NYT Opens Climate Can of Worms

 

Fishermen often discovered how easy it was to open a can of bait worms, and how difficult it was to close them. Once the worms discovered an opportunity to escape, it became nearly impossible to keep them contained. Some experts say the metaphor is a modern extension of Pandora’s Box.

In a previous post NYT Readers Face Diversity I provided a background for New York Times newest columnist Bret Stephens, with emphasis on his climate change commentary.

Now his first column published in NYT appears Climate of Complete Certainty, an invitation to examine the facts about climate change. Excerpts below.

We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.

We ought to know this by now, but we don’t. Instead, we respond to the inherent uncertainties of data by adding more data without revisiting our assumptions, creating an impression of certainty that can be lulling, misleading and often dangerous. Ask Clinton.

With me so far? Good. Let’s turn to climate change.

Last October, the Pew Research Center published a survey on the politics of climate change. Among its findings: Just 36 percent of Americans care “a great deal” about the subject. Despite 30 years of efforts by scientists, politicians and activists to raise the alarm, nearly two-thirds of Americans are either indifferent to or only somewhat bothered by the prospect of planetary calamity.

Why? The science is settled. The threat is clear. Isn’t this one instance, at least, where 100 percent of the truth resides on one side of the argument?

Well, not entirely. As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.” The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren’t.

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly.

By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. They shouldn’t, because there’s another lesson here — this one for anyone who wants to advance the cause of good climate policy. As Revkin wisely noted, hyperbole about climate “not only didn’t fit the science at the time but could even be counterproductive if the hope was to engage a distracted public.”

Let me put it another way. Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

Conclusion

I’ve taken the epigraph for this column from the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who knew something about the evils of certitude. Perhaps if there had been less certitude and more second-guessing in Clinton’s campaign, she’d be president. Perhaps if there were less certitude about our climate future, more Americans would be interested in having a reasoned conversation about it.

New York Post (here) covers the nastiness of responses to Stephens’ first column. Stephens compares the blowback to what he got from Trump fans: “After 20 months of being harangued by bullying Trump supporters, I’m reminded that the nasty left is no different. Perhaps worse,” Stephens tweeted Friday afternoon, as the hateful messages kept rolling in.  New York Times used to be a “safe space”, maybe now not so much.

Bret Stephens

Footnote:

Whenever I see those graphs of climate models projections, it reminds me of worms escaping.

Climate Evangelists Are Taking Over Your Local Weather Forecast

The battle by alarmists for hearts and minds is extending to many fronts, including recruiting family doctors, and in the case of this post, media weather reporters. Surveys have shown the meteorologists are not more convinced of global warming/climate change than is the American public (a slight majority). But efforts have been underway to convert them and use their telecasts and columns to promote climatism.

A balanced and analytical report appears in Bloomberg (an interesting place for such independent thinking).  Climate Evangelists Are Taking Over Your Local Weather Forecast Excerpts below.

Amber Sullins gets a minute or two to tell up to two million people about some extremely complicated science, using the tools of her trade: a pleasant voice, a green screen, and small icons denoting sun, clouds, rain, and wind. She is the chief meteorologist at ABC15 News in Phoenix, so her forecasts mostly call for sunshine. Within this brief window, however, Sullins sometimes manages to go beyond the next five days. Far beyond.

Amber Sullins, weather reporter at ABC15 News in Phoenix.

“We know climate change could affect everything about the way we live in the future, from agriculture and tourism to productivity and local business,” she once noted. “But at what cost?”

It was a 35-second segment in a nightly newscast, a mundane moment preceding reports about three fallen firefighters in Washington state and a dangerous development for air travelers. But that climate-focused scene, and hundreds of others like it playing out at local news stations across the country, marks a major shift in the way Americans hear about climate change. The safe and familiar on-air meteorologist, with little notice by viewers, has become a public diplomat for global warming.

There are about 500 broadcasters like Sullins and Morales, who each receive regular data dumps and ready-to-use graphics from Climate Matters, an organization whose mission is to turn TV meteorologists into local climate educators. The program was founded in 2010 by Climate Central, a research-and-journalism nonprofit, with help from George Mason University, the American Meteorological Society, and others. Newscasters who participate are sent possible topics for climate-related segments every week, with TV-ready data and graphics pegged to large-scale meteorological events, such as unusually high heat or precipitation, local trends, or seasonal themes.

Two-thirds of 18- to 64-year-olds in the U.S. watch a news broadcast, either on TV or a digital device, at least once a week, according to 2015 research by the market research company SmithGeiger LLC. Nearly 40 percent of people within this wide age group watch broadcast news on daily basis, and the reliable presence of an on-air meteorologist is a huge part of the draw.

“Local TV news wouldn’t exist any more if it weren’t for the weathercasts,” says Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

Part of meteorologists’ reluctance to talk about the climate stems from the treacherous tools of their trade. Meteorologists learn very quickly that weather models are messy. Some no doubt sour on finicky climate models because of this experience. If short-term weather models make mistakes, it may seem reasonable to assume that a model projecting into the next century is ridiculous.

“Meteorologists are used to looking at models and being burned,” says Paul Douglas, a former TV weatherman-turned-serial entrepreneur, who recently published a book on climate change and faith.

Sullins, 34, knows there’s tension in telling her viewers about conditions in the 22nd century when she is reluctant to commit to a two-week forecast. “I can’t tell you what the high temperature is going to be on July 4 of this year, today,” Sullins says. “I can’t possibly tell you that. But I can tell you, based on climate, that in July, here in Phoenix, it’s going to be over 100 degrees. That’s easy.”

Her point is that weather and climate are “two entirely different beasts.” It’s like the difference between someone’s mood and disposition, Sullins says. She wants viewers of the nightly news to spend more time thinking about the planet’s disposition.

Summary

The PR campaign continues and intensifies with simplistic soundbites to persuade people to fear the future, in order to advance the anti-fossil fuel agenda. It is a Chinese water torture program well-funded and essential to the climate crisis industry.

But note the logical fallacy in Sullins’ statement above. She says: “I can tell you, based on climate, that in July, here in Phoenix, it’s going to be over 100 degrees.” That’s not climate change, that’s climate stability, something we depend on despite the fear-mongering.

How will viewers respond to this?  Will ratings improve by watching weather people jumping the shark? (It didn’t work for “Happy Days” TV show).  Or will people resent the attempted brainwashing and switch channels?

Footnote:

The hottest temperatures ever reported in Phoenix came in January 2015, when Fox 10 weatherman Cory McCloskey faced a malfunctioning temperature map on live television. “Wow, 750 degrees in Gila Bend right now,” he said, without breaking a sweat. “And 1,270 in Ahwatukee. Now, I’m not authorized to evacuate, but this temperature seems pretty high.” More than 6 million people have watched the blooper on YouTube.

 

Mind-Blowing Science

Cometh the man; Francis Bacon’s insight was that the process of discovery was inherently algorithmic. Photo courtesy NPG/Wikipedia

In a refreshing relief from Science Marches promoting slogans and tenets of climate dogma, we have an insightful look into a fruitful future for the scientific endeavor.

The article is Science has outgrown the human mind and its limited capacities by Ahmed Alkhateeb, a molecular cancer biologist at Harvard Medical School. (bolded text is my emphasis)

It starts with a great quote:

The duty of man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads and … attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.
– Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040 CE)

First the author reminds readers of the current sorry state of scientific research:  overwhelming quantity of papers with diminishing quality (bogus findings, unreplicable studies, sloppy methodology, etc.). He then raises an intriguing question:

One promising strategy to overcome the current crisis is to integrate machines and artificial intelligence in the scientific process. Machines have greater memory and higher computational capacity than the human brain. Automation of the scientific process could greatly increase the rate of discovery. It could even begin another scientific revolution. That huge possibility hinges on an equally huge question: Can scientific discovery really be automated?

Alkhateeb gets to the point of Bacon’s forming the scientific process:

The Baconian method attempted to remove logical bias from the process of observation and conceptualisation, by delineating the steps of scientific synthesis and optimizing each one separately. Bacon’s vision was to leverage a community of observers to collect vast amounts of information about nature and tabulate it into a central record accessible to inductive analysis. In Novum Organum, he wrote: ‘Empiricists are like ants; they accumulate and use. Rationalists spin webs like spiders. The best method is that of the bee; it is somewhere in between, taking existing material and using it.’

The Baconian method is rarely used today. It proved too laborious and extravagantly expensive; its technological applications were unclear. However, at the time the formalization of a scientific method marked a revolutionary advance. Before it, science was metaphysical, accessible only to a few learned men, mostly of noble birth. By rejecting the authority of the ancient Greeks and delineating the steps of discovery, Bacon created a blueprint that would allow anyone, regardless of background, to become a scientist.

Bacon’s insights also revealed an important hidden truth: the discovery process is inherently algorithmic. It is the outcome of a finite number of steps that are repeated until a meaningful result is uncovered. Bacon explicitly used the word ‘machine’ in describing his method. His scientific algorithm has three essential components:

  • First, observations have to be collected and integrated into the total corpus of knowledge.
  • Second, the new observations are used to generate new hypotheses.
  • Third, the hypotheses are tested through carefully designed experiments.

If science is algorithmic, then it must have the potential for automation. This futuristic dream has eluded information and computer scientists for decades, in large part because the three main steps of scientific discovery occupy different planes. Observation is sensual; hypothesis-generation is mental; and experimentation is mechanical. Automating the scientific process will require the effective incorporation of machines in each step, and in all three feeding into each other without friction. Nobody has yet figured out how to do that.

Experimentation has seen the most substantial recent progress. For example, the pharmaceutical industry commonly uses automated high-throughput platforms for drug design.

Automated hypothesis-generation is less advanced, but the work of Don Swanson in the 1980s provided an important step forward. He demonstrated the existence of hidden links between unrelated ideas in the scientific literature; using a simple deductive logical framework, he could connect papers from various fields with no citation overlap. In this way, Swanson was able to hypothesise a novel link between dietary fish oil and Reynaud’s Syndrome without conducting any experiments or being an expert in either field.

The most challenging step in the automation process is how to collect reliable scientific observations on a large scale. There is currently no central data bank that holds humanity’s total scientific knowledge on an observational level. Natural language-processing has advanced to the point at which it can automatically extract not only relationships but also context from scientific papers. However, major scientific publishers have placed severe restrictions on text-mining. More important, the text of papers is biased towards the scientist’s interpretations (or misconceptions), and it contains synthesised complex concepts and methodologies that are difficult to extract and quantify.

Summary

Nevertheless, recent advances in computing and networked databases make the Baconian method practical for the first time in history. And even before scientific discovery can be automated, embracing Bacon’s approach could prove valuable at a time when pure reductionism is reaching the edge of its usefulness.

Such an approach would enable us to generate novel hypotheses that have higher chances of turning out to be true, to test those hypotheses, and to fill gaps in our knowledge. It would also provide a much-needed reminder of what science is supposed to be: truth-seeking, anti-authoritarian, and limitlessly free.

 

KISS for Climate Marchers

Keeping it simple, here’s the elevator speech for climate marchers, excerpted from a more lengthy article linked below.

Expect more craziness this weekend. Earth Day is Saturday. This year’s theme: Government must “do more” about climate change because “consequences of inaction are too high to risk.”

They make it sound so simple:

1) Man causes global warming.

2) Warming is obviously harmful.

3) Government can stop it.

Each claim is dubious or wrong.

1) Man’s greenhouse gases contribute to warming, but scientists don’t agree on how much. Of 117 climate models from the 1990s, 114 overpredicted warming.

2) Warming is harmful. Maybe.

But so far it’s been good: Over the last century, climates warmed, but climate-related deaths dropped. Since 1933, they fell by 98 percent. Life expectancy doubled.

Much of that is thanks to prosperity created by free markets. But some is due to warming. Cold kills more people than heat.

Carbon dioxide is also good for crop growth. Even The New York Times admits, “Plants have been growing at a rate far faster than at any other time in the last 54,000 years.”

3) Nothing we do today will stop global warming. The Obama regulations that Trump recently repealed, horrifying the Earth Day crowd, had a goal that amounted to a mere 1 percent reduction in global CO2. And that was just the goal.

Of course, some think any cut is better than nothing. But cuts are costly. They kill jobs, opportunity. All to accomplish… nothing the earth will notice.

If warming does become a problem, we’re better off if our economy is very strong when the science tells us clearly that action will make a difference.

We should be especially wary of expensive government projects given how often alarmists were wrong in the past.

The alarmists claim they’re marching for “science,” but they’re really marching for a left-wing religion.  Instead we should celebrate human progress and our ability to use energy to improve everyone’s quality of life.

Excerpts from Earth Day Dopes By John Stossel April 19, 2017

Background info: Data, Facts and Information


 






 

Data, Facts and Information

 

In following many blogs related to climate science, it seems that confusion reigns regarding some fundamentals of scientific thought and practice. So this post attempts to clarify three important scientific concepts: Data, Facts, and Information.

Show Me the Data

Data pertains to observations of happenings in the world, independent of the observer. In a court of law, a witness on the stand gives his or her observations. For example, I heard person x say this, or I saw person y do that. This is evidence all right, but it is not data.  And an artist or filmmaker can capture an event as evidence, but again it is not data in that format.

By definition, data is quantitative. And applying numbers to observations means using standard measurements so that these observations can be compared, contrasted, and replicated, as well as compiled with other similar observations. Each subject of study has one or more units of measurement pertinent to that inquiry. For example, observing a moving object requires distance and time, such as kilometers per minute, or rates of acceleration, such as meters per second per second, or m/s^2.

To summarize, data are a set of observations expressed in standard units of measurement.

What are the Facts

Taiichi Ohno was the central thinker behind the Toyota way of manufacturing. In his view facts are observed “in situ” by a knowledgeable and purposeful agent, an human expert. Facts are the result of direct observation of a process, product or part, including any measured data and the correct context for such data. Context means what relevant conditions, incidents, phenomena, and situations were occurring prior, during and after the data were collected.

In science a fact is a pattern detected in a data set. Thus, a fact is a finding, a meaning supported by data. And, importantly, a fact is particular to the place and time where the data was obtained. The pattern and meaning derives from interpreting the data (observations) in the specific place and time where the happenings occurred understanding the historical situation and context.

We hear a lot these days about fake news or facts in relation to political or cultural news. There, the spin and narratives overwhelm objective observations, and the report serves only to motivate audience acceptance or rejection of the subjects, the truth is irrelevant.  Unfortunately, fact “checking” has morphed into substituting one spin for another.

In science, facts are supported by data, but each fact represents a pattern in the data seen in the context of a specific place and time. So, for example, it can be a fact that civilian deaths in Syria have increased by x% in the past year. Importantly, facts depend on persons with deep knowledge of the particular place and time.

To summarize, a scientific fact is a pattern in data in the context of a specific place and time.

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Information stands on facts, which themselves stand on data. Information consists of conclusions from weighing and judging the importance of various sets of facts regarding a situation. Based on the above, all the facts have a basis in data, but they are not equally significant. And the significance is relative to the concerns of the information analyst.

Information is not absolute, but serves to inform action. Facts are value-free, but information is not. Information draws on facts to form a conclusion as to the direction a situation is moving, out of a concern to intervene or not, according to the interests of the observers. In that sense, information is always actionable, or intends to be so.

As an example of this facet of information, consider media charges that someone is citing “alternate facts.” Now a fact is always true, meaning it is supported by data and corresponds to reality. Or it is not a fact, but a fiction not supported by data and in contradiction to reality.

In legal proceedings, frequently there are “alternate facts.” One party, say the prosecution, presents a set of facts comprising all the information supporting their explanation or theory of a criminal event. The defense presents an alternative explanation or theory of the event supported by other facts either ignored or discounted in the prosecution’s case. Such “alternate facts” are no less true, they simply form an alternate information convincing to those who place more weight on them.

A similar process goes on in scientific disputes where each side accuses the other of “cherry-picking” by referring only to those facts which support one theory. Honest science attempts to explain all relevant facts, and sometimes (e.g. Wave vs. Particle theories of light) holds competing theories in tension while a more comprehensive meta-theory can be formed and proved.

Information results from organizing data and facts into a perspective respecting the context of the facts and supporting humans’ need to anticipate the future. Forming theories of what to expect and how to respond or intervene is fundamental to human survival.

That’s the way I see it.

For a great example of how deep knowledge applied to data leads to a productive theory and discovery see Quebec Teen Studies Stars, Discovers Ancient Maya City

Fun Footnote:

Science depends on measuring things, so you need to know the correct units for what you are studying.

Below are some obscure measures for collecting data in special situations.

17. Quantity of beauty required to launch a single ship = 1 millihelen h/t vuurklip

Glaciermania


A stream flows through the toe of Kaskawulsh Glacier in Yukon’s Kluane National Park. In 2016, this channel allowed the glacier’s meltwater to drain in a different direction than normal, resulting in the Slims River’s water being rerouted to a different river system. DANIEL SHUGAR

The Weather Network (who do a decent job on local weather forecasting) are currently raving about Glaciers:

You know climate change is getting serious when rivers are resorting to piracy.

Canadian geomorphologist Dr. Daniel Shugar and his team headed to the Yukon last year to study changes in the flow of the Slims River, only to find out the river was gone.

The Slims, which was fed by the Kaskawulsh glacier, has become the victim of the first case of what’s known as river piracy in modern recorded history.

The team’s investigation soon turned up the culprit – the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier, which has been retreating thanks to more than a century of climate warming.

What Actually Happened

Prior to May of last year, the glacier had been supplying water to two watersheds and feeding multiple rivers; the Kaskawulsh River, which drains to the Pacific Ocean via the Alsek River, and the Slims, which flowed north to the Bering Sea via Kluane Lake.

During the last days of May 2016, melt water at the base of the glacier finally managed to eat through the thinning ice sheet, opening a new canyon and sending the Slims’ share of the water into the Kaskawulsh instead.

Thanks to this abrupt change, water from the glacier that used to flow north to the Bering Sea has changed direction and flows toward the Pacific, instead, leaving the Slims basin high and (mostly) dry.

And Now, the Leap of Faith

In the published paper lead author Daniel Shugar goes on to state:
Based on satellite image analysis and a signal-to-noise ratio as a metric of glacier retreat, we conclude that this instance of river piracy was due to post-industrial climate change.

And others can’t resist piling on:

“To me, it’s kind of a metaphor for what can happen with sudden change induced by climate,” said John Clague, who holds a chair in natural hazard research at Simon Fraser University and was a co-author on the report.

“Climate change is happening, is affecting us and it’s not just about far-off islands in the South Pacific. .  Climate change may bring new changes that we’re not even really thinking about.” said Shugar.

It’s a nice PR touch to call this “Piracy”, but they are “jumping the shark” by claiming humans did this by burning fossil fuels.

“Jumping the shark” is attempting to draw attention to or create publicity for something that is perceived as not warranting the attention, especially something that is believed to be past its peak in quality or relevance. The phrase originated with the TV series “Happy Days” when an episode had Fonzie doing a water ski jump over a shark. The stunt was intended to perk up the ratings, but it marked the show’s low point ahead of its demise.

Hyping a Glacier retreating to prove global warming/climate change looks to be a similarly desperate move. Most people sense that the dynamics of glaciers growing, shrinking and moving is much more complex than simply fingering CO2 as the culprit.

FIG. 3. South Glacier as seen during its 1986 surge (photo: P. Johnson) and in 2005 (photo: G. Flowers). To facilitate comparison, the black line in each photograph marks the same feature.

For context and scientific perspective we can turn to papers like this one:  Contemporary Glacier Processes and Global Change: Recent Observations from Kaskawulsh Glacier and the Donjek Range, St. Elias Mountains From the Abstract:

The scientific objectives of these projects are (1) to quantify recent area and volume changes of Kaskawulsh Glacier and place them in historical perspective, (2) to investigate the regional variability of glacier response to climate and the modulating inuence of ice dynamics, and (3) to characterize the hydromechanical controls on glacier sliding.

FIG. 1. The Donjek Range and environs (Geobase ® image, 8 September 2008) within the St. Elias Mountains (NASA Aqua – MODIS image, 9 August 2003; North and South Glaciers are outlined, and locations of automatic weather stations operated since 2006 – 07 are marked with stars.

Excerpts (bolded text is my emphasis)

Kaskawulsh Glacier is ~70 km long from its shared accumulation area with the upper Hubbard Glacier, at an elevation of ~2500 m asl, to its terminus ~25 km southwest of the Kluane Lake Research Station, at ~820 m asl (Fig. 1). It provides the source of the Slims River, the primary water input for Kluane Lake to the northeast (which drains to the Bering Sea), and the source of the Kaskawulsh River to the southeast (which drains to the Gulf of Alaska).

One of the most iconic and best studied outlet glaciers of the St. Elias Mountains, Kaskawulsh Glacier was the focus of much glaciological research during the Icefield Ranges Research Project between the 1960s and early 1970s  and contemporary studies suggest that the glacier is temperate throughout. The current area of Kaskawulsh Glacier is ~1095 km2. Ice thicknesses range from 539 m near the topographic divide with the upper Hubbard Glacier and ~500 m at the confluence of the north and central arms at ~1750 m asl to 778 m at ~1600 m asl. The equilibrium line altitude is estimated from 2007 late summer satellite imagery as 1958 m asl, and it appears to have changed little since the 1970s.

The size of Kaskawulsh Glacier has varied considerably through time, with radiocarbon dating suggesting that it expanded by tens of kilometres into the Shakwak Valley (currently occupied by Kluane Lake) ~30 kya during the Wisconsinan Glaciation. In the historical past, Borns and Goldthwait (1966) mapped three sets of Little Ice Age moraines in the glacier forefield on the basis of distinctive variations in vegetation cover, morphology, and the ages of trees and shrubs.

Kaskawulsh Glacier was advancing by the early 1500s and reached its maximum recent position by approximately AD 1680. A recent study based on tree-ring dates suggests that the Slims River lobe reached its greatest Little Ice Age extent in the mid-1750s, whereas the Kaskawulsh River lobe reached its maximum extent around 1717. However, it appears that the glacier did not start retreating from this position until the early to middle 1800s. The recent discovery of a Geological Survey of Canada map of the glacier terminus from 1900 to 1904 indicates that the glacier was still in a forward position at that time, suggesting that most of the terminus retreat occurred in the 20th century.

Recent studies conducted by researchers at the University of Alaska and the University of Ottawa indicate that ice losses from Kaskawulsh Glacier have continued through the latter half of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st century, although evidence for any recent acceleration in loss rates is equivocal.

Global Context

Of the 19 glacierized regions of the world outside of the ice sheets, the region including the St. Elias Mountains made the second highest glaciological contribution to global sea level during the period 1961 – 2000. Only Arctic Canada is expected to exceed this region in sea-level contribution over the 21st century.

The St. Elias Mountains exhibit high interannual variability in ice mass change, which is due in part to the abundance of surge-type and tidewater glaciers in different stages of their respective cycles. Ice dynamics can be a confounding influence when attempting to isolate the effects of climate as an external driver of glacier change. For example, a surge-type glacier in the “quiescent” phase of its cycle may retreat even in a stationary climate. Catastrophic retreat of a tidewater glacier may be triggered by climate, but it is largely controlled by glacier and fjord geometry. Similar “flow instabilities” exist at larger scales in the form of ice streams and marine ice-sheets or outlet glaciers, the dynamics of which dominate the mass balances (and therefore sea-level contributions) of large sectors of the modern ice sheets. Our ability to project future changes on short (sub-decadal to decadal) timescales therefore hinges on our understanding of internal glacier dynamics, as well as our ability to project future climate in a given region and relate climate to glacier surface mass balance.

The ice-walled canyon at the terminus of the Kaskawulsh River in the Yukon, with recently collapsed ice blocks, that now carries the vast majority of glacier-front water down the Kaskawulsh Valley toward the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean instead of north along the Slims River toward the Bering Sea. (Jim Best/University of Illinois)

Whether climate has fundamentally altered the surging styles of Trapridge Glacier and South Glacier from the faster, shorter, more recognizable Alaskan style to the slower and more subtle Svalbard style is an interesting question. Many small poly-thermal glaciers, whose temperate ice content is largely controlled by meltwater entrapment and refreezing in the accumulation area, are expected to become colder under negative mass balance conditions. It is therefore conceivable that thermal evolution over the course of decades can play a role in altering surge style. However, there is some evidence that both types of surges may be preceded by a prolonged—and until recently, unrecognized—period of acceleration. Thus, a “slow surge” or “partial surge” may simply represent a truncation of the ordinary surge cycle that results from a deficit of mass, rather than a fundamental change in surge character. Mass deficits have manifested themselves differently on the well-studied and temperate Variegated Glacier, where the return interval between surges adapts itself in such a way that surges are triggered at a constant cumulative balance threshold. The nature and timing of future surges of the large glaciers in the St. Elias Mountains will be instructive as we seek a more coherent understanding of the influence of climate on surging.

Summary

So it is a familiar story. A complex naturally fluctuating situation, in this case glaciers, is abused by activists to claim support for their agenda. I have a lot of respect for glaciologists; it is a deep, complex subject, and the field work is incredibly challenging. And since “glacial” describes any process where any movement is imperceptible, I can understand their excitement over something happening all of a sudden.

But I do not applaud those pandering to the global warming/climate change crowd. They seem not to realize they debase their own field of study by making exaggerated claims and by “jumping the shark.”
The lead authur, Shugar, sounds like a Michael Mann wannabe, putting out sound bites to please the naive journalists. Maybe he thinks there is a Nobel prize in it if he plays his cards right.

Meanwhile real scientists are doing the heavy lifting and showing restraint and wisdom about the limitations of their knowledge.

The Kaskawulsh River, as it exits the lower terminus of Kaskawulsh Glacier and lakes. ‘ JIM BEST

NYT Readers Face Diversity

 

Imaginary Enemies

A lot of fuss is in the media about the New York Times hiring Bret Stephens from the Washington Post. Stephens won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is regarded as a conservative, and has written critically about Trump, as well as liberals. In particular he has poked fun repeatedly at the climatism hysteria. For this latter point, the climate faithful are up in arms about the prospect of Stephens columns appearing on pages of NYT (a kind of bible for liberals and environmentalists).

For sure Bret Stephens is as outspoken as Mark Steyn, but with his own preoccupations and style. To see what might be in store for NYT readers, let’s look at some excerpts of his commentary regarding global warming/climate change. Note: Washington Post has a paywall, so links to these articles go to blogsites where the full text is available.

In 2014 Stephens published Climate Prophets and Profiteers, which gives an idea where he is coming from.

It is now the dogma of the left that any hint of doubt when it comes to predictions of climate doom is evidence of greed, stupidity, moral turpitude or psychological derangement. “Climate denial” is intended to be the equivalent of Holocaust denial. And yet the only people who’ve predicted anything right so far are those who foresaw that the Kyoto Protocol would fail, that renewable energies didn’t really work, and that climate bureaucrats accountable to nobody but their own sense of virtue and taste for profit were a danger to everyone.

Rereading Mr. Kerry’s speech, I have to say he really does come across as a true believer. That it begins by citing Maurice Strong, the ultimate cynic, tells you what you need to know about where this strain of true belief leads.

On Climate Religion

In a November 2011 column The great global warming fizzle, Stephens described ‘the case of global warming’ as a ‘system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen’ that, like religion, ‘is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit.’

Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.

As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term “climate change” when thermometers don’t oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other “deniers.” And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit.

This week, the conclave of global warming’s cardinals are meeting in Durban, South Africa, for their 17th conference in as many years. The idea is to come up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire next year, and to require rich countries to pony up $100 billion a year to help poor countries cope with the alleged effects of climate change. This is said to be essential because in 2017 global warming becomes “catastrophic and irreversible,” according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency. (my bold)

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the climate apocalypse. Namely, the financial apocalypse.

All this has been enough to put the Durban political agenda on hold for the time being. But religions don’t die, and often thrive, when put to the political sidelines. A religion, when not physically extinguished, only dies when it loses faith in itself.

On Climategate Emails

That’s where the Climategate emails come in. First released on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit two years ago and recently updated by a fresh batch, the “hide the decline” emails were an endless source of fun and lurid fascination for those of us who had never been convinced by the global-warming thesis in the first place.

But the real reason they mattered is that they introduced a note of caution into an enterprise whose motivating appeal resided in its increasingly frantic forecasts of catastrophe. Papers were withdrawn; source material re-examined. The Himalayan glaciers, it turned out, weren’t going to melt in 30 years. Nobody can say for sure how high the seas are likely to rise—if much at all. Greenland isn’t turning green. Florida isn’t going anywhere.

The reply global warming alarmists have made to these dislosures is that they did nothing to change the underlying science, and only improved it in particulars. So what to make of the U.N.’s latest supposedly authoritative report on extreme weather events, which is tinged with admissions of doubt and uncertainty? Oddly, the report has left climate activists stuttering with rage at what they call its “watered down” predictions. If nothing else, they understand that any belief system, particularly ones as young as global warming, cannot easily survive more than a few ounces of self-doubt.

Meanwhile, the world marches on. On Sunday, 2,232 days will have elapsed since a category 3 hurricane made landfall in the U.S., the longest period in more than a century that the U.S. has been spared a devastating storm. Great religions are wise enough to avoid marking down the exact date when the world comes to an end. Not so for the foolish religions. Expect Mayan cosmology to take a hit to its reputation when the world doesn’t end on Dec. 21, 2012. Expect likewise when global warming turns out to be neither catastrophic nor irreversible come 2017.

And there is this: Religions are sustained in the long run by the consolations of their teachings and the charisma of their leaders. With global warming, we have a religion whose leaders are prone to spasms of anger and whose followers are beginning to twitch with boredom. Perhaps that’s another way religions die.

Climate Crisis as a Liberal Imaginary Enemy

Stephens fully disclosed his views at the time of Paris COP in Liberalism’s Imaginary Enemies In Paris, it’s easier to battle a climate crisis than confront jihadists on the streets.

Little children have imaginary friends. Modern liberalism has imaginary enemies.

Hunger in America is an imaginary enemy. Liberal advocacy groups routinely claim that one in seven Americans is hungry—in a country where the poorest counties have the highest rates of obesity. The statistic is a preposterous extrapolation from a dubious Agriculture Department measure of “food insecurity.” But the line gives those advocacy groups a reason to exist while feeding the liberal narrative of America as a savage society of haves and have nots.

The campus-rape epidemic—in which one in five female college students is said to be the victim of sexual assault—is an imaginary enemy. Never mind the debunked rape scandals at Duke and the University of Virginia, or the soon-to-be-debunked case at the heart of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about an alleged sexual assault at Harvard Law School. The real question is: If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation—Congo on the quad—why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school? They do because there is no epidemic. But the campus-rape narrative sustains liberal fictions of a never-ending war on women.

Institutionalized racism is an imaginary enemy. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that the same college administrators who have made a religion of diversity are really the second coming of Strom Thurmond. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that twice electing a black president is evidence of our racial incorrigibility. We’re supposed to believe this anyway because the future of liberal racialism—from affirmative action to diversity quotas to slavery reparations—requires periodic sightings of the ghosts of a racist past.

I mention these examples by way of preface to the climate-change summit that began this week in Paris. But first notice a pattern.

Dramatic crises—for which evidence tends to be anecdotal, subjective, invisible, tendentious and sometimes fabricated—are trumpeted on the basis of incompetently designed studies, poorly understood statistics, or semantic legerdemain. Food insecurity is not remotely the same as hunger. An abusive cop does not equal a bigoted police department. An unwanted kiss or touch is not the same as sexual assault, at least if the word assault is to mean anything.

Yet bogus studies and statistics survive because the cottage industries of compassion need them to be believed, and because mindless repetition has a way of making things nearly true, and because dramatic crises require drastic and all-encompassing solutions. Besides, the thinking goes, falsehood and exaggeration can serve a purpose if it induces virtuous behavior. The more afraid we are of the shadow of racism, the more conscious we might become of our own unsuspected biases.

And so to Paris.

I’m not the first to notice the incongruity of this huge gathering of world leaders meeting to combat a notional enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage.

Then again, it’s also appropriate, since reality-substitution is how modern liberalism conducts political business. What is the central liberal project of the 21st century, if not to persuade people that climate change represents an infinitely greater threat to human civilization than the barbarians—sorry, violent extremists—of Mosul and Molenbeek? Why overreact to a few hundred deaths today when hundreds of thousands will be dead in a century or two if we fail to act now?

Here again the same dishonest pattern is at work. The semantic trick in the phrase “climate change”—allowing every climate anomaly to serve as further proof of the overall theory. The hysteria generated by an imperceptible temperature rise of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880—as if the trend is bound to continue forever, or is not a product of natural variation, or cannot be mitigated except by drastic policy interventions. The hyping of flimsy studies—melting Himalayan glaciers; vanishing polar ice—to press the political point. The job security and air of self-importance this provides the tens of thousands of people—EPA bureaucrats, wind-turbine manufacturers, litigious climate scientists, NGO gnomes—whose livelihoods depend on a climate crisis. The belief that even if the crisis isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be, it does us all good to be more mindful about the environment.

And, of course, the chance to switch the subject. If your enemy is global jihad, then to defeat it you need military wherewithal, martial talents and political will. If your enemy is the structure of an energy-intensive global economy, then you need a compelling justification to change it. Climate dystopia can work wonders, provided the jihadists don’t interrupt too often.

Here’s a climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.

Bret Louis Stephens is an American journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2013. He works for The Wall Street Journal as the foreign-affairs columnist and the deputy editorial page editor and is responsible for the editorial pages of its European and Asian editions.

Summary

Wow! A full-throated, articulate conservative and climate unbeliever writing columns for the New York Times. His views both on liberalism and on climatism will be repulsive to many of the readers, who profess to be “liberal thinkers” but who are closed to all but “our kind of people”. What will they allow Stephens to write about? Will he last longer than lukewarmist Roger Pielke Jr. did at 538 blog (one column)?

Stay tuned.

For Further Reading

In 2008 column Al Gore’s Doomsday Clock, Stephens wrote:

What manner the catastrophe might take isn’t yet clear, but the scenarios are grim: The climate crisis is getting worse faster than anticipated; global warming will cause refugee crises and destabilize entire nations…. And so on.

In 2009 Climategate: Follow the Money Stephens gave the subheading:

Climate change researchers must believe in the reality of global warming just as a priest must believe in the existence of God.

A week later in 2009 came Global warming and the psychology of true belief. This time Stephens wrote: ‘

Last week, I suggested that funding flows had much to do with climate alarmism. But deeper things are at work as well. One of those things, I suspect, is what I would call the totalitarian impulse.

In April 2010 came What’s the Next ‘Global Warming’? Herewith I propose a contest to invent the next panic.

Stephens declared that ‘global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time.’ He predicted that this meant ‘that pretty soon we’re going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place.’ He offered the wager that ‘within a few years ‘climate change’ will exercise global nerves about as much as overpopulation, toxic tampons, nuclear winters, ozone holes, killer bees, low sperm counts, genetically modified foods and mad cows do today.’

 

Climate Undamaged

The fake news outrage over POTUS Executive Order this week obscured the fact that the wrecking ball is applied to a wall of regulations, not the climate or the planet, which are doing just fine, thank you very much.

Overlooked entirely is the fact that all government actions enacted or under consideration are projected to have a negligible effect on the climate.  So undoing them will hardly be noticed by the climate.  For example, some excerpts from a recent Wall Street Journal article:

The oddest criticism of Donald Trump’s climate action this week was the claim, mentioned almost triumphantly by every news source, that it would save few coal jobs. The economic and technological forces, especially the flood of low-carbon natural gas from fracking, are just too powerful.

Of course the news reports are right: “The regulatory changes are entirely outweighed by these technological changes, not to mention the price of natural gas or renewables,” Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution was quoted telling the New York Times .

So potent and large are these global forces that repealing the Obama rules, costly as they are, not only won’t affect coal jobs, it won’t affect climate.

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s EPA administrator, admitted as much when confronted, during a 2015 House hearing, with the fact that, by the agency’s own climate models, the effect would be only 1/100th of a degree Celsius. Instead, she said success should be measured in terms of “positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion.”

Pile up all the government policies enacted or seriously on the table, and their net effect is zilch. A new McKinsey study, that would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad, points out that Germany’s switch to renewables has been a success by almost every metric except CO2 output—which is up instead of down. (my bold)

Rising energy prices to support this energy transition have had one measurable effect—more than 330,000 German households have had their electricity shut off in the past year from nonpayment of bills almost three times as high as those paid by U.S. households.

Germany, needless to add, is many greens’ idea of a country “positioned for leadership in international discussions.” (my bold)

No rational consideration, however, will abate the torrent of priestly imprecations hurled by green activists this week at Mr. Trump. The New York Times insists that Trumpian action “risks the planet”—plainly false since nothing either Mr. Trump or Mr. Obama did will make a difference to the planet. (my bold)

Tempest in a teapot (American English), or storm in a teacup (British English), is an idiom meaning a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion.

The article is The Climate Yawns
Donald Trump is no more a planet wrecker than Barack Obama (as measured to the third decimal). By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. At Wall Street Journal.  Full text below (with an image I added at the end.)

The oddest criticism of Donald Trump’s climate action this week was the claim, mentioned almost triumphantly by every news source, that it would save few coal jobs. The economic and technological forces, especially the flood of low-carbon natural gas from fracking, are just too powerful.

Then why, if you’re a Democrat, put yourself in that position in the first place to take blame for killing coal jobs? Why enact a costly regulation to do what the market was doing for free? When everybody else wanted to blame the Florida recount for his 2000 defeat, Al Gore was smart enough privately to blame gun control. When you lose your home state as presidential candidate, something is wrong. The same blundering ineptitude explains how the Obama alliance with the greens threw away first Congress and then a presidency.

Of course the news reports are right: “The regulatory changes are entirely outweighed by these technological changes, not to mention the price of natural gas or renewables,” Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution was quoted telling the New York Times .

So potent and large are these global forces that repealing the Obama rules, costly as they are, not only won’t affect coal jobs, it won’t affect climate.

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s EPA administrator, admitted as much when confronted, during a 2015 House hearing, with the fact that, by the agency’s own climate models, the effect would be only 1/100th of a degree Celsius. Instead, she said success should be measured in terms of “positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion.”

Even so, many climate activists felt the need to walk back Ms. McCarthy’s concession by insisting Obama policies would have a measurable effect—on the amount of CO 2 released. Yes, the relative decrease would be tiny but measurable, though the climate effect would be zip. This is akin to medical researchers claiming a drug a success because it’s detectable in the bloodstream, not because it improves health.

And don’t get us started on the “social cost of carbon,” a mechanism of policy justification created by the Obama EPA to assign a dollar-value benefit to carbon abatement rules that, in total, will produce zero impact on climate.

Pile up all the government policies enacted or seriously on the table, and their net effect is zilch. A new McKinsey study, that would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad, points out that Germany’s switch to renewables has been a success by almost every metric except CO 2 output—which is up instead of down.

Rising energy prices to support this energy transition have had one measurable effect—more than 330,000 German households have had their electricity shut off in the past year from nonpayment of bills almost three times as high as those paid by U.S. households.

Germany, needless to add, is many greens’ idea of a country “positioned for leadership in international discussions.”

No rational consideration, however, will abate the torrent of priestly imprecations hurled by green activists this week at Mr. Trump. The New York Times insists that Trumpian action “risks the planet”—plainly false since nothing either Mr. Trump or Mr. Obama did will make a difference to the planet.

Literally no amount of money dissipated on climate policy is excessive to such people, because their shamanistic status is directly proportional to the social waste they can conjure. In the realm of religion are we called upon to perform symbolic actions whose purpose (and cost) is aimed at testifying to our membership in the elect.

The most poignant question, however, is what happened to Democrats? They were once a party whose members cared whether policy was efficient and produced benefits for the American people.

Democrats deserve a large share of the credit for the rescue of the failing U.S. economy of the 1970s by throwing out a host of perverse regulatory policies, not that they embrace or even acknowledge this legacy today—which is the problem.

Airline deregulation was born in Ted Kennedy’s administrative practice subcommittee. His aide, Stephen Breyer, now a Supreme Court justice, recalled a working-class Boston constituent asking why the senator was focused on airline issues when this voter could never afford to fly. “That is why,” said Kennedy.

The Democratic Party once had a brain where regulation was concerned, understanding that the ultimate purpose was a net public good, not an in-gathering of power to Washington for the benefit of lobbyists and influence peddlers.

It was not yet today’s Democratic Party of Chuck Schumer, who isn’t stupid and yet is associated with no body of policy thought or analysis. If he even has anybody on his staff deputized to think about the results of policy, it probably is the lowliest intern.

A wrecking ball of a president was the Trump electorate’s answer to this problem. It’s hard even now to say they were wrong. If he delivers nothing in the next four years, it is alarming to suspect that this likely would still be a better result than we would have gotten under Hillary Clinton.

Purely Energy

 

Higgs boson event as seen in the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the Large Hadron Collider. This one high-energy collision illustrates the power of energy conversion, which always exists in the form of particles.

Ethan Siegel provides an informative primer on energy physics:  Is There Any Such Thing As Pure Energy?  It is useful background for anyone interested in energy and climate science. Some excerpts below.

What is the nature of Energy?

Energy plays a tremendous role, not only in our technology-rich daily lives, but in fundamental physics as well. The chemical energy stored in gasoline gets converted into kinetic energy that propels our vehicles, while the electrical energy from our power plants gets converted into light, heat and other forms of energy at our homes. But this energy always seems to exist as merely one property of an otherwise independently-existing system. Must it always be so? Alex from Moscow writes in with a question about energy itself:

“Does pure energy [exist], maybe very shortly before turning into a particle or a photon? Or is it just a useful mathematical abstraction, an equivalent that we use in physics?”

At a fundamental level, energy can take on many forms.

Mass = Energy

The simplest, most familiar form of energy of all is in terms of mass. You don’t normally think in terms of Einstein’s E = mc2, but every physical object that’s ever existed in this Universe is made of massive particles, and simply by having mass, these particles have energy.

E. Siegel The known particles in the Standard Model. These are all the fundamental particles that have been directly discovered; with the exception of a few of the bosons, all particles have mass.

Mass in Motion = Kinetic Energy

If these particles are moving, they have an additional form of energy as well: kinetic energy, or the energy of motion.

Particles Linked Together = Binding Energy

Finally, these particles can link together in a variety of ways, forming more complex structures like nuclei, atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, planets and more. This form of energy is known as binding energy, and is actually negative in its effect. It reduces the rest mass of the overall system, which is why nuclear fusion, taking place in the cores of stars, can emit so much light and heat: by converting mass into energy via that same E = mc2. Over the 4.5 billion year history of the Sun, it’s lost approximately the mass of Saturn from simply fusing hydrogen into helium.

The theory of asymptotic freedom, describing the strength of the quark interactions inside a nucleus, was worth a Nobel Prize for Wilczek, Politzer and Gross. Wikimedia Commons user Qashqaiilove

Massless Particles in Motion = Restless Kinetic Energy

The Sun itself gives another example of energy: light and heat, which comes in the form of photons, which are different from the forms of energy we’ve considered so far. There exist massless particles as well — particles with no rest energy — and these particles, like photons, gluons and (hypothetically) gravitons, all move at the speed of light. However, they do carry energy in the form of kinetic energy, and, in the case of gluons, are responsible for the binding energy inside atomic nuclei and protons themselves.

NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) The Sun, shown here, generates its energy by fusing hydrogen into helium in its core, losing small amounts of mass in the process. Over its lifetime, it’s lost approximately the mass of Saturn by this process.

Energy is Always Conserved

Energy comes in a variety of forms, and some of those forms are fundamental. A particle’s rest mass energy doesn’t change over time, and in fact doesn’t change from particle to particle. It’s a type of energy that is inherent to everything in the Universe itself. But all the other forms of energy that exist are relative. An atom in an excited state has more energy than an atom in a ground state, and that’s due to the difference in binding energy. And if you want to make that transition to the lower-energy state? You have to emit a photon to get there; you cannot make that transition without conserving energy, and that energy needs to be carried by a particle — even a massless one — in order to make that happen.

In this illustration, one photon (purple) carries a million times the energy of another (yellow). Fermi data on two photons from a gamma-ray burst fail to show any travel delay, showing the speed of light’s constancy across energy.

Energy is Relative to the Observer

Perhaps an oddity of this is that photon energy, or any form of kinetic energy (i.e., the energy of motion), is that its value is not fundamental, but rather is dependent on the motion of the observer. If you move towards a photon, you’ll find its energy appears greater (as its wavelength is blueshifted), and if you move away from it, its energy will be lesser, and it will appear redshifted. Energy is relative, but what’s interesting that for any observer, it’s always conserved. No matter what the interactions are, energy is never seen to exist on its own, but only as part of a system of particles, whether massive or massless.

Dark Energy

There is one form of energy, however, that may not need a particle at all: dark energy. The form of energy that causes the expansion of the Universe to accelerate may very well be energy inherent to the fabric of the Universe itself! This interpretation of dark energy is self-consistent and matches the observations of distant, receding galaxies and quasars that we see exactly. The only problem? This form of energy, as far as we can tell, can neither be used to create or destroy particles, nor can it be inter-converted to and from other forms of energy. It seems to be its own entity, disconnected from interacting with the other forms of energy present within the Universe.

Without dark energy, the Universe wouldn’t be accelerating. But there’s no way to access that energy via any other particles in the Universe.

Conclusion

So the full answer to the question of whether pure energy exists is:

  • For all of the particles that exist, massive and massless, energy is only one property of them, and cannot exist independently.
  • For all of the situations where energy appears to be lost in a system, such as through gravitational decay, there exists some form of radiation carrying off that energy, leaving it conserved.
  • And that dark energy itself may be the purest form of energy, existing independent of particles, but as far as any effect other than the expansion of the Universe, that energy is inaccessible to everything else in the Universe.

As far as we can tell, energy is not something we can isolate in a laboratory, but only one of many properties that matter, antimatter and radiation all possess. Creating energy independent of particles? It might be something the Universe itself does, but until we learn how to create (or destroy) spacetime itself, we find ourselves unable to make it so.

Trump’s EO on Energy Independence

Coal miners watch as Trump signs EO on Energy Independence.

What’s in it?  The text is hard to find.

First and most prominently, the executive order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, one of Obama’s key regulatory actions to drive down greenhouse gas emissions in the electric power sector. Because an executive order cannot directly overturn a regulation, the EPA will have to come to a finding about whether the CPP should be revised or repealed.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 7-to-2 decision in June 2014 that the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency is free to regulate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as long as the source of emissions in question is a traditional polluter, like a factory or a power plant, rather than a school or a shopping mall. The decision was largely written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. However, the Court also chastised the EPA for acting without a clear directive from Congress.

Some claim that the Supreme Court requires EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, but that is not correct. The Court ruled that CO2 can be considered a “pollutant” under the Clear Air Act, but EPA decides what, if anything to do about it. Expect lots of legal activity around this, including EPA seeking congressional legislation before regulating.

While determining the fate of the CPP could end up being a complex multi-year undertaking, the order also includes the following actions that can be carried out quickly:

  • Reversing Obama’s moratorium on new coal mining leases on federal lands;
  • Removing the consideration of greenhouse gases from permit reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act;
  • Formally abandoning Obama’s roadmap on how to achieve U.S. emissions reductions
  • Eliminating a tool for cost-benefit analysis in regulatory review called the “Social Cost of Carbon”

Finally, although Trump’s directive does not directly address American engagement in the Paris Agreement or other international climate agreements, it does have some implications for broader U.S. engagement in international climate policy. Rolling back the CPP would remove an important component of the American climate strategy and make it more difficult to achieve Obama’s U.S. climate targets. Other players, including big emitters like China, the European Union, and India, are aware of Trump’s stance on climate and will not be surprised by this action: most countries have committed to continuing to pursue their own goals in development as well as climate actions.

Thanks to Junk Science for putting up the full text (here)

Update March 29

Lots of freaking out by true believers.  Here is a balanced review of this EO.

Trump’s Executive Order On Energy: This Time, He Listened To The Lawyers

President Donald Trump’s executive order dismantling large chunks of Barrack Obama’s environmental legacy is a cleverly written document that avoids the pitfalls of Trump’s controversial orders on immigration. Unlike those orders, which have been suspended by federal courts, this one bears the clear stamp of experienced government lawyers and leaves the administration with a rich variety of tactical choices on how to eliminarte Obama-era regulations on fossil fuels.

Eliminating the previous administration’s legal memorandum could be a speedier way to get rid of the CPP, although it would still have to go through a notice and comment period as well as the inevitable legal challenges. The government wouldn’t have to delve as deeply into the scientific record, however, which the Obama administration provided in ample detail to justify its plan. Instead, the Trump administration would argue the CPP, which takes a systemwide approach toward reducing CO2 emissions, is based on an incorrect reading of federal law.

The order also calls for the elimination of the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases, as well as its findings on the cost of global warming, which it pegged at $42 a ton by 2020. Effective immediately, the administration will use Bush-era standards to judge the cost of carbon emissions.

Environmentalists and states can and will sue to try and force the administration to stick to the Obama-era goals for reducing CO2 emissions. But the EPA can only work with the tools Congress gave it, and Chevron deference allows the agency to determine how powerful those tools are. So it can simply say that federal statutes don’t give it the power to reorder the electric grid to cut emissions by 30%; perhaps the limit, by ordering existing plants to the highest levels of efficiency achievable with current technology, is a few percent. The agency can then argue further cuts have to come from Congress.