Archive | Climate Change

Was a Scientific Journal Canned for Disagreeing with the IPCC?

Copernicus Publications, “the innovative open access publisher,” recently announced it was terminating one of its journals, Pattern Recognition in Physics due to concerns about the journal’s editorial practices.  PRP was not even one year old.  It seems the problems began when the journal’s editors agreed to a special issue on “Pattern in solar variability, their planetary origin and terrestrial impacts,” in which the issue’s editors had the temerity to “doubt the continued, even accelerated, warming as claimed by the IPCC project.”[*]According to the original explanation offered by Martin Rasmussen of Copernicus Publications, as reported by JoNova, the expression of this conclusion was a motivating factor for the “drastic decision” to terminate a journal. A letter to one of the editors also expressed “alarm” that a paper in PRP would question the IPCC.

If Copernicus indeed shuttered a journal because of disagreement with the conclusions expressed in a published paper, it would be quite shameful.  But is that what happened? In a revised statement, Rasmussen notes “the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis, which we regard as malpractice in scientific publishing and not in accordance with our publication ethics we expect to be followed by the editors.” Whatever the merits of the papers at issue (and even some climate skeptics were unimpressed), it appears that PRP did violate accepted peer review norms in producing the special issue — as Anthony Watts details here — and concerns were raised about the journal last year.  So it appears Copernicus did have sufficient grounds to reconsider its production of PRP.  Given the wording of Rasmussen’s initial statement, however, questions remain about what prompted the publisher’s decision.

[* The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN-sponsored, intergovernmental entity that produces periodic reports on climate change.]

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Hoffer is Confused About the Implications of Falsifying Climate Models

At Watts Up With That, David M. Hoffer has an odd essay on peer review:

[I]s the notion of climate science today as easily falsified by simple observation? I submit that it is. We have the climate models themselves to upon which to rely.

For what are the climate models other than the embodiment of the peer reviewed science? Is there a single model cited by the IPCC that claims to not be based on peer reviewed science? Of course there isn’t. Yet simple observation shows that the models, and hence the peer reviewed literature upon which they are based, are wrong. We have none other than the IPCC themselves to thank for showing us that.
The leaked Second Order Draft of IPCC AR5 laid bare the failure of the models to predict the earth’s temperature going forward in time. In fact, if one threw out all but the best 5% of the model results…they would still be wrong, and obviously so. They all run hotter than reality. Exposed for the world to see that the models (and hence the science upon which they are based) had so utterly failed, the IPCC responded by including older models they had previously declared obsolete as now being part of the current literature.

. . .

No longer is the debate in regard to if the models are wrong. The debate is now about why the models are wrong. The models having fallen, the peer reviewed science they purport to represent falls with them.

While Hoffer is correct that we now have enough data to know that most prior climate models are wrong, his logic is faulty. His main argument is that if the models are wrong and if they are based on the peer-reviewed literature, then the peer-reviewed literature [...]

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Mann v. Steyn Mulligan

On December 19, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals effectively erased Michael Mann’s initial court victory in his defamation lawsuit against Mark Steyn, National Review, Rand Simberg and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Here’s how Mark Steyn pithily summarizes the developments:

1. Dr Michael Mann’s lawyer, John Williams, filed a fraudulent complaint falsely representing his client as a Nobel Laureate, and accusing us of the hitherto unknown crime of defaming a Nobel Laureate.
2. After Charles C W Cooke and others exposed Dr Mann’s serial misrepresentation of himself as a Nobel Prize winner, Mann’s counsel decided to file an amended complaint with the Nobel falsehood removed.
3. Among her many staggering incompetences, DC Superior Court judge Natalia Combs-Greene then denied NR’s motion to dismiss the fraudulent complaint while simultaneously permitting Mann’s lawyers to file an amended complaint.
4. The appellate judges have now tossed out anything relating to Mann’s original fraudulent complaint, including Judge Combs-Greene’s unbelievably careless ruling in which the obtuse jurist managed to confuse the defendants, and her subsequent ruling in which she chose to double-down on her own stupidity. Anything with Combs-Greene’s name on it has now been flushed down the toilet of history.
5. So everyone is starting afresh with a new judge, a new complaint from the plaintiff, and new motions to dismiss from the defendants. That’s the good news.
6. The bad news is that Mann’s misrepresentation of himself as a Nobel Laureate and Combs-Greene’s inept management of her case means that all parties have racked up significant six-figure sums just to get back to square one. In a real courthouse – in London, Toronto, Dublin, Singapore, Sydney – Dr Mann would be on the hook for what he has cost all the parties through his fraudulent complaint. But, this being quite the most

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How a Talking Point Is Born: $1 Billion Against Action on Climate Change

“Conservative groups spend up to $1bn a year to fight action on climate change,” reads the headline of an article in the Guardian on a new study, that purports to show the extent of foundation funding opposing action on climate change. Only the study shows no such thing.

The study, “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations” by Robert Brulle, was published last Friday in Climatic Change. For this study, Brulle identified 91 organizations that oppose the imposition of emission controls on greenhouse gases (the “Climate Change Counter Movement” or CCCM), and totaled up their entire annual operating budgets, without regard to whether climate or environmental matters generally represent a significant portion of each organization’s work. The study then trumpets the resulting number — $900 million per year from 2003 to 2010 — as if this represents the size and extent of think tank and advocacy group opposition to climate change policies. This is ridiculous, as many of the organizations listed, such as the American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution, and Heritage Foundation, spend only a tiny fraction of their budget on climate policy. AEI’s revenue in 2009, for instance, was $28.8 million.  Yet AEI does relatively little on environmental issues, let alone on climate change. Moreover, during the period examined in Brulle’s study, AEI published work supporting action on climate change (see, e.g., here). The Brulle study also details foundation funding for these organizations, again as if every dollar given by conservative foundations to these groups has something to do with climate policy, when it is easy to show this is not the case.

The point of studies like this is to sustain a narrative that environmentalist organizations are out-gunned by a sinister network of well-funded conservative organizations.  Sure, outfits [...]

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Climate Change Goes Back to Court

This morning, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. This is quite significant. Although the grant is limited, it focuses on one of the most important legal questions raised by this litigation, and puts some of the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources in play.

Harvard’s Richard Lazarus comments:

The Court’s jurisdictional ruling is significant in terms of both what the Court granted and did not grant. The regulations the Court has agreed to review represent the Obama Administration’s first major rulemaking to address the emissions of greenhouse gases from major stationary sources across the country. At the same time, the Court declined to review EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles endanger public health and welfare and therefore has left intact the government’s current regulation of motor vehicles emissions to address climate change.

I largely agree, but would go farther in certain respects.

Here’s some background (see also my prior posts here and here). Various states, industry groups, and activist organizations had filed cert petitions – nine in total – and others filed amicus briefs (including yours truly) urging the Court to take this case. The Court was asked to consider many different questions, but only agreed to consider one of its own devising. Specifically, the Court granted six of the nine petitions and agreed to consider the following question: “Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.” In other words, the Court wants to know whether the EPA was required to apply Section 165 and Title V of the Act [...]

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Conservatives and Environmental Regulation

There is fairly broad opposition to centralized environmental regulation within the Republican Party today.  Conservative activists in particular focus their ire on the Environmental Protection Agency and federal efforts to maintain or enhance environmental quality.  It was not always so.  The American conservation movement has roots on the right side of the political spectrum and much of today’s environmental architecture was erected under Republican leadership.  President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency while President Bush (41) supported and signed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the most expansive (and expensive) piece of environmental legislation to date.  Today Republicans in Congress are fairly united in their opposition to using the 1990 Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.

Judith Layzer’s Open for Business: Conservatives’ Opposition to Environmental Regulation chronicles the rise of anti-regulatory conservatism. I review Layzer’s book in the Summer issue of The New Atlantis. As Layzer notes, the fervor anti-regulatory sentiment on the political right has not been matched by a commitment to developing alternative approaches to environmental protection. Indeed, it seems that many conservatives are content to accept that regulatory stringency and expansiveness is a sound proxy for environmental protectiveness. This is one reason that anti-regulatory conservatism has not been particularly successful politically.

Anti-regulatory rhetoric may be pervasive, but federal environmental regulation has continued to expand, under Democratic and Republican presidents alike. Anti-regulatory conservatives have been able to stem the tide of regulatory initiatives, but only for a time. The failure to develop and advance non-regulatory alternatives to environmental problems has compromised efforts to constrain the EPA’s regulatory authority. There are plenty of Americans who are suspicious of federal regulation, but they nonetheless prefer federal environmental regulation to no environmental protection at all.

The failure of anti-regulatory conservatism is on [...]

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EPA Proposes New Carbon Standards for Power Plants

Today the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing carbon dioxide emission standards for new power plants that will, in effect, bar the construction of new coal-fired power plants without costly carbon capture technology.  The proposed standards would require both natural gas and coal-fired power plants to meet stringent new limits — limits that most new natural gas plants can meet, but that are not (yet) met by any coal-fired plant in regular operation.  At present, the average U.S. coal plant emits over 1,700 pounds CO2 per megawatt-hour (Co2/MWh).   The average natural gas plant emits around 850 lbs CO2/MWh.  Although the new rule sets slightly different thresholds for coal and gas plants (and distinguishes between smaller and larger gas plants), if finalized, all power plants would have to meet an emission standard of 1,100-1,000 lbs. CO2/MWh. Here’s a graphic illustrating the standards.

As the Washington Post reports, the standard (if finalized) is sure to be challenged in court.  The relevant statutory provision provides that the EPA should set a

standard for emissions of air pollutants which reflects the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emission reduction which (taking into account the cost of achieving such reduction and any nonair quality health and environmental impact and energy requirements) the Administrator determines has been adequately demonstrated.

The problem is that the only coal-fired power plant capable of meeting the new standard is a federally funded demonstration project set to open next year at which carbon capture and sequestration may be easier (and less expensive) than at other plants.  In the alternative, the only way to meet the standard would be to use natural gas instead of coal.

If the rule is finalized in its present form, coal interests will sue.  At issue will be whether such a [...]

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Could Global Warming Reduce the Threat Posed by Atlantic Hurricanes?

National Geographic reports on a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that suggests that climatic warming could actually reduce the likelihood that hurricanes make landfall along the Atlantic Coast.  Here’s the abstract:

Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States, costing a great number of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Whether events like Sandy will become more frequent as anthropogenic greenhouse gases continue to increase remains an open and complex question. Here we consider whether the persistent large-scale atmospheric patterns that steered Sandy onto the coast will become more frequent in the coming decades. Using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5 multimodel ensemble, we demonstrate that climate models consistently project a decrease in the frequency and persistence of the westward flow that led to Sandy’s unprecedented track, implying that future atmospheric conditions are less likely than at present to propel storms westward into the coast.

The NatGeo story notes that not all scientists are convinced.  It is worth noting, however, that neither landfall frequency nor hurricane intensity in the U.S. increased over the past century, as Roger Pielke Jr. recently testified.

UPDATE: At DotEarth Andrew Revkin reports that the IPCC seems to be backing off claims of a potential connection between hurricane trends and anthropogenic contributions to climate change. [...]

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Mann v. Steyn — Mann Wins Round One

Last year, the noted (and controversial) climate scientist Michael Mann sued National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress for blog posts written by Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg and posted on National Review Online and CEI’s OpenMarket blog, respectively.  I blogged about the case in these four posts: 1, 2, 3, 4.  Because the suit was filed in D.C. Superior Court, it was subject to D.C.’s anti-SLAPP statute, which is designed to discourage nuisance defamation suits.  Accordingly, the defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint.  On July 19, Judge Natalia Combs-Greene of the D.C. Superior Court denied these motions.  Barring a reconsideration or interlocutory review, this case could head to trial.

In her two orders (NRO/Steyn, CEI/Simberg), Judge Combs-Greene characterizes the this as a “close case.”  She recognizes Mann qualifies as a “public figure,” at least in the context of climate policy debates.  This requires that Mann show that the allegedly defamatory comments were made with actual malice — i.e. actual knowledge that the allegdly defamatory claims were false or reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the claims made.  Despite this high burden, Judge Combs-Greene ruled against the defendants on their motion to dismiss. In her view, both sets of defendants made statements that alleged or implied facts that could be defamatory or otherwise actionable, e.g. that Mann engaged in fraud or other disreputable conduct. She further concluded that, despite the “slight” evidence of actual malice “at this stage” of the litigation, “[t]here is however sufficient evidence to demonstrate some malice or the knowledge that the statements were false or made with reckless disregard as to whether the statements were false.”  As discovery could produce sufficient evidence to support a claim of [...]

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How Not to Convince Republicans to Address Climate Change

It’s fair to say that only one political party today considers climate change to be a problem worth addressing. As readers know, I wish it were otherwise and believe there is a conservative case for addressing climate change.  I welcome others to this cause. This NYT op-ed, “A Republican Case for Climate Action,” is not the sort of thing that will help.  The article is by four former EPA Administrators who served in Republican Administrations: William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly, and Christine Todd Whitman.  Neither the message nor the messengers are likely to have much influence with a Republican audience.   It’s a case study of how not to try and influence people with differing political priorities.

Let’s start with the authors. Yes, all four served Republican Presidents, but none are known as Republican leaders or are particularly influential in Republican circles. Indeed, it’s not clear they should all even be identified as Republicans. Whitman may still give money to liberal Republicans, but her co-authors are regular contributors to Democratic campaigns. Reilly, for instance, may have given a primary contribution to Mitt Romney in 2011, but according to OpenSecrets.org the remainder of his recent political contributions have all gone to Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren (who, one should recall, was running against one of the more liberal GOP Senators). Thomas and Ruckelshaus appear to give to both sides. However one wishes to characterize these four, it would not be as “respected GOP leaders” and they are not likely to carry much weight in politically active GOP circles.

Then there’s the substance of the argument, little of which is responsive to Republican concerns about the size of government or cost and intrusiveness of federal regulation. The four suggest that a carbon tax would be a relatively efficient way to reduce [...]

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Shultz and Becker Urge Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax

Former Secretary of State George Shultz and Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker take to the pages of the WSJ to urge a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

we propose a measure that could go a long way toward leveling the playing field: a revenue-neutral tax on carbon, a major pollutant. A carbon tax would encourage producers and consumers to shift toward energy sources that emit less carbon—such as toward gas-fired power plants and away from coal-fired plants—and generate greater demand for electric and flex-fuel cars and lesser demand for conventional gasoline-powered cars.

We argue for revenue neutrality on the grounds that this tax should be exclusively for the purpose of leveling the playing field, not for financing some other government programs or for expanding the government sector. And revenue neutrality means that it will not have fiscal drag on economic growth.

They recommend that revenue neutrality be achieved by fully rebating proceeds from the tax, and doing so in the most direct and transparent way possible — both good ideas. Their piece also urges the elimination of loan guarantees and other attempts by the federal government to play venture capitalist in the energy sector. Now if only they’d endorse prizes too. [...]

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The “Marcott Mess”

A recent paper in Science  reconstructing climate records for the Holocene received substantial media attention because it showed a gradual cooling for several thousand years followed by a dramatic uptick in temperature in the past 100 years. This uptick seemed to replicate the blade of Michael Mann’s “hockey stick,” and was highlighted in media reports on the study.  Not so fast.  In response to questions about the study’s methodology, one of the study’s authors has acknowledged that the study’s conclusions with regard to the past 100 years are not reliable.  In a “Q&A” posted on the RealClimate blog, Harvard’s Jeremy Shakun says: “the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes.”  In other words, the study may tell us something about the Holocene, but it doesn’t tell us much of anything about the past 100 years.  But then why didn’t the press release about the study or any of the news reports on the study say so? Why didn’t the authors clarify this point with reporters until now? Roger Pielke Jr. discusses why this is important. More from Andrew Revkin here.

No, this does not show that climate change is a scientific fraud.  What it does show, however, is that some are willing to “sex up” climate science findings to feed sensational media coverage, and end up undermining confidence in climate science.  Given that there is still much we do not know about climate change — including why mean global temperature has been flat for the past ten years — undermining confidence in climate science can (further) undermine its ability to inform policy.  Climate science has taken some significant hits in the past few years.  It doesn’t need any more. [...]

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Prizes to Change the World

Andy Kessler argues that the greater use of technology-inducement prizes could reap dramatic social benefits — far greater benefits that the sorts of prizes given out to recognize past achievement.  On the recently awarded Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences.

This type of prize is commendable, its generosity admirable. But it prompts a question: Will such a prize actually spur innovation or do anything to help society? Or will it be like those given to MacArthur Fellows, who receive $500,000 over five years? Last year the MacArthur winners included a marine ecologist and a stringed-instrument bow maker. Good for the winners, good for those giving out the money. For the rest of us? Not so much.

But what do you expect from a prize without a contest? Human psyche gets rewarded via vanity (read Nobel, Oscars). Yet economies and entrepreneurs need the incentives of a good old-fashioned contest. . . .

. I’m not one to tell someone else how to give away money, but . . . let’s have a real contest with some serious prize money. Sergey Brin is worth $23 billion and Mark Zuckerberg $13 billion. If they really want to have an impact on society—beyond the societal wealth already created by Google and Facebook—offer a billion-dollar BrinZuck prize to prevent or stop Alzheimer’s, or to regenerate spinal cords and organs, or to cure obesity. Instead of small-ball academic researchers vying for grants from the National Institutes of Health, you’d get entrepreneurs coming out of the woodwork trying innovative approaches to win a $1 billion jackpot. Or maybe the challenge could be to create personal jet packs. Or neuron downloads. Whatever—but something BHA. [Big, hairy and audacious.]

This is the sort of approach the federal government (and private philanthropists) should take toward alternative energy.  Meaningful greenhouse gas [...]

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D.C. Circuit Rejects Challenges to Polar Bear Listing

This morning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit handed down a unanimous opinion rejecting both industry and environmentalist group challenges to the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to list the polar as a “threatened” species.  Environmentalist groups argued the FWS should have listed the polar bear as “endangered.  Industry groups and their allies thought the polar bear should not have been listed at all.  Applying the highly deferential review that is customary in these sorts of cases, the panel had little difficulty dispatching both sides’ claims.  While there are some questions about the FWS’ critical habitat designation for the polar bear, which was thrown out by a federal district court judge in separate litigation, my sense is that the D.C. Circuit got this one right.  A federal agency’s assessment of the relevant scientific literature is due substantial deference.

I have prior posts on the polar bear listing and litigation here, here, and here.  See also this article from The New Atlantis. [...]

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Is the Climate Less Sensitive than We Thought?

At DotEarth, Andrew Revkin summarizes recent research that is leading to some to conclude that the climate is less sensitive to greenhouse forcing than previously thought.  He writes:

on one critically important metric — how hot the planet will get from a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration of greenhouse gases, a k a “climate sensitivity” — some climate researchers with substantial publication records are shifting toward the lower end of the warming spectrum.

There’s still plenty of global warming and centuries of coastal retreats in the pipeline, so this is hardly a “benign” situation, as some have cast it.

But while plenty of other climate scientists hold firm to the idea that the full range of possible outcomes, including a disruptively dangerous warming of more than 4.5 degrees C. (8 degrees F.), remain in play, it’s getting harder to see why the high-end projections are given much weight. . . .

The reason it’s worth working to clarify what’s going on is that a lower climate sensitivity could substantially expand the timescale on which decarbonization of humanity’s energy menu would need to take place to blunt climate change. This could raise the odds of a Thornton Wilder ending to our “large-scale geophysical experiment.”

This does not mean we should stop worrying about global warming.  As I’ve noted before, even if a doubling of carbon-dioxide-equivalent will produce warming at the low end of conventional projections, it is still a serious concern (even from a libertarian perspective).  But it’s also important to get the science right, and not base policy on exaggerated fears or implausible scenarios.  And more importantly, given the enormous difficulty of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in the near-to-medium term, it would be good news if the rate and [...]

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