Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mix that Energy!

One problem with the free market is that it is forever chasing the best deal for today, not necessarily the best deal for tomorrow. That is not to suggest that the alternatives to a free market are actually better. The problem is in the timespan considered for planning purposes.

Most forms of energy infrastructure need considerable timespans for planning, building and operating if they are to be economic in the long run. Certainly these timespans are a lot longer (perhaps in the order of 5 to 8 times) than the typical government term. This means that central planning is usually for some distant future timetable and therefore cannot seriously be considered a vote catcher.

So it is with the current energy debate, though hats off to Mr. Blair for re-introducing nuclear into the mix. This acknowledgment of Mr. Blair's bravery does not mean that I believe nuclear is the answer to all our problems. More that I see a balanced debate taking into account all the options as the only way forward.

The chicken littles who protest for the sake of protesting are doing society a great dis-service. They are condemning future generations to lost opportunities.

So while we are at it, let's look at all forms of energy supply seriously and candidly. Let's also look at significant ways to reduce energy waste, whether in the way the energy is converted for our use or at the end user's home or office. And let's be honest about the risks and downsides of each option.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Glass Half Empty

The BBC carry this report this evening, on the "Drying up of Africa".

The notion that greenhouse gases, and only those that are man-made (!), have caused significant drying up of the Sahel region of North Africa is one I suggest is politically motivated. I have worked in the Sahel, specifically the mountainous areas of northern Tunisia, and it is certainly true that the area is drier now than it was a few thousand years ago. In Roman times the area supported a vigorous culture and was the scene of some critical wars that set the political future of the Mediterranean. Today what were Roman centers of excellence are now ruins for the occasional tour bus. Dougga (also spelled Thugga) comes to mind.

Until recently, most historians believed that the area dried up because the area was farmed to exhaustion. Now we blame greenhouse gases, specifically greenhouse gases emitted by people who don't live in the Sahel. It's so much easier to blame the "other" guys!

Other areas that have dried up include the original fertile crescent that was the cradle of mankind - the Garden of Eden no less. Generally, these early areas of civilization seem to have become exhausted and their populations have, where possible, moved on. That may be why the world's politicians are so worried - they don't want mass migrations (read immigrations). All the better to tackle climate change and keep these people where they are, don't you know?

Monday, November 28, 2005

For Kyoto read Monteal?

So, another group meeting of the hand-wringing greens, this time called United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 11 and COP/MOP 1). The logo probably cost a few tons of carbon dioxide to produce! Seriously, though, the environmental cost of getting around 10,000 people to and from Montreal, not to mention the extra fuel needed to keep them all warm this time of year, probably will not get a mention during the debates.

Montreal may be the end of Kyoto. Long live Montreal.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

UK Energy Policy during a cold winter

This academic piece in the Sunday Telegraph sorts out the truth from the fiction about the UK's energy policy as it stands in the face of rapidly increasing natural gas prices.

Once again, the government's emphasis on "renewable" energy is exposed for the fraud it really is. Not only is wind generated power very expensive, the biggest irony is that, because the wind doesn't blow all the time, all those fossil fuel burners have to run anyway, regardless of whether or not we throw on a switch and consume the electricity they (or perhaps the wind turbines) generate. You see, you can't just turn off a conventional power station the moment the wind blows more than, say, 7.5 miles per hour, and then turn it back on after two hours of windy conditions have ended.

So here is the conundrum. If you try to save electricity, just remember that they are making it anyway and they may be making it twice over if the wind is blowing. Next thing you know is they will start charging you twice over to cover all the extra generation that you probably can't afford to use anyway. I would put an exclamation mark after that sentence if its contents weren't so incredibly pathetic and stupid.

Friday, November 25, 2005

BBC Q&A on UK Energy/Climate Policy

Tony Blair's recent speeches and articles on climate change issues have the environmental groups in a tizzy, not to mention many in his own cabinet. This article makes an attempt to see through the mist (or is it fog) of political rhetoric and explain to us lesser mortals just what is going on. While the entire article is worth reading for insight into just how muddled the energy/climate policy is, the final Q & A is worth repeating here:

Q: Will the politicians be able to devise politically saleable policies fast enough to make sure we don't suffer catastrophic climate change?

A: There are so many unknowns in climate science, policy, technology and politics that it is impossible to answer this question.

They should have put this first, then the rest of the article need not have been written.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

CO2, Methane and Rising Sea Level

The BBC's Richard Black carries a couple of reviews of scientific papers today. The results of some important research can be interpreted many ways but of course man-mad global warming-speak gets in the way of objectivity.

First, we read that CO2 levels are higher than at any time in the past 650,000 years. Air trapped in Antarctic ice can be analyzed and, assuming there has been no differential diffusion of gases from the trapped bubbles, this appears to be a good indicator of a lengthy geological time span. Without seeing the details, it is likely that the CO2 and methane contents will correlate nicely with the various Ice Ages and intervening warm periods. So why are today's values higher than ever (not that 650,000 years is actually "for ever")?

The article fails to answer this question. Hmmm. What was discovered is a major change in fluctuations around 420,000 years ago. This appears to be the main achievement of the study and has very little to do with the present day "global warming due to man using hydrocarbons" debate.

Second, a paper has been published showing that sea level has been rising faster during the past 150 years than during previous centuries. This sounds like "hockey stick" science to me, in that it would appear that the measurement system used for the past 150 years was different from that used for the previous centuries.

Next the IPCC comments that sea level rose 1-2cm during the past 100 years but is set to rise by anything up to 88 cm during the next 100 years. Quite what this prognostication is based on I do not know. And what does "anything up to 88 cm" mean anyway?

Whither UK Energy Policy?

An interesting article that says a lot about where the UK stands with respect to understanding climate change and energy pricing. In short, the country is in a bloody mess when it comes to (1) understanding and (2) doing something about the energy situation.

Perhaps the greatest problem facing policy makers and their advisors is that they have failed to appreciate the basic problems. (1) Yes, there is such a thing as climate change. (2) No, there is no firm evidence that the present trend of warming (if there really is one) is man-made.

To the first problem I simply say, as has been said many times on this blog, that change is normal, it is what we can and should expect. Rather than trying to control something we don't understand we should be working out ways to adapt to the changes.

Precious little work has been undertaken to try to connect observed climate change to man's influences. I rather think this is because the evidence is more imaginary than factual. Those that have tried simply admit that there are too many variables in such a complex open system as the earth's climate. What they do see is that the most likely driver for climate change is sunspot activity, something mere mortals (including the greenest of small-minded politicians from Mars) cannot possibly have direct control over.

Poor climate change science has backed many a top scientist into a corner - Lord May of the Royal Society being a prime candidate for the top prize (and it wouldn't be Nobel). It is hard for such illuminaries to back down from what is increasingly being seen as an untenable position. As is not unusual in the scheme of things scientific it is likely to be the outsiders who will bring sense to the debate.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Tyrrell Museum

We spent a few hours yesterday at the Tyrrell Museum, Alberta, admiring their incredible exhibits on dinosaurs and other paleonotological subjects. This plaque sums up a lot of what geology has to teach modern political science:

Some people like to believe that the dinosaurs became extinct because they had small brains. This is highly unlikely as they managed to survive a lot longer than homo sapiens has thus far. It seems more likely that we will become extinct, not because we have small brains but because we seem incapable of using what we've got to the greatest advantage. In the case of evolution, this means survival of the fittest!

The message for today is in the photo: don't fight change, run with it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cretaceous evidence of Climate Change

I'm working on a project at the moment that involves understanding the environment of what is present day West Africa before the South Atlantic formed due to plate tectonics (continental drift). The area between southern Africa and Brazil was a large rift valley, similar to those cutting through present day East Africa and the Red Sea. Large lakes existed between the soon to be separated continents. Sediments in those lakes were extremely rich in algal material and they have formed superb source rocks for hydrocarbons. So it is natural for us to study these ancient sediments when and where we can.

All manner of scientific analyses have been undertaken by academia and industry over the years. One of the most pertinent to the climate change debate is the realization that subtle changes in lake chemistry, algal growth and so on are probably related to sunspot activity. Changes in mineral content of the lake deposits seem to be on a cycle that spans several years, resulting in thin (millimeter thin) layers of alternately rich and lean source material.

When the data is plotted out, it is very apparent that the Cretaceous environment in these lakes was in a continuous state of flux. There was no "norm", in fact it is hard to define exactly what would be typical. With no man-made influences (all this was occurring approximately 120 million years ago) it is hard to blame anything but Nature for these fluctuations. External influences would most likely be from sunspot activity, creating climate variations, and slowly evolving geological processes such as erosion. These same influences are here today and they provide most of the effects the "greens" like to believe are caused by mankind.

That is not to say that mankind is incapable of creating climate change but how much and for how long are not known with any degree of precision. In other words, the warming period we appear to be enjoying is probably due to the same set of influences that created all those fluctuations in the proto-South Atlantic.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Worth a read. . . .

A good post from someone who observes reality about the climate change debate.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Prince of Hypocrisy

The Telegraph provides this cover of C. Windsor and entourage's latest US tour nonsense. The whole thing makes me want to throw up. He is flying around with wife and support team in a chartered Boeing 757, a plane that normally carries around 183 passengers and he has the nerve to tell ordinary folk like us how to protect the planet!

Professor Philip Stott sums up environmentalist elitism rather well in his latest offering on the subject. I have to believe that more of the same commentry will ultimately be the elitists' downfall. Their house of cards will fall down.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Greenpeace in trouble with the law

There's nothing really new in this story as Greenpeace have always seen living on the edge of the law as a way to gain access to the media and therefore the public. Twice this week, however, the law has not seen their side of the story favorably.

Today a judge found 8 members of Greenpeace guilty of public order offences when they scaled the roof of the Deputy Prime Minister's residence and scared the hell out of his wife (who thought they were terrorists). The punishment is to do community service work (perhaps cleaning walls painted with Greenpeace graffiti?)

Earlier the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior II ran aground and damaged a World Heritage reef in the Philippines, bringing a fine of $7,000. Hold on, I thought they were supposed to be fighting to protect reefs?

A reply from the Guardian

Last week Simon Jenkins wrote this article in the Guardian. Not normally known for non-green content, the paper addressed the errors of relying on wind turbine power and actually suggested that nuclear might be a better alternative. Even so, the author could not help but offer the "global warming" side of the story. So I sent him this e-mail:

Excellent reading and a lot of common sense about alternative energy. But please think again about how humankind is supposed to tackle climate change. The temperature at London has risen approximately 10ºC since the last Ice Age while the Kyoto protocol cannot even come close to controlling 0.2ºC of warming. In other words, we have to adapt to change not try to maintain the status quo.

And I now receive this reply:

Dear Paul Ashton,

Thanks for your email. I have much sympathy for what you say.

With best wishes

Simon Jenkins

I hope it wasn't written by a computer!