News from NY Office of Climate Change

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Office of Climate Change publishes a regular email that lists the latest climate news. The latest edition shows that news has to be consistent with their preconceived notions of global warming. In this edition they use information to prove their case for climate change problems at the same time as they claim similar information cannot be used to not suggest climate change is not a problem. Talk about trying to have their cake and not eating it too.

Before proceeding a disclaimer. Before retirement from the electric generating industry, I was actively analyzing air quality regulations that could affect company operations. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

There are two articles that show the inability of the Office of Climate Change to really understand that there are two sides to the issue of climate change. The lead article is a picture of extensive ice at Niagara Falls with the following caption: “Extreme cold at the end of 2017 has frozen all but the moving water at Niagara Falls. Recent research suggests that a warming arctic may be contributing to cold snaps like this one in the Northeastern U.S. as a result of a weakened polar vortex.”

Also included, under a title “Science” is a quote from A Response for People Using Record Cold U.S. Weather to Refute Climate Change, published December 28, 2017 on forbes.com:

“Weekly or daily weather patterns tell you nothing about longer-term climate change (and that goes for the warm days too). Climate is defined as the statistical properties of the atmosphere: averages, extremes, frequency of occurrence, deviations from normal, and so forth. The clothes that you have on today do not describe what you have in your closet but rather how you dressed for today’s weather. In reality, your closest is likely packed with coats, swimsuits, t-shirts, rain boots, and gloves. In other words, what’s in your closet is a representation of ‘climate.’”

I agree completely that weekly or daily weather patterns are no indicator of longer-term climate change. If it is not immediately obvious the “recent research” analysis about the cold weather is trying to make an argument about weather patterns as an indicator of longer-term climate change. I am sorry but you cannot have it both ways.

If the Office of Climate Change deigns to correct this that might also want to mention to the Governor that he consistently is guilty of the same thing. He consistently refers to Superstorm Sandy as devastation related to climate change and has mentioned the November 2014 Buffalo lake effect snowstorm as further proof. Both were caused by short-term weather patterns. In order to prove otherwise historical weather patterns would have to be evaluated to determine if there was a change over time. In my opinion running a climate model to claim causation is dubious at best.

Great Lakes Vineyard Confronts Climate Change

There are two aspects of the recent presentation Great Lakes Vineyard Confronts Climate Change that need to be considered: scare mongering by anecdote and Bandolini’s BS principle. It is a sad commentary on the media today that this presentation had so little substance other than anecdotal “evidence” that climate change is adversely affecting vineyards in the Great Lakes. Showing that the presumptions in the presentation are weak is a perfect example of Alberto Brandolini’s BS principle: “The amount of energy necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”

Anecdotal Evidence

Angelica A. Morrison’s newscast claims that “Problems from disease, like powdery mildew, and pests arise when temperatures extremes become the new way of life.” Interviewing a farmer who shows her some diseased plants purportedly shows the effects of the climate change in western New York. The evidence for extreme weather change is the farmer’s recollection: “We’ve had a very mild winter [in 2016] so almost everything survived,” he said. “But prior to that, the winter of 2014 to 2015, were extremely cold temperatures that I’ve never seen before. “And it killed a lot of vineyards that in the past we’ve had success with. We’ve done a lot of replanting and we try to choose varieties that can survive the winter.”

The presentation explains that the vineyard in question is in the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, which starts in western New York and extends to Pennsylvania and goes on to note that the area depends on Lake Erie to moderate temperatures. “The lake is supposed to be our great protector,” says Tim Weigle of the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Lake Erie Regional Grape Program. The presentation notes that “Weigle, who advises grape farmers and works with them on managing their crops, says the lake doesn’t freeze over like it used to. When temperatures are prematurely warm, crops come out of dormancy, making them vulnerable to frost. ‘If the lake freezes then we don’t have those problems, but since it hasn’t been freezing all the time, we have run into more problems with frost and freezes,’ he says.”

Hypothesis

There are two claims in this presentation. The first is that in the winters of 2014 and 2015 there were extremely cold temperatures that the farmer has “never seen before”. The second is that when Lake Erie freezes over temperatures don’t warm up prematurely so crops are not damaged coming out of dormancy before the last killing frost of the season.

Analysis

In order to prove or refute the claims in this presentation complications immediately arise. There is no question that there is a warming trend in this region but what causes winter damage in the first claim? If damage occurs because of the lowest temperature of the year that can be checked easily but if it is the duration or number of days below some threshold temperature, the analysis gets more complicated quickly. For the second claim, if the problem is a period of temperatures so warm and so long that dormancy is broken followed by a killing frost the trends analysis for that is even more complicated.

The second claim confuses me. In particular, this statement “If the lake freezes then we don’t have those problems, but since it hasn’t been freezing all the time, we have run into more problems with frost and freezes”. Lake Erie moderates air temperatures because the seasonal lake temperature lags behind the seasonal air temperature. As a result, in the fall frosts don’t occur as early because the warmer lake tempers the freezing air. In the spring there is moderation for warming and cooling. The lake is generally cooler and slows the plants coming out of dormancy but also protects them if a cold snap comes along because its temperature is above freezing. My problem with the presentation statement is that those effects are eliminated when Lake Erie freezes over. When Lake Erie freezes over downwind air temperatures are not moderated by a source of above freezing water and as a result temperatures are not moderated and, most visibly, the Lake Erie lake-effect snow machine is cut off. Therefore, the moderating effect on frosts and freezes should be enhanced if the lake does not freeze over.

Numbers

The New York Climate Change Science Clearinghouse is described by its supporters as “a regional gateway to data and information relevant to climate change adaptation and mitigation across New York State. It provides climate science data and literature and other resources for policy-makers, practitioners, and the public, to support scientifically sound and cost-effective decision making”. I tend to be a little more cynical about its contents because it is biased towards alarmism. However, it does provide anyone with easy access to relevant climate data.

The Climate Data Grapher – Station Temperature includes annual average minimum temperature for Fredonia, NY in addition to the other following parameters:

  • Daily maximum temperature (F)
  • Daily minimum temperature (F)
  • Daily average temperature (F)
  • Growing degree day accumulation, base 50 F
  • Heating degree day accumulation, base 65 F
  • Cooling degree day accumulation, base 65 F
  • Counts of days with max temperature above 90 F
  • Counts of days with max temperature above 95 F
  • Counts of days with max temperature above 100 F
  • Counts of days with min temperature below 0 F
  • Counts of days with min temperature below 32 F
  • Growing season length (days)

All of these parameters show what we would expect in a warming climate: daily minimum, maximum, and average temperatures are increasing, cooling degree days, growing degree days and growing season length are increasing, heating degree days are decreasing, the counts of warm days are increasing and cool days are decreasing.

With respect to claim number one that during the winters of 2014 and 2015 there were extremely cold temperatures that the farmer has “never seen before”, we can check the claim by looking at the count of number of days below 0 F. Unfortunately the Fredonia monitoring site stopped operating in 2011 so I used the nearby Buffalo airport site. In 2014 there were six days of below zero temperatures and in 2015 there were 12. In 1979 there were 11 days and looking back there is nothing that unusual about six days that suggests “never seen before” is verified. In fact between 1976 and 1985 there was only one year that was below six days.

Unfortunately, none of the parameters on the Climate Data Grapher can be used to necessarily support or refute the second claim about ice cover and dormancy. A graph of annual maximum ice cover for Lake Erie (available from the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab) does support the claim that the lake does not freeze over as much as in the past but as is the case with readily available temperatures it may be the duration and timing of ice cover that affect crop dormancy.

As I explained above I don’t think ice cover affects dormancy but to determine if there is a trend in dormancy that analysis is a bigger deal than I can handle. First you would have to determine the conditions that break dormancy: temperature and duration of temperature above some threshold. If the potential effect is exacerbated by frozen ground that has to be included.  Daily maximum and minimum temperature data are readily available but you would need to develop a program to analyze that data to determine the annual end of dormancy and the date of the last killing frost. If you can show that the end of dormancy is coming earlier in the year and the date of last killing frost is not also coming earlier that would support the claim. If the date of the last killing frost is also coming earlier then that would not support the claims. More importantly, would be to see how often a late frost caused problems with plants historically.

Conclusion

This presentation illustrates problems with the media relative to climate change reporting. This furthers the narrative that climate change effects are happening now for the public who has neither the time nor expertise to evaluate the claims. I heard it on NPR – it must be true.   It is a sad commentary on the media that this presentation had so little substance other than anecdotal “evidence” that climate change is adversely affecting vineyards in the Great Lakes. On the other hand if anyone wants illustrations of two of my pragmatic environmentalist principles it offers vivid examples. Clearly this is a sound bite environmental news report and refuting its baloney took at least an order of magnitude more work. If you wanted to support or refute the dormancy claim it would be another order of magnitude of effort.

Real Climate and Cost Effectiveness

Update 9/1/2017: My responses showed up on Real Climate.  Not sure why I could not see them but the timing on the posts indicates they were there but I could not see them?!?

On August 28 I read a post called Sensible Questions on Climate Sensitivity on the Real Climate blog. In the comment section there was a comment that, in my opinion, mis-characterized the position of the luke-warmers I know so I responded. I have heard that comments are censored sat this site o that those who do not comply with the positions of the web masters are not shown but have never had personal experience with it. Although my first comment was posted my responses to the follow up comments were not. Because my original post included the link to this blog I am posting the comments and my responses. If you wanted a response to your comments and checked my blog here you go. If the comments show up then I will delete this post.

The relevant comments are shown below. The particular comment (#25) that engendered my response claimed that luke-warmers insist “that published ECS confidence limits can only mean the most cost-effective public policy is to do nothing.” First an explanation then the comments and finally a conclusion.

I consider myself a luke-warmer. Luke-warmers are not a well-defined party in the global warming debate. My definition is that we simply believe that the ECS or equilibrium climate sensitivity (the amount of warming caused by greenhouse gases) is at the lower end of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change range. As soon as you get to policy responses luke-warmers diverge but those who also claim to be luke warmers (e.g., Tom Fuller, Blair King and Judith Curry) all don’t think public policy should be to do nothing.

I don’t want to speak for their particular public policy opinions so I will give my preference for public policy. I don’t think the climate is so sensitive to GHG that we have to use current renewable technology in order to stave off catastrophe. I don’t think we can ever be so sure of future climate to say it is not a problem or it will be a catastrophe. Therefore I am convinced that we have to develop cheaper low carbon technology because as long as fossil fuels are cheaper they will be used. Fossil fuels are the best thing that ever happened to mankind because without them our lives would be brutal and short. Until we have a replacement that can provide the benefits of abundant and affordable power then it is immoral to not use fossil fuel. In the meantime because society is not resilient to current extreme weather I think that in addition to funding research for cheaper fossil fuel alternatives we should be spending money on adapting to extreme weather rather than subsidizing any current technology renewable energy.

Comments

Here are the blog comments. I responded to comment 25 in comment 29. Comments 30, 31, 32, and 33 were posted in response to my comment. I submitted two responses that went to moderation. I copied the text and pasted it into a document for archival. Several hours later they disappeared and were not posted.

25   Mal Adapted says:

22 Aug 2017 at 9:35 AM

DDS:

Interpretation: There is enough uncertainty that a little humility need apply.

Scientists, like all genuine skeptics, are required to be humble before Nature. It’s necessary, though not sufficient, to not fooling themselves. Pseudo-skeptical AGW deniers, OTOH, who keep saying “it’s not happening”, “it’s not our fault”, “it won’t be bad” or “We’ll be lucky” are letting hubris fool them.

That last AGW-denier meme has been labeled ‘luck-warmerism’. Luckwarmers selectively mask the upper half of the ECS PDF, while falsely accusing climate realists of masking the lower half. The luckwarmer insists that published ECS confidence limits can only mean the most cost-effective public policy is to do nothing.

How about you, Dan? Are there limits to your confidence?

29   Roger Caiazza says:

28 Aug 2017 at 11:20 PM

Mal Adapted, Two questions relative to “The luckwarmer insists that published ECS confidence limits can only mean the most cost-effective public policy is to do nothing.”

This Luke warmer thinks that the trend in ECS confidence limits is shrinking the fat tail. Is that what you mean by masking the upper half?

However the science ends up, this Luke warmer thinks that adaptation is a more cost-effective public policy than mitigation. Do you think that today’s technology is capable of mitigating our way out of GHG forcing climate change?

30   zebra says:

29 Aug 2017 at 9:36 AM

Roger Caiazza #29,

What exactly does “cost effective” mean in this context?

I’m always hearing this sky-is-falling claim about the “economic disaster” that is supposed to result from doing things like installing solar panels or building wind farms or driving EV or reducing energy consumption, and so on.

But, I never see any numbers! And, I never see any cause and effect!

If you want to deal with fat tails, let’s do it on both sides of the discussion. Why should anyone give any credibility to your alarmist position, given that you don’t have any basis for it other than your opinion?

31   MartinJB says:

29 Aug 2017 at 12:59 PM

Roger (@19): SO, “however the science ends up” you think that adaptation is cost effective. Interesting… that suggests that you have a preconceived notion of what you’re willing to do that is not dependent on the reality of the situation. I will freely admit that at a low enough level of ECS, adaptation is more cost effective. But surely, the higher the ECS the more relatively cost-effective mitigation becomes. What’s more, mitigation is more likely to cut off some of the tail risk than adaptation.

One other thing to consider: In general, efforts at mitigation do a better job of assigning more of the costs of dealing with global warming to the the people who have contributed more to in-the-pipeline global warming. Admittedly, that is not a strictly economic metric and likely puts more cost on me and mine, but I am happy to give up a little for the purpose of justice and equity…

32   Mal Adapted says:

29 Aug 2017 at 6:16 PM

Roger Caiazza:

However the science ends up, this Luke warmer thinks that adaptation is a more cost-effective public policy than mitigation.

Uh…if you don’t care about the science, what makes you think adaptation is a more cost-effective public policy than mitigation? Stipulating, of course, that adaptation might be a more cost-effective private policy for you, even if climate sensitivity ends up to be above the modal estimate. If you’re lucky, that is.

33   Phil Scadden says:

29 Aug 2017 at 7:50 PM

Roger – your opinion based on hope, preference – or some actual peer-reviewed analysis of numbers that you would like to share with us? Link please.

Roger Caiazza says:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

29 Aug 2017 at 8:43 PM

Zebra, Here is a cost estimate for New York State to meet part of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order reaffirming the state policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by forty percent by 2030, and eighty percent by 2050 from 1990 levels, across all emitting activities of the New York economy. The Manhattan Institute recently published “New York’s Clean Energy Programs, The High Cost of Symbolic Environmentalism” (https://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/new-yorks-clean-energy-programs-high-cost-symbolic-environmentalism-10565.html) by economist Jonathan Lesser that provides cost estimates for some of the programs referenced in the Executive Order.

Here are the key findings: Given existing technology, the CES’s 80 by 50 mandate is unrealistic, unobtainable, and unaffordable. Attempting to meet the mandate could easily cost New York consumers and businesses more than $1 trillion by 2050.

The CES mandate will require electrifying most of New York’s transportation, commercial, and industrial sectors. (In 2014, for example, fossil-fuel energy used for transportation was twice as large as all end-use electricity consumption combined.) Even with enormous gains in energy efficiency, the mandate would require installing at least 100,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind generation, or 150,000 MW of onshore wind generation, or 300,000 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 2050. By comparison, in 2015, about 11,300 MW of new solar PV capacity was installed in the entire U.S. Moreover, meeting the CES mandate likely would require installing at least 200,000 MW of battery storage to compensate for wind and solar’s inherent intermittency.

Meeting the CES interim goals—building 2,400 MW of offshore wind capacity and 7,300 MW of solar PV capacity by 2030—could result in New Yorkers paying more than $18 billion in above-market costs for their electricity between now and then. By 2050, the above-market costs associated with meeting those interim goals could increase to $93 billion. It will also require building at least 1,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission facilities to move electricity from upstate wind and solar projects to downstate consumers. No state agency has estimated the environmental and economic costs of this new infrastructure.

For what it is worth I think his estimates don’t include all the costs.

Roger Caiazza says:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

29 Aug 2017 at 9:03 PM

For the cost effective commenters,

Using your science for the ECS and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority numbers referenced in the Manhattan Institute report referenced above what do you think the change in global warming temperature would be? For New York the reduction would be 76.2 MMtCO2e from 2014 levels for the 2030 goal and 170.6 MMtCO2e from 2014 for the 2050 goal. For costs use just the $18 billion in above market electricity costs. My question to you is the money spent on the mitigation reduction that you predict going to have tangible results? However I do that calculation I don’t see a measurable impact on temperature. If you have a different approach suitably referenced in the peer reviewed literature please show me.

On the other hand spending that money on adapting New York would provide tangible benefits by making the state more resilient to extreme weather. Remember global warming is going to increase the probability of extreme weather and make it more severe. It is not going to prevent the extreme weather we have observed in the past and, in my opinion at least, we are not nearly as resilient to historical weather as we need to be. So my cost effective argument against mitigation is a lot of money spent for little effect might better be spent adapting to the past.

Conclusion

I really am not sure why my comments were censored other than they reveal some inconvenient points. If the moderators do not think that adaptation is a better alternative or can show that the costs for the 80% goal are reasonable then why not let the commenters provide those numbers or better yet disprove them with their own post. New York State has never shown their numbers so surely someone somewhere can prove their case for them.

How Much for the Paris Climate Agreement

For those of you who are worried that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement is a bad thing I would ask you to consider two pragmatic questions: How much was US participation going to change future temperature and how much would it have cost?

Bjorn Lomborg used the standard MAGICC climate model to determine how much the future temperature would change due to the United States “Nationally Determined Contribution”. He found that the full US promise for the COP21 climate conference in Paris will reduce temperature rise by 0.031°C.  Mike Hulme posted an estimate for the difference of 0.3°C. For the record, my opinion of the MAGICC model is that it is too sensitive to CO2 so I think the impact would be even less the lower bound. In any event, atmospheric temperature is reported to the nearest whole degree Fahrenheit in the US which is 0.55°C. In other words the temperature change range expected from our Paris commitment is lower than the reporting limit so the change is nothing that could be observed.

So how much was it going to cost? If you bothered to listen to the Trump speech on his decision he talked about the Green Climate Fund. If you have any doubts about the decision look up the briefing note by Climate Focus. I found this quote particularly interesting:

“The Paris Decision, serving as guidance for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and pre-2020 action, ‘strongly urges developed country Parties to scale up their level of financial support, with a concrete roadmap to achieve the goal of jointly providing USD 100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation’ (para 115). The Decision furthermore mentions that prior to 2025 the COP shall set a new ‘collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year’ (para 54). The reason both quantitative targets are missing from the actual Agreement is a pragmatic one – in doing so the COP has enabled the US President to adopt the Agreement as ‘sole-executive agreement’ under US law, without the requirement for the US Senate to approve.”

Think about this paragraph. The Paris agreement wanted to start financial support for mitigation and adaptation at $100 billion per year with plans for going even higher in the future. Clearly all the countries on the receiving end of this largesse are in favor of this agreement and clearly the United States was expected to provide the largest chunk of that money. It is particularly telling that the agreement was crafted without quantitative targets so it could be adopted as a ‘sole-executive agreement’ under US law, without the requirement for the US Senate to approve. If it had included quantitative arguments then US voters would have found out how much money the United States was supposed to dole out when the treaty was debated in the Senate.

In summary we were supposed to pay out billions and billions for an agreement that would not have measurably changed global warming. How is getting out of that a bad thing?