In the News
Democratic Leaders, an Industry Lobby, and a Nonprofit Walk into an Election
Timothy Carney, Washington Examiner, 3 October 2014
Let’s Find out How Much “Clean Power” the Feds Really Have
Brian Potts & David Zoppo, Wall Street Journal, 1 October 2014
U.S. Professor: Blame Climate Change for Islamic State
James Delingpole, Breitbart London, 1 October 2014
News You Can Use
Quietest Atlantic Hurricane Season Since 1986
September is normally the peak of the hurricane season, but it ended this week having occasioned only two named storms. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, this is the quietest Atlantic hurricane season since 1986.
Inside the Beltway
Washington Post Discovers Connection Between Rising Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economic Activity
The Washington Post’s coverage of climate change issues seldom connects to reality. But at the end of a week that started with the 120,000-person strong People’s Climate March and peaked with the all-day United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, the Post ran a story on Saturday, 27th September, that explicitly links rising U. S. greenhouse with economic growth. A front-page, top-left story by Joby Warrick was headlined, “Carbon Output Rises in U. S.” The sub-head told the story: “Turn in greenhouse gas emissions coincides with economic recovery.” The article is available online here with a different headline and no sub-headline.
Correlation is of course not necessarily causation, but Warrick was clear that there is a causal link: “The higher emissions are primarily a reflection of a rebounding economy, as U.S. businesses burned more gas and oil to meet higher demand.” This may be a minor recognition of reality in the establishment media, but I think we have to take progress where we can find it.
Across the States
Big Wind Encounters Turbulence in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas
According to an excellent article by Sean Murphy of the Associated Press in Oklahoma, wind farms are becoming politically controversial in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. In the past decade, wind energy in Oklahoma has increased from 113 windmills in three projects to 1,700 windmills in 30 projects.
Murphy writes: “A decade ago, states offered wind-energy developers an open-armed embrace, envisioning a bright future for an industry that would offer cheap electricity, new jobs and steady income for large landowners, especially in rural areas with few other economic prospects. To ensure the opportunity didn’t slip away, lawmakers promised little or no regulation and generous tax breaks.”
However: “But now that wind turbines stand tall across many parts of the nation’s windy heartland, some leaders in Oklahoma and other states fear their efforts succeeded too well, attracting an industry that gobbles up huge subsidies, draws frequent complaints and uses its powerful lobby to resist any reforms…. Opposition is also mounting about the loss of scenic views, the noise from spinning blades, the flashing lights that dot the horizon at night and a lack of public notice about where the turbines will be erected.”
While “the growing cost of the subsidies could decimate state funding for schools, highways and prisons,” the political establishment in Oklahoma is just starting to wake up to the problems that result from creating a new special interest funded by government largesse. “With the rapid expansion came political clout. The industry now has nearly a dozen registered lobbyists working to stop new regulations and preserve generous subsidies that are expected to top $40 million this year.”
When Sam Brownback, now governor of Kansas, served in the U. S. Senate, he was the chief Republican sponsor of legislation to create a federal renewable energy mandate and strongly supported the federal wind production tax credit. He is now in a tough re-election race and recently softened his enthusiasm for Big Wind in order to try to win back part of his disgruntled Republican base. Republicans in the state legislature tried to repeal Kansas’s renewable energy mandate earlier this year, but the bill was narrowly defeated by strong opposition from Brownback and the wind industry.
Governor Brownback now says that while he supports the wind industry in Kansas, he thinks it has matured sufficiently so that the state’s 20% by 2020 renewable mandate can be repealed or modified. But Kansas not only has a renewable mandate. It also provides permanent property tax exemptions for windmills.
Oklahoma does not have a renewable energy mandate, but offers generous tax credits and a five-year exemption from local property taxes. Both Oklahoma and Kansas compensate local counties and school districts for their lost property tax revenue.
Last week’s Digest included a link to an op-ed by Susan Combs, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, titled, “Time for Wind To Stand on Its Own.” It was based on a report she released, Texas Power Challenge, which concludes that Texas’s renewable energy mandate is undermining the reliability of the state’s electricity supply during periods of peak demand in the summer months. Marlo Lewis, my CEI colleague, wrote a post on GlobalWarming.org in 2012 that discovers similar problems with wind in Oklahoma.
Judge Upholds EPA Retroactive Veto of WV Mine Permit
On September 30th, D.C. Federal District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson upheld EPA’s 2011 retroactive veto of a Clean Water Act permit issued to Arch Coal for the Spruce Fork mine in Logan County, West Virginia. This is the latest in the legal saga involving EPA’s controversial decision to revoke the permit after it had been issued.
In March, 2013, Judge Berman Jackson found that EPA did not have the authority to retroactively veto a Clean Water Act permit, a decision that was subsequently overturned by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. After the Supreme Court refused to take up an appeal of the D.C. Circuit’s decision, it became settled law that EPA does indeed have the authority to revoke a Clean Water Act ‘dredge and fill’ permit at any time.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s upholding of the D.C. Circuit’s reversal, the case returned to Judge Jackson Berman, in order for her to determine whether EPA lawfully exercised its newfound authority. In a 50 page ruling rendered Tuesday, she found EPA’s reasons for issuing the veto were not “arbitrary and capricious,” and therefore lawful.
It’s an unfortunate outcome that will likely be appealed. As I explain in this study, EPA claimed that salamanders, fish, and birds would be harmed, but, in fact, the agency produced evidence only that the proposed surface coal mine would harm a short-lived insect, the Mayfly, which isn’t even an endangered species. For this, EPA killed a project that would have created 250 well paying jobs.
Yet Another Study Finds Low Climate Sensitivity
There are three overarching issues in UN IPCC science reports: (1) detection (is global warming occurring?), (2) attribution (if so, what’s causing it?), and (3) climate sensitivity (how much warming will result from a given increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations?).
Detection was an unresolved question until 1998, when the Remote System Sensing (RSS) team discovered an orbital decay-induced spurious cooling in the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) satellite record. The UAH scientists corrected their record, the weather balloon record was also revised, and surface temperature records also indicated warming, so all three data sources showed a warming trend. Only at that point did global (as distinct from urban or local) warming become a “fact” — a trend confirmed by multiple independent observations. But then, irony of ironies, global warming plateaued in the RSS record, and “the pause” has persisted for nearly 18 years.
Attribution of some non-negligible portion of recent warming to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is acknowledged today by most scientists, but for years climate campaigners claimed greater certainty than the scientific evidence warranted. The IPCC’s First Assessment Report (1990) stated: “The size of the warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural variability. Thus the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability….The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect is not likely for a decade or more.”
The IPCC’s Second Assessment Report (1995) famously concluded: The “balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.” Note too that even this iconic formulation is not an assertion of fact, only an assessment of what is suggested by the “balance of evidence.” One might say “the science” on attribution finally caught up with what climate campaigners zealously believed but often falsely asserted as “settled.”
Ever since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), the heart of the scientific debate has been about climate sensitivity. This is also the key scientific issue for public policy. Sensitivity estimates chiefly determine how much warming is predicted for the 21st century and beyond. Scary climate impact scenarios assume climate sensitivities of 3°C and more for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations above pre-industrial levels.
Cato Institute scientists Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger keep a running tab on studies since 2011 that find lower climate sensitivity than IPCC AR4’s best estimate of 3°C for doubled CO2. Their list as of February 2014 contained 18 studies.
Recently, Judith Curry of Georgia Tech and independent UK researcher Nick Lewis published a study that arguably presents the most substantial challenge yet to high-end warming projections.
Although “the pause” and the associated growing divergence between models and observations is the impetus for some recent research on sensitivity, Curry and Lewis debunk claims that lower sensitivity estimates depend on the pause, which might be a short-term effect of natural variability.
In a nutshell, Curry and Lewis estimate equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS – the long-term warming effect of CO2 doubling) and transient climate response (TCR – the warming effect of CO2 doubling over a 70-year period) by comparing average global temperature and IPCC heat accumulation estimates for two periods: a base period of 1859-1882 and a final period of 1995-2011. As described on Curry’s blog:
“Our paper derives ECS and TCR estimates using the AR5 [IPCC Fifth Assessment Report] forcing and heat uptake estimates and uncertainty ranges. The analysis uses a global energy budget model that links ECS and TCR to changes in global mean surface temperature (GMST), radiative forcing and the rate of ocean heat uptake between a base and a final period.”
Here’s the bottom line. Whereas the “best estimates” for ECS and TCR in AR4 were 3°C and 2°C, respectively, Curry and Lewis’s mid-range estimates are 1.64°C and 1.33°C.
If those had been the IPCC’s sensitivity estimates since 1990, would policymakers even be debating global warming today?
The Cooler Heads Digest is the weekly e-mail publication of the Cooler Heads Coalition. For the latest news and commentary, check out the Coalition’s website, www.GlobalWarming.org.