May 23, 2010

Peter Bonk at the 4th ICCC - Monday, Part II: Pointlessly Expensive Energy Policies; the Importance of Being Unearnest; In Defense of Proxy Measurements

Engaged Citizen

The second half of the morning gets seriously wonkish.

I enjoyed the presentation from Mike Jungbauer, a State Senator from Minnesota ("Come for the weather, stay for the taxes") whom I had met at the 2nd ICCC in NYC last year. He describes the costs of many of the regulations in his home state: one example is the $1.55/month charge on utility bills and the over $1 billion spent to retrofit the three coal fired power plants in the state to reduce mercury emissions which, due to uncontrolled activity in other parts of the world, "does not fix anything".

Another example: The fees utilities pay for dry cask storage of nuclear waste at the two nuclear power plants in the state raise millions of dollars each year, and the money goes to fund renewable energy projects. And the situation will continue even though the current administration has shuttered the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Depository site in Nevada.

Like Rhode Island and its Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Minnesota has its regional compact, the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Accord, which requires an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050.

Senator Jungbauer’s conclusions should sound familiar to Rhode Island residents:

We live in a Global Economy

Money always seeks its highest return

High taxes do not change habits

You can get people to relocate (high net worth people leave the state)

Government seldom gets it right

Indeed there is a depressing similarity to the problems that Minnesota and Rhode Island share.

Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Marc Moreno of Climate Depot finish off the morning in the public policy track.

It is this assault on freedom that has Horner all wound up; this same issue animates much of the Tea Party movement and its opposition to Cap and Trade. Many Tea Party supporters have made their way to Chicago this week. Lord Christopher Monckton closes the conference on this same theme in a remarkably emotional speech (more on this later).

Horner pulls no punches and describes how "global warming" is not about global warming; the Issue is not the Issue. It is about control of energy and power over the lives of people, an attempt to regulate and control all aspects of behavior and life. For Horner, it is the all too familiar story of totalitarianism over the ages, playing out yet again, at a country near you. It’s all there in the works of those promoting it; no conspiracy theory is needed.

Morano is the over the top, self appointed court jester of global warming realists, and the loud, lurid headlines at his website, reminiscent of the early Drudge Report, are off putting to some. He holds nothing back during his high energy evangelization, complete with a few "Hallelujahs" thrown in for good measure.

No politician that ever made a silly statement about global warming is spared, and the crowd is enjoying Morano’s righteous indignation as the litany continues, relishing the amazing turn of events of the last year or so.

Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT was one of the lunch speakers and gave a dispassionate, professorial description of the limits on how much influence CO2 can have on climate. Later in the afternoon, some people I talk to whine that his presentation was too dull and technical. Linzen is a well respected by folks on both sides of the global warming issue, a contributor to the IPCC reports, and his science cannot be easily dismissed.

Later in the day, I attend a presentation on 18O/16O isotope ratios from moss stems taken from core samples of the slight hillocks found in bogs near Ottawa by Professor Tim Patterson of Carleton University. This detailed work requires amazing precision and care to coax out the desired information. This isotope ratio is a proxy for temperature, and the study tries to determine what the temperatures were over the last 5000 years or so. Professor Patterson’s talk followed a related study by Dr. Helen Roe of Queens University, Belfast UK that looked at organisms as proxies for temperature in Irish Peatlands.

“Proxies”, measuring one thing and inferring another from a known correlation, usually based on more basic scientific principles, are common in this science. It is at this level of detailed, carefully planned and executed work that scientists have a kinship, no matter what their thoughts may be on the Big Issue. Work at this level is questioned and defended every day as part of the process, and is the forge where scientific truth is hammered into being.

All scientists know how hard the work can be, with stated and implied assumptions. It’s the reason most scientists speak conditionally, with caveats and qualifications. They know what they don’t know. Much of that innate caution goes by the wayside when science is morphed into public policy.

Peter Bonk resides in Westerly. A chemist by training and profession, he, along with millions of us, scientists and laymen, has been attempting to discern whether the core science supports the policy positions, enacted and proposed, that have evolved out of the debate on anthropogenic global warming.