Saturday, November 26, 2011

Climate "skeptics" return to smearing scientists with new batch of hacked emails

As some of you might have read in the news, whoever hacked the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the UK in 2009 has released another batch of the decades worth of emails that they stole at the time. A large number of investigations cleared the scientists of any scientific wrong doing (as we blogged at the time) but they were critisised for being somewhat evasive to freedom of information requests (even though many of these were being sent in a purposeful attempt to waste the scientists' time).

Like last time the MO of the "skeptics" is to cherry pick small snipets from the thousands of emails and make all sorts of wild claims based on them. Of course this can require pretending the snipets mean the opposite of what the scientists meant, but these sort of niceties (honesty perhaps?) don't seem to matter a lot to some it seems. The probable reason for this is that from a quick reading of sceptic blogs, it really doesn't look like there is much in these emails for them to go on. Scientist Barry Bickmore called these the B-list emails, climate scientist Gavin Schmidt "two year old turkey" and they are probably right.

To show you what I mean here is one commonly blogged email snipet

Phil Jones, CRU, to Jonathan Overpeck, Arizona University, 8 February 2008 (email 3062)

“We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written [...] We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff."

Skeptic response: Wow, those scientists are removing evidence that climate change might not be bad.

Here's a good example of why you should always be skeptical of quotes with ellipses. And yes, after wading through several "skeptic" blogs this is what they are saying. Here's the full quote, with bolding by me:

We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written that sounds as though it could have been written by a coral person 25 years ago. We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff. What we want is good honest stuff, warts and all, dubious dating, interpretation marginally better etc."

Hold on a minute. When you read the whole email it is clear the scientists are saying they think Michael (Michael Schultz) is being over optimistic and what they will need to do is change the text to better emphasize the uncertainties.
The fact is that the "skeptic" interpretation of the email is simply impossible once you have read the whole paragraph unless you are either breathtakingly dishonest, or too lazy to actually read the email before telling the world what it means because you are too busy throwing mud.

For more explanations and debunking see, here, here and here.

One other thing I'd like to mention is that "skeptics" seem to be getting excited about the fact that some of the scientists in the emails are criticising other climate scientists. Firstly this obviously shows that any claims all the scientists are in it together is nonsense. But far from being a bad thing, or casting doubt on scientists and their work, this criticism is a good thing, because this is how science works. Scientists are of course the true skeptics in the room.

Non-scientists may not realise it, but scientists love to argue, disagree, hell they will often write scientific articles pulling apart each others findings, so it should come as no surprise that they can be very candid in their (supposedly) private emails. As a scientist myself I know that those I work with are happy to sharply critisise the work of other scientists, even those we know and like or have collaborated with. Sometimes scientific criticism can get nasty, but it also leads to better science as people work to improve their methods, data and conclusions.

What this penchant for disagreement and critisicism means is that when scientists do come to a consensus ie: that the world is warming, humans are causing it and it's likely to be bad, it's because such a large body of work has accumulated that scientists can't produce any solid evidence that the consensus is wrong and so accept the overwhelming weight of data. Most scientific research is done at the frontiers of knowledge and so commonly this is where disagreements happen, but over time problems are resolved and former frontiers become well understood. This is why jumping up and down about 10 year old criticisms of what has since become well established science is just silly.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

International Energy Agency: the door to 2°C is closing

These are the words from the 2011 World Energy Outlook recently released by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Although a conservative organization the IEA take climate change very seriously and included in their report detailed investigations of potential energy senario's and how they will affect climate change.

Here's their most salient conclusions (emphasis mine)
We cannot afford to delay further action to tackle climate change if the long-term target of limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C, as analysed in the 450 Scenario, is to be achieved at reasonable cost. In the New Policies Scenario, the world is on a trajectory that results in a level of emissions consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of more than 3.5°C. Without these new policies, we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6°C or more.

Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permissible by 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already “locked-in” by our existing capital stock (power plants, buildings, factories, etc.). If stringent new action is not forthcoming by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place will generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035, leaving no room for additional power plants, factories and other infrastructure unless they are zero-carbon, which would be extremely costly. Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment avoided in the power sector before 2020 an additional $4.3 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.

For a more detail discussion see Skeptical Science, basically the IEA looked at 3 future scenario's:

Business as usual = 6°C warming
New Policies (governments meet all pledges made to date) = 3.5°C warming
450ppm (requires much greater action) = 50% chance of limiting warming to 2°C.

2°C warming is seen at the red line we don't want to cross, therefore it is clear much more world action is required.

Time is of the essence to take action to meet a 450 ppm target because existing polluting infrastructure (power plants, factories etc) is almost at the level that uses up all our "carbon budget". The implication of this is that unless action is taken now then worldwide by 2017 any new infrastructure will need to replace those already existing or be zero carbon, or we blow the budget. This is why some news stories have reported we have "5 years" to act on climate change before it is too late.

This is also why those who claim they support climate action, just not now, are misguided. Such a "strategy" is not only far more expensive in the long run, but runs the risk of beginning too late because the "locked in" polluting infrastructure is already great enough to cause dangerous climate change. The fact is a coal plant will operate/ pollute for 50 years, while new but inefficient buildings built today could be around for even longer.

The good news (from Australia's point of view) is that with the passage of the carbon price, we'll be getting started on action. One of the early effects (and perhaps one that is already being felt) will be that new power generation in Australia probably won't include coal plants and that more efficient buildings, factories and appliances will become the norm.

I'll leave the last word to the IEA:

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re heading”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November Transition Town Kenmore Meeting - Beyond Zero Emissions and feedback from the Sustainability and Environmental Engineering conference

Thursday November 17
7.15pm for a 7.30pm start
Kenmore Library Meeting Room 3

This month we will have two short talks.

Our own Blake Barrett will present: "Conversation for Change" and Feedback from the Escaping Silos Conference. "Conversation for Change" is a 5-7min conversation with a climate change skeptic be they family, friend, neighbour, or colleague. Feedback from the Escaping Silos Conference, will focus on the workshops and panel discussions from Octobers Society for Sustainability and Environmental Engineering Conference. Speakers included Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff and Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption.

Ed Parker from Sustainable Jamboree will present the Zero Carbon Australia (ZCA) Stationary Energy Plan. This is a comprehensive blueprint to show how Australia can move to 100% renewable energy in 10 years. Developed by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), an independent, not-for-profit organisation, based in Melbourne but with pro bono technical collaborators and volunteer supporters around Australia. A Brisbane-based environmental activist and BZE presenter, Ed Parker will outline the science, technology and economics of this technically feasible Zero Carbon Australia plan. For more information see the attached flier and/or

As usual please feel free to bring along a plate to share for supper after the meeting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Carbon price passes - Australia to (finally) act on climate change

With a vote of 36-32 the carbon price has passed the senate is now set to become law. This means that the price on carbon pollution (and the associated compensation to households and business) will begin next year. Australia will now (finally) join the growing list of countries taking meaningful action on climate change.

It is probably worth repeating why putting a price on carbon pollution is so important and why it (necessarily) forms the foundation of climate change action.
Currently it is free for companies to emit unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, but these emissions still have a cost, through the negative effects of climate change. It is just that currently we, (the taxpayers), have to foot this bill, effectively providing a subsidy for polluting industries. In such a situation why would companies spend money to reduce their pollution? A carbon price changes this by shifting the cost to the polluters, giving them an incentive to reduce pollution. By applying the carbon price across most (or all) of the economy we can let business find the cheapest ways to reduce pollution and grow new industries based on clean technology.
A carbon price is also different from the Coalitions so called "direct action" measures where the government would use taxpayers money to pay some businesses to reduce emissions. Because this policy doesn't apply across the economy, many businesses would still be increasing their levels of pollution and have no incentive to do otherwise, nor will there be a market mechanism to find the cheapest carbon reduction possibilities. This makes it debatable whether the Coalitions direct action policy would be able to reduce emissions at all, as a decrease in one area could be canceled out by increases elsewhere.

Although the carbon price is the foundation of the "Clean Energy Future Package" there are other important elements. As we noted previously the "Carbon Farming" aspect of the package has already passed into law. Still to pass into law is the formation of ARENA, which is a new independent agency that will integrate existing money and programs for renewable energy. The Coalition have stated they will support this so expect the law to pass early next year. Also still to be introduced into parliament is the independent Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will have $10 billion dollars in new funding for commercialization and deployment of clean energy and energy efficiency projects. Like the carbon price the Coalition opposes this money for clean energy and so we can expect a new fight over CEFC early next year. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Desertec - work to start on ambitious solar scheme

The ambitious plan to cover Southern Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle East with solar power plants connected to Europe via a supergrid looks to be on course to get started in 2012. The Desertec plan kicks off next year with the construction of a 500 MW solar thermal power plant in Morocco, a trial solar plant that will hopefully be the first of many.

The Desertec plan appears to be predominately driven by the Germans who have been pushing ahead aggressively with renewable energy at home, with a number of German companies being large players in the world of engineering and renewable energy. However, Germany isn't an ideal location for many types of renewable energy so the Desertec scheme eventually plans to cover Europe, North Africa and some Middle Eastern countries with a integrated supergrid allowing power to be produced in any of these locations and then sent where it is needed. Ie: Geothermal from Iceland, Hydro from Scandinavia, Wind from the UK, Solar from Spain, North Africa and the Saudis can be routed whereever it is needed.

If managed successfully Desertec stands to be a win-win situation for both Europe and Africa, providing clean power for Europe as well as electricity and economic development to many African nations. After-all it's not as though there is a shortage of sunlight in the desert so why not use it.