Thursday, December 31, 2009

Uranium, Kazakhstan, and Fiction

My novel, The Lion and the Sun, starts with a prologue that describes how my protagonist, Daniel Conte, undertakes a mission to Ost-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, in the spring of 1993 to corroborate reports that the Ulb Metallugical Plant there has over 600 kilos of highly enriched uranium (HEU) stored in an essentially unsecured warehouse. The episode is based on fact. The actual mission to recover the HEU was code named "Project Sapphire," and was completed in November of 1994.
Fast forward. Iran now appears poised to import Kazak uranium ostensibly for use in its "peaceful" nuclear energy program. US officials have said repeatedly than Iran is developing the capability to create nuclear weapons. What is Iran's real purpose, building nuclear power plants, or building nuclear armed missiles? Read The Lion and the Sun, and you come away with a pretty good idea of what the answer is, but is it fact or fiction?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

On the third day before Christmas in 2008, the people living along the Emory River in East Tennessee were listening to songs about a "white Christmas" like everybody else in the country, trying to look forward and not back. A new president had been elected--that's what people were thinking about--after eight long years of war and unprecedented corruption, as well as the increasing economic hardship that was squeezing the middle class like a juggernaut.

Instead of a white Christmas, though, people like Steve Scarborough of the Dagger Kayak and Canoe Company woke up to a black-gray mess of epic proportions, a river full of toxic coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-fired power plant at Kingston, Tennessee.

Read about what's happening at the site now, here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jim Hansen speaks out on the East Anglia emails

The recent “success” of climate contrarians in using the pirated East Anglia e-mails to cast doubt on the reality of global warming seems to have energized other deniers. I am now inundated with broad FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for my correspondence, with substantial impact on my time and on others in my office. I believe these to be fishing expeditions, aimed at finding some statement(s), likely to be taken out of context, which they would attempt to use to discredit climate science.

By “success” I refer to their successful character assassination and swift-boating. My interpretation of the e-mails is that some scientists probably became exasperated and frustrated by contrarians – which may have contributed to some questionable judgment. The way science works, we must make readily available the input data that we use, so that others can verify our analyses.

Also, in my opinion, it is a mistake to be too concerned about contrarian publications – some bad papers will slip through the peer-review process, but overall assessments by the National Academies, the IPCC, and scientific organizations sort the wheat from the chaff.  The important point is that nothing was found in the East Anglia e-mails altering the reality and magnitude of global warming in the instrumental record. The input data for global temperature analyses are widely available, on our web site and elsewhere. If those input data could be made to yield a significantly different global temperature change, contrarians would certainly have done that – but they have not.

Dr James Hansen is a physicist, and adjunct professor for Earth and Environmental Sciences, at Columbia University, and Director at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Science. Outside the scientific community, Dr. Hansen is probably best known for accusing the Bush administration of trying to silence him after he gave a lecture in December 2005, calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Read Jim Hansen's entire article on the East Anglia e-mail incident here

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Secretary Chu Announces $3 Billion Investment for Carbon Capture and Sequestration

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced on December 4, 2009, the selection of three new projects with a value of $3.18 billion to accelerate the development of advanced coal technologies with carbon capture and storage at commercial-scale. Secretary Chu made the announcement on a conference call with West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, Senator Jay Rockefeller, and President of American Electric Power Company, Inc., Mike Morris. These projects will help to enable commercial deployment to ensure the United States has clean, reliable, and affordable electricity and power. An investment of up to $979 million, including funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be leveraged by more than $2.2 billion in private capital cost share as part of the third round of the Department’s Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI).

"By harnessing the power of science and technology, we can reduce carbon emissions and create new clean energy jobs. This investment is part of our commitment to advancing carbon capture and storage technologies to the point that widespread, affordable deployment can begin in eight to ten years," said Secretary Chu.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Underwear at the Copenhagen Climate Conference

The 2009 Climate Conference in Copehagen is nearing the end of its first week. Outside the conference center delegates were treated to a large group of young people dancing in their underwear.

Delegates say that the UN climate conference has advanced on texts on green technology transfer to developing countries and on the mechanisms to promote the use of forests to assimilate emissions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Large Hadron Collider

The new Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile loop underneath the Swiss-French border, accelerated protons to energies of 1.2 trillion electron volts apiece and then crashed them together, eclipsing a record for collisions held by an American machine, the Tevatron, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

Officials at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, which built the collider, said that the collisions lasted just a few minutes as a byproduct of testing. In conjunction with other recent successes, CERN displaced America as the leader in the art of banging subatomic particles together to uncover Nature's secrets.

The Large Hadron Collider is located 300 feet below the French-Swiss border outside Geneva. It is the world's biggest and most expensive particle accelerator, and is designed to accelerate the subatomic particles known as protons to energies of 7 trillion electron volts apiece and then smash them together to create tiny fireballs, recreating conditions that last prevailed when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old.

Until the Large Hadron Collider is fully operational, Fermilab’s Tevatron is still in the lead in the hunt for one of the collider’s main quarries, the Higgs boson, a particle that is thought to imbue other particles with mass.

Sarah Palin Snows the Public

Sarah Palin Snowing the Public
In his Wednesday, December 9, 2009 blog, Joel Achenbach, responding to Sarah Palin’s same-day op ed piece in the Washington Post slamming the Copenhagen Climate Conference, writes, “When I want an astute analysis of climate change, or of any complex scientific topic, including the search for the Higgs boson, the mystery of human consciousness, and the Protein Folding Problem, I turn to America's most trusted scientific expert, Sarah Palin.” Achenbach goes on in the same vein, “Ms. Palin lives in the Arctic. She can see the North Pole. She has field-dressed moose on Denali glaciers. What she knows is that there's still a lot of snow out there. There's ice all over the place. Frankly it's way too cold. Warm things up a bit and Alaska might actually be habitable!”
Like so many of her cohorts in the Republican Party, facts are no barrier to Ms. Palin's opinions. Atlantic's political blogger Marc Ambinder has written a point-by-point critique of Ms. Palin’s faulty logic, or to be less charitable, falsehoods, in his December 8, 2009, Politics blog. Responding to Palin’s claim that climate science has been highly politicized by “radical environmentalists,” and here she's referring to the IPCC climate scientists, which she refers to as “so-called experts,” (because they've only been working in climate science all their lives and they aren't dead yet, I guess), Ambinder says, “True -- although the politicization came about as a response to an extremely well-funded political campaign by those whose bottom lines would be most harmed by carbon taxes, cap and trade schemes and the like.”
This gets to my previous post on the matter. I wonder if Sarah wrote her piece herself, or if someone from WPP’s many companies wrote it for her. Whatever the case, like so many of Ms. Palin’s remarks, her opinions on climate are just a lot of hot air.
BTW, for those of you wondering what the hell the Higgs boson is, check it out here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who is WPP and what do they have to do with climate change?

'Postcard' from the WPP web site showing the myriad of companies under their umbrella

According to their web site, WPP is one of the world's largest communications services groups, employing 135,000 people working in over 2,000 offices in 107 countries. WPP is a huge conglomerate of marketing, advertising, public relations, and lobbying companies spread out across the world, with earnings of over $12 billion in 2008.

Sir Martin Sorrell runs the multi-billion dollar media giant. He started the company in 1986 by buying a majority stake in the manufacturer of wire baskets and, through a series of high stakes buyouts and hostile takeovers, used this company as a springboard to 'basket' a worldwide marketing services company. He was Knighted in 2000, and was awarded the Harvard Business School’s highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, in 2007. So what does Sir Sorrell and his media giant have to do with climate change?

One of Sir Sorrell’s many companies is Hill and Knowlton (H&K), a leading international public relations (PR) firm, providing services to local, multinational and global clients. The firm is headquartered in New York, with 80 offices in 43 countries, as well as an extensive associate network. According to David Michaels book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, it was H&K that designed the PR campaign to convince the public that smoking was not dangerous.

Hill and Knowlton encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which produced ‘science’ favorable to the industry, emphasized doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and questioned all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry. The PR campaign significantly delayed regulation of tobacco products. In his book, Michaels, now head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), writes, "The industry understood that the public is in no position to distinguish good science from bad. Create doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Throw mud at the anti-smoking research under the assumption that some of it is bound to stick. And buy time, lots of it, in the bargain." The title of Michaels' book comes from a telling statement in a 1969 tobacco company memo, "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists."

It was Hill and Knowlton that helped asbestos industry giant Johns-Manville set up the Asbestos Information Association (AIA). Manufacturers of lead, vinyl chloride, beryllium, and dioxin products also hired H&K to devise product defense strategies to combat the numerous scientific studies showing that their products were harmful to human health. And it was H&K that helped the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) industry cast doubt on the science showing that human-generated CFCs could cause serious harm to Earth's protective ozone layer.

The idea of industry created “think tanks” caught on and we see organizations like the George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer's SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project), which have been active for decades in the Manufactured Doubt business, generating misleading science and false controversy to protect the profits of their clients who manufacture dangerous products. It is these organizations and their cohorts that have now organized an all out campaign of disinformation, defamation, and criminal activity to combat the body of facts that shows man’s activities contributing to accelerating global warming.

Oh, and guess who has been selected as official media sponsor for the December 7 - 18, 2009, UN Conference on Climate Change, in Copenhagen. Any ideas? I'll give you a hint. Its company initials are H and K.

For more on the Manufactured Doubt Industry and the global warming deniers disinformation campaign, see Jeff Masters' WunderBlog.

For specifics on the Climate Research Unit hacked emails, see Real Climate.

For the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) statement on the hacked emails, see Dot Earth.

To read the actual IPCC assessment report (AR4), go here (go ahead, it has a summary).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why we should worry about the hacked emails from CRU

As anyone who follows the global warming debate knows by now, hackers penetrated the computer network at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the United Kingdom and stole more than 3,000 emails and documents, including private correspondence between climate scientists. The emails -- some or all, it's impossible to know at this stage -- were posted on the web and have been widely distributed via conventional media. Some show the climate scientists at CRU in an unfavorable light. What do I mean by an unfavorable light? Did they falsify their reports, dry lab their data, blow torch Arctic sea ice???

What the scientists at CRU did in emails spanning a decade or more is disparage the work of other scientists who have continued to argue, ad nausem, on the basis of faulty reasoning and suspect science that, among other things, man has not influenced global warming, i.e., there is no anthropogenic global warming, sunspots are causing warming, the earth is simply going through a normal warming cycle (like your clothes dryer), and a whole host of other previously refuted arguments, including that the earth isn't warming at all; all arguments that go against the climate change assessment report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To be fair, some of the emails selectively published show that some CRU climate scientists and their correspondents took umbrage at criticisms of their work and used unfortunate language in referring to their critics. They were 'snotty,' insensitive even, and talked of boycotting a journal that published a study that they considered flawed (it turns out that their criticism of the journal and its peer review process were valid). In short, the email correspondence showed the CRU scientists to be human. Who would've thought?

As might be expected, global warming deniers are having a field day with the emails, once again claiming that global warming is a giant hoax perpetrated on the unsuspecting by greedy, unethical scientists simply seeking their next million dollar grant from gullible government bureaucrats. The denier community has selected a few emails to help make their case that climate science is a hoax and in doing so, has illustrated once again, just how little many of the most vociferous of these idiots know about any kind of science. For example, one of the emails most quoted is from Phil Jones in 1999 discussing paleo-data used to reconstruct past temperatures in which he says, "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

I've taken the following explanation for this statement from the blog, Skeptical Science.

"Mike's Nature trick" refers to the paper Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries (Mann 1998), published in Nature by lead author Michael Mann. The "trick" is the technique of plotting recent instrumental data along with the reconstructed data. This places recent global warming trends in the context of temperature changes over longer time scales.

The "decline" refers to the "divergence problem." This is where tree ring proxies diverge from modern instrumental temperature records after 1960. The divergence problem is discussed as early as 1998, suggesting a change in the sensitivity of tree growth to temperature in recent decades (Briffa 1998). It is also examined more recently in Wilmking 2008, which explores techniques in eliminating the divergence problem.

The Skeptical Science explanation ends by concluding, as I do, that when you look at Phil Jone's email in the context of the science discussed, it is not the schemings of a climate conspiracy, but rather perfectly legitimate data handling techniques that are covered in the peer reviewed literature.

So let me be clear, nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are the cause. This is one of the main conclusions of an editorial in the science magazine Nature concerning the hacked emails. And in a statement released Tuesday before last, three of the UK's leading science organizations—the Met Office, the Natural Environment Research Council, and the Royal Society—issued an unusually strong statement in advance of Copenhagen. They wrote: The scientific evidence which underpins calls for action at Copenhagen is very strong. Without co-ordinated international action on greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts on climate and civilization could be severe.

So, why worry about these hacked emails? Because they are but one example of an extremely well financed, well-coordinated, and concerted effort to cast doubt on global warming and its causes brought to you by the same people that launched a public relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking was not dangerous, that questioned the link between asbestos and lung diseases, that launched a major PR campaign to cast doubt on and delay regulations on ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), and that even now battle the EPA and other regulatory agencies on behalf of the manufacturers of benzene, beryllium, chromium, MTBE, perchlorates, phthalates, and virtually every other toxic chemical in the news today.

April 14, 1994, Tobacco CEOs testify before Congress that nicotine is not addictive.

Industry CEOs and their marketing departments realize that the general public is in no position to make a distinction between valid science and junk science. They realize that they don't have to prove a point, just cast doubt on science that threatens their bottom line. Once they have the doubt game going, they hit the public broadside with their version of how any new regulations will plunge the economy into a tailspin and place onerous burdens on everyone the world over, including, god forbid, higher taxes on already overtaxed Americans.

You can read about industry’s Orwellian strategy in David Michaels’ book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. The attack on climate science per se is addressed in Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, by James Hoggan, with Richard Littlemore, in which the authors point out that starting in the early 1990s, three large American industry groups set to work on strategies to cast doubt on the science of climate change. Even though the oil industry’s own scientists had declared, as early as 1995, that human-induced climate change was undeniable, the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Fuels Association (a coal-fired electrical industry consortium) and a Philip Morris-sponsored anti-science group called TASSC (now defunct) all drafted and promoted campaigns of climate change disinformation.

The hacking of CRU's computers and selective publication of the stolen emails just prior to the Copenhagen climate conference by as yet unidentified forces represents another assault on science that if successful, could doom mankind to a future of deprivation, disaster, and ultimately, extinction. And that's why we should worry.