Archive for category Climate change
As you may have heard, there’s currently a climate conference taking place in Cancún, Mexico. As you may also have heard, it’s snowing.
If, last week, frozen behind a snowdrift, you heard a faint hysterical squeaking, it might well have been the sound of those 20,000 delegates holed up behind a wall of armed security guards in the sun-drenched Mexican holiday resort of Cancun, telling each other that the world is more threatened by runaway global warming than ever.
Yes, it’s the classic “If global warming is real why is it cold?” argument from Christopher Booker, blithely ignoring the fact that 2010 is set to be one of the hottest years on record (and 2000-2009 was the hottest decade on record) regardless of what the weather is like for one week on a small northerly island. To be fair, this isn’t his only argument (even if he does return to the subject three more times in the space of the column). After all, he also has “If the oceans are getting more acidic, why are they still alkaline?”
Far from the oceans acidifying, their pH currently ranges between 7.9 and 8.3, putting them very firmly on the alkaline side of the threshold, at 7.0.
Of course, the fact that the seas are alkaline doesn’t mean they can’t be less alkaline than they were years ago. And sure enough, according to the Australian Antarctic Division:
CO2 from human activities has caused the pH of ocean surface waters to drop by 0.11 pH units. This might not sound like much, but it is equivalent to a 30% increase in acidity.*
Ocean acidification is never going to turn the oceans completely acidic – that would require a 1580% rise in ocean acidity, which is a bit unlikely. What acidification will do – and what it has already done, in fact – is bring acidity up just enough to interfere with creatures like coral, which rely on the precise chemistry of the ocean to produce their skeletons.
His other argument?
It is only those same old computer models that predict that Tuvalu and the Maldives are about to drown, when real measurements show the sea around them not to be rising at all.
It’s true that one dataset from Tuvalu did appear to show no sea level rise. Unfortunately (for both Booker and the Tuvaluans) that data was taken from a single station over a relatively short period and presented without uncertainties, making it effectively meaningless. Analysis of more data from Tuvalu (PDF, p.11) finds a sea level rise of 1.2 ± 0.8 mm/year. The uncertainty in the data is still quite large (not least because the island of Tuvalu itself is moving by a small but unknown amount), but there certainly appears to be a sea level rise. At any rate, regardless of whether or not the sea level is rising at Tuvalu right now, it’s certainly rising worldwide at a rate which threatens people living in low-lying land.
The global warming scare may have been fun for the children while it lasted. But the time has come for the joke to be declared well and truly over.
Incidentally, Booker finishes off his column with a link to some people singing Handel’s Hallelujah in a food court which, he claims, is “the very opposite of all that is stood for by global warming, social workers, the European Union, the Coalition Government and the rest of this column’s usual fare“. Because if there’s one thing environmentalists really hate, it’s people singing.
* pH is a logarithmic measure of acidity, which means that numbers appear to work slightly oddly. A drop of about 0.3 on the pH scale corresponds roughly to a doubling of the activity of H+ ions (the ions that cause acidity), and a drop of 1 (from 8 to 7, for instance) represents a tenfold increase in H+ activity.
The papers aren’t even trying any more. Once upon a time, they might at least pretend they weren’t simply churning out TaxPayers’ Alliance press releases; today’s articles “Council EU jobs cost £41m” (Express) and “Councils spend £41million a year on non-jobs” (Telegraph) however are utterly shameless about it.
First things first: the TaxPayers’ Alliance report (eurgh, I guess I should link to it) found the cost of all “unnecessary” jobs – in other words, any job Richard Littlejohn might disapprove of – was £41 million. That’s not just European Officers, but Diversity Officers, Political Advisers and Climate Change Officers* too.
The report contradicts itself several times: the TPA point to the fact that different councils employ different numbers of staff as an indication of waste – “the disparities across councils are evidence that the hiring of specific staff is not necessary” – only to later state “As proponents of localism, the TaxPayers’ Alliance believes that local authorities should be granted as much freedom as possible to make decisions that benefit local taxpayers. This will inevitably mean that councils will pursue different policy objectives“. So councils should have as much freedom as they like as long as they only use that freedom to do exactly what the TPA wants?
Is climate change simply caused by the Sun getting hotter? A scientific paper (paywalled) in Nature this week has looked at this question, measuring the connection between solar activity and warming. The conclusion they came to?
Over the three-year study period, the observed variations in the solar spectrum have caused roughly as much warming of Earth’s surface as have increases in carbon dioxide emissions, says [Professor Joanna] Haigh. But because solar activity is cyclic it should have no long-term impact on climate, regardless of whether similar spectral changes have occurred during previous solar cycles.
“If the climate were affected in the long term, the Sun should have produced a notable cooling in the first half of the twentieth century, which we know it didn’t,” she says.
So in other words, the Sun goes through warmer and cooler phases, but the planet keeps warming even during the cool phases. Interestingly, it turns out to be coolest when it’s most active – apparently because an active Sun uses its energy to make ultraviolet light (the type of light that causes suntans and skin cancer) instead of infrared light (the type of light that carries heat). Yet more proof that climate change is real and man-made.
How does The Telegraph spin it?
An increase in solar activity from the Sun actually cools the Earth, suggests new research that will renew the debate over the science behind climate change.
The research overturns traditional assumptions about the relationship between the sun and global warming.
Focused on a three-year snapshot of time between 2004 and 2007, the findings will be seized upon by those who believe that man’s role in rises in the earth’s temperature has been overstated.
Eventually, when you reach the sixth paragraph the article does eventually explain that “long term analysis suggests it actually provides further evidence that the heating of the planet is more than a natural, cyclical phenomenon“, but only after hinting to people that the data in fact says the very opposite – an interpretation that even the article itself eventually admits is false.
Sure enough, it looks like the vast majority of readers who’ve left comments stopped reading before that sixth paragraph. There were 207 comments on the article at the time of writing – of those whose position I could clearly discern, 101 were denialist while just 17 were from people were from people who’d read to the bottom of the article. A good chunk of the denialist comments seem to be arguing that climate scientists are so stupid that they didn’t realise the Sun existed until just now, and some of the rest are from people who’ve been confused by the article not explaining why a stronger sun is cooler, but among them are some real treats:
Climate change treaties is the start of World Government. After all, this is how the EU started .
A classic example of girly science.
You cant possibly agree with this,its against Marxist New Labour,Green,we hate mankind,and all the rest of those highly esteemed organisations who have spent our money proving we are to blame,you know,evil mankind!
And the most popular comment, with a +99 recommendation rating?
I think Global Warming shit should be really stopped right now. It’s SO annoying to see those politician telling me what to do and what not to do
Of course that doesn’t mean that everyone who read the article came out of it disbelieving in climate change – after all, denialists are more likely to have something to say on the subject than people who believe in climate change – but it’s still depressing. I’m just waiting for the inevitable Delingpole article now; I wonder whether it’ll turn out this study was carried out by the Bilderberg group or the Illuminati.
(Note: Daily Mail links now go via the wonderful istyosty service, which means that the Mail does not get the advertising revenue from the hits)
The word “uncertainty” has a special meaning in science, quite different to its normal everyday meaning. If I say that I am uncertain about my future, or what to have for tea tonight,* then it might mean that I am “undecided” or “unsure”. If however I do an experiment and I say that there are uncertainties in my data, that does not mean I am undecided or unsure about the results, or that the whole thing was a waste of time.
Instead, all it means is that I realise that my measurements are not – and can never be – 100% precise and accurate. For example, my kitchen scales weigh things in units of grams, so they could tell me the difference between 99 grams of flour and 100 grams, but aren’t precise enough to tell me the difference between 100.1 grams and 100.2 grams. That’s an example of an uncertainty (±0.5 grams in this case), but it’s not one that means that the scales are completely useless; they might not be perfectly accurate but I can still use them to bake a cake.
I say this because apparently the Daily Mail‘s science editor apparently fails to grasp this fairly simple idea:
James Delingpole, the only mainstream journalist to blame global warming on the Bilderberg Illuminati New World Order, has an urgent message: the foundations of Britain’s wind farms are about to collapse!
Where did he get this horrifying news? Well, an anonymous source emailed him a rumour heard from an another anonymous source. Apparently, it’s all extremely serious, which is why the mainstream media, which as we all know absolutely loves wind turbines and will defend them at any cost, is covering it up.* Still, as his source says, that’s what happens “when an industry builds bigger and bigger things without having built up a history of experience on the ones built earlier” since of course the “foundation” is a radical new technology and no-one ever built a tall steel structure before wind turbines came along.
Because even Delingpole admits a single unsourced email isn’t enough to base an entire column on, he also quotes, unchecked, Christopher Brooker’s assertion that nuclear power gives you 13 times as much as power per pound as offshore wind – in fact, it’s only about 1.5 times as much, according to yesterday’s linked Telegraph article, and nuclear power is actually 11% more expensive than onshore wind (and of course, the cost of offshore wind is expected to fall). Apparently his source is a trustworthy-sounding blog called “EU Referendum” (I’m not going to link it – if you want to read it, it’s linked from Delingpole’s article), which in fact claims that for the £1.2 billion that it will cost to run the new 300 MW Thanet windfarm for the next 20 years, you could build a 1 GW nuclear power plant (in itself a dubious claim – exact figures are hard to come by, but this report (PDF, p.32) on the new Hinkley Point C reactor suggests a cost of £4 billion for a 1.6 GW reactor, or about £2.5 billion per gigawatt, twice what Brooker suggests).
Comparing the 20 year running cost of a plant with the construction cost of another is quite obviously misleading. In fact, Thanet cost £900 million to build, which works out at about £3 billion per gigawatt; slightly more than nuclear power, but not much – certainly not 13 times as much. Taking load factors – the percentage of maximum output that the power station usually produces – into account will admittedly bump this up – using the statistics from Renewable UK** it looks like this load factor adjustment brings the cost of the power roughly in line with the findings of the UK Energy Research Centre report from yesterday.
* Delingpole’s claim that “blinkered” mainstream journalists are refusing to criticise wind farms in fact puts me in mind of the Daily Mail worrying that “you can’t talk about immigration“… while devoting acres of newsprint to immigration. Yep, no-one’s talking about the cost of wind power.
** Incidentally, it’s worth reading the Renewable UK site for another reason too – it explains why it’s not really a concern when the wind stops blowing. In a nutshell, other power sources are themselves unreliable – even coal and nuclear plants can break down, after all – and so we need to keep power stations running on “spinning reserve” anyway. These reserve power stations can absorb the slack when the wind isn’t at full strength without producing significantly more pollution.
Edit: Just noticed the picture Delingpole uses of a fallen turbine, with the caption “One down…”. From that, you might think that these mythical foundations have already started to crack… except that in fact that turbine quite clearly fell because the tower bent in high winds, and its collapse had nothing to do with the foundations (and it’s the only turbine to have collapsed so far in England – “one down” indeed).
It’s a shame that the PCC refuse to rule on misleading headlines, because the Daily Mail has a doozy today: Revealed: Wind farm power twice as costly as gas or coal.
If you read that headline, you might assume that means that all wind farms cost twice as much to run as fossil fuel plants. Certainly, that’s the impression the Mail wants to leave you with but, as always, the devil is in the details.
The true cost of Britain’s massive expansion of wind farms has been revealed.
It costs nearly twice as much to generate electricity from an offshore wind farm as it does from a conventional power station, a scientific report has concluded.
And while the price of wind power is expected to fall in the coming decade, the researchers admit there is a slight chance it could rise even further.
Did you spot the giveaway word in there? Yep, in fact this information only deals with offshore wind farms – though the Daily Mail seems to forget this several times and refer to “wind power” unqualified . According to The Telegraph‘s slightly more accurate report, a megawatt hour of offshore wind power costs £149, a megawatt hour of onshore wind power costs £88 and a megawatt hour of coal power costs £80 (though I’d imagine that refers to old-fashioned coal power, not “clean” coal).
The “scientific report” in question is Great Expectations: The cost of offshore wind in UK waters by the UK Energy Research Centre which didn’t conclude that it costs twice as much at all. Instead, working from the initial data that offshore wind power was expensive, the researchers conclusions were that the costs of offshore wind power have been inflated by rising commodities prices, supply chain problems and the shift of the pound against the euro and that government action (encouraging turbine companies to manufacture parts in Britain, building larger ports capable of accepting the gigantic equipment) should be able to bring the prices down.
In other words, a more accurate headline might be “High costs of offshore wind set to fall”, though of course that would involve realising that this is a complicated issue, with lots of economic forces at work, instead of simply saying “Wind power is more expensive! And what do you do when the wind stops blowing, eh?”
Incidentally, the Daily Express‘s take on the report is even more bizarre:
THE £4billion of wind turbines off Britain’s coast still generate less electricity than a conventional power station, a report revealed yesterday.
And the cost of building offshore wind farms has doubled in the past five years to £3million per megawatt.
The UK’s offshore windfarms generate 1,341 MW. I can only find American data, sadly, but according to that, the average output of a coal power plant is 667 MW. So in fact, our offshore wind is generating as much as two average conventional power stations. I suppose by “a conventional power station” they could mean a monster like Drax or Didcot, but in that case the Express is being very misleading.
So apparently The Telegraph has a climate change denialist columnist, one Christopher Booker. The little biography given of him is “Christopher Booker of The Sunday Telegraph exposes the ever-growing power of the European Union in Brussels and the excesses of mad officialdom“. Fairly standard Telegraph fare, though the denialism is a new spin on it. Anyway, today’s column is “Desperate days for the warmists“. Is this going to be another paragraph-by-paragraph takedown? I think it is!
So he opens with a photograph of cattle herders in Chile, surrounded by snow, captioned “Herding cattle in Chile as South America suffers one of its coldest winters for years“. Now seems as good a time as any to drop a link to an awesome website: If Global Warming Is Real Then Why Is It Cold?, a collection of the most inane newspaper cartoons on the subject. Such a stupid argument from cold doesn’t really need refuting at all (average temperatures are increasing, of course there is still variation year on year, etc.), but I would like to point out that in fact South America is in fact particularly at risk from climate change – the glaciers are in retreat, the coastline of Brazil is shrinking and average temperatures are soaring. Don’t forget also that the South American climate is affected strongly by El Niño and La Niña – right now, the colder La Niña appears to be in effect, so the fact Chile is having an unusually cold winter is not surprising at all.
Two stories on climate change today. Both are fairly depressing, though one at least carries a silver lining. The Times reports on Nasa findings that the year 2009-10 was the hottest on record, while The Daily Mail and The Independent both carry articles about a recent discovery that because coral growth is improved by higher sea levels, islands perched around coral reefs have grown, counteracting the effect of the sea level rise; though given the sustained bleaching and die-off of reefs around the world, it’s difficult to say how long this can go on for.
Still, one article of bad news, one of tentative good news, with one thing in common. They both put forward fairly strong proof that climate change is happening. Not that you’d know this from the comments.