CLIMATE AND COLLEGE CAMPUS

 

How Climate Change Conquered the American Campus

The top-paying job for grads last year: petroleum engineer, at $97,000. Yet most colleges seem oddly uninterested.

 
By 

PAUL H. TICE
WSJ
April 7, 2014 6:57 p.m. ET
Here is a college quiz. While many parts of the U.S. economy struggle to recover from the Great Recession of 2008-09, one domestic industry is experiencing a technology-driven expansion in which American innovations have led to countless new company startups, a surge in hiring and some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs for graduating college seniors.How are the nation’s universities responding so students might prepare for a promising career in this growing and intellectually challenging field? By largely ignoring it. Why? Because the industry is oil and gas.

This fact may surprise the casual campus observer, since almost every U.S. college these days seems to have an energy research institute. Most of these energy think-tanks, however, are run by academic advocates of theories about global warming and man-made climate change, most of whom view energy through green-colored lenses. The research focus is more on promoting the clean, sustainable, renewable, non-CO2-emitting energy of the future, as opposed to studying and analyzing the hydrocarbon resources of the here and now.

Chad Crowe

For some of these programs, the agenda is obvious and stated in bold print over the door. Names such as the Yale Climate & Energy Institute and the Princeton Center for Energy and the Environment make clear that the study of energy needs to be chaperoned and monitored. The labeling is less obvious for others, but the result is the same. Visit the websites of the neutrally named Cornell Energy Institute, Energy Initiative and Penn Center for Energy Innovation, and you would think you were looking at algore.com.

My alma mater, Columbia University, recently launched its own Center on Global Energy Policy, with the mission to “improve the quality of energy policy and energy dialogue through objective, balanced and understandable analysis.” The center is headed by Jason Bordoff, former senior director for energy and climate change on the staff of the National Security Council in the Obama administration, who is on record calling for carbon caps and immediate government action to drive down greenhouse-gas emissions. So much for balance.

With all of these research institutes, the messaging is consistent: Fossil-fuel energy is a problem to be solved, a challenge to be overcome, a sector that needs to be transformed and the relic of an industrial state from which to evolve. The policy prescriptions issued by these think-tanks are often presented as moral imperatives, which helps to cut down on the debate.

More troubling is how this ideological bias filters into the college curriculum, both through the content of introductory natural science courses required of all students and the choice of majors and specialty electives offered by technical undergraduate schools.

Based on survey data compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the top-paying undergraduate major in 2013 was petroleum engineering, with an average starting salary of $97,000. How many of the country’s top engineering schools offer such a major? Outside of Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, not many. Often the closest approximation is a bachelor of science degree in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences or the equivalent, with a handful of classes on petrology and geophysics safely outnumbered by myriad courses on environmental science, climatology, global-warming theory and alternate-energy sources.

The oil and gas industry has been historically volatile and marked by boom-and-bust cycles caused by fluctuating commodity prices, with company prospects often tied to hit-or-miss exploratory drilling. Not surprisingly, the industry has struggled with periodic brain drain since the 1980s as students looking for steady employment and career growth have been turned off by such uncertainty.

Technological advances such as seismic imaging, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing—all developed by private companies—have removed much of this volatility and changed the nature of the industry to more of a manufacturing operation. But now another source of even greater uncertainty has been injected into the mix: political and regulatory risk. This is one energy lesson that undergraduates are hearing loud and clear from their professors.

How many college students have been discouraged from considering a field in petroleum engineering or traditional energy finance because of the rational concern that the current Environmental Protection Agency-led attack on coal will move next to target oil and gas? Conversely, how many recent undergraduates have been led down the green garden path toward a career in renewable energy, only to receive a hard-knock, real-life economics lesson in the commercial failures of solar, wind, ethanol, battery and fuel-cell technologies?

Obviously, having proponents of man-made-climate-change theory running energy-research institutes at the college level is an example of inmates taking over the asylum, but there is method to this madness. Over the past 25 years, the environmental movement has been very successful using a two-pronged approach to push its anti-fossil-fuel agenda.

The first prong involves leveraging the U.S. courts and executive agencies to directly control the oil and gas industry through government regulation and taxation. The second involves indirect control through thought leadership and opinion-shaping. Culturally and generationally, man-made climate change is becoming accepted wisdom due to the steady indoctrination taking place in our universities.

Mr. Tice works in investment management and is a former Wall Street energy-research analyst.

CLIMATE THOUGHTS

Second Climate Thoughts

The latest U.N. report tones down the alarmism but ramps up the bad economics.

 
April 6, 2014 6:00 p.m. ET
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest mammoth report last week, and the effort marks an improvement over the IPCC’s last such effort in 2007. That may not be saying much, but on climate change intellectual progress of any sort is worth commending.The IPCC’s “Fifth Assessment Report,” or AR5, is generating the usual alarmist headlines: “Impacts on All Continents, Worse to Come” was typical. That’s partly a function of what the IPCC frontloads into the 28-page “summary for policymakers,” the only portion of the report that most politicians or journalists ever bother reading, and that is sexed up for mass media consumption.So it’s worth diving deeper into the report, where a much more cautious picture of the state of climate science comes into view. Gone are some of the false alarmist claims from the last report, such as the forecast that the Himalayan glaciers would vanish by 2035 or that hurricanes are becoming more intense. “Current data sets,” the report admits, “indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.” Recall the false claims of climate cause and storm effect last year after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.

Associated Press

Absent, too, are claims such as the one made in 2005 that global warming would create 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010 (later pushed back to 2020). In its place, we have the refreshingly honest admission that “current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather events and predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.”

The report is also more cautious about temperature predictions. It acknowledges that the rate of warming between 1998 and 2012 “is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951,” and it predicts modest temperature increases through 2035 of between 1° and 1.5° Celsius. More importantly, it acknowledges that “the innate behavior of the climate system imposes limits on the ability to predict its evolution.”

All of this vindicates what we wrote about the 2007 report: “Beware claims that the science of global warming is settled.” It also suggests an IPCC toning down the end-is-nigh rhetoric that typified its past climate warnings: “Vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause.” In other words, humanity has lots of problems, climate change being one of them. And as with other problems, humanity will cope and adapt.

All good, which makes it even more of a pity that the authors venture from cautious climate science into the most politically correct forms of political science. “Existing gender inequalities are increased or heightened by climate-related hazards,” says the report, while dilating on the deleterious effects global warming has on “discrimination based on gender, age, race, class, caste, indigeneity, and (dis)ability.”

The IPCC also turns out to have an agenda that’s less about climate change than income inequality and redistribution. What else given the liberal fashions of the day? “Recognizing how inequality and marginalization perpetuate poverty is a prerequisite for climate-resilient development pathways,” the IPCC insists, before suggesting that the costs for “global adaptation” should run between $70 billion and $100 billion a year from now until 2050.

So adaptation funding needs to be “orders of magnitude greater than current investment levels, particularly in developing countries.” If one Solyndra wasn’t enough, try underwriting thousands of them. Preferably in third-world countries. For those who suspect that the purported threat of global warming is really a vehicle of convenience for reviving the discredited economics of the 1970s, this IPCC report will serve as Exhibit A.

Then again, if you believe that the risks of climate change are sufficiently plausible that we should at least be considering an insurance policy of sorts, then the IPCC’s policy recommendations could hardly be worse. The best environmental policy is economic growth. The richer you are, the more insurance you have. Wealth is what pays for robust safety standards and prevents sensible environmental regulations from being ignored or corrupted.

Yet the IPCC supports the very regulation, income redistribution and politically favored misallocation of resources that will make the world poorer—and less able to adapt if the climate threat proves to be as real as the U.N.’s computer models claim.

Too bad that lesson hasn’t sunk in at the IPCC, a body that has neither the remit nor the expertise to advise on economic policy. But after this report, we’ll at least treat its views on climate science with a bit more respect.

 

COOLING DOWN CLIMATE CHANGE

 

 

By MATT RIDLEY

Forget the Doha climate jamboree that ended earlier this month. The theological discussions in Qatar of the arcana of climate treaties are irrelevant. By far the most important debate about climate change is taking place among scientists, on the issue of climate sensitivity: How much warming will a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide actually produce? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has to pronounce its answer to this question in its Fifth Assessment Report next year.

The general public is not privy to the IPCC debate. But I have been speaking to somebody who understands the issues: Nic Lewis. A semiretired successful financier from Bath, England, with a strong mathematics and physics background, Mr. Lewis has made significant contributions to the subject of climate change.

David Gothard

He first collaborated with others to expose major statistical errors in a 2009 study of Antarctic temperatures. In 2011 he discovered that the IPCC had, by an unjustified statistical manipulation, altered the results of a key 2006 paper by Piers Forster of Reading University and Jonathan Gregory of the Met Office (the United Kingdom’s national weather service), to vastly increase the small risk that the paper showed of climate sensitivity being high. Mr. Lewis also found that the IPCC had misreported the results of another study, leading to the IPCC issuing an Erratum in 2011.

Mr. Lewis tells me that the latest observational estimates of the effect of aerosols (such as sulfurous particles from coal smoke) find that they have much less cooling effect than thought when the last IPCC report was written. The rate at which the ocean is absorbing greenhouse-gas-induced warming is also now known to be fairly modest. In other words, the two excuses used to explain away the slow, mild warming we have actually experienced—culminating in a standstill in which global temperatures are no higher than they were 16 years ago—no longer work.

In short: We can now estimate, based on observations, how sensitive the temperature is to carbon dioxide. We do not need to rely heavily on unproven models. Comparing the trend in global temperature over the past 100-150 years with the change in “radiative forcing” (heating or cooling power) from carbon dioxide, aerosols and other sources, minus ocean heat uptake, can now give a good estimate of climate sensitivity.

The conclusion—taking the best observational estimates of the change in decadal-average global temperature between 1871-80 and 2002-11, and of the corresponding changes in forcing and ocean heat uptake—is this: A doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F).

This is much lower than the IPCC’s current best estimate, 3°C (5.4°F).

Mr. Lewis is an expert reviewer of the recently leaked draft of the IPCC’s WG1 Scientific Report. The IPCC forbids him to quote from it, but he is privy to all the observational best estimates and uncertainty ranges the draft report gives. What he has told me is dynamite.

Given what we know now, there is almost no way that the feared large temperature rise is going to happen. Mr. Lewis comments: “Taking the IPCC scenario that assumes a doubling of CO2, plus the equivalent of another 30% rise from other greenhouse gases by 2100, we are likely to experience a further rise of no more than 1°C.”

A cumulative change of less than 2°C by the end of this century will do no net harm. It will actually do net good—that much the IPCC scientists have already agreed upon in the last IPCC report. Rainfall will increase slightly, growing seasons will lengthen, Greenland’s ice cap will melt only very slowly, and so on.

Some of the best recent observationally based research also points to climate sensitivity being about 1.6°C for a doubling of CO2. An impressive study published this year by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Center and colleagues gives a most-likely estimate of 1.6°C. Michael Ring and Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois, using the most trustworthy temperature record, also estimate 1.6°C.

The big question is this: Will the lead authors of the relevant chapter of the forthcoming IPCC scientific report acknowledge that the best observational evidence no longer supports the IPCC’s existing 2°-4.5°C “likely” range for climate sensitivity? Unfortunately, this seems unlikely—given the organization’s record of replacing evidence-based policy-making with policy-based evidence-making, as well as the reluctance of academic scientists to accept that what they have been maintaining for many years is wrong.

***

How can there be such disagreement about climate sensitivity if the greenhouse properties of CO2 are well established? Most people assume that the theory of dangerous global warming is built entirely on carbon dioxide. It is not.

There is little dispute among scientists about how much warming CO2 alone can produce, all other things being equal: about 1.1°-1.2°C for a doubling from preindustrial levels. The way warming from CO2 becomes really dangerous is through amplification by positive feedbacks—principally from water vapor and the clouds this vapor produces.

It goes like this: A little warming (from whatever cause) heats up the sea, which makes the air more humid—and water vapor itself is a greenhouse gas. The resulting model-simulated changes in clouds generally increase warming further, so the warming is doubled, trebled or more.

That assumption lies at the heart of every model used by the IPCC, but not even the most zealous climate scientist would claim that this trebling is an established fact. For a start, water vapor may not be increasing. A recent paper from Colorado State University concluded that “we can neither prove nor disprove a robust trend in the global water vapor data.” And then, as one Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a senior role in combating climate change admitted to me the other day: “We don’t even know the sign” of water vapor’s effect—in other words, whether it speeds up or slows down a warming of the atmosphere.

Climate models are known to poorly simulate clouds, and given clouds’ very strong effect on the climate system—some types cooling the Earth either by shading it or by transporting heat up and cold down in thunderstorms, and others warming the Earth by blocking outgoing radiation—it remains highly plausible that there is no net positive feedback from water vapor.

If this is indeed the case, then we would have seen about 0.6°C of warming so far, and our observational data would be pointing at about 1.2°C of warming for the end of the century. And this is, to repeat, roughly where we are.

The scientists at the IPCC next year have to choose whether they will admit—contrary to what complex, unverifiable computer models indicate—that the observational evidence now points toward lukewarm temperature change with no net harm. On behalf of all those poor people whose lives are being ruined by high food and energy prices caused by the diversion of corn to biofuel and the subsidizing of renewable energy driven by carboncrats and their crony-capitalist friends, one can only hope the scientists will do so.

Mr. Ridley writes the Mind and Matter column in The Wall Street Journal and has written on climate issues for various publications for 25 years. His family leases land for coal mining in northern England, on a project that will cease in five years.

A version of this article appeared Dec. 19, 2012, on page A19 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Cooling Down the Fears of Climate Change.

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