J.C. Moore Online
Current events from a science perspective.

Posts Tagged ‘global Warming’

Bits and Pieces: Oklahoma Must Increase the State Renewable Energy Standards

Sun ,01/06/2014

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as windmill4quickly as possible. Investing in clean energy helps fight climate change, reduces death and disease from air pollution and creates good, local jobs. Most states have adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires that a certain percentage of the electricity generated in the state be from renewable resources.

Across the country, 30 states and the District of Columbia have renewable electricity standards in place that require a certain percentage, some as high as 33%, of all electricity to be generated from clean and renewable sources of energy. Oklahoma requires only 15% . It is 11.25% in actuality, because the legislature allows the utilities to meet a quarter of the renewable requirement by conservation. Oklahoma has the potential to be a leader in renewable energy but it is falling behind because the state is not being proactive in encouraging investment in renewable energy.

It is time for that to change. With the increased phase out of coal fired plants and the uncertainty in natural gas prices and supplies, Oklahoma must act to insure a supply of electricity for the future. We have a good supply of natural gas, but that could change if fracking and disposal wells are linked to water pollution and earthquakes.

Every state should adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard, and states which already have them should increase the percentage of electricity produced by renewables. It’s time for the Oklahoma legislature to pass a renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to invest more in clean sources of energy. Click here and sign a Credo petition to the Oklahoma Legislature if you agree. You do not need to be a citizen of Oklahoma, as air pollution affects us all.

 

Bits and Pieces: Two Misguided Attacks on Wind Turbines and Electric Cars

Sun ,25/05/2014

There were two op-ed pieces in the May 25, 2014 Tulsa World which were misguided attacks on renewable energy and electric cars.

The first was titled “The Killing Fields”, with the subheading “Perverse federal energy incentive is a threat to birds, bats.” The article was written by Dr. George Fenwick who is the president of the American Bird Conservancy. The article was illustrated by an Associated Press photo which shows cattle standing in front of a windfarm in a drought prone area of Texas. It well illustrated flaws in Dr. Fenwick’s reasoning, he is more concerned about the wind turbines than about a much greater threat to bird populations.

While Dr. Fenwick had some good points in the article about the value of birds and our need to conserve them, the sensationalized article missed the greatest threat to birds. He complained about the federal production tax credit which encourages the development of wind energy, about allowing exception to the Endangered Species Act, and about siting of wind farms in sensitive areas. Wind developers are already avoiding sensitive areas and they have changed the design of wind turbines so they would be less of a threat to birds. He should have been more concerned about the bigger threats to bird populations, which are severe weather and the destruction of habitat, both made worse by global warming. Delaying the construction of wind turbines will certainly lead to more carbon emissions, making global warming more of a problem

Research shows that wind turbines are not among the top 10 human causes of bird mortality – and windfarms are likely saving HPIM2053amany more birds than they are killing. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.  A related peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality found that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as quickly as possible. If Dr. Fenwick’s sensationalized articles about “The Killing Fields” keeps us from developing renewable energy as quickly as possible, then he is working against the birds, and his own, best interest.

The second article, “Driving greener cars won’t save the Earth” by Megan McArdle essentially says efforts are futile to reduce our carbon emissions. She belittles her friend for buying an electric car and goes on that Americans are likely to do nothing significant to reduce our carbon emissions. She well documents all the ways that we waste energy and claims we are unlikely to change. She also points out that getting other countries, particularly China, to to reduce their carbon emissions is also futile. She concluded that if we want to get serious about reducing our carbon emissions then we need to find cheap renewable resources to replace our energy needs, to find a way to take greenhouse gases out of the air, or to keep the planet from warming because of those gasses that we have already put their .

Her last two suggestions show she does not have a good grasp of the scientific issues, but she is certainly right that we need cheap renewable resources. We have already found those in wind and solar, but they are not yet cheaper than fossil fuels because fossil fuels do not pay their external costs. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal –  if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include those  costs, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage. If we wish to be serious, then we need to remove subsidies to fossil fuels, require fossil fuels to pay their external costs, and to  subsidize renewable energy sources at the same level for several decades.

This falls into a long list of defeatist articles, such as that by Robert Bryce, which says that we are not going to be able to do anything about global warming, so why try. Yes, driving greener cars alone won’t save the Earth, but conserving energy, developing renewable energy sources, changing the energy sources we subsidize, and having fossil fuels pay their external costs, will certainly help more than writing articles discouraging us from trying.

  (c) 2014  J.C. Moore

Evidence Linking Global Warming and Extreme Weather

Thu ,08/05/2014

 “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be….  ”  – Trenberth

 

Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains that asking for proof that global warming causes severe weather, is asking the wrong question. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be. The main way climate change is perceived is through changes in extremes because those are outside the bounds of previous weather. The average anthropogenic climate change effect is not negligible, but nor is it large, although a small shift in the mean can lead to very large percentage changes in extremes. Anthropogenic global warming inherently has decadal time scales and can be readily masked by natural variability on short time scales.”

Scientists  have been very cautious about linking severe weather events to global warming, but the link is getting stronger each year. The Earth has warmed an average of 0.82 over the last century, which doesn’t sound like much, but it means that some places have warmed much more than in the past. Since the amount of moisture the air can hold depends on the temperature, the air can now hold about 6% more moisture. Before 2010, scientists would cautiously point out that higher temperatures lead to the likelihood of drought, and that more energy and moisture in the atmosphere was a recipe for severe weather. But how is it possible to establish that weather events were becoming more extreme?

There are many reports like the interim report by the Climate Council in Australia which found that, in the period between 1971 and 2008,  heatwaves in Australia were becoming more frequent, increasing in intensity and are lasting longer. The report said climate change was  having a key influence on a trend that has seen the number of hot days in Australia double and the duration and frequency of heatwaves increase. Reports like that were not good enough for the skeptics. By 2011 a good case was established that global warming was causing heat waves and droughts in the U.S., but the case was not strong enough to overcome the Skeptics objection, even when in 2012, a definite probability link  was established for  extreme temperatures and droughts. 

To understand whether a weather event is extreme, it must be compared to the norm. This can most easily be done for temperatures, as we have over a century of temperature records from almost all parts of the world.

Example of a Normal Distribution

Example of a Normal Distribution – Click to Enlarge

There is enough temperature data that normal distributions can be graphed, which allows us to quantify  the probability of a temperature event. In the example at the right, the maximum in the curve is the mean of the data. The probability of the occurrence of an event can be measured by the number of standard deviations, sigma(σ), a particular value is from the mean. The values within 2σ of the mean, blue, are considered to be in a mostly normal range. Those from 2 to 3σ, yellow, are considered to be exceptional events, and those beyond 3σ, red, are considered to be extreme. Those yearly events that fall in the yellow range are considered to be 100 year events while those that fall in the red are 1000 year event.

As an example, the normal distribution graph to the right is for the temperatures in Moscow since 1950.  The maximum in the curve is the average temperature, which is set to zero, and the temperature for other other year is described as a temperature anomaly, i.e., how far it is above or below the average value.Moscowjulytempanomaly2010 The curve approximates a normal distribution so the standard deviation of the temperature anomalies can be used to decide whether an event is extreme. The temperatures for 1972  and 2001 fall in the hundred year event range, while  that for 2010 would only be likely to occur only once in every hundred thousand years, unlikely, but still possible.

The Skeptics would still not be convinced, claiming that the link to global warming climate change causes severe weather was not proven, but proof is not necessary when probabilities for a large number of events are involved. For instance, you have only a 50% chance of calling a coin toss correctly, but you can likely guess the number of heads on 1000 flips with less than 1% error. Small differences in probabilities lead to big outcomes. The rules of blackjack give the house a 50.5% to 49.5% advantage, and though some players may win thousands on a lucky streak, considering all the bets placed, the house will make millions from that small difference in probability. And, probabilities are useful for predictions. A 0.270 hitter may get the game winning hit at his next bat while a 0.300 pinch hitter may strike out, but with the game on the line, the coach will likely pinch hit. If trying to predict the future, it is better to go with the probabilities. Though  it is not possible to prove that any one weather event is caused by global warming , scientists have observed a change in probabilities of severe weather events over long periods of time. With the thousands of weather events that occur on the Earth each year,  a small change in probability can cause an definite change in the number of severe weather events.  

SummerDist

An even more convincing argument can be made that global warming causes severe temperatures if the normal distribution is examined as a function of time. Research by James Hansen has established the link by showing that the normal distribution has changed since 1951. The curves show that beginning in about 1970, the mean begins to move to the right and the the curves flatten, showing that the probability of extreme temperatures increase greatly from 1950 to 2011.  His work shows that the probability of extreme temperatures is 10 times as great as for the 198o to 2010 years.

It should also be noted that the left side of the graph flattens, but that the probability of extremely cold temperatures is not zero. There is still a significant likelihood of cold temperatures -and a cold winter now and then does not disprove global warming.

The Skeptics are still claiming that is not proof enough, and that the data says nothing about droughts and wildfires.  There are still some Skeptics who argue that this does not mean  heat waves necessarily related to droughts or that the droughts are causing the increase in wildfires we have experienced, but their arguments seem to be improbable. It should be clear by now that no amount of evidence will convince Skeptics who wish to ignore probabilities.

(C) 2014  J.C. Moore

 

 

Climate Change: What We Know

Sun ,30/03/2014

The science Skeptics dispute almost every discovery by climate scientists, and the facts are often lost in the disputes. This is a guest article by Rachel Martin which summarizes nicely the AAAS report meant to separate what scientists know from the misinformation:

I’ve just found this great interview with Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University, and he is a delight to listen to. If I were making a movie about some impending catastrophic event which included a part for an honest and dedicated scientist whose role was to alert the human population, I would pick Richard Alley. He just really looks and acts the part which I realise is a dumb thing to say because he really is the part! I just think he does a great job.

The interview, which is less than 9 minutes, is a part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)What We Know initiative which is to try to communicate to the public that human-caused climate change is happening, that it carries dangerous risks and that the sooner we act the lower the costs will be.

The “What we know” initiative has three key messages they want to communicate:

1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.

2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.

3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do. Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk, and foreclose options to address the risk.

The AAAS has released a full report specifically aimed at a large audience to address the myth that the scientific community is divided on the issue of climate change. It explains how climate change is and will affect your life. It can be read here.

 

 

The Beauty and Power of Wind Energy

Wed ,12/02/2014

Before fossil fuels, wind was man’s major source of power for sailing ships, grinding grain, and pumping water.  The beauty of ships and windmills were an endless source of inspiration for painters and photographers. Windmills were once the source of power for providing water in rural America, such as the one in the picture with the giant wind turbines towering over it. Though some criticize the wind turbines for being unsightly, they have a majestic beauty of their own. Their real beauty is in their utility as,  windmill4once built, there are no fuel costs or emissions. Much of the criticism of wind power has come from the fossil fuel industry, as it is hard to compete against a technology with no fuel costs and few  regulatory problems.

Fossil fuels now have a near monopoly on providing energy, and consumers would benefit from more competition in that market. Fossil fuels have served us well and we will certainly need them far into the future – even to develop sustainable energy sources.  But there is a trap if we wait too long, as the rising  price of traditional fuels will also increase the cost of  building the renewable sources,  possibly leading to an energy shortage before renewable sources can make up the difference.

Cost: As the cost of building new coal fired plants has increased prohibitively, a number of US power companies have taken advantage of wind energy to  increase the supply to their customers and lower their costs.  Recently, AEP/PSO  in Oklahoma was able to meet the demand caused by the heat wave in 2012 by bringing 200 megawatts (MW) of wind energy online. It recently planned to purchase 200 MW more, but took advantage of an opportunity to contract for an additional 600 MW of wind energy from facilities being developed in northwestern Oklahoma. AEP/PSO said the cost was now less than building new coal fired plants, and that the purchase will save an estimated $53 million in the first year and even more thereafter. The declining cost of wind energy is making it competitive to natural gas as well. Wind contracts in Texas, about one quarter of all US installations, are now regularly below $30/MWh. Even with a tax incentive, this still puts wind well below $50/MWh, while the comparable cost for a new gas plant is above $60 /MWh. New design and siting where there are good wind conditions allows Texas wind farms to get capacity factors around 50%. Nearly half of that occurs during peak load, defying characterizations of wind as essentially an off-peak power source.

Capacity: One criticism of wind energy is that it will not be able to supply enough power to replace the fossil fuel sources.  WindWind currently supplies about 3% of the worlds electricity and is growing 25% each year, meaning that it will double about every three years.The graph on the right shows the worldwide growth of wind power. Last year, wind farms in the U.S. generated 60,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 15 million homes, and provided 81,000 jobs nationwide. Another criticism, based on a misunderstanding, is that there is not enough available space. Each windmill requires about about 14 acres of air space to insure they do not interfere with each other but they  require much less land space,  about 0.3 acres per turbine. Landowners can use the area below the windmills for farming or livestock, and they are compensated by a 5% royalty, about $3000 to $5000, as  each turbine generates about $80,000 in electricity.

Startup costs: To compare the costs of building new plants, the levelized costs of primary energy sources have been estimated for different regions  of the country. CostLevelized costs include all the costs of building a new plant and running it for a 30-year cost recovery period, regardless of the expected lifetime of the plant. Wind turbines may have a much longer recovery period, as some windmills in Holland have been operating for two centuries, though some of the gears are made of wood.  Though the table show some types of gas fired plants to be less costly that wind energy, the levelized costs do not include external costs, i.e.,  the costs indirectly borne by society. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal, if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include the  costs of letting fossil fuel release  their waste products into the environment, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage.

Criticisms: The  intermittency of the wind is a problem, as is the lack of a way to store the energy. Putting wind electricity into the power grid solves some of the problem, as conventional sources can take up the slack. Each unit of wind energy put on the grid saves about three times as much in fuel energy, as conventional plants are only about 30% efficient. Better storage technology is under development , but conventional sources will be needed  as backup in the mean time.

Wind turbines are also criticized, somewhat unfairly, for their noise and for bird deaths. The noise underneath a well maintained turbine is not much louder than from the wind turning it. The turbines are responsible for bird deaths, but they are not among the top ten human causes of bird mortality. A peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality finds that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. The study concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

Subsidies: While once the problem was getting electricity to rural America, the problem now is getting wind electricity from rural areas to population centers. It will require a large investment in research and infrastructure to develop wind energy. As Washington struggles to balance the U.S. budget, possible cuts in subsidies has created an uncertainty hindering investments in wind energy. While it is the national interest to subsidize the development of sustainable energy resources, a much larger share of tax breaks go to well established and profitable fossil fuel companies. The United States’ yearly subsidies to the fossil fuel industries amounts to about $13.6 billion, while all renewable energy subsidies together amount to about one sixth as much.

Our energy needs will best be served by a mixture of traditional and alternate energy sources, and we should not let unfair criticisms or politics keep us from developing the alternate sources.

(c) 2014  J.C. Moore    

Nominate Your Candidates for the 2013 Environmental Hall of Fame/Shame Awards

Mon ,03/02/2014

It is important that we keep in mind those who are heroes and villains  in our efforts to protect the environment. Each year, this site Earthrise2takes a poll to find those most deserving to be in the Environmental Hall of Fame and the Environmental Hall of Shame. Nominations are now open for awards for those who have most affected the environment by words or action. With the ongoing  debate about  global warming and environmental regulations,  nominees should be easy to find.  Please send  your nominations  for  each category by e-mail through the “Contact” link or put it in the comment section . If you would, please include a short reason that your nominee should be chosen and suggest a suitable gift if they win.

Nominations will be taken until March 31st, 2014. The nominees will then be  listed  and this site will conduct a poll to determine the winner in each category.   You may suggest a suitable prize for your nominee. Please be imaginative, as particularly thoughtful or humorous  nominations will  be recognized and published on this site

The 2012 Environmental Hall of Fame winner was President Barack Obama for his efforts to protect the environment through executive action, such as  mileage standards and addressing air pollution through EPA action.

The 2012 Hall of Shame award went to Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, both who fund climate denial activities while allowing donors to remain anonymous and hide their vested interests.  

Past years winners and their gifts were:

Hall of Fame – Gift 

2012       President Barack Obama – A little coöperation from Congress, so please write your Representatives.

2011        James Hansen – A massive presence at the 2012 Citizen’s Climate Lobby 

2010        RealClimate.org  – A recommendation from this site. ( Priceless)

2009       Benno Hansen,  ThinkAboutIt Blogger – A Subscription to Science News.

Hall of Shame    

2012       Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund – An IRS investigation of their of their tax-exempt status.

2011        Halliburton (Cheney) -  A big glass of water from a well next to a hydrofracking operation.

2010        Koch Brothers – A petition to the Wizard of Oz for  the grant of a social conscience.

2009       SpaceGuy,  Newsvine Blogger – The movie Wall-E,  representing his view of the future of Earth.

 

(C) 2014  J.C. Moore

Wind Energy and Bird Mortality

Tue ,07/01/2014

 

A rather curious letter recently appeared in the Tulsa World Editorial page titled Wind Turbines, by Jim Wiegand, Redding, CA.  Mr. Weigand has no ties to Tulsa, yet the editor published it and added a note: “Wiegand is a nationally recognized wildlife biologist and expert on the effects of wind turbines on birds.” The letter started with, “The wind industry is hiding massive turbine-related bird and bat genocide. The industry has created fraudulent mortality studies and been given voluntary guidelines in order to hide its slaughter.” The letter never mentioned birds again but went on into conspiracy theories and a criticism of wind energy.   

 Wind-turbines do sometimes kill birds and bats, but bird genocide? In other of his writings, Mr. Wiegand claims windmills are responsible for dozens of Whooping Crane deaths, and that wind turbines will cause their extinction within five years. So far, there is not one Whooping Crane death that can be attributed to windmills.  Carla Gilbert, in a post to the article, disputed the danger to similar birds. “When I was traveling in Portugal a number of years ago we could see many wind turbine farms from the highway. We were informed that the storks like to build their nests atop them. When the bus stopped for refueling I took pictures of the storks sitting on their nests atop the turbines and saw several storks coming and going from their nests. I did not see any injured or dead birds.” And, the storks are not becoming extinct as a result of the windmills. One falconer, who was at first worried about the windmills, now puts his falcon boxes on wind turbines and does not consider them a greater threat to birds than his picture window.

There has been considerable opposition to windmills and of renewable energy in general, so it is difficult to know whether all the criticisms are factual. Studies have found about an average of five to eight dead birds per windmill. That is about the number of birds who do themselves in on a picture window each year. When you add in the birds killed by cars and by hunting, it would seem that man’s other activities are a greater threat to the birds than wind turbines. For birds, the main threats are windows, cars, climate change, disease, hunters and pesticides.

There is a concern for protected species such as lesser prairie chickens and eagles. There are severe penalties for harming eagles, so to be on the safe side, the owners’ of windmills apply for permits to legally kill eagles. That has caused quite an outcry, but recently, the government gave the companies a 30 year moratorium on enforcing protection laws, while they study the problem. HPIM2053aIt does not seem likely that an eagle would fly into a windmill, particularly since another criticism is about the noise windmills make. Still there are confirmed reports that 85 bald eagles were killed by windmills in the past five years,  about 17 per year. Eagles are at the top of the food chain, so any environmental pollutant is likely to harm them, and DDT was the main cause of their population decline. Once DDT was banned and eagles became protected, their population recovered to about 140,000 in North America. They have been taken off the threatened species list. They are harmed by many pollutants associated with energy production – about 280 were killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is a shame when one of the magnificent birds is killed by accident, but if we cut out any activities that might harm them, then we would have to cease much of our energy production.

The concern about the lesser prairie chicken is that they avoid tall structures, and windmills might cause them to move from their normal habitat. Prairie chickens gather to mate each spring in large communal areas called leks. One enterprising oil company, opposed to wind power, drove a group of reporters up to a lek in the Osage Hills. They wanted to show the reporters what might be lost if windmills were built there, as if driving a van full of reporters around their lek is not going to disturb them. Many of the problems with wildlife and noise could be addressed by where the windmills are sited, and reasonable laws are needed to see that the windmills will disturb animals and people as little as possible.

Research finds the actual evidence of bird kills by windmills to be greatly exaggerated. In the Journal of Applied Ecology Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 386–394, April 2012, the authors found the impact of wind farms on bird populations to be minimal with the greater impact being during construction than during subsequent operation. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.  A related peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality says their data suggests that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

Mr. Wiegand’s letter is mostly fiction. A search shows that Mr. Weigand has a degree in biology from the 1970’s and makes his living by selling antiques.  He has done nothing that would qualify him as an expert in wildlife biology, and none of his claims, here or elsewhere, are backed by credible research. His avocation is writing letters to newspapers and posting comments on websites critical of wind energy. Some people can’t see the value, or the beauty of windmills, and they look for any excuse to criticize them.

IMG_0945a

Smoky Hills Wind Turbines Greet the Sun.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

Global Warming and Pine Beetle Damage

Tue ,24/12/2013
IMG_0246

Click to enlarge images.

On an environmental science field trip to the Cibola National Forest east of Albuquerque, the students noticed a large number of dead pine trees. The picture shows one that had been cut down, with the wood looking as if it had been shot full of holes with buckshot. The park ranger explained that the trees had been killed by the pine bark beetles which, because of climate change, have been extending their range to higher elevations in the park. The tree’s natural defense against the beetles is a secretion of pitch which forms a gooey protective barrier against beetles. The pine beetles do the most damage to mature trees that grow slower and produce less pitch, particularly when stressed by warmer temperatures and drought.

The quarter inch long beetles bore into the bark on mature trees and and create galleries in which they mate and lay eggs. The grubs feed in the inner bark and cambium layer, enlarging their tunnels as they grow. The “S” shaped tunnels can eventually girdle and kill the tree.  Mature larvae move to the outer bark and create a cell in which they pupate. When the new adults hatch, they chew through the bark, leaving small, clearly visible exit holes.  Most of the pine beetle damage is to the outer layer so the trees can still be used for lumber if harvested soon after the tree dies. Wood from beetle-affected trees retains its commercial value for 8 to 12 years after death, but the value drops rapidly during the first several months, as rapidly escaping moisture causes the wood to crack. The beetles also often introduce a blue stain fungus that can be lethal to the tree. Blue staining of the wood from the fungus is considered a defect, leading to a lower market price.

Normally, mountain pine beetles spend a winter as larvae in trees before emerging as adults the following summer. cycleIn the last two decades at the Colorado University Mountain Research Station, mean annual temperatures were 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were in the previous two decades. They found “The number of spring days above freezing temperatures increased by 15.1 in the last two decades, and the number of days that were warm enough for the beetles to grow increased by 44 percent since 1970.” This allows the beetles to produce an extra generation during most summers, leading to a rapid increase in the beetle population. The current bark beetle epidemic is the largest in history.

The bark beetles are a factor in wildfires as the large number of dead trees provide fuel for the fires. The needles stay on the trees for 2 or 3 years, contributing to canopy fires.  After the needles fall, the bare trees  contribute less to fires, but then they allow more sunlight through which melts the snow cover earlier and encourages the growth of underbrush, providing more fuel for wildfires. Compared with decades past, the traditional fire season now lasts two months longer in the West. The loss of trees also leads to earlier melting of snow which causes earlier runoff, contributes to heavier spring floods, and makes less water available later for streams and irrigation.

Because of global warming, the bark beetles have extended their range northward and to higher elevations, and their population is growing.  Andrew Nikiforuk, a Canadian journalist, has chronicled the plague of bark beetles that in the last quarter-century has killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico. Though there are other factors, such as how the forests are managed, climate change is by far the greatest factor. Trees stressed by heat and drought can’t mount a strong defense against the beetles, whose numbers grow exponentially when they produce more than one generation per season. In one area in Canada, the bark beetle hatch produced a cloud of the insects large enough to show up on radar.

And it is not just in the West. The southern pine beetle is now spreading through New Jersey’s famous Pinelands. According to the article, “The tiny insect, firmly entrenched, has already killed tens of thousands of acres of pines, and it is marching northward. Scientists say it is a striking example of the way seemingly small climatic changes are disturbing the balance of nature. They see these changes as a warning of the costly impact that is likely to come with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases.”  Though New Jersey has warmed by about 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, it is the winter low temperatures that are most important. Nights must get to about 8 degrees below zero to kill the beetles. The New Jersey climatologist’s office calculates that such bitter nights used to happen several times per decade in the state. The last night that cold in the Pinelands was in 1996, and the beetle outbreak was first noticed five years later.

Though global warming usually focuses on high temperatures, the graph shows that there is also an increase in the average nighttime temperatures. Record highsThe coldest nighttime temperatures are the main determinant in the geographic range of bacteria, fungi, insects, and invasive species. Those who do not wish to address the problem of global warming often ignore those small things, one of which is the bark beetle. Besides the economic loss of billions of trees, there is an aesthetic loss in the beauty of the forests. The tree loss contributes to wildfires, problems with water management, and loss of food and habitat for many species that live in the pine forests. Those who claim it will cost too much to reduce our carbon emissions, do not consider the cost of not addressing the issue. The pine bark beetle is an example of but one of the many costly things that should be included in their balance sheets.

(c) 2013 J.C. Moore

Media Bias: Why the Public Is Confused about Climate Change

Mon ,16/12/2013

The Tulsa World article ,”Global warming poll finds broad divide more political than scientific,” attempted to explain why the public and politicians are confused, not only about the issue, but about what scientists think.  Polls of climate scientists find a strong consensus on the issue , with  97 percent of scientists actively engaged in climate research agreeing that man’s activities are the main cause of global warming. Fearing a loss of profit if CO2 is regulated, there has been a well-funded effort to spread doubt about the scientific consensus. And some media sources are willing accomplices.

 The media has helped spread the doubt by treating the issue as a legitimate controversy, when there is very little controversy among scientists. At one time the Tulsa world was courageous enough to point out in an editorial that it was scientists who say that global warming is real and politicians who say that it is a hoax. However, the Tulsa world has changed ownership and the new managing editor has adopted a bias which he calls “reflecting Oklahoma values. “ The Tulsa World often publishes comments from readers in its editorial page, and though there were a number comments reflecting the scientists’ viewpoint, the editors added to the confusion by publishing only two comments from one side, and none representing scientists.

One comment tried to explain away the strong consensus among scientists by claiming that scientists find what they do because of money the research generates. However, climate and weather research is vital to our national interest and would be funded no matter what the scientists found. Climate scientists usually work at universities and government laboratories, where salaries range from $50,000 to $120,000. Research grants are awarded on a competitive basis, and most of the money from the grants goes for research expenses and little to the scientists. Their published results are held to a high peer review standard to ensure that the methodology is sound and the conclusions are consistent with the evidence. The amount of money they get is certainly not worth taking a chance on ruining their reputation and career.

The second comment claimed that the Earth’s systems are just too complicated to understand, and therefore climate scientist can’t know what they are talking about. That is the old Skeptic’s argument that if you don’t understand everything, then you understand nothing. In spite of the complexity, scientists have been able to identify the main factors that affect our climate. Greenhouse gas theory was developed in the 19th century, and after examining the natural and human caused factors that affect our climate, climate scientists have concluded that the main factor in global warming is man’s release of CO2.

The human body is also very complex, but medical scientists have identified a major risk factor to health be smoking. Yet, for many decades, tobacco companies were able to deny the scientific evidence that showed the link between smoking and coronary disease. Climate scientists have identified the major risk factor in climate change to be man’s emission of CO2 and warn of the danger to the environment that sustains us. However, like smokers who ignore their doctors, many people are unwilling to listen to the scientists’ warning. Would the Tulsa World, and other media sources, now be willing to treat the dangers of smoking as a legitimate controversy?

(c) 2013  J.C. Moore

 

Climate Change: A Letter to Congressman Lucas

Sat ,07/12/2013

This is a letter I sent to Congressman Frank Lucas (R – OK) on August 5, 2013. I asked him at his town hall meeting on November 7, 2013 if he had received it, and he could not recall it. It was a 15 page letter which contained anecdotal evidence plus the latest evidence from climate research in full color pictures and graphs. In case he misplaced it, I have reproduced the letter here in hopes he might run across it while looking for my write-up on his town hall meeting. It would seem that this information would be of vital interest to him as he is Chairperson of the Agriculture Committee, charged with the security of our food supply. 

 

Dear Congressman Lucas,

I’m sure you’re aware of the Pearson drought index which shows that most of Oklahoma, much of the Southwest United States, and much of the Earth’s land area where food is grown  is under moderate to severe drought conditions. It seems that lately the coastal areas of continents have been receiving more rainfall while the interiors have been experiencing more drought. I’ve lived in Oklahoma most of my 70 years and in my recollection, it seems that we are now seeing heavier rains in the spring and longer and more frequent droughts in the summer.

  My family has lived in Oklahoma since statehood and I have a number of anecdotes about how the climate is changing. Our Thanksgiving family photo in 1998 was taken in front of one of my Dad’s apple trees, which still had green leaves. He remarked at the time that he had never seen frost come so late, and he was 88 at the time. A few years ago our plant hardiness gardening zone was changed from a 6 to a 7, acknowledging later frosts and warmer winters. Armadillos are now abundant in Oklahoma, though there were none here when I was growing up.

 Anecdotes do not serve as proof, but they do raise questions about what the theories and evidence is saying. The greenhouse gas theory is solidly based upon the laws of physics. Though greenhouse gases comprise only 1 to 3% of the atmosphere, depending on the humidity, they are responsible for the Earth being about 33°C warmer than its would be without them. It seems reasonable that an increase in the greenhouse gases would cause the Earth to warm. Though water is by far the most abundant greenhouse gas, its concentration in the air is limited by its saturated vapor pressure. Carbon dioxide, though less abundant, absorbs strongly in the infrared and is not restricted in concentration as water is. Studies of the ice ages have identified carbon dioxide and changing solar irradiance as being the main factors in determining the Earth’s temperature.

 We are now putting about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year and measurements show that the concentration in the air is increasing. The increasing partial pressure of CO2 is causing more to dissolve in the oceans, decreasing their pH by about 0.1 pH unit.  That doesn’t sound like much, but the oceans are a carbonate buffer system and that translates into the oceans now being more than 20% acidic, threatening, shellfish, corals, and the plankton which convert much of the ocean’s carbon dioxide back to oxygen.

Biologists have observed that some species are migrating northward and to higher altitudes. There is evidence that glaciers are receding and that ice at the poles is declining. The declining extent of sea ice in the Arctic seems to be affecting the jet stream, which greatly affects our weather patterns. Though it is not possible to prove that global warming is the cause of any one weather event, it likely has an effect on most of the weather events that do occur, since the amount of energy and moisture in the air are the main determinants in weather events.

 There are always uncertainties in scientific measurements, and even greater uncertainties in predictions about the future. It is always possible to dispute any one piece of evidence based upon those uncertainties, but when a large number of independent measurements lead to a similar conclusion, the confidence level increases – but never reaches 100%.  I hope you will examine the evidence presented in the rest of this letter and agree that the preponderance of the evidence shows that we should take some action to address climate change.

 Republicans have a history of being strong advocates for science, environmental responsibility, and sound fiscal policy. Nixon created the EPA, Reagan signed the Montréal protocol limiting fluorocarbons and used cap-and-trade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blowing into Canada, and archconservative Barry Goldwater once said that, ” The persistent myth that conservation and environmental protection are liberal causes continues to be perpetuated by the media, liberals and many self-professed ‘conservatives’. The truth is that conservation and environmental stewardship are core conservative values”.

 I hope you will examine the evidence presented in the rest of this letter and consider taking a leadership role in addressing the climate change issue in a manner that is consistent with Republican principles. In many ways, the world’s food supply is at risk.

The rest of the letter contained the images and descriptions from this article: http://jcmooreonline.com/2011/08/31/bits-and-pieces-10-global-warming-in-pictures/.

(c) 2013 J.C. Moore