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Friday, October 2, 2009


Today's Buggy Topic

The official global warming models, developed and modified in an ongoing manner by the IPCC --- the International Panel on Climate Control --- are enormously complex, involving potentially thousands of different variables from numerous disciplines . . . all compounded by uncertain interactions between the variables and, no less important, uncertain feed-back influences or forcings, whether of a positive or negative sort.  A positive sort would intensify the level or rate of global warming, attributed to greenhouse gases caused by human activity --- especially CO2. 

The post on these complexities --- which prof bug compared to the far less complex mathematical models that macroeconomists employ --- appeared a couple of days ago at Economist View. Click here.

Please Note

Whether or not climate change of a warming sort is going on --- never mind whether it's being caused by human activities and energy sources --- for prof bug there's another, two-edged reason, more sfolid in his view, for trying to step up the pace of moving away from our energy reliance on oil ---- and especially oil imports  It's a matter basically of both national security and economic stability and prosperity.

 Currently, to clarify, we import about 13 million barrels a day of crude oil and natural gas and related petroleum products.  The fluctuations in prices that occurred in late 2007 and into 2008 helped dislocate the US economy --- and for that matter other economies around the world --- and contributed to the deep recession that occurred at the same time. 

The Specific Problems That Follow

 That's one problem, economic in nature, which we can only deal with by finding alternative energy sources, domestically produced or at least less subject to continued fluctuations in prices, and with less impact on our trade-deficits.  Consider that impact briefly. 

In the last decade, about 40 to 50% of the deficits were caused by petroleum imports.  And that in turn has required the US to borrow large sums of money from abroad, not least China, to finance those deficits. A superpower should not be so dependent, financially, on another country . . . in the Chinese case, one with great-power ambitions.  (Managing that relationship effectively and peacefully  is one of the two or three most important US national interests.  It's liable to be a challenge for us over the next several decades.)  

Enter the second reason for moving away from our national over-dependence on oil, and especially our growing need for oil imports.

Of the roughly 71 million barrels of oil produced daily around the world, OPEC's 13 countries generate about 60%.  The key producers are Arab countries and Iran, which are in the most volatile region of the world --- and their oil resources and exports have vastly inflated their importance to the security interests of the US and its allies, not to mention OPEC's overblown influence in the global economy.  And though it's true that the US oil and gas imports don't come mainly from OPEC sources, that really doesn't matter. 

 The international petroleum market is globally integrated and fully fungible: any stoppage of oil exports from the Persian Gulf would immediate affect global output and prices.

Back to Global Warming

The questions here are numerous: first and foremost, if it is occurring, how serious would be the consequences over the next several decades?  The range of projections in IPCC models indicate that in the low range, such warming could be beneficial to most countries in the world --- including in agricultural output and reforestation.  Then, too, if warming is occurring and is likely to be more serious, is it largely man-made or not?

Enter prof bug's observations about the models left in the post at Economist View.   Note that a key assumption in the global warming models produced since the early 1990s --- that the current uptick in the earth's warming since the late 1970s (some say for a century earlier) --- produced the warmest period in climate history. 

 To bolster that assumption, two variants of what's called the "hockey-stick" view of global warming, caused by humans, emerged.


The centuries in Europe and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere from 800 to 1300 A.D. are called the Medieval Warming period --- a long age in which the Vikings were able to colonize Greenland and Newfoundland and other parts of the far north.  Then the Little Ice Age ensued in Europe, which lasted roughly from 1300 until some time late in the 19th century --- this slide in temperature amply documented, and found in recent studies of ice core, tree-rings, and lake deposits to have occurred. 

Enter the controversy. 

The two major studies that doubted the Medieval Warming Period and, to an extent, the Little Ice Age in Europe were endorsed in several IPCC reports, not least in 2001 that questioned the noticeable changes in temperature around 1300, and simultaneously doubted that there was much warming in the Medieval Warming period.

One of these studies, produced by Michael Mann and his associated, has already been thrown into doubt.  It showed a hockey-stick view of global warming in which, from roughly 1000 until the 1800s, average global temperature was a flat bar.  It then began to rise, like the striking end of a hockey stick in the 19th century, due, it was argued, to human-caused greenhouse gas activities . . . with the 20th century the warmest ever.  A flurry of critical studies followed, including one sponsored by a Congressional Committee drawing on the chairman of the National Academy of Sciences.  In turn, Mann and his defenders have altered their original claims, but find that they still largely stand.

On Top of That . . .

. . . A second controversy now surrounds the use of tree-samples in  Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, which a British climatologist studied to bolster the hockey-stick there.  That version of the Hockey Stick is also being thrown into doubt. 

Again, the main critics of the original Michael Mann study, Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick have called foul --- in particular, claim that the British climatologist carefully picked a sample from the trees in that Peninsula to bolster the Hockey-Stick theory, whereas an updated sample show clearly that the Medieval Warming Period was actually warmer than the 20th century.   McKitrick is a professor of environment at a Canadian University.  McIntyre, another Canadian, is a specialist in hard-rock mineral exploration.

Click here for the controversy until the end of 2008.  And for the updated recent work by McIntyre and McKitrick, which denounce what they say is a fraudulent misuse of sampling of the tree-rings in Siberia, click here