Friday, April 19, 2013

Chicago's Extreme Weather - Are Rainstorms Being Amplified By Increased CO2 in the Atmosphere?

The Chicago area suffered record flooding the other day. While Chicago's weather is famously variable, the fact that 3 of the city's 8 heaviest recorded rainstorms have occurred within the last 6 years certainly raises suspicion that something is amiss. While this correlation between more frequent heavy rainfall and increased CO2 in the atmosphere could certainly just be a due to the random variability of weather, it is cause for concern.

Over at Weather Underground, meteorologist  Dr.Jeff Masters goes out on a limb and declares that
"The new normal in the coming decades is going to be more and more extreme flood-drought-flood cycles like we are seeing now in the Midwest, and this sort of weather whiplash is going to be an increasingly severe pain in the neck for society."
Given the cold spring we've had in the Midwest, it seems hard to accept the global warming could be occurring. However, confusing local weather with global climate change would be a mistake. There are lots of places around the globe which have experienced warmer than usual temperatures in 2013, including the Southwestern U.S., the Arctic and Australia.

The Chicago area  flooding led to my drive to work being greatly extended. As I zigged and zagged due to numerous closed roads, viewing the massive number of other cars on the road  made me pause and think about all the pollution that is being spewed into the atmosphere just from car exhaust. Regardless of how skeptical one is of about whether there is causation between higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and the unusually heavy rainfalls, this does not seem to be a good time to be buying a home on a flood plain.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Will A Physical Gold Squeeze Lead To A Rapid Retracement in Price?

One of the few aspects of the markets that seemingly makes sense is that the price of gold is stabilizing. Given the competition among central bankers around the world to win the money printing contest, it seems bizarre that the price of gold is heading toward the production cost of marginal producers. Further, the daily dose of bad economic news from the Euro Zone could also be bullish for the shiny metal.

Over at Zero Hedge, they are suggesting that a shortage of deliverable gold is starting to develop. Assuming that the Zero Hedge post is accurate (and since it is posted on the Internet, it must be true), then the potential develops for a rapid increase in the price of gold as those short of paper gold scramble to cover their positions.
I have no idea where the price of gold is headed in the short term, but suspect that over the long term this will turn out to be a nasty correction in the midst of a multi-year bull market. The risk/reward ratio for shorting paper based gold at this point in time seems abysmally skewed toward being risky. I am most certainly not taking any of my gold jewelry over to the cash for gold shops as long as the price remains close to the marginal producers cost of production.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Global Warming Activists Are Foolish To Focus On 2050 - How About 5 Year Impact?

A new doom and gloom article about the impact of climate change in 40, 50, or 100 years is published at least once a week. However, for climate change skeptics, these predictions are little more than white noise. Given the misses in the predictions from 5 and 10 years ago for global surface temperature, it requires a leap of faith to assume that models can accurately forecast what will occur in the distant future. If meteorologists can only predict the weather 10 days out, how can researchers predict climate change 50 years out?

Climate change researchers should focus more attention on the impact of climate change during the next 5 years if they want to convert skeptics over to their agenda of greenhouse gas mediation. In order to capture the attention of skeptics and the undecided it needs to be shown that there is an immediacy to the impact of pumping billions of metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Gaining credibility for long term forecasts requires being able to demonstrate a capability to make accurate medium range forecasts.

While predicting moderate impacts due to climate change occurring during the next five years does not offer the opportunity for producing attention grabbing headlines in the manner that long term catastrophic forecasts do, they do offer a better opportunity for changing opinions.

So what sort of 5 year predictions should climate researchers be making? Here are some examples:
  1. rise in sea level
  2. reduction in arctic sea ice extent
  3. number of hurricanes hitting the U.S.
  4. increase in price of wheat due to extreme weather
  5. increase in the price of rice due to extreme weather
  6. increase in cost of property insurance
  7. number of acres burned by forest fires
  8. increase in pH of the ocean
Predicting global surface temperature should probably be ignored for a couple of reasons: 1)  the variability of  weather gives the expected global surface temperature five years out (2018) a randomness that probably makes it too challenging to accurately predict; and 2) attention should be focused on "climate change", not "global warming".  ("Global warming" still gets more searches than "climate change" according to Google - last month the ratio was 2.2 million searches versus 1.8 million, respectively).

While there is a downside to getting short term predictions wrong, as pointed out in a post by Roger Pielke, Jr., the upside is that getting predictions right offer the opportunity for a researcher to gain minor celebrity status. Maybe it is not a good analogy, but recall how much fame some psychics have gotten from making highly specific predictions that turned out to be accurate, regardless of their overall batting average. Accurate medium term climate change predictions offer a much greater opportunity to win over skeptics than do impossible to verify catastrophic long term predictions.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sea Level Rise Resumes Upward Trend - Where Are The Headlines?

Over the past couple of weeks, the leading climate change news stories in the main stream media have come from opinion poll results. Regardless of whether reporting on opinion polls is really news, doing so works well for main stream media because it is neither a complicated, nuanced story, nor does it alienate advertisers.

Thus, we have been informed that:

  1. 37% of Americans think global warming is a hoax; and 
  2. 82% of U.S. adults reported that they believe climate change is already occurring 

Of note, there was little questioning of the results of either poll, despite that fact that they add to 119% and both report higher percentages than previous polls.

The really big story in climate news has not gotten much attention from the press. The fact that the trend is intact in sea level rise of 1/10th inch per year (actually 0.13 inches) must not have seemed terribly headline worthy. However, the fact that the two year respite from sea level rise during 2009-2011 was just an anomaly is incredibly concerning. In fact, the trend of 0.13 inch annual rise in sea level in intact due to the sea level having risen an average of 0.4 inches in each of the past two years..

On a "if it bleeds it leads" scale, the rise in sea level of a fraction of an inch is not a very big deal. However, anyone that can do math can come to the conclusion that if this trend remains in place for the next 40-100 years, the consequences will be disastrous. Regrettably, due to the paucity of reports about the small but pervasive rise in sea level, there is not much knowledge about this trend among the general public.

While I do not have poll numbers at my disposal to prove how few U.S. adults are aware of the trend in sea level rise, it is simple to confirm this on an anecdotal basis. Simply ask your friends and associates if they know by how much the sea level is rising annually. Ask them if they are aware that the two year hiatus in the sea level rise came to an end in 2011, and that the there has been reversion to the trend line of 0.13 inch annual rise. My experience in asking these questions is that the level of knowledge on sea level rise is not very widespread. A number of those that I discussed this with were both surprised and concerned to learn how fast the sea level is rising.

Obviously, the key question is how much will the sea level rise in the future? Even the folks at NASA are having difficulty coming up with a model that accounts for all the variables, as indicated during a recent "Google+ hang-out".  But anyone that ignores the trend in sea level rise does so at their own peril.

Related Post
The Skeptical Science blog explores one of the issues touched on during the NASA sea level chat — the role of year-to-year shifts in water between oceans and terrestrial reservoirs in short-term changes in sea level. This article explains why the sudden 3x increase in annual sea level rise of the past couple of years from 0.13 to 0.4 inches may not  indicate that an  acceleration has already started in the rate of rise .  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Climate Change Debate - Today's Best Posts From A Denier and an Alarmist

Two posts that provide particularly good examples of the diametrically opposed viewpoints of climate change deniers and alarmists were published today.

Over at American Thinker, Jonathon Moseley states:

The Coming Global Warming Voter Backlash

"So what will voters do to Democrat candidates in 2014 and 2016 when the former realize that the Democratic Party was lying to them?  Is it time to run away from the issue for Democrats, journalists, and Hollywood personalities?"

An opposing view was posted on Skeptical Science by Dana Nuccitelli:

The Fool's Gold of Current Climate

"Climate change hasn't yet resulted in terribly negative consequences, so (can we really assume) maybe it's nothing to worry about.  Unfortunately that conclusion flies in the face of a vast body of evidence indicating that if we continue on our current course, the climate consequences will be very bad, and potentially catastrophic".

In my opinion, Mr. Moseley is terribly wrong about voters punishing the Democratic party for supporting efforts to mitigate climate change in either 2 or 4 years. Does he really think that the average voter will not be concerned about the potential consequences of mankind annually pumping 30 billions metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere? Despite the fact that the earth's surface temperature has not warmed during the last 17 years, this has not ended the global warming debate. Another 2 to 4 years of stable surface temperatures is unlikely to change the consensus (further Moseley's claim that temperatures have not gone up over the last 20 years is incorrect, only by cherry picking a warm year for a starting point such as 17 years ago, does the claim hold up that the earth's surface temperature is stable). 

Notably, every example of extreme weather, regardless of whether there is any impact from climate change, will potentially be attributed to climate change in the minds of many voters. As an example, is today's unseasonably warm 50 F degree temperature in Nuuk Greenland just an example of the variability of weather, or is it evidence of global warming?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Global Action to Address Climate Change - What Would It Require?

For the last few years, environmentalists in the U.S. have been calling for direct action to "solve the climate crisis". This message was basically falling on deaf ears until the Keystone XL Pipeline controversy came along. However, regardless of whether this serves to energize the climate change movement or not, it is basically a sideshow. Until the Republicans in the House of Representatives, the leaders of the Chinese Politburo, the Indian Parliament, and other world leaders decide to enact policies for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, local efforts to fight fossil fuel extraction will only be important if they end up playing a role in stirring up a populist movement.

Serious efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions will not happen until there is overwhelming popular  support for international treaties.  An example of a national leader responding with a populist agenda is demonstrated by Richard Nixon's strong environmental legacy, which may in fact only be due to his pandering to the public rather than any personal commitment to environmentalism.  

Unilateral action to limit the extraction of fossil fuels within the U.S. will not have much impact on a global basis. The U.S. is no longer the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. COemissions from the U.S. and the other economically developed OECD countries now account for only one third of global emissions – the same share as that of China and India, where emissions increased by 9% and 6%, respectively, in 2011 according to the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

The efforts of European nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions shows the futility of any one nation or even a region attempting to unilaterally reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their minimal reductions, which are largely due to a lessening of economic activity, have been completely negated by the increases in emissions from Asia. And the European efforts have been completely self defeating if the claims are correct that their policies are leading to energy intensive manufacturing being shipped off to Asia with no net reduction in emissions. 

The efforts to-date to develop international treaties to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions have been fruitless. The Kyoto accord had no teeth, and was never signed by the U.S, China, or India. Only a treaty that is backed by all the leading emitters of greenhouse gases has much likelihood of making a difference. As long as the public in North America and Asia remains indifferent to the signing of climate accords, little will be accomplished by the annual UN climate conferences. 

Meaningful policies to reduce greenhouse gas emission mitigation would require actions that would be hard to stomach. Treaties that require actions such as: 1) a carbon tax; 2) more expensive, reduced polluting gasoline and diesel; 3) , reduced burning of cheap coal, and 4) reduced highway speed limits, will not gain public favor in the near future. 

So, what would be required before the public pushes government leaders to impose policies that  mitigate greenhouse gas emissions?
  1. Readily observable changes in the weather - As long as the earth's surface temperature remains steady, as it has for the past decade, climate change skeptics opinions are unlikely to budge. And those that accept that climate change is occurring are unlikely to agree to lifestyle altering restrictions until or unless climate change negatively impacts their weather and lives
  2. Catastrophic extreme weather would have to become more commonplace -- Even with extreme weather events such as the drought in the Southwest and Superstorm Sandy, there is little call for dramatic action within the U.S.. And the increase in catastrophic extreme weather would have to occur on a worldwide basis . 
  3. There would have to be serious hits to the pocketbook due to factors such as:
    a) worldwide food shortages causing higher food prices (and starvation in nations across the globe)
    b) Dramatically higher property and casualty insurance
Little action is likely unless the dramatic scenario outlined above occurs. Even if climate change accords are eventually reached, it will take months or years of bickering before the industrialized nations, BRIC nations, and developing nations can agree to an accord that is perceived to fairly treat each group, and actually has  teeth to it.. 

Thus, it seems almost certain the annual pumping of 30+ billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere  will continue unabated for a number of years. For those that judge that this makes climate change inevitable, then the best strategy is to be prepared for the adaptations that will be required. From an economic security standpoint, preparing for global climate change will open up a huge new set of risks and opportunities.

Related Post

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