Scientific Consensus In Doubt

GWPF | 4 Feb 2016

Stanford Geologists Refute Standard Coal Development Theory

Two Stanford geologists are disputing the decade-old explanation of the large amount of coal accumulated during the Carboniferous Period. Associate Professor Kevin Boyce and Postdoctorate Research Fellow Matthew Nelsen collaborated with scientists across the country to release a paper this past month in which they propose a new understanding of coal development. According to Nelson, discontent with the evolutionary lag hypothesis has been around for some time before the publishing of this recent paper. This raises the larger issue: If geologists had seen problems with the hypothesis, why had nothing been done to disprove it earlier? –Aulden Foltz, The Stanford Daily, 2 February 2016

1) Scientific Consensus In Doubt: Stanford Geologists Refute Standard Coal Development Theory
The Stanford Daily, 2 February 2016

2) Climate Science To Be Gutted As Australia Axes Climate Jobs
The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 2016

3) Andrew Montford: Settled Science Bites
Bishop Hill, 4 February 2016

4) Nuclear Fusion Energy Experiment Turned On In Germany
Wired 3 February 2016

5) UK Energy Crisis Deepens As SSE Plans Early Plant Closure
The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2016

6) Green Britain: Govt Policy & Renewables Subsidies Block UK Power Price Cut
Reuters, 1 February 2016

7) The Green Cars Crash
Forbes, 2 February 2016

Fears that some of Australia’s most important climate research institutions will be gutted under a Turnbull government have been realised with deep job cuts for scientists. Total job cuts would be about 350 staff over two years, the CSIRO confirmed in an email to staff, with the Data61 and Manufacturing divisions also hit. “Climate will be all gone, basically,” one senior scientist said before the announcement. In the email sent out to staff on Thursday morning, CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall indicated that, since climate change had been established, further work in the area would be a reduced priority. –Peter Hannam, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 2016

Sceptics have often pointed out that if the science of global warming is “settled” then it’s clearly not necessary to spend a fortune researching it. The government down under now seems to have taken this message on, announcing that jobs in the ocean/atmosphere divisions at CSIRO are to be slashed. Their reasoning could have come straight from the pages of this blog: In the email sent out to staff on Thursday morning, CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall indicated that, since climate change had been established, further work in the area would be a reduced priority. It was Lord May who said to Roger Harrabin “I’m the President of the Royal Society and I’m telling you that the science is settled”. I wonder if he is reconsidering the wisdom of those remarks. –Andrew Montford, Bishop Hill, 4 February 2016

Scientists in Germany have switched on a nuclear fusion experiment that they hope will provide a solution to finding clean and safe nuclear power. A small amount of hydrogen was released into the device by German chancellor Angela Merkel as she launched the device at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald. The device itself won’t generate energy, but will be used to test technology that could hold plasma into place in nuclear reactors. The technology is considered to be several decades away, but proponents argue that it could be a viable replacement for fossil fuels and nuclear fission reactors. –Emily Reynolds, Wired 3 February 2016

SSE has announced plans to shut most of its Fiddler’s Ferry coal-fired power plant in April, wiping 1.5 gigawatts of power capacity from the UK grid and worsening the looming energy crisis next winter. UK energy supplies were already forecast to fall to dangerously low levels next winter due to the closure of several other old plants. Emergency measures have been brought in to bolster supplies after official analysis suggested there could be zero spare capacity in the market, and insufficient power to keep the lights on on a windless day. John Musk, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, warned UK margins would now be “critically tight for next winter” and forecast this would lead to “extremely volatile” spot power prices. –Emily Gosden, The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2016

British households will not benefit from a fall in market electricity prices because their suppliers are facing rising costs elsewhere, such as green energy subsidies, which they say cancel out any wholesale price falls. Electricity and gas prices traded on the open market have fallen 20-35 percent in recent months as milder-than-normal weather has curbed demand and falling commodity prices have added even more downward pressure. Cornwall Energy data showed the costs of government policies, which also include discounts for low-income households and payments for energy efficiency measures, on energy suppliers have risen to the highest level ever. This means non-energy costs now make up as much as 60 percent of the average British electricity bill, up from 45 percent four years ago, according to Cornwall Energy data. –Karolin Schaps and Susanna Twidale, Reuters, 1 February 2016

How quickly things can change. Once the darlings of the auto industry, recent auto show debuts and previews of high-mileage hybrid and plug-in electric cars are being met with a collective yawn in the wake of cheap (and getting cheaper) gasoline. Green car sales were down by around 16 percent last year and can be expected to drop even further through 2016 unless fuel prices suddenly soar. Expect to see casualties among some of the niche players in what could come to be an incredibly shrinking car segment, California-mandated models not withstanding. –Jim Gorzelany, Forbes, 2 February 2016

1) Scientific Consensus In Doubt: Stanford Geologists Refute Standard Coal Development Theory
The Stanford Daily, 2 February 2016

Aulden Foltz

Two Stanford geologists are disputing the decade-old explanation of the large amount of coal accumulated during the Carboniferous Period.

Associate Professor Kevin Boyce and Postdoctorate Research Fellow Matthew Nelsen collaborated with scientists across the country to release a paper this past month in which they propose a new understanding of coal development.

The previous hypothesis of coal accumulation focused on a temporal lag between the evolution of lignin production in woody plants and the evolution of lignin-degrading fungi to break down this new material. This would have resulted in the non-degraded lignin building up, depositing massive amounts of coal.

“But [this explanation] can’t be true,” Boyce said.

The paper that Boyce and Nelsen collaborated on uses several lines of evidence in order to disprove the old hypothesis.

The most convincing evidence includes a fossil record of lignin-degrading fungi pre-dating the Carboniferous period. New research also reveals that the standard preparation of fossilized plants washes away much of the fossilized fungi and microbes, suggesting the current fungi fossil record to be an underestimate of what was actually present at the time.

The hypothesized 130-million-year evolutionary lag between the plants and the fungi would also have resulted in severe environmental consequences.

“Even if plants were less productive then, there’s probably a good three or so gigatons of lignin being produced per year,” Boyce said. “If you had 80 million years without lignin decay, you’d run out of CO2 in the atmosphere in a couple hundred years… we’d freeze the earth.”

Their paper also includes a graph displaying the accumulation of organic sediments over time. Rather than showing a steady increase over the Carboniferous Period, the graph has many spikes of accumulation, each of which lasts around 500,000 years.

“If that was fungi, what would they do? Evolve, un-evolve, and then evolve back?” Boyce said. “The actual record of accumulation doesn’t really work for it being a biotic cause. It looks much more grounded in abiotic processes.”

The new theory explains coal accumulation using weather and tectonic activity. The Carboniferous Period was not only warm, but also coincided with the separation of Pangaea. The spikes on the graph coincide with basins opening up and providing a place for plant material to be deposited before eroding away.
Boyce and Nelsen looked at the coal accumulation in Denver around 50 million years ago as a model to explain the 300-million-year-old phenomenon of Carboniferous accumulation.

“It was equivalently productive and wet, and a lot of coal formed because the incipient Rocky Mountains were there so there was a place to put all the coal,” Boyce said. “So the local rates of accumulation were similar to what was going on worldwide during the Carboniferous.”

According to Nelson, discontent with the evolutionary lag hypothesis has been around for some time before the publishing of this recent paper.

“I think there were some grumblings in the literature: people going after this but not anywhere near the level of detail that we did,” Nelsen said.

This raises the larger issue: If geologists had seen problems with the hypothesis, why had nothing been done to disprove it earlier?

According to Boyce, the unique collaborative circumstances hadn’t occurred in the past.

“You’re very often at the edge of what you know yourself and it’s very important to have the right collaborators looking at it from other directions,” Boyce said.

Full story

2) Climate Science To Be Gutted As Australia Axes Climate Jobs
The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 2016

Peter Hannam

Fears that some of Australia’s most important climate research institutions will be gutted under a Turnbull government have been realised with deep job cuts for scientists.

Fairfax Media has learnt that as many as 110 positions in the Oceans and Atmosphere division will go, with a similarly sharp reduction in the Land and Water division.

Total job cuts would be about 350 staff over two years, the CSIRO confirmed in an email to staff, with the Data61 and Manufacturing divisions also hit.

The cuts were flagged in November, just a week before the Paris climate summit began, with key divisions told to prepare lists of job cuts or to find new ways to raise revenue.

“Climate will be all gone, basically,” one senior scientist said before the announcement.

In the email sent out to staff on Thursday morning, CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall indicated that, since climate change had been established, further work in the area would be a reduced priority.

“CSIRO pioneered climate research, the same way we saved the cotton and wool industries for our nation,” Dr Marshall said. “But we cannot rest on our laurels as that is the path to mediocrity.

“Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change,” he said.

“That question has been answered, and the new question is what do we do about it, and how can we find solutions for the climate we will be living with?”

Full story

3) Andrew Montford: Settled Science Bites
Bishop Hill, 4 February 2016

Sceptics have often pointed out that if the science of global warming is “settled” then it’s clearly not necessary to spend a fortune researching it. The government down under now seems to have taken this message on, announcing that jobs in the ocean/atmosphere divisions at CSIRO are to be slashed. Their reasoning could have come straight from the pages of this blog:

The cuts were flagged in November, just a week before the Paris climate summit began, with key divisions told to prepare lists of job cuts or to find new ways to raise revenue. “Climate will be all gone, basically,” one senior scientist said before the announcement.

In the email sent out to staff on Thursday morning, CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall indicated that, since climate change had been established, further work in the area would be a reduced priority. 

It was Lord May who said to Roger Harrabin “I’m the President of the Royal Society and I’m telling you that the science is settled”. I wonder if he is reconsidering the wisdom of those remarks.

4) Nuclear Fusion Energy Experiment Turned On In Germany
Wired 3 February 2016

Emily Reynolds

Scientists in Germany have switched on a nuclear fusion experiment that they hope will provide a solution to finding clean and safe nuclear power.

A small amount of hydrogen was released into the device by German chancellor Angela Merkel as she launched the device at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald.

The hydrogen was then heated to a super-hot gas known as plasma, similar to that found in the Sun, in an attempt to study how the energy could be harnessed to generate power. At its hottest, the device reaches 100 million degrees celsius.

The device itself won’t generate energy, but will be used to test technology that could hold plasma into place in nuclear reactors. The technology is considered to be several decades away, but proponents argue that it could be a viable replacement for fossil fuels and nuclear fission reactors.

Full story

5) UK Energy Crisis Deepens As SSE Plans Early Plant Closure
The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2016

Emily Gosden

SSE has announced plans to shut most of its Fiddler’s Ferry coal-fired power plant in April, wiping 1.5 gigawatts of power capacity from the UK grid and worsening the looming energy crisis next winter.

The energy giant said it intended to shut three out of four units at the loss-making Cheshire power station, reneging on a Government subsidy contract to keep them running until 2018-19 and putting 213 jobs at risk.

The move, which the Telegraph revealed SSE was considering last week, was condemned as “extremely disappointing” by the Government, which sought to reassure households the lights would stay on.

“We will continue to work alongside National Grid and Ofgem to take whatever additional steps are necessary to protect our energy supply,” a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said.

UK energy supplies were already forecast to fall to dangerously low levels next winter due to the closure of several other old plants.

Emergency measures have been brought in to bolster supplies after official analysis suggested there could be zero spare capacity in the market, and insufficient power to keep the lights on on a windless day.

John Musk, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, warned UK margins would now be “critically tight for next winter” and forecast this would lead to “extremely volatile” spot power prices.

SSE will face a £33m penalty for pulling out of its Government contract but said the alternative was to incur “unsustainable losses” which would “undermine SSE’s ability to invest in modern generation plant in the UK”.

Fiddler’s Ferry had already racked up “substantial” losses in recent years and this was expected to continue through to 2020, even with the subsidy contract, it said. Analysts estimate annual losses of £30m-£50m.

Full story

6) Green Britain: Govt Policy & Renewables Subsidies Block UK Power Price Cut
Reuters, 1 February 2016

Karolin Schaps and Susanna Twidale

British households will not benefit from a fall in market electricity prices because their suppliers are facing rising costs elsewhere, such as green energy subsidies, which they say cancel out any wholesale price falls.

Electricity and gas prices traded on the open market have fallen 20-35 percent in recent months as milder-than-normal weather has curbed demand and falling commodity prices have added even more downward pressure.

Two of Britain’s ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers, E.ON and SSE, have so far announced price cuts of around 5 percent to household gas tariffs, but reductions to electricity prices are notably absent.

“Many of the other costs that make up an electricity bill and that we don’t control have increased or may increase,” said a spokeswoman for E.ON UK, whose gas prices will fall 5.1 percent from Monday.

“These include electricity network costs – transmission and distribution – as well as environmental levies, such as the renewable obligation and FiTs (feed-in-tariffs).”

Cornwall Energy data showed the costs of government policies, which also include discounts for low-income households and payments for energy efficiency measures, on energy suppliers have risen to the highest level ever.

This means non-energy costs now make up as much as 60 percent of the average British electricity bill, up from 45 percent four years ago, according to Cornwall Energy data.

The main drivers here are the increasing costs to help finance building renewable energy plants, such as solar panels or wind farms.

Suppliers’ cost of the Renewable Obligation, the outgoing mechanism to distribute green energy subsidies, is 12.86 pounds per megawatt-hour, up from 10.57 pounds a year ago, Cornwall Energy said.

“These utilities are not selling electricity, they’re passing through renewable subsidies,” said Mark Freshney, utilities equity analyst at Credit Suisse.

Full story

7) The Green Cars Crash
Forbes, 2 February 2016

Jim Gorzelany

How quickly things can change. Once the darlings of the auto industry, recent auto show debuts and previews of high-mileage hybrid and plug-in electric cars are being met with a collective yawn in the wake of cheap (and getting cheaper) gasoline.

Green car sales were down by around 16 percent last year and can be expected to drop even further through 2016 unless fuel prices suddenly soar. Expect to see casualties among some of the niche players in what could come to be an incredibly shrinking car segment, California-mandated models not withstanding.

Yesterday, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen confirmed that the ELR extended range electric coupe will not live to see a second generation. The car could stick around until 2018, but we expect it could be dropped sooner if sales continue to swoon.

A surprisingly stylish EV, the ELR reached dealerships at what looked to be the right time, back in late 2013 when gasoline prices took a far larger bite out of motorists’ budgets. Starting at around $75,000 the ELR proved to be far too pricey, especially as compared to around $40,000 for the Chevrolet Volt upon which it was based. Sales incentives were not only the norm, but became among the richest in the car business, reaching a whopping $20,000 in direct-to-dealer cash last April.

Caddy eventually slashed the price by $10,000, but still only managed to sell 1,024 units last year, which made it the lowest volume model in all of General Motors’ U.S. operations. By comparison, Chevy sold over 15,000 Volts last year, and that was as it neared the end of its first generation with an impending redesign coming for 2016. […]

And now Automotive News reports Toyota may whittle down the number of Prius-badged models it sells in the U.S., again because of gas-fueled consumer indifference.

Full story

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