Jul 6, 2009

James Hansen and the Experts

In the early to mid-1990s, governments were funding workshops for supposed victims of Satanic ritual abuse, police forces were charging daycare workers with outlandish crimes, reporters were filing breathless news stories, and allegations that were simply impossible were being accepted at face value. I was among the few voices in Canadian journalism who maintained that the Satanic-ritual-abuse panic was nonsense.

The current global warming ethos reminds me of that era. No matter how foolish their declarations, global warming activists are simply taken at their word. No fact-checking is done. No contrary opinion is offered. Rather, such activists say the darndest things and smart people running prestigious publications challenge them not at all.

A great example is a recent opinion piece appearing in Yale Environment 360, a magazine published by Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. This isn't amateur hour. As an Ivy League institution, Yale is associated with "academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism."

Dr. James Hansen, the author of the piece is question, is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He's also an environmental activist - the sort who scolds politicians on the international stage and isn't content to protest lawfully but instead embraces civil disobedience. (As the article's editor notes, "Hansen and 30 other protesters were arrested [on June 23] and charged with impeding traffic outside a Massey Energy coal site in Raleigh County, West Virginia.")

I've attended many demonstrations over the years. In my experience, the participants who feel the need to get themselves arrested aren't the calm, sensible type. Rather, these are the folks who flaunt their zeal, who lean toward fanaticism.

Rebutting every questionable assertion in Dr. Hansen's piece would be a lengthy, time-consuming process. So I'm going to restrict myself to just one sentence. The fourth paragraph from the bottom (beside the green box) begins with this line:

"Experts agree that energy efficiency and carbon-free energies can satisfy our energy needs."

Really. At this point in time, carbon-free energy sources are nowhere close to being available in large enough supply to "satisfy our energy needs." France has the cleanest energy in the world. It emits 0.3 tons of CO2 for every $1,000 in GDP. This is half what the rest of the world emits and is a result of its huge reliance on nuclear power.

But even France cannot claim that its energy needs are being met in a "carbon free" way. Dr. Hansen's declaration that this is possible for everyone is nothing more than wishful thinking. For him to further suggest that "experts agree" with him on this point is breathtaking in its audacity. The following quote appeared in Newsweek in 2007:
The global-warming debate's great un-mentionable is this: we lack the technology to get from here to there. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 doesn't mean it can happen. At best, we might curb emissions growth.

Consider a 2006 study from the International Energy Agency. With present policies, it projected that carbon-dioxide emissions…would more than double by 2050…The IEA then simulated an aggressive, global program to cut emissions based on the best available technologies: more solar, wind and biomass; more-efficient cars, appliances and buildings; more nuclear. Under this admitted fantasy, global emissions in 2050 would still slightly exceed 2003 levels. [emphasis added]
In other words, International Energy Agency experts are rather at odds with Dr. Hansen's assertion. Nor are they alone. A 2008 study study regarding British government plans to increase dependence on wind power sounded a note of caution. According to the lead author:
Wind power does not obviate the need for fossil fuel plants, which will continue to be indispensable. The problem is that wind power volatility requires fossil fuel plants to be switched on and off, which damages them and means that even more plants will have to be built. Carbon savings will be less than expected…Neither these extra costs nor the increased carbon production are being taken into account in government figures for wind power. [emphasis added]
So let's repeat Dr. Hansen's claim one more time:

"Experts agree that energy efficiency and carbon-free energies can satisfy our energy needs."

Actually, given the green energy technologies currently available to us, carbon-free energy sources are unlikely to meet our needs anytime soon. Indeed, a number of experts appear to consider this next to impossible.

When Dr. Hansen blithely states that "experts agree" with his rosy views regarding the availability of carbon-free energy, he's implying that anyone who holds a different opinion simply does not exist. Such is the quality of thinking demonstrated by the man who's known as Al Gore's science advisor.


>> James Hansen drags NASA into his personal politics
>> NASA's mistaken glacier info
>> The big picture: the Y2K lesson