Monday Morning at the ICCC - Tom McClintock, Lawrence Solomon, and Some Real Science

We’re working hard here. We had to be up early and ready for things to start over breakfast at 7 this morning.

There were two keynotes over breakfast, and then we split into tracks; I was in a “science” track and encountered some interesting things which I’ll enumerate below.

The first morning speaker was Congressman Tom McClintock; Mr. McClintock was long a lonely but stalwart conservative in the California state assembly, and this past November he won a close and hotly-contested race and became a freshman Congressman.

Moe will be having more about this later, and he managed to secure an interview with Mr. McClintock – that’s being processed. He mostly noted the policy idiocies that California has imposed on itself that are having catastrophic effects.

He humorously noted that as a 3rd grader on a 1964 trip to a natural history museum, he noted from the exhibits that the climate does change over time – and he wonders why Al Gore gets the credit rather than him. 🙂

But his descriptions of the way California has been blazing away (on full auto) at its own feet has been horrid to watch. He cited the example of the electric utility in the small mountain city of Truckhee that had just contracted with a coal-burning utility in Utah for electricity at $35 per megawatt-hour – only to have the state greens jump in and force them out of that deal and into one that was “greener” but will cost $65 per megawatt-hour.

He finally noted that with all this and now sharply higher taxes (on top of already-high rates), California is losing people at a frightening rate. He cited the long-cited metric that the flow has gotten to be so one-sided that the UHaul rental rate to take a truck OUT of California is now six or seven times the rate to take a truck in.

The next keynote was given by Canadian journalist and environmentalist (!!) Lawrence Solomon. He noted something that hit home to me, since I also see quite a bit of the developing world (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) – that Kyoto compliance is a huge environmental destroyer in the developing world…. mainly because that’s where those “offsets” that greens buy are “deployed.” For example, one of the largest methods of “doing offsets” is to plant eucalyptus plantations in warmer climates; eucalyptus is a fast-growing tree that is prized as a carbon sink. However, to create these plantations, farmers are often evicted from their land (usually without “just compensation”), and old growth forests are clear-cut to make room for eucalyptus plantations. This to me is a stark case of “out of sight, out of mind” detachedness.

He’s actually a big opponent of hydroelectric projects on similar grounds; for example, the construction of the (in)famous “Three Gorges” Dam in China displaced millions of people and flooded an immense area of very fertile land. In his view, hydro is no longer economically-viable – because all of the “good sites” for hydro have already been used. The irony is that the “Kyoto subsidies” are tilting the playing field, and making high-impact hydro “viable” again.

He noted that during the 1980s, large labor unions began to develop a strong interest in “environmental issues” – mainly as a method of slowing the erosion in the membership. He also noted that during the 1990s, large “foundations” moved into the space and became “pro-active” – actively working to set the agenda and force policies.

He concluded by noting that polling data shows that when people hear – at least twice – that there is a continuing debate, they quickly become skeptics; this is proving to be true in both Canada and in the United States. He noted that the 11% belief rate in the Czech Republic is due to continual “education” on the subject from the President himself.

As he concluded, “We need to clone Vaclav Klaus.”

Since he’s Canadian, I asked him the Q&A to tell the audience about Hydro Quebec. The short take is that this was a Quebec-nationalist thing back in the early 1980s, with the goal of energy independence for Quebec via huge hydro projects up in James Bay. Vermont is heavily dependent on this power. At first, the enlightened people liked it, mainly because (back in the late 1980s) it meant that we didn’t need nuclear power because of it. But when it emerged that (see above) the flooding was driving large numbers of Cree Indians off their land, the enlightened people turned 180 on HQ. The long-term contracts into eastern North American are expiring, and the new rates will be market-based and much higher. Keep an eye on the Hydro Quebec story in the years ahead – I guarantee that you WILL hear more about this soon.

After that, we broke into smaller sessions; I went to a climatology session that was very good (probably the best science session on the schedule), and I wanted to be sure to get this report out this morning since there are some things in here to which some of our reader-writers can contribute.

Tom Segalstad from Oslo University (Norway) gave a very interesting talk on carbon isotopes and mass-balance modeling. I’ll provide just a few interesting highlights.

He noted that the IPCC models treat sea water as being completely pure – as pure as distilled water…. which is of course a gross offense against basic chemistry. He also notes that the amount of CO2 tied up in the oceans is at least 50 times that in the atmosphere.

The most interesting part to me though was to see him actually mention the word “buffer” when it came to CO2 and the oceans – particularly as the formation of calcium carbonates are involved. Since I have some chemistry background, I’ve long wondered why this subject was never discussed, since when you mix CO2, calcium, and water you are getting into acid-base chemistry and that leads you quickly to the topic of buffering and buffering agents as a means of stabilizing pH. The ocean carbonates act as a buffer, and buffers act as a negative feedback mechanism (there’s that phrase again!!) – which is exactly what buffering does.

I’ll yield the floor here, since perhaps “Chemical Sam” can tell us more about buffering, buffering agents, and how they work.

The next talk was given by the very distinguished Professor Syun Akasofu, who is one of the co-founders of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks. This talk was lengthy and rather technical, but I wanted to break out his main conclusions and include a photo I took of his “money chart” that he screened several times.

In his view, the climate is presently in a period of long, slow recovery from the “Little Ice Age” that ran for 300 or so years and ended in about 1850. This gives us a large-scale secular trend of about 0.5 degrees Celsius per century of linear rise – but the underlying trend is punctuated by multi-decade-long oscillations around that larger-scale trend. We’ll get back to the implications of this in a moment, but he noted that if this is the long-term underlying secular trend, it may end soon, or it may continue…. but by historical standards it should not last for more than about another 100 years.

This resonated very nicely with me personally, since I’ve long complained that in the “climate science world” (and as I noted again last night with regard to Richard Lindzen’s comments) things are treated in a overly-deterministic fashion – an overly-deterministic view which simply just does not jibe with how nature (and her penchant for “fluctuations”) actually works. The natural world, in my humble lifetime of experience (which I’m glad to see seems to mesh with the thinking of the better climate scientists) is that nature (particularly at short time scales) is dominated by fluctuations and statistical variations about variation “centers.”

But in any case, back to the long-term trend and the multi-decade-long fluctuations around that trend. Professor Akasofu’s chart on this is reproduced below, via the best I could do with my camera from the back and uploading to flickr:

That’s good enough to let you see what the IPCC (in its infinite wisdom) has done. Basically, the IPCC has clipped off (it’s highlighted inside the box in brighter red) a corner of an oscillation, and extrapolated it forward-indefinitely into the future. Methinks that even finance people will quickly grasp why this sort of “trend analysis” (sic) is very poor practice.

The third talk was given by David Evans, who is a government-employed climate scientist inside the apparatus for such in Australia.

His main note was that the AGW models of the IPCC clearly predict the emergence of a “hotspot” in the upper troposphere over the tropics – the models are quite unambiguous in this. However, radiosonde temperature data for the upper troposphere clearly shows that there is no hotspot. This prediction is a fundamental one of the IPCC AGW models, and the hotspot just isn’t there.

He noted that faced with this, the IPCC crew tried to attack the data. One line of attack was to try to stretch the error bars on the data, and then argue that “it must be there, but it’s hidden by the uncertainty noise.” Another line of attack was to simply throw away all the radiosonde temperature data, make complex arguments about wind currents and wind shear, and argue that “the hotspot can’t be ruled out.”

He also noted that the IPCC models absolutely require positive feedback mechanisms (here we go again) in order to produce “catastrophic” predictions. In particularly the IPCC water vapor modeling says that we are close to some “tipping point” that will soon put us over the edge into catastrophe. However, the IPCC models overstate the effect of water vapor by about 2x; when more proper values are included in the IPCC’s own models, the results predict a climate system of great stability.

This also resonated with my own experience with many other physical systems. There are a number of “problems” in electrical engineering which are known – but which are never encountered “in the field” because they are so easy to avoid. Basically, these problems are “exponentially sensitive” (rather than say linearly sensitive) to one’s “approach” to the conditions for stoking them. If you know where the exponential starts to go off, and can then stay away from that “cliff” with a modest safety margin…. the problem in practice will never be encountered. It appears to this observer that the water vapor modeling by the IPCC has to be pushed closer and closer to that cliff, to make the system fall off the cliff…. whereas even a modest less-bad scenario in reality very quickly leads to stability that never encounters the problem.

He opined that “the science behind AGW is weak” and consists largely of 45 people peer-reviewing each other’s papers. This is also something I’m familiar with, particularly since “peer-review” is regularly cited as being a form of infallibility. From my own professional experience, peer review is very good for a minimal level of quality control – in that it filters out things that are very flaky. However, peer review has always led to a certain amount of groupthink. It was good to see that reality acknowledged here.

He finally noted, “Follow the money.” The AGW crowd always complains about any funding given to anti-AGW research; however the reality that the anti-AGW funding amounts to about $2 million a year, while the “alarmist” funding (much of it public monies) amounts to some $2 billion. He also noted that the financial world has a nice racket ready to go because of AGW; the various “carbon trading” schemes may amount to an annual dollar-volume of some $120 billion; as per the recent (annoying) practice in the financial world, the harvest here will be managing for fees, fees, fees…. and if the “fees” amount to only a few percent, then, well, you can do the math (I hope).

Anyway, I have to post this and sign off and get over to the lunch session. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt will be speaking, as will Arthur Robinson (one of the pioneer-skeptics). Arthur’s title in the program says “Nobel Prize for Death.” That’s a category of Nobel that’s new to me….