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It’s time for more climate research

Recent headlines announced that the level of atmosphere carbon dioxide (CO2) had reached a “feared” 400 parts per million.

This ratio would not be so scary if we imagine a Minnesota Wild game with 10,000 seated spectators. The announcer asks the CO2 people to stand, and just four people rise in the total arena. The fear is because CO2 responds to a portion of the earth’s infrared (IR) radiation and warms the atmosphere. Therefore more CO2 should eventually cook us.

What is not mentioned is something called band saturation. There is enough CO2 in the air now to absorb most of the segment of the earth’s IR band that affects CO2, so that more CO2 in the air doesn’t do very much. This is one reason that data from NOAA’s Climate Data Center shows that global temperatures haven’t risen in the past 15 years, even though CO2 levels continue rising.

Or as Stanford’s Nobel physicist, Robert Laughlin, put it recently, “Global warming forecasts have the further difficulty that one can’t find much actual warming in present day weather observations.”

The warming forecasts in the four previous reports from the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have so far been much higher than the actual experience. It’s time for more climate research, before we panic or spend billions on energy schemes that won’t do much.

MinnPost welcomes original letters from readers on current topics of general interest. Interested in joining the conversation? Submit your letter to the editor. 

The choice of letters for publication is at the discretion of MinnPost editors; they will not be able to respond to individual inquiries about letters.

Comments (41)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/20/2013 - 11:25 am.

    The attached graph clearly show how big the departure in CO2 is from the past 800 thousand years:

    The attached graph shows the correlation between CO2 and temperatures:

    Do you know what a 400 ppm means in terms of temperature? Does the recent slowdown in temperature increase indicate that the idea of “global warming is dead”? Is the link between CO2 and temperature now broken? Or s there a heat absorption mechanism that will work permanently, regardless of how much CO2 is released in to the atmosphere? And, is the global thermal flywheel restricted by some unknown means to never go above a certain point?

    All those require a high level of magical thinking.

    The size, complexity, and inter-relatedness of the natural systems of earth have not yet been determined. Yet we are supposed to be reassured by a decade where temperatures have not risen in a smooth, upward curve?

    Have you ever been in a car where there is a pause in the acceleration of the auto while the transmission is shifting? That, in geologic time, is the scale of the decade (or more) of pause we are talking about. Do you likewise the doubt that the car will ever go faster?

    We are in the midst of a grand one-way experiment–going boldly where no man has gone before. And yet we expect it will all turn out alright because…. Because, why?

    Heck, yeah!! Let’s throw some more coal on the fire!!

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/20/2013 - 11:46 am.

    By the way…


    …..So, if a skeptical friend hits you with the “saturation argument” against global warming, here’s all you need to say: (a) You’d still get an increase in greenhouse warming even if the atmosphere were saturated, because it’s the absorption in the thin upper atmosphere (which is unsaturated) that counts (b) It’s not even true that the atmosphere is actually saturated with respect to absorption by CO2, (c) Water vapor doesn’t overwhelm the effects of CO2 because there’s little water vapor in the high, cold regions from which infrared escapes, and at the low pressures there water vapor absorption is like a leaky sieve, which would let a lot more radiation through were it not for CO2, and (d) These issues were satisfactorily addressed by physicists 50 years ago, and the necessary physics is included in all climate models……

    (end quote)

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/20/2013 - 12:25 pm.

    This climate-change denial is so sad. Obviously, the writer is hiding in a few select numerical calculations and avoiding the evidence–not speculation–that’s all around: higher night-time lows than ever before, ice-cap melts and glacier melts of frightening dimensions, average world temperatures higher than ever, climate change that the animals and birds, and the trees, are indicating for us by migration patterns, violent weather phenomena in patterns never seen before but that were predicted a generation ago by scientists, etc.

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/20/2013 - 01:55 pm.

    GW experiment

    We are indeed in a grand experiment, and lately the results are negative. I am not denying the science, just the reality.
    The science of how molecules with 3 or more atoms and dipole moments respond to the earth’s IR and warm the atmosphere is clear. As Nobel physicist Laughlin points out, it just isn’t happening for a period that is significant. I don’t know why and nobody else does either. As to CO2 increases, all of the efforts by legislatures and all of the renewables, are having no effect.

    IMO legislative schemes to cover everyone’s roof with solar panels, raise RPS levels, etc won’t be any more useful than they are in Germany and Spain. My next class on “America’s Climate and Energy Future” for U of M adult ed will start in Sept. You are all welcome until it fills. We will probably tour a nuclear plant, the best way to limit coal use.

  5. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/20/2013 - 02:28 pm.

    Violent weather

    Current weather events are being regularly touted as signs of impending climate doom. But these events are not unusual. Hurricane Sandy was a nasty Category 3 with large amounts of property damage. The 1936 Keys hurricane, Andrew , and Camille were all category 5 before the current rise in CO2 levels. Hurricanes and other storms are doing more damage today because we are building in their paths.
    The earth is in a gradual warming trend, since the last glacier. The current warming trend started in the mid 1970’s, but has paused. Arctic ice continues to thin, especially in volume, not so much in surface coverage. Russia’s fleet of nuclear powered ice breakers is ready to exploit the potential.

  6. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/20/2013 - 02:33 pm.

    Do you know what a 400 ppm means in terms of temperature?

    It means the same temperature as 2002 when there was even less CO2. It means one part in 2500 in the atmosphere. It’s a plant food trace gas. Water vapor is the primary GHG which is keeping us 60F warmer versus no atmosphere.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/21/2013 - 08:19 am.

      The fact is that the physics of the association of temperature and CO2 remains. An tiny blip in the upward trajectory of temperature proves absolutely nothing but that we do not know what territory we are moving into.

      And that is what 10 or 15 years is–a tiny blip in the scale of time of the previous records of temperature rises and falls. Perhaps the wooly mastodons said that the new summer would not last, also…

      There are a lot of uninhabitable planets in the universe–there is only a thin slice of possible temperatures and climates on earth that make our modern life possible and sustainable. On that basis alone, moving into a distinctly different regime of CO2 levels should sound alarms.

      • Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/21/2013 - 11:01 am.

        After the alarms what?

        I’m hearing a lot of alarms but not many hard choices. Let’s tax gasoline in recognition that the average Minnesota car emits 5 tons of CO2 annually out its tailpipe. That will help force people onto mass transit.
        Let’s close the Sherco coal plant which emits at least 15 million tons of CO2 annually. To replace it, we will need 2 or 3 natural gas plants(GE will supply) or one Westinghouse AP 1000 nuclear plant(very popular in China which builds them for less than $3 billion. No CO2.).
        Or the legislature can raise RPS standards which IMO won’t do anything except elicit dreams about solar panels and wind turbines.

        • Submitted by Eric Sandeen on 05/26/2013 - 12:22 am.

          14% dreams

          Your sneering dismissal of viable clean energy technologies like wind power undermine your credibility. Wind produced 14% of Minnesota’s electrical power last year, and that’s reality, not a dream.

          (This is the point at which you’ll talk about steel & concrete in a wind turbine. And in reply I’ll point you to, with wind beating even your beloved nuclear for life cycle greenhouse gas emissions).

  7. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/20/2013 - 02:54 pm.

    This climate-change denial is so sad.

    Not really. It’s rapid warming that would be sad. Sometimes we have to admit we don’t how to deal with all those climate variables. The IPCC Fifth Assessment will apparently feature a ‘bombshell graph” comparing their four previous forecasts with actual data to date.

  8. Submitted by Lance Groth on 05/21/2013 - 02:13 pm.

    Obfuscation and delay

    The denialist strategy has always been clear: create as much confusion and doubt as possible about the science, with the goal of delaying action so that the fossil fuels gravy train can continue to roll and conservative politics can prevail. The obfuscation is targeted at lay people who don’t “get” science anyway, not at the actual scientists who do the work, who are in consensus about what the data show.

    One common tactic is to point out that CO2 makes up only a small part of the atmosphere (4 people out of 10,000 at a Wild game). To the scientifically naive, that makes it seem unimportant. Of course, absolute quantities are not important; the effect they have is. For instance, the lethal dose of hydrocyanic acid is 50mg. That’s pretty small, how could 50mg of anything be a problem? By the denialist logic, it couldn’t possibly be dangerous. This tactic is specious and tedious, but they keep using it.

    Another tactic is “CO2 is plant food, it’s good!” (mentioned in a comment). Sure it is, up to a point. Water is good for people to consume regularly too, but you can actually drink enough of it to compromise your health (something runners know). Again, specious.

    The tobacco companies used all these same kind of arguments when they were fighting the link to lung cancer. They’re just being recycled.

    We can argue about band saturation and other data points as much as you like, but the fact is, we don’t need to speculate. The paleo record is clear. The last time there was 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, it was 60F in the arctic. Sea levels were dramatically higher because the ice was gone. Climate, rainfall, ocean currents, etc., were all changed. This is the nature of the grand, uncontrolled climate experiment we are engaged in. The difference between the Pliocene and today is that we have 7 billion humans dependent on high production modern agriculture to stay alive. Regardless of cherry-picked details, the injection of all that extra energy into the climate system is going to alter it dramatically, and that means agriculture will be impacted severely. In what way exactly? No one really knows, but it is irresponsible in the extreme to roll the dice on the lives of all those people. Just to save some tax dollars, if that’s what the motivation is.

    To mention just one likely outcome, we do know that when the arctic warms and the ice goes, the jet stream is weakened – we see that at present. This will have major effects on the climate of the American midwest. Weather systems slow, even stall over areas for long periods of time. There will be fewer and weaker cool fronts to break up summer heat in the midwest, and deliver rain. It doesn’t take much speculation to imagine long, hot summers, with high pressure systems stalled out over the nation’s midsection – vast pools of hot, stagnant air. What would that do to agriculture in the (former) “bread basket”? Forget irrigation, we’ve already drawn down the aquifers by half. Will this happen? I don’t know, but it’s a reasonable extrapolation from what we know now. Why on earth (!) would we want to gamble with it?

    But the game is delay. The conclusion of climatologists around the world, in consensus, is that we are headed for serious trouble. That doesn’t please many non-climatologists, so they call for “more research”.

    I do agree with one thing Rolf says, which is that building modern nuke plants is the way to reduce emissions on a larger scale. James Lovelock, the originator of “Gaia Theory”, called for a massive nuke plant construction project back in the 90’s, for precisely this reason. Barring some efficient way of removing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions, either at the point of emission or directly from the atmosphere, it’s the best option we have. The only one, really. Renewables are great, and we should push in that direction all we can, but it’s just not enough.

    But I don’t agree with the rest of what he has to say. I only see denialism.

  9. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/21/2013 - 04:56 pm.

    the grand, uncontrolled climate experiment we are engaged in.

    Exactly. The earth’s climate has cycled through many changes in both ancient and recent geologic history, with no input from humans. And it will continue to do so. If the earth decides to melt Greenland, sell your low lying property. There will be little else we can do about it.
    Atmospheric science is well established and clear. Climate forecasting has too many variables for even the best models and largest computers as the IPCC fiascos are making clear. That’s not denial, just realism.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 05/22/2013 - 02:36 pm.


      I’m sorry, there is no logic here. The Earth’s climate system will do what it does in response to natural variation in inputs. It’s quite enough for us to deal with that, we don’t need to pile on with artificial forcing. Especially when we know the direction it will take, and that direction is not good. IOW, natural variability has nothing to do with human alteration of the environment. This is just more misdirection, like the “CO2 is just a tiny part of the atmosphere” gambit.

  10. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/22/2013 - 04:08 am.


    Denier is a label that lets you criticize without analysis of what you attack. It saves a lot of reading effort and the making of hard choices. Let’s be specific about an action plan, instead of trashing others with some excerpts from Wikipedia.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 05/22/2013 - 02:58 pm.

      If the shoe fits

      When the objections fly in the face of established science, with no basis in the science itself but plenty of obvious political basis, denialist is the proper label. The Right in this country has a long record of subverting, suppressing and discrediting science that they find to be politically inconvenient. Hell, doing so was official policy in the Bush-43 administration. I have no tolerance for that.

      As for action plans, I have already said I favor construction of many new nuke plants – with the goal of retiring fossil fuels plants, especially coal.

      The unfortunate reality is that there is no political will to make the hard choices, in part because of the anti-scientific but effective pushback from the fossil fuels industry, and their supporters on the Right. My own view is that we should have instituted a highest priority national effort on the scale of the Manhattan Project, or the Apollo Project, to develop carbon-neutral alternatives to fossil fuels and get the conversion process started, paired with development of technologies to capture and sequester global warming gases generated by human activity, and we should have done this 20 years ago. The fork in the road actually occurred in the 70’s. Had we altered course then, the problem would have been avoided. Instead, we doubled down on oil – short term convenience at the price of long term pain. I believe Bush-43’s greatest failing was not anything he did, but what he didn’t do – jump start exactly that kind of process. He had the opportunity, and his status as an ex-oilman (plus the presence of Cheney) would have lent great credibility to such a project. Coupled with the problems in the middle east, it could have been sold as a national security priority. Instead, he chose to squander the national treasure on an invasion of a county that did not threaten us and was incapable of harming us. I also assign equal blame to Obama for doing nothing about the problem on his watch.

      The sad truth is, because of all the delay from entrenched interests, it is already too late. At 400ppm, the damage is already baked into the cake. What is left now is dealing with the damage as it builds, at a cost of trillions of dollars going forward, and who knows how much human misery, not to mention disruption of the natural world which sustains us.

      That is quite a legacy. Future generations will not thank us.

  11. Submitted by Jeff Green on 05/22/2013 - 09:57 pm.

    co2 will warm the eath more!

    This is just from today’s co2. Tomorrows co2 can be a lot more or hopefully a much much lower amount.
    CO2: RF = 5.35 ln(CO2/CO2_orig)
    5.35 ln (400/280) = 1.9 watts/meter*2

    Step 6: Radiative forcing x climate sensitivity is a significant number

    Climate sensitivity is .75*C/ watts/meter*2
    1.9watts/meter*2 ( .75*C/ watts/meter*2) = 1.4 *C

    We have warmed .8*C so far and have .6*C left in the pipeline of fast feedbacks. Slow feedbacks are also mostly positive and will take several hundred more years adding a little more to the surface temperature.

  12. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/23/2013 - 05:43 am.

    Bush 43 greatest failing

    The chances of Bush Cheney starting a Manhattan Project to protect the planet and our energy future are so remote that I can’t fault him on that omission.
    That leaves the Iraq invasion, one the all time leadership blunders in world history.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2013 - 10:14 am.

    No credibily I’m afraid

    I don’t know why we would assign any credibility to someone who is apparently unaware of the fact that massive amounts of climate research have already been done over the last four decades. The idea that “now” would be a good time to “more” research, as if little or no research is currently under way, is beyond ignorant. Arguing about the results of research with such a person is an exercise in futility.

    The current scientific consensus is:

    A) The planets temperature IS rising (and has risen in the last 15 years by the way as this graph clearly demonstrates: )

    B) Human activity is causing this warming.

    A person can disagree with this if they want, but you cannot deny the current scientific consensus, and you cannot deny that the consensus is the product of decades of ongoing research. Anyone who issues such denials is simply wasting you time.

  14. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/23/2013 - 01:47 pm.


    Mr. Westgard, you will share your credentials with readers, so that we have some basis on which to begin our assessment of his opinions.

    My own meager efforts at identifying them have come up short. You seem to have spent 20+ years employed by 3M, including time as a VP, and to be a “Professional Member” of the Geological Society of America, who now acts as an “Independent Writing and Editing Professional.”

    Professional membership in the GSA requires only:

    “Any one or more of the following:
    • Bachelor’s degree in geology or a related field (i.e., any physical or biological sciences, or other disciplines such as engineering or geography);
    • Equivalent training through practical experience;
    • Employment in geological work; or
    • Teaching geology at the college level (join as a Teacher if you teach at the non-college level).”

    These are fairly low standards for so impressive a title, in my opinion.

    It’s my understanding that the GSA took the following position in 2006:

    “The Geological Society of America (GSA) supports the scientific conclusions that Earth’s climate is changing; the climate changes are due in part to human activities; and the probable consequences of the climate changes will be significant and blind to geopolitical boundaries. Furthermore, the potential implications of global climate change and the time scale over which such changes will likely occur require active, effective, long-term planning.Current predictions of the consequences of global climate change include: (1) rising sea level, (2) significant alteration of global and regional climatic patterns with an impact on water availability, (3) fundamental changes in global temperature distribution, (4) melting of polar ice, and (5) major changes in the distribution of plant and animal species. While the precise magnitude and rate of climate change cannot be predicted with absolute certainty, significant change will affect the planet and stress its inhabitants.”

    With this in mind, what is it in your educational and/or experiential history that should cause me to give you opinions on this subject any weight?

    • Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/24/2013 - 04:02 am.

      Chance to get answers

      On October 13 I will be speaking on campus to the Geological Society of Minnesota. Guests and questions are welcome. The subject is our energy and climate future with a forecast for the remainder of the century. Be my guest.

  15. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/23/2013 - 07:58 pm.

    Getting personal

    To understand my qualifications, you need to take one of the classes I teach for the U of MN LIfelong Learning program. I also have a tour coming of the Riverside power plant on June 19.
    In my letter, I rely on Stanford’s Nobel physicist, who is after my time at Stanford.
    You can also google my unique name and read copies of my writings for the Star Tribune, the Oil and Gas Journal, etc.
    But let’s talk on the issues. Be specific. I know the truth hurts.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2013 - 09:29 am.

    Upon review, even less credibility

    OK, out of 20 comments thus far, 10 of them, 50% have been written by Mr. Westgard. Obviously Mr. Westgard is not reluctant to respond to comments. Yet when someone asks Westard for his credentials, suddenly he’s speechless. We have to attend one of his dog and pony shows in order to find out what his credentials are. Let me translate: Mr. Westgard has no legitimate climate science credentials, if he did, he would simply list them like any normal scientist.

    Fair enough. Look, I don’t have any legitimate climate science credentials either. But here’s the difference: I’m not claiming that decades of extensive research and thousands of peer reviewed publications supporting the reality of climate change, and the human contribution to it, don’t exist. Nor am I pretending to have the expertise to refute the scientific consensus.

    The fact is regardless of Westgard’s credentials, decades of research and data refute his position. Why would someone waste their attending one of his presentations? The data on this is now overwhelming, there’s a difference between having an open mind and wasting your time.

    Here’s what we know: Mr. Westard’s letter contains two major contentions, both of which are demonstrably false. First, someone somewhere thinks that 400 ppm of CO2 ought to cook people siting inside a hockey arena. Do I even need to comment on the absurdity of that claim? Second, he claims that climate models have overestimated the effects of climate change, in fact they’ve underestimated the effects of climate change. The effects we’re seeing are far more dramatic than was predicted. Do you really want to hear MORE of what Westgard has to say?

  17. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/24/2013 - 03:09 pm.

    I’ll try to help you, Paul.

    The hockey illustration has nothing to do with cooking people. It illustrates that one part CO2 is matched by 2,499 parts of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, etc in the atmosphere. And every one of the Four IPCC Assessments has overestimated the degree of global warming to date.
    As to qualifications, I don’t have to prove myself to you or any one else on this board. My facts and figures speak for themselves. Even Jim Hansen admits to the pause in global temperature rise.

  18. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/24/2013 - 02:42 pm.

    Problems with expert opinion

    Two recent papers in the Journal Science, analyzed the impact of net glacier melting from Antarctica and Greenland on sea level. They each came up with the figure of one inch per forty years, or just over two inches by 2100. Total sea level rise is currently at about inch per decade y
    A new paper by Bamber and Aspinall of Bristol University in the Journal Nature Climate Change has a median estimate of the seas rising 29 centimeters by 2100 with a maximum of 84 cm. possible.
    Take your pick.

  19. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/24/2013 - 03:13 pm.

    Minnpost is not a peer reviewed journal

    In it we all express opinions and try support them with facts. I know it is difficult for some of you see long held views challenged by an unwelcome messenger. Attacking the messenger is a frequent response when facts and data are short. Fire away.

  20. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/24/2013 - 05:57 pm.

    some credential for you in addition nobel physicist Laughlin

    Former UN Scientist Dr. Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute in Paris (who resigned from UN IPCC in protest): “As far as the science being ‘settled,’ I think that is an obscenity. The fact is the science is being distorted by people who are not scientists.”

    UN IPCC scientist Vincent Gray of New Zealand: “This conference demonstrates that the [scientific] debate is not over. The climate is not being influenced by carbon dioxide.”

    Canadian Climatologist Dr. Timothy Ball: “If we are facing [a crisis] at all, I think it is that we are preparing for warming when it is looking like we are cooling. We are preparing for the wrong thing.”

    Climate researcher Dr. Craig Loehle, formerly of the Department of Energy Laboratories and currently with the National Council for Air and Stream Improvements, has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers: “The 2000-year [temperature] trend is not flat, so a warming period is not unprecedented. […] 1500-year [temperature] cycle as proposed by [Atmospheric physicist Fred] Singer and [Dennis] Avery is consistent with Loehle climate reconstruction. […] 1500-year cycle implies that recent warming is part of natural trend.”

    Hurricane expert and Meteorologist Dr. William Gray: “There are lot’s of skeptics out there, all over the U.S. and the rest of the world. [Global warming] has been over-hyped tremendously; most of the climate change we have seen is largely natural. I think we are brainwashing our children terribly.”

    UK Astrophysicist Piers Corbyn: “There is no evidence that CO2 has ever driven or will ever drive world temperatures and climate change. The consequence of that is that worrying about CO2 is irrelevant. Our prediction is world temperatures will continue to decline until 2014 and probably continue to decline after that.”

    Weather Channel founder and meteorologist John Coleman: “Serious scientists and serious students of global warming have concluded after a lot of effort that there is little basis for the thought that we are going to have catastrophic global warming.”

    Dr. Benny Peiser of the Faculty of Science of Liverpool John Moores University in UK: “[Global warming cap-and-trade bills have] caused so much trouble in Europe. It’s not working, it’s never going to work. It won’t have any effect on the climate, but only that there will be more unemployed in Europe. If that helps the climate, perhaps that is a solution.”

    Atmospheric physicist Ferenc Miskolczi, formerly with NASA’s Langley Research Center: “The runaway greenhouse effect is physically impossible. […] The observed global warming has nothing to do directly with the greenhouse effect; it must be related to changes in the total absorbed solar radiation or dissipated heat from other natural or anthropogenic sources of thermal energy.”

    Meteorologist Art Horn: “There are thousands of scientists around the world who believe that this issue is not settled. The climate is not being influenced by carbon dioxide.”

    German Meteorologist Dr. Gerd-Rainer Weber: “Most of the extremist views about climate change have little or no scientific basis. The rational basis for extremist views about global warming may be a desire to push for political action on global warming.”

    Physics Professor Emeritus Dr. Howard Hayden of the University of Connecticut: “The fluctuations in Earth’s temperature are caused by astronomical phenomena. The combined effects of all ‘greenhouse gases,’ albedo changes, and other Earthly changes account for no more than about 3 degrees C of the changes during transitions between ice ages and interglacials.”

    • Submitted by Eric Sandeen on 05/26/2013 - 10:37 am.

      anthropologists and entomologists?

      That’s a fantastic list! Let’s look at some of these gentlemen.

      Benny Peiser is a social anthropologist.
      Paul Reiter is a professor of medical entomology.
      Vincent Gray, to the best of my knowledge, has never been published in a peer-reviewed journal on climate change. (“Because it’s all a conspiracy,” I know.)
      Craig Loehle has a Ph.D. in range management.
      Art Horn (seriously?) and many others above are meteorologists, and they are probably great resources if you wonder how you should dress tomorrow, but beyond that I am less convinced.

  21. Submitted by Eric Sandeen on 05/26/2013 - 10:22 am.

    There is no plan B for earth. Do you feel lucky, punk?

    All of this FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about needing more climate research ignores one pretty basic fact: We get no do-over for a habitable planet.

    There are incredibly strong correlations, and fundamental, long-standing physical foundations for CO2-induced warming. We measure both, and find that the long-term trends match the theory.

    If there is a blip in the trend, a slowdown in the upward march of global temperatures, it may well be unexplained – some corner of the complex interactions that we don’t fully understand. Even if so, it does nothing to undermine the fundamental game of Russian roulette we are playing with our one and only planet. It’s a curiosity, perhaps. It does not refute the basic premise that we’re cooking ourselves.

    Rolf loves nuclear. We get that. He lets us know that in every possible online forum. Why he feels the need to belittle those concerned about climate (“CO2 is a plant food!” “It’s just 4 people at a Wild game!”) I have no idea. I personally think there’s room for nuclear power in a climate solution. But railing against climate science won’t win any new converts to nuclear power.

    It makes perfect sense to me to limit fossil fuel use and CO2 output, out of an abundance of caution, to preserve a healthier planet. The downsides, on the off chance that climate science is wrong, are economic costs and minor inconveniences. The upsides are, at worst, a cleaner planet, and at best. one we can survive on.

  22. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/26/2013 - 11:56 am.

    Limiting CO2 and nuclear

    I hear a lot about limiting CO2 and very little about the sizable and desirable carbon taxes to achieve it. Faith in renewable boondoggles is used to avoid the hard chices.
    And nuclear is by far the largest no carbon energy fuel source on the planet.

    • Submitted by Eric Sandeen on 05/26/2013 - 11:25 pm.

      Carbon taxes & windmills

      Some wind & solar seems possible in this political environment. A carbon tax seems not to be, unfortunately.

      Again, if you didn’t antagonize and alienate those who are concerned about the climate impacts of fossil fuels (for example, by labeling affordable, sizable and growing clean energy sources as “boondoggles”), you might even find some allies in your quest for more nuclear energy.

      • Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/27/2013 - 09:45 am.

        Clean energy?

        The more wind and solar you add to the grid, the more you need to run natural gas plants in inefficient start stop mode – damaging machinery, wasting gas, and emitting more CO2. See the Bentek study of Xcel’s operations in Colorado.

        • Submitted by Eric Sandeen on 05/27/2013 - 02:43 pm.

          start/stop mode

          Can you explain to me how variable generation has any more effect than variable consumption? The grid is always in flux, with equipment designed to accommodate it. At these low levels of penetration it’s not much of an issue.

          The Bentek study was commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States. Even Xcel refuted it, see “Setting the record straight on wind energy”

  23. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2013 - 09:38 am.

    Even less credibility

    Just when I thought Mr. Westgard couldn’t get less credible…

    I admit, I took some rhetorical license with you hockey arena example, but the truth is your hockey arena example doesn’t actually illustrate anything about CO2. He does claim that someone somewhere (maybe not in a hockey arena) is worried about people cooking under the enhanced radiation of increased CO2. This is simply a false claim. As far as I can see, the main worry is that the average temp of the planet will increase by something like 5 degrees in the next 50 years and trigger all kinds of dramatic changes.

    As for credentials, Look, it’s simple, if you have no credentials you simply say so. We don’t actually require credentials in a comment thread, I doubt anyone here has legitimate climate science credentials. Uncredentialed people can still have an interesting and somewhat informed discussion. You simply say: “I’m not a climate scientist but here’s what I say and why, and here are my sources of information”. Instead, Mr. Westgard implies he has credentials, but he will only reveal them in person. THAT’S dishonest. Then he makes a bid for credentials by proximity, as if providing a list of other peoples credentials and standing next to it establishes his own bona fides. I’m sorry but I have hard time believing that someone who can’t sort out a decent way to discuss their own credentials or lack thereof is going to sort the far far far more complex issue of climate change.

    By the way Mr. Westgard, can you provide a list of relevant peer reviewed publications that you’ve authored?

    Here’s the problem with your list: It’s hundreds of names shorter than the list of peer reviewed publications and authors that confirm climate change and establish human causation. THAT’S what scientific consensus is. Now, consensus isn’t always right, but the burden of proof is on those who challenge the consensus, and poking holes in the consensus here and there is not sufficient. Neither you or your list is meeting that burden, in fact your not even trying. Rather, you try to pretend that there is no existing consensus and/or the research establishing the existing consensus doesn’t exist or isn’t convincing. Your problem is that were the evidence not convincing there would be no consensus because the majority of scientist in the field would not be convinced by shoddy evidence. I understand you and some other guys are not convinced, but doesn’t mean you’re smarter than everyone else, and it doesn’t mean the rest of us should be interested in what you have to say.

    You can take people for walks along the river and talk to Geographical Societes if you want, but that’s not science. If you want to do science you do research, get it published in peer reviewed publications, and contribute the ongoing discourse. THAT’s how scientific consensus is challenged and changed.

  24. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2013 - 11:05 am.

    I really don’t mean to personal

    I’d just like to say I hope I haven’t come across as making a personal attack, that’s not been intention.

    I’m just looking at this as another example of someone pretending to engage science while actually trying to negate science. I think it’s important to engage this when you see it.

  25. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/27/2013 - 04:36 pm.

    And the personal posts continue

    Green house gas science is real, and there is a future threat. We just don’t know how to quantify it.
    My critics here don’t even know how to discuss it. I’ll make a place in my fall quarter class.

  26. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/27/2013 - 03:03 pm.

    From the Oil & Gas Journal – please comment on the specifics

    In his second inaugural address President Barack Obama set forth clearly the science-proven threat to “our children and future generations” from global warming. He pledged that America would “lead on the path towards sustainable energy sources.” His address did not offer any specific programs for achieving necessary reductions in global warming carbon emissions.
    But we can look to the administration’s current energy policies and those of the past 4 years. They should provide answers on how Obama’s plans could change the US from its current position as a heavy greenhouse-gas(GHG) emitter to the leader among developed nations in the effort to curb GHG emissions.
    What we observe from the administration’s record is a litany of ill-advised, expensive, and premature attempts to put into production solar, wind, and biofuel projects. In general, those projects lack the technology for successful, large-scale implementation, and they are not competitive with current market-based programs. In my opinion, the result has been a loss of billions of dollars from taxpayers, rate-payers, and investors, with minimal impact on global warming.
    Solar energy, whether photovoltaic (PV) or concentrated (CSP), has potential for research improvement and cost reductions. It is more predicable than wind energy, and it tends to peak when demand is highest. But it is currently expensive and low-density, and large investments in companies like Solyndra and Abound Solar have resulted in big losses.
    Undaunted, the Obama administration is now supporting a $2 billion CSP installation near Ivanpah in the Nevada desert. More than 300,000 rotating mirrors will focus sunlight on three towers to heat liquid, which becomes a source of steam for power generation. Ivanpah’s developer is estimating annual electricity production of about 1 million Mw-hr. By comparison, Minnesota’s Prairie Island nuclear plant produces eight times that amount, rain or shine, clouds or fair, night or day. Power-washing of those CSP mirrors will use scarce desert water and foster weeds, which will grow to obscure the mirrors.
    Wind energy’s intermittent output requires continuous backup in order to avoid damage to the integrity of the delicately balanced electric grid. This backup is usually supplied by natural gas plants running in inefficient start-stop mode. This increases GHG emissions, wastes fuel, and hurts machinery life. The wind industry lobbies hard for the 2.2¢/kw-hr production tax credit without which wind farm installations would essentially cease. The 2.2¢ is nearly 50% of the wholesale price of electric power.
    Undaunted, the Obama administration is supporting the $2 billion Cape Wind project, which would place 130 Siemens wind turbines in the sea off Cape Cod. In testimony before the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, Cape Wind’s developer conceded that Cape Wind would actually operate at about 100 Mw for 43% of the time, with lowest output in summer, when demand is highest. Former Congressman William Delahunt (D-Quincy) provided his own estimates: “This will be the most expensive and most heavily subsidized offshore wind farm in the country at over $2.5 billion, with power costs to the region that will be at least double.”
    I suggest that the administration’s biggest energy folly is support for turning 40 million prime crop acres and 40% of the country’s corn crop into 6-7% of US gasoline supply. The result is increased world grain prices and stresses to soils, ground water, and the environment from monoculture corn and additional nitrogen fertilizers. Microbes turn the fertilizer into a powerful GHG, nitrous oxide.
    A University of Minnesota study led by Professor Sangwon Sue showed that on average in the US, 142 gal of water are needed to grow and process the corn for 1 gal of ethanol. In irrigation states like Kansas and Nebraska, it takes 500 water gal/ethanol gal, helping to drain the Ogallala aquifer. There are also those GHG emissions from diesel driven farm machinery, and dead zones in the Mississippi Delta region as excess nitrogen fertilizer runoff increases algae growth.
    There are tough measures like carbon taxes which encourage conservation and provide funds for energy-efficient public transport. That’s one way that many developed nations use half the energy per unit of GNP that the US does. Those politically unpopular choices are rarely seen in the programs offered by either major political party. It is easier to rely on “technology will save us” pipe dreams.
    Rolf Westgard
    Professional member,
    Geological Society of America
    St. Paul, Minn.

    • Submitted by Eric Sandeen on 05/27/2013 - 04:39 pm.

      I’m glad to see you’re in favor of a carbon tax.

      It’d be refreshing to see an editorial from you in support of a carbon tax. We might find some common ground!

      I’d like to see a transparent unit-by-unit accounting of emissions in Xcel territory, to be able to really gauge the impact of wind integration. I doubt that we can, though it’d be interesting to check the EIA.

      From corporate reports, in 2007 “NSP” used 39% coal, 21% gas, 26% nuclear, 4% wind, 7% hydro, and 3% biomass with a CO2 intensity of 1.176 lbs/kWh.

      In 2012 the intensity for “the upper midwest” (they don’t refer to NSP in 2012) was down to 1.036 lbs/kWh, with 35% coal, 14% gas, 29% nuclear, 12% wind, 7% hydro, and 3% biomass.

      Gas down, wind up – CO2 down.

  27. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/27/2013 - 05:39 pm.

    US 2012 fuel data

    As you note the big changes are for coal, NG and wind.
    In the past five years coal has dropped from a 50% share of electric fuel to 38% with 1513 B kwh in 2012.
    NG has risen from about 22% to 31 % with 1213 Bkwh. Wind has risen from 1.4% to 3.5% with 140 Bkwh.
    Nuclear stays stable at around 800 Bkwh or 20%.
    Solar grows rapidly but is still 0.1% of our electric power supply.

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