Murphy Commentary in Syracuse Post Standard: Earth has a Fever – Public Policy has the Cure

On September 23, 2018, the Syracuse Post Standard published a guest commentary entitled “Earth has a Fever – Public Policy has the Cure” by Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr. SUNY Senior Fellow for Environmental and Sustainable Systems. As is typical in Dr. Murphy’s commentaries a list of disasters is trotted out, the climate crisis of global warming is blamed for them, and the sermon ends with a call to “improve the future of our planet”. I disagree with his arguments and his proposed policies.

Unfortunately, Dr. Murphy’s list of disasters are, in fact, only peripherally related to climate change and I am not in the mood to dissect each of his claims because “the amount of energy necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it”, Brandolini’s BS asymmetry principle. Consider only the Cyanobacteria outbreaks in 55 lakes in New York State he claims are due to warm water column temperatures and nutrients. His attribution is correct but his emphasis is wrong. If there are limited nutrients it does not matter how warm the water is you will not get eutrophic algae blooms that lead to Cyanobacteria outbreaks.

I think that Dr. Murphy should read Roger Pielke Jr’s book on The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change to appreciate the actual problems associated with climate change. Dr. Pielke is reviled because he shows how the consensus of climate science does not support the climate crisis Dr. Murphy invokes as the reason to act now. As Ben Pile’s review of the updated version of the book notes “In other words, climate change may well be a problem, but the data sets consistently show that economic and technological development mitigate the worst problems that climate has always caused.”

 

Dr. Murphy says that Climate disruption is a social issue and that the “The least advantaged among us will suffer the most with limited access to air conditioners and cooling centers”. I agree that energy poverty problem is a social issue. I am sure that we disagree on the cure however. While Dr. Murphy would have us try to moderate extreme weather I believe that there is no evidence that the policies he espouses will prevent it. If anything we might be able reduce future frequency and severity but society is not where near resilient to existing weather so it makes sense to emphasize adaptation over mitigation.

 

My biggest concern is that the current New York State Energy Plan promotes the use of fossil-free technology that is so expensive that the least advantaged among us will have limited access to the energy they need for cooling and heating because they will be unable to afford it. Ben Pile explains:

Moreover, campaigners’ conviction that anthropogenic climate change is bringing disaster upon us overlooks the extent to which economic and social development has enabled us to cope better with extreme weather events. As Pielke explains, ‘societal change is underappreciated, overlooked, and part of that is politics’. ‘The climate-change issue’, Pielke continues, ‘has taken all the oxygen out of the room for vulnerability, resilience, natural climate variability, indeed pretty much everything else that matters. It is absolutely the case that overall being richer as communities, as nations, is associated with more resilience, less vulnerability to natural disasters, particularly when it comes to loss of life… The climate issue has become so all-encompassing that it’s hard to get these other perspectives into the dialogue.’

Stop This Nonsense

I am tired of the constant drumbeat from those who are convinced that greenhouse gas emissions are going to cause an inevitable horror show of environmental impacts and that we need to stop emitting those emissions else we are doomed. In science you should look at the range of possibilities and probabilities. The fact is that though those horrific forecasts are possible, they are pretty unlikely. It is much more likely that any impacts will tweak weather to be a little more severe and a little more frequent if there is any effect at all.

The problem is that these prophesies of doom are driving all kinds of New York State policies that allegedly will prevent catastrophe. If New York implements all the programs the Cuomo administration wants to do so that we reduce our emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 the global temperature increase prevented will be the same as going south a half a mile.

Jo Nova said it well: I say, just stop. Stop installing infrastructure we don’t need, stop subsidizing it, stop pretending we need green electrons. Stop pretending we need “storage” to solve a problem we never had. Stop buying electricity at inflated prices from generators which don’t make it when we need it. People wanting to make money selling solar power can pay for the batteries themselves. Start spreading the costs of this pointless experiment as fairly as we can instead of dumping it on electricity consumers who don’t have solar and on taxpayers who have never had the opportunity to vote whether they support these massive investments.

Here is the bottom line. There will be no measurable effect so all this is virtue signaling and the cost for New York is billions. No one is saying that if we control greenhouse gases that historical severe weather won’t happen. A much better investment of our tax and energy dollars would be to make society more resilient to the observed weather impacts of the past.

Reality Slap to the REV Microgrid Concept

I believe that the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) call for microgrids will result in the unintended consequence of encouraging the development of natural gas fired combined heat and power units. The most compelling reason is because that approach does not need to include storage in order to provide 24-7 power and any storage component will make that option much more expensive. However that reality does not comport with the dreams of those who believe a no-fossil future is necessary. This brings us to an ideal situation to see how this will be reconciled in New York State.

The ideal candidate for conversion to a combined heat and power unit is an office complex that has a power plant for steam heat and uses grid electricity. The Empire State Plaza in Albany NY is just such a complex. The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has proposed the Empire State Plaza Microgrid and Combined Heat and Power Plant to replace the existing system. However, their rationale ran aground against the idealism of local community members and environmentalists from across the state who assailed NYPA’s plan to replace aging steam turbines in the low-income, predominantly African-American Sheridan Hollow community with two new combined heat and power turbines to provide electricity and steam.

On February 5, 2018 NYPA caved to this pressure and announced that they will do additional studies of the proposed Empire State Plaza Microgrid and Combined Heat and Power Plant project in Albany in order to better evaluate renewable energy options for the project. The press release claimed that:

“This will allow a more comprehensive review of possible alternative energy sources that may be feasible to explore as part of the Sheridan Avenue project to improve reliability, resiliency and energy efficiency at the plaza. The project partners, the New York State Office of General Services and NYPA, will take this time to enlist ongoing engagement and input from members of the public, including local community members, energy experts and advocacy organizations and will incorporate community benefits into the project’s go-forward plan.”

According to slide 8 in the NYPA presentation on the Empire State Plaza CHP and Microgrid Project Overview the Plaza consumes 111,000,000 kWh per year and uses 1,003,084 klbs of steam per year. NYPA proposed two Taurus 70 combustion turbines that will produce more than enough electricity and steam heat to fulfill those needs. The key to the greater efficiency of a combined heat and power facility is that you use the waste heat, in this case to produce steam for heating. The proposed application is ideal because the CHP output can use the existing electrical and steam infrastructure thus saving costs.

According to slide 5 in the NYPA presentation Project Overview Slide 5, NYPA considered and rejected:

  • Solar Photovoltaic
  • Solar Thermal
  • Geothermal
  • Wind Power

Let’s review the feasibility of these alternative energy sources. As noted above my main rationale for using natural gas CHP is that you eliminate the need for storage. In their project overview this issue was not addressed because they noted fatal flaws without it. The more comprehensive review proposed in the press release must address that issue or be compromised.

NYPA noted that there is not enough roof space or appropriate acreage in Albany and that the option does not provide heat for solar photovoltaic as issues. At the simplest level if we assume 0.75 kWH per day per square yard of solar photovoltaic, then you would need 84 acres of space for enough PV cells so I have to agree with the NYPA space argument. Furthermore that is the minimum level needed because PV output varies over the year. In order to do the calculation correctly you would need to match the PV output with the actual daily and seasonal load curves. In any event you would still need to provide energy for heating and that requirement is exacerbated by the fact that the fact that when you need the heat the most the solar energy is lowest.

With regards to solar thermal, NYPA noted that the technology cannot generate steam, space is an issue and it does not provide electricity. If your only requirement is hot water then solar thermal may have value but in this case I agree with NYPA. To use solar thermal for heating you would have to replace the existing heating system, you need the solar thermal collectors contiguous to the facility so space is an even bigger constraint, and the peak need for energy is in winter when the solar energy available is lowest. The final nail in the coffin is that this option does not provide electricity.

Geothermal has two flaws. In the first place it cannot generate steam heat so that means that the existing heating system cannot be used. Secondly, it does not produce electricity.

NYPA noted that wind power is hard to site in urban areas, has safety issues in urban areas, and noted that the area does not have enough wind potential for the project. In addition they could have noted that wind does not produce steam so the heating system would have to be changed.

The press release course of action notes:

NYPA will engage community stakeholders, energy experts, and community advocacy organizations to examine renewable options including large scale net metering for solar and wind inputs. The Authority will further assess the feasibility of incorporating any renewable energy options as part of a proposed locally-sourced mini-power grid. The grid will be connected to the statewide grid, and also be able to operate independently, to power the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza in Albany. The goal for the proposed project is to be able to supply 90 percent of the power for the 98-acre downtown Albany complex and be able to save the Plaza an estimated $2.7 million in annual energy costs.

In my opinion, this will be difficult to justify and meet the criteria listed. The ultimate problem is that renewable energy is intermittent and diffuse. Any meaningful renewable energy component to this project will have to include storage to address intermittency or it is simply a virtue signaling symbolic gesture. As noted by NYPA and confirmed in my simple estimates, renewable energy’s Achilles Heel of diffusivity means that in order to include any substantive wind or solar it will have to be collected beyond the Empire State Plaza boundary. When that happens the goal of being able to operate independently is contradicted because the existing grid will be used to transmit the power.

Judith Enck, the former EPA regional administrator for the Obama administration claims “If the state of New York is serious about climate change, it has to stop investing in fossil fuels.” While for this particular project I concede that it is technologically feasible to use renewable energy I don’t see how it could be implemented without substantially higher costs to address intermittency with storage and without contradicting the basic tenet that it will be able to operate independently. NYPA is a New York agency controlled by the Governor. It will be interesting to see how the short-comings of renewable energy are reconciled with the reality of the electrical and heating needs of the Empire State Plaza.

NY RGGI Stakeholder Meeting February 2018

UPDATE: The stakeholder meeting was held on 2/13/2018 and I never received a response to my request for a webinar and the meeting did not include remote access.  Ironically, I understand one of the topics of conversation was an initiative to control CO2 emissions from the transportation sector. 

On January 25, 2018 several New York State (NYS) agencies announced a stakeholder meeting for NYS interests in the RGGI proceeding. These agencies should be leading by example but this announcement demonstrates to me their actual lack of commitment to their espoused goal.

The notice stated:

On February 13, 2018, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and Department of Public Service (DPS) will host a New York State stakeholder meeting to follow the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) regional stakeholder webinar scheduled for January 26th, and to discuss next steps related to the conclusion of the 2016 RGGI Program review. The meeting in Albany will build upon the regional meetings held to date and provides an opportunity to discuss New York specific topics related to the RGGI model rule implementation in New York. This includes forthcoming proposed revisions to DEC’s regulation implementing RGGI in New York, 6 NYCRR Part 242, CO2 Budget Trading Program.

My problem is the following:

This meeting will be in-person only to better facilitate dialogue as New York kicks off it’s stakeholder process. Additional meeting dates, including webinar opportunities may be made available to interested parties that cannot attend this meeting.

In my opinion, New York has set aggressive emission reduction targets more as a slogan and support for Governor Cuomo’s political ambitions than a rational action. At the top of the list of support for that statement is the decision to eliminate 10% of the state’s total electrical energy and 17% of the carbon free electrical energy by closing Indian Point. The fact of the matter is that in order to meet the Reforming the Energy Vision goal of an 80% reduction of GHG emissions by 2050 it will take enormous effort, require NYS citizens all to make sacrifices and accept some inconveniences. See for example this article on tradeoffs. State agencies should be leading by example. That the agencies would prefer to require attendees to increase their carbon footprint to attend a meeting solely “to better facilitate dialogue” is inconsistent with that reality. As Glenn Reynolds said: “I’ll believe global warming is a crisis when the people telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.”

I submitted a comment to the contact address that included that point on January 27, 2018 and asked for remote access. If the agencies respond to that request I will update this post.

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.

Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York Principle 6: Iron Law of Climate

This is a background post for one of the principles that I believe define pragmatic environmentalists. Other principles are listed at the end of this post.

Roger Pielke, Jr has defined the “iron law” as follows: While people are often willing to pay some price for achieving climate objectives, that willingness has its limits.

Dr. Pielke calls this the iron law of climate but it applies to all environmental objectives so this is closely related to Pragmatic Environmentalist Principle 4: We can do almost anything but we cannot do everything. The fact is that trying to reduce more and more risks costs increasingly more money. Eventually that cost becomes too much to bear and people will stop supporting those costs even if they reduce risk.

For example consider the proposal to get 100% of our energy from wind, water, and solar by Delucchi and Jacobsen. The author of the A Chemist in Langley blog is a pragmatic environmentalist. He has posted frequently on this proposal in his posts on the fossil free future proposal by Delucchi and Jacobsen and other similar initiatives.   In the context of this principle he specifically has observed that “It places tight, and poorly supported, restrictions on a number of important baseline clean energy technologies and in doing so results in a proposal that is ruinously expensive.”

I agree that the proposal for 100% renewable is technologically possible but the economic costs would not be supported by most of society simply because of the enormous costs. Because renewable sources are intermittent and diffuse the electric energy system would have to be overhauled to included storage for intermittency and a vastly different transmission system to address the diffuse sources. Dr. Jesse Jenkins at the Energy Collective Blog points out the difficulty of relying on renewable energy for more than 40% of the energy supplies. While the installed cost of renewables might approach conventional sources the real concern is that all the other aspects necessary to maintain the electrical grid have to be addressed and those costs are overlooked by many advocates.

Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York Principles

Principle 1: Environmental Issues are Binary: In almost all environmental issues there are two sides. Pragmatic environmentalism is all about balancing the risks and benefits of the two sides of the issue. In order to do that you have to show your work.

Principle 2: Sound Bite Environmental Issue Descriptions: Sound bite descriptions in the media necessarily only tell one side of the story. As a result they frequently are misleading, are not nuanced, or flat out wrong.

Principle 3: Baloney Asymmetry Principle: Alberto Brandolini: “The amount of energy necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”

Principle 4: We can do almost anything we want, but we can’t do everything: Environmental initiatives often are presented simply as things we should do but do not consider that in order to implement those initiatives tradeoffs are required simply because the resources available are finite.

Principle 5: Observation on Environmental Issue Stakeholders: The more vociferous/louder the claims made by a stakeholder the more likely that the stakeholder is guilty of the same thing.

Murphy Editorial “EPA Chief is wrong on the greenhouse gas effect”

On April 18, 2017 the Syracuse Post Standard published a featured editorial by Dr. Cornelius Murphy, Jr. “EPA Chief is wrong on the greenhouse gas effect”. I was given the opportunity to submit a rebuttal but was asked to make it the same length. This presents a problem because of the Baloney Asymmetry Principle, the third of my pragmatic environmentalist principles. In particular, the amount of information necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it. This post rebuts his arguments.

Dr. Murphy’s editorial is an example of the straw man fallacy prominent amongst the critics of the current EPA. He describes the science behind the greenhouse effect and claims that Administrator Pruitt disagrees with those facts to support his claim that Pruitt must not be allowed to provide direction and policy for CO2 mitigation. The Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis espoused by Dr. Murphy claims that mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for the recent observed warming of the globe and, unless stopped soon, will have catastrophic impacts on the planet. This post addresses the catastrophic component of global warming which, I believe, are not obvious by simply “looking around” as Murphy suggests.

Robust scientific theories and hypotheses rely on a combination of both empirical and correlative evidence. In the case of a theory that cannot be directly tested through a controlled experiment, we have to rely on long term observations and comparison of projections based on the theory against the observations. Empirical observations and correlative evidence for the CAGW hypothesis are not as obvious as Murphy implies.

I have no issues with Dr. Murphy’s description of the greenhouse effect. The basic greenhouse gas theory is not controversial. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.  It retards radiative cooling.  All other factors held equal, increasing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 will lead to a somewhat higher atmospheric temperature.  It is not controversial that CO2 has risen in the last century or that at least half of the increase was due to mankind. It is also obvious that average temperatures are increasing over that same period. Dr. Murphy said that Administrator Pruitt “doesn’t think that CO2 is responsible for heating our planet”, but I don’t think Mr. Pruitt would dispute any of the aforementioned facts.

However, those facts do not necessarily lead to catastrophe and there is a healthy debate on most policy-relevant aspects of global warming. In the first place, there is a predicted warming due to greenhouse gases when all factors are held equal but all other things are never held equal in meteorology. In that case, doubling the concentration of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial level would reduce outgoing infrared radiation by about 4 watts per meter squared and the temperature of the atmosphere would increase about 1.2 deg. C. Note that about half of this warming has already occurred. So clearly some of the observed warming is caused by this effect.

The most recent warming period started before the recent rise in CO2. There have been other warm periods of the same magnitude of the current period in the last two thousand years when anthropogenic CO2 was not the driver. At a minimum the CAGW theory has to explain why the causes of the warming between 1900 and 1940 which is of the same order of magnitude as the current warming are not playing a role now.

Dr. Murphy says that Administrator Pruitt should look at what is happening around him and cites several examples: “We have wild extremes in temperatures but annual average global temperatures continuing to rise. The temperatures of our Great Lakes are 6 degrees above average, extreme weather events challenge us all too frequently, and we experience mega droughts globally on a regular basis.” I address those points below.

I do not dispute that annual average global temperatures continue to rise. However, to me, if there is a valid concern about rising temperatures, then we should be able to find evidence that heat waves are increasing. The EPA climate change indicators high and low temperatures web page lists several parameters associated with temperature. The heat wave index shows an overwhelming spike in the 1930’s but there is no suggestion of a recent trend. There is a trend in the area of unusually hot temperatures graph but I wonder how they addressed the development of heat islands in that data so I am skeptical. I see nothing happening to warrant alarm.

His only quantitative claim is that “the temperatures of our Great Lakes are six degrees above average” but his claim does not withstand scrutiny.  According to EPA’s Climate Change Indicators web page on Great Lake temperatures: “Since 1995, average surface water temperatures have increased slightly for each of the Great Lakes”, but that is nowhere near six degrees.  The web site Great Lakes Statistics lists the current temperatures relative to their period of record starting in 1992 and all five lakes are currently less than two degrees above the mid-April average.

Dr. Murphy says extreme weather events challenge us all too frequently insinuating that they are getting worse but, again, looking at data indicates no cause for alarm. In recent testimony before the House of Representatives, Dr. Roger A. Pielke, Jr. addressed trends of extreme events in the United States. He noted that global weather-related disaster losses as a percentage of Global GDP are trending down since 1990; that there is no trend in hurricane landfall frequency or intensity; that the IPCC noted no evidence of a trend for floods; that US flood impacts are going down; and that there low confidence in observed trends for hail or tornadoes.

Dr. Murphy says that we experience mega droughts globally on a regular basis but Dr. Pielke quotes the IPCC: “there is low confidence in detection and attribution of changes in drought over global land areas since the mid-20th century”. If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes no trends in droughts then the only way we can interpret the regular basis comment is that this has been the case in the past and it continues today. His statement is not wrong but it also is not cause for alarm upon inspection either.

Because it is impossible to run a controlled experiment on Earth’s climate (there is no control planet), the only way to “test” the CAGW hypothesis is through models.  If the CAGW hypothesis is valid, then the models should demonstrate predictive skill. However the models are not predicting temperatures well enough to meet that standard because they predict a sensitivity to CO2 two to three times greater than that supported by observations. Dr. Curry’s summary of the global climate models makes five points about the use of these models for this purpose:

  1. GCMs have not been subject to the rigorous verification and validation that is the norm for engineering and regulatory science.
  2. There are valid concerns about a fundamental lack of predictability in the complex nonlinear climate system.
  3. There are numerous arguments supporting the conclusion that climate models are not fit for the purpose of identifying with high confidence the proportion of the 20th century warming that was human-caused as opposed to natural.
  4. There is growing evidence that climate models predict too much warming from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  5. The climate model simulation results for the 21st century reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not include key elements of climate variability, and hence are not useful as projections for how the 21st century climate will actually evolve.

Finally, Dr. Murphy notes that Pruitt is not a scientist but is an attorney. Although Dr. Murphy is a chemist and not a meteorologist like me I don’t believe that a person’s background necessarily means much. Look at the evidence yourself. When you check the numbers and claims like I did then you can determine whether or not to believe whoever is making the claims. In this case I find little support for Dr. Murphy’s claims but readers should decide themselves.

I have not found sufficient evidence to convince me that CO2 mitigation efforts are appropriate at this time. While it is very likely that human activities are the cause of at least some of the warming over the past 150 years the question is how much.  There is no robust statistical correlation to indicate that CO2 is the primary driver.  The failure of the climate models outline above clearly demonstrates the CAGW hypothesis is flawed.

I conclude that our children and grandchildren are not in imminent danger from CAGW and would be better served by investments to make society more resilient to observed extreme weather rather than trying to mitigate CO2 emissions to try to prevent the speculative weather projected by the flawed models. I believe Administrator Pruitt’s agenda to reign in the ill-conceived CO2 mitigation programs of the Obama Administration is appropriate. On the other hand, I do not agree with any plans to cut the climate monitoring and observing programs at EPA and elsewhere. I support research into all the causes of climate change not just anthropogenic causes. Ultimately, until such time that a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels is available society will continue to use them because of their tremendous benefits. If you believe that we society should stop using fossil fuels then research and development for alternatives is appropriate.