New Study Allays Monsoon Alarm

GWPF | 28 Jan 2016

Good News Ignored By International News Media

India’s monsoon is in no danger of catastrophic collapse in response to global warming and air pollution, two atmospheric scientists said today, refuting earlier predictions that the monsoon could shut down within 100 years. Their results contradict earlier forecasts by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany portending frequent and severe failures and even a breakdown of the monsoon, which is critical to India’s food, water resources and economy. The earlier modelling exercises had predicted that the monsoon, under the influence of global warming and air pollution, would experience a “tipping point” that would lead to a sharp drop in rainfall over India. Boos and his colleague Trude Storelvmo have now shown that the theory and models that were used to predict such “tipping points” had omitted a key term in climate behaviour, ignoring the fact that air cools as it rises in the atmosphere. –G.S. Mudur, The Calcutta Telegraph, 26 January 2016

1) New Study Allays Monsoon Alarm — Good News Ignored By International News Media
The Calcutta Telegraph, 26 January 2016

2) Nick Butler: UK Policy Implications Of Another Nuclear Power Delay
Financial Times, 27 January 2016

3) Green Cars Are Worsening China’s Smog Problem
The American Interest, 27 January 2016

4) The Green’s Filthy Secret: Electric Car Boom Fuels Demand For Coal
The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 2015

5) Spain Installed Not A Single Wind Turbine In 2015
Bloomberg, 26 January 2016 

6) The Selfish Gene, 40 Years On
Nature, 28 January 2016

The latest postponement of the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor project is the most serious delay of many because it shows that the plan is fundamentally uneconomic for the owners as well as for consumers. What does this mean for UK energy policy? Britain has two choices. The first is to fund the project. If George Osborne, the chancellor, were to pursue that route he would probably have to override the formal advice of officials on the proper use of public funds. The second alternative is to rewrite existing energy policy: substituting gas for nuclear and perhaps extending the life of coal-fired stations beyond 2025. Neither of these options is politically or economically attractive but it is hard to see what else the government can do. –Nick Butler, Financial Times, 27 January 2016

A series of studies by Tsinghua University, whose alumni includes the incumbent president, showed electric vehicles charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog versus petrol-engine cars. Hybrid vehicles fare little better. Tsinghua’s studies call into question the wisdom of aggressively promoting vehicles which the university said could not be considered environmentally friendly for at least a decade in many areas of China unless grid reform accelerates. Reuters, 27 January 2016

Greens would have you believe that electric vehicles are by nature environmentally friendly, but that glosses over an important point: how the electricity used by those cars is produced. In China, coal is going to be the cheapest option more often than not, and while the recent effort to get more EVs on the road might save emissions at the tailpipe, it is increasing localized air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired plants. This serves as a timely reminder of the dangers of buying into green hype. Many of the policy prescriptions they’d have governments champion have unintended consequences or, as is the case here, don’t actually accomplish the environmental achievements that they claim. —The American Interest, 27 January 2016

Thanks to generous tax incentives, the share of electric vehicles has grown faster in the Netherlands than in nearly any other country in the world. But behind the green growth is a filthy secret: In a nation famous for its windmills, electricity is coming from a far dirtier source. Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom. –Michael Birnbaum, The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 2015

Spain didn’t install a single megawatt of wind power capacity in 2015, the first time the industry has had a dead year since the 1980s. Spanish renewable energy companies that once reaped Europe’s biggest subsidies have looked abroad for projects since the domestic market stagnated following a moratorium on support for new wind farms and solar parks in 2012. The standstill has left Spain needing an additional 6,400 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020 in order to meet binding European renewables targets, according to the association. —Alex Morales, Bloomberg, 26 January 2016 

Books about science tend to fall into two categories: those that explain it to lay people in the hope of cultivating a wide readership, and those that try to persuade fellow scientists to support a new theory, usually with equations. Books that achieve both — changing science and reaching the public — are rare. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) was one. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is another. From the moment of its publication 40 years ago, it has been a sparkling best-seller and a scientific game-changer. –Matt Ridley, Nature, 28 January 2016

1) New Study Allays Monsoon Alarm — Good News Ignored By International News Media
The Calcutta Telegraph, 26 January 2016

G.S. Mudur

New Delhi, Jan. 26: India’s monsoon is in no danger of catastrophic collapse in response to global warming and air pollution, two atmospheric scientists said today, refuting earlier predictions that the monsoon could shut down within 100 years.

The scientists at Yale University in the US who used computers to model the Earth’s atmosphere, land and oceans have found that the expected changes in the monsoon will not abruptly alter their strength or their water volume.

Their results contradict earlier forecasts by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany portending frequent and severe failures and even a breakdown of the monsoon, which is critical to India’s food, water resources and economy.

“Our models show that monsoon rainfall will change smoothly in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations, air pollution, and changes in land use,” William Boos, an associate professor at Yale University told The Telegraph.

“We should expect changes in the monsoon rainfall in response to changes in the global mean temperature in the coming decades, but there is no reason to expect those changes to be abrupt,” Boos said.

The earlier modelling exercises had predicted that the monsoon, under the influence of global warming and air pollution, would experience a “tipping point” that would lead to a sharp drop in rainfall over India.

Boos and his colleague Trude Storelvmo have now shown that the theory and models that were used to predict such “tipping points” had omitted a key term in climate behaviour, ignoring the fact that air cools as it rises in the atmosphere.

The scientists described their results this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesa US research journal.

Their corrected models have suggested that while the monsoon is expected to change over the next century, there is no reason to fear an abrupt shift that will push India into a dry regime over the next century or two.

Many Indian scientists who had been sceptical about the earlier predictions are happy with the results from the Yale researchers. “A lot of hype had been generated over the earlier predictions about abrupt changes to the monsoon, causing concern among policy makers,” Jayaraman Srinivasan, a professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, who was not associated with the work, told The Telegraph.

Concerns about the future of the monsoon under human-driven factors date back to a computer simulation by Indian scientists in 1995 that had suggested that increasing sulfate and dust particles in the atmosphere might weaken the monsoon.

In 2002, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, had argued that soot could cause a decline in monsoon rainfall, a prediction challenged by some scientists who in turn suggested that soot would enhance rainfall.

Full story

see also GWPF paper: Floods and Droughts in the Indian Monsoon

2) Nick Butler: UK Policy Implications Of Another Nuclear Power Delay
Financial Times, 27 January 2016

The latest postponement of the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor project is the most serious delay of many because it shows that the plan is fundamentally uneconomic for the owners as well as for consumers.

Readers may recall being told at the time of the visit of Xi Jinping, the Chinese premier, in October that the Hinkley deal was done. Everything was ready to go.

Unfortunately, this was the worst sort of PR spin. […]

There is no prospect of the French government, its main shareholder, rescuing EDF. Thousands of employees are being laid off, alienating the French trade unions who have come out against Hinkley because of its potential negative impact on the company’s finances. It is not clear that the French government, which is ambivalent about nuclear, is about to offer the extra support requested for Hinkley. Why should French taxpayers subsidise UK consumers?

[…] What does this mean for UK energy policy? Britain has two choices.
The first is to fund the project. The government could borrow the money more cheaply than EDF but the added debt would be unwelcome and would tie it into a project that carries enormous construction risks. If George Osborne, the chancellor, were to pursue that route he would probably have to override the formal advice of officials on the proper use of public funds.

The second alternative is to rewrite existing energy policy: substituting gas for nuclear and perhaps extending the life of coal-fired stations beyond 2025. Extra offshore wind, short of a big technical breakthrough, would surely be too expensive to meet the government’s objective of reducing electricity costs. Using more gas and coal runs counter to the rhetoric on climate change but, as the CBI, the employers’ organisation, made clear in their sharp and accurate letter to the energy secretarythis week, indecision is not an acceptable energy policy.

Neither of these options is politically or economically attractive but it is hard to see what else the government can do.

Full post

3) Green Cars Are Worsening China’s Smog Problem
The American Interest, 27 January 2016

Electric vehicles may be one of environmentalists’ favorite eco-options, but they aren’t helping China clear its smoggy skies. To the contrary, they’re actually part of the problem, as their expansion in recent years has raised demand for coal-fired power plants and increased the air pollutants those plants produce.

Reuters reports:

A series of studies by Tsinghua University, whose alumni includes the incumbent president, showed electric vehicles charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog versus petrol-engine cars. Hybrid vehicles fare little better.

“International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said Los Angeles-based An Feng, director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation. “Clean up the power plants.” [. . .]

Tsinghua’s studies call into question the wisdom of aggressively promoting vehicles which the university said could not be considered environmentally friendly for at least a decade in many areas of China unless grid reform accelerates.

Greens would have you believe that electric vehicles are by nature environmentally friendly, but that glosses over an important point: how the electricity used by those cars is produced. In China, coal is going to be the cheapest option more often than not, and while the recent effort to get more EVs on the road might save emissions at the tailpipe, it is increasing localized air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired plants. According to this new research, these EVs actually have a net negative effect on Chinese air quality.

This serves as a timely reminder of the dangers of buying into green hype. Many of the policy prescriptions they’d have governments champion have unintended consequences or, as is the case here, don’t actually accomplish the environmental achievements that they claim.

Full story

4) The Green’s Filthy Secret: Electric Car Boom Fuels Demand For Coal
The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 2015

Michael Birnbaum

In the traffic-packed Dutch city of Rotterdam, electric cars jostle for space at charging stations. The oldest exhaust-spewing vehicles will soon be banned from the city center. Thanks to generous tax incentives, the share of electric vehicles has grown faster in the Netherlands than in nearly any other country in the world.

But behind the green growth is a filthy secret: In a nation famous for its windmills, electricity is coming from a far dirtier source. Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.

As the world tries to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and combat climate change, policymakers have pinned hopes on electric cars, whose range and convenience are quickly improving. Alongside the boom has come a surging demand for power to charge the vehicles, which can consume as much electricity in a single charge as the average refrigerator does in a month and a half.

The global shift to electric cars has a clear climate benefit in regions that get most of their power from clean sources, such as California or Norway. But in areas supplied by dirtier power, like China, India and even the Netherlands, which is on track to miss ambitious emissions targets set for 2020, the electric-car jump has slimmer payoffs. In some cases, it could even worsen the overall climate impact of driving, experts say.

Full story

5) Spain Installed Not A Single Wind Turbine In 2015
Bloomberg, 26 January 2016 

Alex Morales

Spain didn’t install a single megawatt of wind power capacity in 2015, the first time the industry has had a dead year since the 1980s.

Total installed capacity stalled at 22,988 megawatts, with wind covering 19 percent of power demand in Spain last year, the Spanish Wind Energy Association, known by its Spanish initials AEE, said Tuesday in a statement. Just 27 megawatts of new capacity has been installed since 2013, when a new payments system was introduced.

Spanish renewable energy companies that once reaped Europe’s biggest subsidies have looked abroad for projects since the domestic market stagnated following a moratorium on support for new wind farms and solar parks in 2012. The standstill has left Spain needing an additional 6,400 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020 in order to meet binding European renewables targets, according to the association.

Full story

6) The Selfish Gene, 40 Years On
Nature, 28 January 2016

Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley reassesses Richard Dawkins’s pivotal reframing of evolution, 40 years on.


The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins Oxford University Press: 1976.

Books about science tend to fall into two categories: those that explain it to lay people in the hope of cultivating a wide readership, and those that try to persuade fellow scientists to support a new theory, usually with equations. Books that achieve both — changing science and reaching the public — are rare. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) was one. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is another. From the moment of its publication 40 years ago, it has been a sparkling best-seller and a scientific game-changer.


Terry Smith/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
Richard Dawkins in 1976, around the time he published his first best-selling book.

The gene-centred view of evolution that Dawkins championed and crystallized is now central both to evolutionary theorizing and to lay commentaries on natural history such as wildlife documentaries. A bird or a bee risks its life and health to bring its offspring into the world not to help itself, and certainly not to help its species — the prevailing, lazy thinking of the 1960s, even among luminaries of evolution such as Julian Huxley and Konrad Lorenz — but (unconsciously) so that its genes go on. Genes that cause birds and bees to breed survive at the expense of other genes. No other explanation makes sense, although some insist that there are other ways to tell the story (see K. Laland et alNature 514, 161–164; 2014).

What stood out was Dawkins’s radical insistence that the digital information in a gene is effectively immortal and must be the primary unit of selection. No other unit shows such persistence — not chromosomes, not individuals, not groups and not species. These are ephemeral vehicles for genes, just as rowing boats are vehicles for the talents of rowers (his analogy).

As an example of how the book changed science as well as explained it, a throwaway remark by Dawkins led to an entirely new theory in genomics. In the third chapter, he raised the then-new conundrum of excess DNA. It was dawning on molecular biologists that humans possessed 30–50 times more DNA than they needed for protein-coding genes; some species, such as lungfish, had even more. About the usefulness of this “apparently surplus DNA”, Dawkins wrote that “from the point of view of the selfish genes themselves there is no paradox. The true ‘purpose’ of DNA is to survive, no more and no less. The simplest way to explain the surplus DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite.”

Four years later, two pairs of scientists published papers in Nature formally setting out this theory of “selfish DNA”, and acknowledged Dawkins as their inspiration (L. E. Orgel and F. H. C. Crick Nature 284, 604–607 (1980)W. F. Doolittle andC. Sapienza Nature 284, 601–603; 1980). Since then, Dawkins’s speculation has been borne out by the discovery that much surplus DNA consists of reverse transcriptase — a viral enzyme whose job is to spread copies of itself — or simplified versions of transposons dependent on it. Thus, Dawkins’s ideas helped to explain what was going on inside genomes, as well as between individuals, even though the book was written long before DNA sequencing became routine. The complexity of the structure of the gene itself has since grown enormously, with the discovery of introns, control sequences, RNA genes, alternative splicing and more. But the essential idea of a gene as a unit of heritable information remains, and Dawkins’s synthesis stands to this day.

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