Saturday, December 16, 2017

GWPF Newsletter: Global Ocean Cooling Continues

Global Ocean Temperatures Drop Back To Pre El Nino Levels

In this newsletter:

1) Global Ocean Cooling Continues 
Ron Clutz, Science Matters, 11 December 2017
2) Walter Russell Mead: Fracking Our Way To Mideast Peace
The Wall Street Journal, 12 December 2017

3) After Millions Were Fooled: What (Nearly) Everybody Got Wrong About That Starving Polar Bear
Tristin Hopper, National Post, 12 December 2017 
4) Matt Ridley: Blue Planet II Was Superb, Save A Few Fishy Facts
The Times, 11 December 2017
5) John Constable: Electric Vehicles And Climate Policies
GWPF Energy, 12 December 2017

Full details:

1) Global Ocean Cooling Continues 
Ron Clutz, Science Matters, 11 December 2017

The global cooling trend since the 2015/16 El Nino peak has resumed

HadSST is generally regarded as the best of the global SST data sets, and so the temperature story here comes from that source, the latest version being HadSST3.

The chart below shows SST monthly anomalies as reported in HadSST3 starting in 2015 through November 2017.

After a steep drop in September, October temps bumped upward in response. The rise was led by anomaly increases of about 0.06 in both the Tropics and SH, compared to drops of about 0.20 the previous month. NH was virtually the same as September.

Global average anomaly changed as much as the Tropics and SH, but remained lower than the three previous Octobers.

Now in November, the downward trend has resumed. As will be shown in the analysis below, 0.4C has been the average global anomaly since 1995.

A longer view of SSTs

The graph below  is noisy, but the density is needed to see the seasonal patterns in the oceanic fluctuations. Previous posts focused on the rise and fall of the last El Nino starting in 2015.  This post adds a longer view, encompassing the significant 1998 El Nino and since. The color schemes are retained for Global, Tropics, NH and SH anomalies.  Despite the longer time frame, I have kept the monthly data (rather than yearly averages) because of interesting shifts between January and July.

Click on image for clearer details.

1995 is a reasonable starting point prior to the first El Nino. The sharp Tropical rise peaking in 1998 is dominant in the record, starting Jan. ’97 to pull up SSTs uniformly before returning to the same level Jan. ’99.  For the next 2 years, the Tropics stayed down, and the world’s oceans held steady around 0.2C above 1961 to 1990 average.

Then comes a steady rise over two years to a lesser peak Jan. 2003, but again uniformly pulling all oceans up around 0.4C.  Something changes at this point, with more hemispheric divergence than before. Over the 4 years until Jan 2007, the Tropics go through ups and downs, NH a series of ups and SH mostly downs.  As a result the Global average fluctuates around that same 0.4C, which also turns out to be the average for the entire record since 1995.

2007 stands out with a sharp drop in temperatures so that Jan.08 matches the low in Jan. ’99, but starting from a lower high. The oceans all decline as well, until temps build peaking in 2010.

Now again a different pattern appears.  The Tropics cool sharply to Jan 11, then rise steadily for 4 years to Jan 15, at which point the most recent major El Nino takes off.  But this time in contrast to ’97-’99, the Northern Hemisphere produces peaks every summer pulling up the Global average.  In fact, these NH peaks appear every July starting in 2003, growing stronger to produce 3 massive highs in 2014, 15 and 16, with July 2017 only slightly lower.  Note also that starting in 2014 SH plays a moderating role, offsetting the NH warming pulses. (Note: these are high anomalies on top of the highest absolute temps in the NH.)

What to make of all this? The patterns suggest that in addition to El Ninos in the Pacific driving the Tropic SSTs, something else is going on in the NH.

Full post

2) Walter Russell Mead: Fracking Our Way To Mideast Peace
The Wall Street Journal, 12 December 2017

Whatever you think of President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it points to the most important strategic reality in the Middle East: Arab power has collapsed in the face of low oil prices and competition from American frackers.

The devastating oil-price shocks of the 1970s, orchestrated by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, nearly wrecked the world economy. Ever since, the U.S. has looked for ways to break OPEC’s parasitic and rent-seeking grip on the oil market—and thereby to reduce America’s geopolitical vulnerability to events in the Middle East.

Victory did not come easily. Intense conservation efforts made the U.S. much more energy-efficient. New oil discoveries in Africa and elsewhere significantly broadened the available supply. Renewable energy sources added to the diversification. But the most decisive development was that decades of public and private research and investment unleashed an American oil-and-gas boom, leading to a revolution in energy markets that has sent geopolitical shocks through world affairs.

The consequences reverberate in the Middle East and beyond. Future oil revenues to countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Russia and Iraq will fall trillions of dollars short of what once might have been expected. The shift in energy markets will benefit consumer economies like Japan, China, India and the nations of the European Union. The U.S. and similarly situated nations, like Australia and Canada, can look forward to faster growth and greater foreign investment, since they will capture much of the oil revenue that Russia and OPEC lose.

Low energy prices already have given the EU’s struggling southern countries a chance to return to growth. They have limited Russia’s prospects and forced Vladimir Putin onto a tight budget. They have largely offset the gains Iran had hoped to make from signing the nuclear deal and escaping Western sanctions.

But the greatest consequences are being felt in the Arab world, where the long-term decline in oil revenues threatens the stability of many states. It is not only the oil producers that will suffer; the prosperous Gulf economies have been a major source of opportunity for Egyptians, Pakistanis, Palestinians and many other Middle Easterners.

The shining cities that rise where the desert meets the Gulf may be in for harder times. The sheikhdoms’ glassy skyscrapers, gleaming malls and opulent apartment complexes were conceived for a world in which runaway energy demand and limited sources (remember “peak oil”?) led to inexorably rising prices. These fragile and artificial economies require hothouse conditions that a weakened OPEC can no longer provide. Now the great Gulf Bubble seems set to slowly deflate.

There’s more. The staggering affluence of the Gulf countries during the OPEC era concealed the Arab world’s failure to develop states and economies capable of competing effectively in the 21st century. As their dream of revival through oil riches fades, they are waking to a new era of weakness and dependency.

The Gulf states increasingly see Israel not as an insect to be crushed by resurgent Arab power, but as a lion that can defend them from Iran. Syria, once a citadel of Arab nationalism, now haplessly hosts Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish forces that the Assad dynasty can neither control nor evict.

Arab diplomats, lobbyists and financiers must brace for more bad news: As the declining long-term prospects of the OPEC states become apparent, their diplomatic and economic influence across the West can be expected to wane even further.

Many analysts look at the frustrations of America’s policy in the Middle East and conclude that the U.S. is in retreat and hegemonic decline. That misses the deeper truth. American diplomacy has had its share of failures, but the region is now being fundamentally reshaped by drillers in Texas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and elsewhere.

Even with OPEC’s hold broken, the Middle East will remain a problem for American policy. Moreover, not all the consequences of OPEC’s decline are good. In the short term, Russia and Iran are likely to double down on adventurous foreign policies as a way of distracting their populations from the tough challenges ahead. Instability in America’s key Gulf allies and in Egypt could create major headaches for the U.S.

Nevertheless, reducing OPEC’s ability to capture rents, while forcing more corrupt petrostate oligarchies to contemplate reform, is likely over time to reduce both the costs and the risks of American foreign policy. This is what winning looks like.

Mr. Mead is a fellow at the Hudson Institute and a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College.

3) After Millions Were Fooled: What (Nearly) Everybody Got Wrong About That Starving Polar Bear
Tristin Hopper, National Post, 12 December 2017 

Dubbed the ‘Face of Climate Change,’ a starving polar bear photographed in Canada’s Arctic might have nothing to do with climate change

Image of an emaciated Baffin Island polar bear trumped around the world as evidence of the horrors of climate change. The truth, however, isn’t nearly as clearcut. Cristina Mittermeier/SeaLegacy

It is likely one of the most widely viewed images that is going to emerge from Canada all year: An emaciated polar bear digging through garbage that was quickly branded around the world as proof of the ecological horrors of climate change. Even Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, wrote in a tweet: “THIS is what climate change looks like.”

But ask the people who actually spend their time around polar bears — Arctic biologists and the Inuit — and it quickly emerges that all is not what it seems.

The bear might have been injured or diseased

“The video shows what appears to be an old male in declining health, but clear clinical signs of starvation aren’t obvious (e.g. convulsions),” said longtime polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher in an email. In a series of tweets, Arctic wildlife biologist Jeff Higdon similarly speculated that the animal could be suffering from an aggressive form of bone cancer. “That bear is starving, but (in my opinion) it’s not starving because the ice suddenly disappeared and it could no longer hunt seals,” he wrote, noting that bears routinely survive long stretches of ice-free water during the summer.

“It’s far more likely that it is starving due to health issues,” he added. However, noted University of Alberta polar bear researcher Ian Stirling disputed that it was an older bear, pointing out the lack of scarring around the animal’s neck. In an email, Stirling added that it’s impossible to know for sure what caused the bear’s emaciation, but it “is what a starving bear would look like, regardless of the cause.”

The bear lives in an area where populations are doing well

Climate change is definitely very bad for the future of polar bears. As Stirling said, “more instances of starvation will be inevitable” if polar bears don’t have ice to use as a hunting platform. But for the time being, disappearing ice is having varied effects on Canadian polar bears. Depending on where they live, some bears are getting utterly decimated, while others are thriving. Notably, the emaciated polar bear quite likely lives in an area where polar bears are doing rather well. According to data collected by the federal government, polar bears along the entire west coast of Baffin Island are “stable.” On the southeastern side of the island (around the Nunavut capital of Iqaluit) polar bears have even experienced a “likely increase.” It’s only on the island’s northeastern corner — in a management area that meets Greenland — that polar bears are suspected to be in decline.

Emaciated polar bears are not a new thing

A caribou or a moose is never allowed to get this skinny: Long before it gets close to starvation, a predator has usually  turned them into a meal. But if a polar bear doesn’t drown or get shot, it’s most likely going to end up looking like the bear in the photo. “Polar bears, they don’t have natural enemies, so when they die, it’s of starvation,” Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, said in 2015. And, like many other bears, such as the grizzly, polar bears sometimes go through dramatic cycles of feast and famine. “Bears can respond to improved conditions: We’ve followed bears that went from bone racks to obese over a few months,” said Derocher. Niko Inuarak lives in Pond Inlet, NU and comes from a family of hunters and guides. He said his father Charlie was “not baffled to see a polar bear in that state” and had seen it often before. In fact, the elder Inuarak had once spotted “two polar bears together one very healthy and the other bear showing the same behaviour as in the video footage,” said Niko by email.

Activists captured these photos

These images aren’t the work of a scientist, an impartial documentarian or even a concerned bystander. They are part of a very calculated public relations exercise by SeaLegacy, an organization whose stated purpose is to capture photos that drive “powerful conservation wins.” The group dispatched five expeditions in 2017, all with the goal to “trigger public and policy support for sustainable ocean solutions.” Terry Audla is a past president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an advocacy organization representing all Canadian Inuit. In a Sunday tweet, he called the photos a “stunt” that represented a “complete disservice to climate change science.” SeaLegacy’s social media posts about the bear also failed to mention that the images were taken in August, when ice cover naturally disappears from many polar bear habitats.

Full post

see also Susan Crockford:  Bioscience paper and starving polar bear follow-up

4) Matt Ridley: Blue Planet II Was Superb, Save A Few Fishy Facts
Matt Ridley, The Times, 11 December 2017

The BBC show was right to preach about plastics and pollution but misleading about ocean acidification and melting ice

Nothing that Hollywood sci-fi screenwriters dream up for outer space begins to rival the beauty and ingenuity of life under water right here. Blue Planet II captured behaviour that was new to science as well as surprising: giant trevally fish eating sooty terns on the wing; Galapagos sea lions herding yellowfin tuna ashore; an octopus wrapping itself in shells to confuse sharks.

The series also preached. Every episode had a dose of bad news about the ocean and a rebuke to humanity, while the entire last episode was devoted to the environmental cause, featuring overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. The team behind the incomparable Sir David Attenborough has acceded to demands that it should push more environmentalism.

Mostly, these sermons were spot on. It is a scandal that eight million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean every year, though 95 per cent of it comes from just ten rivers, all in Asia and Africa, so that’s where the main effort is needed. Plastic kills albatross chicks and even whales. […]

Why are there still so few killer whales, bottlenose dolphins and great white sharks in European waters, now that seal numbers have hugely increased? There is only one resident pod of killer whales in British waters, and it is dwindling, with no calves born for years.

The answer came when one of those killer whales died recently, a female called Lulu. Her blubber had one of the highest concentrations of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) ever recorded: over 900mg per kg, 100 times what is considered safe. A study of stranded killer whales and bottlenose dolphins in European waters found “PCB levels that markedly exceeded all known marine mammal PCB toxicity thresholds”.

Being at the top of the food chain, these mammals concentrate PCBs in their fat and it renders them sterile (killer whales that eat fish, rather than seals, are doing better). PCBs were used mainly in electrical equipment until they were banned in the 1980s. Off America, this problem is fading: PCB levels have fallen and animals have “offloaded” the pollutants in milk, such that after several births they can bear and feed healthy calves. PCB levels in European waters fell but have now stabilised, implying that they are still getting into the sea somehow.

I was glad to see these issues given more attention, at last, than global warming, having long argued that the obsession with climate change (increasingly recognised as gradual) is diverting attention and money from more urgent environmental issues such as overfishing, pollution and invasive species.

It was good, too, to hear Attenborough’s recognition, rare on the BBC, that we are living through an unexpectedly bountiful renaissance in some marine ecosystems. Too often we are told only the bad news.

The last episode featured the recovery of turtles, as well as the resurgent herring, killer whales and humpback whales of Norway, and the vast concentrations of sperm whales now being seen for the first time since the era of Moby Dick. Many populations of sperm, right, grey, bowhead, fin, blue and humpback whales are now high again, and rising at 5 to 10 per cent a year, something I never dreamt would happen in my lifetime. […]

So it was naughty of Blue Planet II, in showing a sequence in which a mother and calf walrus desperately try to find a bit of ice big enough to bear their weight but not already occupied by other walruses, to imply that this was evidence of climate change threatening a species with extinction. Most of the ice in the Arctic Ocean disappears each summer and reappears each winter. Walruses have hauled out on shore, or on what’s left of the ice at that season, forever. The main thing that has changed is that there are now more walruses, and more polar bears feasting on them, throughout the Arctic.

So the climate change obsession is still sometimes getting in the way of telling the truth. The most dishonest sequence in the series was when Attenborough watched shells dissolving in a tank of acid, to a soundtrack of fizzing noises, and was told by Professor Chris Langdon that although this was “more dramatic than what’s happening in the oceans”, nonetheless “the shells and the reefs are really truly dissolving”.

This is highly misleading in several different ways. Was it carbonic acid, or another acid? The reduction in alkalinity will get nowhere near neutral, let alone actual acidity, even by the end of the 22nd century, so “dissolving” is false, let alone happening now. The changes in ocean pH expected even by the end of this century are minuscule compared with what was shown in that tank, and by comparison with the daily and seasonal changes that an average reef experiences. (Coral bleaching, a different issue, is more serious, but more temporary.)

A 2010 analysis of 372 studies of 44 different marine species found that the world’s marine fauna is “more resistant to ocean acidification than suggested by pessimistic predictions” and that it “may not be the widespread problem conjured into the 21st century”.

And recent work has established that corals’ ability to make skeletons is “largely independent of changes in seawater carbonate chemistry, and hence ocean acidification”. Indeed, one study found that calcifying plankton “respond positively to acidification with CO2enrichment”, another that the growth rate of corals also increases with higher carbon dioxide.

The producers of Blue Planet II claim every word of the commentary was based on solid scientific evidence. Not in this case. In a magnificent series, they got that one wrong.

Full post & comments

5) John Constable: Electric Vehicles And Climate Policies
GWPF Energy, 12 December 2017

Dr John Constable: GWPF Energy Editor

The pace at which transport is electrified is deeply uncertain, but, in spite of apparent excitement in government circles, departmental expectations for reduction in oil demand resulting from electrification are moderate up until 2030, with great uncertainty thereafter. 

Part of this uncertainty results from the unknown speed at which Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) will develop, something not under governmental control, and part from the high cost of electricity resulting from climate policies. The Autumn Budget of 2017 has shown real willingness to limit policy costs, but a determination to cut costs may be required to accelerate the uptake of Electric Vehicles (EVs).

I have just returned from a week in Tokyo, giving talks about British energy policy. One topic that I did not raise in my presentations, but came up repeatedly in discussion with Japanese analysts was the strength and sincerity of the promise by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, to phase out non-electric vehicles. – I was asked several times “Will the UK actually try do this, and on time?”

The answer, as it seems to me, is that while the UK government may not meet its timetable, it will try to do so, and that the interest in this technology is sincere. It is, of course, perfectly correct to make some discount to the announcement on account of Mr Gove’s own political needs, but electric vehicles are genuinely promising by virtue of the fact that the electrification of any process is intrinsically interesting and all but certainly desirable.

Moreover, air quality in British cities has long compared unfavourably with that in other developed countries, Japan for example, which, unlike the EU, rejected diesels for personal transport and restricts their use in urban areas even for the delivery of goods (there are very strict “No Idling” regulations).

Electrification of some transport would make a real difference, and would probably be popular with a British public, Leavers and Remainers alike, well aware that the enthusiasm for diesels was an EU policy that in the context of the VW scandal looks not only misguided but corrupt.

But what are the realistic prospects for international and domestic growth in EVs? Some indications towards an answer can be found in the UK government’s Fossil Fuel Price Projections (30.11.17), which include a useful synthetic chart bringing together various predictions of EV displacement of oil consumption:

Figure 1: Crude oil displacement from Electric Vehicles, worldwide. Source: BEIS, Fossil Fuel Price Assumptions (2017), p. 10. BEIS cites its sources as: “Analysis on BNEF New Energy Outlook 2016, IEA 2016 World Energy Outlook, McKinsey Global Energy Perspective 2016 presentation, Carbon Tracker “Expect the Unexpected” report, BP 2017 Energy Outlook.”

Up until 2030 the various studies see a reduction of no more than 4mb/d, comparing with predicted global demand at that time of between 90 and 109mb/d. This is, obviously, a modest reduction, and the Department of Business quite understandably comments:

Even under the most optimistic scenarios BEIS sees no evidence that in 2030 the volume of crude oil displaced is sufficient to completely reshape the outlook for 2030 prices.

After 2025 the most salient feature of the estimates is the degree to which they diverge. One should infer from this that there is deep uncertainty. That is hardly surprising but pleasant to have in solid form.

Behind this uncertainty are at least two major factors. Firstly, the difficulty in predicting the speed at which Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) become safe and attractive in the market. To be really successful, EVs will have to be AVs, vehicles that can deliver their passengers then take themselves to centralised charging points with dedicated high capacity grid connections, thus avoiding the high cost cost of reinforcing local distribution networks to permit domestic charging.

Secondly, and much more problematic for the electrification of transport, amongst other activities, is the fact that climate policies put such a heavy burden on the electricity sector by mandating renewable generation, the higher costs of which imply a slower pace of electrification in all sectors, including transport.

This awkward situation will be a demanding test of governmental commitment to EVs, to say nothing of Mr Gove’s sincerity. If there is an electric future for road transport, it will require cheap electricity. In spite of the Autumn Budget’s determination to prevent the creation of new subsidies, current policies will not deliver such an outcome. Firmer action dealing with the costs of the existing policies will be required.

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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