Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cutting Through The Global Warming Debate: It's the Rising Sea Level, Stupid!

Every day brings a new report on some obscure impact of climate change by 2050. Today's headline is almost comical, "Chipotle Warns It Might Stop Serving Guacamole If Climate Change Gets Worse". Along the same lines, a typical example of a news story about the impact of global warming is the claim that "climate change may cause major lizard extinctions by 2050". The cacophony of claims about all the catastrophic events that may occur by 2050 become little more than white noise to climate change deniers and skeptics. 

Here is the climate change impact that most resonates with climate change skeptics. "The sea level is rising by 1/10" per year". It may be that the sea level rise of 1/10 inch per year is such a slow trend and is so lacking in shock value that it is not much of a headline generator. However, it's easy to understand and fairly linear. It's also one of the most worrisome aspects of the millions of metric tons of greenhouse emissions gases being emitted annually.

Here is another tactic to take with global warming skeptics. Make a wager that 2015 will be the warmest in recorded history. If James Hansen is correct, you have a good chance of winning the wager, and it refutes the denialism that has been fomented due to the decade long pause in the increase in global surface temperatures

And for those living in areas of the U.S. that have suffered through a brutally cold winter, suggest they visit this site that shows the global temperature departure from average. The maps on this site visually show that while some geographies are unusually cold, they are more than compensated by areas that are unusually warm.

Global warming deniers may try to refute the fact that the seas are rising. Of course, many of the same folks will tell you that dinosaur fossils were put here to test our faith. However, I'll take the word of NASA scientists that confirm that the sea level is rising. If the folks at NASA are good enough at math that they can put a man on the moon, I trust their capability to measure the rising sea level

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Is The Impact of Japan's April 1 Consumption Tax Increase Being Underestimated?

The general consensus seems to be that the upcoming consumption tax increase in Japan has been so thoroughly analyzed that its impact is baked into future projections. My crystal ball in regard to the impact of the 3% increase in the consumption tax from 5% to 8% is rather cloudy. But it seems like the impact could be more severe than most analysts seem to expect. The sales tax increase could set off an ugly downward cycle.

Here are a couple of other events that led to the type if forward shifting of demand that the upcoming tax increase is producing

Japan - The April 1, 1997 2% increase in the consumption tax from the then 3% to 5% led to a huge increase in sales of big ticket items in the run-up to the hike in rates. However, it was followed by a year and and half recession.
Global - The boom and bust in purchases of high tech capital goods due to Y2K compliance led to a recession in 2000 that hit virtually every developed economy.

Japan's economy is already under huge duress due to an aging population. With 24% of the population age 65 or older, no other country in the world has so many senior citizens to support. Japan still has a labor force participation rate of 59% (versus 63% in the U.S.), but it bound to decline over time.

Japan government spending, deficits, and debt make one dizzy just pondering the numbers, as pointed out by Wolf Richter. The Japanese government's Ponzi game of borrowing half of spending and creating demand for the borrowing via money printing will ultimately lead to a collapse. The $70 billion a month of "quantitative easing" by the Bank of Japan to soak up demand for Japanese government debt is ultimately a recipe for a Weimar Republic like collapse.

The Japanese economy is headed for a calamity at some point in the future due to the massively excessive debt and deficit. Will the April 1 consumption be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Probably not. However, don't be surprised if the boom bust impact of the April 1 consumption tax increase is worse than most analysts are projecting. It seems reasonably likely that Japan is in for a nasty recession during the balance of 2014.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Will The Tea Party Recognize That The Only Real Climate Change Debate Is Whether It Is Catastrophic?

The weird weather this winter has focused a good deal of attention on the debate over whether global warming is the cause of the cold, snowy winter across much of the U.S. Frankly, even as someone that is firmly in the "warmist" camp, I suspect that the weird weather may just be due to the variability of weather.

However, in the many stories about the debate over global warming appearing in the mainstream media, the articles on the subject have been filled with quotes from the small group of global warming scientists that are skeptical that catastrophic global warming is occurring due to greenhouse gas emissions. Of note, there is only a tiny group of climate scientists that deny global warming is occurring. The only real questions even among the climate scientist that are global warming skeptics are: 1) is it really catastrophic; and/or 2) is it really caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Here is a typical quote from a couple of the most frequently quoted climate change skeptics, University of Alabama in Huntsville atmospheric science professors Richard McNider and John Christy
For instance, in 1994 we published an article in the journal Nature showing that the actual global temperature trend was "one-quarter of the magnitude of climate model results." The disparity between the predicted temperature increases and real-world evidence has only grown in the past 20 years.
Given how badly the climate change models have overstated expected changes in global surface temperature, their skepticism about "catastrophic" global change does not seem unreasonable. However, McNider and Christy do not deny that global warming is occurring, that the oceans are rising by 1/10th inch per year, or arctic sea ice is declining to the point that ocean shippers can now use the Northwest  Passage during the summer.

Confusing the issue, publications such as Forbes are guilty of publishing out and out misinformation. Any article that exaggerates the decade long pause in global surface temperture warming to 17 years should instantly be recognized as being invalid. Cherry-picking 1998 as the starting point for measuring the start of the pause in the rise of global surface temperature is a favorite and invalid tactic of the climate change deniers. 1998 was a statistical outlier, an unusually hot year caused by El Nino, and using that year as a starting date demonstrates statistical illiteracy. What makes the publication by Forbes of this misinformation seem a bit bizarre is that fact that in 2012, they published an article explaining why cherry picking 1998 was invalid. Another example showing how using 1998 as the start of the "pause" is not scientificly valid is provided by SkepticalScience.

The Tea Party Platform does not address the issue of global warming, despite the large number of its members that fall into the "denier" camp. However, the philosophy of the Tea Party puts it in direct conflict with the global warming "alarmists" who are demanding government intervention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On one hand, fighting against greenhouse gas reducing legislation seems to be in the wheelhouse of the Tea Party's philosophy. However, on the other hand, if Tea Party members use a claim that "global warming is a hoax" to support opposition to greenhouse gas reducing legislation, then they will be guilty of being flat earther's, willfully ignoring science. If "global warming is a hoax" claims become ingrained within the Tea party platform, it will cost the group an enormous amount of credibility, particularly if James Hansen's claim that 2015 will be the hottest year in recorded history comes to pass

Monday, February 24, 2014

2015 Will Be The Hottest Year In Recorded History - The Prediction That Will Be Hard to Refute

The climate change debate is muddled due to the decade long pause in warming of the earth's surface temperature. Most climate models wildly overstated the warming that would occur during the most recent decade. The long pause in the warming of the earth's surface temperature has played a big role in climate researchers' utter failure to convince U.S. voters that "climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction" (a much disputed line from a John Kerry speech). Further, much of the debate between climate change skeptics and "warmists" has been  challenging to interpret or evaluate.

However, a number of climate researchers have made a prediction that should be easy for everyone to interpret, and that is that the next El Nino will lead to the hottest year in recorded history. According to climate researcher James Hanson, "It appears that there is substantial likelihood of an El Niño beginning in 2014, and as a result a probable record global temperature in 2014 or 2015". Dr. Michael Mann has indicated that "perhaps that will put to rest once and for all the silly notion, promoted by climate change contrarians, that climate change has ‘stopped’.”

As shown in the chart below, years in which El Nino conditions are present tend to be hotter than La Nina years. And Dr. Michael Ventrice suggests "We are seeing increasing evidence of an upcoming change in the Pacific Ocean base state that favors the development of a moderate-to-strong El Niño event this Spring/Summer

It would be nice to think that the results of the "hottest year in recorded history" prediction will provide some resolution in the debate about whether global warning and climate change are occurring. The outcome of this prediction should certainly provide a bit clarity in regard to the global warming debate. Maybe there will be some change in the makeup of the Global Warming's Six Americas as defined in an analysis provided by the Yale School of Environmental Studies
  • The Alarmed - 16%
  • The Concerned - 27%
  • The Cautious - 23%
  • The Disengaged - 5%
  • The Doubtful - 12%
  • The Dismissive - 15%

Little action will be taken on a global basis to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases until there is consensus on the importance of doing so. The outcome of the prediction that 2015 will be the hottest in recorded history maybe be a milestone event in the resolution of the debate on global warming and climate change.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Is U.S. Winter Weather Weirdness Due to Climate Change or Is It Just Winter?

The weather this winter in the U.S. has been really weird. It has led some to speculate, including myself, that the declining arctic sea ice or other climate change impacts may be playing a a role. However, given that a group of leading climate researchers have recently come out with an opinion in regard to climate change that "we consider it unlikely that those consequences will include more frigid winters", it is challenging make a case that climate change is causing the winter weather weirdness.

It is of particular note that most of the articles suggesting winter weirdness may be in part due to declining arctic sea ice reference the research of Rutgers climate scientist Jennifer Francis. However, even Francis doubts that declining arctic sea ice is causing the weird winter weather. She stated
"The media certainly had a field day with the “attack of the polar vortex” in early January, and in their hyping of the story, some misquoted me (and others) by saying that climate change caused the unusual cold spell. Of course this sort of event has happened before, and this one wasn’t unprecedented. I also agree that greenhouse-gas induced warming will reduce, not increase, the likelihood of breaking cold temperature records — the data already show this."
Casting further doubt on the the influence of arctic sea ice on the winter weather is that fact that the massive decline in arctic sea ice is mostly just a summer occurrence. As stated by Cornell climate scientist Charles H. Green,
“The lag between decreases in sea ice extent during late summer and changes in the mid-latitude atmospheric circulation during other seasons (when the recent loss of sea ice is much smaller) needs to be reconciled with theory.”
It is ironic that the current weather impacts a large segment of the populations' opinion about climate change and that this bout of weather weirdness is being taken by some as evidence that climate change might not be a hoax. So, opinions of some about climate change are being influenced by weather that is probably just due to it being winter.

Related Article
Weather Weirdness and Arctic Sea Ice

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Were January Retail Sales Overstated or Is My Tinfoil Hat on Too Tight?

I flat out do not believe the numbers that the Census Bureau reported for January retail sales. Based on conversations with retailers, the nasty weather crushed sales during January. I will bet dollars to donuts that future updates to retail sales reports will feature significant downward revisions. In particular, I find the reported clothing and clothing accessories sales to be outside the realm of believability.

Am I crazy to think that anecdotal reports from a handful of apparel retailers are more reliable than the U.S. Census bureau? Maybe.  But do your own due diligence. Go into any apparel retailer, other than the limited segment that sells cold weather gear, and ask them how their January results compared to previous year. It is highly likely that you will hear the January sales were off by a huge percentage. Thus, I declare that the claim that retail sales in general and clothing sales specifically were up in January to be highly suspect.

According to the Census Bureau, the "advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for January, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $427.8 billion, a decrease of 0.4 percent (±0.5%)* from the previous month, but 2.6 percent (±0.9%) above January 2013".  The report also indicated that sales of clothing and clothing accessories increased to $20,985 million dollars from $20,742 in 2013.

Check out this article on US Retailers' January 2014 Sales Roundup. There is a huge difference between same store sales and net sales. While the primary reason for the discrepancy between net sales and comparable store sales is due to January 2014 being treated by many retailers as a 4 week month and January 2013 sales being a 5 week month, the net sales number certainly appear abysmal. Given the timing differences and the impact of store openings and closings, net sales in most cases would not be as reliable an indicator as same store comparable sales. However, given the 20% (1 week reduction) shorter period measured, the number of retailers that reported declines of greater than 20% in net sales seems somewhat suspicious.

It will soon become apparent whether my tin foil hat is on too tightly. February retail sales are due to be reported on March 13, 2014 at 8:30 am. I will be highly surprised if this report does not include a downward revision to the January advance report.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Weather Weirdness and Arctic Sea Ice

There has already been lots of weather weirdness in 2014. The unanswerable question about all the weather weirdness: A) is it nothing more than weather being unpredictable, or B) is climate change exacerbating the weird weather leading to extreme cold in Atlanta, extreme heat in Australia, and unseasonably mild weather in Sochi.

One theory that seems like a plausible explanation for the cold weather experienced in the U.S. east of the Rockies is that Arctic warming has reduced the differential between the cold winds emanating from the Arctic and the warm winds from the tropics. The theory is that the diminishing differential is leading to a slower and wavier jet stream that is dipping south and also allowing the polar vortex to escape the Arctic.

Is there some truth to the above theory? Trying to determine the validity of this theory makes it particularly useful to know what happening to the temperature in the Arctic. For those that like websites that track changes, The Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis website is a terrific resource. They publish a daily report on the extent of Arctic sea ice.

Viewing the two images produced daily by this site seems to provide tremendously contradictory information. The trend line image shows that yesterday seemingly was a momentous day. The 2013-2014 sea ice extent trend line crossed the 2011-2012 trend line for the first time this winter. This year's trend line for Arctic sea ice also seems to be poised to drop below the 2 standard deviation channel for the first time this winter. The reduced level of Arctic sea ice would seemingly be strong evidence that climate change is having a big and measurable impact.

However, in looking at the map of Arctic sea ice, it is does not product a sense of panic about the loss of sea ice. Viewing the map, the areas that have lost sea ice seem rather unsubstantial.

My guess is that the weather weirdness and the Arctic sea ice level both serve as a litmus test for ones views on climate change. For those that believe climate change is occurring to due to greenhouse gas emissions, both are confirming data points. For global warming skeptics, the weird weather and current Arctic sea ice levels prove absolutely nothing.

Visit the Arctic Sea Ice News website for larger version of these images

Related Post

Below Average Extent For February Arctic Sea Ice A Mixed Signal For Global Warming Alarmists and Deniers