Conspiracist Ideation Falsified?

Summary

A recent paper, based on an internet survey of American people, claimed that “conspiracist ideation, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested“. Analysis of the data reveals something quite different. Strong opinions with regard to conspiracy theories, whether for or against, suggest strong support for strongly-supported scientific hypotheses, and strong, but divided, opinions on climate science.

Preamble

In 2012 I spent a lot of time looking at a paper “Lewandowsky, Oberauer & Gignac – NASA faked the moon landing:Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” – hereafter called LOG12. The follow up in early 2013 was the notorious Recursive Fury paper that has now been withdrawn (Here and here). When a new paper came out, by the same authors reaching pretty much the same conclusions, I had lost interest.

However, Barry Woods, a victim of the Recursive Fury paper, suggested in a comment:-

Lewandowsky always claimed that his US study replicated LOG12

Could you try the same pivot table analysis as LOG12?

I had a quick look at the file, tried a few pivot tables, had a short email exchange, and found something interesting.

The 2013 US study is “The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science” – Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles E. Gignac, Klaus Oberauer. PLOS one. Hereafter called LOG13.

The two papers were similar in that

  • The three authors were the same.
  • Many of the questions were the same, or very similar.
  • The conclusions were similar.

The two papers are different in that

  • LOG12 was an internet survey, conducted solely through “pro-science” blogs. LOG13 was another internet survey, but this time of the U.S. population.
  • LOG12 had just 4 responses. Running 1 to 4 they are strongly/weakly reject and weakly strongly accept. LOG13 had 5 responses. In the middle there was a neutral/don’t know/no opinion option.

At “Shaping Tommorow’s World” Blog, Lewandowsky and Oberauer said of the LOG13 paper:-

Conclusions: Free-market worldviews are an important predictor of the rejection of scientific findings that have potential regulatory implications, such as climate science, but not necessarily of other scientific issues. Conspiracist ideation, by contrast, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested.

It is the last part that I will deal with in this posting. Free market views I may come back to at a later time.

 

Comparison of conspiracist orientations and science denial in LOG12 (pro-science blogs) and LOG13 (Americans)

LOG12 had thirteen questions on conspiracy theories and LOG13 nine. In the latter three were on science issues and one on “New World Order”. That left five that are comparable between the papers, but independent of the scientific / political subject matter1.

In LOG12 there were two scientific questions. In short they are “HIV causes AIDS” and “smoking causes lung cancer”. In LOG13 was added “lead in drinking water harms health”

This can be compared by banding the belief in conspiracy theories by the rounded average response.


The first column in the table is the band, taken by rounding the average response to the nearest whole number for the responses to the 5 conspiracy theories. The second column is the unrounded average response within the band. The third column is the number of responses. The fourth column is the average response to the two science questions. The fifth column is acceptance ratio.

For the LOG12 survey, conducted via “pro-climate science” blogs, the connection is clear. The belief in the five conspiracy theories is inversely related to belief in two well-accepted scientific hypotheses. However, there is strong acceptance of the two science questions by all but two respondents. The two respondents who were in the highest conspiracy category I referred to as “rogue responses” in my earlier analysis, and which Steve McIntyre called “super-scammers”. Take out the two scam responses and there is a picture of degrees of science acceptance and no science denial.


For the LOG13, an internet survey of the American public, there is a somewhat different picture. The belief in three well-accepted scientific hypotheses appears to be related to the strength of opinion for three conspiracy theories, independent of the direction of that opinion. The respondents with the least belief in the scientific hypotheses are those who are in the middle on conspiracy theories. That is those who express no opinion, or give similar weight to both sides. Yet they still are, on average, affirming of the scientific consensus. There is no “rejection of the science” at all by any band of belief in conspiracy theories. Further, the greatest “believers in science” are the 12 who have the greatest “conspiracist” ideation. Like the authors, I have no truck with conspiracy theories. But the evidence does not support the statement “conspiracist ideation, … is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested“. Falsely maligning a group of people will only serve to confirm them in their beliefs.

 

Comparison of conspiracist orientations and climate science denial in LOG12 (pro-science blogs) and LOG13 (Americans)

A similar comparison can be made between the beliefs in conspiracy theories and the beliefs in climate science.


In LOG12 there appears to be a relationship. 97% of respondents strongly accept climate science and reject conspiracy theories. The 30 who have a modest acceptance of conspiracy theories are a little more lukewarm on climate science. The real odd result are the two scam responses.


In LOG13 there is a distinct relationship here – the stronger the belief in conspiracy theories, the lower the belief in climate science. But hold on. A score of 3 is neutral, and 5 is total acceptance. The difference is between very lukewarm acceptance and virtually no opinion either way. To claim rejection is misleading. However, the result appears to contradict the previous result the three scientific hypotheses. To understand this result needs closer examination. There were 5 statements and 1001 responses, so 5005 total responses in total. Counting all the responses gives the following result4


To clarify, the “Grand Total” row shows that there were 366 scores of 1 in the 5 CO2 science statements. Of these 15 were by the 12 respondents who averaged a score of 5 in the conspiracy theories. The proportions I believe can be better seen by the percentage of responses in each row.


So 7% of all the 5005 responses were a score of 1. Of the 60 responses by the strongest believers in conspiracy theories, 25% were score of 1.

We get a similar result for belief climate science to belief in three well-accepted scientific hypotheses. Those with the most extreme opinions on conspiracy theories are those with the most extreme opinions on climate change. But there is a crucial difference, in that opinions on climate change are split between acceptance and rejection. The 12 respondents, who were the strongest believers in conspiracy theories, also had the highest proportion of 1s and 5s on the climate questions. The second most extreme group was the 215 respondents on the strong rejection group. The highest proportion of 3s, along with the lowest proportions of 1s and 5s were those in middle band on conspiracy theories. Holding strong opinions on conspiracy theories seems to be a predictor of strong opinions on climate science, but not a predictor of whether that is strong belief or strong rejection.

Corroboration of the result

The results of the internet survey confirm something about people in the United States that I and many others have suspected – they are a substantial minority who love their conspiracy theories. For me, it seemed quite a reasonable hypothesis that these conspiracy lovers should be both suspicious of science and have a propensity to reject climate science. Analysis of the survey results has over-turned those views. Instead I propose something more mundane – that people with strong opinions in one area are very likely to have strong opinions in others.

In relation to the United States, there is a paradox if you follow the “conspiracist ideation”. Along with being a hotbed of conspiracy theorists, the US is also home to 11 or 15 of the World’s top universities and much of the technological revolutions of the past 50 years originate. If science is about conformity and belief in the established expert opinion, this could not have happened.

Kevin Marshall

 

Notes

  1. Five, non-science, conspiracy theories, in common to LOG12 and LOG13
  • CYMLK The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was the result of an organized conspiracy by U.S. government agencies such as the CIA and FBI.
  • CYMoon The Apollo moon landings never happened and were staged in a Hollywood film studio.
  • CYJFK The assassination of John F. Kennedy was not committed by the lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald but was rather a detailed organized conspiracy to kill the President.
  • CY911 The U.S. government allowed the 9–11 attacks to take place so that it would have an excuse to achieve foreign (e.g., wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) and domestic (e.g., attacks on civil liberties) goals that had been determined prior to the attacks.
  • CYDiana Princess Diana’s death was not an accident but rather an organised assassination by members of the British royal family who disliked her.

     

  1. Acceptance Ratio

    Comparing the average scores across the two surveys can be confusing where there are a different number of options. The acceptance ratio makes average scores comparable where there are a large number of responses. Strong acceptance scores 1, strong rejection -1 and the mid-point 0.

     

  2. Climate Science

LOG 12 had four questions on Climate science

CO2TempUp I believe that burning fossil fuels increases atmospheric temperature to some measurable degree

CO2AtmosUp I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has increased atmospheric temperature to an appreciable degree

CO2WillNegChange I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years will cause serious negative changes to the planet’s climate, unless there is a substantial switch to non-CO2 emitting energy sources

CO2HasNegChange I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has caused serious negative changes to the planet’s climate

LOG 13 had five questions on Climate science

CNatFluct I believe that the climate is always changing and what we are currently observing is just natural fluctuation. (R)

CdueGHG I believe that most of the warming over the last 50 years is due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.

CseriousDamage I believe that the burning of fossil fuels over the last 50 years has caused serious damage to the planet’s climate.

CO2causesCC Human CO2 emissions cause climate change.

HumansInsign Humans are too insignificant to have an appreciable impact on global temperature. (R)

  1. Response Count

To replicate my response table, create a pivot table for count of responses for each of the climate change statements. Make the conspiracy bands the row labels, and a climate statement as the column label. Add the results together.

 


Lewandowsky – Climate Scientists should be listened to because they are wrong

Stephen Lewandowsky has another couple of papers out. From e! Science News

Scientific uncertainty has been described as a ‘monster’ that prevents understanding and delays mitigative action in response to climate change. New research by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, and international colleagues, shows that uncertainty should make us more rather than less concerned about climate change. In two companion papers, published today in Climatic Change, the researchers investigated the mathematics of uncertainty in the climate system and showed that increased scientific uncertainty necessitates even greater action to mitigate climate change.

The scientists used an ordinal approach — a range of mathematical methods that address the question: ‘What would the consequences be if uncertainty is even greater than we think it is?’

And

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology and member of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “We can understand the implications of uncertainty, and in the case of the climate system, it is very clear that greater uncertainty will make things even worse. This means that we can never say that there is too much uncertainty for us to act. If you appeal to uncertainty to make a policy decision the legitimate conclusion is to increase the urgency of mitigation.”

Co-author, Dr James Risbey of Australia’s CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, said: “Some point to uncertainty as a way to minimize the climate change problem, when in fact it means that the problem is more likely to be worse than expected in the absence of that uncertainty. This result is robust to a range of assumptions and shows that uncertainty does not excuse inaction.”

If we assume that catastrophic climate change is a fundamental truth, the authors are right. The task of climate science is to reveal that truth to the world. If that truth cannot be accurately accessed, then the consequences of unmitigated climate change will be greater than if they could be. But if there is no fundamental truth to be revealed then all what you have is a number of dogmatic people who cannot accept that their theories are not backed by the evidence. The failure to understand the path to climate catastrophe might be due to no climate catastrophe in prospect. Persistent failures increase the likelihood that the belief in the fundamental truth of climate catastrophism is just a cult. Circumstantial evidence is in the unique methods and language of the “science”; moral certitude; failure to appreciate climate change could be a trivial problem; belief in their infallibility; reliance on belief in science, as opposed to accepting science that fails to be falsified; failure to recognize that those who disagree may also have valid viewpoint; and the denigration of anybody who asks questions as heretics deniers. Further, the solution is always the same, fitting in with an extremist socialist-environmentalist world view. There is no recognition that mitigation policies can fail. If mitigation can avert climate catastrophe it is a tautology to state that if mitigation is only practiced in a few minor emitting countries, those countries will bear all the cost of policies, and future generations will endure virtually all the consequences. The same is tautological truth applies if mitigation is practiced globally, but fails to reduce emissions.

The pay walled papers are here and here.

Kevin Marshall

Update :Jo Nova has a satirical take on the latest Lew papers.

http://joannenova.com.au/2014/04/new-lewandowsky-study-finds-uncertainty-monster-under-his-bed-will-cost-billions/

Lewandowsky’s setback on campaign to undermine academic pluralism and excellence

The “Recursive Fury” paper, that allegedly libelled a number of bloggers1, has been taken down2. Lead author Stephan Lewandowsky has given his reaction at Shaping tommorow’s world.

Two of the “Recursive Fury” paper authors were Prof Lewandowsky and the blogger John Cook3. In 2011 they co-wrote “The Debunking Handbook“. I ask that readers view my comments in the context of the following opening statement:-

It’s self-evident that democratic societies should base their decisions on accurate information. On many issues, however, misinformation can become entrenched in parts of the community, particularly when vested interests are involved. Reducing the influence of misinformation is a difficult and complex challenge.

My comment is copied below. In brief I try to cover:-

  • Lewandowsky’s smearing of the majority with the views expressed by a minority.
  • Total failure to empathise with alternative points of view.
  • How his appeals for academic freedom are the reverse.
  • How the false allegations and smears are used to a shutdown questions on public policy.
  • How the “Lewandowsky Episode” can become a textbook example of why promotion of pluralism is necessary in our universities.
  1. ManicBeancounter at 20:37 PM on 23 March, 2014

    Stephan Lewandowsky,
    As a professor, you should be my intellectual superior. As a scientist you should be able to provide novel explanations about your subject area that go beyond what the non-specialist would find out for themselves, but at the same time accommodate the basic understanding that the non-specialist.
    Your “Hoax” paper ignored the obvious conclusion of the data. The vast majority of respondents did not believe in the cranky conspiracy theories, regardless of their views on “climate science”. Any “conspiracist ideation” revolves around differences in the small proportions that do. That means that the vast majority of “skeptics” who do not understand will feel insulted. Morally you should have clearly stated that any conclusions only apply to a small minority. The first part of the paper’s title inferred the opposite.
    “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax”
    Out of 1145 respondents, just 2 strongly rejected “climate science” and strongly supported that faxed moon landing theory. The question was not asked of those two people if they followed that path of reasoning. Unsurprisingly, when you smear people with ideas that they find insulting they express outrage. There is nothing “confected” about this.
    There are three things that make this beyond the pale of academic freedom
    First, you do not advance knowledge, but to repress the obvious empirical statement (the vast majority do not believe in cranky conspiracy theories) with the opposite.
    Second is that the smears is to deny a group of people who you disagree with a voice.
    Third, is that you use false allegations of intellectual inferiority to evaluate climate “science”, to prevent a voice in matters of public policy. Yet the voices that you seek to repress often have far greater understanding and knowledge of economics and policy implementation than you and your fellow-travelling academics.
    Academic freedom must be protected so that ideas and knowledge that challenge society’s established beliefs can be nurtured. But that must be accompanied by a deliberate policy of pluralism, for there are none so defensive of their protecting their beliefs or ideas as those who spent their lives developing them. Professor Lewandowsky, your work in the last three years should become a textbook example of the attempts and consequences to suppress that freedom.

  2. ManicBeancounter at 06:39 AM on 24 March, 2014

    Geoff,

    Your comment 68 shows a basic function of peer review. Correcting the obvious errors. If there is no such quality control then the demarcation between academic and non-academic literature simply collapses. Further, if the academia cannot easily distinguish the excellent from the dross, then there must be a quality control before their recommendations are passed into public policy. Much the same way are new pharmaceuticals must go through rigorous regulatory testing before being proscribed to the public.

  3. ManicBeancounter at 06:59 AM on 24 March, 2014

    My comments as 57 and 70 should be viewed in the context of the opening comment in the “The Debunking Handbook”, written by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky and accessible on the right column.

    “It’s self-evident that democratic societies should base their decisions on accurate information. On many issues, however, misinformation can become entrenched in parts of the community, particularly when vested interests are involved. Reducing the influence of misinformation is a difficult and complex challenge.”

    By any independent measure the “Hoax” and “Recursive Fury” papers are full of misinformation. The authors aim at establishing a monopoly on truth, but by their very words, and subsequent behaviour, show that they are the last people you would entrust with that monopoly. There is no better example for the need of democratic societies to promote pluralism through competition in their universities to prevent the establishment of dogma. This is particularly true in Australia and the UK, where Government’s would like their universities to be World-leading.

Notes

  1. This includes Steve McIntyre, Barry Woods, Geoff Chambers and “Foxgoose”.
  2. See BishopHill (here and here), Geoff Chambers, Steve McIntyre, Australian Climate Madness (here and here), and the Guardian.
  3. This is the same John Cook who thinks he can define the meaning of words better than a dictionary.

Kevin Marshall

Connecting German Policy to the Global Climate Change Issue

Notrickszone, posts that Professor Fritz Vahrenholt calls the green jobs machine a “labeling fraud“. The claimed level of German green jobs is many times the actual figures. This is in response to a couple of comments by “Buddy”.

Buddy,

It is not enough to point out that there is a potential problem. Effective mitigation policy requires

1. Assessing the scale of the potential problem.

2. Assessing the scale of the solution required.

3. Devising policies that will meet that solution.

4. Getting enacted the policies to meet that solution.

5. Effectively enacting those policies.

I welcome your comments, as they illustrate the failure to think the problem through by the so-called “experts”. Exaggerated claims of green jobs does nothing the tackle the alleged problems of rising emissions. Further German policy is one of failure to deliver virtually any promised reductions, but has wasted money on bogus schemes. See for instance

http://notrickszone.com/2014/03/07/economics-expert-slams-german-feed-in-act-calling-it-an-abuse-of-state-power-belongs-in-the-dustbin/

Germany is not alone with policy failures. Globally, renewables have failed to deliver the low-cost, reliable, on demand power of fossil fuels, hence the exaggerated claims for jobs and investment. Given the policy failures, any other country would be mad to sign up to similar policies, even if they believed that without effective carbons reductions future generations will face a climate catastrophe. Politicians will duck the issue, by signing vague agreements to tackle the problem in the future. Yet without the emerging economies successfully combatting carbon emissions, the policy countries will incur all the policy costs now, and leave future generations with practically all the projected catastrophic consequences of global warming. I discussed further here.

The issue of smog is interesting. The worst smogs are in China and India, caused by coal fired power stations. The UNIPCC reckons that the aerosols that make up the smog have a net cooling effect (AR5 and AR4). So tackling air pollution from the dirtiest coal-fired power stations may actually increase warming. Yet in Britain the Clean Air Act had a huge difference on air quality. According to a Centre for Policy Studies Report, globally the policy could save millions of lives.

Kevin Marshall

Why Climate Change Mitigation Policies Will Always Fail

All climate mitigation policies will be of net harm to any country implementing them. There are three reasons for this.

First, mitigation policies will not eliminate all the projected harm of climate change. Policy replaces the unmitigated cost of climate change with a policy cost and a residual climate change cost.

Second, policy proposals are only for the rich countries to reduce emissions and emerging economies to constrain the growth. That means residual climate change costs will be greater, and the burden of cost of reductions will fall on a number of countries will a minority of, and a rapidly diminishing share of, global emissions. Even with the rich nations all succeeding in the British target of 80% reduction by 2050 will still mean global emission levels higher than currently.

Third, there is mounting evidence that actual mitigation costs per tonne of CO2 equivalent saved are considerably more than the economic models assume.

 

Introduction

The Stern Review Summary of Conclusions stated on page vi

Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.

In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

The Review further stated on pages xvi-xvii

Preliminary calculations adopting the approach to valuation taken in this Review suggest that the social cost of carbon today, is of the order of $85 per tonne of CO2……. This number is well above marginal abatement costs in many sectors.

Many objections to the report look at the cost of climate change. Little discussed are the theoretical issues in implementing a successful policy. By “successful” I mean where the expected outturn of the policy is less than the projected costs of climate change.

 

The basic case

As the Stern review is saying that globally we should replace one set of costs – the projected costs of climate change – will the much lesser costs of climate. Graphically, we replace the climate change costs in blue with policy costs in orange. Costs are positive and benefits negative.

The case for policy is clear.

 

Climate change costs not completely eliminated

Peter Lilley, in his 2012 GWPF report “WHAT IS WRONG WITH STERN?” states on page 8

The benefit of preventing (climate change) entirely would, on his figures, be at least 5% of GDP – but to do so would require not just stopping all further carbon emissions but removing all those accumulated since the industrial revolution. The action he proposes to reduce the worst impacts of global warming by stabilising the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases at 550 ppm would, using Stern’s methodology, save some 3.1% of GDP – not 5%.

The mitigation policy seeks to stabilize total greenhouse gas levels are a level equivalent to about double the level of CO2 in 1780.


The case for policy is still clear.

 

Rich Countries Policy Burden

It is accepted that

  1. Rich countries are responsible for most of climate change.
  2. The adverse consequences of unmitigated climate change will be disproportionately endured by the less developed nations (LDNs).

Therefore the moral argument is that the rich countries should bear the cost of policy and they should compensate the LDNs for the future harm that they will endure. The compensation could then be used to offset the harm of climate change.

Rich countries have a smaller population than the LDNs. The policy costs (in orange) for them will more than double. Similarly, compensation (in burnt orange) will be much larger for the rich countries to pay out than for the LDNs who receive it in income. Finally the post-policy climate change costs (in blue) will be still larger for the LDNs.


The rich countries may or may not be better off after policy. Further the LDNs still suffer some harm.

 

Increasing Emissions amongst the emerging nations

Policy must include the emerging nations. This is why.

I have arbitrarily split the countries of the World into three groups

  1. ACEJU – The big industrialised carbon emitters – Australia, Canada, EU, Japan and USA.
  2. BICS – The large emerging nations of Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
  3. ROW – Rest of the World.

The World Bank has data on CO2 emissions by country for the period 1990 to 2010. From this, I compiled the following graph.


In the period 1990 to 2010, annual global CO2 emissions increased by 11.4 billion tonnes, or 51%. To return to 1990 emissions levels would require one group to cease emissions entirely and the other two groups to maintain emissions at 2010 levels. The future emissions growth path potentially makes the problem worse. Consider the comparative growth in population.


Despite the BICS countries increasing its emissions by 230%, emissions per capita are still less than 40% of those of the ACEJU block. Further, the explosive growth of the BICS has not been matched by the Rest of the World. Here the emissions have grown by 45%, but population has grown by 42%. Emissions per capita are still only 35% of those of the AJEJU block.

Any policy reductions by the rich nations will be more than offset by future emissions growth in the rest of the world. There will be little reduction in climate change costs, for either the policy countries or non-policy countries. The situation becomes like this.


The non-policy countries will still see a reduction, but that might be small, even if the policy countries are successful. The disadvantage to the policy countries is inversely related to proportion of global emissions they have at the end of the policy. That in turn is influenced by the future emissions growth in the non-policy countries, as well as the proportion of global emissions in a baseline year.

 

Peer-reviewed costs of Climate Change and Actual Costs of Mitigation

The Stern review should not be taken as the only source. The UNIPCC AR4 Summary for Policymakers in 2007 stated on page 22.

Peer-reviewed estimates of the social cost of carbon in 2005 average US$12 per tonne of CO2, but the range from 100 estimates is large (-$3 to $95/tCO2).

The average social cost is just a seventh of the Stern Review, which was not a study that has been peer-reviewed.

In a previous posting, I calculated that the subsidy of offshore wind farms was equivalent to 3.8 times Stern’s social cost of carbon, and 27 times that of the $12 average of peer-reviewed studies quotes by the UNIPCC. This was a low estimate, not including transmission costs. There might be cheaper ways of abating CO2, but there are lot of failed policies as well. There is also the impact on economic growth to consider, which for emerging economies. So a more realistic situation of a “successful” mitigation policy will look like the one below. That is “successful” in achieving the emission reduction targets.

Points for further investigation

There are a number of issues that are raised in my mind that need further work.

  1. The social cost of carbon defines the expected harm from climate change per tonne of CO2. If a country has quantitative emissions reduction targets, then an absolute upper limit in annual spend can be defined when achieving that target.
  2. This would enable identification of the success of policies within a national plan, along with the overall success of that plan.
  3. The expected CO2 emissions growth in non-policy countries, along with including other greenhouse gas emissions within the analysis.

     

Conclusion

There is no combination of mitigation policies that can produce a less costly outcome than doing nothing. Any government unilaterally (or as part of group representing a minority of global emissions) pursuing such policies will be imposing net harm on its own people, no matter how large the claimed potential impacts of climate change. This conclusion can be reached even if the extreme views of the Stern Review are taken as the potential costs of climate change.

Kevin Marshall

 

Notes

The comparison of emissions growth between countries is derived from “The Climate Fix” by Roger Pielke Jnr. This enlarges on a comment made at Australian Climate Madness blog.

All first time comments are moderated. Please use the comments as a point of contact.

Update 25/02 17.30. Summary and “Points for further investigation” included, along with text changes

10GW of extra offshore wind turbines by 2020 – The Real Costs

Projected 10GW in offshore wind turbines by 2020 to add 5% to electricity and gas bills, and reduce UK CO2 emissions by nearly 2%. Cost to exceed benefits by 3.8 or 27 times.

 

The Telegraph has an article “Offshore wind farm scrapped due to fears over birds

A 200MW extension to the 630MW London Array has been abandoned “over the impact on the red-throated diver, a bird classified as rare or vulnerable by the European Commission“. However,

Ministers say they want between 8GW and 15GW built by 2020, up from 3.6GW now, and suggest a total of about 10GW is most likely.

My comment on this (with references) is

Some statistics to put the 10GW of extra offshore wind power by 2020 in perspective.

Offshore wind power operates at about 35% of nameplate from DECC figures1.

So that will produce about 30,660,000 Mwh of electricity.

At present each megawatt of offshore wind gets 2 renewables obligations certificates, worth £842,8. So that will add £2575m to bills, or about 5%3 of 2012 Electricity AND Gas bills.

But this will help reduce the UKs Carbon emissions. How much?

RenewableUK reckons that each megawatt hour of renewable electricity saves 430kg of CO2 emissions4. So that equates to 13.2 mt, or 1.84% of the 716.4 mt6 1990 baseline emissions.

This has a value as well, called the “social cost of carbon”. The Stern Review reckoned $85t/CO25. The UNIPCC said the average was $126. So that is £675m or £95m towards saving the planet for future generations. Costs are either 3.8 or 27 times the benefits.

 

The costs of £2575m are not the full costs. There are also extra transmission costs, and backup capacity. A more sceptical view would put a much lower social cost of carbon than the $12 of the UNIPCC.

From note 5, the marginal abatement costs of offshore wind turbines are 3.8 times Stern’s estimate. Perhaps somebody should ask Lord Stern where the marginal abatement costs of less than $85 per tonne of CO2 are to be found. There are millions of households and businesses in this country who would love to know.

Notes

  1. DECC stats here, spreadsheet “Renewable electricity capacity and generation (ET 6.1)”. Offshore wind was 35.2% of nameplate in 2012.
  2. https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/ofgem-publications/58136/buy-out-price-and-mututalisation-ceiling-201314.pdf.
  3. In 2012 the big six energy companies charged about £44bn to all customers. 5% rise assumes they have 85% of the market. Graph here, from this article.
  4. From http://www.renewableuk.com/en/renewable-energy/wind-energy/uk-wind-energy-database/figures-explained.cfm, last section “CO2 Reductions (p.a.) in Tonnes”.
  5. The Stern review noted on pages xvi-xvii

    Preliminary calculations adopting the approach to valuation taken in this Review suggest that the social cost of carbon today, is of the order of $85 per tonne of CO2……. This number is well above marginal abatement costs in many sectors.

  6. The UNIPCC AR4 Summary for Policymakers in 2007 stated on page 22.

    Peer-reviewed estimates of the social cost of carbon in 2005 average US$12 per tonne of CO2, but the range from 100 estimates is large (-$3 to $95/tCO2).

  7. Source World Bank data. UK data at http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-kingdom
  8. The current banding is at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/211292/ro_banding_levels_2013_17.pdf

First-time comments are moderated. Please use the comments as a point of contact, stating this is the case.

Kevin Marshall

 

 

 

 

7.

The Cassandra Effect and Insulting Climate Sceptics

There are two articles published today that are related. Bishop Hill posts about the “reverse Cassandra effect” and Jo Nova comments on Matt Ridley’s article in today’s Times on THE SCEPTICS ARE RIGHT. DON’T SCAPEGOAT THEM.

Bishop Hill refers to a Wired article on the late Julian Simon published some years ago:-

Simon always found it somewhat peculiar that neither the Science piece nor his public wager with Ehrlich nor anything else that he did, said, or wrote seemed to make much of a dent on the world at large. For some reason he could never comprehend, people were inclined to believe the very worst about anything and everything; they were immune to contrary evidence just as if they’d been medically vaccinated against the force of fact. Furthermore, there seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, these days “experts” spoke awful falsehoods, and they were believed. Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker.

I believe that the Cassandra effect is still working. What is relevant is how you view awful. Take a classic example of the Cassandra effect. Ignaz Semmelweis found that doctors washing their hands between examining each patient reduced mortality rates. The implied “awful” truth that every experienced hospital doctor in 1840s Vienna had to accept was that, due to their ignorance, they had killed people when they were in the business of saving lives.

But for environmentalists the “scientific truth” that the human race is destroying the planet confirms their beliefs. Politicians whose mission is to make a real difference to the world – an honourable motive – can now take part in saving the planet from an evil menace. Maybe not as spectacularly as James Bond, or Flash Gordon, but they can still expect to receive plaudits and a place in history. Or at least a pat on the back from green activists in Bali, Copenhagen, Cancun….

For those who believe materialism is ultimately depraved; or humankind is inherently sinful; or capitalism will collapse through its inherent contradictions; or the rich got where they are through trampling over those like themselves; – all can latch onto the cause as well. For all these people the awful truth for the world is not so awful for them.

This is why the Cassandra effect is still very much with us. The awful truth is that politicians now find themselves in the same position of those doctors in 1840s Vienna. When they thought they were saving the world, they are in fact harming the futures of their constituents. As Matt Ridley points out in the Times today of climate change:-

Sceptics say it is not happening fast enough to threaten more harm than the wasteful and regressive measures intended to combat it. So far they have been right.

My next article will show that even the most extreme climate change believers can postulate a big enough harm from climate change than the wasteful and regressive measures intended to combat it.

Kevin Marshall

Understanding the US EIAs Levilized Cost of Electric Generation figures

At Watts Up With That?, Willis Eschenbach has a post “The Levelized Cost of Electric Generation“. These are estimated figures by US Energy Information Agency (EIA) for the costs of power by fuel source, for plants with construction started now that would enter service in 2018. The full table from the EIA in $/MwH is reproduced as Table 1 below.

Willis makes the valid point that every unit of “non-dispatchable” power (i.e. renewables with no power on demand) capacity, there must be an equal amount of dispatchable power to back it up. He does not follow this up. Non-dispatchable power does not need to be fully-covered by the expensive high-efficiency fossil-fuelled power stations. The most extreme conditions of peak power demands but no wind can be met by diesel generators. These are relatively low capital cost, but with high unit costs of output. They still add to the costs of renewables, along with reducing the CO2 savings. In terms of the large scale fossil-fuelled power stations gas is clearly better than coal. Combined cycle gas has half the capital cost per unit as conventional coal so dropping the utilisation will have a much smaller impact on unit costs. Further it can be switched on or off much quicker than conventional coal. Combined the actual additional cost of renewables is lower than he implies.

As I have been looking into the subsidies that renewables receive in the UK, I would like to observations. To understand these comments in the context of Willis Eschenbach’s post please note:-

  • In the UK, all generated electricity is paid the wholesale price (approx $0.09 kwh at present).
  • In addition renewables receive renewables obligation credits or ROCs. Biomass (wood pellets usually imported from USA) and onshore wind receive 1 ROC per megawatt hour. Offshore wind receives 2 ROCs. With a ROC worth $0.07 kwh (£42.02 MwH), onshore wind and biomass receives $0.16 kwh and offshore wind $0.23 kwh.
  • Currency conversion is at £1.00 = £1.66. Willis uses kilowatt hours for his simplified summary, whereas as the EIA uses megawatt hours.

Revenue is somewhat different to the costs, but there are a few observations possible.

  1. Capacity utilisation for onshore wind is assumed at 34% and 37% for offshore. For the UK, actual average utilisation as 26% for onshore and 35% for offshore. On that basis, US costs for onshore wind would rise from $0.087 to $0.117 kwh. Here are the figures from the most recent four available years.

  2. Biomass in the UK consists of burning non-fossil fuels in existing coal-fired power stations. It is more expensive than coal because (a) fuel cost per tonne is more than coal and (b) output per tonne is slightly less than coal. I would want to know why the capital cost per kwh is 20% lower and why the variable costs are just 45% higher. On fuel costs alone the 0.2 ROCs per Mwh would be more than generous for biomass. Based on figures from April to August 2013, the full year subsidy saving of this change would be in the order of £300m or $500m per annum.
  3. The transmission investment is vastly understated. Like in the UK, the cost of transmission for a power station investor is likely in connecting the power station to the nearest point on the national grid, regardless of the capacity of the line. To obtain 34% efficiency, wind turbines need to be placed in highly exposed areas, such as hill-tops. Population centres, and established grid networks, tend to be on the plains, or in sheltered valleys. In the UK, the best locations for wind turbines are in the far North of Scotland. To effectively connect this to main grid means upgrading about 400 miles of transmission lines to enable around 5-10GW of power at peak generation. This capital cost could be as much as the wind turbines themselves. Fossil-fuelled power stations tend to be located near existing power stations. These in turn are near to the existing grid infrastructure. The upshot is that wind turbines have much higher transmission costs than fossil-fuelled power stations. The difference could be a number of cents per kilowatt hour.

Kevin Marshall

The Nub of the Climate Change Policy Problem

Over at the Conversation, Climate Scientist Mike Hulme has a short article “Science can’t settle what should be done about climate change“. He argues the politics, not science, must take centre stage. He makes four points.

  • How do we value future public goods and natural assets relative to their value today?
  • Is “commodifying” nature appropriate?
  • The morality of technologies for mitigation or adaptation. For instance, fracking and GM crops.
  • The role of national governments against multilateral treaties or international governing bodies. Also the consequent impacts on democracy.

Christopher Wright (Professor of Organisation Studies at University of Sydney) commented

The one problem I have with the above analysis is that the focus on climate science has been a quite deliberate strategy by those seeking to deny or cast doubt on the urgency of the problem. This has meant the debate has continually stalled around issues of whether climate change is a problem or not. The science highlights that it is a very big problem indeed. However, while the science continues to be questioned, we will be unable to have the serious policy conversation about what we need to do to avoid catastrophic changes to our ecosystem.

My reply (with references) is

Science might point to a very big problem, but it cannot translate that into coherent policy terms. Nor can it weigh that against the effectiveness of policies, nor the harms policies can cause. Economics is central to asking those questions. The key figure that encapsulates the predicted harm of climate change is the social cost of carbon SCC, expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent. In 2006 Stern measured this as $85/tCO21. A year later the AR4 SPM2 stated a range of -$3 to $95/tCO2 from peer reviewed studies, with an average of $12/tCO2.

The key figure for the effectiveness to policy is the marginal abatement cost. Basically this refers to the marginal cost of preventing a tonne of CO2 equivalent entering the atmosphere. For policy to be of net benefit, MAC needs to be less than SCC.

$85 is about £52, and $12 about £7.50. In the UK onshore wind turbines receive a direct subsidy equivalent to £98/tCO23 saved, and offshore £195/tCO2. Then there are the extra costs of transmission lines, and other costs which could double those figures.

Then you need to recognize that a global problem will not be solved by unilateralist policies by a country with producing less than 2% of global emissions. So the UK is impoverished now by harmful, ineffectual, policies, and still future generations suffer >90% of the consequences of unmitigated climate change. Mike Hulme’s four points above are in addition to this, weighing further against mitigation policy.

Notes

  1. The Stern review noted on pages xvi-xvii

    Preliminary calculations adopting the approach to valuation taken in this Review suggest that the social cost of carbon today, is of the order of $85 per tonne of CO2……. This number is well above marginal abatement costs in many sectors.

  2. The UNIPCC AR4 Summary for Policymakers in 2007 stated on page 22.

    Peer-reviewed estimates of the social cost of carbon in 2005 average US$12 per tonne of CO2, but the range from 100 estimates is large (-$3 to $95/tCO2).

  3. The renewables obligation credit (ROC) buy-out price is currently £42.02 per megawatt hour, as determined by OFGEM. The British renewable industry lobby group renewableUK, uses DECC’s carbon saving figure of 430g/kWh, as stated in an appendix to the Energy Efficiency Innovation Review in 2005. £42.02/.430 = £97.67. Onshore wind turbines get one ROC per MWh generated, offshore wind turbines 2 ROCs.

Kevin Marshall

Jo Nova discusses Mike Hulme’s four points here.

The Irony of Ironbridge

The traditional way of producing iron was in small batches, using charcoal as the fuel. In 1709 Abraham Darby I built the world’s first blast furnace fuelled by coke. This enabled a continuous process to be used for production, enabling much greater quantities to be produced. What is more, charcoal is derived from wood, which was by then becoming increasingly scarce in Britain. Coke comes from coal, of which there were increasingly plentiful supplies. The unit costs of iron production therefore came down for the reasons of increased productivity and a cheaper, more plentiful, energy source. Without this switch the industrial revolution would not have started. The reason for building the blast furnace in Coalbrookdale should be obvious.

Darby’s grandson Abraham Darby III used this cheap iron to build, in 1779 the world’s first bridge from fabricated from cast iron. The village by this bridge and the gorge encompassing Coalbrookdale are now known as Ironbridge. It is now a major tourist attraction.

There has been a coal-fired power station in the Ironbridge Gorge since the 1930s. The directions from the site of the original blast furnace are below. The original 200MW facility was replaced in 1969 and 1970 by the twin 500MW facilities seen today. In 2012, one of those facilities was modified to accept wooden pellets that are imported from North America. The will generate up to £100,000,000 a year in renewables obligation certificates, increasing the cost of the electricity to consumers by 75%.

Globally forests are still declining. Wood is a scarce resource and expensive, with the price only likely to increase. Known coal reserves are sufficient to supply current global requirements for centuries, is cheap and the price is falling. Ironbridge can now claim to both a birthplace of the industrial revolution, and a symbol of sending the benefits of the industrial revolution into reverse. Spot the irony.

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