Archive for January, 2009

Consistent With Chronicles, Antarctic Edition

January 21st, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

[Update: In the comments Eric Steig kindly stops by and offers some thoughts, his comment begins: "I have to admit I cringed when guest writer Weart wrote the article on RealClimate, which I didn’t get a chance to read first. . . " Please have a look.]

An new paper is out in Nature that argues that the Antarctic continent has been warming. In an AP news story, two of its authors (one is Michael Mann from the Real Climate blog) argue that this refutes the skeptics and is “consistent with” greenhouse warming:

“Contrarians have sometime grabbed on to this idea that the entire continent of Antarctica is cooling, so how could we be talking about global warming,” said study co-author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. “Now we can say: no, it’s not true … It is not bucking the trend.”

The study does not point to man-made climate change as the cause of the Antarctic warming — doing so is a highly intricate scientific process — but a different and smaller study out late last year did make that connection.

“We can’t pin it down, but it certainly is consistent with the influence of greenhouse gases,” said NASA scientist Drew Shindell, another study co-author. Some of the effects also could be natural variability, he said.

Of course, not long ago we learned from Real Climate that a cooling Antarctica was “consistent with” greenhouse warming and thus the skeptics were wrong:

. . . we often hear people remarking that parts of Antarctica are getting colder, and indeed the ice pack in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica has actually been getting bigger. Doesn’t this contradict the calculations that greenhouse gases are warming the globe? Not at all, because a cold Antarctica is just what calculations predict… and have predicted for the past quarter century. . .

. . . computer models have improved by orders of magnitude, but they continue to show that Antarctica cannot be expected to warm up very significantly until long after the rest of the world’s climate is radically changed.

Bottom line: A cold Antarctica and Southern Ocean do not contradict our models of global warming. For a long time the models have predicted just that.

So a warming Antarctica and a cooling Antarctica are both “consistent with” model projections of global warming. Our foray into the tortured logic of “consistent with” in climate science raises the periennel question, what observations of the climate system would be inconsistent with the model predictions?

Public Opinion on Obama’s International Priorities

January 21st, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Yesterday’s Financial Times reported the results of a new poll that asked people in a number of countries about what priorities they’d like to see President Obama take on in the international arena. There is a remarkable degree of congruence across countries, with (no surprise) the economy in first place everywhere. Climate change receives considerable support as well, certainly enough for action to occur. Of course the key question is, what action?

FT Declares Cap and Trade DOA

January 20th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today’s Financial Times says what everyone already should know about the fate of cap and trade under Obama:

it seems clear that some things, most notably any serious steps to tackle global warming and sharp increases in long-term public investment, will have to be postponed for at least a year and possibly much longer.

For “cap and trade”, the writing was already on the wall last October when the Senate voted heavily against the relatively modest Lieberman-Warner bill to control emissions. A few months earlier and it could well have passed.

Given the short-term contractionary effects of imposing an indirect tax on carbon, it will now almost certainly be shelved.

Research Funding Fight Brewing in the UK

January 20th, 2009

Posted by: admin

According to this Times article (H/T Nature News), the pending release of a research evaluation will ruffle plenty of university feathers in the United Kingdom.  I posted about the research evaluation last month, and the release is not yet official.  The main objection appears to come from the top-tier universities, which may lose research funding because universities outside of the top tier have performed well in the evaluation. I don’t think there’s a good analogous situation for the U.S., as the federal government provides research money directly to institutions via individual researchers or earmarks.  The closest I could think of would be a major expansion of the EPSCoR program (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) – which targets research in states that don’t receive much research funding – at the expense of other major research programs.

The Times article does not explain any rationale behind the criticism, outside of a general disbelief on behalf of the top-tier schools that more even funding levels for British universities can be a good thing.  If there are criticisms of the methodology of the evaluation, they aren’t raised in the article.  The evaluation was conducted through peer review, so I’m hard pressed to think of methodological problems with the evaluation.  Regardless of the outcome, I expect the top-tier universities to argue strenuously that the next evaluation – which will use metrics instead of peer review – will include measure that will favor them over the smaller, less reputable institutions.

Chad Gets Even More Efficient

January 20th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This news story is hard to believe. According to Reuters, the government of Chad has banned the use of charcoal in the nation’s capital, N’djamena. This matters because charcoal is the most widely used fuel in the country for cooking.

A government ban on charcoal in the Chadian capital N’djamena has created what one observer called “explosive” conditions as families desperately seek the means to cook.

“As we speak women and children are on the outskirts of N’djamena scavenging for dead branches, cow dung or the occasional scrap of charcoal,” Merlin Totinon Nguébétan, head of the UN Human Settlements Programme (HABITAT) in Chad, told IRIN from the capital. “People cannot cook.”

“Women giving birth cannot even find a bit of charcoal to heat water for washing,” Céline Narmadji, with the Association of Women for Development in Chad, told IRIN.

Unions and other civil society groups say the government failed to prepare the population or make alternative household fuels available when it halted all transport of charcoal and cooking wood into the capital in December in a move, officials said, to protect the environment.

Charcoal is the sole source of household fuel for about 99 percent of Chadians, N’djamena residents told IRIN.

With the government blocking all entry of charcoal into N’djamena, and reportedly confiscating any found in the city, charcoal has become nearly impossible to come by, aid workers and residents said. And when it is found, a bag that used to cost about 6,000 CFA francs (US12) is now sold, clandestinely, at about four times that.

Climate change

Government officials said the charcoal ban was part of an effort to halt tree-cutting for fuel, which they said was essential to fight desertification. The government has attempted to block tree-cutting in the past but has severely cracked down in recent weeks, aid workers and residents told IRIN.

“Chadians must find other ways to cook and forget about charcoal and wood as fuel,” Environment Minister Ali Souleyman Dabye recently told the media in N’djamena. “Cooking is of course a fundamental necessity for every household. On the other hand…with climate change every citizen must protect his environment.

Chad is in fact the most “efficient” country in the world, with its about 11 million people producing about 210,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, or about the same amount that the United States produces in 8 hours.

The use of charcoal does have environmental effects that should be of concern, but as far as climate change mitigation is concerned, I’d say that Chad can be given a free pass, no?

Inside the Transition’s TIGR Team

January 19th, 2009

Posted by: admin

The transition website released today a video of its Technology, Innovation and Government Reform (TIGR) team.  It’s a 4 minute video explaining the purpose of the team – improving the way government uses technology.  This is an important distinction.  The transition’s focus on technology has been much more on what could be called – borrowing the Brooksian phrase from science policy – technology for policy rather than policy for technology.  To be sure, the transition is focused on both, but you will need to look elsewhere to get a sense of how the Obama Administration will consider nanotechnology, clean energy technology, and other technologies, new or existing.  With the TIGR team (pronounced as Eeyore might, oddly enough), technology is a tool for better government as much, if not more, than it is for economic development or advancing other public goals.

Massive Confusion in the New York Times

January 19th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today’s New York Times has an editorial in which it claims that:

The plain truth is that the United States is an inefficient user of energy. For each dollar of economic product, the United States spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than 75 of 107 countries tracked in the indicators of the International Energy Agency. Those doing better include not only cutting-edge nations like Japan but low-tech countries like Thailand and Mexico.

The first problem with this set of claims is that the New York Times confuses energy efficiency with carbon dioxide intensity of the economy. The second error is that the New York Times uses market exchange rates as the basis for evaluating U.S. carbon dioxide per dollar of GDP against other countries, rather than the more appropriate metric of international GDP comparisons using purchasing power parities.

So the New York Times makes a muddle of reality when it suggests that the United States is an “inefficient user of energy” suggesting that 70% of all contries are more efficient than the United States.

This is just wrong.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on energy consumption (BTUs) per unit of GDP (PPP) shows that the United States is more efficient than about 68% of all countries. Similarly, the United States emissions of carbon dioxide per unit of GDP is better than 69% of countries.

To be sure, there are a number of countries that make excellent models for how the United States might become more efficient and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy, including Japan and Germany. However, as models to emulate, Mexico and Thailand, as suggested by the Times, are probably not the best examples.

Decarbonizing the economy will be an enormous task. It will be impossible if the problem is fundamentally misunderstood.

IPCC Teams Up with WorldWatch to Attack Obama

January 19th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The “policy neutral” IPCC is once again making a mockery of its role of an arbiter of scientific information, in favor of all out political advocacy. EurActiv reports the details:

If the world is to tackle the climate threat, the US President-elect must beef up his country’s emissions targets, the head of the leading intergovernmental organisation of climate scientists said last week (15 January).

“President-elect Obama’s goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 falls short of the response needed by world leaders to meet the challenge of reducing emissions to levels that will actually spare us the worst effects of climate change,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), at a Worldwatch Institute event.

In a new study on the state of the world in 2009, the institute argues that global CO2 emissions must be reduced to negative figures by 2050 to avoid a looming climate catastrophe.

It calls on the US, a major polluter, to assume leadership by passing national climate legislation and engaging with the international community to achieve a new agreement on halting emissions at next December’s talks in Copenhagen.

“The world is desperately looking for US leadership to slow emissions and create a green economy,” said Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute. “With the Copenhagen climate conference rapidly approaching, this will be a crucial early test for President Obama.”

Pachauri warned that there may not be an “adequate global response” unless the US steps up to the plate. “He ran for the presidency of the United States, so he assumed the responsibility,” the Nobel Prize recipient commented as to the weight of Obama’s task.

“A [insert policy goal] Moon Shot” – Good Politics, Dubious Policy

January 18th, 2009

Posted by: admin

In Senator Ken Salazar’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Interior, he made reference to an “energy moon shot.” (H/T Politico, via SEFORA.)  The specific quote:

“I would not have taken this job if I was not given the assignment to help to craft the energy moon shot that we will take.”

It’s great shorthand, evoking images of success, triumph, dominion over nature, defeating of a seemingly intractable opponent, etc.  Look a bit deeper, and what do we have?  Not a sustainable investment, but a ’surge’ of money best spent for quick results.  I expect what the Obama Administration, and Salazar, want is an investment, a foundation, for future research and deployment of more energy efficient technologies.  I don’t think they want a concerted effort for a few years that acheives an important first step, followed by a return to prior practice and the loss of earned capacity.  As I’ve described elsewhere (subscription possibly required), in part due to the way the moon shot was handled, we can’t do now what we did in the 1960s – land a man on the moon and return him safely.  To me that’s a waste, and undercuts the value of the moon shot as metaphor or political shorthand.  So I hope Salazar is committed to something more sustainable than an energy moon shot.

The Stimulus and Science and Technology – How Much and Where

January 17th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Based on the materials available on the House Appropriations Committee website, we have the specifics of science and technology funding in the current draft of the stimulus bill.  You can read the full bill, a summary, the report (a staff developed document that describes the history of the bill and the rationale behind various provisions), and an economic analysis.  The research section of the bill is summarized after the jump.  Again, this is a draft bill, and while the Obama team has indicated they will have no earmarks in the bill, things can change.