Archive for category Climate change
Today, The Times claims that “Wind farms paid to close on windy days”. Unfortunately, because of the paywall, I can’t actually see the article to comment on it. Luckily, the Daily Mail has written their own version of the article (direct link), based on The Times‘s investigation. Yay for churnalism!
Wind farms were paid £25million not to produce electricity when it is ‘too windy’ last year, figures revealed today.
There was a staggering 13,733 per cent rise in the payments on the year before.
Turbine operators are ordered by the National Grid to shutdown to avoid too much power being produced during gales.
These payments are based on something called the “transmission constraint agreement“. In a nutshell, transmission constraint agreements are paid to power stations of all types – not just wind turbines – when demand is low. The reason wind farms get the bulk of the payments seems to be because it’s easier to shut them down – you simply apply the brakes. Coal and gas on the other hand can’t be shut down as easily – you need to keep them hot so they can start up again when demand returns, and this wastes fuel.
First of all, the claim that it represents a “staggering 13,733 per cent rise” is rather misleading. According to this article in the Telegraph, an initial trial run took place in May 2010 – involving just two wind farms shutting down for one hour – but it looks like the constraint scheme didn’t start properly until much later – either at the end of the year or at the start of 2011. Comparing full operation with a trial run is ridiculous.
Secondly, The Mail claims that
National Grid, a public company, have never before admitted how much is spent getting wind farms to close.
… except as we’ve just seen, they “admitted” it back in 2010.
There is a good point buried in this – as Ofgem, the office that regulates energy generation points out, the power companies themselves set the constraint payments, and the rates they tender are currently more than they’d be paid, per megawatt, to actually generate power. This is a perfectly reasonable argument, but simply attacking the idea of constraint payments, as The Mail seems to be doing, is ridiculous. The electricity system always needs to be in balance, and as long as the people who transmit the power aren’t the people who generate it, these payments will unfortunately always be necessary in some form.
(Hat tip to @rbhinkley for pointing out the original article)
Imagine a world where CO2 was not a deadly poison in need of urgent regulation by the European Union and the Environmental Protection Agency but a hugely beneficial trace gas which helped plants to thrive… If you’ve read [Delingpole's tastefully plugged book] Watermelons – or indeed hung around this column for any length of time – you’ll know that that world already exists.
So begins James Delingpole’s latest blog post. Let’s start with the slightly less obvious problem here: governments do not control carbon dioxide because it is a poison, they control it because it has damaging effects on the environment. Whether or not it’s poisonous has no bearing on climate change.
Secondly, carbon dioxide is poisonous. It’s not poisonous at the levels you’ll find in the air around you, assuming you’re reading this from a reasonably well-ventilated room, but at a concentration of around 3% you’ll start to feel drowsy, and as the concentration increases you’ll quickly suffer sensory impairment and eventually black out and can even die. Your body does need a tiny bit of carbon dioxide in the blood, otherwise you suffer what’s known as hypocapnia, but that’s not caused by environmental CO2, that’s caused by hyperventilating (it’s a big problem with divers, which is why you shouldn’t take short, hard breaths before diving).
So why does Delingpole want to claim otherwise? Well, he’s discovered something called the Buteyko Method – supposedly a way of breathing which increases the amount of carbon dioxide in your body, supposedly curing collapsed lungs, ME, MS, depression, arthritis, asthma, emphysema and even Crohn’s disease.
The only evidence Delingpole gives that it works? Well, it works for him. Fair enough – controlled breathing techniques are widelyknown to reduce stress, and if that helps him personally then fine. But remember he’s a journalist – surely before he sells it to his readers (and it does read like a sales pitch – he lists the locations of upcoming workshops… £375 workshops) he should find some concrete evidence that it works – and, crucially, that it has anything to do with CO2?
There’s not much research into whether it works, unfortunately, and a lot of it doesn’t seem to be fantastic quality. Still, here’s a quote from a review paper looking into the method (in particular, its effect on asthma):
Buteyko’s theory relating to carbon dioxide levels and airway calibre is an attractive one, and has some basis in evidence from experimental studies. However, it is not known whether altering breathing patterns can raise carbon dioxide levels significantly, and there is currently insufficient evidence to confirm that this is the mechanism behind any effect that [Buteyko Breathing Technique] BBT may exert. Further research is necessary to establish unequivocally whether BBT is effective, and if so, how it may work. (emphasis mine)
Doesn’t sound fantastic. Maybe the paper “Strengths, Weaknesses, and Possibilities of the Buteyko Breathing Method” will be more promising.
Studies with the Buteyko Method have found that resting carbon dioxide levels do not change after Buteyko training despite reported improvement in symptoms
Ok, how about a study from the same author, “Investigating the Claims of Konstantin Buteyko, M.D., Ph.D.“
The results revealed a negative correlation between BHT and ETCO2 (r = −0.241, p < 0.05), directly opposite to Buteyko’s claims.
[ETCO2 is end tidal CO2, the amount of CO2 released at the end of a breathing cycle]
Or how about this large, randomised controlled study* – again into its effects on asthma.
This study, which we believe to be the largest randomised controlled trial and the first to use a global assessment of asthma control as a primary outcome in a non-pharmacological intervention in asthma, failed to show a difference between the intervention (Buteyko) and control (physiotherapy) groups.
Even Wikipedia, refuge of the lazy journalist, points out that there is no evidence that the CO2 theory is correct and there’s little medical support for the technique!
Where does that leave us? There’s not much evidence that it works, no evidence that it increases CO2 levels, and indeed, some evidence that it may have the exact opposite effect. Does it help with asthma? Perhaps, although apparently no better than any other breathing method. Does it prove that CO2 is unequivocally good for you? Of course not.
* Although as the researchers point out, it was not blinded – which makes the fact that it didn’t work even more striking.
UPROAR AS BBC MUZZLES CLIMATE CHANGE SCEPTICS, screams The Daily Express:
THE BBC was criticised by climate change sceptics yesterday after it emerged that their views will get less coverage because they differ from mainline scientific opinion. [...] It said coverage should not be tailored to represent a “false balance” of opinion if one side came from a minority group.
So this isn’t about the BBC muzzling anyone, it’s about making sure that the BBC isn’t giving fringe ideas disproportionate amounts of time. It doesn’t just refer to climate change, either: the BBC Trust report (PDF) also refers to the BBC’s coverage of MMR, where giving undue weight to the idea that MMR caused autism even after science had conclusively proved otherwise on caused a public health disaster, and of the safety of GM food. Climate change is just another example of an area of science where a few loud voices have drowned out the actual science.
So, who’s in uproar?
Lord Lawson, chairman of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the fact that carbon dioxide levels were rising leading to global warming was not under dispute. However, he added, its extent and effect could not be explained by majority scientific opinion alone. [...]
The foundation’s director, Dr Benny Peiser, said the report would lead to biased coverage of climate change and stifle any real debate. [...]
Dr David Whitehouse, the foundation’s editor and a former BBC science correspondent, said the corporation had “lost the plot” when it came to science journalism.*
Yes, every single “sceptic” The Express quotes is actually a member of the GWPF thinktank. The Express does not quote any independent sceptics, any actual climate scientists, any sci-comms experts – in fact, it doesn’t quote anyone else except for an anonymous BBC spokesman.
So there are two possibilities here. Either The Express has been spectacularly lazy in putting this story together, or they’ve just been fed this story by the GWPF and have published it unthinkingly.
Well, funnily enough this press release went up on the GWPF website just yesterday.** What good timing.
* Dr Whitehouse’s full comment bears quoting here:
He said the corporation was “grouping sceptics with deniers” which would result in a lack of valid scientific input to its reports.
He said: “A sceptic is not a denier, all good scientists should be sceptics. The BBC has got itself into a complete muddle.
“In seeking to get the science right it has missed the journalism which is about asking awkward questions and shaking the tree.”
I think the BBC needs to investigate whether the royal family are all shapeshifting lizard aliens from Alpha Draconis. Sure, there’s no evidence for it, and the people who believe it are an extremely fringe group, but journalism is about ASKING AWKWARD QUESTIONS and SHAKING THE TREE.
** The GWPF claim that the independent report was a “damning indictment” of the BBC. Indeed, it was so damning that the author made these caustic remarks:
One thing should be made clear: BBC science broadcasting is seen as of high quality and is much praised for its accurate and impartial approach, its breadth, and its professionalism. Comments from the submissions made to this Review show how widespread is this opinion.
The BBC is to be commended for the breadth, depth and professionalism of its science coverage. I was impressed by its treatment, which has shown real progress over the past decade or so.
Ouch for the BBC!
Global warning: Scientists in U-turn as they claim extreme weather and climate change are linked
Experts have reversed their opinion after more than 20 years of reluctance to blame greenhouse gas emissions for extreme weather
Climate change is inextricably linked to the extreme weather that has wreaked destruction all over the world in the last ten years, scientists now claim.
Experts are convinced of a legitimate link between the two after more than 20 years of reluctance to blame greenhouse gas emissions for the heavy storms, floods and droughts which have made global headlines.
The controversial U-turn is a radical departure from the previous standpoint and was made by a new international alliance of climate researchers from around the world.
You hear that? All the scientists! All of them! Every single scientist used to say that extreme weather and climate change weren’t linked, then overnight, they all did a U-turn and now they all believe they are linked!
Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. While most scientists will never say that any given event was definitely caused by global warming (after all, no-one can say for sure whether, say, Katrina would have happened without climate change), plenty of researchers have published papers in reputable, peer-reviewed journals connecting climate change to hurricanes (Emmanuel 2005 (PDF), Webster et al 2005, Mann and Emmanuel 2006 (PDF)), flooding (Schrieder et al 2000, Christensen and Christensen 2003 (PDF)), heatwaves (Stott et all 2004, Diffenbaugh et al 2007 (PDF)), and pretty much every other form of extreme weather you can imagine. The connection between climate change and extreme weather is still debated, but there are certainly plenty of scientists have published research indicating the two are linked.
Secondly, this so-called U-turn isn’t even a U-turn! Instead, what a panel of climatologists called Attribution of Climate-Related Events (ACE) is looking at various extreme weather events over the last century – tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts – and working out whether climate change has made these sorts of weather more likely.** They are not yet saying that climate change has increased the risk of extreme weather, they’re still researching whether it could have! The scientists quoted by The Independent (and subsequently by The Mail) do say that they think climate change is causing severe weather, but as far as I can tell, these scientists have always made this connection. Peter Stott for example connected heatwaves to climate change back in 2004 (see the paper above), and Kevin Trenberth connected drought to global warming in the same year (PDF). Neither of these scientists has, as far as I can tell, U-turned.
Incidentally, the best rated comments on both articles are firmly denialist and, on The Mail‘s site, any comments that are pro-climate science have been downvoted (The Indie only lets you “like” comments, not dislike them). Good to see the astroturfers out in force.
* I’ve picked on The Mail largely because they’ve used words like “U-turn” and “reversal”. The Independent‘s coverage still makes the mistake of talking about scientists like we’re all one big hive mind, but at least they state that the previous opinion connecting climate change to extreme weather was “equivocal”.
** ACE formed in early 2009, so I’m not sure why they’re being reported as if they’re brand new.
Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights.
At midday yesterday, wind power was contributing just 2.2 per cent of all the electricity in the National Grid. You might think that’s a pretty poor return on the billions of pounds spent already on Britain’s standing army of windmills.
In fact, for the amount of energy produced, onshore wind power is only slightly more expensive than coal, and less expensive than nuclear. Offshore wind is quite a bit more expensive, but hopefully this will come down as production gets more organised.
How terrible! If, that is:
- You’re American. This article is about the upcoming phase-out of 100 W bulbs in the United States – 100 W light bulbs have been banned in Europe for nearly two years, and shockingly we’re not paying $50 (£30) per bulb.
- You light your house exclusively with 100 W bulbs.
- You refuse to buy the normal energy saving compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb, which you can get for about £1, for some reason.
- You decide to buy the first of a new sort of light bulb – the LED light bulb – and in particular, you buy the smallest and brightest bulb available, which costs about $45 (£27) at the moment, and you buy it right away instead of waiting for the price to come down.
Better headline: One particular light bulb might cost $45 EACH at first (but you won’t have to buy them even if you’re American because they’re stupidly powerful and there are cheaper bulbs available which are just as bright)
Hmm, perhaps it’s a good thing I’m not a newspaper sub.
PS: Oh, and why is “green” in “scare quotes”?
Have you been enjoying the saga about the wind farms that might or might not kill whales? I do hope so. The aspect of it which I have particularly enjoyed is the sanctimonious and hypocritical rage of a vociferous lobby group of self-styled “skeptics.” (See here, here and here.) Though mostly based in Britain, they spell themselves in the American style to distinguish themselves from “sceptics” like me. That’s because, unlike proper sceptics* they – get this! – are card-carrying members of the Church of Climate Change.
I have been insulted by James Delingpole. I have officially made it!
Anyway, the reason James Delingpole claims “we” (I’m not sure why I’ve been lumped in with Ben Goldacre, but I’m honoured) are hypocritical is that we attacked him for using dodgy and distorted facts in this case, and didn’t attack all his other dodgy and distorted facts:
After all, whether or not wind farms harm cetaceans, we do know beyond all reasonable doubt that wind farms:
Despoil countryside, frighten horses, chop up birds, spontaneously combust, drive down property prices, madden those who live nearby with their subsonic humming, drive up electricity prices, promote rentseeking, make rich landowners richer (and everyone else poorer), ruin views, buy more electric sports cars for that dreadful Dale Vince character, require rare earth minerals which cause enormous environmental damage, destroy 3.7 real jobs for every fake “green” job they “create”, blight neighbourhoods, kill off tourism and ruin lives.
So isn’t it, you might argue, ever so slightly odd to get so het up over the issue as to whether or not they harm whales too?
So fair enough, let’s get het up over all of these:
- “Despoil countryside“. That’s kind of subjective, surely. If you think wind turbines look ugly, then yes, they despoil the countryside. But then, so does this. And this. And this. And this.
- “Frighten horses“. True to an extent; horses startle easily after all. However, there are plenty of places where wind farms and stables coexist, and careful design can eliminate the problems caused by flickering shadows worrying the animals.
- “Chop up birds“. Actually, the number of bird deaths associated with wind turbines is much smaller than the number of deaths caused birds flying into other buildings and stationary structures.
- “Spontaneously combust“. As far as I can tell from the limited stats available, wind turbine fires don’t appear to be any more common than any other type of fire. And at least wind turbines only produce smoke and pollution when they are in fact on fire; to paraphrase George Monbiot, wind power causes calamities when it goes wrong, coal causes calamities when it goes right.
- “Drive down property prices“. Yet again, so does coal and nuclear.
- “Madden those who live nearby with subsonic humming“. This is fair enough. That’s one point to Delingpole.
- “Drive up energy prices“. Actually, onshore wind costs as much per MW as coal power, and quite a bit less than nuclear power. Offshore wind is more expensive, but it also solves most of the above problems. Whoops, there goes that point.
- “Promote rentseeking, make rich landowners richer (and everyone else poorer), [...] buy more electric sports cars for that dreadful Dale Vince character.” Basically, this comes down to whether you’d rather it was coal power companies or wind power companies who were rich.
- “Ruin views“. No, James, you already did this one with “despoil countryside”. -1 point.
- “Require rare earth minerals which cause enormous environmental damage“. Now, this is a good point. Most of our rare earths at the moment come from China, which until very recently had very lax environmental controls, so the byproducts from mining them is causing environmental damage, and ideally I would rather our rare earths came from more eco-friendly sources. This isn’t just a problem with wind turbines though, it’s a problem with practically every piece of electronics in use today. Rare earth elements are used in making hard-drives, lasers, computer chips, medical images, headphones, guitar pickups and dynamos, not just wind turbines. Besides, once again, oil drilling, coal mining, uranium mining, peat cutting, even making the concrete for dams – all of these have environmental downsides as well. For this to be an argument against wind, you need to show that the damage caused by rare earths is worse than the damage caused by the above.
- “Destroy 3.7 real jobs for every green job they create“. Here’s what Full Fact had to say about that:
However the Verso Economics report was not actually seeking to address indirect benefits or jobs gained through investment in this sector. Further, the BBC reports a spokesman for the Scottish government arguing the report is “misleading”, saying it vastly underestimates the jobs created in the renewables sector and does not consider the impact of private investment. They argue that there is no negative impact on public services or public sector budgets from government support of renewables.
Whether or not these criticisms of the report ring true, there is another potential problem in using its findings to show a net loss of jobs across the UK. The original report does not address the entire UK ‘green’ jobs sector, but is focused on jobs created in the renewables sector in Scotland. Therefore, it is something of an extrapolation, and one in which it is difficult to have full confidence.
- “Blight neighbourhoods“. Pretty sure you’ve already done that one too.
- “Kill off tourism“. In fact, wind turbines have negligible effect on tourism.
- “Ruin lives“. Quite unlike climate change and global warming, which I’m sure has never ruined lives. OH WAIT.
* So let me get this straight. Fake sceptics are sceptical about the things they read, “proper sceptics” blindly regurgitate whatever they read in blogs or press releases into national newspapers without doing even the briefest of fact checks. Good to know.