Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Important: For the record

Instrumental temperature record of the last 15...Image via Wikipedia

"Global cooling" is nonsense. Now someone is sure to pipe up and say "Maybe figures don't lie, but liars sure do figure" -- but of course that would first tar the folks who came up with the phony "global cooling" numbers, but that little bit of reality doesn't matter to the committed denialist.

AP IMPACT: Statisticians reject global cooling

WASHINGTON – Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book. Only one problem: It's not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press. . . .

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

"If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect," said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

Yet the idea that things are cooling has been repeated in opinion columns, a BBC news story posted on the Drudge Report and in a new book by the authors of the best-seller "Freakonomics." Last week, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 57 percent of Americans now believe there is strong scientific evidence for global warming, down from 77 percent in 2006.

Global warming skeptics base their claims on an unusually hot year in 1998. Since then, they say, temperatures have dropped — thus, a cooling trend. But it's not that simple.

Since 1998, temperatures have dipped, soared, fallen again and are now rising once more. Records kept by the British meteorological office and satellite data used by climate skeptics still show 1998 as the hottest year. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show 2005 has topped 1998. Published peer-reviewed scientific research generally cites temperatures measured by ground sensors, which are from NOAA, NASA and the British, more than the satellite data.

The recent Internet chatter about cooling led NOAA's climate data center to re-examine its temperature data. It found no cooling trend.

"The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record," said NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt. "Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming."

The AP sent expert statisticians NOAA's year-to-year ground temperature changes over 130 years and the 30 years of satellite-measured temperatures preferred by skeptics and gathered by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Statisticians who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set. The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880. . . .

UPDATE: Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum's review of the story:

Here's a thought experiment for you. Suppose you had some data and you wanted to know what to make of it. The problem is that the subject of the data happens to be a political hot potato, and you know that everyone you show it to is going to cherry-pick just the pieces that bolster all their favorite preconceived notions.
Well, here's an idea: Show the data to a bunch of different experts but remove all the labels first so they have no idea what they're looking at. Just give them the raw numbers and ask what they think.

That's the delightful idea that AP science writer Seth Borenstein hit on a few days ago. He sent data on global warming to several independent statisticians but didn't tell them what the numbers represented. He just wanted to know if they thought the data showed any kind of flattening or decrease in recent years.

Answer: No. "Statisticians who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set. The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880." In other words, contrary to the chatter from global warming skeptics, the Earth didn't start cooling a decade ago. It only looks that way if you compare current temperatures to 1998, which was an unusually hot year due to a strong El NiƱo. But if you look at all the data, instead of just cherry-picking one single comparison, the news, unfortunately, remains grim. The current decade is the hottest on record, and the next one will be hotter still.

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Another manifestation of peak oil: Salem not alone with decrepit sidewalks

Cracked SidewalkImage by Grant Neufeld via Flickr

The Salem City Council's vote a little while ago to abandon the responsibilities it assumed for maintaining sidewalks back in the 1980s meant that the city simply tossed miles and miles of decayed and sometimes impassible walks back into the laps of property owners, most of whom live in areas with decayed sidewalks because they don't have much money.

That step was a key sign that things are heading in the wrong direction here and that the problems are fundamental and systemic. Even as the city is failing to provide one of the most important basic public safety amenities, it continues to pour money into paving and repaving and into the rathole of planning the fantasy about yet another auto bridge between connecting Salem's Marion and Polk County pieces, a $600+ million dollar delusion.

Knowing that infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly all over the US and that Salem is not alone in putting the needs of a small subset of people (drivers) ahead of prudent foresight and responsible administration, it's no surprise that Salem's sidewalk woes are showing up elsewhere:

Lois Thibault, coordinator of research for the U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that provides guidance to local governments on ADA issues, said Jackson is in the same boat with a lot of cities that for years stalled spending federal dollars on sidewalks to spend money on roads.

"It's deferred maintenance," she said. "We've been so focused on new construction that we've let the maintenance go.

UPDATE: Speaking of sidewalks:
If you're like me, you want vibrant neighborhoods where you can walk to the local grocery, relax in the local park, and have a short commute to work.
Right now, we have the chance to make our dream for livable communities a reality. Oregon is working to develop policy tools that will help Salem-Keizer, Springfield, Eugene and other Oregon cities shape their future.

Join us on Oct. 28 for "Activist 101: Building a Livable Salem-Keizer," co-hosted by Environment Oregon and 1000 Friends of Oregon! This is a great chance to hear from local environmentalists and policy writers, as well as learn how to make a difference yourself.

Click here to sign up!

We all deserve communities where our kids can walk to school or the local playground . . . where we have the option to take the bus or ride a bike to go shopping or to work . . . and where we no longer drive so much that one-third of our global warming pollution comes from transportation.

Right now, nearly half of our city roads lack the basic infrastructure of sidewalks to make streets safe for children; our dependence on cars costs family households more than $10,000 per year; and global warming pollution is threatening to cause more storms, droughts and unpredictable weather patterns.

We can change all of this. Right now, Oregon leaders are developing planning tools that will help Salem-Keizer, Springfield, Eugene and other local communities make the right decisions for improving our communities' livability, while also reducing global warming pollution.

Activist 101: Building a Livable Salem-Keizer
Thursday, Oct. 28, 2009, 6p.m. - 7:30p.m.
Salem Central Library's Anderson Room
585 Liberty St. SE, Salem

Learn how to get involved at "Activist 101: Building a Livable Salem-Keizer," co-hosted by Environment Oregon and 1000 Friends of Oregon on Oct. 28!

Thanks! I look forward to seeing you soon!


Nicole Forbes
Environment Oregon Field Organizer
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A warning from one who would know

The First Oil Well in the USLike all oil wells, even this one (the first in the US) still produces some oil -- just not very fast. THAT is what peak oil is -- a mismatch between the flowrates demanded and the flowrates the earth will yield. Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

Fact. No. 3: Supply. We are not running out of oil. The issue is not our endowment of oil resources, it is the world’s production capacity. Additions from exploration last replaced annual production in 1987. The easiest oil has been discovered. Costs are increasing for new barrels, where wells can be drilled in water depths of over one mile to targets up to six miles deep, and discoveries can take over a decade to develop.

Oil field declines are running at more than 5 percent per year. That means we have to add at least 4 million barrels per day each year just to keep production flat. Yet non-OPEC production is in the process of, if not peaking, reaching a plateau. The U.K. Energy Research Centre just published a report that there is a significant risk that worldwide production of conventional oil could peak before 2020 and enter terminal decline. If we do not act now, we will have a devastating oil crisis in the next 5-to-10 years.

We will need the courage to act to prevent this crisis and make the commitment to change our behavior – not just in demand; not just in supply; but both.

The United States must take a leadership role. With five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its oil consumption, the United States can no longer blame oil producers for rising prices. We need to have the courage to demand 50 miles per gallon as the national standard for all vehicles; gasoline hybrids and diesel could get us there. A gasoline tax of $1 gallon would boost conservation and help pay down the federal deficit by $120 billion per year.

This outstanding summary -- one of the best ever in the mainstream media -- further warns that living without cheap oil is less science-fictional all the time:

It is 30 years since the film Mad Max was made, launching the career of Mel Gibson.

The film made a big splash at the time for its terrifying view of a world without oil, where gangs of grisly looking people roam deserts in a post-apocalyptic world, killing each other to get their hands on the few drops of petrol that some have managed to produce in makeshift refineries. Social order has completely broken down.

Great film if you like that sort of thing but complete fiction, of course. Or is it? Three decades later, and I wonder if the film was, in fact, years ahead of its time.

Just think back to summer last year when oil prices spiked to $150 a barrel – 10 times the level of a decade earlier. In petrol stations in some European countries, people started to drive off without paying and drivers had to be banned from filling cars before they had paid up. In Britain, people stole heating oil out of the tanks that sit outside many houses in the country.

Imagine what would happen if prices rose, say, to $300 a barrel. Or higher. Not only would it become too expensive to drive unless absolutely necessary, but food would become prohibitively expensive to transport, goods from China would be too expensive to ship, and plastics, which come from oil, would be unaffordable. The cold turkey after more than a century of cheap oil would be painful indeed. For developing countries it would be fatal – many could not afford energy at those prices.

Oil has fallen sharply in price since last summer, but this is only because the world tumbled into its worst recession in decades, clobbering industrial output and trade volumes, and therefore oil demand. What is curious, though, is that oil prices, having tumbled below $40 earlier this year, went back above $81 a barrel last week, their highest for a year.

There are plenty of possible reasons, such as the continuing fall in the value of the dollar, in which oil is priced, or the piling in of speculators who think a recovery will push up oil prices. Or you could reach for the old chestnut of supply and demand. Demand has fallen a lot, sure, but maybe supply is not what it used to be. Indeed, take a graph of the oil price over the past couple of decades, chop off last year's spike to $150 and this year's plunge to $35 and you can see that oil prices have been on a steady upwards trend for a decade. The question is why?

An excellent new report, Heads in the Sand, released last week by the non-governmental organisation Global Witness – the group that first brought "blood diamonds" to the world's attention – looked in depth at what is happening to the supply of oil. And it is frightening.

The author, Simon Taylor, has spent two years working on this issue, in particular, analysing the forecasts issued late last year by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), in which it admitted for the first time that world oil supplies were about to start to dwindle just as demand from countries such as India and China is accelerating rapidly. The IEA had previously asserted that oil production would not peak before 2030 at the earliest. Now it thinks we might be very close to that point.

The IEA figures showed there could be a gap of 7m barrels a day between supply and demand by 2015. That represents about 8% of the expected world demand by then, 91m barrels a day. The gap will grow as demand keeps growing. Taylor warns that world supply levelled off between 2005 and 2008, so quite where the new oil is going to come from is unclear.

Taylor takes issue with the IEA's recommendation that the world spend $450bn (yes, billion) a year looking for new oilfields that may or may not be there and so render its forecasts overoptimistic. He thinks governments should admit they have ignored the problem and don't have a plan B. . . .

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