Climate Nonsense

The USGCRP has just released another report that has been trumpeted by the mainstream media as showing that increased risk and peril are upon us. According to report, “The Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) … provides a detailed analysis of how climate change is affecting the physical earth system across the United States.”

The report is long on a scary narrative but short on clear supporting factual data. It claims the “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future.”

If we are to believe this narrative, temperatures are climbing at an unprecedented rate, hurricanes are becoming more severe, and sea level rise is increasing and represents a greater threat to coastal areas–all of which represent an unprecedented risk. Dr. Roy Spencer, one of the developers of our satellite measurement system, regularly publishes a global temperature update. The following chart shows that average temperatures for the past two decades are not rising. The evidence of the post 1998 pause is clearly evident.

There is also a contention that hurricanes are increasing in intensity and frequency. NOAA’s Hurricane Data Center publishes hurricane data as far back as 1850. These data completely contradict the report’s assertions. Looking at the actual data brings to mind, Groucho Marx’s question, “are you going to believe your lying eyes or what I tell you.” The claim is made that Hurricane Michael is an indicator of what to expect in the future because of the warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico. But here again, the data contradict the narrative. The Gulf’s temperature at the time of Michael was not especially warm nor unusual. The average Gulf temperature can vary by + or – 5 to 7 degrees in the September to October time period. Roy Spencer also recently pointed out that 7 of the warmest Gulf years since 1860 took place before 1970.

With so much coastal development, there is legitimate concern about the rise in sea level. The report claims that since 1993 sea level has been rising at twice the 0.05 inch per year during the 20th century. But this assertion is contradicted by Figure 3-14 in the IPCC’s recent AR-5 report


Left unsaid are some embarrassing facts. Sea level has been rising for the past 16,000 years, the end of the last ice age. Every reputable oceanographer admits that it will continue to rise until the next one. The impact of human caused warming is on top of the natural rise that has been taking place. While advocates provide what appear to be precise measurements of sea level rise, they are just guessing because we lacked reasonably precise measurements before 1993. Even though satellite measurements are more precise they still require adjustments for atmospheric water vapor, orbits tides, and wave height biases, among other factors that can impact their accuracy. There is also the effect of subsidence.

The Special Report calls for urgent action to avoid the serious consequences of climate change and the action called for is the reduction in CO2 emissions. Unfortunately for the authors, they conveniently overlooked the fact that US CO2 emissions peaked in 2007 and have been on a downward trajectory since then. The reduction in emissions is even more impressive given the fact that population has grown 9% and the economy more than 40%. The USGCRP would better serve the interests of the nation if it focused on reducing important uncertainties in our understanding of the climate system and in improving both data quality and the models that use the data.

A Bootleggers Reward

It is well known in Richmond Virginia that Dominion Energy is the state’s leading bootlegger. This was once again demonstrated in a recent order from the State Corporation Commission allowing it to build two offshore wind turbines in spite of the Project “As a purely factual matter (the project) would not be deemed prudent.”

According to Professor Bruce Yandle—the originator of the Bootlegger and Baptist theory of public choice—a bootlegger is a “public interest group that can speak from the moral high ground when endorsing new rules and restrictions.” A bootlegger pursues economic gain by embracing regulations and laws that appear to serve the public interest.

The Virginia legislature passed a bill, signed by the governor, setting a state objective of generating 5000 megawatts of solar and wind power by 2028. This was championed by environmental advocates as a way to respond to climate change by suppressing coal and natural gas in the generation of electrical power. This legislation has become a $300 million gift to Dominion Energy that will be paid by Dominion’s customers.

Dominion claims that this is a “demonstration project,” a characterization that can be used to justify its high cost. According to the State Corporation Commission, the two turbines to be built will produce electrical power at a cost of 78 cents per kilowatt hour. This compares with 9.4 for on shore wind power and about 20 times what electrical power can be bought on the open market. The Commission also points out that other utility companies have signed agreements with outside developers instead of undertaking an engineering project that places all of the risks on its customers.
Of course, if Dominion signed an agreement to purchase energy, it wouldn’t be able to add $300 million to its rate base and earn a guaranteed profit. The only thing that this “demonstration project” will demonstrate is the corruption of monopoly power and the validity of the Bootlegger and Baptist theory. Dominion is doing a remarkable job of representing the interests of its shareholders but who is representing the interests of its rate payers? It certainly isn’t the General Assembly that has legalized pickpocketing.

It is accepted that legislation involves deal making that ends up redistributing tax payer dollars but in this instance, Dominion is showing unbridled greed.

The Carbon Tax Scam

Anyone who questions the validity of Bruce Yandle’s Bootlegger and Baptist theory of Public Choice needs to look no further than the Climate Leadership Council and its carbon dividend proposal which is now be flacked by Americans for Carbon Dividends—AFCD—which is co-chaired by former Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott.

The carbon dividend proposal, designed by James Baker and George Shultz, would impose a carbon tax—they call it a fee– on all fossil fuels and then rebate the revenue on an equally to all Americans on a monthly basis. The program would be administered by the Social Security System. The implementation of the carbon tax would lead to the phasing out of regulations that are intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This proposal is supported by major corporations and distinguished Americans such as Ben Bernanke, Martin Feldstein, and of course, James Baker and George Shultz. On the surface the proposal appears quite reasonable. It is not. To quote, erroneously, Yogi Berra, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”

The flaws in the proposal are many. To begin with the carbon tax is based on an assessment of the damages caused by using fossil fuels—the Social Cost of Carbon. Damages are derived from complex Integrated Assessment Models –IAM. MIT’s Robert Pindyck said “IAM-based analyses of climate policy create a perception of knowledge and precision that is illusory, and can fool policy-makers into thinking that the forecasts the models generate have some kind of scientific legitimacy.” He also said that “calling these models close to useless is being generous. “The reason for such harsh criticism is that many of the parameters and functional forms contained in models are arbitrary. The damage function tied to the relationship between temperature increases and GDP is based on climate sensitivity which we know very little about. The IPCC sensitivity estimated range varies by a factor of three.

So, why do economists and corporations support something derived by piling assumptions on top of assumptions? Economists rightly believe that a market based solution to climate change is preferable to command and control regulations, even if damages are uncertain and the size of a carbon tax is as well. CO2 emissions are seen as a bad, so taxing them is good and the tax will stimulate innovation. In the case of corporations, they realize that Congress will not enact a clean and simple tax and legislation to eliminate CO2 regulations. Politics will shape the size of the tax and its implementing legislation. Corporations want to “be at the table” as legislation is drafted and also get the PR benefits of supporting action to solve the climate change problem. Having two former senior senators leading the advocacy campaign will provide the “seat at the table”.

The carbon dividends scheme is a perfect example of the Bootlegger and Baptist theory. The whole thing is a scam!

Sea Level Rise: A Little Perspective

According to the recently released Climate Change Research Program report–CSSR—“ global average sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900. … Human-caused climate change has made a substantial contribution to this rise since 1900, contributing to a rate of rise that is greater than during any preceding century in at least 2,800 years. ….Global average sea levels are expected to continue to rise—by at least several inches in the next 15 years and by 1–4 feet by 2100. A rise of as much as 8 feet by 2100 cannot be ruled out. “

This assessment is consistent with the conclusion of the most recent IPCC report: “Over the period 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m. (7+inches) The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia.”

These conclusions are both definitive and scary. They bring to mind pictures that have been published of the Washington Monument and New York City being seriously flooded. But such certitude goes well beyond what we know.

Raising a cautionary warning often results in being labeled a skeptic who is a tool of the fossil fuel industry. While that is a diversionary tactic, that reality makes it important to support caution with sources who are not viewed as skeptics and who are above reproach.

One such source is Professor Carl Wunsch, recognized as one of the world’s leading oceanographers. He is on the MIT and Harvard faculties In a briefing to EPA, he made a number of points that undermine expressions of certitude. “Sea level has been rising for about 16,000 years. In the last interglacial (period) it appears to have been a few meters higher than today.” According to Wunsch, sea level measurements have to be divided into two periods—before and after 1992 when satellite altimeters became the measurement technique of choice. Before 1992, attempts to determine average sea level changes relied on tide gauges and changes in temperature and salinity. But these attempts have been controversial because of the distribution of measurements, calibration of the devices, and interpretation of density changes.

While altimetry is the most accurate way to measure sea level changes, it is not without its own challenges. These include atmospheric factors, orbits, tides, and rotation wobble among others. Correcting these requires a high degree of accuracy to avoid interpretive errors.

Given the array of measurement challenges mentioned by Wunsch, he cautioned, “Global mean sea level is almost surely rising. Historical data are not adequate to compute accurate global averages. No mathematical trick compensates for missing data. Present multidecadal estimates of global averages have an element of fantasy about them.”

Last year, NOAA published a paper on sea level rise–NOAA—that contained a range for sea level rise in 2100 that went from a low of less than .5 meters to 2.5 meters. The importance of the NOAA estimate is that it demonstrates how complicated understanding of the ocean is and the uncertainties involved in predicting future sea levels. A major uncertainty is ice sheet melts. Perhaps the best example of that uncertainty is the variability that the IPCC puts around ice sheet melt in Antarctica. The error bars show that the ice sheet could grow as well as lose mass. In addition to melt, climate conditions like El Nino can cause a rise in levels at shorelines for months at a time and subsidence can also cause a higher sea level where it occurs

There are two lessons to be drawn that apply to more than sea level rise. First, projections about the distant future should be made with a great deal of humility. Second, when someone make a specific projection with great certitude, you can be certain that they are trying to persuade; not educate.