Monday, July 20, 2015

Will Arctic Northeast Passage Be Ice Free By Late July in 2015?

The search for a shorter path from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vice versa) captivated 19th century explorers. Avoiding the long and treacherous trip around the horns of Africa and South America offered huge saving in the time and cost of a voyage. However, from a navigation standpoint, the discovery of the Northeast Passage and John Rae's 1848 discovery of the Northwest Passage had little practical value during the 19th Century, as ice blocked the routes.

Remarkably, it appears that the Northeast Passage may be ice free by the end of July 2015, based on images posted by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The early melting of the sea ice that usually blocks the Northeast Passage is a result of the warming of the Arctic. If the sea ice along the Northeast Passage continues to melt as rapidly as it has over the past week, it may be the earliest in the summer during recorded history that this route has been ice free and navigable without the need for an icebreaker.

Northeast Passage in Red

According to Jeff Masters "A large area of high pressure that has set up shop north of Alaska is expected to persist for the remainder of July, and is likely to bring sunny skies and a warm flow of air into the Arctic that will lead to rapid ice loss in the coming weeks"

As shown in the image below, the Northeast Passage is on the verge of becoming ice free (as of July 19, 2015).

 Sea Ice Extent

Regardless of whether 2015 is a record setting year for earliest opening of the Northeast Passage, the rapid ice melt provides another indication that we live on a warming planet. It may only be a matter of decades before the Northwest and Northeast Passages through the Arctic are navigable from August through October.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Hottest May in Recorded History Gets Minimal Play in Mainstream Media

The so-called pause in global warming has come to an end. The hottest May (2015) in recorded history should be the final nail in the coffin that puts the claim that global warming is a hoax in the same category with "the world is flat" and "mankind was created by God 6,000 years ago".

The following are a sampling of new records for global surface temperatures set recently:

May 2015 - the hottest May in recorded history
January - May 2015 - the hottest January through May in recorded history
2014 - the hottest year in recorded history.

Given how much play "the pause" in global warming has received in the mainstream media, (particularly from the Murdock owned Fox News and The Wall Street Journal), the hottest May in recorded history is news that seemingly should have received more attention. However, this result has received little play, being completely overwhelmed by articles about the Pope's encyclical calling for action on climate change. It does seem apropos though that new data supporting the Pope Francis's call for action came out concurrently.

This year is likely to be the second consecutive year of record hot global surface temperatures, an outcome I predicted 16 months ago and also being predicted by BloombergBusiness. Time will tell if a record hot calendar year 2015 is judged to be newsworthy enough to get significant play in he mainstream media.  And it will be interesting to see how the science deniers at Fox
News try to spin this news about our warming planet

Friday, May 22, 2015

Rising Rent, Food and Health Insurance Will Monkeyhammer US Consumers

U.S. consumers are going to feel a lot poorer in 2016. The cost of the biggest hits to their wallets are all increasing. Rents are rising by over 3%. The cost of food will continue to increase due to drought and bird flu (the Labor Department's report that food costs are not rising is absolutely absurd, as anyone that does any grocery shopping is well aware). Health insurance providers are requesting significant increases in rates.  And even the cost of gasoline is creeping back up.

All these hits to consumers' pocket books will hurt. The implications for the economy could be extremely negative if consumers are forced to cut back on discretionary spending. It seems likely that GDP in 2016 will take a hit due to the impact  of higher costs on consumers. Growth for the U.S. economy in 2016 seems likely to be meager at best.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sea Level Rise May Be Accelerating in 2015

For the past few decades, the global sea level has been rising by about 1/10th of an inch per year (3.2 millimeters annually). However, it seems like the rate of rise in the sea level may be accelerating. as shown in the following chart published by the CU Sea Level Research Group.

The most recent update to this report (5/4/15) shows that the increase in sea level is well above the long term trend line.  

Time will tell whether the rise in global sea level will revert back to the trend line in the future, or if the rate of sea level rise is accelerating.

A rising sea level at a rate of 1/10th of an inch per year has frightening long term consequences. However, if the seas are rising even faster than the trend of the past few decades, it won't be long until flooding, beach erosion, and the other effects of higher sea levels become catastrophic.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gov Reported Inflation Ignores Spiking Food Costs Gutting Household Budgets

It seems incredibly misleading that the officially reported core inflation rate shown in the Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has and almost certainly will continue to show US. inflation to be very tame (up 0.2% in March). However ask any housewife (or house husband) if she believes the CPI numbers, and the answer is likely to be a resounding "no". Anyone that spends any time in grocery aisles comparing prices is going to be extremely skeptical of the headlines reporting core CPI and CPI (core CPI excludes the volatile food and energy categories). Excluding food costs from core CPI may be statistically valid, but is incredibly misleading when determining the impact of inflation on family budgets.

The U.S government's prediction for food costs in 2015 seem absurd.
Looking ahead to 2015, ERS predicts that supermarket (food-at-home) prices will see normal to slightly-lower-than-average food price inflation, increasing 2.0 to 3.0 percent.
I will bet dollars to donuts that the above prediction bears zero applicability to the actual increases that will take place on supermarket shelves. In particular, the price of meat is going to soar by a multiple of the predicted 2.0% - 3.0% range, The price of beef will continue to rise due to the thinning of herds following the 2012 drought, pork is going to increase as the impact of the outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) is transmitted to pork prices.

A couple of outcomes still to be determined will be the impact of 1) the bird flu on the price of turkey, poultry, and eggs; and 2) the California drought on the cost of vegetables. While some analysts are sanguine about the prospect for the impact upon food costs, I am most certainly not in that camp. It seems ludicrous to expect that poultry, eggs and vegetables will only increase in price by 2-3%. For those that wish to review the optimist case on food price inflation, view here for poultry and here for vegetables

The chart below shows the cumulative percent change in price for each of the eight categories since 2000.
Click to View
Source: Advisor Perspectives 


Food inflation is going to put a huge hole in household budgets during 2015. This impact on consumers will not be reflected in the CPI. Thus, be very skeptical of the reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out on both CPI and core CPI. For a true reading on the rising inflation in food costs, monitor the prices on grocery shelves. The size of the differential in what consumers are really paying for groceries and what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports is likely to be stunningly large.

Be wary of investments is firms that have benefited from lower gasoline prices putting money in consumers' pockets. The increase in food costs during 2015 may counterbalance most or all of these savings.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How Long Until Oil Patch Woes Show Up In Employment Reports

Are stock market participants overlooking how many jobs are getting cut across the oil exploration and services companies? The cuts are going to be deep, and these are good paying jobs. A few examples of firms that are cutting deep are BP, Halliburton, and Civeo. And there will be 100's more. Seems likely that upcoming employment and jobless claims reports are likely to be ugly.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Coal - The Confounding Energy Source for a Climate Change Worrier

It seems unlikely that I will be anointed as King of the U.S. any time soon, so my conflicted attitude about coal really is not going to be much of a difference maker. But for a "warmest" like myself that cares about the American economy, it is: a) challenging to oppose efforts to reduce the burning of coal in the U.S, but b) impossible to support restrictions on coal use that limit the economic advantage this cheap source of energy gives the U.S. 

My daughter spent a spring break in the coal country of West Virginia. She said it was devastating to see beautiful mountain tops being lopped off in order to supply coal to India. This practice is incredibly controversial even in coal country. But, as long as the number of coal burning power plants are growing in China, India, and Germany, it seems fruitless to shut down American coal burning power plants.

Much of the success European's claim in reducing CO2 emissions is simply due to their shipping many of their most pollution intensive jobs off to Asia. Thus, their regulations and taxes have had barely any impact on global releases of heat trapping gases, while sending thousands of good jobs off to Asia. (And as a side note, now that the Germans have shut down their older, but still perfectly viable nuclear plants, that country's emissions are increasing dramatically due to increased burning of coal. Small businesses and consumers in Germany are paying higher rates for electricity and German tax dollars are being spent subsidizing large industries)

Banning coal plants in the U.S. would put our economy at a huge disadvantage, while having little impact on worldwide emissions of heat trapping gases. And further, it would put the power supply at risk, unless we build a plethora of new gas fired plants, at huge expense, Burning gas releases plenty of CO2 emissions as well, and the supply of cheap gas is not infinite either.

Yet as a "warmest", I would love to see all coal plants worldwide shut down, not just due to the heat trapping gases they emit, but also because of the mercury and other toxic chemicals they put into the air, particularly the coal plants in Asia that don't use scrubber technology.Pollutants from China are being carried all the way to Lake Tahoe

It was only a couple of years ago that I was infatuated with wind and solar. Yet I now consider these energy sources to be like putting out a house on fire with a garden hose. They have a realizable benefits, but are not game changers on a global basis. 

The only solution to reducing the burning of coal by power plants is to come up with a technology that is cheaper than coal. Nuclear and/or fusion are probably the only viable candidates for a cheaper than coal solution. Advanced technology holds the potential to be far safer and cheaper than existing nuclear technology. Regulations and taxes that penalize U.S. businesses are not the answer, nor is tax payer supported funding of solar and wind technology development. 

Now I am really getting off topic, but here is my latest rant.

It is only in the context of the U.S. Budget that $3 billion can be considered chump change, but that is the case as far as spending by the U.S government on advanced energy technology. And that $3 trillion is fragmented in so many ways that the sum of the parts is way less than the total would suggest.

Not that I have anything against NASA, but it seems ridiculous to me that our government is spending $18 billion on NASA and less than $3 billion on advanced energy technology. Here are excepts that show how fragmented the spending is:

The Department of Energy's (DOE) budget includes

Fusion Energy Sciences:
The FY 2014 appropriation was $504.7 million
The FY 2015 request is $416.0 million, a decrease of $88.7 million or 17.6 percent
The House bill provides $540.0 million, an increase of $35.3 million or 7.0 percent above current funding
The report has two pages detailing the committee’s funding recommendations and guidance for the fusion energy sciences program.  It gives strong support for the domestic fusion program.     
High Energy Physics:
The FY 2014 appropriation was $796.5 million
The FY 2015 request is $744.0 million, a decrease of $52.5 million or 6.6 percent
The House bill provides $775.0 million, a decrease of $21.5 million or 2.7 percent below current funding
There is lengthy report language.  
Nuclear Physics:
The FY 2014 appropriation was $569.1 million
The FY 2015 request is 593.6 million, an increase of $24.4 million or 4.3 percent
The House bill provides $600.0 million, an increase of $30.9 million or 5.4 percent above current funding
The report includes language pertaining to the 12GeV Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.
DOE Office of Nuclear Energy

  • DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy is funded at $914 million, an increase of $24.3 million over the FY14 funding level. Nuclear energy research and development programs that receive funding within the $914 million allocation include several of the following:
    • The Idaho Operations and Infrastructure account, which covers infrastructure maintenance and improvements at Idaho National Laboratory, is funded at $200.6 million – a $20 million increase over last year.
    • The National Science User Facility program is funded at $36.5 million – an increase of $18 million above the President’s request.  Increases under this program are directed to fully complete the installation of post-irradiation examination equipment at INL’s Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory (IMCL).
    • Small Modular Reactor Licensing Support Programs are funded at $55 million.   This funding is slated for NuScale Power’s Small Modular Reactor which is proposed for construction in Idaho.
    • The Light Water Reactor Sustainability program, which is managed by INL and promotes the continued safe operation of America’s existing nuclear reactors, is funded at $35 million, an increase of $5 million over FY14 and the budget request.
    • The Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration account is funded at $133 million – an increase of $20 million above fiscal year 2014 and $32.5 million above the President’s request. Within the overall $133 million level for this account, $33 million is allocated to fuel qualification for the High Temperature Gas Reactor, $11 million above the budget request.
    • The Advanced Fuels program within Fuel Cycle Research and Development is funded at $60.1 million, the same as last year and $17 million above the President’s budget request, and Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition research and development is funded at $49 million, $19 million above FY14.
  • Within the Office of Naval Reactors, the bill includes $68 million for the operation of the Advanced Test Reactor, an increase of $1.5 million above FY14.
  • Within the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, the bill includes $5 million to continue development of an Electric Grid Test Bed program to enhance existing full-scale electric grid testing capabilities like those at Idaho National Laboratory.
  • The bill also provides $380 million for cleanup activities associated with the Idaho Cleanup Project and the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project co-located on the Idaho desert with Idaho National Laboratory. This represents an increase of $13 million above the President’s request to fully support workplan alignments needed for Idaho’s transuranic waste program as a result of the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. 
  • Includes an additional $2 million for the National Spent Fuel Program, putting the unique expertise of INL to work in order to provide solutions for managing the Department of Energy’s inventories of spent nuclear fuel.
  • Prohibits the U.S. Corps of Engineers from requiring Clean Water Act section 404 permits for certain agricultural activities, such as construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches.
  • Directs the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Army to withdraw the interpretive rule, “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Army Interpretive Rule Regarding the Applicability of the Clean Water Act 4 Section 404(f)(1)(A).” Section 404 of the Clean Water Act exempts certain agricultural activities, such as soil and water conservation practices, from regulation. The interpretive rule would have limited that exemption significantly. 

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