How I (Almost) Saved the Earth

No one said it would be easy to build the greenest house on the block. Scott Adams on perplexing energy bills, ugly lawns and the true meaning of ‘green’

Let’s say you love the Earth. You see an article in a magazine about a guy who built a “green” house using mostly twigs, pinecones and abandoned bird nests. You want to build a green home, too. So you find an architect, show him the magazine and say, “Give me one just like this.”

Good luck with that.

Your architect only knows how to design homes using materials that his local planning commission is likely to approve. But he wants the job, so he tries hard to talk you out of using twigs, pinecones and abandoned bird nests. He tells you that no builder will build it. He tells you it won’t get approved by the city. He tells you it won’t stand up to earthquakes, hurricanes or termites. But you persist. You’re saving the Earth, damn it. No one said it would be easy.

So the architect—and later your building engineer, too—each asks you to sign a document saying you won’t sue them when beavers eat a load-bearing wall and your entire family is crushed by forest debris. You make the mistake of mentioning this arrangement to your family, and they leave you. But you are not deterred because you’re saving the planet, damn it. You’ll get a new family. A greener one.

Your next hurdle is the local planning commission. They like to approve things that are similar to things they’ve approved before. To do otherwise is to risk unemployment. And the neighbors don’t want to live next to a house that looks like a compost pile. But let’s say, for the sake of this fascinating story, that everyone in the planning commission is heavily medicated with medical marijuana and they approve your project over the objections of all of your neighbors, except for the beavers, who are suspiciously flexible. Now you need a contractor who is willing to risk his career to build this cutting-edge structure.

Good luck with that.

No builder wants a risky project that could end his career. And how would he price it? He’d have to learn a whole new building method and find subcontractors willing to take on the risk. Amazingly, after a long search, you find a builder who is willing to tackle the project for about 25% more than the cost of a traditional house frame, which is reasonable given the extra business uncertainties. You’re OK with the extra costs because you’re saving the Earth, damn it.

Against all odds, you get the house built. But you can’t figure out why your monthly energy bill is the same as your neighbor’s. That magazine article assured you that twigs, pinecones and bird nests are excellent insulators. Where did you go wrong?

One day you run into an engineer who, unlike yourself, actually knows something. He listens to your whining about your energy bill and speculates that perhaps the walls weren’t packed densely enough. Or maybe there was too much moisture in the mix. Or maybe magazine articles are a bad way to learn about the science of insulation. Or perhaps, he speculates, while choosing his words carefully, you were too ignorant to realize that the majority of your energy loss is through your windows and roof.

My point is that being green is hard. My wife and I recently built what is arguably the greenest home for miles around. OK, stop. This is a good time to define “green.”

The greenest home is the one you don’t build. If you really want to save the Earth, move in with another family and share a house that’s already built. Better yet, live in the forest and eat whatever the squirrels don’t want. Don’t brag to me about riding your bicycle to work; a lot of energy went into building that bicycle. Stop being a hypocrite like me.

I prefer a more pragmatic definition of green. I think of it as living the life you want, with as much Earth-wise efficiency as your time and budget reasonably allow. Now back to our story.

When I started researching the field of green building, as part of the planning for our own home, I learned that, in many cases, you can’t get there from here. Allow me to share some of the things we learned. It’s California-centric, but I think you can generalize from my experience.

As a rule, the greener the home, the uglier it will be. I went into the process thinking that green homes were ugly because hippies have bad taste. That turns out to be nothing but a coincidence. The problem is deeper. For example, the greenest sort of roof in a warm climate would be white to reflect the sun. If you want a beautiful home, a white roof won’t get you there. Sure, you could put a lovely garden on your roof, because you heard someone did that. But don’t try telling me a garden roof wouldn’t be a maintenance nightmare. And where do you find the expert who knows how to do that sort of thing?

Second, the greenest sort of home would have few windows because windows bleed heat. In particular, if your lot has a view to the west, forget putting windows on that side because your family members will heat up like ants under a magnifying glass. Try telling your architect that you don’t want a lot of windows on the view side. He’ll quit.

Remember to skip the water-wasting lawn. White pebbles are the way to go if you want to save the Earth. I was born with almost no sense of style whatsoever, and even I hate looking at pebble lawns, although I do respect the choice.

Realistically, you’ll need to find a middle ground between green design and aesthetics. We chose roof tiles that are lighter colored than a typical roof, but nowhere near white. We used artificial grass in the side and back of the house, which is great for playing, while leaving a small patch of natural grass in the front for appearance. We have relatively few windows on the hot west side facing the street and most are shaded. The greenest number of west-facing windows would have been zero, but that would poop all over the curb appeal.

The next problem you discover when trying to build green is that there is no way to model the entire home’s energy efficiency before it is built. It’s as much guessing as engineering. Every home is unique. You can’t be sure if, let’s say, a whole house fan in the attic is worth the extra expense, assuming you do everything else right. We opted for the fan, which is designed to efficiently draw in the cool evening air. In practice, we don’t use it because it makes a hum that I barely notice but my wife doesn’t want to hear. I did not see that coming.

We have a photovoltaic system for generating electricity. That’s the most visible sign of a green home, and probably the dumbest. I expect the system to pay for itself in nominal dollars, perhaps in 15 years. But if I compare it with the most obvious alternative, it makes no economic sense. The smart alternative would have been to wait until the costs for systems like this drop by 50%, which will probably happen in a few years.

I confess that we put in the photovoltaic system partly for psychological reasons. I heard great stories of energy meters “spinning backwards” and I wanted in on that. But thanks to our local power company, PG&E, I’ve been unable to determine if the system is working at all. I know for sure that during the first four months I generated power for PG&E, gave it to them for free and then bought it back at full price. It had something to do with a delay in PG&E getting the right kind of meter installed.

Now we have the right meter, but no backward-spinning anything that I can detect. And I think I’m getting billed full price, but I can’t decipher the impenetrable documents they send me.

The biggest energy drain in a home is for heating and cooling. We opted to heat our home with a system that runs warm water through all of the floors. The system is energy efficient, I’m told, and wonderfully comfortable, but it’s powered by gas. So while our photovoltaic system will someday help during the summer, it will never help much in the cold months when the sun is wimpy and we’re burning gas to heat the floors. Worse yet, the heated floors are so pleasant that we probably overuse them compared with a forced air system. That’s a classic unintended consequence.

Conclusion: Photovoltaic systems are a waste of money. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat, because I love the Earth, damn it. In my defense, the price of your future photovoltaic system will never come down unless idiots like me pay too much today. You’re welcome.

Throughout the building process I picked as many expert brains as I could to figure out what energy-related aspects of the house would be the most bang for the buck. Opinions sometimes varied, but here’s what came out at the top.

Heating and cooling are the biggest energy thieves. And roofs and windows matter the most for heat transfer. Focus your research and budget there. Most of the information you find will come from manufacturers who have a financial interest in misleading you, and also of course from cartoonists who write opinion pieces after being misled by those same manufacturers. Good luck with your research.

If your local building code doesn’t already require a radiant barrier—a type of insulator for the roof—then look into it. I’m told that should be on the top of your list, at least for warm climates. This would be a good time to point out that nothing you learn about green building materials will be supported by relevant data that is in the proper context for your particular home. But the rest of your life is probably a mess too, so you’ll get used to it fast.

If you’re thinking of buying a home that has lots of windows on the wrong side for your climate, you should pass. Few things make a home less liveable, and more of an energy hog, than improper orientation to the sun. I’ve lived in two homes with that issue, and it causes a variety of problems. For example, all of my dreams involved trying to extinguish fires using nothing but my ingenuity and a full bladder.

A classic energy mistake is to put in an oversized heating and cooling system. Consider hiring an independent engineer to recommend a system size. That way you can elevate your problem from not knowing what size your furnace should be to not knowing if you hired the right independent engineer. You’ll be surprised how good that feels.

Attic fans, and whole house fans (which are different), get good reviews for homes that are not otherwise well designed. If you do everything else right, the fans might not make that much of a difference. But from experience I can tell you that everyone who knows a little bit about green building will ask if you have a fan system. A low-cost alternative is to simply tell people that you have a whole house fan that somehow makes your energy meter spin backwards.

If your budget allows, it’s good to include a lot of stonework in the interior. The thermal mass of the stones is a natural regulator of temperature. The same goes for a solid slab foundation. And obviously when you build your own home, your entire body will become tense and calcified from the process, which probably helps keep your couch at a good temperature year round. A lot of this is just common sense.

Kidding aside, I do love the Earth, damn it. And if my only contribution to its well-being is joining the early adopters (OK, idiots) so that those who follow have better information and lower costs for green building, I’m OK with that. I just hope it’s enough to make up for the squirrel I ran over this morning with the minivan.

Scott Adams is the creator of ‘Dilbert.’

__________

Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704868604575433620189923744.html

A Food Chain Crisis in the World’s Oceans

It is the starting point for our oceans’ food chain. But stocks of phytoplankton have decreased by 40 percent since 1950, potentially as a result of global warming. It is an astonishing collapse, say researchers, and may have dramatic consequences for both the oceans and for humans.

A whale shark swims with its huge mouth open near the surface of the plankton-rich waters of Donsol, a town in the Phillippines. Like many sea creatures, the whale shark nourishes itself with plankton.

The forms that marine flora and fauna come in are varied and spectacular. From bizarre deep sea creatures to elegant predators and giant marine mammals, the diversity in our planet’s oceans is astounding.

But it is the microscopic organisms like diatoms, green algae, dinoflagellates and cayanobacteria that make it all possible. Phytoplankton is the first link in the oceanic food chain. It is eaten by zooplankton which is in turn eaten by other animals, which are then consumed by yet further sea creatures. Sometimes that chain can be quite short — the only thing that separates whales from phytoplankton in the food chain, for example, are the krill that come in between.

But it appears that humans may be in the process of destroying this fundamental link in the oceanic food chain. Temperatures on the surface of our oceans are rising because of climate change, resulting in a reduction of the stock of phytoplankton. Just how severe that reduction is, however, has long been a mystery.

Now, a frightening new study reveals the shocking degree of the die-off. Since 1899, the average global mass of phytoplankton has shrunk by 1 percent each year, an international research team reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature. Since 1950, phytoplankton has declined globally by about 40 percent.

“We had suspected this for a long time,” Boris Worm, the author of the study for Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “But these figures still surprised us.” At this point, he said, one can only speculate as to what the repercussions might be. “In principal, though, we should assume that such a massive decline is already having tangible consequences,” said Worm. He said that the lack of research on the food chain between phytoplankton and larger fish in the open ocean is a hindrance to knowing the extent of the damage.

‘The Entire Food Chain Will Contract’

In other words, it could be that humans have not yet been affected. But Worm fears that will not remain the case for long. If the trend continues and the phytoplankton mass continues to shrink at a rate of 1 percent per year, the “entire food chain will contract,” he predicts.

Worm’s research has found that the problem is not merely limited to certain areas of the world’s oceans. “This is global phenomenon that cannot be combatted regionally,” Worm said.

The data show that the decline is happening in eight of the 10 regions studied. In one of the other two, the phytoplankton is disappearing even more quickly, while one region showed an increase. Both of the two exceptions are in the Indian Ocean. “We suspect other factors are influencing (developments) there,” Worm says.

The situation in some coastal waters is different. In the North and Baltic Seas in Europe, for example, mass quantities of nutrients flow from land into the ocean. An enormous algae bloom in the Baltic has been the result this summer, but other microscopic organisms benefit as well. Still, coastal waters make up only a fraction of the total ocean.

Worm and his colleagues Daniel Boyce and Marion Lewis believe climate change is responsible for the disappearance of phytoplankton. In contrast to coastal areas, waters in the open sea are deeply stratified. Phytoplankton is found near the surface and gets its nourishment when cold and nutrient-rich water rises from the depths. “But when water on the upper surface gets warmer as a result of climate change, then it makes this mixing difficult,” Worm explained. As a result, the phytoplankton can no longer get sufficient nutrients.

‘So Serious It Is almost Unbelievable’

Other experts have also said they were struck by the sheer scale of the development. “A retreat of 40 percent in 60 years, that is so serious that it is almost unbelievable,” says Heinz-Dieter Franke of the Biological Institute Helgoland, part of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. He warned, however, against attributing the decline in phytoplankton solely to temperature increases. Higher temperatures, after all, could also result in more nutrients being delivered by air, he said. Other influences, like changes in cloud composition — and thus changes in sunlight on the oceans’ surface — complicate the situation.

The negative effect warmer surface temperatures have had on phytoplankton has long been well-documented, says Worm, just not over extended time periods. Continuous satellite measurements have only been available for the last 12 years or so. The researchers had to collect multiple data sets, including those taken by Pietro Angelo Secchi in the 19th century. The Italian researcher and Jesuit priest was ordered by the Papal fleet to measure the translucency of the Mediterranean Sea.

The so-called Secchi disk is still used today to measure water transparency, and the old data he collected remains enormously valuable for marine biologists. “There is a direct corollary between the transparency of water and the density of phytoplankton,” said Worm. The scientists also included measurements of micro-organisms as well as data about the ocean’s chlorophyll content. All phytoplankton organisms create chlorophyll and it is possible to draw conclusions about the biomass using that data. In total, the team of researchers evaluated close to 450,000 data from measurements taken between 1899 and 2008.

Phytoplankton’s Contribution to Global Warming

That humans have done serious damage to the world’s oceans is hardly a new finding. Over-fishing is an acute problem for several species with beloved types like blue fin tuna being threatened with extinction. Already, experts are warning that the world’s fisheries could collapse by 2050. But the decline in phytoplankton could make the situation even worse.

Franke of the Alfred Wegener Institute said he fears the decline in phytoplankton will make itself particularly apparent in fisheries. “If the oceans’ total productivity declines by 40 percent, then the yields of the fisheries must also retreat by the same amount,” Franke told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The loss of the oceans as a source of nutrients isn’t the only threat to humans. Half of the oxygen produced by plants comes from phytoplankton. For a long time, scientists have been measuring an extremely small, but also constant decline in the oxygen content of the atmosphere. “So far, the use of fossil fuels has been discussed as a reason,” said Worm. But it’s possible that the loss of phytoplankton could also be a factor.

In addition, phytoplankton absorbs a huge amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide each year. The disappearance of the microscopic organisms could further accelerate warming.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,709135,00.html

The other carbon-dioxide problem

Acidification threatens the world’s oceans, but quantifying the risks is hard

IN THE waters of Kongsfjord, an inlet on the coast of Spitsbergen, sit nine contraptions that bring nothing to mind as much as monster condoms. Each is a transparent sheath of plastic 17-metres long, mostly underwater, held in place by a floating collar. The seawater sealed within them is being mixed with different levels of carbon dioxide to see what will happen to the ecology of the Arctic waters.

As carbon dioxide levels go up, pH levels come down. Acidity depends on the presence of hydrogen ions (the H in pH) and more hydrogen ions mean, counterintuitively, a lower pH. Expose the surface of the ocean to an atmosphere with ever more carbon dioxide, and the gas and waters will produce carbonic acid, lowering pH on a planetary scale. The declining pH does not actually make the waters acidic (they started off mildly alkaline). But it makes them more acidic, just as turning up the light makes a dark room brighter.

Ocean acidification has further chemical implications: more hydrogen ions mean more bicarbonate ions, and fewer carbonate ions. Carbonate is what corals, the shells of shellfish and the outer layers of many photosynthesising plankton and other microbes are made of. If the level of carbonate ions falls too low the shells can dissolve or might never be made at all. There is evidence that the amount of carbonate in the shells of foraminifera, micro-plankton that are crucial to ocean ecology, has recently dropped by as much as a third.

Since becoming a topic of widespread worry about five years ago, the changing pH of the oceans has been added to the litany of environmental woes. Richard Feely, a researcher at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, provided a gift to headline writers when he dubbed acidification “global warming’s evil twin”. Nowadays Dr Feely prefers to call it “the other carbon-dioxide problem”.

But for all this concern, how bad the change in pH will be for oceans is not yet clear. Indeed, such are the complexities of studying ocean life that the true risk may become apparent only in retrospect.

There is no doubt that a pH drop is under way. For example, as the atmospheric carbon-dioxide level in Hawaii goes up, the pH at a mid-ocean mooring about 450km to the north-west goes down (see chart). But the decline is a lot bumpier than the rise: the pH difference from one year to the next is frequently greater than the change in average pH levels over 20 years.

This is because the atmosphere does not have an iron grip on the carbon-dioxide level in surface waters. Increased photosynthesis will use up carbon dioxide; increased respiration produces more of it. Water coming up from below will often have a lower pH than the surface water, because at depth there is no photosynthesis but plenty of respiration. In many places, natural variations in pH will be larger than long-term changes in its mean.

This is not to say that such changes have no effect. If peak acidities rather than long-term averages are what matters most, natural variability could make things worse. But it does suggest that the effects will be far from uniform.

So, too, does research on how organisms respond to lower pH. Iris Hendriks of the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies recently analysed data from a wide sample of research into how individual organisms respond to increased carbon dioxide in their seawater. She found that the range of responses was wide, with some seeming to prefer the lowered pH. She also found that the effects to be expected in the 21st century were on average comparatively modest.

Some researchers feel the way her study lumps things together plays down the more damaging effects. Even if that is so, there is a fair chance that the literature surveyed was biased the other way. Data showing a deleterious effect might well be more likely to be written up and published than data showing nothing much.

If some creatures can tolerate lower pHs and others cannot, you might expect things to average out: the tolerant and adaptable prosper, the more pernickety perish. For the “primary producers” in the ocean—the mostly single-celled creatures that photosynthesise—this will probably be the case. But changes in the relative prevalence of different photosynthesisers could still matter. The ecology of the oceans is all about who eats what, and small changes in the population of certain creatures near the bottom of the web could have large effects on larger ones that eat them. Some creatures may be double-whammied by having less of what they like to eat and by the pH itself, amplifying the disruption. And adaptation is not without costs: dealing with lower pH may divert a creature’s resources from other ends.

This is where the condoms—or mesocosms, as their scientific caretakers would prefer it—come in. They are part of the European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA), an initiative employing over 100 researchers, more than 30 currently in the Arctic. EPOCA is the most thorough investigation so far attempted of the effect of pH changes at the level of a whole ecology.

By looking at which creatures flourish in their mesocosms, Ulf Riebesell of the Leibniz Institute for Marine Studies in Kiel and his colleagues hope to see changes as they take place by keeping an eye on the water chemistry and nutrient levels. Dr Riebesell is particularly interested in the ecosystem role of pteropods, also called sea butterflies. These elegant micro-molluscs are a vital food for some fish. In the first year of their life, pink salmon eat more pteropods than anything else.

If reshaping food webs marginalises the pteropods, the salmon will have to adapt or die. But though the mesocosms may shed light on the fate of the pteropods, the outlook for the salmon will remain conjectural. Though EPOCA is ambitious, and expensive, the mesocosms are too small to contain fish, and the experiments far too short to show what sort of adaptation might be possible over many years, and what its costs might be.

This is one of the reasons why the fate of coral reefs may be more easily assessed than open-water ecosystems. The thing that provides structure in open-water ecosystems is the food-web, which is hard to observe and malleable. In reefs, the structure is big lumps of calcium carbonate on which things grow and around which they graze and hunt. Studies of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef show that levels of calcification are down, though it is not yet possible to say changes in chemistry are a reason for this. Current research comparing chemical data taken in the 1960s and 1970s with the situation today may clarify things.

But singling out the role of acidification will be hard. Ocean ecosystems are beset by changes in nutrient levels due to run off near the coasts and by overfishing, which plays havoc with food webs nearly everywhere. And the effects of global warming need to be included, too. Surface waters are expected to form more stable layers as the oceans warm, which will affect the availability of nutrients and, it is increasingly feared, of oxygen. Some, including Dr Riebesell, suspect that these physical and chemical effects of warming may prove a greater driver of productivity change in the ocean than altered pH. Wherever you look, there is always another other problem.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/node/16479264?story_id=16479264&source=features_box1

Obama vs. BP (and You)

The government holds a company’s stock price hostage.

BP’s share price collapse, at least until its renewed slide this week, was not the worst inflicted on a major international company lately because of government action. Australia’s big ore miners didn’t spill anything but their share prices were slammed overnight when their government floated a new windfall tax on minerals.

In this country too, you might have gotten a neck sprain watching the share prices of health insurers, pharmaceutical makers and medical device companies yo-yo during the health-care debate.

Sooner or later, it was inevitable politicians would find an occasion to use this power deliberately, calculatedly. In BP’s case this week, the company’s stock price hasn’t just been taken hostage by Washington, it has been wrapped around management’s neck and progressively tightened. The sight hasn’t been an edifying one, not least because the target isn’t just BP.

President Obama may not be instinctively a man of the market, but he does understand its vulnerability to the manipulation of symbols. He called last year’s bull market, remember, saying in March of 2009, “What you’re now seeing is profit-and-earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal,” whereupon stocks promptly embarked on one of the great rallies in history.

Mr. Obama is no Warren Buffett. Punters recognized a sign that the president wanted higher stock prices, that his foot (to borrow a phrase) wasn’t on the neck of business.

The foot is now on the neck of BP, whose share price is down by half, costing shareholders $90 billion in lost wealth.

In choosing to address the nation last night before today’s meeting with BP execs, Mr. Obama signalled plainly that he’s not interested in anything they have to say. The inverted two-step was a pure show of power. BP Chief Tony Hayward will testify tomorrow under oath in front of Henry Waxman’s committee, with ransom note already in hand. Three days earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic colleagues presented a letter demanding that BP cough up an astounding $20 billion and give it, no strings attached, to a body under control of politicians to dole out as they see fit.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Waxman, the senators—none were so gauche as actually to have a ticker of BP’s stock price running in the background. That would have been overkill. The message got through.

BP has authored one of the country’s great industrial accidents and expects fully to pay through the nose. You could wish, in this light, Washington’s politicians didn’t seem quite so much like muggers standing on a street corner waiting for a vulnerable passerby. For one thing, it doesn’t benefit the victims, who will continue to line up for years to come, if BP can’t reinvest to sustain and grow its business.

Even more so because the $20 billion is rapidly becoming secondary. Notice that this week’s passion play began with all the major oil execs (not just BP’s) hauled before Ed Markey’s House subcommittee, in a guilt-by-association exercise designed to advance the cause of anticarbon legislation. From trying to distance itself from the spill the White House is turning on a dime to hype the Gulf disaster beyond its already alarming proportions. The goal: to steamroll into law a new climate-and-energy bill the public has said again and again it doesn’t want.

Government is the greatest of blessings, without which many other blessings are not possible, such as freedom from fraud and extortion and violence. The problem, and irony, is that government, in clearing the field of other fraudsters and extortionists, is ever tempted by those roles itself.

A policeman kicks out your taillight and then writes you a ticket for a faulty taillight. A president announces a moratorium on offshore drilling as a sop to a section of his public that always opposes drilling, and to be seen “doing something.” Then he turns around and demands that BP compensate those injured by the president’s own careless action.

Mr. Obama may not quite have committed the miracle of converting Tony Hayward into a sympathetic character, but voters who aren’t keen on higher energy prices should be watching closely. Their taillight is ripe to be kicked out next.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Wall Street Journal

__________

Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704009804575308763321043220.html

Drilling in Deep Water

A ban on offshore production won’t mean fewer oil spills.

It could be months before we know what caused the explosion and oil spill below the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. But as we add up the economic costs and environmental damage (and mourn the 11 oil workers who died), we should also put the disaster in some perspective.

Washington is, as usual, showing no such restraint. As the oil in the Gulf of Mexico moves toward the Louisiana and Florida coasts, the left is already demanding that President Obama reverse his baby steps toward more offshore drilling. The Administration has partly obliged, declaring a moratorium pending an investigation. The President has raised the political temperature himself, declaring yesterday that the spill is a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.”

The harm will be considerable, which is why it is fortunate that such spills are so rare. The most recent spill of this magnitude was the Exxon Valdez tanker accident in 1989. The largest before that was the Santa Barbara offshore oil well leak in 1969.

Workers load oil booms onto a crew boat to assist in the containment of oil from a leaking pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico.

The infrequency of big spills is extraordinary considering the size of the offshore oil industry that provides Americans with affordable energy. According to the Interior Department’s most recent data, in 2002 the Outer Continental Shelf had 4,000 oil and gas facilities, 80,000 workers in offshore and support activities, and 33,000 miles of pipeline. Between 1985 and 2001, these offshore facilities produced seven billion barrels of oil. The spill rate was a minuscule 0.001%.

According to the National Academy of Sciences—which in 2002 completed the third version of its “Oil in the Sea” report—only 1% of oil discharges in North Americas are related to petroleum extraction. Some 62% of oil in U.S. waters is due to natural seepage from the ocean floor, putting 47 million gallons of crude oil into North American water every year. The Gulf leak is estimated to have leaked between two million and three million gallons in two weeks.

Such an accident is still unacceptable, which is why the drilling industry has invested heavily to prevent them. The BP well had a blowout preventer, which contains several mechanisms designed to seal pipes in the event of a problem. These protections have worked in the past, and the reason for the failure this time is unknown. This was no routine safety failure but a surprising first.

One reason the industry has a good track record is precisely because of the financial consequences of accidents. The Exxon Valdez dumped 260,000 barrels of oil, and Exxon spent $3.14 billion on cleanup. Do the math, and Exxon spent nearly 600 times more on cleanup and litigation than what the oil was worth at that time.

As for the environmental damage in the Gulf, much will depend on the weather that has made it more difficult to plug the leak and contain the spill before it reaches shore. The winds could push oil over the emergency containment barriers, or they could keep the oil swirling offshore, where it may sink and thus do less damage.

It is worth noting that this could have been worse. The Exxon Valdez caused so much damage in part because the state of Alaska dithered over an emergency spill response. Congress then passed the 1990 Oil Pollution Act that mandated more safety measures, and it gave the Coast Guard new powers during spill emergencies. We have seen the benefits in the last two weeks as the Coast Guard has deployed several containment techniques—from burning and chemical dispersants to physical barriers. America sometimes learns from its mistakes.

On the other hand, Washington’s aversion to drilling closer to shore has pushed the industry into deeper, more difficult, waters farther out to sea. BP’s well is 5,000 feet down, at a depth and pressure that test the most advanced engineering and technology. The depth complicates containment efforts when there is a disaster.

As for a drilling moratorium, it is no guarantee against oil spills. It may even lead to more of them. Political fantasies about ending our oil addiction notwithstanding, the U.S. economy will need oil and other fossil fuels for decades to come. If we don’t drill for it at home, the oil will have to arrive by tanker and barges. Tankers are responsible for more spills than offshore wells, and those spills tend to be bigger and closer to shore—which usually means more environmental harm.

The larger reality is that energy production is never going to be accident free. No difficult human endeavor is, whether space travel or using giant cranes to build skyscrapers. The rest of the world is working to exploit its offshore oil and gas reserves despite the risk of spills. We need to be mindful of such risks, and to include prevention and clean up in the cost of doing business, but a modern economy can’t run without oil.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal

__________

Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704342604575222472358019534.html

A place in the sun

Climate science and its discontents

RON OXBURGH, breezily pushing his bicycle through a clot of journalists outside the press briefing he had just given, is a busy man happy to hurry. Critics of his investigation into the scientific probity of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia will hold that haste against him. In his time Lord Oxburgh has been head of the earth sciences department at Cambridge, chief scientific adviser to Britain’s defence ministry and, briefly, chairman of Shell. In March he was asked to lead an inquiry into the CRU’s key scientific findings, a matter of much debate ever since hacked e-mails from the unit were made public less than five months ago. That he has reported so soon, and in a way that supports the CRU researchers, will be seen by many critics as de facto evidence of a whitewash.

Lord Oxburgh and his colleagues were not concerned with whether CRU’s scientific findings, which are based on records of temperature change from instruments and natural proxies, were correct. They were looking to see if the analysis had been biased and manipulated.

The inquiry panel looked at 11 CRU publications from the past 20 years, spent days talking to the researchers and looking at other documentation, and concluded that if there was any malpractice at CRU they would have detected it. They found no such thing. Instead they found “dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers ill-prepared for public attention”.

The panel did express considerable surprise at the fact that the unit did not collaborate closely with professional statisticians. This is despite the fact that their work was “basically all statistics”, as one member of the panel, David Hand, of Imperial College, London, put it. The report found that the CRU scientists would, had they been more comfortable with statistics, have done some things differently. But the panel doubted that using better methods would have materially changed their results.

Bloggers and others, mostly outside academia, who criticise CRU’s work and other climate science tend to lay much stress on statistical shortcomings. Dr Hand, who has a particular interest in scientific and financial fraud, has read a lot of this work. Dr Hand admires the meticulous work of Steve Mcintyre, a mining consultant and blogger, who unearthed statistical problems in another climate analysis. This was a 1998 paper, not produced by CRU, that is now known as “the hockey stick”. Those problems served to enhance the prominence of recent warming in a thousand-year reconstruction of the northern hemisphere’s temperature, and have become a cause celebre among sceptics.

When the report refers to the possibility of “inappropriate statistical tools producing misleading results”, it is the hockey stick that it has in mind. But Dr Hand said he had seen no evidence of anything that worrying in the CRU work. His concerns centred mostly on questions about the selection of data sets and the need for studies that showed how sensitive the results were to different selections of data. These are, in effect, what some critics are offering (though with what the report calls “a rather selective and uncharitable approach”. This antagonism irritates Dr Hand, since he thinks proper statistical scrutiny would have improved the work with little fuss. “What I want to do”, he says, “is bang their heads together and say sit down together and work out what’s going on.”

The panel expressed concern that, although the CRU scientists were careful with caveats, people who subsequently made use of their results, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sometimes oversimplified the issues, underplaying possible errors. It also noted that the CRU should have archived data and algorithms better, but that this was a conclusion more easily drawn in hindsight. Having been in both academia and industry, Lord Oxburgh said he has no doubt that in industry, where companies, not researchers, own the data, the record-keeping would have been looked after better, but that the team would have done much less good research. And looking back on his own academic work he showed a certain solidarity with his own subject’s sloppiness. He says he is “very grateful that the isotopic composition of helium has not become a key matter of public interest.”

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/science-technology/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15905175&source=features_box2

What’s the Next ‘Global Warming’?

Herewith I propose a contest to invent the next panic.

So global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we’re going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place.

As recently as October, the Guardian reported that scientists at Cambridge had “concluded that the Arctic is now melting at such a rate that it will be largely ice free within ten years.” This was supposedly due to global warming. It brought with it the usual lamentations for the grandchildren.

But in March came another report in the Guardian, this time based on the research of Japanese scientists, that “much of the record breaking loss of ice in the Arctic ocean in recent years is [due] to the region’s swirling winds and is not a direct result of global warming.” It also turns out that the extent of Arctic sea ice in March was around the recorded average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The difference between the two stories has little to do with science: There were plenty of reasons back in October to suspect that the Arctic ice panic—based on data that only goes back to 1979—was as implausible as the now debunked claim about disappearing Himalayan glaciers. But thanks to Climategate and the Copenhagen fiasco, the media are now picking up the kinds of stories they previously thought it easier and wiser to ignore.

This image provided by NASA shows QuikScat interannual observations of sea ice over the Arctic.

This is happening internationally. In France, a book titled “L’imposture climatique” is a runaway bestseller: Its author, Claude Allègre, is one of the country’s most acclaimed scientists and a former minister of education in a Socialist government. In Britain, environmentalist patron saint James Lovelock now tells the BBC he suspects climate scientists have “[fudged] the data” and that if the planet is going to be saved, “it will save itself, as it always has done.” In Germany, the leftish Der Spiegel devotes 15 pages to a deliciously detailed account of “scientists who want to be politicians,” the “curious inconsistencies” in the temperature record, the “sloppy work” of the U.N.’s climate-change panel and sundry other sins of modern climatology.

As for the United States, Gallup reports that global warming now ranks sixth on the list of Americans’ top 10 environmental concerns. My wager is that within a few years “climate change” will exercise global nerves about as much as overpopulation, toxic tampons, nuclear winters, ozone holes, killer bees, low sperm counts, genetically modified foods and mad cows do today.

Something is going to have to take its place.

The world is now several decades into the era of environmental panic. The subject of the panic changes every few years, but the basic ingredients tend to remain fairly constant. A trend, a hypothesis, an invention or a discovery disturbs the sense of global equilibrium. Often the agent of distress is undetectable to the senses, like a malign spirit. A villain—invariably corporate and right-wing—is identified.

Then money begins to flow toward grant-seeking institutions and bureaucracies, which have an interest in raising the level of alarm. Environmentalists counsel their version of virtue, typically some quasi-totalitarian demands on the pattern of human behavior. Politicians assemble expert panels and propose sweeping and expensive legislation. Eventually, the problem vanishes. Few people stop to consider that perhaps it wasn’t such a crisis in the first place.

This is what’s called eschatology—a belief, or psychology, that we are approaching the End Time. Religions have always found a way to take account of those beliefs, but today’s secular panics are unmoored by spiritual consolations or valid moral injunctions. Instead, we have the modern-day equivalent of the old Catholic indulgence in the form of carbon credits. It’s how Al Gore justifies his utility bills.

Given the inescapability of weather, it’s no wonder global warming gripped the public mind as long as it did. And there’s always some extreme-weather event happening somewhere to be offered as further evidence of impending catastrophe. But even weather gets boring, and so do the people who natter about it incessantly. What this decade requires is a new and better panic.

Herewith, then, I propose a readers’ contest to invent the next panic. It must involve something ubiquitous, invisible to the naked eye, and preferably mass-produced. And the solution must require taxes, regulation, and other changes to civilization as we know it. The winner gets a beer and a burger, on me, at the 47th street Pig N’ Whistle in New York City. (Nachos for vegetarians.) Happy panicking!

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal

__________

Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304017404575165573845958914.html

Deciding the Arctic’s Future Behind Closed Doors

The future of the Arctic is the subject of Monday talks in Canada.

Diplomats from Finland, Iceland and Sweden are upset; indigenous groups are furious. Five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean are meeting behind closed doors on Monday to discuss the region’s future. Many of those who have interests in the Arctic have not been invited.

It is a beautiful location for a not entirely successful inventor. Canadian tinkerer Thomas Willson — who patented a design for electric arc lamps in the 1880s, built buoys and lighthouse beacons in the early 1900s and set up a plant to manufacture fertilizer shortly thereafter — built a lovely summer house in 1907 on the forested shores of Meech Lake located northeast of Ottawa.

His getaway didn’t serve him for long, however. Willson lost almost all of his money on his fertilizer business before dying of a heart attack in 1915. The summer house, located in present-day Gatineau Park, was bought by the Canadian government and is often used for official talks. In 1987, for example, it was where lawmakers gathered to hammer out a reform to the Canadian constitution.

On Monday, it is once again hosting a high-level delegation. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has invited his counterparts from four other Arctic countries — the United States, Russia, Denmark (representing Greenland) and Norway — to discuss the future of the far north. No other guests have been invited — a fact that has enraged diplomats from several northern countries as well as representatives from indigenous peoples who call the Arctic their home.

No Interest in a New Treaty

There is much to discuss. The Arctic is changing unbelievably quickly, with several border disputes continuing to simmer and various competing claims to undersea territories currently being adjudicated by the United Nations. Only recently, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev complained that other countries were attempting to limit his country’s access to Arctic resources. At the same time, he alleged, these countries, which he declined to identify by name, were taking “active steps” to increase both their research activities and military presence above the Arctic Circle.

It seems likely, though, that the five countries meeting in Canada on Monday will be able to find agreement on at least one issue: namely that they are not interested in establishing a far-reaching plan to protect the Arctic environment like the accord that exists for Antarctica. The Arctic is full of natural resources, and northern countries are wary of doing anything that might limit their access to those riches.

Environmental activists are concerned. Greenpeace head Kumi Naidoo has written a letter to all five countries gathered in Canada on Monday expressing his criticism. The plan to decide on the future of the Arctic “behind closed doors, is not acceptable,” the letter says.

Greenpeace activist Iris Menn would even like to see an “overarching, legally-binding treaty for the Arctic.” She demands that no further industrial mining or exploitation activities take place in formerly ice-covered regions until international agreements are in place. It is a demand that is not likely to be heard.

A Solid Reputation

In addition to giving such concerns short shrift, Monday’s meeting outside of Ottawa also ignores the Arctic Council, a group which, in addition to the five countries currently gathering in Thomas Willson’s former villa, includes several other members, including Finland, Sweden, Iceland and non-governmental organizations. There are also a number of permanent observers, including Germany. The Council is weak when it comes to political issues due to the relatively limited importance its members assign to it. But on environmental questions, the Arctic Council enjoys a solid reputation.

Council members Iceland, Finland and Sweden are all irked that they were not invited to Monday’s summit. Indeed, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb recently filed a formal complaint with his Canadian counterpart Cannon. Ambassadors from the excluded countries have also filed protests with the foreign ministries of those countries involved in the meeting. But Canadian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catherine Loubier insisted to SPIEGEL ONLINE that “this particular meeting is only for the (Arctic) Ocean coastal states.”

Greenpeace activist Menn is furious. Monday’s meeting, she says, “makes a mockery of the Arctic Council and its role.” Indigenous populations in the Arctic are likewise unhappy with being excluded from the gathering. “This is our homeland, why shouldn’t we have a say?” asked Gunn-Britt Retter, a Norwegian who defends the interests of the Sami people in the Arctic Council. Members of the Inuit Circumpolar Council are also displeased.

Monday’s meeting is the second time the five Arctic states have met behind closed doors. The first took place in May 2008 when Denmark invited the Arctic heavyweights for a get-together in the town of Ilulissat in Greenland. Following talks in the Hotel Artic overlooking iceberg-filled Disko Bay, the ministers released a statement saying that the existing legal framework “provides a solid foundation for responsible management by the five coastal States.” The statement also emphasized that “We … see no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean.”

A Polar Strategy of its Own

The text was carefully crafted. After all, interest in the Arctic has grown rapidly in recent years and is no longer limited to just those countries which border the Ocean. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released a report documenting China’s increasing interest in the far north. The European Union has even put together a polar strategy of its own. The 27-nation bloc was not successful in its first attempt to become a permanent observer on the Arctic Council, but its application will be reviewed anew next year.

Monday’s meeting, insisted Cannon, “will reinforce ongoing collaboration in the region, including in the Arctic Council.” Those who have been excluded, however, fear that the opposite will result. “That is the very reason Iceland has protested this meeting and will continue to stress the importance of the Arctic Council in matters of the High North,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdóttir wrote in an e-mail to SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Indeed, those not receiving invites are left to hope that the bucolic house on Meech Lake lives up to its somewhat dubious reputation. Willson, as it happens, was not the only victim. The 1987 constitutional reform, born out of talks in the isolated villa, collapsed even before it could come into effect.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,686209,00.html

The clouds of unknowing

There are lots of uncertainties in climate science. But that does not mean it is fundamentally wrong

 

FOR anyone who thinks that climate science must be unimpeachable to be useful, the past few months have been a depressing time. A large stash of e-mails from and to investigators at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia provided more than enough evidence for concern about the way some climate science is done. That the picture they painted, when seen in the round—or as much of the round as the incomplete selection available allows—was not as alarming as the most damning quotes taken out of context is little comfort. They offered plenty of grounds for both shame and blame.

At about the same time, glaciologists pointed out that a statement concerning Himalayan glaciers in the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was wrong. This led to the discovery of other poorly worded or poorly sourced claims made by the IPCC, which seeks to create a scientific consensus for the world’s politicians, and to more general worries about the panel’s partiality, transparency and leadership. Taken together, and buttressed by previous criticisms, these two revelations have raised levels of scepticism about the consensus on climate change to new heights.

Increased antsiness about action on climate change can also be traced to the recession, the unedifying spectacle of last December’s climate-change summit in Copenhagen, the political realities of the American Senate and an abnormally cold winter in much of the northern hemisphere. The new doubts about the science, though, are clearly also a part of that story. Should they be?

In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down. When it comes to climate, academic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists.

The defenders of the consensus tend to stress the general consilience of their efforts—the way that data, theory and modelling back each other up. Doubters see this as a thoroughgoing version of “confirmation bias”, the tendency people have to select the evidence that agrees with their original outlook. But although there is undoubtedly some degree of that (the errors in the IPCC, such as they are, all make the problem look worse, not better) there is still genuine power to the way different arguments and datasets in climate science tend to reinforce each other.

The doubters tend to focus on specific bits of empirical evidence, not on the whole picture. This is worthwhile—facts do need to be well grounded—but it can make the doubts seem more fundamental than they are. People often assume that data are simple, graspable and trustworthy, whereas theory is complex, recondite and slippery, and so give the former priority. In the case of climate change, as in much of science, the reverse is at least as fair a picture. Data are vexatious; theory is quite straightforward. Constructing a set of data that tells you about the temperature of the Earth over time is much harder than putting together the basic theoretical story of how the temperature should be changing, given what else is known about the universe in general.

Absorb and reflect

The most relevant part of that universal what-else is the requirement laid down by thermodynamics that, for a planet at a constant temperature, the amount of energy absorbed as sunlight and the amount emitted back to space in the longer wavelengths of the infra-red must be the same. In the case of the Earth, the amount of sunlight absorbed is 239 watts per square metre. According to the laws of thermodynamics, a simple body emitting energy at that rate should have a temperature of about –18ºC. You do not need a comprehensive set of surface-temperature data to notice that this is not the average temperature at which humanity goes about its business. The discrepancy is due to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which absorb and re-emit infra-red radiation, and thus keep the lower atmosphere, and the surface, warm (see the diagram below). The radiation that gets out to the cosmos comes mostly from above the bulk of the greenhouse gases, where the air temperature is indeed around –18ºC.

Adding to those greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it harder still for the energy to get out. As a result, the surface and the lower atmosphere warm up. This changes the average temperature, the way energy moves from the planet’s surface to the atmosphere above it and the way that energy flows from equator to poles, thus changing the patterns of the weather.

No one doubts that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, good at absorbing infra-red radiation. It is also well established that human activity is putting more of it into the atmosphere than natural processes can currently remove. Measurements made since the 1950s show the level of carbon dioxide rising year on year, from 316 parts per million (ppm) in 1959 to 387ppm in 2009. Less direct records show that the rise began about 1750, and that the level was stable at around 280ppm for about 10,000 years before that. This fits with human history: in the middle of the 18th century people started to burn fossil fuels in order to power industrial machinery. Analysis of carbon isotopes, among other things, shows that the carbon dioxide from industry accounts for most of the build-up in the atmosphere.

The serious disagreements start when discussion turns to the level of warming associated with that rise in carbon dioxide. For various reasons, scientists would not expect temperatures simply to rise in step with the carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases). The climate is a noisy thing, with ups and downs of its own that can make trends hard to detect. What’s more, the oceans can absorb a great deal of heat—and there is evidence that they have done so—and in storing heat away, they add inertia to the system. This means that the atmosphere will warm more slowly than a given level of greenhouse gas would lead you to expect.

There are three records of land-surface temperature put together from thermometer readings in common use by climatologists, one of which is compiled at the Climatic Research Unit of e-mail infamy. They all show warming, and, within academia, their reliability is widely accepted. Various industrious bloggers are not so convinced. They think that adjustments made to the raw data introduce a warming bias. They also think the effects of urbanisation have confused the data because towns, which are sources of heat, have grown up near weather stations. Anthony Watts, a retired weather forecaster who blogs on climate, has set up a site, surfacestations.org, where volunteers can help record the actual sites of weather instruments used to provide climate data, showing whether they are situated close to asphalt or affected by sources of bias.

Those who compile the data are aware of this urban heat-island effect, and try in various ways to compensate for it. Their efforts may be insufficient, but various lines of evidence suggest that any errors it is inserting are not too bad. The heat-island effect is likely to be strongest on still nights, for example, yet trends from data recorded on still nights are not that different from those from windy ones. And the temperature of waters at the surface of the seas shows similar trends to that on land over the past century, as does the record of air temperature over the oceans as measured at night (see chart 1).

A recent analysis by Matthew Menne and his colleagues at America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, argued that trends calculated from climate stations that surfacestation.org found to be poorly sited and from those it found well sited were more or less indistinguishable. Mr Watts has problems with that analysis, and promises a thorough study of the project’s findings later.

There is undoubtedly room for improvement in the surface-temperature record—not least because, at the moment, it provides only monthly mean temperatures, and there are other things people would like to know about. (When worrying about future heatwaves, for example, hot days and nights, not hot months, are the figures of most interest.) In February Britain’s Met (ie, meteorological) Office called for the creation of a new set of temperature databases compiled in rigorously transparent ways and open to analysis and interpretation by all and sundry. Such an initiative would serve science well, help restore the credibility of land-surface records, and demonstrate an openness on the part of climate science which has not always been evident in the past.

Simplify and amplify

For many, the facts that an increase in carbon dioxide should produce warming, and that warming is observed in a number of different indicators and measurements, add up to a primafacie case for accepting that greenhouse gases are warming the Earth and that the higher levels of greenhouse gases that business as usual would bring over the course of this century would warm it a lot further.

The warming caused by a given increase in carbon dioxide can be calculated on the basis of laboratory measurements which show how much infra-red radiation at which specific wavelengths carbon dioxide molecules absorb. This sort of work shows that if you double the carbon dioxide level you get about 1ºC of warming. So the shift from the pre-industrial 280ppm to 560ppm, a level which on current trends might be reached around 2070, makes the world a degree warmer. If the level were to double again, to 1,100ppm, which seems unlikely, you would get another degree.

The amount of warming expected for a doubling of carbon dioxide has become known as the “climate sensitivity”—and a climate sensitivity of one degree would be small enough to end most climate-related worries. But carbon dioxide’s direct effect is not the only thing to worry about. Several types of feedback can amplify its effect. The most important involve water vapour, which is now quite well understood, and clouds, which are not. It is on these areas that academic doubters tend to focus.

As carbon dioxide warms the air it also moistens it, and because water vapour is a powerful greenhouse gas, that will provide further warming. Other things people do—such as clearing land for farms, and irrigating them—also change water vapour levels, and these can be significant on a regional level. But the effects are not as large.

Climate doubters raise various questions about water vapour, some trivial, some serious. A trivial one is to argue that because water vapour is such a powerful greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is unimportant. But this ignores the fact that the level of water vapour depends on temperature. A higher level of carbon dioxide, by contrast, governs temperature, and can endure for centuries.

A more serious doubting point has to do with the manner of the moistening. In the 1990s Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pointed out that there were ways in which moistening might not greatly enhance warming. The subsequent two decades have seen much observational and theoretical work aimed at this problem. New satellites can now track water vapour in the atmosphere far better than before (see chart 2). As a result preliminary estimates based on simplifications have been shown to be reasonably robust, with water-vapour feedbacks increasing the warming to be expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide from 1ºC without water vapour to about 1.7ºC. Dr Lindzen agrees that for parts of the atmosphere without clouds this is probably about right.

This moistening offers a helpful way to see what sort of climate change is going on. When water vapour condenses into cloud droplets it gives up energy and warms the surrounding air. This means that in a world where greenhouse warming is wetting the atmosphere, the lower parts of the atmosphere should warm at a greater rate than the surface, most notably in the tropics. At the same time, in an effect that does not depend on water vapour, an increase in carbon dioxide will cause the upper stratosphere to cool. This pattern of warming down below and cooling up on top is expected from greenhouse warming, but would not be expected if something other than the greenhouse effect was warming the world: a hotter sun would heat the stratosphere more, not less.

During the 1990s this was a point on which doubters laid considerable weight, because satellite measurements did not show the warming in the lower atmosphere that theory would predict. Over the past ten years, though, this picture has changed. To begin with, only one team was turning data from the relevant instruments that have flown on weather satellites since the 1970s into a temperature record resolved by altitude. Now others have joined them, and identified errors in the way that the calculations (which are complex and depend on a number of finicky details) were carried out. Though different teams still get different amounts and rates of warming in the lower atmosphere, there is no longer any denying that warming is seen. Stratospheric cooling is complicated by the effects of ozone depletion, but those do not seem large enough to account for the degree of cooling that has been seen there, further strengthening the case for warming by the greenhouse effect and not some other form of climate perturbation.

On top of the effect of water vapour, though, the clouds that form from it provide a further and greater source of uncertainty. On the one hand, the droplets of water of which these are made also have a strong greenhouse effect. On the other, water vapour is transparent, whereas clouds reflect light. In particular, they reflect sunlight back into space, stopping it from being absorbed by the Earth. Clouds can thus have a marked cooling effect and also a marked warming effect. Which will grow more in a greenhouse world?

Model maze

It is at this point that detailed computer models of the climate need to be called into play. These models slice the atmosphere and oceans into stacks of three-dimensional cells. The state of the air (temperature, pressure, etc) within each cell is continuously updated on the basis of what its state used to be, what is going on in adjacent cells and the greenhousing and other properties of its contents.

These models are phenomenally complex. They are also gross oversimplifications. The size of the cells stops them from explicitly capturing processes that take place at scales smaller than a hundred kilometres or so, which includes the processes that create clouds.

Despite their limitations, climate models do capture various aspects of the real world’s climate: seasons, trade winds, monsoons and the like. They also put clouds in the places where they are seen. When used to explore the effect of an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases on the climate these models, which have been developed by different teams, all predict more warming than greenhouse gases and water-vapour feedback can supply unaided. The models assessed for the IPCC’s fourth report had sensitivities ranging from 2.1ºC to 4.4ºC. The IPCC estimated that if clouds were not included, the range would be more like 1.7ºC to 2.1ºC. So in all the models clouds amplify warming, and in some the amplification is large.

 However, there are so far no compelling data on how clouds are affecting warming in fact, as opposed to in models. Ray Pierrehumbert, a climate scientist at the University of Chicago who generally has a strong way with sceptics, is happy to agree that there might be processes by which clouds rein in, rather than exaggerate, greenhouse-warming effects, but adds that, so far, few have been suggested in any way that makes sense.

Dr Lindzen and a colleague suggested a plausible mechanism in 2001. They proposed that tropical clouds in an atmosphere with more greenhouse gas might dry out neighbouring parts of the sky, making them more transparent to outgoing infra-red. The evidence Dr Lindzen brought to bear in support of this was criticised in ways convincing enough to discourage other scientists from taking the idea further. A subsequent paper by Dr Lindzen on observations that would be compatible with his ideas about low sensitivity has also suffered significant criticisms, and he accepts many of them. But having taken them on board has not, he thinks, invalidated his line of research.

Arguments based on past climates also suggest that sensitivity is unlikely to be low. Much of the cooling during the ice ages was maintained by the presence of a large northern hemisphere ice cap reflecting away a lot of sunlight, but carbon dioxide levels were lower, too. To account for all of the cooling, especially in the southern hemisphere, is most easily done with a sensitivity of temperature to carbon dioxide higher than Dr Lindzen would have it.

Before the ice age, the Earth had a little more carbon dioxide and was a good bit warmer than today—which suggests a fairly high sensitivity. More recently, the dip in global temperatures after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, which inserted a layer of sunlight-diffusing sulphur particles into the stratosphere, also bolsters the case for a sensitivity near the centre of the model range—although sensitivity to a transient event and the warming that follows a slow doubling of carbon dioxide are not exactly the same sort of thing.

Logs and blogs

Moving into data from the past, though, brings the argument to one of the areas that blog-based doubters have chosen as a preferred battleground: the temperature record of the past millennium, as construed from natural records that are both sensitive to temperature and capable of precise dating. Tree rings are the obvious, and most controversial, example. Their best known use has been in a reconstruction of temperatures over the past millennium published in Nature in 1998 and widely known as the hockey stick, because it was mostly flat but had a blade sticking up at the 20th-century end. Stephen McIntyre, a retired Canadian mining consultant, was struck by the very clear message of this graph and delved into the science behind it, a process that left him and followers of his blog, Climate Audit, intensely sceptical about its value.

In 2006 a review by America’s National Research Council endorsed points Mr McIntyre and his colleagues made on some methods used to make the hockey stick, and on doubts over a specific set of tree rings. Despite this it sided with the hockey stick’s overall conclusion, which did little to stem the criticism. The fact that tree-ring records do not capture recent warming adds to the scepticism about the value of such records.

For many of Mr McIntyre’s fans (though it is not, he says, his central concern) the important thing about this work is that the hockey stick seemed to abolish the “medieval warm period”. This is a time when temperatures are held to have been as high as or higher than today’s—a warmth associated with the Norse settlement of Greenland and vineyards in England. Many climate scientists suspect this phenomenon was given undue prominence by climatologists of earlier generations with an unduly Eurocentric view of the world. There is evidence for cooling at the time in parts of the Pacific.

Doubters for the most part are big fans of the medieval warm period, and see in the climate scientists’ arguments an attempt to rewrite history so as to maximise the drama of today’s warming and minimise the possibility that natural variation might explain the 20th-century record. The possibility of more climatic variability, though, does not, in itself, mean that greenhouse warming is not happening too. And if the medieval warmth were due to some external factor, such as a slightly brighter sun, that would suggest that the climate was indeed quite sensitive.

Looking at the more recent record, logged as it has been by thermometers, you might hope it could shed light on which of the climate models is closest to being right, and thus what the sensitivity actually is. Unfortunately, other confounding factors make this difficult. Greenhouse gases are not the only climatically active ingredients that industry, farming and land clearance add to the atmosphere. There are also aerosols—particles of pollution floating in the wind. Some aerosols cool the atmosphere. Other, sootier, ones warm it. The aggregate effect, globally, is thought to be a cooling, possibly a quite strong one. But the overall history of aerosols, which are mostly short-lived, is nothing like as well known as that of greenhouse gases, and it is unlikely that any of the models are properly capturing their chemistry or their effects on clouds.

Taking aerosols into account, climate models do a pretty good job of emulating the climate trends of the 20th century. This seems odd, since the models have different sensitivities. In practice, it appears that the way the aerosols are dealt with in the models and the sensitivity of those models tend to go hand in hand; sensitive models also have strong cooling aerosol effects.

Reto Knutti of ETH Zurich, an expert on climate sensitivity, sees this as evidence that, consciously or unconsciously, aerosols are used as counterweights to sensitivity to ensure that the trends look right. This is not evidence of dishonesty, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. Since the models need to be able to capture the 20th century, putting them together in such a way that they end up doing so makes sense. But it does mean that looking at how well various models match the 20th century does not give a good indication of the climate’s actual sensitivity to greenhouse gas.

Adding the uncertainties about sensitivity to uncertainties about how much greenhouse gas will be emitted, the IPCC expects the temperature to have increased by 1.1ºC to 6.4ºC over the course of the 21st century. That low figure would sit fairly well with the sort of picture that doubters think science is ignoring or covering up. In this account, the climate has natural fluctuations larger in scale and longer in duration (such as that of the medieval warm period) than climate science normally allows, and the Earth’s recent warming is caused mostly by such a fluctuation, the effects of which have been exaggerated by a contaminated surface-temperature record. Greenhouse warming has been comparatively minor, this argument would continue, because the Earth’s sensitivity to increased levels of carbon dioxide is lower than that seen in models, which have an inbuilt bias towards high sensitivities. As a result subsequent warming, even if emissions continue full bore, will be muted too.

It seems unlikely that the errors, misprisions and sloppiness in a number of different types of climate science might all favour such a minimised effect. That said, the doubters tend to assume that climate scientists are not acting in good faith, and so are happy to believe exactly that. Climategate and the IPCC’s problems have reinforced this position.

Using the IPCC’s assessment of probabilities, the sensitivity to a doubling of carbon dioxide of less than 1.5ºC in such a scenario has perhaps one chance in ten of being correct. But if the IPCC were underestimating things by a factor of five or so, that would still leave only a 50:50 chance of such a desirable outcome. The fact that the uncertainties allow you to construct a relatively benign future does not allow you to ignore futures in which climate change is large, and in some of which it is very dangerous indeed. The doubters are right that uncertainties are rife in climate science. They are wrong when they present that as a reason for inaction.

__________

Full article and photos: http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15719298&source=hptextfeature

Climategate Was an Academic Disaster Waiting to Happen

The notion of objective truth has been abandoned and the peer review process gives scholars ample opportunity to reward friends and punish enemies.

Last fall, emails revealed that scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England and colleagues in the U.S. and around the globe deliberately distorted data to support dire global warming scenarios and sought to block scholars with a different view from getting published. What does this scandal say generally about the intellectual habits and norms at our universities?

This is a legitimate question, because our universities, which above all should be cultivating intellectual virtue, are in their day-to-day operations fostering the opposite. Fashionable ideas, the convenience of professors, and the bureaucratic structures of academic life combine to encourage students and faculty alike to defend arguments for which they lack vital information. They pretend to knowledge they don’t possess and invoke the authority of rank and status instead of reasoned debate.

Consider the undergraduate curriculum. Over the last several decades, departments have watered down the requirements needed to complete a major, while core curricula have been hollowed out or abandoned. Only a handful of the nation’s leading universities—Columbia and the University of Chicago at the forefront—insist that all undergraduates must read a common set of books and become conversant with the main ideas and events that shaped Western history and the larger world.

There are no good pedagogical reasons for abandoning the core. Professors and administrators argue that students need and deserve the freedom to shape their own course of study. But how can students who do not know the basics make intelligent decisions about the books they should read and the perspectives they should master?

The real reasons for releasing students from rigorous departmental requirements and fixed core courses are quite different. One is that professors prefer to teach boutique classes focusing on their narrow areas of specialization. In addition, they believe that dropping requirements will lure more students to their departments, which translates into more faculty slots for like-minded colleagues. By far, though, the most important reason is that faculty generally reject the common sense idea that there is a basic body of knowledge that all students should learn. This is consistent with the popular campus dogma that all morals and cultures are relative and that objective knowledge is impossible.

The deplorable but predictable result is that professors constantly call upon students to engage in discussions and write papers in the absence of fundamental background knowledge. Good students quickly absorb the curriculum’s unwritten lesson—cutting corners and vigorously pressing strong but unsubstantiated opinions is the path to intellectual achievement.

The production of scholarship also fosters intellectual vice. Take the peer review process, which because of its supposed impartiality and objectivity is intended to distinguish the work of scholars from that of journalists and commercial authors.

Academic journals typically adopt a double blind system, concealing the names of both authors and reviewers. But any competent scholar can determine an article’s approach or analytical framework within the first few paragraphs. Scholars are likely to have colleagues and graduate students they support and whose careers they wish to advance. A few may even have colleagues whose careers, along with those of their graduate students, they would like to tarnish or destroy. There is no check to prevent them from benefiting their friends by providing preferential treatment for their orientation and similarly punishing their enemies.

That’s because the peer review process violates a fundamental principle of fairness. We don’t allow judges to be parties to a controversy they are adjudicating, and don’t permit athletes to umpire games in which they are playing. In both cases the concern is that their interest in the outcome will bias their judgment and corrupt their integrity. So why should we expect scholars, especially operating under the cloak of anonymity, to fairly and honorably evaluate the work of allies and rivals?

Some university presses exacerbate the problem. Harvard University Press tells a reviewer the name of a book manuscript’s author but withholds the reviewer’s identity from the author. It would be hard to design a system that provided reviewers more opportunity to reward friends and punish enemies.

Harvard Press assumes that its editors will detect and avoid conflicts of interest. But if reviewers are in the same scholarly field as, or in a field related to that of, the author—and why would they be asked for an evaluation if they weren’t?—then the reviewer will always have a conflict of interest.

Then there is the abuse of confidentiality and the overreliance on arguments from authority in hiring, promotion and tenure decisions. Owing to the premium the academy places on specialization, most university departments today contain several fields, and within them several subfields. Thus departmental colleagues are regularly asked to evaluate scholarly work in which they have little more expertise than the man or woman on the street.

Often unable to form independent professional judgments—but unwilling to recuse themselves from important personnel decisions—faculty members routinely rely on confidential letters of evaluation from scholars at other universities. Once again, these letters are written—and solicited—by scholars who are irreducibly interested parties.

There are no easy fixes to this state of affairs. Worse, our universities don’t recognize they have a problem. Instead, professors and university administrators are inclined to indignantly dismiss concerns about the curriculum, peer review, and hiring, promotion and tenure decisions as cynically calling into question their good character. But these concerns are actually rooted in the democratic conviction that professors and university administrators are not cut from finer cloth than their fellow citizens.

Our universities shape young men’s and women’s sensibilities, and our professors are supposed to serve as guardians of authoritative knowledge and exemplars of serious and systematic inquiry. Yet our campuses are home today to a toxic confluence of fashionable ideas that undermine the very notion of intellectual virtue, and to flawed educational practices and procedures that give intellectual vice ample room to flourish.

Just look at Climategate.

Mr. Berkowitz is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

__________

Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704131404575117314262655160.html

Climate Change and Open Science

‘Unequivocal.” That’s quite a claim in this skeptical era, so it’s been enlightening to watch the unraveling of the absolute certainty of global warming caused by man. Now even authors of the 2007 United Nations report that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” have backed off its key assumptions and dire warnings.

Science is having its Walter Cronkite moment. Back when news was delivered by just three television networks, Walter Cronkite could end his evening broadcast by declaring, “And that’s the way it is.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report likewise purported to proclaim the final word, in 3,000 pages that now turn out to be less scientific truth than political cover for sweeping economic regulations.

Equivocation has replaced “unequivocal” even among some of the scientists whose “Climategate” emails discussed how to suppress dissenting views via peer review and avoid complying with freedom-of-information requests for data.

Phil Jones, the University of East Anglia scientist at the center of the emails, last week acknowledged to the BBC that there hasn’t been statistically significant warming since 1995. He said there was more warming in the medieval period, before today’s allegedly man-made effects. He also said “the vast majority of climate scientists” do not believe the debate over climate change is settled. Mr. Jones continues to believe in global warming but acknowledges there’s no consensus.

Some journalistic digging into the 2007 U.N. climate change report revealed that its most quoted predictions were based on dubious sources. The IPCC now admits that its prediction that the Himalayan glaciers might disappear by 2035 was a mistake, based on an inaccurate citation to the World Wildlife Foundation. This advocacy group was also the basis for a claim the IPCC has backed away from—that up to 40% of the Amazon is endangered.

The IPCC report mistakenly doubled the percentage of the Netherlands currently below sea level. John Christy, a former lead author of the IPCC report, now says the “temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change.” As the case collapsed, the top U.N. climate-change bureaucrat, Yvo de Boer, announced his resignation last week.

The climate topic is important in itself, but it is also a leading indicator of how our expectation of full access to information makes us deeply skeptical when we’re instead given faulty or partial information. In just three years since the report was issued, we have gone from purported unanimity among scientists to a breakdown in any consensus. Opinion polls reflect this U-turn, with growing public skepticism.

Skeptics don’t doubt science—they doubt unscientific claims cloaked in the authority of science. The scientific method is a foundation of our information age, with its approach of a clearly stated hypothesis tested through a transparent process with open data, subject to review.

The IPCC report was instead crafted by scientists hand-picked by governments when leading politicians were committed to global warming. Unsurprisingly, the report claimed enough certainty to justify massive new spending and regulations.

Some in the scientific community are now trying to restore integrity to climate science. “The truth, and this is frustrating for policymakers, is that scientists’ ignorance of the climate system is enormous,” Mr. Christy wrote in the current issue of Nature. “There is still much messy, contentious, snail-paced and now, hopefully, transparent, work to do.”

Mr. Christy also makes the good point that groupthink—technically known as “informational cascades”—is a particular risk for scientists. He proposes a Wikipedia-like approach in which scientists could openly contribute and debate theories and data in real time.

The unraveling of the case for global warming has left laymen uncertain about what to believe and whom to trust. Experts usually know more than amateurs, but increasingly they get the benefit of the doubt only if they operate openly, without political or other biases.

We need scientists who apply scientific objectivity, or the closest approximation of it, and then present their information with enough transparency that people can weigh the evidence. Instead of a group of scientists anointed by the U.N. telling us what to think, the spirit of the age is that scientists need to provide open access to information on which others can make policy decisions.

The lesson of the chill of the global-warming consensus is this: Those who want to persuade others of the truth as they see it need to make their case as transparently as possible. Technology enables access to information and leads us to expect open debates, conducted honestly and in full view. This is inconvenient for those who want to claim unequivocal truth without having the evidence. But that’s the way it is.

L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal

__________

Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748704757904575077741687226602.html

Oil and troubled waters

Plans to drill for oil in the Falklands provoke angry words from Argentina

EACH year a well-rehearsed performance takes place at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation. Argentina’s government protests that Britain’s sovereignty over the islands it calls the Malvinas is a colonial injustice, and that the principle of territorial integrity demands that they be reunited with the mainland. Representatives from the Falkland Islands counter that they have a right to self-determination; that they have no wish to be part of Argentina; and that they do not consider themselves to be a colony of Britain anyway. Most of the time the argument gets no further than that. After going to war over the islands in 1982, Britain and Argentina have enjoyed diplomatic relations for 20 years now. But the arrival of an oil exploration rig in the Falklands this month will give new fuel to dispute that dates back to 1833.

On February 16th Aníbal Fernández, the presidential chief of staff, announced that ships sailing between Argentina and the Falklands would henceforth require a permit. Earlier the government barred a ship which it said had previously called in the islands from loading a cargo of pipes. (Techint, the Argentine manufacturer of the pipes, said they were destined for the Mediterranean.) Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s president, said she would “work unceasingly for our rights in the Malvinas, for human rights.” A spokesman for the British embassy in Buenos Aires said that the application of laws in and around the Falklands was a matter for the islanders, and that Britain had no doubts over the sovereignty issue.

Exploratory wells were drilled in the waters of the Falklands in 1998. While suggesting there might be oil, further exploration was not seen as profitable at the low price then prevailing. Subsequent seismic surveys and the surge in the price of oil prompted Desire Petroleum, a small British company, to hire the rig, which will drill up to ten wells for it and Rockhopper, another British outfit. Most will be in the north Falklands basin, with perhaps one or two in the south Falklands basin, which has not yet been explored at all. By the end of this year the 2,500 islanders will have a better idea of whether the Falklands are to become the Saudi Arabia with penguins.

If recoverable oil is found, it will be doubly galling for Argentina. Since the war, income per head in the once-poor islands has substantially overhauled that in the would-be motherland. While the Falklands have grown rich on squid (and more), Argentina’s long decline has continued. Because Ms Fernández’s government, like that of her husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, is unfriendly to foreign oil companies, its own oil and gas industry is steadily shrinking.

Ms Fernández is deeply unpopular, thanks to rising inflation and evidence that the first couple have grown rich while in office. But her outrage over the Malvinas plays well at home, even if few Argentines believe that it will achieve much. When Mr Kirchner suspended charter flights to the islands and banned Argentine scientists from taking part in a binational commission on fishing, he was applauded for this. With a presidential election next year, the only thing that will pour oil on the dispute is if the wells prove to be dry.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15542859&source=features_box2

Global Weirding Is Here

Of the festivals of nonsense that periodically overtake American politics, surely the silliest is the argument that because Washington is having a particularly snowy winter it proves that climate change is a hoax and, therefore, we need not bother with all this girly-man stuff like renewable energy, solar panels and carbon taxes. Just drill, baby, drill.

When you see lawmakers like Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina tweeting that “it is going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries ‘uncle,’ ” or news that the grandchildren of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma are building an igloo next to the Capitol with a big sign that says “Al Gore’s New Home,” you really wonder if we can have a serious discussion about the climate-energy issue anymore.

The climate-science community is not blameless. It knew it was up against formidable forces — from the oil and coal companies that finance the studies skeptical of climate change to conservatives who hate anything that will lead to more government regulations to the Chamber of Commerce that will resist any energy taxes. Therefore, climate experts can’t leave themselves vulnerable by citing non-peer-reviewed research or failing to respond to legitimate questions, some of which happened with both the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Although there remains a mountain of research from multiple institutions about the reality of climate change, the public has grown uneasy. What’s real? In my view, the climate-science community should convene its top experts — from places like NASA, America’s national laboratories, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, the California Institute of Technology and the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre — and produce a simple 50-page report. They could call it “What We Know,” summarizing everything we already know about climate change in language that a sixth grader could understand, with unimpeachable peer-reviewed footnotes.

At the same time, they should add a summary of all the errors and wild exaggerations made by the climate skeptics — and where they get their funding. It is time the climate scientists stopped just playing defense. The physicist Joseph Romm, a leading climate writer, is posting on his Web site, climateprogress.org, his own listing of the best scientific papers on every aspect of climate change for anyone who wants a quick summary now.

Here are the points I like to stress:

1) Avoid the term “global warming.” I prefer the term “global weirding,” because that is what actually happens as global temperatures rise and the climate changes. The weather gets weird. The hots are expected to get hotter, the wets wetter, the dries drier and the most violent storms more numerous.

The fact that it has snowed like crazy in Washington — while it has rained at the Winter Olympics in Canada, while Australia is having a record 13-year drought — is right in line with what every major study on climate change predicts: The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever.

2) Historically, we know that the climate has warmed and cooled slowly, going from Ice Ages to warming periods, driven, in part, by changes in the earth’s orbit and hence the amount of sunlight different parts of the earth get. What the current debate is about is whether humans — by emitting so much carbon and thickening the greenhouse-gas blanket around the earth so that it traps more heat — are now rapidly exacerbating nature’s natural warming cycles to a degree that could lead to dangerous disruptions.

3) Those who favor taking action are saying: “Because the warming that humans are doing is irreversible and potentially catastrophic, let’s buy some insurance — by investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and mass transit — because this insurance will also actually make us richer and more secure.” We will import less oil, invent and export more clean-tech products, send fewer dollars overseas to buy oil and, most importantly, diminish the dollars that are sustaining the worst petro-dictators in the world who indirectly fund terrorists and the schools that nurture them.

4) Even if climate change proves less catastrophic than some fear, in a world that is forecast to grow from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion people between now and 2050, more and more of whom will live like Americans, demand for renewable energy and clean water is going to soar. It is obviously going to be the next great global industry.

China, of course, understands that, which is why it is investing heavily in clean-tech, efficiency and high-speed rail. It sees the future trends and is betting on them. Indeed, I suspect China is quietly laughing at us right now. And Iran, Russia, Venezuela and the whole OPEC gang are high-fiving each other. Nothing better serves their interests than to see Americans becoming confused about climate change, and, therefore, less inclined to move toward clean-tech and, therefore, more certain to remain addicted to oil. Yes, sir, it is morning in Saudi Arabia.

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times

__________

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/17/opinion/17friedman.html

Cap-and-Tax Escape

The climate lobby loses three members.

Yesterday’s corporate defections from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) won’t be greeted with the same hosannas as last year’s departures of Nike and Apple from the Chamber of Commerce over its global warming stance, but they’re undoubtedly more important. This scales-from-eyes moment shows that some big American businesses are putting shareholders and consumers ahead of politics.

The departing are BP America, Conoco Phillips and Caterpillar, which were among the original members of USCAP, a coalition of green pressure groups and Fortune 500 businesses that tried to drive a cap-and-trade program into law. Some corporate members concluded that climate legislation was inevitable and hoped to tip it in a more business-friendly direction. Others—ahem, General Electric—are in our view engaged in little more than old-fashioned rent-seeking. Through regulatory gaming, Congress would choose business winners and losers, dispensing billions of dollars in carbon permits to the politically connected.

The climate bills the House passed in August and Senate liberals are contemplating have stripped away that illusion. Carbon tariffs and other regulations would have damaged heavy manufacturing against global competitors, which explains Caterpillar’s exit, while oil companies would suffer as transportation, refining and power generation via natural gas were punished. Then there’s the harm to long-run growth, which would slow under the economy-wide drag of new taxes and federal mandates.

Businesses thrive on regulatory certainty, and when cap and tax seemed inevitable maybe an outfit like USCAP could be justified. But the costly reality of the climate agenda is resulting in a change of heart among both the business and political classes even as climate science comes under new scrutiny—and we suspect that several other corporations may follow these three to the exits. It’s a measure of liberal overreach that they’ve managed to alienate the biggest companies that were cheerleading their climate ambitions.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal

__________

Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704804204575069584239742058.html

Study Finds a Tree Growth Spurt

Forests along the Eastern Seaboard are responding to increasing carbon dioxide levels.

Forests in the eastern United States appear to be growing faster in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a new study has found.

The study centered on trees in mixed hardwood stands on the western edge of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland that are representative of much of the those on the Eastern Seaboard.

All are growing two to four times as fast as normal, according to a study published in Tuesday’s issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After controlling for other variables, scientists concluded that the change resulted largely from the increase in carbon dioxide, a major factor in climate change.

Trees are now known to play a vital role in countering global warming because they absorb and store carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas.

Geoffrey G. Parker, a co-author of the paper and an ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., said his research indicated that the local forests were adapting to the rise in carbon dioxide by absorbing more.

“My guess is that they are already sopping up some of the extra carbon,” he said.

But Dr. Parker said it was unclear whether the trend could be sustained. “We don’t think this can persist for too long because other limiting factors will come into play, like water availability and soil nutrients,” he said.

Since 1987, Dr. Parker has been studying 55 stands of trees along the bay’s western edge. Recent censuses have shown that compared with the earlier years, the trees are packing on weight at an additional two tons per acre annually. The scientists track the speed of growth through tree diameter.

Although many variables can affect tree growth, Dr. Parker said he had ruled out all causes for the sustained nature of the recent growth except for warmer temperatures, a longer growing season and the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide levels around the research center have increased 12 percent in the last 22 years.

Dr. Parker said his study is representative of the trees common to much of the Eastern Seaboard because he was eager to know whether other scientists in other areas were recording similar results.

Leslie Kaufman, New York Times

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/science/earth/02trees.html

Can Climate Forecasts Still Be Trusted?

Confidence Melting Away

First, it was a series of e-mails that led many to begin doubting the veracity of climate scientists. Then, the United Nations climate body itself had to reverse dire predictions about the melting of glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains. Other claims have raised doubts as well.

K2 in the Himalayas. Making mistakes is human, says IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. “We can’t question the credibility of a report of almost 3,000 pages just because of one mistake.”

The Siachen Glacier is home to the world’s highest crisis region. Here, at 6,000 meters (19,680 feet) above sea level, Indian and Pakistani soldiers face off, ensconced in heavily armed positions.

The ongoing border dispute between the two nuclear powers has already claimed the lives of 4,000 men — most of them having died of exposure to the cold.

Now the Himalayan glacier is also at the center of a scientific dispute. In its current report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that the glacier, which is 71 kilometers (44 miles) long, could disappear by 2035. It also predicts that the other 45,000 glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range will be virtually gone by then, with drastic consequences for billions of people in Asia, whose life depends on water that originates in the Himalayas. The IPCC report led environmental activists to sound the alarm about a drama that could be unfolding at the “world’s third pole.”

“This prognosis is, of course, complete nonsense,” says John Shroder, a geologist and expert on glaciers at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. The results of his research tell a completely different story.

For the past three decades, the US glaciologist has been traversing the majestic mountains of the Himalayan region, particularly the Karakorum Range, with his measuring instruments. The discoveries he has made along the way are not consistent with the assessment long held by the IPCC. “While many glaciers are shrinking, others are stable and some are even growing,” says Shroder.

Untenable Claim

The gaffe over the Himalayan glaciers has triggered an outcry in the world of climatology. Some are already using the word “Glaciergate” in reference to the scandal over a scientifically untenable claim in the fourth IPCC assessment report, which the UN climate body publishes every five years. The fourth assessment report was originally published in 2007. Last week, the IPCC withdrew the erroneous claim and apologized for the error.

German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is also upset about the incident. “The error in the IPCC report is serious and should not have happened,” Röttgen told SPIEGEL. “Scientific accuracy is a vital condition to support the credibility of the political conclusions we draw as a result.” Although the minister still has confidence in the overall validity of the IPCC report, he wants to see “a thorough investigation into how the error originated and was communicated.”

But why wasn’t this clearly nonsensical claim noticed long ago by at least one of the 3,000 scientists who contributed to the IPCC report? “What’s really amazing is that such a blunder remained uncorrected for so long,” says Shroder.

To err is human, say IPCC officials like Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “We shouldn’t question the credibility of an almost 3,000-page report because of one error.”

But other climatologists are calling for consequences. They insist that IPCC Chairman and Nobel laureate Rajendra Pachauri is no longer acceptable as head of the panel, particularly because of his personal involvement in the affair. “Pachauri should resign, so as to avert further damage to the IPCC,” says German climatologist Hans von Storch. “He used the argument of the supposed threat to the Himalayan glacier in his personal efforts to raise funds for research.” Storch claims that the Indian-born scientist did not order the retraction of the erroneous prediction until it had generated considerable public pressure.

‘Best of My Abilities’

Pachauri, for his part, rejects calls for his resignation. “I have a commitment to successfully complete the Fifth Assessment Report, a commitment that I am certainly not willing to set aside,” the IPCC chairman said.

The prognosis drama began in 1999. The theory of the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 first appeared in an article in the British popular magazine New Scientist, for which Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain was interviewed.

As it turned out, the specification of the year 2035 was the result of a simple mistake. In an article published three years earlier, Russian glaciologist Vladimir Kotlyakov did in fact predict a massive decline in the area covered by glaciers, but not until the year 2350. “All of the IPCC’s peer-review procedures failed,” says Canadian geographer Graham Cogley.

Indian scientist Hasnain’s ties to the IPCC chairman have triggered a public relations crisis. The glaciologist now works at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, whose director is none other than Rajendra Pachauri. Could this explain why Pachauri suppressed the error in the Himalaya passage of the IPCC report for so long?

The erroneous prediction of a precipitous end for the Himalayan glaciers was already revealed in November, when a glaciologist working for the Indian environment ministry presented a study on Himalayan glaciers that arrived at completely different conclusions than the IPCC report. But Pachauri dismissed the new study as “voodoo science.”

Sloppiness

In mid-January, the New Scientist confessed to its own sloppiness, exactly one day after IPCC Chairman Pachauri and his glacier expert Hasnain had announced a joint venture involving TERI, Iceland and the United States to study the Himalayan glaciers, with half a million dollars in funding from the New York-based Carnegie Foundation. “Perhaps Pachauri was so hesitant to look into the matter because he was trying to protect the research projects being conducted by his own institute,” says climate statistician Storch. Pachauri, however, claims that he was simply pressed for time: “Everybody in the IPCC was terribly preoccupied with planning for several events that were to take place in Copenhagen,” he said, referring to the climate change summit held in the Danish capital in December.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, also contributed $80,000 to TERI. Last week the Japanese company was awarded the $1.5 million (€1.05 million) “Zayed Future Energy Prize” for its Prius hybrid car. Pachauri was the chairman of the jury, but he explains that he temporarily suspended his chairmanship because of his consulting activities. Nevertheless, he did manage to praise Toyota at the awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi, saying that the company deserves “the fullest appreciation” for bringing about a radical shift in technology.

Unfortunately, the questions about the IPCC and its president come at a time when the credibility of climatologists has already suffered, partly as a result of the theft of confidential e-mail messages written by scientists, the content of which has led critics to claim that data were manipulated. Although none of these incidents negate the evidence supporting climate change, facts ceased to be the focus of the acrimonious debate long ago. Instead, it now revolves around questions of belief.

‘Criticism Has Become Fashionable’

“Confidence in the authority of the science of climatology is currently eroding in the public consciousness,” says Roger Pielke Jr., an American social economist and expert on natural disasters. Environmental economist Richard Tol agrees, saying: “Criticism of climate research has become fashionable.” And the British science journal Nature warns that climatologists can no longer assume that solid evidence alone will convince the public.

New Ammunition from an E-Mail Scandal

For years, malaria expert Paul Reiter of the Paris-based Pasteur Institute has criticized the warning, as expressed in the third IPCC report, that climate change will lead to the spread of malaria, saying that there is no evidence to support such a claim. Reiter accuses many climatologists of perceiving themselves too strongly as activists who are more interested in spreading an alarmist message.

Scientists already feel that the second part of the IPCC report, which addresses the consequences of global warming, is not as sound as the first part, which deals with the underlying physical factors contributing to climate change. This could, in fact, explain how the erroneous Himalayan prognosis slipped into the report in the first place. The report’s lead author, Murari Lal, defends himself by saying that “the melting of the glaciers is such a huge threat to so many people” and, for that reason, had to be included in the report. According to malaria researcher Reiter, it is precisely this passion that is so dangerous to science.

The e-mails hackers stole from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia last November and placed on the Internet have also provided critics with new ammunition. An e-mail exchange between climate modelers that took place in the fall of 1999 suggests that the scientists were biased.

Abnormal Temperature Graph

The exchange involved the validity of a controversial temperature curve. The so-called hockey stick graph was intended to prove that the average global temperature in the last 1,000 years was never as high as it is today. To arrive at the date, several groups of researchers reconstructed past temperatures, to a large extent based on tree-ring data.

But one of the graphs differed markedly from the rest, leading to a controversy in the run-up to a conference of paleo-climatologists in Tanzania in September 1999. The abnormal temperature graph was “a problem and a potential distraction/detraction from the reasonably consensus viewpoint we’d like to show,” paleo-climatologist Michael Mann wrote in an e-mail, adding that he didn’t want to be the one to offer “the skeptics … a field day.” The lead author of the IPCC chapter, Chris Folland, wrote in another e-mail that the divergent data set “dilutes the message rather significantly.”

Keith Briffa, whose team reconstructed the contradictory temperature graph, was furious, and wrote: “I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data.'”

For the IPCC report that was written at the time, the scientists eventually resorted to an underhanded solution to downplay the data behind Briffa’s graph, which showed temperatures falling since the 1960s: the graph was simply cut off at 1960 in the IPCC report. “This sort of approach is considered problematic in science,” says climate scientist Storch.

Controversial Passages

Briffa’s unusually declining temperature graph points to a serious conundrum that no one has been able to explain yet: Since the 1960s, the tree-ring data no longer reflect actual temperature changes. But why, then, should tree-ring data be valid for periods before that?

At least the fourth IPCC report, published in 2007, discusses the problems with the tree-ring data at length. But even the current, valid report contains controversial passages.

Chapter 1.3.8, for example, contains a discussion of the possible relationship between climate change and the increased incidence of natural disasters, which, after Hurricane Katrina in the United States, have now become a politically charged issue.

At the IPCC report, the damage associated with such events “are very likely to increase due to increased frequencies and intensities of some extreme weather events” (italics in original). The report cites as evidence a study that supposedly demonstrates precisely this trend.

The only problem is that the study in question had not been subjected to outside peer review before the IPCC report went to press. This has since been done, and the conclusions are surprising: “We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and normalized catastrophe losses,” read the report published in the compendium “Climate Extremes and Society.”

Roger Pielke, a leading expert in this field, wrote in his blog: “The claims were not just wrong. The claims were based on knowledge that just doesn’t exist.”

Calculating Risk

Representatives of the insurance industry hold a completely different view, which presents an additional problem for the IPCC. Reinsurers, such as Munich Re, calculate their premiums on the basis of risk, so that an increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters can translate into additional profits when new policies are concluded.

“We see, in our databases, significant evidence for a correlation between climate change and the increase in natural disasters,” says Ernst Rauch, director of German insurer Munich Re’s “Corporate Climate Centre.” Unlike scientists, he adds, the insurance industry cannot wait until all doubts have been set aside. “We are a business operation that has to act today,” says Rauch. He also points out that his company is “extremely satisfied” with the conclusions of the IPCC report. This is hardly surprising: A 2005 publication by Munich Re served as one of the sources for the IPCC’s cautionary predictions.

Climatologists are now calling for reforms. Pielke, for example, is concerned about the way authors and peer reviewers work, how they are appointed by the IPCC and how literature is used that, as in the case of the Himalayan glacier, does not come from peer-reviewed professional journals.

One of the problems is that working for the IPCC is a time-consuming honorary appointment for scientists. “This means that it is not always the best people in their field who are willing to contribute their time and effort,” says epidemiologist Reiter.

On the other hand, the community is sometimes reluctant to include troublesome critics in its efforts. For instance, when the IPCC recently set up a special working group to address natural disasters, the US government nominated ecologist Pielke. The IPCC declined to appoint him.

___________

Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,674087,00.html

Off-base camp

A mistaken claim about glaciers raises questions about the UN’s climate panel

Still there

THE idea that the Himalaya could lose its glaciers by 2035—glaciers which feed rivers across South and East Asia—is a dramatic and apocalyptic one. After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said such an outcome was very likely in the assessment of the state of climate science that it made in 2007, onlookers (including this newspaper) repeated the claim with alarm. In fact, there is no reason to believe it to be true. This is good news (within limits) for Indian farmers—and bad news for the IPCC.

The IPCC, like ancient Gaul, is divided into three parts. Working Group I looks at the physical science of climate change. Working Group II is concerned with impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. Working Group III deals with mitigation. The claims about Himalayan glaciers come from a short “case study” in a chapter on Asia in WG-II’s report from 2007. Like all of the IPCC’s work, this was meant to be an expert assessment of relevant research, resting mostly on peer-reviewed sources but also, at times, on the “grey literature”—reports by governments and other organisations that are not commercially or academically published.

The WG-II case study cites a grey report by the WWF, an environmental group, as the source of the date 2035. The WWF in turn cites a study presented in 1999 to the International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI) by Syed Hasnain, chair of ICSI’s working group on Himalayan glaciers.

But the passage about 2035 that the WWF report quotes comes not from that ICSI report (which was unpublished) but from an article that appeared around the same time in Down to Earth, an Indian magazine. This article was based in part on an interview with Dr Hasnain, who was also quoted by New Scientist as saying it was possible the glaciers would be gone in 40 years. The article in Down to Earth claims that the area covered by glaciers would drop from 500,000km2 to 100,000km2 by 2035, a claim found in the IPCC report but not in the WWF report. This suggests the Down to Earth article was itself a source for the IPCC, though Murari Lal, a retired Indian academic, now a consultant, who was one of the four co-ordinating lead authors of the chapter, says this was not the case.

There are two further problems with the area figure. One is that the research in question was looking at all the world’s glaciers, not just the Himalaya’s. The other is that the research was looking at the prospects for 2350, not 2035.

Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck, explains that a timescale of centuries, not decades, is far more plausible for the Himalaya. Politics and logistics make a comprehensive study of Himalayan glaciers difficult, but if those individual glaciers which have been studied recently are representative, then the glaciers are retreating. This retreat, however, is likely to take a long time. To melt a glacier at an altitude above 6,000 metres, where many of the Himalayan glaciers are found, requires a lot more warming than can be expected by 2035—a point made forcefully in a letter to Science by Dr Kaser and others, published this week. Jeff Kargel of the University of Arizona, one of its authors, stresses that its criticism is aimed at this specific claim, not at the IPCC in general, and should not be seen as undermining the panel’s conclusions.

On January 20th the IPCC released a statement reiterating its overall conclusion on water from seasonal snow packs and glaciers in a warming world: that it is likely to be scarcer and available at different times. The statement also says that in the case study on the Himalaya’s glaciers “the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.” Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, who is now the co-chair of WG-II, says the fact that the review process failed to catch the problem needs to be looked into.

That a review process which included 40,000 comments did not catch the error proves that size is not everything—especially since the error was quite catchable. Dr Kaser read the chapter after it was reviewed but before it was published. As a glaciologist—he was an author of the relevant chapter in the WG-I report, a much more thorough take on the subject which makes no grandiose claims about the Himalaya—he found the passage absurd, and alerted the IPCC. Problems he had with a passage on glaciers in WG-II’s chapter on Africa were subsequently addressed. Those in the chapter on Asia were not.

This poses two questions. One is why Dr Kaser, or some other glaciologist, did not see the chapter earlier on. Like Gaul’s three parts, the IPCC’s working groups, rooted in different disciplines, have different tribal structures; they do not communicate as well as they should. Dr Field says he is determined to try to do something about this in the process leading up to the next set of assessments in 2013.

The other question is why, when alerted by Dr Kaser, the IPCC did nothing. When open criticism began last year, it was airily dismissed by Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the IPCC and runs an institute in India where Dr Hasnain now works on glaciology. If he had not heard the claims were wrong by that stage, he should have done. This mixture of sloppiness, lack of communication and high-handedness gives the IPCC’s critics a lot to work with.

Meanwhile, the future of water resources in the places served by the glaciers remains unclear. Glaciers in monsoonal climates, unlike high-latitude glaciers, gain mass from precipitation during the same warm season in which they lose mass from melting, which makes their behaviour complex. And there are other water-related questions to be addressed, including possible changes to the monsoons and massive depletion of groundwater. There is an urgent need to study these things, and to synthesise the results in a way that can be relied on.

___________

Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15328534&source=features_box1

Fusion breakthrough a magic bullet for energy crisis?

Sceptics and environmentalists may be locked into endless arguments around global warming, but there’s little debate that an energy crisis looms large.

 A Florida based research team, however, may have found a solution to the world’s energy woes that could provide a clean and near limitless supply of energy in as little as a decade.

The Energy Crisis

 Global energy production and consumption is a complex beast and many nations remain heavily reliant on a lethal mix of oil and coal, both of which are finite, and have huge impacts on the environment.

 While there is much conjecture on just how long oil and coal reserves will last, the stark reality is that they will both eventually run out.

 In the 1950s, many thought atomic energy would allow humanity to dodge the energy crisis, with newly nuclear fission reactors providing an affordable and near limitless supply of energy.

More recently however, incidents such as the Chernobyl meltdown, the growing pile of incredibly toxic nuclear waste and the spectre of rogue nations manufacturing weapons- grade plutonium have taken the shine off nuclear fission.

 With the energy requirements of developed nations continuing to grow, and developing nations gaining a serious appetite for energy consumption, demand will soon outstrip supply, and many predict that massive economic and social impacts are probable.

 The fusion magic bullet?

 Thankfully, a new type of nuclear fusion energy generation technology holds the potential to provide a cheap and clean source of energy without toxic radioactive waste or the environmental impacts of oil or coal.

 Unlike nuclear fission, where the nucleus of an atom is split to release energy, nuclear fusion uses the same process as our sun and works by fusing atoms together to release of large amounts of energy. 

Nuclear fusion generates energy leaving little to nothing in the way of by-products, and uses fuels that are plentiful but far less dangerous than the uranium used with conventional nuclear fission reactors.

 Whilst physicists have generated nuclear fusion reactions, doing has involved creating the earthbound equivalent of a small star, which in turn has required ultra-strong magnetic fields to contain superheated gases many times hotter than the surface of the sun.

 Unfortunately, doing so has tended to consume almost as much energy as was being generated by the fusion reaction. Creating a nuclear fusion reactor that is commercially viable and able to output surplus energy beyond sustaining its own reaction was thought to be at least 20-30 years away.

 Thanks to work being done by a group of physicists at the University of Florida, all things fusion related could however be set to change in as little as a decade.

 Where conventional fission reactors use uranium which can be refined to make nuclear weapons, the University of Florida’s concept uses hydrogen and an isotope of boron called Boron 11, both of which are abundant on earth and can’t be used to make atomic weapons.

 When fusion reactions occur in the heart of a star such as our sun, atoms are subject to intense heat and pressure which stops the atoms from repelling each other, allowing them to fuse.

 To date, experimental fusion projects have largely been focused on generating intense heat so they can fuse, and containing the super hot gases from this reaction consumes most if not all of the energy being produced by the fusion reaction.

 The University of Florida have taken a different tack, by putting hydrogen and boron fuel into an accelerator that fires them towards each other at incredibly high velocities. When the hydrogen and boron 11 atoms smash into each other, they fuse, producing fast moving helium nuclei whose motion is converted into electricity.

 This new process is clean, highly efficient and most important of all, simple. The output of the new reactor is electricity with its by-product being the same helium gas used to make voices squeaky and party balloons float, so there’s no toxic radioactive waste to dispose of.

 Initial calculations also show that this new type of fusion generation could produce clean electricity at similar levels but far more cheaply than oil or coal.

 Because the reactor also operates using relatively simple engineering principles (especially compared to the current crop of fusion reactors), commercialising it is likely to involve significantly shorter time-frames than other fusion technologies.

 Although technology is still however very experimental and has yet to be fully proven, a feasibility study into this new fusion process has been kicked off, and if it is found to be viable, it could become commercially available in as little as a decade, here’s hoping.

__________

Full article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/fusion-breakthrough-a-magic-bullet-for-energy-crisis-1864275.html

Midnight Masquerade

A mix of apocalyptic politics and utopian dreams.

‘Prediction,” the Danish nuclear physicist Niels Bohr once observed, “is very difficult, especially about the future.” For more than 60 years, the folks at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have been merrily discarding this useful piece of advice with dire warnings that the seconds are ticking toward a nuclear and, more recently, climate catastrophe. As of yesterday, their clock stood at six minutes to midnight.

And that’s the good news. “For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear-weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals,” the Bulletin announced yesterday, by way of explaining its decision to move the hand of doom back by a minute. “A key to the new era of cooperation is a change in the U.S. government’s orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of Obama.”

That’s a funny judgment. The Administration has failed to negotiate so much as a pause in Iran’s nuclear programs or rein in North Korea. Pakistan remains in a precarious political state. Russia and China are building a new generation of nuclear weapons even as the reliability of America’s aging arsenal is increasingly in doubt. Meanwhile, the risks of a Middle East arms race involving current nonnuclear states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt grows as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes closer to getting his bomb.

But these facts apparently don’t impress the Bulletin’s editorial staff or its governing board. The driving motivation here is the familiar mix of apocalyptic politics and utopian dreams that now typifies so much thinking about disarmament and global warming. That both of these causes now march under the misleading banner of “science” tells us more about the times than it does about the future.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal

__________

Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703414504575001324237915624.html

More Carbon Dioxide May Create a Racket in the Seas

Here is another consequence of rising carbon dioxide emissions: the oceans are getting louder.

It has long been known that chemical compounds in seawater, including boric acid, absorb sound, as energy from sound waves stimulates certain reactions. As the oceans grow more acidic, a result of increasing absorption of atmospheric CO2, the seawater chemistry changes, resulting in fewer reactions and less acoustic energy used. That means sounds will travel farther and be louder at a given distance from a sound source.

Tatiana Ilyina and Richard E. Zeebe of the University of Hawaii and Peter G. Brewer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute looked at the future impact of this phenomenon. Using a global ocean model and projections of CO2 emissions, they predicted regional changes in acidity, and thus sound absorption.

Writing in Nature Geoscience, they report that in high latitudes and deepwater formations (where acidification is expected to be worse), sound absorption could fall 60 percent by 2100.

So the oceans will not be as quiet — what’s wrong with that? Plenty, potentially.

Most of the chemical absorption of sound occurs at relatively low frequencies, from about 1,000 to 5,000 hertz. Propeller noise and other ship sounds fall in the same range, as does some military and research sonar. So this “background” noise, especially prevalent near shipping lanes, will be louder. That may be bad news for marine mammals, which use sounds in the same range for communication and echolocation while foraging.

“We’re not saying that during the next 100 years all dolphins will be deafened,” Dr. Zeebe said. “But the background noise could essentially override or mask the sounds that they’re depending on.”

Then again, he said, because sounds will travel farther, the animals may be able to communicate over longer distances. The researchers are continuing their studies using more sophisticated models and more precise sound sources.

Henry Fountain, New York Times

__________

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/science/earth/29obsound.html

Good Science, Bad Politics

‘Climategate’ reveals a concerted effort to emphasize scientific results useful to a political agenda.

“Frankly, he’s an odd individual,” a well-known climatologist wrote about me in a private e-mail to a friend in the U.K. On this, we agree—I am an odd individual, if by that we mean a climatologist whose e-mails would not document a contempt for such basic scientific virtues such as openness, falsifiability, replicability and independent review.

The colleague is a member of the CRU cartel—the influential network of researchers at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and their colleagues in the U.S.—whose sanctum was exposed last month when a whistleblower or hacker published e-mails and documents from the CRU server on the Internet. What we can now see is a concerted effort to emphasize scientific results that are useful to a political agenda by blocking papers in the purportedly independent review process and skewing the assessments of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The effort has not been so successful, but trying was bad enough.

We—society and climate researchers—need to discuss now what constitutes “good science.” Some think good science is a societal institution that produces results that serve an ideology. Take, for instance, the counsel that then-Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave to scientists at a climate change conference in March, as transcribed by Environmental Research Letters: “I would give you the piece of advice, not to provide us with too many moving targets, because it is already a very, very complicated process. And I need your assistance to push this process in the right direction, and in that respect, I need fixed targets and certain figures, and not too many considerations on uncertainty and risk and things like that.”

I do not share that view. For me, good science means generating knowledge through a superior method, the scientific method. The merits of a scientifically constructed result do not depend on its utility for any politician’s agenda. Indeed, the utility of my results is not my business, and the contextualization of my results should not depend on my personal preferences. It is up to democratic societies to decide how to use or not use my insights and explanations.

But it seems I am an odd individual for taking this position. As a scientist, I strive for independence from vested interests. I am in the pocket of neither Exxon nor Greenpeace, and for this I come under fire from both sides—the skeptics and the alarmists—who have fiercely opposing views but are otherwise siblings in their methods and contempt.

I am told that I should keep my mouth shut, that criticizing colleagues is not “tactful,” and will damage the reputation of science—even when the CRU e-mails have already sunk that ship. I hear that the now-notorious “trick” is normal, that to “hide the decline” is just an unfortunate colloquialism. But we know by now that the activity described by these words was by no means innocent.

And what of the alarmists’ kin, the skeptics? They say these words show that everything was a hoax—not just the historical temperature results in question, but also the warming documented by different groups using thermometer data. They conclude I must have been forced out of my position as chief editor of the journal Climate Research back in 2003 for my allegiance to science over politics. In fact, I left this post on my own, with no outside pressure, because of insufficient quality control on a bad paper—a skeptic’s paper, at that. But in 2006 I urged a CRU scientist to make his data public for critics and, yes, skeptics—as documented in one of the stolen e-mails.

We need to repair the damage, and heal the public’s new mistrust of the workings of climate science. True, we are in a difficult situation: Climate science is in an abnormal situation, hounded by manifest political and economic interests of different sorts, and the uncertainties in our work are large and unavoidable. Then this abnormal brew forms, with scientists acting as politicians and politicians posturing as scientists.

But the core of the knowledge about man-made climate change is simple and hard to contest. Elevated greenhouse gas concentrations have led, and will continue to lead, to changing weather conditions (climate), in particular to warmer temperatures and changing precipitation. Such a change causes stress for societies and ecosystems. More emissions mean more stress, fewer emissions less. Thus, when society wants to limit this stress, it has to make sure that fewer greenhouse gases enter and remain in the atmosphere. Societies have decided they want to limit the stress so that temperatures rise no further than the politically produced number of two degrees Centigrade, relative to pre-industrial conditions. Fine. For this goal, it does not matter whether the sea level will rise 50 cm or 150 cm by the end of this century, or if hurricanes do or do not become significantly more severe. These are relevant scientific issues, with great importance for the design of adaptive strategies—but not particularly relevant to the political task of coming to an effective agreement on reducing emissions.

What we need to do is open the process. Data must be accessible to adversaries; joint efforts are needed to agree on test procedures to validate, once again, already broad.

Hans von Storch

__________

Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704238104574601443947078538.html

Copenhagen Reveals a Vicious Circle of Mistrust

Selfishness Abounds

Copenhagen’s conference ended without a legally-binding agreement to reduce emissions

Who is to blame for the summit disaster? The US? China? The EU? The G-8? In fact, all of the above. It was a coming together of states that killed off a vital resource for the world: trust.

In Copenhagen, the outlines of a dangerous world were there for all to see. The climate summit did not end in a fist fight between tens of thousands of people, despite the fact that serious global problems were not resolved. Barack Obama did not have to fly out from the roof of a burning conference center. Nevertheless, it was palpable that this is a world in which trust is harder to come by than oil, and where there is more mistrust than CO2 emissions.

And yet Copenhagen has proven that trust is the most important resource for the transformation of the current oil-based system into a green civilization. It is more important than all the money that will be required for new technology, more efficient machines, dams and the survival of forest inhabitants.

It is a question of trust that China does not flood Europe with even more products made using cheap coal-based power, instead of replacing coal with alternative power stations; that Europe is not isolated as an island of environmentalists, while in Africa entire countries are becoming inhospitable; that climate aid amounting to billions does not land in private bank accounts in Africa, while there is not enough money for schools in the donor country; and that America does not come to rely on cheap oil, while China and India curb their fossil fuel consumption for reasons of climate protection.

In order for 9 billion people to live together on one planet, a circle of trust is required, one that rewards solutions and punishes the wrong economic activities of the past. That does not describe some kind of paradise. Rather it is the prerequisite for preventing a world without hope. In Copenhagen a vicious circle of mistrust came in to being, one that engulfed all the good intentions and plans.

The climate deal that was presented by the leaders of the United States, China, India, Germany and around 20 other states was about as worthless as toxic debt from AIG. There are no concrete CO2 targets for 2020 and 2050, there is no clearly distributed financing of the promised $100 billion in aid pledged to developing nations to adopt CO2-curbing green technologies and help pay for the damage caused to those countries by climate change. And there is no consistent monitoring of reductions and of how they are to be achieved. To announce a target of limiting global warming to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius is meaningless as long as there is no limit to the CO2 that humanity allows itself to emit by 2050: 750 billion tons, according to the best available science. At the current level that would already have been emitted by the 2020s. Yet there was not enough trust to commit to this kind of CO2 budget.

The deal reveals a crisis of trust between the states. The fact that Barack Obama flew in, gave a gruff speech, made a separate deal and then simply announced this — before the international community had even been made aware of it or had agreed to it — has corroded the UN process. Obama lacked the trust in this process and the courage to diagnose his own people with a case of energy obesity. Worse yet: At the first opportunity — at the plenum — it was not only the smaller Latin American states and Sudan that distanced themselves from the document, but also those who had helped draw it up: India, Russia and China.

‘Chimerica Versus the World’

One could seek culprits for the debacle: ” Chimerica” or the emerging countries, the EU, the G-8 or the G-77. The closest fit is “Chimerica against the rest of the world.” However, the Europeans could also have done a bit better, by unilaterally upping their reductions target from 20 to 30 percent. That, however, was too much for Italy and Poland. There was plenty of selfishness to go around. Everyone wants to be the first to strike oil, but when it comes to the much more sensible policy of protecting resources, then it’s all about waiting.

But the ideas being discussed at Copenhagen were solutions that would still be sensible even if climate change, despite expectations, turned out to be an illusion on the part of researchers. Fossil fuel reserves are limited, with oil falling into short supply within 40 years and coal within 120 years. The extraction of fossil fuels in Saudi Arabia is not only environmentally destructive, it also makes the potentate richer and terrorists more aggressive. Conserving oil, coal and natural gas is a requirement for security policies, foreign policy — and even education policy. After all, money saved by a society on fuel imports is not only available for other forms of consumption, but also indirectly for new schools and teachers.

One of the few enlightening sentences uttered by former US President George W. Bush during his terms in office was that the West is “addicted to oil.”

‘The Inhofe Supremacy’

The extent of that addiction was apparent in many actors at Copenhagen, but especially in one. He only came for a few hours, but he was also decisively responsible for the chaos that marked the negotiations: James Inhofe, a Republican politician who does whatever he can in Washington to inhibit Obama’s efforts to impose CO2 limits. He is not only ridiculous in describing climate change as made up by “the Hollywood elite,” but outright dangerous. He would rather sacrifice American natural beauty at home and American soldiers abroad than to push his country to the forefront of a green technology revolution. For men of his ilk, oil and coal are tantamount to power, not a curse. They believe that Americans have a God-given right to release twice the level of emissions as the Europeans and four times as much as the planet’s average inhabitant. “The Inhofe Supremacy” could be the name of a film about the man, because the primacy in the world he is trying to secure for his country is enormous. But there are plenty of Chinese, Indians and Australians who think similarly. Working together in Copenhagen, they prevented humanity from starting to work together to solve a number of shared problems — to the detriment of every start-up investment that has the prospect of a hundred years of green profits.

Men like Inhofe, who in Copenhagen warned that nations shouldn’t be “deceived into thinking the US would pass cap-and-trade legislation,” have the effect of poison when it comes to the urgently needed global trust-building. As in nuclear disarmament, the expectation is pivotal that the other side will take the same difficult steps. But as long as the danger persists that a party could again come into power in America that would wipe the findings of climate science from the table and would rather send soldiers abroad than solar power engineers, then there won’t be much trust towards the US. And the Chinese may be talking the talk on climate issues, but as long as they are only spending a small part of their enormous cash reserves on green investments, their credibility will be compromised.

Oil Trumps Green Movement, At Least for Now

The consequences Copenhagen will have on other policy areas should not be underestimated: How can negotiating partners be certain that something similar won’t ensue when it comes to competition for natural resources? And how can people maintain hope that the megaproblems of our planet can be entrusted to the type of major summit round that just took place in Copenhagen?

The trust that is needed right now to revive the seriously injured political process can no longer be expected to come from the top down. Perhaps we now need a totally different coalition of the willing, of people who can set a lifestyle example that is easily adopted around the world. That movement would have to be more aggressive in its stances against special interests that have run astray, like those of the drug dealers in the oil industry. This could be the hour of a new global environmental movement, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom says. A movement that isn’t just reflected in dutiful survey answers, but also in the new lifestyle choices it makes and in the persistence with which it raises pesky questions for companies and political parties.

How Much Respect Do You Have for Yourself?

For the time being, the oil movement remains stronger than the environmental movement, the egotists stronger than the people willing to share, the SUV movement greater than that of the train riders. The faction of people who are willing to risk damage to posterity is greater than that of those who would prefer caution.

Those who feel a sense of disquiet in light of the tragedy of Copenhagen, have good reason to be quite furious with the powerful leaders who have squandered this summit. It’s okay to be enraged by the fact that political leaders are scaremongering about our future existence but at the same time are unwilling to accept solutions.

Then you have to go to the mirror and ask yourself: How much of Inhofe’s mentality can I see in myself? How much respect do I deserve for treating the planet correctly? It will take millions and billions of affirmative answers in order to build the trust that can grow into a climate conference more successful than the one that just ended in Copenhagen.

Editorial, Der Spiegel

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,668408,00.html

Forget the Club of Rome, This is the Club Of Losers

Consequences of Copenhagen

The coast of the Funafuti Atoll: A rise in sea levels could have catastrophic consequences for island nations like Tuvalu or the Maldives.

After days of negotiations, debate, political drama and pages of will-they or won’t-they headlines, the Copenhagen climate conference is over. And there is no conclusive agreement on any important issues. So did the situation produce any winners — or has the whole world become a club for environmental losers? 

Even if the world’s leading climate scientists are only partially correct, then without a fairly ambitious climate agreement there will be dramatic consequences for our planet. And the climate conference in Copenhagen neither delivered such an agreement nor did it show any concievable way of reaching one. Countless scientific studies leave us in no doubt that the whole of humanity — and in particular future generations — will lose out. Because, at best, we can only guess the exact nature of the consequences of global warming and the extent of negative change in our natural environment. 

Still besides the ongoing dramas which will no doubt ensue, the outcome of the mammoth Copenhagen summit has also indicated who the real losers are, in the short- and medium term. 

Island Nations: Threatened by Rising Waters  

Any rise in sea levels will affect these nations first and they will, most likely, be left to deal with these problems alone. Their fight for ambitious climate-agreement goals was unsuccessful. Among other things, the island nations of Tuvalu and the Maldives had wanted to set a goal of ensuring that the average global temperature not rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times. 

According to scientists, the CO2 reductions that have been agreed upon up until now will lead to a rise in temperature of up to 4 degrees Celsius. And while global warming will certainly be a problem in other parts of the world as well, it is in these island nations that it will be most immediate and most visible. Their environment will begin to disappear in the truest sense of the word, right from under their feet. 

Major Industrial Powers: Blamed by the Developing World 

The industrial states failed to convince the rest of the international community on the minimal consensus that they had tried so hard to negotiate for. Leaders like American President Barack Obama, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel cannot have enjoyed being taken to task by less geopolitically powerful nations in front of the rest of the world — even while they maintained their willingness to negotiate some kind of mini compromise agreement. 

The way that the consensus had to be structured — a unanimous decision — meant that the heads of the most important nations and the leaders of developing nations did not lose face altogether. But apart from retaining some pride, they really did not achieve much. 

The US: Threatened by China 

American President Barack Obama is probably quite happy that he can transfer his attention back to the issues surrounding healthcare reform back home. Even before Copenhagen ended so abysmally, his international image had taken a beating. That the US — and de facto, Obama himself — was not willing to make enough concessions at the summit resulted in disillusionment around the world. 

That China managed to resist any consensus with America for what seemed like half an eternity also indicated the future state of world power constellations. And that is a bothersome situation that is likely to crop up for the US all too soon, in other areas too. 

The Europeans: Defeated by Their Own Ambitions 

The Europeans wanted to show that they were leaders in the fight against climate change. Yet they couldn’t even come to an internal agreement about their offer to raise CO2 reductions from 20 percent to 30 percent. European efforts for an ambitious accord at the end of the summit were in vain. 

And then the EU had to stand by and watch as initial efforts toward a minimum consensus were watered down even further. Among other issues, they watched the European suggestion that a legally binding agreement for emissions reductions be reached by the end of 2010 at the latest, evaporate. Now Germany wants to rescue what it still can at a meeting of ministers this coming year, before all of the nations meet again in Mexico in November of 2010. 

United Nations: Overwhelmed by the Process 

The United Nations has always maintained that climate protection can only be effective if it’s administered globally — and that the issue cannot be solved by smaller groups like the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. It was actually former US President George W. Bush who initiated this kind of forum but at the time many observers were skeptical that it was Bush’s way of circumventing a broader, more global consensus on climate change. This most recent effort, featuring 16 major economies, was launched by President Obama in April of this year and was meant to augment the UN talks in Copenhagen. 

And although UN chief Ban Ki-moon seemed almost euphoric during his concluding statements in Copenhagen and at a press conference, it seemed that almost the opposite emotion would have been more appropriate. 

The chaotic Copenhagen summit showed up the UN’s shortcomings more clearly than ever — non-governmental organizations felt that they were shut out, small nations believed they were overlooked and some of the larger nations — and the Chinese in particular — showed exactly how unwilling they were to compromise. 

These are all bad omens for next year’s negotiations — and even worse signs for the formulation of any sort of legally binding agreement on climate change by the end of 2010. 

The Danish Hosts: From Saviors to Traitors 

Denmark would have liked to announce that the world was saved — and to have that announcement be associated with Copenhagen for ever. But now the city’s moniker is shorthand for the fact that the world has failed, and continues to fail, to reach a genuine climate agreement. 

The hosts actively contributed to that outcome, firstly by not taking the concerns of smaller nations seriously enough and then later because of Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s awkward and unwise leadership of the negotiations. In fact, he gave up the chairmanship of the summit early on Saturday morning before the summit had even reached its real conclusion. 

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,668419,00.html

Obama’s dubious ‘wins’ in Copenhagen and Congress

It was serendipitous to have almost simultaneous climaxes in Copenhagen and Congress. The former’s accomplishment was indiscernible, the latter’s was unsightly.

It would have been unprecedented had the president not described the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change summit as “unprecedented,” that being the most overworked word in his hardworking vocabulary of self-celebration. Actually, the mountain beneath the summit — a mountain of manufactured hysteria, predictable cupidity, antic demagoguery and dubious science — labored mightily and gave birth to a mouselet, a 12-paragraph document committing the signatories to . . . make a list.

A list of the goals they have no serious intention of trying to meet. The document even dropped the words “as soon as possible” from its call for a binding agreement on emissions.

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

The New York Times reported from Copenhagen that Barack Obama “burst into a meeting of the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian leaders, according to senior administration officials. Mr. Obama said he did not want them negotiating in secret.” Naughty them. Those three nations will be even less pliable in Mexico City.

At least the president got a health-care bill through the Senate. But what problem does it “solve” (Obama’s word)? Not that of the uninsured, 23 million of whom will remain in 2019. Not that of rising health-care spending. This will rise faster over the next decade.

The legislation does solve the Democrats’ “problem” of figuring out how to worsen the dependency culture and the entitlement mentality that grows with it. By 2016, families with annual incomes of $96,000 will get subsidized health insurance premiums. Nebraska’s Ben Nelson voted for the Senate bill after opposing both the Medicare cuts and taxes on high-value insurance plans — the heart of the bill’s financing. Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Indiana’s Evan Bayh and Virginia’s Jim Webb voted against one or the other. Yet they support the bill. They will need mental health care to cure their intellectual whiplash.

Before equating Harry Reid to Henry Clay, understand that buying 60 Senate votes is a process more protracted than difficult. Reid was buying the votes of senators whose understanding of the duties of representation does not rise above looting the nation for local benefits. And Reid had two advantages — the spending, taxing and borrowing powers of the federal leviathan, and an almost gorgeous absence of scruples or principles. Principles are general rules, such as: Nebraska should not be exempt from burdens imposed on the other 49 states.

Principles have not, however, been entirely absent: Nebraska’s Republican governor, Dave Heineman, and Republican senator, Mike Johanns, have honorably denounced Nebraska’s exemption from expanded Medicaid costs. The exemption was one payment for Nelson’s vote to impose the legislation on Nebraskans, 67 percent of whom oppose it.

Considering all the money and debasement of the rule of law required to purchase 60 votes, the bill the Senate passed might be the only bill that can get 60. The House, however, voted for Rep. Bart Stupak’s provision preserving the ban on public funding of abortions. Nelson, an untalented negotiator, unnecessarily settled for much less. The House also supports a surtax on affluent Americans and opposes the steep tax on some high-value health insurance plans. So to get the bill to the president’s desk, the House, in conference with the Senate, may have to shrug and say: Oh, never mind.

During this long debate, the left has almost always yielded ground. Still, to swallow the Senate bill, the House will have to swallow its pride, if it has any. The conference report reconciling the House and Senate bills will reveal whether the House is reconciled to being second fiddle in a one-fiddle orchestra.

George F. Will, Washington Post

__________
Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/21/AR2009122102244.html

Time for a Climate Change Plan B

The U.S. president is in deep denial.

The world’s political leaders, not least President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, are in a state of severe, almost clinical, denial. While acknowledging that the outcome of the United Nations climate-change conference in Copenhagen fell short of their demand for a legally binding, enforceable and verifiable global agreement on emissions reductions by developed and developing countries alike, they insist that what has been achieved is a breakthrough and a decisive step forward.

Just one more heave, just one more venue for the great climate-change traveling circus—Mexico City next year—and the job will be done.

Or so we are told. It is, of course, the purest nonsense. The only breakthrough was the political coup for China and India in concluding the anodyne communiqué with the United States behind closed doors, with Brazil and South Africa allowed in the room and Europe left to languish in the cold outside.

Far from achieving a major step forward, Copenhagen—predictably—achieved precisely nothing. The nearest thing to a commitment was the promise by the developed world to pay the developing world $30 billion of “climate aid” over the next three years, rising to $100 billion a year from 2020. Not only is that (perhaps fortunately) not legally binding, but there is no agreement whatsoever about which countries it will go to, in which amounts, and on what conditions.

The reasons for the complete and utter failure of Copenhagen are both fundamental and irresolvable. The first is that the economic cost of decarbonizing the world’s economies is massive, and of at least the same order of magnitude as any benefits it may conceivably bring in terms of a cooler world in the next century.

The reason we use carbon-based energy is not the political power of the oil lobby or the coal industry. It is because it is far and away the cheapest source of energy at the present time and is likely to remain so, not forever, but for the foreseeable future.

Switching to much more expensive energy may be acceptable to us in the developed world (although I see no present evidence of this). But in the developing world, including the rapidly developing nations such as China and India, there are still tens if not hundreds of millions of people suffering from acute poverty, and from the consequences of such poverty, in the shape of malnutrition, preventable disease and premature death.

The overriding priority for the developing world has to be the fastest feasible rate of economic development, which means, inter alia, using the cheapest available source of energy: carbon energy.

Moreover, the argument that they should make this economic and human sacrifice to benefit future generations 100 years and more hence is all the less compelling, given that these future generations will, despite any problems caused by warming, be many times better off than the people of the developing world are today.

Or, at least, that is the assumption on which the climate scientists’ warming projections are based. It is projected economic growth that determines projected carbon emissions, and projected carbon emissions that (according to the somewhat conjectural computer models on which they rely) determine projected warming (according to the same models).

All this overlaps with the second of the two fundamental reasons why Copenhagen failed, and why Mexico City (if our leaders insist on continuing this futile charade) will fail, too. That is the problem of burden-sharing, and in particular how much of the economic cost of decarbonization should be borne by the developed world, which accounts for the bulk of past emissions, and how much by the faster-growing developing world, which will account for the bulk of future emissions.

The 2006 Stern Review, quite the shoddiest pseudo-scientific and pseudo-economic document any British Government has ever produced, claims the overall burden is very small. If that were so, the problem of how to share the burden would be readily overcome—as indeed occurred with the phasing out of chorofluorocarbons (CFCs) under the 1987 Montreal Protocol. But the true cost of decarbonization is massive, and the distribution of the burden an insoluble problem.

Moreover, any assessment of the impact of any future warming that may occur is inevitably highly conjectural, depending as it does not only on the uncertainties of climate science but also on the uncertainties of future technological development. So what we are talking about is risk.

Not that the risk is all one way. The risk of a 1930s-style outbreak of protectionism—if the developed world were to abjure cheap energy and faced enhanced competition from China and other rapidly industrializing countries that declined to do so—is probably greater than any risk from warming.

But even without that, there is not even a theoretical (let alone a practical) basis for a global agreement on burden-sharing, since, so far as the risk of global warming is concerned (and probably in other areas too) risk aversion is not uniform throughout the world. Not only do different cultures embody very different degrees of risk aversion, but in general the richer countries will tend to be more risk-averse than the poorer countries, if only because we have more to lose.

The time has come to abandon the Kyoto-style folly that reached its apotheosis in Copenhagen last week, and move to plan B.

And the outlines of a credible plan B are clear. First and foremost, we must do what mankind has always done, and adapt to whatever changes in temperature may in the future arise.

This enables us to pocket the benefits of any warming (and there are many) while reducing the costs. None of the projected costs are new phenomena, but the possible exacerbation of problems our climate already throws at us. Addressing these problems directly is many times more cost-effective than anything discussed at Copenhagen. And adaptation does not require a global agreement, although we may well need to help the very poorest countries (not China) to adapt.

Beyond adaptation, plan B should involve a relatively modest, increased government investment in technological research and development—in energy, in adaptation and in geoengineering.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the Copenhagen debacle, it is not going to be easy to get our leaders to move to plan B. There is no doubt that calling a halt to the high-profile climate-change traveling circus risks causing a severe conference-deprivation trauma among the participants. If there has to be a small public investment in counseling, it would be money well spent.

Lord Lawson was U.K. chancellor of the exchequer in the Thatcher government from 1983 to 1989. He is the author of “An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming” (Overlook Duckworth, paperback 2009), and is chairman of the recently formed Global Warming Policy Foundation (www.thegwpf.org).

__________

Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107604574607793378860698.html

‘Copenhagen Was an All-Out Failure’

The World from Berlin

Climate change protestors hold up a banner in Newcastle Port, Australia on Saturday, following the failure of the UN global summit in Copenhagen.

The weeks, months and years of talking ended in a limpid deal. The Copenhagen climate conference ended on Saturday with a vague commitment to preventing the average global temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius. German newspapers slam the failed summit and most are deeply pessimistic about any future deal.

After two years of preparations and two weeks of intense negotiations, the much heralded Copenhagen conference on climate change yielded little. The 193-nation summit was left with little to show for itself but a vague commitment to limit global warming to 2 degrees.

A last-minute deal agreed by a smaller group of countries, including the United States, China and Brazil, lacked any legally binding limits to CO2 emissions, and was not adopted by the assembled delegates but merely “noted.”

German papers on Monday are scathing in their criticism of the climate conference and most are resoundingly pessimistic about the prospects for ever reaching an agreement in the future.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“The combined pressure to negotiate that had built up in the weeks and months leading up to the conference have disappeared into the atmosphere like CO2. It will hardly be possible to build it up again before the next climate conference in Mexico next winter. Without the minimum of figures that the powerful countries should have committed themselves to in Copenhagen, an agreement in Mexico will not be enough to achieve the distant goal of climate protection — insofar as an agreement is even possible. The fight against global warming has been set back by years.”

“The consequences will be widely felt. With every wasted year the path toward climate change becomes steeper and more expensive. … If the leaders come together again in a few years — perhaps having realized that climate change is actually dangerous — then they will be amazed to discover that reversing this is a lot more expensive and difficult than it would have been back in 2009. The solution to the climate problem will become all the more unlikely, just as it is becoming all the more drastic. It is almost like someone who is seriously ill going to the doctor too late.”

“Worse yet, those who were at the forefront of climate protection are now losing legitimacy. Germany and the entire European Union justified their climate targets by saying that someone had to make a start. That was right. However, what happens when no one joins in? Those industries that were regarded as a burden when it came to climate protection will regard the Copenhagen disaster as a liberation. They will push even harder to avoid strict guidelines. The conference made it clear just how little others were prepared to negotiate.”

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“Above all national selfishness stood in the way of an agreement. As long as one country can hope for short-term economic advantage by opposing measures the majority support, then the others won’t voluntarily join in.”

“That can only change if such a refusal has consequences. There are already methods of imposing sanctions, whereby many developing countries are only given financial and technical aid if they agree to reduce their CO2 emissions. However, naturally that won’t help when it comes to big developing countries like China or unwilling industrialized countries like the United States. The only thing that will work here is threats, such as a climate tariff, that states with a real climate target might impose on imports from states that have no clear climate goal in the future.”

“In a globally connected world economic sanctions bring many problems, and would not be easy to impose. However, to simply wait until the blockade continues at the next conference is no alternative. The states that are willing to solve the climate problem have to make a serious threat to go forward alone. And they must be able to protect themselves against others who derive an advantage at the expense of the rest of humanity.”

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“Forget Copenhagen, now we are making a climate treaty in 2010 in Bonn and Mexico. That is the message from those who are talking up the conference, and trying to sell the result as some kind of progress. But after the fiasco there is no sensible reason for assuming that things will be any better next year.”

“From the very beginning it was an illusion to believe that the two biggest climate sinners — China and the US — would allow themselves to be roped into a binding agreement with clear emissions targets and international monitoring. … The new global power China is using its growing weight above all to uncompromisingly ensure that there is no international interference in its national sovereignty.”

“It also greatly sobering to realize that the Europeans, the model student when it comes to climate politics, has no appreciable influence any more on climate diplomacy. Whether the EU offered 20 or 30 percent reductions played no role in Copenhagen. The decisive moment was when Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao made a deal in Wen’s hotel room. It has never been made more brutally obvious that the Europeans have lost enormous influence when it comes to the central questions in international politics.”

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

“In Copenhagen the world had to experience a climate disaster of the political kind. … Those who want to see a resolute climate protection, will have to reform the process, in order to achieve ambitious targets in the big economies that emit the most greenhouse gases.”

“Three hurdles have to be cleared. First, it is only when the US delegation has a climate law, that has already got through Congress, that they will make any commitments. It is the most important stumbling block, one that cannot be cleared through international negotiations. President Obama still has a lot of work to do in persuading people in the US.”

“Secondly, China has to allow international monitoring of its efforts to reduce emissions. Otherwise all of the government’s assurances that it wants to drastically sink greenhouse gas emissions will be worthless.”

“Thirdly, the topic of legally binding limits has to return to the negotiating table. And the EU has to fix its position. It has recently hesitated to increase its target for CO2 reduction from 20 percent by 2020 to 30 percent. Even if it is difficult, this would help to turn the conference at Bonn into a success.”

The conservative Die Welt writes:

“Even if Chancellor Merkel is warning people not to bad mouth the climate summit, the result is still deplorable. Over 40,000 politicians, diplomats, scientists, journalists, lobbyists and NGO activists traveled there to save the world. One hundred and forty private jets landed, 1,200 limousines ferried delegates around. The feverish summit, which gave a new name to gigantism, offered a soapbox for alarmists and the self-important.”

“But now it is time to consider whether smaller, more matter-of-fact conferences would make more sense. It would also mean allowing those scientists to speak who have expressed well-founded doubts about the scenarios presented by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They have many facts on their side. Evaluation would be more appropriate than roaring that the world is about to end. The question of whether binding and dramatic limits of CO2 emissions are the only correct way to protect the climate must also be revisited. This is not only dogmatic but would also cost a fortune and have little effect. The plan to limit the average rise in the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius is the most expensive task of all time. … Besides, it is a figure that has been set arbitrarily. The one-sided fixation on CO2 limits could be a greater detriment to the global economy than climate change itself.”

“A global competition for the cleanest energy production and investments in saving and replanting forests would be more useful than the rabid caps in emissions at the cost of economic growth.”

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“The climate summit in Copenhagen was no success — not even a small one. That’s why one can’t bad mouth the results, which Merkel has warned them not to do. No one can make them sound better than they are: Copenhagen was an all-out failure. … How this (process) is to be brought to an end in the next year remains a mystery.”

“The format of the consultations at the UN level, in which every member state can exercise veto power, holds no promise for any success. The balancing of interests between those who want to preserve their standard of living and the emerging economies that want to soon reach such levels of prosperity appears to be impossible. Meanwhile, the global population is growing as well as its energy needs, which will lead to even greater CO2 emissions. Only the most stubborn climate change deniers would say that this is not going to impact the lives of millions of people.”

“German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen had demanded ‘numbers, time frames and instruments’ (at Copenhagen). He didn’t get them … and that’s going to be a problem for the German government. Under the government coalition agreement between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the (business-frienldy) Free Democrats (FDP), German CO2 emissions are to sink by 40 percent by 2020. The fewer the nations that participate (in binding emissions curbs), the more expensive that will be. For a chancellor who is already under pressure over her domestic policies but has until now been viewed with great deal of respect for her work on climate protection, Merkel will now face a double burden because of Copenhagen.”

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,668352,00.html

Off to the Races

I’ve long believed there are two basic strategies for dealing with climate change — the “Earth Day” strategy and the “Earth Race” strategy. This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need.

Indeed, anyone who watched the chaotic way this conference was “organized,” and the bickering by delegates with which it finished, has to ask whether this 17-year U.N. process to build a global framework to roll back global warming is broken: too many countries — 193 — and too many moving parts. I leave here feeling more strongly than ever that America needs to focus on its own Earth Race strategy instead. Let me explain.

The Earth Day strategy said that the biggest threat to mankind is climate change, and we as a global community have to hold hands and attack this problem with a collective global mechanism for codifying and verifying everyone’s carbon-dioxide emissions and reductions and to transfer billions of dollars in clean technologies to developing countries to help them take part.

But as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil told this conference, this Earth Day framework only works “if countries take responsibility to meet their targets” and if the rich nations really help the poor ones buy clean power sources.

That was never going to happen at scale in the present global economic climate. The only way it might happen is if we had “a perfect storm” — a storm big enough to finally end the global warming debate but not so big that it ended the world.

Absent such a storm that literally parts the Red Sea again and drives home to all the doubters that catastrophic climate change is a clear and present danger, the domestic pressures in every country to avoid legally binding and verifiable carbon reductions will remain very powerful.

Does that mean this whole Earth Day strategy is a waste? No. The scientific understanding about the climate that this U.N. process has generated and the general spur to action it provides is valuable. And the mechanism this conference put in place to enable developed countries and companies to offset their emissions by funding protection of tropical rain forests, if it works, would be hugely valuable.

Still, I am an Earth Race guy. I believe that averting catastrophic climate change is a huge scale issue. The only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America’s.

Therefore, the goal of Earth Racers is to focus on getting the U.S. Senate to pass an energy bill, with a long-term price on carbon that will really stimulate America to become the world leader in clean-tech. If we lead by example, more people will follow us by emulation than by compulsion of some U.N. treaty.

In the cold war, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth.

Maybe the best thing President Obama could have done here in Copenhagen was to make clear that America intends to win that race. All he needed to do in his speech was to look China’s prime minister in the eye and say: “I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. This is my moon shot. Game on.”

Because once we get America racing China, China racing Europe, Europe racing Japan, Japan racing Brazil, we can quickly move down the innovation-manufacturing curve and shrink the cost of electric cars, batteries, solar and wind so these are no longer luxury products for the wealthy nations but commodity items the third world can use and even produce.

If you start the conversation with “climate” you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a “whole new industry” — one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry — you get the country.

For good reason: Even if the world never warms another degree, population is projected to rise from 6.7 billion to 9 billion between now and 2050, and more and more of those people will want to live like Americans. In this world, demand for clean power and energy efficient cars and buildings will go through the roof.

An Earth Race led by America — built on markets, economic competition, national self-interest and strategic advantage — is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, nonbinding commitments at a U.N. conference. Let the Earth Race begin.

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times

__________

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/opinion/20friedman.html

Gunning Full Throttle into the Greenhouse

Failure in Copenhagen

The debacle of Copenhagen is also Barack Obama’s debacle.

What a disaster. The climate summit in Copenhagen has failed because of the hardball politicking of the United States, China and several other countries — and because people just can’t seem to fathom how catastrophic climate change will be. They probably won’t have long to wait before things become a bit clearer. 

The global climate summit in Copenhagen has failed. There will be no concrete goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialized countries extended no concrete offers of hope to developing countries. Newly industrializing countries, such as India and China, can continue to grow their economies without any checks and balances for the climate. 

In the run-up to the conference, scientists, environmentalists and politicians alike called it one of the most important in history. But now it’s just a missed opportunity. Likewise, it might just be one of the last of its kind in the battle against climate change. 

It took governments from around the world 17 years to come together for this summit in Copenhagen — 17 years of talking, seemingly endless negotiations, ideological debates, delays and maneuvering. It’s been 17 years since the first climate-related meeting, held in Rio in 1992. It’s been 17 years of searching for solutions to confront the threats resulting from climate change. And this is what we’re left with. Many of the hopes that had been building up since 1992 have now been shattered. 

Right up until shortly before the end, it looked like they might have been able to prevent Copenhagen from failing. The last drafts of the final declaration included provisions not only for limiting the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2050, but also for how this could be achieved. There was mention of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and even the possibility of a mid-term goal by 2020. 

Obama’s Only Concession 

In the end, the mini draft accord that about 30 leading countries agreed upon Friday evening only included the provision on the 2-degree mark — without any concrete plans for the decades to come. Still, they only made non-binding commitments when it came to the limits that scientists have set as thresholds for preventing a climate catastrophe. Moreover, given the fiasco in Copenhagen, this 2-degree limit might no longer be kept. 

No wonder so many of the other of the 192 total countries almost immediately tore to shreds the compromise plan that the group of 30 countries presented in the main hall. Those countries that could face destruction as a result of climate change, in particular, could not see any solutions in it. 

Now we are faced with the threat of an impasse in global climate politics. And the consequences of this holdup will primarily be felt by the poorest of the poor. 

Experts anticipate that they will be subjected to storms and flooding stronger than ever before. Their crops will wither. Melting glaciers might deprive several million people of their water supplies and deprive them of their livelihoods. 

Nor will the industrialized states be spared from its consequences. But, thanks to their technical and financial resources, they will be in a better position to cope with them. 

The debacle of Copenhagen is also Barack Obama’s debacle. The US president made only one concession at the summit meeting: He pledged to join those providing financial assistance to poor countries. These funds are meant to allow such countries to be in a better position to combat the consequences of climate change and to pursue economic growth in a more eco-friendly way, just like the more established industrialized states have done. Beginning in 2020, these funds should amount to an annual $100 billion (€70 billion) — which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted in Copenhagen was “a lot of money.” But when it came to the issue of how much of this money would come from the United States, she didn’t say a thing. And even the mini draft agreement of the “Copenhagen Accord” hammered out by the world’s leading nations doesn’t throw any light on this matter. 

‘Not Enough’ 

The accord also holds another detail on just how generous the United States is. When it comes to immediate assistance for impoverished countries, the United States intends to contribute a total of $3.6 billion between 2010 and 2012. But, if you compare that with what other regions contribute, this figure appears rather miserly. The European Union plans to contribute about $10.6 billion, or about three times as much. And even Japan is chipping in $11 billion. 

In poor countries, people are presumably confused about whether they should laugh or cry about the US contribution. 

For the last 17 years, the United States has been one of the main countries putting the brakes on climate protection. But in the end, of all countries, it is the one that is criticizing the compromise plan it negotiated with the group of 30 countries as not going far enough. “It’s not enough to combat the threat of climate change,” said one negotiator — as if US policies as a whole were ever really interested in that. And Obama — who is supposedly all about fresh starts — has done nothing to dispel doubt about the earnestness of US climate policies. 

The major newly industrialized countries — and, especially, China — hardly behaved any better. China is also much more concerned about short-term economic interests than the long-term well-being of humanity. With its refusal to subject its climate-protection measures to international controls, China might have played a decisive role in causing the summit to fail. 

Copenhagen’s collapse merely confirms the opinion of those who view climate change as some pipe dream of scientists, left-wing politicians and the panic-fomenting media. And it also confirms the position of all those who believe that humanity is simply incapable of finding a solution for a threat like climate change through multi-lateral, collective efforts. 

A Failure of Imagination 

Incidentally, this stance is in no way just pure cynicism. Instead, it is based on a certain insight into human nature. People act from their own personal experiences and circumstances. For example, many have a hard time imagining that an epidemic can depopulate whole swaths of land — despite the fact that this very thing has already happened a number of times. The same holds true for volcanic eruptions or meteorite impacts, which have turned entire regions and even continents into deserts. But, in this regard, climate change is even more dangerous because, for the most part, it is completely unprecedented: 

  • No war or epidemic has ever impacted more than a handful of countries at the same time, not even the danger of nuclear war. But climate change affects practically all humans everywhere.
  • It must be combated quickly despite the fact that its gravest consequences lie in the future and do not constitute immediate threats.
  • Combating climate change demands revolutionary changes in how a major proportion of humanity lives its life.
  • It demands that societies, whose interests could not be more different, work together. Consider, for example, the differences between oil-producing states, which live from the proceeds of fossils fuels, and island nations, which could be completely destroyed by the effects of climate change.

It runs counter to the human psyche to comprehend such a danger — let alone to combat it with determination and sacrifice. Unfortunately, all too often, people prioritize short-term success over long-term planning. 

You can clearly see this stance in action in common, everyday things. You can tell people till your voice gives out that, in the long run, an energy-efficient compact flourescent light bulb saves them money; but when you see them in the supermarket, they are much more likely to reach for the 99-cent incandescent light bulb than the more expensive energy-efficient one sitting right next to it on the shelf. What’s more, in the end, that person still believes he or she has gotten a bargain. Entire library shelves are full of academic studies pointing to similar results. 

Likewise, as Copenhagen proved, when it comes to climate change, you also have to deal with the fact that the world doesn’t have a political instrument for approaching this problem in an effective way. So many heads of state and government came together in Copenhagen, under considerable external pressure, to unify the world and reach a decision based on shared interests. Who knows if they will ever do so again? 

Still, it wasn’t enough. There will be those that say that — given man’s shortcomings — it could never be enough and never will be enough. 

They might just be right.

Editorial, Der Spiegel

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,668111,00.html

‘We Experienced a Self-Confident China’

Merkel Speaks Out over Summit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “The deal isn’t enough for us to achieve the 2 degree goal.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she expected more out of the global climate summit in Copenhagen. Speaking early Saturday, the German leader had no qualms about identifying China as one of the major hindrances to a global deal. Germany is now expected to organize the next interim climate meeting for mid-2010.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had imagined a different outcome for Friday evening. Originally, she wanted to leave the global climate summit in Copenhagen late in the afternoon — hopefully after reaching a deal on a wide-ranging agreement to save the global climate. It didn’t happen.

She didn’t step onto the stage at the Hilton hotel in the Danish capital until five minutes after midnight. Nor did she try to hide the fact that she had just completed a very difficult day.

Once christened the “climate chancellor” because of her successes in international negotiations, Merkel said she had “mixed feelings” on Friday. “The negotiations were extremely difficult. We were faced with the question of whether to suspend the process or to continue.” The choice, she said, had been a difficult one. “We would have lost years if we had suspended.”

But Merkel was also very open about the fact that the compromise reached Friday doesn’t go far enough. “The deal isn’t enough for us to achieve the 2 degree goal,” she said, referring to the aim of preventing climate change from increasing average global temperatures by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

‘A World in Transition’

Merkel added that the summit came close to failure several times — and she also made clear who she felt had been responsible. We are living in a “world in transition,” she said, and in Copenhagen the international community “experienced a self-confident China.” Emerging economies and developing nations, she added, weren’t prepared to yield any national souvereignty. There is still no other alternative, however, to a global treaty, she said: “We will have to continue with this process.”

The German chancellor urged other countries to take action and was also a prodding participant at the summit. But, in the end, she was unable to have major influence on the outcome. At the end of the day, the compromise came together because US President Barack Obama pressured Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao into an agreement.

Merkel said it had been a “stroke of luck that Obama was there.” And, in the end, she said the work had been worthwhile and that things had been moved “a step forward.” Nevertheless, she warned, the path to a new treaty is still a long one. “The wall is thick, but we are continuing to drill,” she said.

‘Not What We Would Have Wished for as Europeans’

The German government is expected to play a central role in this process. At the end of June or in early July, the next ministerial-level climate conference is expected to be held in Bonn, home to the UN climate change secretariat. The event will be an interim meeting in the run-up to a new climate summit in Mexico City to take place one year from now.

During the meeting the German government, led by Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, is expected to facilitate work on more concrete, legally binding goals for the 192 participating nations.

For his part, Röttgen also appeared dissatisfied with the agreement in Copenhagen. “It’s just a step,” the Christian Democrat told public broadcaster ARD. “It’s not what we would have wished for as Europeans.” He shared Merkel’s view that China had been a major obstacle. “We fought and wrestled. China should have been more willing to accept a binding international agreement,” he said.

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,668104,00.html

Merkel Pushes for Minimum Consensus at Summit

The Search for a Deal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (c) with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (r) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (l) in Copenhagen.

Few expect a far-reaching climate deal to emerge from Copenhagen. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is doing what she can to help erect the political framework for a future agreement. Her experience and the respect she enjoys are proving invaluable. 

It is a day of drama in Copenhagen. Leaders from around the world will spend the coming hours behind closed doors trying to come up with a last minute agreement to unite the world in the battle against global warming. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in the Danish capital to put her much-praised diplomatic skills to the test. US President Barack Obama has also landed, amid hope that his presence can move the difficult talks forward. 

But even as the world’s most important leaders get down to work, a true climate summit success seems less and less possible. 

Merkel was only able to steal about five hours of sleep in the Airport Hilton on Thursday night. She has been in climate talks with other state leaders — such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy — since the early morning hours of Friday. The negotiations lasted well into the night before being adjourned at 2 a.m. 

For the first time, a possible path to a solution has been found. Optimism among the negotiators is far from widespread, but the idea is for a draft agreement to be hammered out by some 30 selected countries which will then be presented to the others for approval. This so-called chapeau text is to serve as a binding framework for more detailed climate talks in the coming months — with the ultimate goal being a conclusive treaty. 

International Verification 

The chapeau text is to include binding emissions reduction pledges from industrial countries and other large polluters. In addition, the text is to contain billions in financial commitments from rich countries to the developing world to help in the fight against climate change. It is hoped that all countries will agree to a control mechanism — meaning that each country agrees to allow its progress toward emissions reduction targets to be internationally verified. 

According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the paper is to contain the following: 

  • The average global temperature is not to exceed 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times. There will be no concrete emissions reduction targets set for either 2020 or 2050. Instead, the paper will include a statement that deep cuts in global emissions are needed.
  • The negotiations are to continue past the summit and should result in one or more agreements no later than 2010.
  • The developing and newly industrialized states are to agree to international monitoring of their CO2 emissions.
  • From 2010 to 2012, the least developed countries are to receive $30 billion (€20.8 billion) to help them combat climate change. The goal is to come up with $100 billion (€69.5 billion) annually for developing countries by 2020.

Merkel intends to play a decisive role in Copenhagen. There is a lot at stake for the German chancellor. For years, she has presented herself as the climate chancellor, both at home and abroad — a failure in Copenhagen would be a significant setback. But for Merkel, who was once Germany’s environment minister, the fight against global warming is more than just an easy field on which to score political points. It is also personal. Rarely does one see her as impassioned as when she talks about the climate. “We have to change our lifestyles,” she told delegates during brief remarks in Copenhagen. “We need to reach an agreement.” 

Born in Berlin 

Merkel does not want to see the climate agreement break apart on the shoals of national egos and is doing her best to make sure that doesn’t happen. She has the advantage that, due to her background as a physicist and as an ex-environment minister, she has a better grasp of the complex material under discussion than do many other heads of state and government. Her word carries weight. It is partially for this reason that her Italian counterpart, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — who is recovering after having his nose broken in an attack in Milan — transferred his vote to Merkel. 

The idea for a chapeau text was originally born in Berlin. Merkel began looking for allies to move the stalled talks forward soon after she landed in Copenhagen on Thursday. She met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and spoke with Chinese leader Wen Jiabao. 

Merkel also held one-to one talks with other world leaders during the dinner with the Danish queen. Then at 11 p.m. she joined 30 top negotiators from various countries at the Bella Center, for a so-called High Level Meeting. Representatives from the biggest industrial nations were joined by negotiators from developing and emerging nations, such as India and the Maldives. 

Friday morning is to be spent in similar talks. Merkel return flight to Berlin is planned for 5 p.m, by which time a final text should be ready. Yet observers are pessimistic that this can be achieved. The pledge by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that her country would contribute to an annual aid package of €100 billion for developing nations did give some impetus to the talks. However, the power constellations at the climate summit are still as deadlocked as they have been for months. 

Double Negotiations 

The developing and emerging nations have always made it clear that they want to see a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. That ensures that for the foreseeable future only the industrialized countries would be legally bound to make CO2 reductions. The US, on the other hand, has made every attempt to avoid being bound by the Kyoto rules. They will only negotiate under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. That is why in Copenhagen many negotiations have had to take place twice. 

This entails additional problems that will remain after Copenhagen. The German delegation has suggested aligning the two negotiating strands of Kyoto and the framework convention within six months. However, it is hard to imagine the developing and emerging nations (G-77) agreeing to this. 

The drafts for the two final communiqués are far from complete. There are passages running into the high double figures that are still being fought over, according to sources from within the German delegation. For example, China is vehemently opposed to any international oversight of the agreed reductions. The country fears any interference in its domestic affairs. 

China has an extremely entrenched negotiating position, Europeans complain privately. The Chinese diplomats have sat in their hotels and sent emissaries to the conference center with very rigid mandates. The Chinese prime minister has not yet entered the Bella Center. He is making other leaders come to him, including Merkel. 

‘The Negotiations Are Falling Apart’ 

If the two strands’ summit texts are not complete, then it will be difficult to agree to a planned political superstructure. Such an agreement would require a unanimous vote by all 192 states. 

The reports coming from last night’s top level talks make it doubtful if this is realistic. Shortly before 2 a.m “an important developing nation” had asked to discuss the interim results of the talks with all 192 states. That would mean the de facto end of serious negotiations in Copenhagen, say insiders. 

A debate with all the countries present had been prevented in recent days because the fronts had hardened so much. There is, therefore, only a minimal chance of a compromise. 

Observers are disappointed. “The negotiations are falling apart,” says Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace. “If there is no agreement that a legally binding treaty will be signed in the coming months, then the Copenhagen meeting has failed.” At the moment everything points to a non-binding letter of intent. “But we had one of those after the G-8 meeting in July,” says Kaiser. “And absolutely nothing came of it.” 

__________

Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,667942,00.html