Intellectual and Practical Foolishness: The Precautionary Principle

July 18th, 2014

Famous supporter of the Precautionary Principle.

Famous supporter of the Precautionary Principle.


The Precautionary Principle (PP) underlies a wide variety of policy efforts around the world today, including energy policy and the debate over the continued use of fossil fuels and the risk they pose regarding climate change. In the European Union, it is even required to be followed in some matters of statutory law.

According to Wikipedia, the Precautionary Principle states:

“if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.”

Now, the foolishness of the PP is that it addresses the potential risks of a particular action without addressing the benefits.

This is just plain silliness, and a prescription for human suffering and death. Every modern advance, invention, or convenience you can think of has risks, and those risks must be weighed against their benefits.

There is no such thing as a no-risk human activity.

People even die from choking on food. Maybe we should outlaw food.

In the early years of the environmental movement, bad science combined with PP idealism led to restrictions on the use of DDT to control mosquitoes, which then led to at least tens of millions of needless deaths.

On the global warming front, the PP came up (at least implicitly) in the recent New York Times article profiling John Christy. While that article at least allowed Dr. Christy to state his position on climate change (kudos to NYT for that), Kerry Emanuel in that article likened the risk of not addressing climate change to telling a young girl to run across a busy street to catch her bus. The result could be deadly.

Now, I should be clear that John is OK with that article…it turned out better than he expected it would (we have a long history of being burned by the mainstream media).

But I’m not going to let misguided policy advice from scientists to go unchallenged.

This Precautionary Principle idea that guides people like Kerry Emanuel is nonsense. (I like Kerry, BTW, and he is a top-notch atmospheric researcher). Would we abandon our most abundant and affordable energy sources, required for nearly everything we do, on the chance that there might be some non-zero negative consequence to adding 1 or 2 additional CO2 molecules to each 10,000 molecules of air?

And what about the benefits of more atmospheric CO2? Fewer temperature-related deaths, global greening, increased crop productivity, etc.? We should not accept the premise that more CO2 in the atmosphere is necessarily bad for life on Earth.

The people who advocate the PP are also the ones who have benefited from the advances modern science and engineering have provided us. And all of those advances carry risks.

I suspect the 1+ billion people still without electricity, or who are still using wood and dung for heating and cooking, would see things differently, too.

I realize I have mentioned the PP before, but the NYT article got me thinking about just how pervasive (and non-critical) a mindset this is becoming.

People like me are often asked the question, “But what if you are wrong?” regarding our skepticism that human-caused climate change is going to be something that requires a policy response.

Well, what if they are wrong? I have often said that human caused climate change presents theoretical risks, whereas restricting access to abundant and affordable energy causes real poverty and real deaths.

If they really want to follow the Precautionary Principle, then they should follow their own prescription, which I am rephrasing from the Wikipedia definition of the PP:

If reducing fossil fuel use has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, in the absence of economic consensus that the reduction is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those advocating such a reduction.

2014 Global SST Not Looking Like a Record…So Far

July 18th, 2014

I was perusing Bob Tisdale’s analysis of global average sea surface temperatures (SST) through June 2014 and noticed that the OISST product (which has a heavy reliance on satellite infrared measurements) has been suggesting 2014 might be a record warm year, at least for SST.

So, I decided to update the satellite microwave-based SST data from RSS (comprised of the AMSR-E, TMI, and Windsat satellite datasets), and it tells a different story, with 2014 not quite as warm as the last time we were ramping into El Nino conditions (2009):

Satellite microwave SST anomalies (global) since mid-2002, updated through mid-July 2014.

Satellite microwave SST anomalies (global) since mid-2002, updated through mid-July 2014.

I don’t have an obvious explanation for the discrepancy. There are a few possibilities…

1) The microwave measurements are much less susceptible to cloud and aerosol contamination, and have a better satellite diurnal drift adjustment.

2) I restrict the analysis to 60 deg. N latitude, to avoid sea ice issues, while the OISST product goes farther north….but I would think that this is such a small area that it would not affect the global averages substantially.

3) I also use a fairly short period to compute the anomalies relative to, but this has no effect when comparing the same calendar months (e.g. January thrugh June, 2014 versus 2009).

In any event, it appears there are some discrepancies regarding just how warm 2014 is shaping up to be. With a strong El Nino increasingly unlikely, I’m still betting that 2014 will not be a record warm year.

Heartland’s 9th International Conference on Climate Change: A Skepticism Tipping Point?

July 17th, 2014
Heartland Institute President Joe Bast opens ICCC9 in Las Vegas.

Heartland Institute President Joe Bast opens ICCC9 in Las Vegas.

I’ve been thinking about the recent “skeptics conference” in Las Vegas.

First of all, this was easily the most energetic of the Heartland conferences held over the years. Clearly, we skeptics feel our point of view is being vindicated, that (1) warming is relatively benign, (2) warming is only partly human-caused, (3) the benefits of more CO2 in the atmosphere appear to greatly outweigh the risks, and (4) there’s little that can be done about reducing CO2 emission anyway, until we have new energy technologies sufficient to meet global energy demand.

I have to wonder just how massive such a conference would be if the government were to actually fund research into natural causes of climate change. The funding is so severely stacked against the skeptics’ side that our movement remains at a mostly grassroots level.

But they can’t ignore our arguments any longer. For many years we had been hearing from the “scientific consensus” side that natural climate change is nowhere near as strong as human-caused warming…yet the lack of surface warming in 17 years has forced those same scientists to now invoke natural climate change to supposedly cancel out the expected human-caused warming!

C’mon guys. You can’t have it both ways! They fail to see that a climate system capable of cancelling out warming with natural cooling is also capable of causing natural warming in the first place.

Secondly, the conference was very well organized. To all appearances, it went very smoothly. I was struck by the variety of styles and messages presented by the keynote speakers.

I thought Patrick Moore’s talk was the most powerful. As a 15-year member of the original Greenpeace movement, Patrick described how that organization morphed from helping to hurting humanity.

Lord Monckton closed the conference with a clever poll of the 600+ member audience that revealed a 100% “consensus” that climate does indeed change (there were no “climate change deniers” there), and that humans probably contribute to that change.

I only got to attend a small fraction of the non-keynote talks given, due to repeated requests for interviews by the media. There were three parallel sessions, so at most you could only attend 1/3 of the talks. This is typical for conferences, though. Fortunately, all the talks were videotaped and are available at the Heartland website. The quality of the panel presentations varied greatly, but that’s to be expected given the relative infancy and lack of institutional funding of the movement.

The real benefit of the conference was the opportunity for the movers and shakers in this business to talk one-on-one, as well as to talk to concerned citizens who attended the conference. A wide variety of skeptical opinions on the subject were represented there, which is a good thing. I personally believe we know so little about the causes of climate change that we need to keep the lines of communication open (although readers here know I also believe the theory that there is no “greenhouse effect” is misguided).

To me, it feels like a climate skepticism tipping point has been reached.

My ICCC9 Presentations

July 17th, 2014

Following my detour through California after attending the 9th International Conference on Climate Change in Las Vegas, I’m finally back home to find low temperatures in the 50s in Alabama (was Al Gore in town?).

Here are the two presentations I gave. The first presentation briefly summarized our published paper on the role of El Nino in causing about 1/2 of the global-average warming we have seen since the 1950s, and the resulting reduced equilibrium climate sensitivity estimate of 1.3 deg. C.

The second presentation was a very basic overview of what I think we know about “global warming” (almost nothing), and my vexatious consternation over the dearth of scientists who are willing to call for more atmospheric CO2, given all of the observed benefits to humanity and nature. Where is the scientific objectivity on this issue?

Here’s the (mildly entertaining) video of the 2nd talk:


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

The Ivanpah Solar Energy Plant

July 11th, 2014

After attending Heartland’s 9th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9) in Las Vegas, we drove into the Ivanpah solar generating facility near the Mojave Desert in southern California.

Here’s a Google Earth view, with the location I drove to for a couple of photos:

Ivanpah solar generating plant as depicted by Google Earth, and the location where I took photos from.

Ivanpah solar generating plant as depicted by Google Earth, and the location where I took photos from.

With over 170,000 mirror assemblies reflecting sunlight onto 3 steam generating units, the plant is advertised to generate a peak power level of 390 MW.

There were storms in the area, and some of the surrounding land was actually flooded. Only one of the 3 solar arrays was illuminated through a break in the clouds when I was there, seen in this zoom photo:

Northernmost Ivanpah generating tower, surrounded by partly sunlit mirrors.

Northernmost Ivanpah generating tower, surrounded by partly sunlit mirrors.

This wider-angle photo now shows better solar illumination of the far tower, which is accompanied by concentrated sunlight scattered by aerosols in the air around the tower:

Two of the 3 Ivanpah units, with the far unit being illuminated by the sun.

Two of the 3 Ivanpah units, with the far unit being illuminated by the sun.

The facility cost $2.2 billion, and Google was even a partial supporter early in the project. It would be interesting to hear how much energy the facility actually generated after a year of operation.

ICCC9: Familar Faces in Las Vegas

July 8th, 2014

The 9th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9), organized by the Heartland Institute, is just getting started in Las Vegas, at the beautiful and sprawling Mandalay Bay hotel, casino, and conference center:

Mandalay Bay Hotel, Casino, and Conference Center in Las Vegas.

Mandalay Bay Hotel, Casino, and Conference Center in Las Vegas.

Follow me…it’s a loooong walk…
ICCC9-follow-me

Roy Spencer, Bill Gray, and Marc Morano

Roy Spencer, Bill Gray, and Marc Morano

Weather Channel co-founders John Coleman and Joe D'Aleo

Weather Channel co-founders John Coleman and Joe D’Aleo

Heartland Institute president Joe Bast opens the conference.

Heartland Institute president Joe Bast opens the conference.

WeatherBell's Joe Bastardi and Cato's Pat Michaels

WeatherBell’s Joe Bastardi and Cato’s Pat Michaels

Austrian rapper Kilez More.

Austrian rapper Kilez More.

The EPA Now Trying to Garnish Citizens’ Wages

July 4th, 2014

stop-the-EPA
On the day we celebrate our liberties, it is ironic — and troubling — that the EPA is attempting to get the authority to garnish the wages of citizens if they are fined for violating EPA regulations.

As described in this article, just the building of a pond on your property that did not get approval from all of the federal agencies who want to interfere with your personal property rights could lead to the government garnishing your wages. No appeal or due process if you want to challenge the EPA’s decision.

It doesn’t matter if the local wildlife loves your new pond. The government can demand you destroy it…or else.

Happy 4th of July.

Hurricane Arthur: Latest Satellite & Radar

July 3rd, 2014

Refresh the page for the latest:

Latest radar loop:

Our Hurricane Arthur page at Weatherstreet.com.

UAH Global Temperature Update for June, 2014: +0.30 deg. C

July 1st, 2014

The Version 5.6 global average lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly for June, 2014 is +0.30 deg. C, down slightly from May (click for full size version):
UAH_LT_1979_thru_June_2014_v5

The global, hemispheric, and tropical LT anomalies from the 30-year (1981-2010) average for the last 18 months are:

YR MON GLOBAL NH SH TROPICS
2013 1 +0.497 +0.517 +0.478 +0.386
2013 2 +0.203 +0.372 +0.033 +0.195
2013 3 +0.200 +0.333 +0.067 +0.243
2013 4 +0.114 +0.128 +0.101 +0.165
2013 5 +0.082 +0.180 -0.015 +0.112
2013 6 +0.295 +0.335 +0.255 +0.220
2013 7 +0.173 +0.134 +0.211 +0.074
2013 8 +0.158 +0.111 +0.206 +0.009
2013 9 +0.365 +0.339 +0.390 +0.190
2013 10 +0.290 +0.331 +0.249 +0.031
2013 11 +0.193 +0.160 +0.226 +0.020
2013 12 +0.266 +0.272 +0.260 +0.057
2014 1 +0.291 +0.387 +0.194 -0.029
2014 2 +0.170 +0.320 +0.020 -0.103
2014 3 +0.170 +0.338 +0.002 -0.001
2014 4 +0.190 +0.358 +0.022 +0.092
2014 5 +0.327 +0.325 +0.328 +0.175
2014 6 +0.303 +0.315 +0.290 +0.509

The global image for June should be available in the next day or so here.

Popular monthly data files (these might take a few days to update):

uahncdc_lt_5.6.txt (Lower Troposphere)
uahncdc_mt_5.6.txt (Mid-Troposphere)
uahncdc_ls_5.6.txt (Lower Stratosphere)

Lake Superior Water Level Sees Fastest Rise in 98 Years

June 30th, 2014

As a result of unusually heavy precipitation, the water level in Lake Superior has increased rapidly in the last year, by about 14 inches (based upon 3 month averages). This rate of rise is the fastest 12-month increase ending in April-May-June average levels since 1916, and the 2nd fastest since records began in 1860 (154 years ago). An Excel spreadsheet with the data is here.

Here’s a plot of monthly departures from the long-term average (deseasonalized):

Monthly departures from average of Lake Superior water levels between 1860 and June 2014.

Monthly departures from average of Lake Superior water levels between 1860 and June 2014.

As a result of the high lake levels, water flow out of Superior through the St. Marys river in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, has been increased by increasing the number of gates open.

As discussed by Steve Hayward today, this rise in lake levels was totally unexpected by climate scientists, who have been anticipating declining lake levels in response to global warming-induced drought.

Of course, those scientists will no doubt claim they will eventually be proved correct. Except that climate models they rely upon are notoriously poor at predicting regional changes in climate…even worse than predicting changes in global-average conditions.