Monthly Archives: July 2014

Hearing only one side of the story is one thing, believing it is another

On the statement “Even the scientists don’t really know what they are talking about on environmental issues”, 43% of the Belgians agreed and 45% didn’t. To me that was the most surprising result of the Ipsos MORI Global trends 2014 on Environment.

In the Global trends poll summarized 200 questions in 16,000 interviews from people of 20 different countries, including our tiny little country. The most interesting were the 8 questions on the environment from which the one above. To come straight to the point, here are the results:

Ipsos MORI Global trends 2014 on Environment: "Even the scientists don't really know what they are talking about on environmental issues"

Ipsos MORI Global trends 2014 on Environment: “Even the scientists don’t really know what they are talking about on environmental issues”

So, 43% of the Belgians agreed with the statement, that is a lot. Much more than I expected. 45% didn’t agree. To me this was surprising because in Belgium all the mainstream media sources are very warmist in nature. There is only one story line in the media. No skeptics invited in discussions. Warmists have free range in the media here, unhindered by any skepticism. In that sense I expected much more who would disagree. Yet 43% of the Belgians are having doubts at what the “experts” tell about the environment (48% for all polled countries). About as many Belgians have faith (42% for all polled countries).

This also puts a different light on the statement that climate communication just need to communicate the science better to the public. If the results of this poll is any measure, almost half of the population isn’t influenced by hearing only one side of the consensus story. If one doesn’t acknowledge authority, then hearing that “97% of the scientists agree” is an empty statement. With even more bickering on how many scientists stand behind the consensus, it wouldn’t make any difference for them.

This lack in trust in scientists can have many reasons like past experiences, hearing conflicting messages, disinterest, global warming communication fatigue, ones attitude towards authority and what not more. This attitude towards authority was also a conclusion by Ipsus-Mori. According to them there is less trust in authority. Whether it is government or science. People are trusting their peers more than authority.

This distrust of the scientists in a situation where the focus is on only one story is important. It means that impregnating people with only one side of the story doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe it or are influenced by it.

The challenge that can not be won

loaded dice

Christopher Keating, an ex-physics teacher, proposed a challenge to climate change skeptics. He promises to write a check of $30,000 for those who can point to scientific proof that “global man-made climate change” isn’t happening. He is also bragging about no skeptic been able to do that and is sure they can’t. He says that it should be dirt simple. Skeptics make all sort of statements, just let them prove their claims. But not all is what it seems.

Let’s first see how he proposes the challenge:

I have heard global warming skeptics make all sorts of statements about how the science doesn’t support claims of man-made climate change. I have found all of those statements to be empty and without any kind of supporting evidence. I have, in turn, stated that it is not possible for the skeptics to prove their claims. And, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

I am announcing the start of the $30,000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. The rules are easy:

  1. I will award $30,000 of my own money to anyone that can prove, via the scientific method, that man-made global climate change is not occurring;
  2. There is no entry fee;
  3. You must be 18 years old or older to enter;
  4. Entries do not have to be original, they only need to be first;
  5. I am the final judge of all entries but will provide my comments on why any entry fails to prove the point.

That’s it! I know you are not going to get rich with $10,000. But, tell me, wouldn’t you like to have a spare $30,000? After all, the skeptics all claim it is a simple matter, and it doesn’t even have to be original. If it is so easy, just cut and paste the proof from somewhere. Provide the scientific evidence and prove your point and the $30,000 is yours!

This is no joke. If someone can provide a proof that I can’t refute, using scientific evidence, then I will write them a check.

But, I am sure I will never have to because it can’t be proven. The scientific evidence for global warming is overwhelming and no one can prove otherwise.

Any takers?

This is how he sees skeptics: they are deniers who make silly statements, rejecting science and calling anthropogenic climate change a hoax. He apparently likes the word “deniers”, he uses it plentiful. It is no surprise that his vision is a rather black and white. Reality is much more colorful. Climate is a complex matter and details can make quite a difference. He also seems to have some preconceived vision on skeptics and he clashes constantly with them. In reality they are seeing things differently. But that doesn’t prevent him from rubbing it in that they don’t react the same as those skeptics in his mind would do. Those pesky deniers who make all kind of statements without supporting evidence and telling him it is easy to prove.

Now skeptics get the “chance” to prove that “man-made global warming is not occurring”. Keating keeps on insisting that he is doing skeptics a favor and that it is incredibly simple. The longer it takes to take the price home, the stronger the science. Isn’t it? well, not so fast.

I don’t think his characterization of skeptics is honest. I don’t believe there are many skeptics that unconditionally believe man-made global warming is not occurring. There probably are some that think that black and white, but the skeptics that I know of all agree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, that we increasingly emit it in the atmosphere and that it will have some influence on temperature. They don’t necessarily agree that this would be catastrophic or that it creates the pressing need to act against it. It is more a discussion about levels. How much of the atmospheric CO2 is there because of man-made emissions and what is the effect of that? Beside the “dragon slayers” I don’t know skeptics who don’t believe our emission will at least have some warming effect.

Obviously, the bet is stacked, it is impossible to prove. He is right, his money is safe.

It is a negative and a negative can not be proven. Nobody can ever proof for example there are no black swans. Even if some guy who want to do it has been in every country of the world, there still might be a place where he hasn’t been and were there are black swans. Maybe even plentiful. As an ex-physics teacher he should know that. It is however possible to falsify the statement “All swans are white” by seeing a black swan. A single one is enough.

Keating is not only the judge, but also the jury and the accuser. He does say that the deniers “don’t have to prove him wrong” or “prove anything at all”, which I doubt. In reality they will have to convince him. It is very difficult to convince someone who already has made up his mind, whatever the side they are on.

Even if it was possible to prove a negative, in the case of climate it would be extremely difficult to do so. The climate system is incredibly complex and to us it seems a chaotic system. This means there will be probability involved. This probability might even rely on opinion rather than on fact. That will be very difficult to assess.

The actual challenge is stated really broad and ambiguously. When one need to follow the scientific method, one need a clear question to begin with. “Climate change” doesn’t say much. Climate changes all the time. If one takes change in a chaotic system as a proof, then there is no limit on what one can prove. It should be defined what he means specifically by “climate change” and more specifically by “man-made global climate change”. What does it consist of? How is it measured? Which dataset to use? How much is the natural variation exactly?

Luckily he made “clarifications” and put them in a separate post, which I think is not a good idea. The clarifications should be on the page that contains the challenge or there should be at least a link to the clarification page. I had a hard time finding the page and I think others do too. On the clarifications page there are exactly zero comments although it is there for more than a month. While other pages have hundreds of comments. The challenge pages are also spread out over several pages. I have seen two versions of the challenge plus the clarification. Maybe there are even more? He makes it really difficult for those who want to take the challenge or he is somehow struggling with the concept of a blog.

These are the clarifications:

Option #1:

The basic tenets of AGW are these two IPCC conclusions:

It is extremely likely (95-100%) that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

Climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C and extremely unlikely (95-100%) less than 1°C.

So if someone was able to scientifically disprove these two extremely likely / unlikely statements, then that should suffice. That said, the climate debate has shifted a bit over the past decades I’ve following it into at least “skeptics” grudgingly accepting (1) that the planet is actually warming and (2) the physics behind sensitivity excluding feedbacks being 1.1°C.

Option #2:

Deniers love claiming that previous cycles in the climate prove that the current warming cycle is nothing more than a naturally occurring warming cycle (of course, you have to concede that it is warming in order to make this claim). The problem is that they never provide any proof, or even evidence, that there is any connection between the current warming cycle and naturally occurring cycles.

Proof that today’s warming cycle is a naturally occurring event would satisfy the challenge.

That is something completely different than the original claim!

I found it quite ironic that he chooses exactly these two statements in the first option. I had to chuckle when I came across them. I recognized both of them from the AR5 Summary for the Policymakers. The 1.5-4.5 °C was in fact backpedaling from the values in AR4 (2-4.5 °C). Not really an argument at such, but knowing that climate sensitivity is a measure of the effects of CO2 on temperatures, it was a big surprise that the IPCC increased their confidence that humans were the dominant cause of the warming, in stead of decreasing it. So basically, if this is really one of the basic tenets of AGW, then the IPCC ignored this basic tenet when they came up with their confidence trick. It showed that other considerations than scientific were in place. Not totally unexpected knowing the IPCC is a political organization.

By the way, the 95-100%-figure is not the result of a calculation, but is the opinion/expert judgment of a group of scientists (who probably were chosen for their adherence to the theory in the first place).

Is it really the task of the skeptics to prove that man-made global climate change doesn’t exists? Shouldn’t skeptics trying to demonstrate that this high confidence was not really justified? To me it seems a very bad choice of clarifying statements. The second statement in option 1 weakens the case of that very high confidence in the first statement. Especially in the view of the (political) process in which they were decided.

On the other hand: couldn’t the challenge be reversed? In his superiority feelings over the skeptics, Keating seems to assume that the consensus science he adheres to, has it all figured out and the evidence is gathered by the use of the scientific method. Is this really true? If I want to use his own tactics I could as well state that the warmers often claim that “the science is clear”, “there is overwhelming evidence”, “there is a scientific consensus”,… yet these statements seem empty and not supported by the observations. So let them prove their case. Via the scientific method! That would be fun. At least for the skeptics, that is.

The molehill that was promoted to a mountain

molehill-mountain

I doesn’t happen often that record sea ice in the Antarctic is covered in the media. Yet that changes when at the same time this record could be minimized. A couple days ago a press release about Antarctic ice cover was announced. Its title: “Has Antarctic sea ice expansion been overestimated?“. The referenced paper “A spurious jump in the satellite record: has Antarctic sea ice expansion been overestimated?” was from Ian Eisenman et al and stated that “much” of the expansion could be due to a processing error:

New research suggests that Antarctic sea ice may not be expanding as fast as previously thought. A team of scientists say much of the increase measured for Southern Hemisphere sea ice could be due to a processing error in the satellite data.

The press release starts with defining the problem. It was the increase in the Antarctic sea ice cover in a warming world that puzzled the scientists. In the paper they also mention the inability of the models to capture the observed increase. The investigators in the paper now try to explain these contradictions by suggesting that much of the measured expansion just may be due to an error in the way the satellite data was processed. Culminating in the title that questions whether antarctic sea ice cover really is setting setting record highs.

When I first heard this, two questions crossed my mind. First, why didn’t they only find this now, after many decades of measurements? Secondly, how much of this increase is actually due to this error?

A couple days ago these questions were answered in one fell swoop by Pat Michaels and Paul Knappenberger. The first question was easily answered. According to the authors the error was found so late because the difference was not very visible in the noise. This triggered my curiousity to look into that press release (and later the paper). This is how they mentioned it in the press release:

“You’d think it would be easy to see which record has this spurious jump in December 1991, but there’s so much natural variability in the record – so much ‘noise’ from one month to the next – that it’s not readily apparent which record contains the jump. When we subtract one record from the other, though, we remove most of this noise, and the step-like change in December 1991 becomes very clear.”

If the difference was difficult to spot due to the noise, what does this want to say about the strength of that data in the first place?

Secondly, how big is that difference? It can’t be that big, otherwise that would emphasize even more the noisiness of the data. Some more explanation is needed here. What Eisenman et al found was a step change in the data after processing. The sensors are changed from time to time and needed to be calibrated. In one of those occasions it might had gone wrong and this was found after an update of the processing software (for example: Bootstrap). When the data was processed with both versions and then subtracted from each other, Eisenman found a step change in 1991, at the moment that the sensor was changed.

eisenman figure2

eisenman figure2

After 1991 the ice cover increased and stayed high since than. Therefor the conclusion that “much” of the expansion was due to this processing error, not because of an actual increasing ice cover. Now Michaels and Knappenberger estimated the difference to 200,000 km3, which is not really much comparing to the 1.3 million km3 cover. I think it will be even less. The step change is situated in the period from which the mean is calculated (from 1979 until 2008), so if the cover is lower after 1991 this will change the mean. Even if we subtract 200.000 of the current value, it still is quite an increase. Still not understood by the scientist and not projected by the models. Therefor Michaels and Knappenberger compared it with a molehill that became a mountain.

This was where Michaels and Knappenberger stopped. But after reading the press release and the paper, more questions arose than were solved. When looking at the Antarctic ice cover data, I would expect some step change in 1992 due to this processing error, but this was not the case. At the contrary, it seemed as if ice cover decreased a little in 1992. Plus, the graph was hovering around the zero line until around 2007 and then the ice cover started to increase rapidly. Look at the end year in figure 2, the so called “spurious” jump in the satellite record wasn’t even in data they presented in the press release.

Southern Hemisphere sea ice anomaly July 24, 2014

Southern Hemisphere sea ice anomaly July 24, 2014

According to Eisenman it is not clear which version is wrong. He sees two options. The first option is that Bootstrap version 1 is correct and version 2 introduced the problem after the update in 2007. This then means that the rate of Antarctic sea ice expansion has been overestimated in recent years, hence the title of the press release. The second option is that version 1 was wrong and the jump in 1991 was corrected with the update of version 2 in 2007.

The maintainer of the dataset doesn’t really agree. He claims there was indeed an error, but it was corrected in 2008 and the current version is correct:

The climate scientist who maintains the data set, Josefino Comiso of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, says he is confident that the current data set is correct. Comiso says that he inadvertently introduced a mistake into the record at some point after 1991, but corrected it unknowingly when he updated the file in 2008.

Comiso and other climate scientists reject the suggestion that his data set may overestimate the recent trend in Antarctic sea-ice growth – by as much as two-thirds, according to Eisenman’s analysis. Another NASA sea-ice data set, processed using the other standard algorithm, shows a growth trend similar to that in Comiso’s current data.

That put a fresh light on the case to say the least.

What does this means? We saw a press release that basically says that Antarctic sea ice expansion has been overestimated and “much” of the increase in Antarctic sea ice cover is due to processing error. Yet when we look at what was found, “much” seems not really that “much” after all. At least not the “significant error” they talked about. There is even the possibility that the error was found already and was corrected in 2008. The molehill seems to be sold to the public as a mountain. Those who don’t look at the numbers will have the impression that Antarctic ice cover is not worth much talking about, while in fact when the value of the step change is subtracted from the current values, it is still quite an increase.

If you want to enjoy the warm weather at its best, go where the heatwave is!

Last week I got to hear that there was a heatwave in Belgium. That was odd, because I didn’t hear something of that kind in the news, nor on the meteo-website. I didn’t had much time to look into it at that time, so forgot about it for a couple days. Today I had some time on my hand and found myself looking for that announcement. It seemed to be on the VTM news of July 15, 2014.

In that news bulletin Jill Peeters (weather woman) declared a heatwave … for De Kempen. “De Kempen” is an area in the North East of Belgium. This is how it seemed to be announced (translated from Dutch):

“We officially define a heatwave when it is warmer than 25 degrees for five days in a row, from which three days are warmer than 30 degrees,” said Jill. “The coming days this will be the case in De Kempen. Tropical air is already entering our country.”

First, I can agree with her definition, except for one point. Officially a heatwave in Belgium is indeed defined as a period of at least 5 consecutive days in which the maximum temperature exceeds 25 °C (77 °F), provided that on at least 3 days in this period the maximum temperature exceeds 30 °C, but as measured … in Uccle … not somewhere in De Kempen.

Why is this so important? The definition of a heatwave is calibrated for a climatological location. Our definition of a heatwave would not make much sense for example in Spain (summer would be one continuous heatwave) or in Helsinki (there would hardly be heatwaves).

Belgium has a maritime climate, but De Kempen is a bit different. There is a sandy soil, which is drier than the regions at the coast or in the middle of Belgium (where Uccle is situated). This means that it warms up quicker there. The difference is mostly 1 °C or bit more, but can in some exceptional cases exceed 10 °C. The warmest temperature ever was measured in that region. The heatwaves of De Kempen and Uccle are not exactly comparable.

Secondly, the day the announcement was done, there wasn’t a heatwave yet, according to the definition. It only would become a confirmed heatwave in the “coming days” if the forecast was correct.

My first idea was that she wanted to declare a heatwave as soon as possible. She is known to be quite alarmist, although that doesn’t show much in her weather talks.

But I was very surprised to read this statement on the same page (translated from Dutch):

Those who wants to enjoy the warm weather at its best in the coming days, will have to go to De Kempen. Says Jill Peeters.

That was not what I expected. What happened to “Global Warming will give more extreme heatwaves” we all heard in the media only just a couple years ago? Was this the separation between her role as weather woman (bringing a weather event that people seem to be fond of) and that of alarmist (hyping the story to scare people into action)? I have to admit that the reactions of the public on heatwaves changed quite a bit. From “Ay ay ay, global warming is happening” to “Yippeekyay! Let’s enjoy this nice weather”. Or is the heatwave scare already replaced by something else?

Time will learn if some climatologist stands up and make some doom and gloom projections on heatwaves. Forecast is that next week temperatures will go up again. Probably, to be continued.

The price of hiding a failed energy policy

A week ago the SERV (Social-Economical Council of Flanders) calculated that our electricity bill could rise 30% soon. A couple days ago our Minster of Economy, Johan Vande Lanotte, announced a new proposal to counter this increase. So far so good. But what he proposed is what he calls a “bad bank” that takes over the remaining “debt of the green electricity cost”. He claims an amount of about 500 million euro to be paid over 20 years. This will be around 36 million per year. To me it didn’t make much sense, but at least there is the acknowledgment that something is not right with those subsidies.

Some background. It began when Government started to subsidize renewable energy. Generously. Companies and people could install for example solar panels on their roofs and Government decreed that the energy providers are obligated to pay a compensation for every 1,000 kWh produced by these panels. These are called “green electricity certificates” and are paid for production of solar or wind energy. Energy providers, not being charitable institutions, of course want to charge this directly to their customers. Which they initially did a couple years ago and the energy price suddenly skyrocketed.

This was only the beginning. The minister saw the dark cloud coming. Fearing incredibly high energy prices because of their renewable energy policies, he decided to artificially freeze the prices of electricity. The energy provided were not allowed to raise the (electricity) for three years. This standstill ends next year and as a consequence it is to be expected that the providers will want to compensate for the three years of lost revenues. The providers are paying the bill now, but will not keep on doing it when the price is free again.

At least it worked. For a while our energy prices didn’t rise anymore. Problems solve, you would think. Very nice in an election year, but the hand that was giving so generously was the same hand that took it away in the first place.

Now the energy price will be free again it probably will make our energy prices explode in no time. Higher energy prices are a consequence of the renewables subsidies and the measures to hide these made things much worse. The same thing with this “bad bank”.

So far as I could understand it, but why the proposal of, of all things, a “bad bank”? To me that made not much sense. In the end someone has to pay for those high energy prices and borrowing money means paying even more in the long term. Vande Lanotte, as a Minister of Economy and of Consumer Affairs, should be aware of that. 36 million times 20 is 720 million euro. Over time this means paying much more, about half of the current debt more. This is not all. He surely underestimated that “debt”. It is not 500 million euro for Flanders, it is around one billion euro.

Then came the surprise: the proposal came originally from the Green party and, for whatever strange reason, they want to take the credit for it. Their credo was that it has to be absolutely avoided that families are facing a sharp increase in their energy bill. At first it was a mystery to me. Someone will have to pay the price. Whether it is via a higher price of energy or via a fund.

After a while it dawned on me. It means that the price now will be payed by the tax payer, not by the consumer. The most important difference is that this makes the price increase less visible. If the price is paid by the consumers, then the failure or their energy policy will be painfully obvious. It would be very clear that these subsidies make energy expensive, for more than a decade to come. When it is in a fund, it is out of sight and not connected with energy policies.

The scary thing is that the Minister and the greens are willing to add almost 50% to our current green energy debt, in order to hide their own failed energy policies…

Only one part of the story

Looking back to my previous, alarmist, self I remember seeing a lot of negativity. That should come as no surprise. The media is very busy spewing loads of negative news stories about climate onto the people. Hurricanes, droughts, floods, less rain, more rain, thunderstorms, higher temperatures, lower temperatures, failed harvests, melting (land) ice in the (West) Antarctic, declining Arctic sea ice, declining glacier on Mount Kilimanjaro, species migration, the month with the highest average temperature, the day with the highest temperature ever, the highest temperature in one weather station/area, wildfires,… Of course they are caused or connected with Global Warming and whatever happens, it is always worse than before.

When something is going worse than before it is being hyped in the media, but when something is going better again later, nothing is said about it. We were hit hard with stories about an increase in GLOBAL temperatures in the past. Yet when those global temperatures didn’t increase, what make the scientists scratch their heads, we don’t hear much about this global temperatures anymore. Sure, we still hear about the record temperature of the month, or even more ridiculous, of the day record. Or the record of a particular area. But what happened to those GLOBAL temperatures?

Who has seen the graphs of the pause? The evolution of wild fires? Hurricane activity almost at its historically lowest? The hurricanes “drought”? The increase of Antarctic sea ice, at a historically highest? The standstill of the Arctic sea ice extent? The above average global sea ice (hey, in the past we were scared about the albedo of the earth going down because of melting ice, yet when we have a high albedo, no peep)? Food production at an all time high ever and still even increasing? No wonder many people believe it is ever getting increasingly worse and still as much of an issue it seemed to be in the past.

This means that those who don’t check data will only hear the bad news and almost never the good news. Therefor they might thinking something is still really wrong and the scientists in the media were right after all when they say disasters would happen. And assuming all those bad things still apply at this moment.

Wouldn’t it be nice when ordinary people also would hear the good stories. Things that evolved positive. Then they could assess for themselves how good or bad the predictions/projections done in the past were. This of course could be more difficult then one may think. The media loves bad news stories and while scientific stories being intrinsically boring, doom and gloom stories do sell very well. So I don’t expect to see the situation changing much.

It should come as no surprise that those who don’t go and look at the data will not know the actual situation. They think that the global warming situation is only growing worse and worse, not because that is what the data says, because that is the only thing that gets through in the media.

Let me turn that around and assume, for sake of the argument, that the alarmist side is right and see how far that gets us. So we have a situation in which Global Warming is around for already more than 25 years now. We apparently feel the consequences of this in our lives via increasing storm activity, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, freak weather events and so on and so on. Extreme weather that affects our crops. Yet when we look at crop production we see no effect. When we look at hurricane numbers and see no effect. When we look at global temperatures and see no effect. More, crop production is rising. Hurricanes are decreasing in numbers. Global temperatures stays stationary in spite of CO2 being considered the main cause of rising temperatures and yet an unprecedented increase of its emissions in the last decades. If one looks only at one side of the story it makes sense. But when looking at both side, that is quite some discrepancy. That is quite some leap of faith to get there.

Seeing what you believe versus believing what you see

Some statements can keep on resonating in your head after you hear them. This happened when I saw a transcript of the opening Remarks by Joseph Bast at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9). The theme of the conference was “Don’t just wonder about global warming, understand it!” and this were the words that kept on resonating since I read them:

Alarmists see what they believe, while skeptics believe what they see.

If there is a sentence that would capture my changing process starting around 5 years ago, this would be a good contender.

Seeing what you believe

Life was incredibly simple when I was a believer. There were two pillars on which my belief was shrugged. The first one was the “consensus between scientists” that the science is settled and the debate is over. We were surely the cause of global warming. In a way that was comforting. It has already been evaluated by the “experts” and they said they were sure.

It is based on a really simple story: we produce CO2 as a byproduct of our activities (which is true), this increases the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (which is also true), CO2 as a greenhouse gas (it is) will have an effect on temperatures (not many doubt that). But this was not the complete picture. While all of the statements are basically true, it is only a small part of the big picture, but amplified as if it was the only thing that really matters.

A second pillar was the extreme polarization of the playing field. On the one side there where those who agreed with the consensus (whether scientist, journalist, politician,…) and they were portrayed as the noble white knights who just wanted to “save the earth”. While on the other side there were those who didn’t agree with the consensus who were portrayed as the dark knights, surrendering to the money of Big Oil and sabotaging the white knights in their strive to do the right thing. Heroes versus bad guys. That is the same stuff Hollywood movies are made of.

Being on the white knights’ side is favorable. No wonder why so many people who don’t do fact checks choose that side.

Believing what you see

My first steps towards skeptic attitude were almost incidental and even based on a misinterpretation. Yet it was the start I needed. At first I only took alarmist voices seriously, that was the style of thinking that I was used to, but gradually I took notice of the dissenting voices…and came to the realization that they were the ones that actually looked at the data and try to understand. While the alarmist side were not interested in this kind of stuff, were just playing with emotions and with mathematical models. Throwing out ever scarier doom scenarios in the media. Stifling debate by calling the consensus and ad hominems.

The more I was looking into it, the more inconsistencies I found. Inconsistencies that I couldn’t see before. How would I? I didn’t even did basic fact checks back then. That’s the price of just believing in a situation where communication is not based on reality.

But, you could say, I did change once from one side to the other. Isn’t it possible that I could change back? Well, true, I changed from warmer to skeptic and yes, there is always the possibility that I could switch back. This would be a very interesting situation though. I did the switch when looking at the facts. When I would switch back, that would also be because of the facts and then it would be interesting to see which facts I would have found that support the alarmist side. If the facts change, my position will also change. But at this point there is nothing that points in that direction.

All subsidies are equal, but some are more equal than others

all-animals-are-equal

When looking for more information in previous post, I found a lot of information on the advantages, but even more about the disadvantages, of those alleged “fossil fuel subsidies”. I just copy/pasted them below, some are obviously related or very close to each other. Here goes:

    The advantages:

  • avoid inflation
  • shield citizens from the pain of price increases in global energy markets
  • expect and demand that their national resource be made available to them at cheap prices
  • an easy means to distribute state benefits to the citizens without the need for complex administrative capabilities and income testing
  • believed to help alleviate poverty by making energy economically accessible to the poor
  • promote industrialization
  • help generate employment opportunities
  • manage inflation
  • could help deter potential protests.
    The disadvantages:

  • are expensive; they eat up national budgets
  • benefits end up going mostly to the richest citizens
  • crowd out more productive government spending on education or infrastructure and reduce energy efficiency
  • mess with the law of supply and demand
  • discouraging investment in both alternative energy and fossil fuel exploration
  • are an inefficient means to alleviate energy poverty
  • economic inefficiency
  • adverse impacts on social equity
  • high fiscal cost for the government.

Most claimed that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Okay, IF the issues are actually subsidies (and not just an artifact of the Price Gap approach), then I basically can agree with all of them, pro and contra.

But I do recognize these disadvantages. They are ridiculously close to the disadvantages of renewables subsidies. In my humble opinion, the disadvantages of fossil fuel subsidies also apply to renewables subsidy.

For example, the subsidies of renewables made energy much more expensive and energy poverty are on the increase. This is only the beginning. In 2012, our Minister of Economy froze the energy prices, so power companies could not charge more to the costumer. They did swallow all the extra costs themselves. Until now. But this will be undone next year and the expectation is that prices will then rise with 30% to compensate for the loss these companies had since the rule was introduced. If the price increase until 2012 already had a negative effect, then wait until the prices are free again and power companies are starting to recuperate what they had to pay until now.

In the meanwhile the benefits end up going mostly to the richest citizens. In our little country it went to those who could free up the money to invest in renewables and harvest the subsidies.

“Crowd out more productive government spending” is not hard to understand. If a billion euros go to the aid of the renewables that are not economically viable, this means less budget for other issues. As long as wind and solar are seen as the only solution to our energy problem, the money will go to intermittent power production.

At first it seems a bit counterintuitive, but subsidizing renewables discourages investment in well needed technology, even if they are necessary to make intermittent energy to work in a continuous working system. Even Agoria realized that the current subsidizing of intermittent energy sources discourages investments on storage of energy when production exceeds demand.

No doubt that it messes with the law of supply and demand. Subsididizing renewables makes other forms of power generation uneconomically, therefor nobody wants to do necessary investments in replacing old power stations that should be taken out of use. This means that the most needed new fast cycling gas turbines (needed to counteract the intermittent nature of the renewables) wouldn’t be build and our country stays with its outdated power stations. Which meant a danger to our power supply in the near future and, this somehow seemed to come as a surprise, more emissions… In the end they will be build eventually, but it would be a long road to get there and there would be a lot of resistance. Yet, they would not have other choices. The power generation infrastructure is old and there is a desperate need for new plants to replace older ones.

But remember, it was desire of the International Energy Agency to use the saved money to “invest” in renewables. None of the two subsidies makes much sense. Apparently the IEA find it inappropriate that fossil fuel producing countries make their fossil fuels available to their own citizens at a fairer price than the international market price, yet they have no problem advocating uneconomic and inefficient forms of energy which will make energy more expensive and less reliable for their citizens…

Subsidy or no subsidy, that is the question

gas price difference

It has been told in many shades and colors, apparently fossil-fuels are subsidized. I have never really perceived this as truthful, but also never looked into what actually is being claimed. It at least seemed exaggerated: my thoughts where that this “subsidy” was probably something else, but dressed up as a subsidy.

A couple days ago I read an article about those alleged fossil-fuel subsidies and in it they even went a step further this time. The claim was not only that these subsidies amount to 544 billion dollars per year, but that we could use these subsidies to “invest” in renewable sources of energy (for which we would need 800 billion dollars per year):

Much of the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of renewable energy investment that is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change could come from the substantial subsidies given to fossil fuels, a new report has found.

Maybe a good time to start checking what these subsidies actually consist of. I had a hard time believing the statement that there is 544 billion dollars of subsidies on fossil fuels. As far as I know, fossil fuels fuel the economy. I can’t believe that someone in its right mind would subsidize something that is generating money. At least in our country, but also in our neighboring countries, fossil fuels are taxed heavily and governments EARN money from fossil fuel use.

There are however some things that could indicate some sort of a subsidy. There are some groups of people that get their energy cheaper. For example, farmers are taxed less on the fuel for their tractors and other machinery. Also the poor pay less for their energy use. But the government doesn’t pay for their fossil fuel use, but get a little bit less income from it. The reasons for these are to keep the local food prices low or preventing that the poor come into problems.

Another thing I considered was that the price of oil is not only the price of the product, transport and profit, but there are also other elements in it, some of it political, that make it much more expensive than just the product itself. Everybody needs it, so this will drive prices up. In that sense some subsidies could exist.

The first thing I found was the distribution of the energy subsidies globally and this information was telling. This is how the International Energy Agency displays it:

fossil-fuel-subsidy2012_small

It was surprising to see that none of the countries in which those subsidies were given were European, USA or Australian (these are the countries that are willing to do something or at least talked about it in the past). Even more surprising was to see the countries with the highest subsidies (in dark red): it were predominantly countries in the Middle East and North Africa! Surprising because these are oil PRODUCING countries. The report seem to rest on the same IEA data and came to the same conclusion:

Oil-exporting countries were responsible for approximately two-thirds of total fossil subsidies, while greater than 95% of all direct subsidies occurred in developing countries.

This made me think about what this elusive “subsidy” is actually about. Apparently the inhabitants of these oil/gas producing countries pay less for the use of fossil fuels. But less compared to what? In most discussions it is not really defined and seems to be the “international market price” or the “world market price”. But the price of oil in the international market bears little relationship to the cost of production. So of course those people don’t pay the international price. They live in a country with plentiful resources. Their product is not scarce for them at all. To countries that they export to (countries with less of no natural fossil fuel resources like our little country), this oil or gas has more added value than in the country were it is plentiful available.

A clear definition of fossil fuel subsidy is mostly missing from the discussions. Does it really mean that this subsidy is the difference in price of the product on the local market compared to the international market? Those governments will not really pay money to keep price low, but will have less income (compared to when they would sell it internationally). Or do they let them sell cheaper than the production cost plus the profit for the producer? In that case they are actually paying community money for the local distribution of their product and I would have no problem calling that a subsidy. So I am not really sure how much of these 544 billions of “subsidy” is actually a subsidy or rather an artifact of their price gap approach.

According to the IEA methodology they define it as such:

[…] The price gap is the amount by which an end-use price falls short of the reference price and its existence indicates the presence of a subsidy.[…]

For net exporters, reference prices were based on the export parity price: the price of a product at the nearest international hub, adjusted for quality differences if necessary, minus the cost of freight and insurance back to the net exporter, plus the cost of internal distribution and marketing and any VAT. […]

But this reference price of a product can be substantial. This was made clear in a paper of the University of Uyo. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and the president came to the idea that the fuel prices of petrol and household kerosene (which were the fuels that were regulated at that time) were too low. Before 2012 those fuels were sold for 65 Naira per liter at the pump. The imported price was 138.81 Naira per liter, so the president called the difference of 73.81 Naira a “subsidy”, as whispered in by the IMF, World Bank and others. The investigators now calculated the production price as 34.03 Naira per liter, this when the prices would be dictated by the forces of demand & supply, in stead of international demand which is substantially higher.

But then there is that other issue. The claim was that much of the hundreds of billions of dollars needed for subsidizing renewable energy could come from the fossil fuel subsidies. Even if it would be actual subsidies, it is a developing nations thingy and the money that was used as a “subsidy” was for about two thirds generated by the selling of … fossil fuels, probably with a huge profit.

How much chance is there that these “subsidies” could go to investments for renewables? Whatever the developed countries would save would be insignificant. Unless of course the developed nations could get the developing nations crazy enough to let them adopt the international prices in stead of the prices of demand & supply and to use the “saved” money to invest in renewable energy in stead of other pressing priorities such as for example health care or education.

The influence of the zombie thermometers

zombie thermometer

When I saw the response of NCDC press office on the questions raised by Tony Heller (aka Steven Goddard), Paul Homewood and Antony Watts on the reliability in the NCDC temperature network, it was not exactly what I was expecting:

Our algorithm is working as designed.

As far as I could understand the issue, it has to do with how their program (that calculates the average US temperature) works when temperature data is missing. Tony Heller claimed that 40% of the data is “fabricated”, meaning not coming from measurements. When there is no measurement for a certain station, the program makes an estimate by looking at the neighboring stations and assigns an estimate of that missing data from this. So far so good, but something went horribly wrong when the program called that routine for example when the underlying raw data was complete or, more mind boggling, when there were even stations that were closed for many years and yet estimates were generated for them.

Yet they claim that their algorithm is working … as designed.

Not a bug, a feature. Nothing to see here, move along.

Although this infilling is perfectly fine (mathematically speaking that is) in a reliable network, there is an issue with it in a system with many discontinuities.

Like surface weather station data.

Only five years ago I got drawn into the global warming issue when visiting the Surface Stations website. From that moment on I realized that the temperature measurement network was not really in good shape. According the current data, more than 90% of the stations had siting issues and will report temperatures with an error larger than 1 °C. It came as a surprise that there were many, many issues like heat sucking asphalt, stones, nearby buildings, air conditioners/external heat sources and what not more. All these influence temperature readings, upwards.

So in this case, if 90+ percent of the stations really has sitings issues and there is infilling from neighboring stations, how reliable would that infilled data be???

Does NOAA/NCDC fabricates data as being insinuated? Well, depends on the definition of “fabricate”. If it is willfully alter the data for a specific goal, then I don’t think that this is the case. But if it is creating data where there was no data before, yes, I think they are fabricating data and chances are high that the adjustment will be upwards.

Fine, but just don’t call it high quality data anymore…