The earth is greening and 16 other comments on climate hysteria
By Simon Rozendaal
(Translation from his article in Netherlands Elsevier’s weekly Magazine, January 21st, 2017, with author’s permission)
In fact vegetation is thriving, figures for wind power are misleading, “sinking” islands are not sinking, safer nuclear energy is in the offing, and more that can be said loudly now that there is a real climate skeptic in the White House.
When Donald Trump was elected as president of the United States of America, the first thing that the Dutch media reported with unconcealed revulsion was that he was a ‘climate skeptic’.
The exact nature of this exotic species may not have been immediately clear to the reader or viewer of the Dutch media, because climate skeptics are consistently being ignored by them. But everyone should understand that it is something awful – even worse than a populist.
In Europe, and certainly in the Netherlands, global warming is seen as a threat, outclassing all other threats, viewed as being even much more dangerous than the rise of Islamic terrorism. One doesn’t need to be a fan of Donald Trump to frown upon this presumption.
Skeptics have been mislabeled
Much of what people daily hear about climate and climate skeptics is demonstrably wrong. The climate adviser to former President Barack Obama, Steven Koonin, tried in 2014 to infuse some nuance into the debate by arguing in The Wall Street Journal that the science is not unambiguous: not all experts believe global warming is caused entirely by man.
Nor is it certain that the current, fairly mild warming will continue unconstrained in the coming decades. What is certain is that the earth is rapidly greening, courtesy of the infamous carbon dioxide (CO2). And that’s just one of the many comments one could make on climate hysteria.
Ice melting everywhere, but not around Antarctica
Sea ice around Antarctica is growing by about 1.5 percent per decade. Even the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the climate panel of the United Nations), which hardly ever shies away from a little exaggeration – confirms this in its reports.
The most likely explanation – presented by Richard Bintanja of the Netherlands Royal Met Office (KNMI) – is that the melting of the ice caps on the main land of Antarctica produces a layer of fresh water on the surrounding seawater. According to the laws of physics fresh water freezes more quickly than seawater. Therefore, we sprinkle salt on our roads in winter. Thus, warming may lead to more ice. If this theory is correct, this phenomenon should disappear over thirty years, so that the sea ice would melt at the Antarctic as well.
The Earth isn’t out of whack
> The land area of the Marshall Islands – a chain of volcanic atolls in the Pacific Ocean – is not sinking, but rising. The sea level rise is offset by the washing ashore of sand.
> The rate at which the concentration of CO2 increases in the atmosphere, has slowed down since 2000. Presumably, as has been published in Nature Communications a few months ago, because plants absorb more carbon dioxide from the air.
> The same magazine also recently stated that the carbon stored in peat and bogs, is contained more firmly than previously thought. The probability that global warming will reach a tipping point because this carbon is released from the peat and swamp methane (which causes a 28 times stronger greenhouse effect than CO2) is small.
10 the cost to put man on the moon for 0.17 Celsius
Critics claim that the Netherlands Energy Agreement [comparable with the Energiewende in Germany], which aims at a share of 16 percent renewable energy by 2023, will cost 100 billion euros — more than a couple of major projects together, such as the Delta Works, the Betuwe railway, the tunnel under the Green Heartland and the acquisition of JSF fighter plane.
The annual costs of the international climate agreement, concluded in Paris last year, is estimated to be between $ 1,000 and $ 2,000 billion. In comparison: the man-on-the-moon-program cost in today’s value approximately $100 billion. On the Manhattan Project, which produced the American atomic bomb, 24 billion was spent (adjusted for inflation).
That means that international climate policy costs each year ten times more than the man-on-the-moon-program and the development of the atomic bomb together. If climate policy intentions come true, the result will be only a net 0.17 degrees less warming by 2050, as has been calculated by the Danish (skeptical) environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg, founder of the think tank ‘Copenhagen Consensus Center’.
This enormous expenditure will not only affect the wallets of citizens, but also the environment. After all, economic growth in the second half of the twentieth century, did not only produce more disposable income for many, but also generated the money to tackle the pollution of forty years ago.
Geed news: the earth 14% greener than 1980
The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased from 280 ppm (parts per million) in 1800 to over 400 now. In percentage terms this rise looks less scary: from 0.028 to 0.04 percent of the total atmosphere.
This increase does not only have negative consequences. To the contrary, plants convert sunlight using CO2 into carbohydrates which become part of their mass. For them, carbon dioxide is a yearned-for fertilizer. The increase in carbon dioxide has greened the earth, said Ranga Myneni of Boston University in a lecture in 2011. On the basis of satellite images he concluded that the earth had become 14 percent greener over the past thirty years. The increase manifests itself everywhere, even in arid regions such as the Sahel.
Myneni’s paper appeared in April last year in Nature Climate Change. 32 researchers from 24 international institutions had participated in the exercise. In 2011 Myneni still believed that the half of the increase in plant growth could be attributed to CO2.
Currently, he estimates that this figure should be 70 percent. One of his co-authors, Zaichun Zhu from Beijing University, points out that a green continent of the size of two times the U.S. has been added to the earth because of CO2 fertilization.
Bonus of warming outweighs the negative factors
The Dutch should know better than anybody else that plants love CO2. Since 2005 the Shell refinery in Pernis (near Rotterdam) supplies carbon dioxide to greenhouses in South Holland through pipelines. Thus, hundreds of Dutch growers can achieve higher yields.
The Swedish Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Svante Arrhenius, who more than a century ago was the first in the world who presented the theory of global warming, was also aware that an increase in CO2 would have beneficial effects.
In his book ‘Worlds in the Making’ (1908) he predicted that the earth would warm up and that agricultural yields would rise. As the discoverer of the greenhouse effect, this global greening was more important to him than global warming. He might haven been surprised to learn that today the reverse is the case. In fact, the positive effects haven been skillfully swept under the carpet.
Climate skeptics are being ignored, vilified and badgered by their universities
William Happer (77) is emeritus professor of physics at Princeton University (USA). He was dismissed in 1993 from the US Energy Department as Vice President Al Gore did not like his critical views. Greenpeace is conducting an ongoing slander campaign against Happer on the Internet.
Judith Curry (63), former professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology (USA), believes that there is some man-made global warming, but in her view the role of nature is dominant. A few weeks ago she resigned, partly because there is too much ‘insanity’ and ‘alarmism’ in climate science.
The Swedish Professor Lennart Bengtsson (81) was director of the European ECMWF weather bureau and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. In 2014 he joined the advisory council of skeptical Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). He became the target of an fierce orchestrated campaign of mud-slinging, and so he felt forced to withdraw from the council within two weeks.
A study by Roger Pielke Jr. (48), professor at the University of Colorado (USA), showed that the number of storms and hurricanes has not increased. Subsequently, Pielke – who believes that humans contribute to global warming – was so vilified that he has chosen a different field of research.
Trump: ‘Sometimes it gets warmer, sometimes cooler.’
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, is called a climate skeptic (in The New York Times even a ‘climate denier’). He has appointed several people in his cabinet, who are known to be climate skeptics.
He wants step out of the Paris’ climate agreement as soon as possible and said: ‘Sometimes it gets a little warmer, sometimes cooler.’ That is called weather. It has often been alleged that Trump said that man-made global warming was a Chinese fabrication. But it is ignored that he emphatically said that this was meant as a joke.
However, he did say: ‘I think climate change is just an expensive, very expensive way to raise more taxes.’
Many journalists are not objective about climate
Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the British newspaper The Guardian, said recently in an interview with NRC Handelsblad [a Dutch daily] that his newspaper had decided in 2014 to take action against climate change. The newspaper was campaigning against oil companies under the motto: ‘Keep it in the ground.’
Rusbridger, who is now at the University of Oxford, admits that his newspaper thereby clearly exceeded all boundaries of objectivity and independence, but in this case the goal justifies the means.
Jelmer Mommers, reporter on climate and energy for the internet newspaper ‘Correspondent’, says and writes repeatedly that objective reporting like the ‘old media’ is not a priority for him. With his articles he wants to contribute to the fight against global warming.
Henk Hagoort, until recently head of the Dutch Public Broadcasting Corporation, has admitted several times that he does not want objective reporting on climate. He thinks that the television network should encourage Dutch politicians to take urgent action against climate change. During a radio discussion Hagoort stated he refused to make programs that questioned the existence of a climate problem.
The many hidden costs of offshore wind
Offshore wind technology is progressing rapidly. For instance, Shell believes it can build wind farms that are profitable at 5.45 cents per kilowatt hour. Four years ago that figure was still 17 cents. Good news, partly because offshore wind blows twice as often and twice as hard. And partly because the learning curve leads to more efficient production.
And thus ‘only’ 300 million subsidy has to be spent on wind farms, cheers Minister Henk Kamp (minister of economic affairs, Classical Liberals, VVD). But it should be noted that, ultimately, the real price of major projects is often twice as high than the budgeted one. Also, the low price of offshore wind power is still well above the market price, which is now just over 3 cents, and will fall further below 2 cents according to experts.
The integration of wind power also requires additional investment. For example, the high-voltage network has to be improved and strengthened earlier than planned. Backup must be secured by gas plants that can quickly respond to rising demand when the wind is not blowing. Storage is required in case the wind blows, but there is no demand. The cost of all this is not attributed to wind, but ‘socialized’, i.e. passed on to the consumer.
Producers and government hold out false hopes of low electricity prices of wind power. But the reality in Denmark and Germany proves to be different, since electricity prices in these countries are among the highest in the world. It is nice that prices for wind power have fallen so rapidly, but in the mean time citizens will be facing rising energy bills by up to thousands of euros per year.
It’s like a salesman who tries to palm off a cooking-plate on you, a little bit more expensive, but very fashionable. Just before you leave the store, the friendly smiling man tells you: ‘You do realize, however, that you need to purchase a new set of cookware for this wonderful cooker?’ Oops! And just when you are about to leave the shop, he adds: ‘It is also advisable to buy a new extractor … indeed even a new kitchen.”
Fossil fuels are more subsidized than wind power
Mark Rutte (Netherlands Prime Minister, Classical Liberals, VVD) said in 2010 during the election campaign: ‘Wind turbines are not running on wind, but on subsidies.’ Proponents of wind are embarrassed by these comments. And so they reciprocate with the statement that fossil fuels are even more heavily subsidized.
In a sense this is true. But it is like comparing apples with oranges. In countries such as Venezuela, Indonesia and Mexico, poor people are being subsidized so that they can buy petrol.
In Western countries, the generation cost of electricity amounts to a few cents per kilowatt hour. However, in addition to all kinds of taxes and surcharges, the citizen has to pay 20 cents. These surcharges are partly explainable (transmission and distribution), but they also are in reality simple taxation. To promote the interests of national industry in international competition, these are excluded from these disguised taxes. Companies pay half the price for power than consumers.
It’s sloppy reasoning to compare these two forms of ‘subsidy’ with the subsidies to wind turbines, solar cells and electric cars, which are currently not (and maybe never) competitive without subsidies.
Back to prehistory: chop down trees. Green!
Most of the ‘green’ electricity generated in the Netherlands, does not come from wind turbines or solar cells, but from coal plants. In these plants so-called ‘biomass’ is mixed with coal. Wood pellets, the size of a suppository, constitute the major form of biomass.
Take the Amer-9-coal power plant in Geertruidenberg. It is even considering burning more wood pellets than coal. To that end, trees are being chopped and turned into wood pellets in the southern United States. Subsequently they are being transported in containers by ocean liners to Rotterdam and then by barges to Geertruidenberg via the Bergsche Maas.
The owner of the coal power plant, the German energy company RWE, will receive an estimated yearly subsidy of 1 billion euros. All this to achieve the renewable energy objectives of the Netherlands Energy Agreement.
This illustrates just how misguided energy policy has become under the influence of climate hysteria. Thus, the export of timber from the United States to the European Union has quadrupled in recent years. Wood – traditionally fuel of primitive societies – is back in Europe.
Today there are more polar bears than ever before
The polar bear is the favorite poster child of the melting of Arctic ice, as predicted by climate activist and former vice president Al Gore. He stated in 2009 that the Arctic would be ice-free in the summer of 2013. This would imply that the polar bear – which lives around the North Pole – would gradually become extinct.
The truth is that polar bears are doing fine. Of course, the bears suffer from melting sea ice and they have partly moved to more populated areas in Alaska and Canada to find food. But there are more polar bears than before. In 1966 there were only 10,000, now more than 25,000. According to the Canadian zoologist Susan Crockford, it is because the hunting of polar bears is better restricted than before. So hunting was a bigger problem than global warming.
Better nuclear energy is in the offing
Nuclear power is already safe and clean. Of all energy the atom is also the most energy intensive: a wheelbarrow uranium can generate as much electricity as an entire battery of wind farms in the North Sea. The problem is that so much misinformation has been disseminated that many people do not realize that although the nuclear energy does represent certain risks, it still has a very good safety record, despite Harrisburg, Chernobyl and Fukushima.
The good news is that there are new types in the offing (the thorium and the molten salt reactor) that are even safer. Even the environmental movement, traditionally a fierce opponent of nuclear energy, has to admit that it is not easy to come up with objections to the new nuclear power. The problem is that it will take another twenty years before various options become available.
Ideal transition fuel
Natural gas (and shale gas because that is the same substance: methane) produces 50% less CO2-emission than coal. So replacing oil and coal with natural gas is a good option to achieve reduction of CO2-emissions. Yet, in his recent Energy Agenda minister Henk Kamp (VVD) announces that new homes will not be connected to the gas grid and that existing homes will become gas free. All homes must be gas-free in 2050.
This is a bizarre decision. Because of its low CO2 emissions, easy and wide availability and relatively low price, natural gas is the ideal transition fuel to bridge the period until 2050 and even 2100, when alternative energy options (socially acceptable nuclear power, more efficient solar cells) will probably be competing without subsidy with cheap coal power.
How shale gas was thwarted
Shale gas has boosted the U.S. economy and made a major contribution to the decline of American CO2 emissions since 2007. In ‘Between pride and hysteria’ (2015), energy journalist Remco de Boer explained why shale gas did not succeed in the Netherlands. Some environmental activists were looking for a new issue, people living near drilling sites feared value losses of their homes, politicians and administrators had weak knees. De Boer on the ability of citizens to influence policy: ‘Three people with a banner and an alarming message in front of the town hall, attended by the local newspaper, and you have already made a lot of progress.’
Pinstripe activism versus multinationals
Climate activism is no longer confined to public demonstrations. They go to court (as the Dutch action group Urgenda did in 2015) or the stock market, such as the Dutch ‘Follow This’ (with 1,800 members and 6 million shares) and the British ‘Share Action’-groups. They are particularly targeting Shell.
The emergence of pinstripe activists as Mark van Baal (founder of ‘Follow This’) seems to have success. Shell, Unilever and pension fund ABP, are increasingly posing as green and sustainable businesses.
By some this is seen as an argument that wind and solar energy represent the future. But that’s nonsense. Earlier Shell has invested in nuclear energy, but stepped out of it again. Ditto for solar cells. Shell has invested in windmills and bio alcohol. It is putting bets on several horses and watching how the markets (read: subsidies) will develop.
It is above all green window-dressing with which multinationals adorn themselves. At a climate conference it was suggested that CEO Paul Polman of Unilever should have a chat with president Trump about sustainability. Yet, Unilever manufactured margarine with trans-fatty acids, which has caused many people to die prematurely. With its production of palm oil in Southeast Asia, Unilever has since contributed to the extinction of the orangutan. In an interview Polman advised people not to shower for too long, and in having done so, his company is now suddenly on record as being sustainable.
Relationship between CO2 and climate is not one-to-one
Even when our ancestors had no cars, there was climate change. CO2 is only one of many factors that drive the climate. This is evident from the graph that shows the relationship between CO2 and temperature since 1900.
The rise of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere shows a relatively straight line, but the temperature varies. From 1900 to 1940 it increased, between 1940 and 1970 it slightly declined, between 1970 and 1998 the temperature rose again, but since 1998 it seems to have stabilized, although alarmists try to ignore, deny or qualify this (‘at sea, the warming continues’, so they say).
When the temperature in 2015 and 2016 reached new highs – partly due to a strong El Niño, and a spike in periodically oscillating ocean currents – it was said that the warming was back again.
Now that El Niño is over (late 2016), the global temperature has dropped again and it is generally expected that 2017 will not break any records. All in all, it seems that global warming pause or hiatus has lasted now almost twenty years.
Keep a cool head – there is time to think.
The earth has indisputably warmed up. With the caveat that this process has been going on for nearly 20,000 years, since the last ice age. It accelerated since the Little Ice Age – the period from 1500 to 1800 – when Hendrick Avercamp and other masters of the Low Lands painted their famous winter scenes.
The human race had no impact on the alternation of ice ages and warm periods in the geological past. These processes were the result of the position of the Earth’s axis and oscillations in the orbit in which the Earth moves around the sun. Nor had our ancestors anything to do with the warming over the last few thousand years.
The period starting with 1900 is a different story. Then the warming was undoubtedly reinforced by the burning of fossil fuels. Almost everyone agrees on that. — even climate skeptics. It is not true that they deny the existence of global warming and the fact that man contributes to it.
The debate is about the share of man in global warming. The IPCC, the alarmist prone climate panel of the United Nations, concluded in a recent report: ‘It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in the surface temperature between 1951 and 2010 has been caused by man’. In other words, maybe almost half of the current warming was not caused by us.
The IPCC itself indicates that the science is not yet settled. Climate change is not black and white. Between ‘climate change is a fairytale disseminated by the Chinese’ and ‘the science is settled, leave those fossil fuels in the ground’, there are fifty shades of gray. Consequently, there is no justification for the current hysteria, whereby any kind of weather phenomenon is framed as evidence that the climate is upset and politicians of left and right, activists groups, multinationals and even generals, pretend that climate is world problem number 1, and so suggest that we could control weather with higher taxes.
Of course, ultimately we need to switch to non-fossil fuels. Yet we still have a lot of time to do so. For the moment it seems that the earth is more robust than the alarmists believe. For almost twenty years we are experiencing mild warming and CO2 appears to have a beneficial, greening effect.
There are plenty of reasons telling us that keeping a cool head is the reasonable thing to do.
Simon Rozendaal is a chemist (honorary member of the Royal Dutch Society of Chemists, KNCV), and has been writing on science for over forty years, first for NRC Handelsblad and for Elsevier, the leading Dutch weekly news magazine, for thirty years now.