Quotulatiousness

April 1, 2014

Losing a debate? Demand that your opponents be locked up!

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:57

Not, I’m afraid, an April Fool’s Day story:

Finally, someone has come up with a way to settle the debate over climate change: Put the people on the wrong side of the argument in cages.

A writer for the website Gawker recently penned a self-described “rant” on the pressing need to arrest, charge and imprison people who “deny” global warming. In fairness, Adam Weinstein doesn’t want mass arrests (besides, in a country where only 44% of Americans say there is “solid evidence” of global warming and it’s mostly due to human activity, you can’t round up every dissenter). Fact-checking scientists are spared. So is “the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right. … You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150′s gassy exhaust.”

But Weinstein’s magnanimity ends there. Someone must pay. Weinstein suggests the government simply try the troublemakers and spokespeople. You know, the usual suspects. People like Limbaugh himself as well as ringleaders of political organizations and businesses that refuse to toe the line. “Those malcontents must be punished and stopped.”

Weinstein says that this “is an argument that’s just being discussed seriously in some circles.” He credits Rochester Institute of Technology philosophy professor Lawrence Torcello for getting the ball rolling. Last month, Torcello argued that America should follow Italy’s lead. In 2009, six seismologists were convicted of poorly communicating the risks of a major earthquake. When one struck, the scientists were sentenced to six years in jail for downplaying the risks. Torcello and Weinstein want a similar approach for climate change.

This is a great standard for free speech in America. Let’s just agree that the First Amendment reads, “Nothing in this clause shall be considered binding if it contradicts legal practices in the Abruzzo region of Italy.”

The truth is this isn’t as new an outlook as Weinstein suggests. For instance, in 2009, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman insisted that “deniers” in Congress who opposed the Waxman-Markey climate change bill were committing “treason” while explaining their opposition on the House floor. (That same year, Krugman’s fellow Timesman Thomas Friedman wrote that China’s authoritarian system was preferable to ours, in part, because it lets “enlightened” leaders deal with climate change.)

March 29, 2014

Nate Silver … in the shark tank

Filed under: Environment, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

Statistician-to-the-stars Nate Silver can shrug off attacks from Republicans over his 2012 electoral forecast or from Democrats unhappy with his latest forecast for the 2014 mid-terms, but he’s finding himself under attack from an unexpected quarter right now:

Ever wondered how it would feel to be dropped from a helicopter into a swirling mass of crazed, genetically modified oceanic whitetip sharks in the middle of a USS-Indianapolis-style feeding frenzy?

Just ask Nate Silver. He’s been living the nightmare all week – ever since he had the temerity to appoint a half-way skeptical scientist as resident climate expert at his “data-driven” journalism site, FiveThirtyEight.

Silver has confessed to The Daily Show that he can handle the attacks from Paul Krugman (“frivolous”), from his ex-New York Times colleagues, and from Democrats disappointed with his Senate forecasts. But what has truly spooked this otherwise fearless seeker-after-truth, apparently, is the self-righteous rage from the True Believers in Al Gore’s Church of Climate Change.

“We don’t pay that much attention to what media critics say, but that was a piece where we had 80 percent of our commenters weigh in negatively, so we’re commissioning a rebuttal to that piece,” said Silver. “We listen to the people who actually give us legs.”

The piece in question was the debut by his resident climate expert, Roger Pielke, Jr., arguing that there was no evidence to support claims by alarmists that “extreme weather events” are on the increase and doing more damage than ever before. Pielke himself is a “luke-warmer” – that is, he believes that mankind is contributing to global warming but is not yet convinced that this contribution will be catastrophic. But neither his scientific bona fides (he was Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder) nor his measured, fact-based delivery were enough to satisfy the ravening green-lust of FiveThirtyEight’s mainly liberal readership.

March 16, 2014

David Friedman responds to William Nordhaus on global warming costs

Filed under: Economics, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

At his blog, David Friedman links to a recent New York Review of Books article by William Nordhaus (itself a response to a Wall Street Journal article) which argues for economic action to address the impact of global warming:

His final, and possibly most important point, is based on his own research, which he complains that the WSJ article is misrepresenting. He starts with a correct point—that it is the difference between benefit and cost, not the ratio, that matters. He goes on to summarize his conclusion:

    My research shows that there are indeed substantial net benefits from acting now rather than waiting fifty years. A look at Table 5-1 in my study A Question of Balance (2008) shows that the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.

What he does not mention is that his $4.1 trillion is a cost summed over the entire globe and the rest of the century. Put in annual terms, that come to about $48 billion a year, a less impressive number. Current world GNP is about $85 trillion/year. So the net cost of waiting, on Nordhaus’s own numbers, is about one twentieth of one percent of world GNP. Not precisely a catastrophe.

I suggest a simple experiment. Let Nordhaus write a piece explicitly arguing that the net cost of waiting is about .06% of world GNP and see whether it is more popular with the supporters or the critics of his position. I predict that at least one supporter will accuse him of having sold out to big oil.

[...]

The future is very much too uncertain to have confidence in estimates of what will be happening fifty years from now — for an extended demonstration, see my Future Imperfect. If we follow Nordhaus’s current advice and tax carbon now in order to slow warming, it may turn out that the costs were unnecessary or even counterproductive. We may be spending money in order to make ourselves poorer, not richer.

I conclude, on the basis of Nordhaus’s own figures and without taking account of my past criticism of his calculations, that he has his conclusion backwards. The sensible strategy is to take no actions whose justification depends on the belief that increased CO2 produces large net costs until we have considerably better reason than we now do to believe it.

February 26, 2014

Carl Sagan and when warnings about a new ice age switched to global warming instead

Filed under: Environment, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:44

As a youngster, Robert Tracinski was a huge fan of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series. It was a formative experience for him, yet he found that Sagan’s concerns about global warming were not convincing … because those warnings were actually antithetical to his larger message:

It might seem strange to say it, but I am a global warming skeptic because of Carl Sagan.

This might seem strange because Sagan was an early promoter of the theory that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide are going to fry the globe. But it’s not so strange when you consider the larger message that made Sagan famous.

As with many people my age, Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos, which aired on public television when I was eleven years old, was my introduction to science, and it changed my life. Cosmos shared the latest developments in the sciences of evolution, astronomy, and astrophysics, but its real heart was Sagan’s overview of the history of science and the distinctive ethos behind the scientific method. Sagan returned again and again to one central theme: that the first rule of science is to follow the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of one’s wishes or preconceptions. He spoke eloquently about the Ancient Greek Pythagoreans and their attempt to suppress the facts about “irrational numbers” that didn’t fit their theory. And he spoke admiringly about the 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler, who started out pursuing a theory in which the planets move in circular orbits reflecting the ratios of the perfect Pythagorean solids — and ended up being driven by the evidence to reject this theory and discover completely new laws of planetary motion.

I didn’t end up becoming a scientist, but I absorbed Sagan’s basic lesson and have tried my best to adhere to it in my own field: follow the evidence wherever it leads.

But this can be a difficult rule to follow. It is easy to spot the unexamined assumptions of others, but harder to root out your own prejudices. A few years ago, while watching Cosmos again for the first time in 25 years, I was reminded that Sagan did not always practice what he preached, and his error sheds light on the global warming theory’s original sin against science. It is a sin that has only gotten worse and which explains the scandalous state of today’s debate over global warming.

[...]

This is a bit of a cultural time capsule, preserving the precise moment at which scientific alarmists were switching from warning about a new ice age, in the 1970s, to warning about runaway warming.

February 23, 2014

David Friedman looks at the “missing heat is going into the deep ocean” claim

Filed under: Environment — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:20

David Friedman is an economist, so of course he doesn’t claim to be a climate scientist. He can, however, do math and examine numerical evidence … which doesn’t seem to support the most recent explanation for the pause in global warming:

One claim I have repeatedly seen in online arguments about global warming is that it has not really paused, because the “missing heat” has gone into the ocean. Before asking whether that claim is true, it is worth first asking how anyone could know it is true. A simple calculation suggests that the answer is one couldn’t. As follows …

Part of the claim, which I assume is true, is that from 90% to 95% of global heat goes into the ocean, which implies that the heat capacity of the ocean is 10 to 20 times that of the rest of the system. If so, and if the pause in surface and atmosphere temperatures was due to heat for some reason going into the ocean instead, that should have warmed the ocean by 1/10 to 1/20th of the amount by which the rest of the system didn’t warm.

The global temperature trend in the IPCC projections is about .03°C/year. If surface and atmospheric temperature has been flat for 17 years, that would put it about .5° below trend. If the explanation is the heat going into the ocean, the average temperature of the ocean should have risen as a result above its trend by between .025° and .05°.

Would anyone like to claim that we have data on ocean temperature accurate enough to show a change that small? If not, then the claim is at this point not an observed fact, which is how it is routinely reported, but a conjecture, a way of explaining away the failure of past models to correctly predict current data.

February 16, 2014

Is it climate change or is it just weather?

Filed under: Environment, Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Ant O’Fearghail has developed a useful model to help you determine if a particular situation is caused by climate change or if it’s just ordinary weather:

Climate change or weather

February 13, 2014

Flooding in Britain – call for the Witchfinder Floodfinder General!

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

Rob Lyons asks who is to blame for the current flooding in Britain. The answer may be … nobody:

Floods in the UK are getting worse. There’s not much we can do it about it. It’s caused by climate change, which in turn is caused by human beings. It’s payback time.

There you go. In one paragraph, I’ve saved you having to read British newspapers or watch British TV news for the next few days. Of course, the recent flooding is a nightmare for those affected. It’s also a dream for lazy TV news editors who want to plonk their reporters in front of some interesting backdrop offering trite statements about a human-interest story. But the discussion about the causes of the floods and whether we can – or should – do anything about them is rather more worrying than TV’s dumbed-down ‘news values’.

[...]

A briefing published by the UK Met Office earlier this month highlights just how unusual the weather is at present. ‘Although no individual storm can be regarded as exceptional, the clustering and persistence of the storms is highly unusual. December and January were exceptionally wet. For England and Wales this was one of, if not the most, exceptional periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years. The two-month total (December + January) of 372.2mm for the south-east and central southern England region is the wettest any two-month period in the series from 1910.’ It’s the conveyor belt of stormy weather, rather than any particular individual event, which is causing the problems. The ground is already soaked and rivers are already high; further rainfall has nowhere to go but out on to the flood plains.

However, a quick look at the Met Office briefing shows that while rainfall in southern England in January was very exceptional, it is hard to glean any particular overall pattern – other than that rainfall is very variable.

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

Indeed, just two years ago, Britain was in drought. Consecutive winters of below-average rainfall had left water companies enforcing restrictions on supply. Then the heavens opened, and it seems to have barely stopped raining since. So how on earth did the head of the Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, conclude that while there was ‘no definitive answer’ to what caused the storms, ‘all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change’? Indeed, Slingo is not alone in her assessment. The prime minister, David Cameron, said in January that he ‘suspected’ climate change was behind the floods. Labour leader Ed Miliband declared that climate change was sure to bring ‘more flooding, more storms’. Yet less than a year ago, scientists were assuring us that climate change would lead to more droughts in the future in the UK.

January 4, 2014

Antarctic climate researchers still not home-free

Filed under: Environment, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:59

AntarcticaRemember the story about the Australian climate researchers trapped in the Antarctic ice? The good news from a few days back — that all the passengers of the MS Akademik Shokalskiy (including researchers, tourists, and journalists, but not the crew) had been successfully transferred to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis is now overshadowed because the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long which also responded to the SOS call is now itself also trapped in the ice:

The saga just keeps going. The Chinese Icebreaker is now also stuck, and has asked for help so the Aurora Australis with 52 extra passengers rescued from the Russian Charter boat have to stay nearby to help. Twenty two Russian sailors are still trapped on board the Russian boat — the Akademik Sholaskiy. Plus other scientists in Antarctica still don’t have their equipment. Costs for everyone involved are continuing to rise.

In The Australian, Graham Lloyd‘s paywalled article begins with this:

TAXPAYERS will foot a $400,000 bill for the rescue of a group of climate scientists, tourists and journalists from a stranded Russian research vessel — an operation that has blown the contingency budget of Australia’s Antarctic program and disrupted its scientific work. The Antarctic Division in Hobart said it was revising plans and considering airlifting urgently needed scientific equipment that could not be unloaded from Aurora Australis before the ship was diverted from the Casey base to rescue the novice ice explorers just before Christmas.

The Sydney Morning Herald posted this short video earlier in the week, before the Aurora Australis had gotten close enough to take on the passengers from the Akademik Sholaskiy:

Update: The head of French antarctic research is unhappy with the tourists’ disruption to actual science work:

The head of France’s polar science institute voiced fury on Friday at the misadventures of a Russian ship trapped in Antarctic ice, deriding what he called a tourists’ trip that had diverted resources from real science.

In an interview with AFP, Yves Frenot, director of the French Polar Institute, said he had no issue at all with rescuing those aboard the stricken vessel.

But, he said, the trip itself was a “pseudo-scientific expedition” that, because it had run into difficulties, had drained resources from the French, Chinese and Australian scientific missions in Antarctica. “There’s no reason to place Antarctica off-limits and to keep it just for scientists, but this tourism has to be monitored and regulated so that operators can be sure of getting help if need be,” he said.

December 2, 2013

Sea level changes during recorded history

Filed under: Environment, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:50

Some interesting points in this guest post by Robert W. Endlich:

Sea level changes over relatively recent geologic and human history demonstrate that alarmist claims do not withstand scrutiny. Sea levels rose significantly after the last ice age, fell during the Little Ice Age, and have been rising again since the LIA ended around 1850. In fact, Roman Empire and Medieval port cities are now miles from the Mediterranean, because sea levels actually fell during the Little Ice Age.

[...]

Those rising oceans created new ports for Greek and Roman naval and trade vessels. But today many of those structures and ruins are inland, out in the open, making them popular tourist destinations. How did that happen? The Little Ice Age once again turned substantial ocean water into ice, lowering sea levels, and leaving former ports stranded. Not enough ice has melted since 1850 to make them harbors again.

The ancient city of Ephesus was an important port city and commercial hub from the Bronze Age to the Minoan Warm period, and continuing through the Roman Empire. An historic map shows its location right on the sea. But today, in modern-day Turkey, Ephesus is 5 km from the Mediterranean. Some historians erroneously claim “river silting” caused the change, but the real “culprit” was sea level change.

Ruins of the old Roman port Ostia Antica, are extremely well preserved – with intact frescoes, maps and plans. Maps from the time show the port located at the mouth of the Tiber River, where it emptied into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Battle of Ostia in 849, depicted in a painting attributed to Raphael, shows sea level high enough for warships to assemble at the mouth of the Tiber. However, today this modern-day tourist destination is two miles up-river from the mouth of the Tiber. Sea level was significantly higher in the Roman Warm Period than today.

An important turning point in British history occurred in 1066, when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. Less well-known is that, when William landed, he occupied an old Roman fort now known as Pevensey Castle, which at the time was located on a small island in a harbor on England’s south coast. A draw bridge connected it to the mainland. Pevensey is infamous because unfortunate prisoners were thrown into this “Sea Gate,” so that their bodies would be washed away by the tide. Pevensey Castle is now a mile from the coast – further proof of a much higher sea level fewer than 1000 years ago.

October 5, 2013

Climate models, trust, and spin

Filed under: Environment, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

In Reason, Ronald Bailey asks whether we can trust the IPCC’s climate models:

On Monday, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final draft of Climate Change 2013: The Physical Sciences Basis. The report’s Summary for Policymakers flatly states: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” Pretty much everyone concerned with this issue agrees that those are the facts. But what is causing the planet to warm up? Here is where it gets interesting.

[...]

The IPCC report acknowledges that almost all of the “historical simulations do not reproduce the observed recent warming hiatus.” Not to worry, it assures us; 15-year pauses just happen, and you can’t really expect the models to simulate these kind of random natural fluctuations in the climate. Once this little slow-down passes, “It is more likely than not that internal climate variability in the near-term will enhance and not counteract the surface warming expected to arise from the increasing anthropogenic forcing.” In other words, when the warm-up resumes it will soar.

John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, has come to a different conclusion. Christy compared the outputs of 73 climate models for the tropical troposphere used by the IPCC in its latest report with satellite and weather balloon temperature trends since 1979 until 2030. “The tropics is so important because that is where models show the clearest and most distinct signal of greenhouse warming — so that is where the comparison should be made (rather than say for temperatures in North Dakota),” Christy explains in an email. “Plus, the key cloud and water vapor feedback processes occur in the tropics.” When it comes to simulating the atmospheric temperature trends of the past 35 years, Christy found, all of the IPCC models are running hotter than the actual climate.

[...]

Average of model results compared with temperature trends

Average of model results compared with temperature trends

To defend himself against any accusations of cherry-picking his data, Christy notes that his “comparisons start in 1979, so these are 35-year time series comparisons” — rather longer than the 15-year periods whose importance the IPCC disputes.

Why the discrepancy between the IPCC and Christy results? As Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry notes, data don’t speak for themselves; researchers have to put them into a context. And your choice of context — say, the year you choose to begin with — can influence your conclusions considerably. While there may be nothing technically wrong with the way the IPCC chose to display the comparison between model data and observation data, “Curry observes, it will mislead the public to infer that climate models are better than we thought.” She adds, “What is wrong is the failure of the IPCC to note the failure of nearly all climate model simulations to reproduce a pause of 15+ years.”

September 27, 2013

Harper and climate change … spending

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:07

David Akin points out that all the major federal parties believe the same thing about climate change, except that the Tories are the ones who’ve been chucking around the money on climate change programs:

The simple fact of Canadian politics here is that, if you do not believe in climate change, there is no federal political party that shares your view. There almost was one in Alberta in its last provincial election but, boy, did that idea get shouted down.

But back to what [former environment minister Peter] Kent said to me in that interview:

“There is no question that since the Industrial Revolution there have been anthropogenic, man-made effects on our global climate. The argument continues in the scientific community how much is evolution and how much is man-made but there is certainly something we can do.”

So what is the something that the Harper government has been doing? Well, truth be told, the Harper Conservatives, like the Martin and Chretien Liberals before them, have not been doing very much. None of them, in fact, got the job done. Which might, come to think of it, be a good reason — if climate change is the only thing you’re voting on — to consider choosing the NDP or the Greens next time around. Not to say they’d actually get it done but it’s pretty clear the other two parties, while they talk a good game, just don’t have the political stomach for the job. Those New Democrats brought us universal health care. Maybe they can fix the environment, too.

Still, that doesn’t mean Conservatives aren’t prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars — billions even — on a problem they are accused of not admitting even exists. Take biofuels, for example. Early on, the Harper government got the idea that if corn- or plant-based ethanol displaced enough fossil fuels, we’d easily roll back greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently no one bothered to point out that there is serious doubt that corn-based ethanol is actually a lower-emission alternative to fossil fuels but why complicate things? Ethanol is a good, solid, job-creating green story!

In the long run, the subsidies and outright gifts of government money to green-ish sounding companies will likely be the only reminders of the great global warming panic of the last decade. Certainly little or no actual environmental improvements will be traced to the billions of dollars doled out to cronies under this government.

September 22, 2013

Statistical fail for political axe-grinding

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:29

Coyote Blog views with alarm a recent article in Rolling Stone which abuses statistics to make a point that apparently isn’t true:

What I want to delve into is the claim by the author that wildfires are increasing due to global warming, and only evil Republicans (who suck) could possibly deny this obvious trend [...]

These are the 8 statements I can find to support an upward trend in fires. And you will note, I hope, that none of them include the most obvious data — what has the actual trend been in number of US wildfires and acres burned. Each of these is either a statement of opinion or a data point related to fire severity in a particular year, but none actually address the point at hand: are we getting more and larger fires?

Maybe the data does not exist. But in fact it does, and I will say there is absolutely no way, no way, the author has not seen the data. The reason it is not in this article is because it does not fit the “reporters” point of view so it is left out. Here is where the US government tracks fires by year, at the National Interagency Fire Center. To save you clicking through, here is the data as of this moment:

Wildfire averages 2004-2013

Well what do you know? The number of fires and the acres burned in 2013 are not some sort of record high — in fact they actually are the, respectively, lowest and second lowest numbers of the last 10 years. In fact, both the number of fires and the total acres burned are running a third below average.

The one thing this does not address is the size of fires. The author implies that there are more fires burning more acres, which we see is clearly wrong, but perhaps the fires are getting larger? Well, 2012 was indeed an outlier year in that fires were larger than average, but 2013 has returned to the trend which has actually been flat to down, again exactly opposite of the author’s contention (data below is just math from chart above)

Wildfires average acres per fire 2004-2013

In the rest of the post, I will briefly walk through his 8 statements highlighted above and show why they exhibit many of the classic fallacies in trying to assert a trend where none exists. In the postscript, I will address one other inconsistency from the article as to the cause of these fires which is a pretty hilarious of how to turn any data to supporting your hypothesis, even if it is unrelated.

September 20, 2013

The IPCC’s new, more cautious tone

Filed under: Environment, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:41

In The Spectator, a muted tone of “we told you so” about the upcoming IPCC report:

Next week, those who made dire predictions of ruinous climate change face their own inconvenient truth. The summary of the fifth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be published, showing that global temperatures are refusing to follow the path which was predicted for them by almost all climatic models. Since its first report in 1990, the IPCC has been predicting that global temperatures would be rising at an average of 0.2° Celsius per decade. Now, the IPCC acknowledges that there has been no statistically significant rise at all over the past 16 years.

It is difficult to over-emphasise the significance of this report. The IPCC is not simply a research body making reports and declarations which are merely absorbed into political debate. Its word has been taken as gospel, and its research has been used to justify all manner of schemes to make carbon-based energy more expensive while subsidising renewable energy.

The failure of its predictions undermines the certainties which have been placed upon the science of climate change. Previous IPCC reports — and much of the debate over how to react to them — have appeared to treat the Earth’s climate as if it were a domestic central heating system, with carbon emissions analogous to the dial on the thermostat: a small tweak here will result in a temperature rise of precisely 0.2°C and so on. What is clear from the new IPCC report is that the science is not nearly advanced enough to make useful predictions on the future rise of global temperatures. Perhaps it never will be.

Some climate scientists themselves, to give them credit, have admitted as much. Their papers now incorporate a degree of caution, as you would expect from genuine scientists. The problems arise when the non-scientists leap upon the climate change bandwagon and assume that anything marked ‘science’ must be the final word. As the chemist and novelist C.P. Snow once warned in his lecture about the ‘two cultures’, you end up in a situation where non-scientists use half-understood reports to silence debate — not realising that proper science welcomes refutation and is wary of the notion of absolute truths.

August 17, 2013

Fracking and the environment

Filed under: Environment, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:03

Matt Ridley debunks five common myths about environmental issues with fracking:

The movie Gasland showed a case of entirely natural gas contamination of water and the director knew it, but he still pretended it might have been caused by fracking. Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary, said earlier this month: “I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.” Tens of thousands of wells drilled, two million fracking operations completed and not a single proven case of groundwater contamination. Not one. It may happen one day, of course, but there’s few industries that can claim a pollution record that good.

Next comes the claim that shale gas production results in more methane release to the atmosphere and hence could be as bad for climate change as coal. (Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time and its concentration is not currently rising fast.) This claim originated with a Cornell biology professor with an axe to grind. Study after study has refuted it. As a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology put it: “It is incorrect to suggest that shale gas-related hydraulic fracturing has substantially altered the overall [greenhouse gas] intensity of natural gas production.”

Third comes the claim that fracking uses too much water. The Guardian carried a report this week implying that a town in Texas is running dry because of the water used for fracking. Yet in Texas 1% of water use is for fracking, in the United States as a whole 0.3% — less than is used by golf courses. If parts of Texas run out of water, blame farming, by far the biggest user.

Fourth, the ever-so-neutral BBC in a background briefing this week described fracking as releasing “hundreds of chemicals” into the rock. Out by an order of magnitude, Auntie. Fracking fluid is 99.51% water and sand. In the remaining 0.49% there are just 13 chemicals, all of which can be found in your kitchen, garage or bathroom: citric acid (lemon juice), hydrochloric acid (swimming pools), glutaraldehyde (disinfectant), guar (ice cream), dimethylformamide (plastics), isopropanol (deodorant), borate (hand soap); ammonium persulphate (hair dye); potassium chloride (intravenous drips), sodium carbonate (detergent), ethylene glycol (de-icer), ammonium bisulphite (cosmetics), petroleum distillate (cosmetics).

As for earthquakes, Durham University’s definitive survey of all induced earthquakes over many decades concluded that “almost all of the resultant seismic activity [from fracking] was on such a small scale that only geoscientists would be able to detect it” and that mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage causes more and bigger tremors.

(more…)

July 31, 2013

“What LEED designers deliver is what most LEED building owners want – namely, green publicity, not energy savings”

Filed under: Business, Environment, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

A bit of LEED debunking at The New Republic:

When the Bank of America Tower opened in 2010, the press praised it as one of the world’s “most environmentally responsible high-rise office building[s].” It wasn’t just the waterless urinals, daylight dimming controls, and rainwater harvesting. And it wasn’t only the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification — the first ever for a skyscraper — and the $947,583 in incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. It also had as a tenant the environmental movement’s biggest celebrity. The Bank of America Tower had Al Gore.

The former vice president wanted an office for his company, Generation Investment Management, that “represents the kind of innovation the firm is trying to advance,” his real-estate agent said at the time. The Bank of America Tower, a billion-dollar, 55-story crystal skyscraper on the northwest corner of Manhattan’s Bryant Park, seemed to fit the bill. It would be “the most sustainable in the country,” according to its developer Douglas Durst. At the Tower’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gore powwowed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and praised the building as a model for fighting climate change. “I applaud the leadership of the mayor and all of those who helped make this possible,” he said.

Gore’s applause, however, was premature. According to data released by New York City last fall, the Bank of America Tower produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York — and one with a lower LEED rating. It’s not just an embarrassment; it symbolizes a flaw at the heart of the effort to combat climate change.

[...]

“What LEED designers deliver is what most LEED building owners want — namely, green publicity, not energy savings,” John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin, testified before the House last year.

Governments, nevertheless, have been happy to rely on LEED rather than design better metrics. Which is why New York’s release of energy data last fall was significant. It provided more public-energy data for a U.S. city than has ever existed. It found the worst-performing buildings use three to five times more energy per square foot than the best ones. It also found that, if the most energy-intensive large buildings were brought up to the current seventy-fifth percentile, the city’s total greenhouse gases could be reduced by 9 percent.

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