Check out this story from Reuters:
Smoke belching from Asia’s rapidly growing economies is largely responsible for a halt in global warming in the decade after 1998 because of sulphur’s cooling effect, even though greenhouse gas emissions soared, a U.S. study said on Monday.
The paper raised the prospect of more rapid, pent-up climate change when emerging economies eventually crack down on pollution.
World temperatures did not rise from 1998 to 2008, while manmade emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel grew by nearly a third, various data show.
The researchers from Boston and Harvard Universities and Finland’s University of Turku said pollution, and specifically sulphur emissions, from coal-fueled growth in Asia was responsible for the cooling effect.
Sulphur allows water drops or aerosols to form, creating hazy clouds which reflect sunlight back into space.
"Anthropogenic activities that warm and cool the planet largely cancel after 1998, which allows natural variables to play a more significant role," the paper said.
Natural cooling effects included a declining solar cycle after 2002, meaning the sun’s output fell.
Oh, wait … "natural cooling effects included a declining solar cycle?" Yeah, much less significant that "smoke belching" from Asia.
What they’re attempting to say here is it is still man who is in command of the atmosphere and climate. Really? If in fact that’s true, and AGW is the most significant problem we face in our future, then it stands to reason that pollution from "coal-fueled growth" is in our best interest, no?
In fact, what they’re describing is the albedo effect which is much more wide-spread than just sulfur pollution. You know – clouds? As I’ve mentioned many times, most of the models don’t consider cloud albedo in their modeling.
Wikipedia has a fairly good description of cloud albedo:
Cloud albedo is an important factor in the global warming effect. Different types of clouds exhibit different reflectivity, theoretically ranging in albedo from a minimum of near 0 to a maximum approaching 0.8. "On any given day, about half of Earth is covered by clouds, which reflect more sunlight than land and water. Clouds keep Earth cool by reflecting sunlight, but they can also serve as blankets to trap warmth."
Albedo and climate in some areas are affected by artificial clouds, such as those created by the contrails of heavy commercial airliner traffic. A study following the burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields during Iraqi occupation showed that temperatures under the burning oil fires were as much as 10oC colder than temperatures several miles away under clear skies.
Note the final paragraph’s citing of the Kuwaiti oil field fires. Note where it claims this cooling took place. Yes, that’s right – only locally. What the study above is purporting is widely spread coal-fired plants in a few emerging countries are responsible for holding temperatures down globally for a decade.
Do you buy that?
Also note this from Wikipedia:
Aerosols (very fine particles/droplets in the atmosphere) have both direct and indirect effects on the Earth’s radiative balance.
The direct (albedo) effect is generally to cool the planet; the indirect effect (the particles act as cloud condensation nuclei and thereby change cloud properties) is less certain. As per  the effects are:
- Aerosol direct effect. Aerosols directly scatter and absorb radiation. The scattering of radiation causes atmospheric cooling, whereas absorption can cause atmospheric warming.
- Aerosol indirect effect. Aerosols modify the properties of clouds through a subset of the aerosol population called cloud condensation nuclei. Increased nuclei concentrations lead to increased cloud droplet number concentrations, which in turn leads to increased cloud albedo, increased light scattering and radiative cooling (first indirect effect), but also leads to reduced precipitation efficiency and increased lifetime of the cloud (second indirect effect).
Clouds, however they’re formed, are sort of like the window-shades of the world. In general, increased cloud cover has a cooling effect (clouds can also trap heat, thereby keeping it warmer at night in an area than another area that doesn’t have cloud cover). In general, decreased or no cloud cover means warming. Increased evaporation of the oceans due to increased temperature has a tendency to see more clouds form as the percentage of water vapor rises. Cooler temps mean less evaporation and thus less cloud formation. It is a mechanism that is and has been studied for years, but science still doesn’t completely understand the process.
But you don’t have to be an atmospheric scientist to know it is a critical part of any study of the earth’s climate, but one that has essentially been relegated to the sidelines in the AGW scare, at least till now.
Finally, note the "oh, yeah, by the way" moment in the article – "declining solar cycle". Tell me – which do you suppose might have more effect – pollution from a couple of emerging countries or a huge burning solar mass that can heat your day up from 69 degrees at 7am to 94 degrees by noon and now showing declining activity?
Yeah, me too.
Oh and one other question – if the AGW crowd is terrified of the increase of global temps, and if they actually believe that we must find a way to allay that, doesn’t it seem that (stipulating this study is actually correct) they should be encouraging the increase in coal-fired plants to offset the effect of the rise in CO2 (again stipulating that CO2 has the effect they claim it has)?
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If you’re any student of history, you’re aware of the speech President Eisenhower gave upon his leaving the presidency. It is often referred to as the "Military/Industrial complex speech".
In it he warned against the future problems we’d encounter by the establishment of a permanent "military/industrial complex" (something we’d never had prior to WWII).
But are you also aware he warned against the establishment of something else that it took WWII to create (think Manhattan Project)? You’ll recognize it immediately:
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.
It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.
Emphasis is mine and it is something which has indeed come true and is alive and well in the current “science” of global warming.
Then add this – because this hasn’t been changed or disproven. From S. Fred Singer’s book, “Unstoppable Global Warming – every 1500 years” (2007, 2008):
…[T]he Antarctic ice cores tell us that the earth’s temperatures and CO2 levels have tracked closely together through the last three ice ages and global warnings. However, CO2 has been a lagging indicator, its concentrations rising about 600 to 800 years after the temperatures warm. Oregon State climatologist George Taylor explains the significance of this fact:
Early Vostok analysis looked at samples centuries apart and concluded correctly that there is a very strong relationship between temperatures and CO2 concentrations. The conclusion for many was obvious: when CO2 goes up, temperatures go up, and vice versa. This became the basis for a number of scary looking graphs in books by scientist Stephen Schneider, former VP Al Gore, and others, predicting a much warmer future (since most scientists agree that CO2 will continue to go up for sometime). Well, it’s not as simple as that. When the Vostok data were analyzed for much shorter time periods (decades at a time rather than centuries), something quite different emerged. Huburtus Fischer and his research team from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported: "the time lag of the rise in CO2 concentrations with respect to temperature change is on the order of 400 to 1000 years". In other words, CO2 changes are caused by temperature changes.
Yet somehow the science has been perverted over the years to now characterize CO2 as not only a current indicator of warming but a cause of warming. As far as I’ve been able to determine, what is written above has yet to be disproven or disputed.
So here we are with a government which is interested in increasing revenue by literally creating a tax out of thin air, and we have a well funded government “science” – a $103 billion dollar “gravy train” (that figure was quoted quite often at ICCC6) and we wonder why we’re getting the conclusions we’re getting from those scientists?
Ike was a pretty smart guy. He saw all of this coming from way off. Whenever government takes control of science (or any other field) to serve its purposes by providing huge incentives to do so, it’s going to get what it wants. And it has, at least to a point. What it hasn’t gotten, however, is indisputable truth concerning its theories concerning CO2. That means its taxation scheme is dead.
However, as long as it continues to fund science and scientists with massive amounts of money, it will provide tremendous incentive to get at least a portion of those who call themselves scientists to serve government’s policy aims. That’s incredibly dangerous.
The answer is precisely what we’ve seen happen in this particular debate – skepticism. Insistence on the scientific method. The understanding that, as Roy Spencer said, “It only takes one scientists (skeptic) to be right for the IPCC to be wrong”. And we’ve seen that quite often as the IPCC’s findings and conclusions have been shown to contain errors of fact, errors of omission, propaganda and alarmism unsupported by fact or science.
We need to get government out of science. Wasn’t this the administration which said it was going to “restore” science to its proper place? That proper place is without government subsidy or, as we’ve experienced through the AGW fiasco, “[t]he prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money …”, perverts science and makes it a servant to political policy. That, friends is infinitely more dangerous to our freedoms than the military/industrial complex.
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Well I’ve managed to make it to ICCC6, which has the theme of “Restoring the Scientific Method”.
I’ve discussed that, in previous posts on the subject of climate change. Anyone who has followed this discussion is aware of the fact that I don’t believe the scientific method has been used well at all in advancing the alarmist message. And of course, “consensus” has absolutely no place in discussions of science.
Anyway, on with the show. To answer Huxley’s question, I’d say this is mostly a skeptic’s conference. We’ll see how it proceeds.
Jeff Jacoby points out that climate change alarmists have fouled their nest so badly that the majority of the public in general has now concluded their cause is overhyped. Climate change, as a pressing priority, is receding in the public’s eyes. It simply doesn’t consider the warning credible. Why?
Well answer this – if Harold Camping came out today and claimed that the world was going to end on October 21st, after previously claiming it would end on May 21st, how much credence would you give his claim?
About as much as the scaremongers in the AGW game, one supposes, since much of what they warned would happen not only hasn’t happened but doesn’t appear likely to happen. As I noted yesterday, however, that doesn’t keep the scare machine from cranking out new and more horrible predictions.
Jacoby points to one made by Newsweek which is, well, laughable on its face.
“Worldwide, the litany of weather’s extremes has reached biblical proportions,’’ Newsweek intones, pointing to tornadoes in the United States, floods in Australia and Pakistan, and drought in China. “From these and other extreme-weather events, one lesson is sinking in with terrifying certainty. The stable climate of the last 12,000 years is gone.’’ This is what comes of burning fossil fuels for energy, which has increased atmospheric CO2 levels by 40 percent above what they were before the Industrial Revolution. “You haven’t seen anything yet,’’ Newsweek preaches. “Batten down the hatches.’’
Anyone spot the blatant bit of nonsense in there? We’ve never had a “stable climate” for the last 12,000 years. Jacoby quotes William Happer, distinguished Princeton physicist, on the reality of that time period:
“Carbon is the stuff of life,’’ he points out. “Our bodies are made of carbon.’’ Yes, atmospheric CO2 is higher today than it was before the industrial age — 390 parts per million now vs. 270 ppm then — but there was a time when “CO2 levels were several thousand ppm, much higher than now. And life flourished abundantly.’’ Indeed, greenhouse operators artificially boost CO2 concentrations in order to grow better flowers and fruit.
So why recoil from the modest increase in carbon emissions caused by fossil-fuel use? Because more CO2 means more climate change? Happer shoots down that idea. The earth’s climate is always changing, sometimes dramatically. During the medieval warming of a thousand years ago, temperatures were much higher than they are now; during the Little Ice Age six centuries later they were much lower. “Yet there is no evidence for significant increase of CO2 in the medieval warm period, nor for a significant decrease at the time of the subsequent little ice age.’’
It is like history and the climate records that go with it don’t exist for the alarmist crowd. If you can’t explain it, apparently it is now ok to ignore it. Thus the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age – inconvenient facts that refute the claim – seemingly never happened. Not if you want to push the “12,000 years” of “stable climate”.
As I’ve asked any number of times, when did the science that previously saw CO2 as a lagging indicator change it into a leading indicator or cause of warming? It hasn’t. Nor does it have the amplifying effect that the alarmists claim through their flawed models. In fact, none of the predictions they have made over the years have even come close to fruition for the reasons they state. And it is clear, as we actually have real scientists study the atmosphere and climate, that there is still a vast amount they are discovering about the climate. This, for instance:
Scientists at Marine Biological Laboratory say trees in a mini-forest where they simulated future global warming stored more carbon, a bonus offset for expected higher CO2 releases from the faster decay of organic matter in soil as Earth heats up.
Apparently as the atmosphere warms, trees store more carbon as “woody tissue”. Result?
But project leader Jerry Melillo of MBL said this study demonstrates for the first time that global warming would also be likely to increase the carbon storing potential of trees, by speeding up nitrogen cycling in the forest — more matter decomposing frees up more inorganic nitrogen compounds, such as ammonium (also known as garden fertilizer), causing greater tree growth and more tree tissue available to store carbon.
The increased carbon storage capacity of the trees in MBL’s Harvard Forest experiment was enough to outpace atmospheric CO2 gain resulting from the warmer soil, Melillo concluded.
And most likely, any human contribution, as small as it is, would also be absorbed. One could also theorize that other plant life might also store more CO2 than they do now. Of course, if true, that would likely mean that the human contribution (or CO2 for that matter) was not having the effect that alarmists attempt to claim, but instead the warming was due to other causes.
I’m sure, however, since this is a recent discovery, that the models don’t factor that in. Of course, they don’t factor in cloud albedo either – something not only critical to our climate, but fundamental. But hey, that would get in the way of the desired results, wouldn’t it?
AGW is slowly strangling on its own fouled science. As I pointed out yesterday and Jacoby points out today, that’s only increased the stridency of these cranks. Scaremongering is headed to new heights in the coming months. And, as it turns out, the basis for their “end of the world” scenarios is about as firm as that of Harold Camping and his end of the world claims.
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What makes this time lapse particularly amazing–because we’ve all seen plenty of time lapse videos of the night sky–is the four telescopes in the foreground. Watching these instruments work against a black background would be endlessly fascinating on its own. Unfortunately you won’t be able to pay them too much attention. Because damn, what a sky.
Watch it on full screen if you can.
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After the story this morning about the alarmist scientist turned skeptic this story comes as the cherry on top of the AGW sundae:
Faced with the embarrassing fact that sea level is not rising nearly as much as has been predicted, the University of Colorado’s NASA-funded Sea Level Research Group has announced it will begin adding a nonexistent 0.3 millimeters per year to its Global Mean Sea Level Time Series. As a result, alarmists will be able to present sea level charts asserting an accelerating rise in sea level that is not occurring in the real world.
Human civilization readily adapted to the seven inches of sea level rise that occurred during the twentieth century. Alarmists, however, claim global warming will cause sea level to rise much more rapidly during the present century. United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) computer models project approximately 15 inches of sea level rise during the 21st century. That’s more than double the sea level rise that occurred during the twentieth century. A more “mainstream” prediction among alarmists is 3 feet of sea level rise this century. Some alarmists have even projected 20 feet of global sea level rise this century.
Satellite measurements, however, show global sea level rose merely 0.83 inches during the first decade of the 21st century (a pace of just 8 inches for the entire century), and has barely risen at all since 2006. This puts alarmists in the embarrassing position of defending predictions that are not coming true in the real world.
So, as with temperature and other data that has been used in this scam, they decided to doctor the numbers.
The NASA-funded group claims glacial melt is removing weight that had been pressing down on land masses, which in turn is causing land mass to rise. This welcome news mitigates sea-level rise from melting glacial ice, meaning sea level will rise less than previously thought. However, it is very inconvenient for alarmist sea level predictions. Therefore, instead of reporting the amount by which sea level is rising in the real world, the Sea Level Research Group has begun adding 0.3 millimeters per year of fictitious sea level rise to “compensate” for rising land mass.
The extra 0.3 millimeters of fictitious sea level rise will add up to 1.2 inches over the course of the 21st century. While this is not monumental in and of itself, it will allow alarmists to paint a dramatically different picture of sea level rise than is occurring in the real world. For example, the current pace of 8 inches of sea level rise for the present century is essentially no different than the 7 inches of sea level rise that occurred last century. However, with an artificially enhanced 9.2 inches of sea level rise, alarmists can claim sea level is rising 31 percent faster than it did last century.
All I hope is Guam doesn’t tip over because of all of this.
If there’s anyone out there that still believes the “science” involved here is valid much less settled, you might want to buy some ocean front property in Idaho.
It’s becoming laughable, isn’t it?
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David Evans is a scientist. He also has worked in the heart of the AGW machine and consulted full-time for the Australian Greenhouse Office (now the Department of Climate Change) from 1999 to 2005, and part-time 2008 to 2010, modeling Australia’s carbon in plants, debris, mulch, soils, and forestry and agricultural products. He has six university degrees, including a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. The other day he said:
The debate about global warming has reached ridiculous proportions and is full of micro-thin half-truths and misunderstandings. I am a scientist who was on the carbon gravy train, understands the evidence, was once an alarmist, but am now a skeptic.
And with that he begins a demolition of the theories and methods by which the AGW scare has been foisted on the public. The politics:
The whole idea that carbon dioxide is the main cause of the recent global warming is based on a guess that was proved false by empirical evidence during the 1990s. But the gravy train was too big, with too many jobs, industries, trading profits, political careers, and the possibility of world government and total control riding on the outcome. So rather than admit they were wrong, the governments, and their tame climate scientists, now outrageously maintain the fiction that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant.
He makes clear he understands that CO2 is indeed a "greenhouse gas", and makes the point that if all else was equal then yes, more CO2 in the air should and would mean a warmer planet. But that’s where the current "science" goes off the tracks.
But the issue is not whether carbon dioxide warms the planet, but how much.
Most scientists, on both sides, also agree on how much a given increase in the level of carbon dioxide raises the planet’s temperature, if just the extra carbon dioxide is considered. These calculations come from laboratory experiments; the basic physics have been well known for a century.
The disagreement comes about what happens next.
The planet reacts to that extra carbon dioxide, which changes everything. Most critically, the extra warmth causes more water to evaporate from the oceans. But does the water hang around and increase the height of moist air in the atmosphere, or does it simply create more clouds and rain? Back in 1980, when the carbon dioxide theory started, no one knew. The alarmists guessed that it would increase the height of moist air around the planet, which would warm the planet even further, because the moist air is also a greenhouse gas. [emphasis mine]
But it didn’t increase the height of the moist air around the planet as subsequent studies have shown since that time. However, that theory or premise became the heart of the modeling that was done by the alarmist crowd:
This is the core idea of every official climate model: For each bit of warming due to carbon dioxide, they claim it ends up causing three bits of warming due to the extra moist air. The climate models amplify the carbon dioxide warming by a factor of three — so two-thirds of their projected warming is due to extra moist air (and other factors); only one-third is due to extra carbon dioxide.
That’s the core of the issue. All the disagreements and misunderstandings spring from this. The alarmist case is based on this guess about moisture in the atmosphere, and there is simply no evidence for the amplification that is at the core of their alarmism.
What did they find when they tried to prove this theory?
Weather balloons had been measuring the atmosphere since the 1960s, many thousands of them every year. The climate models all predict that as the planet warms, a hot spot of moist air will develop over the tropics about 10 kilometres up, as the layer of moist air expands upwards into the cool dry air above. During the warming of the late 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the weather balloons found no hot spot. None at all. Not even a small one. This evidence proves that the climate models are fundamentally flawed, that they greatly overestimate the temperature increases due to carbon dioxide.
This evidence first became clear around the mid-1990s.
Evans is not the first to come to these conclusions. Earlier this year, in a post I highlighted, Richard Lindzen said the very same thing.
For warming since 1979, there is a further problem. The dominant role of cumulus convection in the tropics requires that temperature approximately follow what is called a moist adiabatic profile. This requires that warming in the tropical upper troposphere be 2-3 times greater than at the surface. Indeed, all models do show this, but the data doesn’t and this means that something is wrong with the data. It is well known that above about 2 km altitude, the tropical temperatures are pretty homogeneous in the horizontal so that sampling is not a problem. Below two km (roughly the height of what is referred to as the trade wind inversion), there is much more horizontal variability, and, therefore, there is a profound sampling problem. Under the circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that the problem resides in the surface data, and that the actual trend at the surface is about 60% too large. Even the claimed trend is larger than what models would have projected but for the inclusion of an arbitrary fudge factor due to aerosol cooling. The discrepancy was reported by Lindzen (2007) and by Douglass et al (2007). Inevitably in climate science, when data conflicts with models, a small coterie of scientists can be counted upon to modify the data.
Evans reaches the natural conclusion – the same conclusion Lindzen reached:
At this point, official “climate science” stopped being a science. In science, empirical evidence always trumps theory, no matter how much you are in love with the theory. If theory and evidence disagree, real scientists scrap the theory. But official climate science ignored the crucial weather balloon evidence, and other subsequent evidence that backs it up, and instead clung to their carbon dioxide theory — that just happens to keep them in well-paying jobs with lavish research grants, and gives great political power to their government masters.
And why will it continue? Again, follow the money:
We are now at an extraordinary juncture. Official climate science, which is funded and directed entirely by government, promotes a theory that is based on a guess about moist air that is now a known falsehood. Governments gleefully accept their advice, because the only ways to curb emissions are to impose taxes and extend government control over all energy use. And to curb emissions on a world scale might even lead to world government — how exciting for the political class!
Indeed. How extraordinarily unexciting for the proletariat who will be the ones stuck with the bill if these governments ever succeed in finding a way to pass the taxes they hope to impose and extend even more government’s control over energy.
While you’re listening to the CEOs of American oil companies being grilled by Congress today, remember all of this. They’re going to try to punish an industry that is vital to our economy and national security, and much of the desire to do that is based on this false “science” that has been ginned up by government itself as an excuse to control more of our energy sector and to pick winners and losers. All based on something which is now demonstrably false.
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You perhaps recall that the AGW doomsayers, via the UN, announced in 2005 that by 2010 there would be 50 million “climate refugees” driven from their homes by the adverse effect of global warming.
It’s always nice to check up on the accuracy of such predictions to gauge how well they jibe with reality.
In this case, it’s a complete miss. As most of us know, the measured “global temperature” has been steadily going down (as the natural cycles of the earth again do what they’ve done for billions of years). So what’s the status of all of those refugees?
Well, Gavin Atkinson gives us a nice little update based on the recent census data from various “at risk” places. Remember, we were supposed to see the first effects of warming on the “very sensitive low lying islands of the Pacific and Caribbean”.
Nassau, The Bahamas – The 2010 national statistics recorded that the population growth increased to 353,658 persons in The Bahamas. The population change figure increased by 50,047 persons during the last 10 years.
The island-nation of Saint Lucia recorded an overall household population increase of 5 percent from May 2001 to May 2010 based on estimates derived from a complete enumeration of the population of Saint Lucia during the conduct of the recently completed 2010 Population and Housing Census.
Population 2002, 81755
Population 2010, 88311
The latest Solomon Islands population has surpassed half a million – that’s according to the latest census results.
It’s been a decade since the last census report, and in that time the population has leaped 100-thousand.
How about all those cities that were going to be underwater because of melting glaciers and ice packs?
Meanwhile, far from being places where people are fleeing, no fewer than the top six of the very fastest growing cities in China, Shenzzen, Dongguan, Foshan, Zhuhai, Puning and Jinjiang, are absolutely smack bang within the shaded areas identified as being likely sources of climate refugees.
Similarly, many of the fastest growing cities in the United States also appear within or close to the areas identified by the UNEP as at risk of having climate refugees.
When it all comes down to it, AGW increasingly appears to fall in the category of the usual lefty doomsaying that never lives up to the fear factor with which its proponents attempt to radically change the way we live in order to supposedly save us from ourselves. Think the population bomb with fossil fuel as the target instead of government mandated population control.
Of course the unfortunate thing is many of our politicians on the left and a whole raft of politicians throughout the world (and particularly in the UN) continue to push this farce. The reason is simple. There’s a whole lot of money to be extracted from this scare. World governments can cash in on a “problem” they’ve literally invented out of thin air.
So don’t look for it to go quietly into the night. All that crap about putting science first is just that. They’ve picked their side for obvious reasons and intend to push it all the way to the bank.
That’s one of the reasons stories like this need to be highlighted – so when they inevitably try to get in you wallet again, you have something to fight back with. This is the reality of their predictions – and it is completely the opposite of what their “science” told them would happen.
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Right now we’re seeing all sorts of reports come out of Japan as to what is happening at the Fukushima nuclear plants. All of them are tinged with sensationalism, and many of them contain no context to enable the reader to understand what is being reported in terms of the severity of the problem. For instance:
Readings reported on Tuesday showed a spike of radioactivity around the plant that made the leakage categorically worse than in had been, with radiation levels measured at one point as high as 400 millisieverts an hour. Even 7 minutes of exposure at that level will reach the maximum annual dose that a worker at an American nuclear plant is allowed. And exposure for 75 minutes would likely lead to acute radiation sickness.
Yes, but what does that mean outside the plant? And, how many millisieverts an hour do we naturally absorb just going about our daily lives. Both of those answers would help the reader assess the real danger of such radiation levels.
What you’ll find is that if you take an airplane and fly from say Atlanta to Chicago at 39,000 feet, you can expect to absorb 2 millirems of radiation.
So how does that convert to millisieverts? You math whiz types can figure it out here with these conversion factors:
- 1 rem = 10-2 sievert (Sv)
- 1 millirem (mrem) = 10-5 sievert (Sv)
- 1 millisievert (mSv) = 10-3 sievert (Sv)
- 1 millisievert (mSv) = 0.1 rem
To help others, 1 millisieverts equals 100 millirems. And 1 Sievert equals 1000 millisieverts. To give you an idea of what the number above means in millisieverts (mSv), we typically absorb 6.2 mSv per year in the US.
Now that number has some context and you can relate it to the danger outlined above.
As to the effect. Here’s a good table outlining the effects of different levels of absorption:
- 0–0.25 Sv: None
- 0.25–1 Sv: Some people feel nausea and loss of appetite; bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen damaged.
- 1–3 Sv: Mild to severe nausea, loss of appetite, infection; more severe bone marrow, lymph node, spleen damage; recovery probable, not assured.
- 3–6 Sv: Severe nausea, loss of appetite; hemorrhaging, infection, diarrhea, skin peels, sterility; death if untreated.
- 6–10 Sv: Above symptoms plus central nervous system impairment; death expected.
- Above 10 Sv: Incapacitation and death.
So given the information above, 3 hours at 400 mSv is equivalent to 1.2 Sv. It’s recoverable but with damage.
As for exposure outside the plant – the levels of radiation drop sharply away from the plant. So those in the most danger, obviously, are those within the plant trying to contain the problem. Reports say that most of the plant workers have been evacuated and about 50 continue to battle the problems in the reactors. Where the problem for the public may occur is if there is a release of radioactive clouds of steam, or through explosions that eject material (think dirty bomb). And naturally much of the impact would be determined by wind direction. If it is blowing directly east over the ocean, the cloud would do much less harm than if it blew west over populated areas of Japan. Additionally, the materials effect would dissipate as the cloud expanded and traveled. The possibility of any significant amount of radiation reaching the US, for instance, is not particularly high.
Finally, this article by the NYT is actually a good one for background about the problems the Japanese face and the possible outcomes. For once, they attempt to keep the reporting less sensational and more focused on relating facts.
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Of course anyone who is a student of politics knew this was coming. The anti-nuclear crowd, mostly found on the left, couldn’t wait to politicize the earthquake disaster in Japan and call for a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction.
Not that we’ve had a single nuclear power plant constructed here in the US for decades. But this is a call to kill any nascent plans for building any new plants. Right on schedule the expected reaction attempts to build public opinion against nuclear power by invoking "scare" rhetoric. The culprit is Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA):
“I am shocked by the devastation that has already been caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It is heart-breaking to see the destruction that has already taken place, and to hear of so many people being killed or injured,” said Rep. Markey. “As a result of this disaster, the world is now facing the looming threat of a possible nuclear meltdown at one of the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors. I hope and pray that Japanese experts can successfully bring these reactors under control and avert a Chernobyl-style disaster that could release large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment.”
“I am also struck by the fact that the tragic events now unfolding in Japan could very easily occur in the United States. What is happening in Japan right now shows that a severe accident at a nuclear power plant can happen here," said Rep. Markey.
No Rep. Markey, they couldn’t "very easily … happen here". And while it is obvious the 8.9 quake that hit Japan has severely damaged the Japanese nuclear power plants, it isn’t at all clear that they won’t be able to contain the damage or that a similar accident is bound to happen here.
The Heritage Foundation lays out a few of the salient facts
* The low levels of radiation currently being released will likely have no biological or environmental impact. Humans are constantly exposed to background radiation that likely exceeds that being released.
* The Chernobyl disaster was caused by an inherent design problem and communist operator error that is not present at any of the nuclear plants in Japan.
* There were no health impacts from any of the radiation exposure at Three Mile Island.
* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not need to regulate more in response to this. It already regulates enough.
* The plant in trouble in Japan is over 40 years old. Today’s designs are far more advanced. * No one has ever been injured, much less killed, as a result of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.
Obviously those represent the facts at this time when talking about the Japanese reactors and could change. However the other facts stand. Chernobyl was the nuclear industry’s Deep Horizon. A one-off occurrence that the Chicken Little’s of this world, coupled with other anti-nuclear groups, have used for years to oppose the expansion of nuclear generated power. And they plan on trying to add Japan’s troubles to the litany of opposition.
As you might expect, Markey has proposed – wait for it – a moratorium on siting “new nuclear reactors in seismically active areas”. Any guess who will get to define “seismically active area”? We have earthquakes everywhere in this country with most of them being so minor they’re not even felt. Does that qualify for a “seismically active area”?
Let’s not forget that this earthquake Japan suffered along with the resultant tsunami was massive and extremely rare. In fact, it is the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history. The largest earthquake recorded in American history occurred in 1964 off Prince William sound in Alaska coming in at 9.2. Below, on the map, are the top 15 earthquakes recorded in the US since 1872 (7.3 or above). The year they occurred is by the marker. As you can see they’re mostly centered in California with a few here and there in other areas of the US. South Carolina, for instance, hasn’t see a quake of that size since 1886 – over 100 years. Missouri not since 1812:
Let’s also not forget that Japan has suffered 275 aftershocks of 5 point or greater. In fact, since the quake, Japan is averaging 12 to 15 aftershocks per hour. That too hampers rescue and recovery efforts as well as the efforts to contain the damage at the nuclear sites.
To give you an appreciation of the magnitude of difference between the numbers on the Richter scale measurement of an earthquake, a “5” equals about 474 metric tons of TNT exploding. A “6” is 15 kilotons. A “7” is 474 kilotons. An “8” equals 15 megatons. And an 8.9 is approximately 356 megatons. The “Tsar Bomba”, the largest thermonuclear weapon ever tested, was a 50 megaton device coming in at 8.35 on the Richter scale.
That gives you an idea of the power of the Japanese quake.
Does anyone anticipate that in the vast majority of the continental US? Of course not. Is there a history of those sorts of quakes. Again, for the vast majority of the country, the answer is “no.” For Japan the answer is quite different. The islands lay on the “Pacific rim of fire”, one of the most earthquake and volcano prone areas in the world.
But that won’t stop the scare mongers from trying to gin up a movement to not just place a moratorium on “seismically active areas”, but eventually to all areas of the country.
“Seismically safe” will become the new watchword for the anti-nuke crowd. And I predict that regardless of the design, they’ll find all of them to be wanting.
“The unfolding disaster in Japan must produce a seismic shift in how we address nuclear safety here in America,” said Rep. Markey.
No, it shouldn’t. And we shouldn’t let alarmists like Markey steal a step on nuclear energy. We have the means and the technology to provide safe nuclear power generation. It should proceed with an obvious eye on the safety of such plants. But we do not need to let the scare mongers use this lifeboat incident, this outlier scenario, as a means of slowing or stopping our move to more nuclear powered energy.
We ought to be saying, “split, baby, split”. Split here and split now.
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