Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Forum Communcations loves it some climate change denial

With the approaching election we get in the Herald the ever-so-exciting endorsements coming from on higher by parent company Forum Communications. Granted the Berg vs Pomeroy race does not provide much for those hoping to minimize climate change. And for Senate I have a sneaking suspicion John Hoeven and "North Dakota common sense" will get the call. Or maybe he already has. Forgive me for not paying much attention.

But the slap on the back for Kevin Cramer today was notable. Yet it was not so much for the picking of Cramer - in fact Crabtree was relatively praised and highlighted for not opposing fossil fuels - it was the illustration of carrying the water for the energy industry. The endorsement of Cramer highlights some instances where industry was supposedly challenged, but the examples demonstrate being penny wise and pound foolish. Will it really be so super down the line that a pipeline route changed when we are trying to deal with a massively altered climate?

Last week Cramer dismissed decoupling, which means encouraging decreasing energy use from the providers prospective rather than having profit simply go higher as energy use increases. Cramer called that idea "intellectually dishonest" because North Dakota is cold so we have to use lots of energy. Huh? So if someone lives far from their job they cannot save on fuel because the commute is long? Ever heard of energy efficiency? Maybe you trade in the Hummer or V8 for a vehicle a more fuel-efficient to save on that long commute. What is intellectually dishonest is ignoring energy efficiency. But then this is not new for Cramer.

Apparently if you like digging carbon out of the ground to sell to be burned, you must be good people around these parts. Maybe I can jump on that bandwagon!

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A little bit goes a long way

Nearly every attempt to undermine the well-established climate science that clearly demonstrate how human activities are altering climate is based on a speck of logic either completely misapplied or drowned in errors (if not both). Perhaps the most common is in saying climate has changed naturally in the past and from that asserting that humans cannot be responsible for current changes. That is bad reasoning, just like saying arson is not possible because fires have long occurred for natural reasons.

Thinksee Nosebetter though is all about erroneously believing climate science is an easily toppled house of cards. As noted before, another one of his favorites is that CO2 makes up such a tiny amount of the atmosphere. Again, there are fundamental flaws in that thinking. But some try to build on that by saying that water vapor is a greenhouse gas that is much more abundant in the atmosphere than CO2, so if any greenhouse gas is causing warming it must be water vapor and not CO2. The short answer to that claim is that, unlike CO2 which functions as both a forcing and a feedback in climate change, water vapor only works as a feedback.

Expanding on that a bit, it means water vapor content of the atmosphere depends on the state of the climate. This is because water vapor is readily condensable from our atmosphere - e.g., it gets cold enough, and the water vapor condenses into liquid water that precipitates out of the atmosphere. If you could magically alter the water vapor content of the atmosphere, it would basically return to where it was content-wise before the change in days. If you could magically alter the CO2 content (like we are doing now, except instanteously), such a snap-back would not occur.

Recent research has further refined the quantification of the different components of the greenhouse effect such as CO2 and water vapor. The analogy used is that CO2 is the thermostat for global temperature - a small piece of the building that controls a larger piece all working to drive the climate inside. Water vapor and liquid water clouds could not maintain the climate we know by themselves. They require the smaller but essential effect of the non-condensable greenhouse gases led by CO2 to be able to do what they do.

Though not perfect, the CO2-thermostat analogy is very good. A similar analogy would be with CO2 and the accelerator pedal of an automobile. The level of the pedal determines how much gas the engine gets and thus how fast the vehicle goes. Small components of systems can drive large effects. A few generals can determine the actions of many thousands of soldiers. Hundreds of legislators can set rules for millions of citizens. And distressingly a few misleaders can warp the understanding of climate science for a great many.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chamber of Commerce or Chamber of Pollution?

Though this is several days old now I did not want to let it pass. Cheerleading for pollution is nothing new for the Chamber of Commerce in North Dakota, but a couple of ND city Chamber executive directors, Steffanie Boeckel and Kristi Klein, demonstrated in a recent letter in the Herald that they are not averse to spewing garbage too.

The cards played are the usual - coal is super-great for the North Dakota economy, and cap-and-trade would crush the economy.

But they also go one step further, explicitly taking a stance than is generally only implied. Repeating what I have said before, cap-and-trade is a flexible market approach to addressing carbon emissions by setting a necessary limit and letting the market figure out the cheapest and most efficient way to achieve the ends. If you are the Chamber and oppose that, what are you going to favor? Certainly not command-and-control regulations laid down by the government. Basically you are going to favor no solution. And if you take off the table any solution, your only out is to deny there is a problem. And that is where the Boeckel and Klein go here.

Boeckel and Klein display their odious ignorance of (assuming not outright lies about) climate science. In little more than a dozen words they manage to pack a massive amount of misinformation. In talking about anthropogenic climate change they allude to "leaked e-mails last year (actually hacked/stolen is much more likely) that cast serious doubt (actually they do no such thing) on the scientists who have made these claims" (actually the few dozen people directly reference by the hacked materials are only a drop in the bucket of the virtual unanimity among actual climate scientists that human activities are altering the climate). As much as I despise it when climate change is simply ignored, seeing lies and misinformation repeated to try to deny it is even worse.

Another especially disgusting little throw-in at the end of the letter said, "It’s important that North Dakota has both reliable as well as renewable electricity sources." I am not surprised the Chamber sucks up to the fossil fuel industry as much as possible, but the smack to renewable energy by calling it unreliable is surprising. Why is renewable energy important if it is unreliable? Oh yeah - there is a chance to make a buck on it, but the addiction to fossil fuels makes them the only fully Chamber-approved. They criticize PSC candidate Brad Crabtree for "undying allegiance to cap and trade", but that pales in comparsion to the Chamber's worship of fossil fuel.

The Chamber apparently views the physical world as nothing more than something to be exploited in any way possible to make immediate profit. I just hope that view is, or at least very soon becomes, less common than the idea that we need to preserve the only place we and everyone who may come after us have to live. It hardly seems fair that we should have to devastate our home just because Boeckel, Klein, and their ilk think they can have a slightly cheaper energy bill or make an extra buck that way.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Disproving global warming as easy as disproving seasons

Those so-called scientists are proven wrong again. Turns out the theory of seasons and going from summer to winter is false. Look at the temperatures from this region for the first 11 days of this October versus for the preceding month of September. Supposedly we should be getting colder. What do the data say?

Grand Forks, ND
Average September high temperature = 63.7F
Average October 1-11 high temperature = 71.1F

Bismarck, ND
Average September high temperature = 67.9F
Average October 1-11 high temperature = 74.8

Pierre, SD
Average September high temperature = 73.2F
Average October 1-11 high temperature = 76.5F

Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Average September high temperature = 68.9F
Average October 1-11 high temperature = 72.7F

Clearly October has been warmer than September, so "winter" must be over.

Just in case someone has not caught on, the above in this post is completely ironic. Well, the data are correct, but the conclusions are ridiculous. Unfortunately, the same reasoning (if you want to call it that) producing those foolish conclusions leads some people to try to claim that global warming stopped sometime recently.

There is a well-understood and verified physical mechanism by which the seasons occur on timescales from weeks to months. Yet there are also well-understood mechanisms (basically weather) by which there are variations on timescales from days to weeks so there is not a consistent rise in temperatures in the midwestern US from January to July and fall in temperature from July to January.

Likewise there is a well-understood and verified physical mechanism by which there is currently an upward trend in global temperatures on timescales of decades. Yet there are also well-understood mechanisms (including El Nino & La Nina) by which there are variations on timescales of years so there is not a consistent rise in global temperatures with every year warmer than the previous.

Anyone trying to sell that warming has stopped is either statistically and scientifically naive-to-ignorant or is willfully misleading you. Or maybe both.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lignite Council afraid of becoming the Buggy Whip Council

Several days back there was a letter in the Herald from Lee Murdock questioning the scare tactics being employed by industry groups to try to convince people that a comprehensive energy policy that includes limiting greenhouse gas emissions is a mortal threat. Most notable was the claim that the Lignite Energy Council (LEC) informed legislative candidates who signed a "comprehensive clean energy petition" that the council's financial support for them would be withdrawn.

I did not find any more about this story so I mentally just filed it away as another piece of anecdotal evidence of the gangster-like behavior exhibited so much by the fossil fuel industry when the issue of clean and sustainable energy comes up. But today we got a letter in the Herald from Sandi Tabor, one of the LEC lobbying bigwigs, trying to drum back up the same scare tactics Murdock questioned. In it we get more of the classic "your money and climate or else" attempted stick-up.

The crowbar Tabor tries to yield in her letter is "[a] study of the comprehensive climate change bill passed in 2009 by one house of Congress (the Waxman-Markey bill, H.R. 2454)". With a little digging it is not hard to find details about this one study the LEC wants to use to justify continued unfettered pollution. The "study" (and I use that term loosely) was from long-time opponents of a stable climate the American Council on Capital Formation (ACCF) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

That ACCF link has a couple links that highlight some of the issues with the claims of this cited "study". Basically the "study" was ACCF & NAM picking some assumptions they liked and having those fed into an economic computer model. There are red flags to be raised over that alone, but I want to skip to how the report gives a distorted and incomplete picture even when ACCF & NAM put their thumb on the scales.

Tabor tries to sell that energy prices will increase such that it would "decrease the disposable household income for North Dakota citizens, somewhere between $762 to $1,252 a year." What is left unmentioned is that this decrease is not realized until 2030, and it is not a net decrease but rather just a relative decrease. By 2030 the GDP and personal income will both increase, and even their most extreme case says US GDP and average personal income would increase by "only" about 95% of what they would without a cap-and-trade system (pdf link).

Remember, that loss of about 5% of the increase is only with the effort to pump up the costs and ignoring benefits from limiting greenhouse gas emissions. With more impartial examination than by business lobbying groups like ACCF & NAM, the costs are much less and actually include many financial benefits. And of course you can never expect these groups like the LEC to note the costs of avoiding a shift to clean, sustainable energy. The LEC is another believer in the fantasy world that water supplies, agriculture, etc will not suffer from climate change.

Tabor engages in some classic concern trolling, but clearly the LEC cares only about what is good for the LEC. They take climate change only seriously enough to stick their hand out to ask for more money for carbon sequestration research. The only "catastrophic consequences for North Dakota" the LEC shows any indication of wanting to avoid are loss of stature of the coal industry. To them, someone going from working getting coal out of the ground to building wind turbines or working on sustainable biofuels is simply a lost job. Of course coal jobs lost to automation are just efficiency and making the product cheaper for consumers, but that is neither here nor there.

The LEC wants you to believe we cannot get by unless they are fat and happy, even if that means polluting the present and mortgaging the future. They fear the realization that there can be a different and better way that does not leave them fat and happy. So into the path of progress they throw whatever junk they can, which is usually threats of how costly that progress supposedly would be. The LEC way would have us cling to the past and things like manual telephone exchanges and buggy whips because we could not afford to lose what they provide.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kevin Cramer is wrong - who will rebuke him?

At a public forum yesterday in Grand Forks, PSC member/candidate Kevin Cramer flatly denied the reality of climate change.
Cramer said there’s a "growing opinion" of climatologists that question the validity of the theory — and the notion that humans are behind global warming.

"I do question it; I’m not convinced of it," he said.

His opponent in the upcoming election, Brad Crabtree tried to set the issue straight.
Crabtree said this issue is perhaps "the most crystal-clear difference" between him and Cramer and that his opponent’s comments are "substantively wrong."

He said there have been "mistakes" in the scientific analysis of global warming trends, "but the idea that there’s a growing chorus among credentialed climatologists that we don’t have a problem is flat-out false."

It is not clear what Crabtree means by those supposed "mistakes" he references. Perhaps he feels compelled to still give some credit to such denialist propaganda since is has become so prevalent. But that is small potatoes compared to the stunning ignorance displayed by Cramer.

I very well may give too much credit to Cramer by giving him the benefit of the doubt and simply attributing his stance to ignorance. Most insidiously he could be essentially paid-off by the interests devoting so much money and effort to push the misinformation Cramer repeats. I do not believe that to be the case though. Most likely I think Cramer is just another one of those suckers for that misinformation, people whose politics compels they to glom onto anything they think disputes climate change and human influence on climate.

Really though to me it does not matter much what the exact story is on Cramer's denial of the science. The why is not necessarily as important as the simple fact that Cramer is spreading the disinformation. Why should Cramer have his unsubstantiated opinion on global warming taken as at all authoritative? Crabtree noted this point:
"I think we need to have a serious conversation about public policy to address energy security and climate stewardship, rather than having non-scientists make bold statements and debate each other about very complex climate science," he said.

I seriously doubt Cramer even has any real clue about what he is saying and that he is merely repeating political talking points. And it would be a real shame if that influenced public opinion and policy.

But my stake should not be the only one in the ground that calls out how Kevin Cramer has it wrong on climate science. Who else will stand up?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rick and Earl, sitting in a tree...

Today gave us a cute little article the Herald headlined with "Pomeroy, Berg pledge to fight for state’s energy interests". In it we get a view of how both Rick Berg and Earl Pomeroy see the climate and environment are merely nuisance concepts that get in the way of making money.

Most people are probably familiar with the rhyme to which I allude with this post title. The picture that paints though is far from perfect. Ol' Rick & Earl would not be sitting in a tree, they would be rushing hand-in-hand to rip it out of the ground to allow easier digging for coal or drilling for oil. And obviously ol' Rick & Earl would not be K-I-S-S-I-N-G each other, but they (along with article writer Kristen Daum) are puckering up to put big wet ones on the energy industry. We see that to Berg and Pomeroy (and Daum), whatever the energy industry wants equals milk and honey, while attempts to maintain a livable climate equals unfair burdens and killing of jobs. The token support for "clean coal" is clearly not for any environmental benefit but out of the coal industry hope of gain. It is the same as the reason to support renewable energy to the extent they do - there is a buck to be made while environmental benefit is a non-issue to our esteemed candidates.

But can we really count on Berg or Pomeroy to follow through on their stance to mortgage the future to pinch some pennies today? The answer is almost certainly yes. It would though really help reassure people that ol' Rick & Earl would not go turncoat and actually care about the future if they would come out with similar stances on other issues. Healthier citizens would mean fewer high-paying jobs for doctors and other medical professionals, so Berg and Pomeroy should support cancer and heart disease, right? And considering the military presence in North Dakota it would only make sense for Berg and Pomeroy to also support a continuing, if not increasing, threat of terrorism. A peaceful world would mean a need for less troops, and that would mean less money and jobs flowing to North Dakota due to the military, so keep bringing on the wars, right? Have to fight for the state's interests!