remains a mystery, though we may occasionally indulge in a bit of high speculation.

“Science,” according to the late, great philosopher Karl Popper, is comprised of theories that are capable of making what he called “difficult predictions.” The notion that gravity bends light would be one of those made by relativity, and it was shown to be true by Sir Arthur Eddington in the 1919 total solar eclipse. It just happened to be in totality in the Pleiades star cluster (also the corporate logo of Subaru), and, sure enough, the stars closest to the eclipsed sun’s limb apparently moved towards it when compared to their “normal” positions.

So we have been interested in a truly difficult test of phenotypic plasticity, and we think we found one.

How about a clam that lives in the bottom of the great Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica? Specifically, the burrowing clam Laternula elliptica. According to a recent (2017) paper by Catherine Waller of the University of Hull (in the, perhaps temporarily, United Kingdom) “75 percent of the recorded specimens [of L. elliptica] are from localities shallower than 100 m,” where the populations are exposed to “low and stable water temperatures in the range of -1.9 to +1.8 °C” (the remaining 25 percent inhabit cooler waters of the continental slope down to ~700m).

Laternula elliptica

Laternula elliptica