Friends of the Earth distorting the evidence for Fracking in the UK

Summary

Friends of the Earth have a webpage claiming to be “fracking facts”. The key points I make are.

  • The claims of dangers of fracking raise questions, that need to be answered before they can be considered credible.
  • The claim that fracking could affect house prices is totally unsupported.
  • The claim that shale gas will not significantly affect energy prices is based on out of date data. The British Geological Survey has shown that the potential of shale gas is huge. Friends of the Earth has played a major role in preventing that potential being realized.
  • FoE has consequently helped prevent shale gas from relieving the energy crisis brought upon by the Climate Change Act 2008.
  • Claims that pursuing shale gas in Britain will affect global emissions are pure fantasy. Also is a fantasy the belief that Britain is leading the way on emissions reductions. We ain’t leading if collectively the world is not following. The evidence shows clearly shows this.  

In the previous post I looked at how FoE blatantly mislead about an agreement they reached with the Advertising Standards Authority, which caused the unusual step of ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker issuing a strongly worded statement to defend the ASA’s integrity.

In this post I will look at FoE’s position on fracking, from Fracking definition? What does fracking mean? Read our fracking facts

I will look at various statements made (with FoE quotes in purple), showing how well they are supported by the evidence and/or providing alternative perspectives.

From the section What are the dangers of fracking?

Industry statistics from North America show that around 6% of fracking wells leak immediately.

Leaking wells lead to a risk of water contamination. Lord Smith, former chair of the Environment Agency, has said this is the biggest risk posed by fracking.

So it’s particularly concerning that the Government has now said it will allow fracking companies to drill through aquifers which provide household drinking water.

This raises some questions.

  • If leaks are a problem, with respect to fracking in the UK has this been risk assessed, with appropriate measures taken to prevent leaks?
  • Does that statistic of 6% allow for when there is natural leakage in the area of fracking leaking in the water supplies are venting into the atmosphere in the area where fracking is occurring? This was the case in the images of the flaming water faucet in the movie Gasland.
  • Have there been steps taken in the USA to reduce genuine leaks?
  • Has the proportion of wells leaking gas in the USA been increasing or decreasing?
  • Has the average amount of gas leaked been increasing or decreasing?
  • How when extracting gas from well below water aquifers, through a lined tube, that is both water-tight and gas-tight, is that gas (and fracking fluids) meant to leech into the water supply?

Then there is the statement without evidence.

Fracking could also affect house prices.

This was one of the issues FoE in its agreement with the ASA have the assurance not to repeat claims that fracking affects property prices, unless the evidence changes. Legally there might be cop-out where that assurance does not apply to claims made on its website. Literally, the statement is not untrue, just as the claim that a butterfly flapping its wings on the North Downs could lead to a typhoon in the South China Sea.

Would fracking bring down energy bills?

It’s very unlikely. Fracking company Cuadrilla has admitted that any impact on bills would be “basically insignificant”.

Claims that fracking would create a lot of jobs have also been overstated. According to Cuadrilla, each of its proposed 6-year projects in Lancashire that were recently rejected by the council would only have created 11 jobs.

The claim about Cuadrilla is sourced from an Independent article in June 2013.

“We’ve done an analysis and it’s a very small…at the most it’s a very small percentage…basically insignificant,” said Mark Linder, a public relations executive at Bell Pottinger who is also responsible for Cuadrilla’s corporate development.

The article later says

“According to Poyry, Lancashire shale gas production could also reduce the country’s wholesale gas and electricity prices by as much as 4 per cent between 2014 and 2035, which corresponds to an average saving of £810m/year,”

It is not surprising that shale gas developments in Lancashire alone will not have a significant impact on UK energy prices, especially if that is restricted to a few sites by one company. But over three years later the landscape has changed. The British Geological Survey has been publishing estimates of the quantities of shale gas (and oil) that exists beneath the ground.

The figures are at first hard to comprehend. Large number in units of measure that ordinary people (even people with some knowledge of the field) are unfamiliar are hard to comprehend, let alone put into some perspective. In my view, the figures need to be related to annual British consumption. Page 8 of the DECC UK Energy Statistics, 2015 & Q4 2015 estimates gas demand at 794 TWh in 2015.

The BGS uses tcf (tera cubic feet) for its’ estimates, which (like a domestic gas bill) can be converted from TWh. The 794 TWh is about 2.7 tcf. Not all shale gas is recoverable. In fact possibly only 10% of reserves is recoverable on existing technology, and depending on the quality of the deposits.

There are also shale oil deposits, measured by the BGS in both barrels and millions of tonnes. Refinery production (a rough estimate of consumption) was 63 millions of tonnes in 2015. I will again assume 10% recovery.

The biggest shock was published just a few weeks after the Independent article on 27th July 2013. The size of the Bowland shale was truly staggering. The central estimate is 1329 tcf, meaning enough to satisfy 49 years of current UK gas demand. Potentially it is more, due to the depth of deposits in many areas. No significant deposits of oil are thought to be present

On 23rd May 2014 BGS published the results for the Weald Basin, a large area in the South East of England. Whilst there were no significant deposits of gas, the central estimate of 591 million tonnes is enough to supply the UK for one year.

On 25 June 2014 the Welsh Government published the estimates for Wales. The main gas deposits are thought to be in Wrexham/Cheshire and in South Wales and estimated about 65 tcf, or just over two years of UK demand. (Strictly the Welsh estimate is somewhat below this, as Wrexham is on the Welsh border and Cheshire is an English county. )

On 23rd May 2014 BGS published the results for the Midland Valley of Scotland. The central estimate for shale gas was 80.3 tcf (3 years of UK demand) and for shale oil 800 million tonnes (15 months of refinery production).

Most recently on 13th October 2016, BGS published the results for the Jurassic shale of the Wessex area. Central estimate for shale oil was 149 million tonnes, equivalent to three months of UK refinery production.

In all, conservatively there is estimated to be sufficient gas to supply the UK for over 54 years and oil for two and half years. The impact on supply, and therefore the impact on jobs and (in the case of gas) on energy prices, demands on the ability of businesses to profitability develop these resources. As has happened in the USA, the impact on jobs is mostly dependent on the impact on prices, as low prices affect other industries. In the USA, industries that are sensitive to energy prices (or use gas as a raw material) have returned from overseas, boosting jobs. FoE has played no small part in delaying planning applications with spurious arguments, along with generating false fears that could have made regulations more onerous than if an objective assessment of the risks had been made.

Fracking can’t help any short term or medium term energy crisis.

Even if the industry was able to move ahead as fast as it wants, we wouldn’t see significant production until about 2025.

This is actually true and up to date. If it were not for the Climate Change Act along with eco-activists blocking every move to meet the real energy demands in the most affordable and efficient way possible, there would be no prospective energy crisis. In terms of shale gas meeting energy demands (and gas-fired power stations being built) FoE should claim some of the credit for preventing the rapid develop of cheap and reliable energy sources, and thus exacerbating fuel poverty.

Will fracking help us to tackle climate change?

Shale gas and shale oil are fossil fuels. They emit greenhouse gases. Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change means getting off fossil fuels as soon as possible.

Scientists agree that to stop dangerous climate change, 80% of fossil fuels that we know about need to stay in the ground.

Setting up a whole new fossil fuel industry is going in completely the wrong direction, if the UK is to do its fair share to stop climate change.

The hypothesis is that global emissions lead to higher levels of greenhouse gases. In respect of CO2 this is clear. But the evidence that accelerating rate of rise in CO2 levels has led to accelerating average global temperatures is strongly contradicted by real world data. There is no scientific consensus that contracts this conclusion. Further there is no proper scientific evidence to suggest that climate is changing for the worse, if you look at the actual data, like leading climate scientist Dr John Christy does in this lecture. But even if the catastrophic global warming hypothesis were true (despite the weight of real world data against it) global warming is global. Britain is currently emitting about 1.1% of global emissions. Even with all the recently discovered shale gas and oil deposits, under the UK is probably less than 1% of all estimated fossil fuel deposits. Keeping the fossil fuels under British soil in the ground will do nothing to change the global emissions situation.  Britain tried to lead the way with the Climate Change Act of 2008, in committing to reduce its emissions by 80% by 2050. The INDC submissions leading up to COP21 Paris in December 2015 clearly showed that the rest of the countries were collectively not following that lead. The UNFCCC produced a graph showing the difference of the vague policy proposals might make.  I have stuck on the approximate emissions pathway to which the UK is committed.

The FoE is basically objecting to fracking to keep up the appearance that the UK is “doing its bit” to save the world from catastrophic global warming. But in the real world, global warming ain’t happening, neither are the predicted catastrophes. Even if it were, whatever Britain does will make no difference. FoE attempting to deny future jobs growth and stop the alleviation of fuel poverty to maintain the fantasy that Britain is leading the way on climate change.

 

Isn’t it better to have our own gas rather than importing it?

…….

If we went all out for shale, our gas imports would stay at current levels as the North Sea supply declines – and imports could increase by 11%.

This claim, without any reference, is based likely based on the same out of date sources as below. If FoE and fellow-travellers kept out of the way with their erroneous then shale gas has a huge potential to cause imports to decline.

Kevin Marshall

Carbon emissions – social benefits from enhanced growth

Key Points

  1. Cheap fossil fuels were undoubtedly a major element in China’s very high levels of economic growth.
  2. If Canada were to unilaterally cut its emissions, the impact on global emissions would be tiny.
  3. A reduction in economic growth of 0.01% from now to 2100 would have a larger value in 2100 than the projected  monetary costs of catastrophic climate change in 2100.
  4. Developing nations with up to two-thirds of global emissions, are excluded from any obligation to constrain emissions under the Rio Declaration.
  5. Climate mitigation increases unit energy costs, creating a comparative disadvantage for policy countries.
  6. If non-policy developing countries were later to adopt mitigation policies, they would not only have higher energy costs, but would lose the comparative advantage of being a non-policy country. A few countries pursuing climate mitigation policies increases the marginal cost of other countries adopting similar policies.

Introduction

Ron Clutz has yet another excellent article, this time on SBC: Social Benefits of Carbon

Ron points to the benefits of increased CO2 levels, such as from increased plant growth. But, by far the biggest benefit is the from the use of fossil fuels as an engine of economic growth. I made two comments, which are slightly amended here.

How much did fossilized carbon fuel China’s economic growth?

By far the most important point made in Ron’s article is the impact of fossil fuels on economic growth rates. Take China – the most extreme example in history, at least for major economies, According to the UNFCCC country brief produced for COP21 Paris, economic growth in China averaged 10.3% pa from 1990-2012. In the same period CO2 emissions increased by 6.1% pa. It meant GDP per capita (with 19% population growth) was 7.25 times higher in 2012 than 1990, and emissions per capita were over 3 times higher.

country-brief-2014_-china

How much of the economic growth would have happened without the huge investment in cheap energy sources – principally coal? If economic growth would have averaged a mere 7%, GDP per capita would have 3.7 times higher in 2012 than 1990. This is why people in China are willing to suffer the terrible, acrid, pollution that engulfs many major cities.

Unilateralist Canada reducing emissions by 90%

A hypothetical example with growth impacts

Whilst unable to estimate the effects of cheap energy on China’s phenomenal growth, I would still contend that the compound effect on economic growth of cheap fossil fuels is far greater than the estimates of the projected harms of climate catastrophe. At the start of December Ron Clutz had a post Climate Costs in Context. This referred to a Manhattan Institute Report which estimated the costs of global warming could reach $15trn by 2100 – or 2.5% of global output of $600trn. Reducing economic growth by 0.03% would have the same effect on output, though people would accept a much bigger reduction in growth to avoid 2.5% costs of catastrophes.

This leads to a bigger issue, that it not discussed. Suppose an economy like Canada with 1.5% of global emissions, unilaterally imposed a policy from January 1st 2017 that was guaranteed to reduce emissions by 90% by 2100. Without the policy, global emissions would be double 2016 levels in 2100. With the policy they will be 1.9865 times higher.
Let us also assume that

(1) 2100 costs of climate change are 2.50% of GDP globally and for Canada, without Canada’s policy.
(2) 2100 costs of climate change are 2.45% of GDP globally and for Canada, with Canada’s policy.
(3) The only cost of this policy is to reduce long-term growth rates from 2.00% to 1.99%
(4) All outcomes and calculations are certain.

Even then, the the descendants in 2100 Canada would still not thank the current generation, as output would be 8% lower, to save costs of just 0.05% of GDP. If current GDP is C$1600bn, with 2% growth GDP in 2100 will be C$8443bn. At 2.5% costs of climate change will be $211bn. Reduce that to 2.45% reduces costs by just over $4.2bn. But GDP with 1.99% growth GDP will be 8% or $668bn lower.
Even if all countries reduced emissions by 90% (and thus reduced costs of climate change to effectively zero) mitigation policy would may not make sense on these “heroic” assumptions. Canada would exchange $210bn of random catastrophic costs for $668bn of certain costs. But that would be only if the costs were totally random. If costs were in part predictable, then, without the economic growth impact of climate mitigation policies, additional economic could be used to counteract the direct effects of the warming through adaptation.
But the reality is much closer to Canada acting unilaterally; there are significant policy costs; and the impact on growth is far greater. Worst of all, is the competitive impact.

The Comparative Disadvantage of Climate Mitigation

Assume

(a) Cheap energy is a key driver of economic growth

(b) A country, like Canada, with aggressive climate mitigation policies,  is competing on world markets with less developed countries with little or no mitigation policies.

(c) Climate Mitigation policies, like renewables or a carbon tax, increase unit energy costs.

(d) Some industries with globalized market, like steel, aluminium, shipbuilding or chemicals, energy costs form a significant part of the costs of production.

I would suggest that the imposition of climate mitigation policies increases the unit cost of production, creating a comparative disadvantage compared to countries with little or no mitigation policies. 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. Ably explained by Prof Donald J. Boudreaux, it is perhaps the only principle in economics that it universally true. Climate mitigation is only being pursued, in varying degrees, by a limited number of countries. Developing nations with up to two-thirds of global emissions, are excluded from any obligation to constrain emissions under the Rio Declaration. Developed countries, by imposing mitigation policies, create comparative advantages to the non-policy developing countries that they trade with. Therefore, the marginal cost of those developing countries adopting mitigation policies is greater if developed countries have already mitigation policies in place, than if all countries had adopted them together in equal measure. This implies that those economies like Russia, South Korea and China, who might be able to afford to adopt climate mitigation on the increased energy costs alone, will not do so due to competitor countries having established costly mitigation policies.

Kevin Marshall

£319 billion on Climate Change for approximately nothing

The major reason for abandoning the Climate Change Act 2008 is not due to the massive financial burden imposed on families, but because it will do approximately nothing to curb global greenhouse gas emissions. Massive costs are being imposed for near zero prospective benefit.

At the weekend the GWPF published a paper by Peter Lilley MP on the costs of The Climate Change Act 2008. From 2014 to 2030 he estimates a total cost of £319 billion to ensure that in 2030 British greenhouse gas emissions are 57% below their 1990 levels.
Putting this into context, listen to then Environment Minister David Miliband introducing the Climate Change Bill in 2007.

The 2008 Act increased the 2050 target from 60% to 80%. Miliband recognizes that what the UK does is not sufficient to stop a global problem. That requires a global solution. Rather, the aim is for Britain to lead the way, with other industrialized countries encouraged to follow. The developing countries are given a free choice of “a low carbon path of development rather than to repeat the mistakes of the industrialized countries.

Over eight years after the little video was made and seven years after the Climate Change Act was passed (with an increased 2050 emissions reduction target of 80% reduction on 1990 levels) was the COP21 in Paris. The responses from other countries to Britain’s lead were in the INDC submission, which the UNFCCC summarized in a graph, and I have annotated.

The UNFCCC have four bands. First, in orange, is the Pre-INDC scenarios. Then in yellow is the projected global impact if all the vague policy proposals are full enacted. In blue is the least cost 2◦C pathway for global emissions reductions, whilst in green is the least cost 1.5◦C pathway.

I have superimposed lilac arrows showing the UK Climate Act proportionate emissions pathway achieving a 57% emissions reduction by 2030 and an 80% emissions reduction by 2050 compared to the baseline 1990 emissions. That is, if all countries were to follow Britain’s lead, then the 2◦C warming limit would not be breached.

What this clearly shows is that collectively countries have not followed Britain’s lead. Even if the policy proposals were fully enacted (an unlikely scenario) the yellow arrow quite clearly shows that global emissions will still be rising in 2030.

This needs to be put into context of costs and benefits. The year before David Miliband launched the Climate Bill the Stern Review was published. The Summary of Conclusions gave the justification for reducing greenhouse emissions.

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.

Britain is spending the money to avert catastrophic global warming, but future generations will still be subjected to costs of climate catastrophe. It not much worse in terms of wasting money if the Stern Review grossly exaggerated the likely costs of warming and massively understated the policy costs, as Peter Lilley and Richard Tol laid out in their recent paper “The Stern Review : Ten Years On“.

However, if the British Government had conducted some proper assessment of the effectiveness of policy (or the Opposition has done their job in holding the Government to account) then it would have been clear that sufficient countries would never follow Britain’s lead. Last year Robin Guenier published some notes on Supreme Court Justice Phillip Sands lecture CLIMATE CHANGE and THE RULE OF LAW. Guenier stated of the Rio Declaration of 1992

There’s little, if any, evidence that the undoubted disagreements about the science – the focus of Professor Sands’ concern in his lecture – are the reason it’s proving so difficult to come to an effective agreement to restrict GHG emissions. In contrast however, the Annex I / non-Annex I distinction has had huge consequences. These arise in particular from Article 4.7:

“The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention … will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.” [My emphasis]

When the Convention was enacted (1992) the effective exemption of developing countries from environmental constraint made some sense. But over the years Non-Annex I countries, which include major economies such as China, India, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have become increasingly powerful: in 2012 responsible for 67% of global CO2 emissions.

Robin Guenier uses estimates for CO2 emissions not (the admittedly harder to estimate) GHG emissions, of which CO2 comprises about two-thirds. But estimates are available from from the European Commission’s “Emissions Database for Global and Atmospheric Research” (EDGAR) for the period 1990 to 2012. I divided up the emissions between the Annex countries and the Non-Annex countries. 

The developing countries accounted for 64% of global GHG emissions in 2012, up from 47% in 1990 and 57% in 2005 when the Stern Review was being written. From 1990 to 2012 global emissions increased by 41% or 15,700 MtCO2e, whilst those of the Non-Annex countries increased by 90% or 16,400 MtCO2e  to 34,600 MtCO2e. The emissions in the United Kingdom decreased in the period (mostly for reasons other than mitigation policies) by 25% to 586 MtCO2e or 1.1% of the estimated global total.

It would have been abundantly clear to anyone who actually looked at the GHG emissions figures by country that the Rio Declaration 1992 was going to prevent any attempt to significantly reduce global GHG emissions. Since 1992 the phenomenal economic growth of countries like China and India, driven by the low energy costs of fossil fuels, have made the impossibility of reducing global emissions even starker. Yet still the IPCC, UNFCCC, many Governments and a large Academic consensus have failed to acknowledge, let alone understand, the real world data. Still they talk about reducing global emissions by over 80% in a couple of generations. In terms of the United Kingdom, the INDC submissions produced last year should have been further confirmation that the Government has no rational justification for imposing the massive costs on families, increasing inequalities and destroying jobs in the process.

Kevin Marshall

 

The Climate Alarmist Reaction to a Trump Presidency

A few weeks ago cliscep had a piece Trump, climate and the future of the world that looked at the immediate reactions to the surprise victory in the US Presidential election amongst the climate community. Brad Keyes noted Jo Romm’s piece will President Trump pull the plug on a livable climate?. To support this Romm stated

Indeed, one independent firm, Lux Research, projected last week that “estimated emissions would be 16 percent higher after two terms of Trump’s policies than they would be after two terms of Clinton’s, amounting to 3.4 billion tons greater emissions over the next eight years.”

There is a little graph to sort of back this up.

Whilst Romm then states two reasons why he does not think emissions will rise so much (Trump will cause a massive recession and will not win a second term) he then states the Twitter quote:-

That said, the damage and delay that even a one-term President Trump could do will make the already difficult task of keeping total warming well below 2°C essentially impossible.

So a difference of much less than 3.4 GtCO2e over eight years will make keeping total warming well below 2°C essentially impossible.
Before looking at the evidence that contradicts this, there are even more bizarre claims made by the expert climate scientists at RealClimate. They use a different graph which is probably a couple of years old and explain:-

Here are some numbers. Carbon emissions from the United States have been dropping since the year 2000, more than on-track to meet a target for the year 2020. Perhaps with continued effort and improving technology, emissions might have dropped to below the 2020 target by 2020, let’s say to 5 gigatons of CO2 per year (5000 megatons in the plot). In actuality, now, let’s say that removing restrictions on energy inefficiency and air pollution could potentially lead to US emissions by 2020 of about 7 gigatons of CO2. This assumes that future growth in emissions followed the faster growth rates from the 1990’s.
Maybe neither of these things will happen exactly, but these scenarios give us a high-end estimate for the difference between the two, which comes to about 4 gigatons of CO2 over four years. There will also probably be extra emissions beyond 2020 due to the lost opportunity to decarbonize and streamline the energy system between now and then. Call it 4-6 gigatons of Trump CO2.
This large quantity of gas can be put into the context of what it will take to avoid the peak warming threshold agreed to in Paris. In order to avoid exceeding a very disruptive warming of 1.5 °C with 66% probability, humanity can release approximately 220 gigatons of CO2 after January, 2017 (IPCC Climate Change 2014 Synthesis report, Table 2.2, corrected for emissions since 2011). The 4-6 Gtons of Trump CO2 will not by itself put the world over this threshold. But global CO2 emission rates are now about 36 gigatons of CO2 per year, giving a time horizon of only about six years of business-as-usual (!) before we cross the line, leaving basically no time for screwing around. To reach the catastrophic 2 °C, about 1000 gigatons of CO2 remain (about 20 years of business as usual). Note that these estimates were done before global temperatures spiked since 2014 — we are currently at 1.2 °C! So these temperature boundaries may be closer than was recently thought.

RealClimate come up with nearly twice the difference made by Joe Romm / Lux Research, but at least admit in the final paragraph that whoever won would not make much difference.
There are two parts to putting these analyses into context – the US context and the global one.
In the USA emissions have indeed been falling since 2000, this despite the population growing. The rate of decline has significantly increased in the years of the Obama Presidency, but for reasons quite separate from actions to reduce emissions. First there was the credit crunch, followed by the slowest recovery in US history. Second, the high oil price encouraged emissions reductions, along with the loss of energy-intensive industries to countries with lower energy costs. Third is that the shale gas revolution has meant switching from coal to gas in electricity production.
But the global context is even more important. RealClimate does acknowledge the global figure, but only mentions CO2 emissions. The 36GtCO2 is only two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions of about 55GTCO2e and that figure is rising by 1-2% a year. The graph – reproduced from the USA INDC submission to the UNFCCC – clearly states that it is in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. What is more, these are vague policy proposals, that President Obama would have been unable to get through Congress. Further, most of the proposed emission reductions were through extrapolating trends that of what has been happening without any policy intervention.
If the 1.5°C limit breached from 220 GtCO2e of additional emissions, it will be breached in the run-up to Christmas 2020. The 1000 GtCO2e for the 2°C limit was from 2011. By simple arithmetic it is now below 800GtCO2e with about 15 years remaining if (a) a doubling of CO2 levels (or equivalent GHG gases) leads to 3°C of warming (b) the estimated quantity of emissions to a unit rise in atmospheric gas levels is correct and (b) the GHG gas emitted is retained for a very long period in the atmosphere.
Even simple arithmetic is not required. Prior to the Paris talks the UNFCCC combined all the INDCs – including that of the USA to cut emissions as shown in the graph above – were globally aggregated and compared to the approximate emissions pathways for 1.5°C and least-cost 2°C warming. The updated version, post-Paris is below.

The difference Donald Trump will make is somewhere in the thickness of the thick yellow line. There is no prospect of the aimed-for blue emissions pathways. No amount of ranting or protests at the President-elect Trump will change the insignificant difference the United States will make with any politically-acceptable and workable set of policies, nor can make in a country with less than a twentieth of the global population and less that one seventh of global emissions.

Kevin Marshall

Guardian Images of Global Warming Part 2 – A Starved Dead Polar Bear

In the Part 2 of my look at Ashley Cooper’s photographs of global warming published in The Guardian on June 3rd I concentrate on the single image of a dead, emaciated, polar bear.
The caption reads

A male polar bear that starved to death as a consequence of climate change. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt their main prey, seals. Western fjords of Svalbard which normally freeze in winter, remained ice free all season during the winter of 2012/13, one of the worst on record for sea ice around the island archipelago. This bear headed hundreds of miles north, looking for suitable sea ice to hunt on before it finally collapsed and died.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has monthly maps of sea ice extent. The Western Fjords were indeed ice free during the winter of 2012/13, even in March 2013 when the sea ice reaches a maximum. In March 2012 Western Fjords were also ice free, along with most of the North Coast was as well.  The maps are also available for March of 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. It is the earliest available year that seems to have the minimum extent. Screen shots of Svarlbard are shown below.

As the sea ice extent has been diminishing for years, maybe this had impacted on the polar bear population? This is not the case. A survey published late last year, showed that polar bear numbers has increased by 42% between 2004 and 2015 for Svarlbard and neighbouring archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya.

Even more relevantly, studies have shown that the biggest threat to polar bear is not low sea ice levels but unusually thick spring sea ice. This affects the seal population, the main polar bear food source, at the time of year when the polar bears are rebuilding fat after the long winter.
Even if diminishing sea ice is a major cause of some starvation then it may have been a greater cause in the past. There was no satellite data prior to the late 1970s when the sea ice levels started diminishing. The best proxies are the average temperatures. Last year I looked at the two major temperature data sets for Svarlbard, both located on the West Coast where the dead polar bear was found. It would appear that there was a more dramatic rise in temperatures in Svarlbard in the period 1910-1925 than in period since the late 1970s. But in the earlier warming period polar bear numbers were likely decreasing, continuing into later cooling period. Recovery in numbers corresponds to the warming period. These changes have nothing to do with average temperatures or sea ice levels. It is because until recent decades polar bears were being hunted, a practice that has largely stopped.

The starvation of this pictured polar bear may have a more mundane cause. Polar bears are at the top of the food chain, relying on killing fast-moving seals for food. As a polar bear gets older it slows down, due to arthritis and muscles not working as well. As speed and agility are key factors in catching food, along with a bit of luck, starvation might be the most common cause of death in polar bears.

Kevin Marshall

Guardian Images of Global Warming Part 1 – Australian Droughts

On Friday June 3rd the Guardian presented some high quality images with the headline

Droughts, floods, forest fires and melting poles – climate change is impacting Earth like never before. From the Australia to Greenland, Ashley Cooper’s work spans 13 years and over 30 countries. This selection, taken from his new book, shows a changing landscape, scarred by pollution and natural disasters – but there is hope too, with the steady rise of renewable energy.

The purpose is to convince people that human-caused climate change is happening now, to bolster support for climate mitigation policies. But the real stories of what the pictures show is quite different.  I will start with three images relating to drought in Australia.

Image 5

Forest ghosts: Lake Eildon in Victoria, Australia was built in the 1950’s to provide irrigation water, but the last time it was full was in 1995. The day the shot was taken it was at 29% capacity with levels down around 75ft.

Data from Lake Eildon (which is accessible with a simple search of Lake Eildon capacity) links to a graph where up to 7 years of data can be compared.

In 1995 the dam was not at full capacity, but it was full, for a short period, in the following year. However, more recently after the recent drought broke, in 2011 the reservoir was pretty much full for all the year.

But were the low levels due to more extreme drought brought on by climate change? That is very difficult to determine, as Lake Eildon is an artificial lake, constructed to provide water for irrigation occasional hydro-electric power as well as recreational facilities. The near empty levels at the end of the biggest drought in many decades could be just due a failure to predict the duration of the drought, or simply a policy of supplying irrigation water for the maximum length of time. The fact that water levels never reached full capacity for many years is indicated by a 2003 article in The Age

The dam wall at Lake Eildon, Victoria’s biggest state-run water storage, has been declared unsafe and will need a $30 million upgrade if the lake is to be refilled.

The dam, which is at its lowest level since being completed in 1956, will be restricted to just 65 per cent capacity because it no longer meets safety standards for earthquakes and extreme floods.

Image 6

Forest destroyed by bush fires near Michelago, New South Wales, Australia.

The inference is that this is caused by global warming.

According to Munich Re

The majority of bushfires in southeast Australia are caused by human activity

Bushfire is the only natural hazard in which humans have a direct influence on the hazard situation. The majority of bushfires near populated areas are the consequence of human activity. Lightning causes the smaller portion naturally. Sometimes, a carelessly discarded cigarette or a glass shard, which can focus the sun’s rays is all it takes to start a fire. Heat from motors or engines, or electric sparks from power lines and machines can ignite dry grass. Besides this accidental causes, a significant share of wildfires are started deliberately.

Humans also change the natural fire frequency and intensity. They decrease the natural fire frequency due to deliberate fire suppression near populated areas. If there is no fuel-reduction burning in forests for the purposes of fire prevention, large quantities of combustible material can accumulate at ground level.

Surface fires in these areas can become so intense due to the large amounts of fuel that they spread to the crowns of the trees and rapidly grow into a major fire. If humans had not intervened in the natural bushfire regime, more frequent low-intensity fires would have consumed the forest undergrowth and ensured that woodland grasses and scrubs do not proliferate excessively.

David Evans expands on the issue of fuel load in a 2013 article.

Like with the water levels in an artificial lake, forest fires are strongly influenced by the management of those forests. Extinguishing forest fires before they have run their natural course results in bigger and more intense fires at a later date. More frequent or intense droughts would not change this primary cause of many horrific forest fire disasters seen in recent years.

Image 7

Where has all the water gone?: Lake Hume is the largest reservoir in Australia and was set up to provide irrigation water for farms further down the Murray Basin and drinking water for Adelaide. On the day this photograph was taken it was at 19.6% capacity. By the end of the summer of 2009 it dropped to 2.1 % capacity. Such impacts of the drought are likely to worsen as a result of climate change. The last time the water was anywhere near this road bridge was 10 years ago, rendering this no fishing sign, somewhat redundant.

Again this is old data. Like for Lake Eildon, it is easy to construct graphs.

Following the end of the drought, the reservoir came back to full capacity. Worsening drought is only apparent to those who look over a short time range.

When looking at drought in Australia, Dorothea Mackellar’s 1908 poem “My Country” provides some context. Written for a British audience, the poem begins

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains

To understand the difference that human-caused climate change is having on the climate first requires an understanding of natural climatic variation over multiple time-scales. It then requires an understanding of how other human factors are influencing the environment, both intended and unintended.

Kevin Marshall

Are the Paris Floods due to climate changing for the worse?

The flood of the River Seine is now past the 6.1m peak reached in the early hours of the early hours of Saturday 4th June. 36 hours later, the official measurements at Pont d’Austerlitz show that the level is below 5.7m. The peak is was just below the previous major flood in 1982 of 6.15m, but well above the previous flood emergency in 2000, when waters peaked at 3.92m. Below is a snapshot of a continually-updated graphic at the Environment Ministry VIGICRUES site.

Despite it being 16 years since this last emergency, the reaction of the authorities has been impressive. From giving people warnings of the rising levels; evacuating people; stopping all non-emergency vessels on the Seine; protecting those who live on the river; and putting into operation emergency procedures for the movement of art treasures out of basement storage in the Louvre.Without these measures the death toll and the estimated €600m cost of the flood would undoubtedly have been much higher.

The question that must be asked is whether human-caused climate change has made flooding worse on a river that has flooded for centuries. The data is hard to come by. An article in Le Figaro last year gave the top ten record floods, the worst being in 1658.

Although this is does show that the current high of 6.10m is a full 50cm below the tenth worst in 1920, there is no indication of increasing frequency.

From a 2012 report Les entreprises face au risque inondation I have compiled a graphic of all flood maximums which were six metres or higher.

This shows that major floods were much more frequent in the period 1910 to 1960 than in the period before or after. Superficially it would seem that recently flooding had been getting less severe. But this conclusion would ignore the many measures that were put in place after the flood of 1910. The 2014 OECD Report Seine Basin, Île-de-France: Resilience to Major Floods stated:-

Since 1910, the risk of a Seine River flood in the Ile-de-France region has been reduced in various stages by protective structures, including dams built upstream and river development starting in the 1920s, then in the 1950s up until the early 1990s. Major investments have been limited in the last decades, and it appears that protection levels are not up to the standards of many other comparable OECD countries, particularly in Europe. On the other hand, the exposure to the risk and the resulting vulnerability are accentuated by increasing urban density in the economic centre of France, as well as by the construction of a large number of areas activity centres and critical infrastructures (transport, energy, communications, water) along the Seine River.

If the climate impact had become more severe, then one would expect the number of major floods to increase given the limited new measures to prevent them. However, the more substantial measures taken in the last century could explain the reduced frequency of major floods, though the lack of floods between 1882 and 1910 suggests that the early twentieth century could have been an unusually wet period. Without detailed weather records my guess is that it is a bit of both. Extreme rainfall has decreased, whilst flood prevention measures have also had some impact on flood levels.

Kevin Marshall

Beliefs and Uncertainty: A Bayesian Primer

Ron Clutz’s introduction, based on a Scientific American article by John Horgan on January 4, 2016, starts to grapple with the issues involved.

The take home quote from Horgan is on the subject of false positives.

Here is my more general statement of that principle: The plausibility of your belief depends on the degree to which your belief–and only your belief–explains the evidence for it. The more alternative explanations there are for the evidence, the less plausible your belief is. That, to me, is the essence of Bayes’ theorem.

“Alternative explanations” can encompass many things. Your evidence might be erroneous, skewed by a malfunctioning instrument, faulty analysis, confirmation bias, even fraud. Your evidence might be sound but explicable by many beliefs, or hypotheses, other than yours.

In other words, there’s nothing magical about Bayes’ theorem. It boils down to the truism that your belief is only as valid as its evidence. If you have good evidence, Bayes’ theorem can yield good results. If your evidence is flimsy, Bayes’ theorem won’t be of much use. Garbage in, garbage out.
With respect to the question of whether global warming is human caused, there is basically a combination of three elements – (i) Human caused (ii) Naturally caused (iii) Random chaotic variation. There may be a number of sub-elements and an infinite number of combinations including some elements counteracting others, such as El Nino events counteracting underlying warming. Evaluation of new evidence is in the context of explanations being arrived at within a community of climatologists with strong shared beliefs that at least 100% of recent warming is due to human GHG emissions. It is that same community who also decide the measurement techniques for assessing the temperature data; the relevant time frames; and the categorization of the new data. With complex decisions the only clear decision criteria is conformity to the existing consensus conclusions. As a result, the original Bayesian estimates become virtually impervious to new perspectives or evidence that contradicts those original estimates.

Science Matters

Those who follow discussions regarding Global Warming and Climate Change have heard from time to time about the Bayes Theorem. And Bayes is quite topical in many aspects of modern society:

Bayesian statistics “are rippling through everything from physics to cancer research, ecology to psychology,” The New York Times reports. Physicists have proposed Bayesian interpretations of quantum mechanics and Bayesian defenses of string and multiverse theories. Philosophers assert that science as a whole can be viewed as a Bayesian process, and that Bayes can distinguish science from pseudoscience more precisely than falsification, the method popularized by Karl Popper.

Named after its inventor, the 18th-century Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes, Bayes’ theorem is a method for calculating the validity of beliefs (hypotheses, claims, propositions) based on the best available evidence (observations, data, information). Here’s the most dumbed-down description: Initial belief plus new evidence = new and improved belief.   (A fuller and…

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CO2 Emissions from Energy production forecast to be rising beyond 2040 despite COP21 Paris Agreement

Last week the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) published their INTERNATIONAL ENERGY OUTLOOK 2016. The Daily Caller (and the GWPF) highlighted the EIA’s summary energy energy production. This shows that the despite the predicted strong growth in nuclear power and implausibly high growth in renewables, usage of fossil fuels are also predicted to rise, as shown in their headline graphic below.

For policy purposes, the important aspect is the translation into CO2 emissions. In the final Chapter 9. Energy-related CO2 Emissions figure 9.3 shows the equivalent CO2 Emissions in billions of tonnes of CO2. I have reproduced the graphic as a stacked bar chart.

Data reproduced as a stacked bar chart.

In 2010 these CO2 emissions are just under two-thirds of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The question is how does this fit into the policy requirements to avoid 2°C from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report? The International Energy Authority summarized the requirements very succicently in World Energy Outlook 2015 Special Report page 18

The long lifetime of greenhouse gases means that it is the cumulative build-up in the atmosphere that matters most. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that to preserve a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 2 °C, the world can support a maximum carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions “budget” of 3 000 gigatonnes (Gt) (the mid-point in a range of 2 900 Gt to 3 200 Gt) (IPCC, 2014), of which an estimated 1 970 Gt had already been emitted before 2014. Accounting for CO2 emissions from industrial processes and land use, land-use change and forestry over the rest of the 21st century leaves the energy sector with a carbon budget of 980 Gt (the midpoint in a range of 880 Gt to 1 180 Gt) from the start of 2014 onwards.

From the forecast above, cumulative CO2 emissions from 2014 with reach 980 Gt in 2038. Yet in 2040, there is no sign of peak emissions.

Further corroboration comes from the UNFCCC. In preparation for the COP21 from all the country policy proposals they produced a snappily titled Synthesis report on the aggregate effect of intended nationally determined contributions. The UNFCCC have updated the graphics since. Figure 2 of 27 Apr 2016 shows the total GHG emissions, which were about 17 Gt higher than the CO2 emissions from energy emissions in 2010.

The graphic clearly shows that the INDCs – many with very vague and non-verifiable targets – will make very little difference to the non-policy emissions path. Yet even this small impact is contingent on those submissions being implemented in full, which is unlikely in many countries. The 2°C target requires global emissions to peak in 2016 and then head downwards. There are no additional policies even being tabled to achieve this, except possibly by some noisy, but inconsequential, activist groups. Returning to the EIA’s report, figure 9.4 splits the CO2 emissions between the OECD and non-OECD countries.

The OECD countries represent nearly all countries who propose to reduce their CO2 emissions on the baseline 1990 level, but their emissions are forecast by the EIA still to be 19% higher in 2040. However, the increase is small compared to the non-OECD countries – who mostly are either proposing to constrain emissions growth or have no emissions policy proposals – with emissions forecast to treble in fifty years. As a result the global forecast is for CO2 emissions to double. Even if all the OECD countries completely eliminate CO2 emissions by 2040, global emissions will still be a third higher than in 1990. As the rapid economic growth in the former Third World reduces global income inequalities, it is also reducing the inequalities in fossil fuel consumption in energy production. This will continue beyond 2040 when the OECD with a sixth of the world population will still produce a third of global CO2 emissions.

Unless the major emerging economies peak their emissions in the next few years, then reduce the emissions rapidly thereafter, the emissions target allegedly representing 2°C or less of global warming by 2100 will not be met. But for countries like India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Ethiopia to do so, with the consequent impact on economic growth, is morally indefensible.

Kevin Marshall

 

Insight into the mindset of FoE activists

Bishop Hill comments about how

the Charities Commissioners have taken a dim view of an FoE leaflet that claimed that silica – that’s sand to you or me – used in fracking fluid was a known carcinogen.

Up pops a FoE activist making all sorts of comments, including attacking the hosts book The Hockey Stick Illusion. Below is my comment

Phil Clarke’s comments on the hosts book are an insight into the Green Activists.
He says Jan 30, 2016 at 9:58 AM

So you’ve read HSI, then?
I have a reading backlog of far more worthwhile volumes, fiction and non-fiction. Does anybody dispute a single point in Tamino’s adept demolition?

and

Where did I slag off HSI? I simply trust Tamino; the point about innuendo certainly rings true, based on other writings.
So no, I won’t be shelling out for a copy of a hatchet job on a quarter-century old study. But I did read this, in detail
http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v6/n5/full/ngeo1797.html

Tamino’s article was responded to twice by Steve McIntyre. The first looks at the use of non-standard statistical methods and Re-post of “Tamino and the Magic Flute” simply repeats the post of two years before. Tamino had ignored previous rebuttals. A simple illustration is the Gaspé series that Tamino defends. He misses out many issues with this key element in the reconstruction, including that a later sample from the area failed to show a hockey stick.
So Phil Clarke has attacked a book that he has not read, based on biased review by an author in line with his own prejudices. He ignores the counter-arguments, just as the biased review author does as well. Says a lot about the rubbish Cuadrilla are up against.

Kevin Marshall