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Five years later

Guardian, 2 Feb 2006

Research published last week in the US journal Science found that not only could bioethanol replace petrol with big energy savings, it would produce up to 15% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Guardian, today

Turning corn into ethanol is not environmentally sound," said Bill Freese of the Centre for Food Safety. "It's really an environmental disaster."

Once again, we see that environmentalism is very bad for the environment and that its combination with big government can bring about catastrophe. 




A climatological tiff has broken out between some members of the Italian-American community. David Castelvecchi is singularly unimpressed with Joe Bastardi's recent appearance on Fox News.

The most jarring part however came later, when Bastardi commented that he didn’t believe CO2 emissions could ever affect the climate. Unfortunately, Bastardi’s argument was based on what seemed to be poor understanding of basic physics, including thermodynamics and atmospheric physics.

I must say that if JB really did say that the greenhouse effect breaks the first law of thermodynamics then there may well be a case to answer.  Not that Castelvecchi's article is much to write home about in terms of dispassionate analysis.



Today I was in Edinburgh for a talk by the education reformer Katharine Birbalsingh. This was one very passionate lady - there was an intensity to her that at times verged on the frightening. But there was no doubt that she had the measure of the problems in the education system. I was struck by the point she repeatedly made that good ideas were being rejected by middle class liberals and the education establishment simply because they were ideas being pushed by conservatives. As she seemed to be saying "I hate the Tories" is a slogan that comes with a heavy price tag attached, and it is a price that is largely being borne by poor people in the inner cities.

The solution, in the Birbalsingh view, is free schools - independently run state schools operating free from local government control. She may be right, but I have my doubts as to whether this is going to be enough. 


Royal Society policy lab

The Royal Society is continuing its project on open science, with a "policy lab" at the start of next month:

In the wake of ‘Climategate’, a Lancet editorial warned that the call for UEA climate scientists to make their research more transparent was a wake-up call for all researchers.  “If scientists do not adapt to the forces shaping and sustaining this revolution in the public culture of science, the trust that the public and politicians put in science will be jeopardised.

A year on, the Royal Society have launched a study looking at how science can open up: ‘Science as a public enterprise‘.  This requires understanding what forms of access are required, and to what ends.  A blanket policy on access to scientific information does not take into account the diverse demands being made on scientists.  Nor does it take into account the massive datasets, complex models and specialist equipment involved in much of modern science.  Opening up science is not a simple task, but a challenge that requires discussion and debate.

Geoffrey Boulton will be speaking on the purposes of opening up science. More details can be seen here.


Civil servants protect their own

When pondering the ethical contortions of the various inquiries into the Climatic Research Unit, I sometimes wonder whether there was ever any chance of anyone being found guilty of anything. As Doug Keenan has pointed out, there are tens of thousands of scientists in the UK and none has been found guilty of research fraud in the last twenty years. The idea that the scientific community here is populated entirely by choirs of seraphim and cherubim is, of course, not credible, so we are left to conclude that bad behaviour by scientists is, in the normal run of things, completely ignored. And it's not just the scientists, of course. It has been pointed out that only 18 teachers have been fired in England in the last 40 years.

Click to read more ...


How's that new AGW communication strategy working out for you?

A snippet from Damian Thompson's blog at the Telegraph:

This week, I met a 17‑year-old pupil from a girls’ public school that, in the past, has been more famous for turning out Sloaney husband-hunters than for filling its pupils with useless scientific facts. But the stereotype is out of date, it seems. The GCSE syllabus ranges far and wide, taking in the physics, chemistry, biology, geopolitics, economics and ethics of climate change. In English lessons, girls “debate” (ie, heartily endorse) the proposition that global warming will kill us all. And guess what topic has been chosen for French conversation?

But parents shouldn’t worry that their girls will turn into eco-loons. “Honestly,” says my informant, “we’re all, like, sooo bored with climate change. I can’t wait to leave school to escape.”


Durkin blogs

Martin Durkin, the director of the Great Global Warming Swindle,  has joined the blogosphere.


Bradley interview

Raymond Bradley is interviewed by Insider Higher Ed.

The story seems to be that the Hockey Team emphasised the doubts and caveats over their findings

Q: The debate around your study looking at past climate patterns seemed to explode after you extended it to include projections going all the way back to 1000. In hindsight, do you think this was overreaching? From a purely political standpoint, did this hurt the case for climate change?

A: Our reconstruction of temperatures over the last 1000 years was titled, "Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: inferences, uncertainties, and limitations" (Geophysical Research Letters 26, 759–762; 1999). In the abstract, we stated: "We focus not just on the reconstructions, but on the uncertainties therein, and important caveats" and noted that "expanded uncertainties prevent decisive conclusions for the period prior to AD 1400." We concluded by stating: "more widespread high-resolution data are needed before more confident conclusions can be reached."

This is true, but of course the earlier paper MBH98 was not similarly caveated. The other point to recognise is that any caveats and uncertainties were dropped long before Mann completed his work on the IPCC Third Assessment Report.

Bradley also steers into the realm of economics, claiming that controlling greenhouse gases will create new industries and jobs. True, but his erroneous conclusion that such controls are therefore good for the economy brings us back, once more, to the broken windows fallacy.


Leaf lines

Nature News has a report of a possible new way of reconstructing past climates - measuring the density of veins in fossil leaves.

Benjamin Blonder, an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson working with Brian Enquist, assumed that were many factors affecting vein density, but he set out to make a model that would capture as much of the variation as possible. He collected leaves from about 65 species from temperate North America. His preliminary models suggest that vein density can predict with a surprising degree of accuracy climatic factors temperature and precipitation.


Another confounding factor?

This is a week or so old now, but this Mother Jones article looks at a new paper which reports the effect of livestock on tree rings. The study is focused on birch, so it's not directly relevant to the paleo studies, but the McIntyre and McKitrick paper in E&E in 2005 discussed the possibility of the introduction of livestock having brought about the twentieth century spike in bristlecone growth that underpins the hockey-stick shape of so many of the millennial temperature reconstructions.

Interestingly, the new paper's conclusion is that livestock can reduce tree ring widths by a factor of three or so, but according to the press release, "past densities of herbivores can be estimated from historic records, and from the fossilised remains of spores from fungi that live on dung". In other words, you can control for the effect. As the paper's authors say in their press release:

This study does not mean that using tree rings to infer past climate is flawed as we can still see the effect of temperatures on the rings, and in lowland regions tree rings are less likely to have been affected by herbivores because they can grow out of reach faster.

Somebody needs to repeat this study on the bristlecones.


ATI responds

The American Tradition Institute has issued a response to the letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists to the University of Virginia calling for information to be withheld.

The groups appeal to lesser authorities such as a state advisory board and — amazingly — a Washington Post editorial, as opposed to what the FOIA law clearly says, as justification to toss aside our agreement with the university.

Full story at WUWT.


Climate cuttings 58

There has been a sudden flurry of articles on climate today, which I dutifully round up for you now.

Concerned scientists writing to protest at the various attempts to get hold of Michael Mann's emails is a story we have heard before, but another missive has been made public today, with the AGU and others telling the university of Virginia that they are worried that personal letters may be disclosed unnecessarily. UVa is due to respond to the American Tradition Institute's FOI request on 20 August.

Fans of the use and abuse of statistical significance in the temperature records will want to read the latest paper by Mahlstein et al, (co-authors include the IPCC's own Susan Solomon). It is claimed that significant warming of the Earth will be seen first in the tropics.

The Grantham Institute has published a paper on uncertainty in science, with the focus on climate.

Renewables are booming according to the TPM website. In England glazing businesses are doing well too.

Ars Technica takes a pop at Roy Spencer and his recent, much-discussed paper.

A new paper examines what might happen if aerosols are pumped into clouds. The conclusion is that they will reflect more light apparently.

And lastly, Jeremy Grantham says we're in trouble. Big trouble. Surprising, eh?


Zorita interview

Hans von Storch and a colleague interview with Eduardo Zorita at the University of Hamburg website. Zorita has some interesting things to say about climate models:

What would be your advice for young researchers who want to work on climate simulations?
Climate modelling is a quite broad and complex area. In my opinion, there are two dangers that a student should avoid. One is to get stuck in a daily routine of programming and launching simulations, and slowly forgetting that simulations are performed to answer some previous question. This question should be the main driver of the work, the model is just a tool. Climate models are nowadays so complex and require so much technical attention that it is easy to get off the track. The second danger is to fall in love with your model and lose sight of the real observations out there. Models are in this sense dangerous and climate models even more so.

I was also interested in his ideas for where some money should get spent.

What would you do with an additional million Euros for your research?
A million euros is nowadays not much. But to answer your question I would setup a project to understand the behavior of tropical clouds in the Late Maunder Minimum, at the height of the Little Ice Age 300 years ago, from proxy records and model simulations. This could give us hints about cloud cover changes in climates a bit different from the present and thus help us say something about the future climate change.


Green desperation

A task force set up by President Obama has reported that fracking for shale gas presents serious environmental risks (as if they would say anything else).

The report underscores differences in public perception of the potential consequences of gas fracking. Industry advocates say the technique hasn’t caused a major incident for more than 60 years, though current techniques were introduced less than a decade ago. Opponents cite failures and accidents that result in tainting drinking water.

If the worst that has happened in 60 years is occasional tainted drinking water, it looks like a pretty benign technology to me.



Timmy on the RCPs

Tim Worstall has picked up on the IPCC emissions scenarios (RPCs) and has an article up at Forbes.