Friday, September 23, 2022

Net Zero Watch: ‘Crippling’ energy bills force Europe’s factories to go dark


In this newsletter:

1) ‘Crippling’ energy bills force Europe’s factories to go dark
The New York Times, 19 September 2022
2) German industry suffers worst energy shock since 1949
The Daily Telegraph, 20 September 2022

3) The Net Zero policies that should be torn up to save your wealth
The Sunday Telegraph, 18 September 2022
4) Energy crisis sparks global coal rush
Reuters, 20 September 2022
5) China doubles down on coal as energy crunch bites
The Business Times, 18 September 2022 
6) Mark P. Mills: Europe is losing the energy war
City Journal, 18 September 2022
7) Joel Kotkin: Environmentalism is a fundamentalist religion
Newsweek, 19 September 2022
8) Steven Koonin: Don’t believe the hype about Antarctica’s melting glaciers
The Wall Street Journal, 19 September 2022

Full details:

1) ‘Crippling’ energy bills force Europe’s factories to go dark
The New York Times, 19 September 2022


Manufacturers are furloughing workers and shutting down lines because they can’t pay the gas and electric charges.

The furnace, heated to 1,500 degrees Celsius, was glowing red. Workers at the Arc International glass factory loaded it with sand that slowly pooled into a molten mass. Nearby on the factory floor, machines transformed the shapeless liquid with a blast of hot air into thousands of delicate wine glasses, destined for sale to restaurants and homes worldwide.

Nicholas Hodler, the chief executive, surveyed the assembly line, shimmering blue with natural gas flames. For years, Arc had been powered by cheap energy that helped turn the company into the world’s largest producer of glass tableware — and a vital employer in this working-class region of northern France.

But the impact of Russia’s abrupt cutoff of gas to Europe has doused the business with new risks. Energy prices have climbed so fast that Mr. Hodler has had to rewrite business forecasts six times in two months. Recently, he put a third of Arc’s 4,500 employees on partial furlough to save money. Four of the factory’s nine furnaces will be idled; the others will be switched from natural gas to diesel, a cheaper but more polluting fuel.

“It’s the most dramatic situation we have ever encountered,” Mr. Hodler said, shouting to be heard over the din of clinking glasses. “For energy-intensive businesses like ours, it’s crippling.”

Arc is not alone. High energy prices are lashing European industry, forcing factories to cut production quickly and put tens of thousands of employees on furlough. The cutbacks, though expected to be temporary, are raising the risks of a painful recession in Europe. Industrial production in the euro area fell 2.3 percent in July from a year earlier, the biggest drop in more than two years.

Makers of metal, paper, fertilizer and other products that depend on gas and electricity to transform raw materials into products from car doors to cardboard boxes have announced belt-tightening. Half of Europe’s aluminum and zinc production has been taken offline, according to Eurometaux, Europe’s metals trade association.

Among them is Arcelor Mittal, Europe’s largest steel maker, which is idling blast furnaces in Germany. Alcoa, a global aluminum products producer, is cutting a third of production at its smelter in Norway. In the Netherlands, Nyrstar, the world’s biggest zinc producer, is pausing output until further notice.

Even toilet paper is not immune: In Germany, Hakle, one of the largest manufacturers, announced that it had tumbled into insolvency because of a “historic energy crisis.”

Full story
2) German industry suffers worst energy shock since 1949
The Daily Telegraph, 20 September 2022


German factories suffered their biggest price shock since records began last month, as the throttling of gas supplies from Russia led energy bills to more than double.

Prices of industrial products jumped by almost 46pc over the past year, according to the Federal Statistical Office, which is the biggest ever increase on records dating back to 1949 when Germany was divided and recovering from the Second World War.

Energy bills reported by businesses surged by 139pc on the year, and increased by more than one-fifth between July and August alone.

Electricity prices almost tripled, jumping by 175pc, with redistributors reporting a leap of almost 280pc in the prices they face.

Natural gas distribution prices more than tripled, rising 209pc on the year.

The surge came as Russia choked off energy supplies to Germany. Flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline were reduced in July before being shut indefinitely at the end of August, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying gas trade would restart if sanctions were lifted.

Continued soaring inflation represents a growing threat to a German economy that may already be in recession.

The Bundesbank recently warned of “mounting signs of a recession” with “a clear, broad-based and longer-lasting decline in economic output”.

Full story
3) The Net Zero policies that should be torn up to save your wealth
The Sunday Telegraph, 18 September 2022

Telegraph Money breaks down how the Government's ambitions might be hurting your pocket, and what proposals Liz Truss needs to tear up

Lauren Almeida

Britain's ambition to reach net zero by 2050 has drawn much criticism since the target was first announced in 2019 – not least because of its potential impact on household finances.
Plans to phase out the nation's gas boilers as well as petrol and diesel cars may help to reduce the national carbon footprint, but critics have warned the move could be too expensive for many families to bear, as inflation remains at multi-decade highs and the risk of recession grows. 
It is not clear yet whether the Net Zero 2050 policy will survive the new Prime Minister Liz Truss's government in its current form. Ms Truss has already launched a review into Boris Johnson's emissions target, chaired by the MP Chris Skidmore. 
The review will decide whether net zero is being met in an “economically efficient way" and will not place “undue burdens on businesses or consumers”. But net zero critics claim that policies in place are already starting to hurt families' budgets and wealth.
Here Telegraph Money breaks down how the Government's Net Zero ambitions might be hurting your pocket, and the policies that should be scrapped.

Forced to insulate homes
Under the race to reach net zero, the Government has said it wants Britain's housing stock to be much more energy efficient, but the burden of doing so has been laid squarely on property owners.

And as record-high energy bills eat away at household budgets, property buyers have become more discerning about “EPC” ratings. 
Every property has an Energy Performance Certificate, ranging from A to G. Homes with a rating from A to C are considered to be energy efficient, while anything below is considered poor. The average rating for a British home is D. 
Sellers are facing increasing pressure to invest their money into home upgrades in order to stay competitive. Vendors who have spent money to improve their EPC rating have pocketed 16pc extra on average when selling their home, according to research from the property website Rightmove.
But not all homeowners can afford the upgrades necessary to move up a band. Big upgrades such as insulation improvements cost thousands of pounds. For example, paying for foam insulation in cavity walls for a three-bedroom home would cost £1,200. This could save £285 a year in energy bills at current prices, but this means it would take at least four years to pay off. 
Heat pumps are another source of frustration for many homeowners. The Government has committed to heat pumps as the replacement for gas boilers, with a target of 600,000 devices installed each year by 2028. By 2025, gas boilers will be banned from newly built homes, and by 2035 the Government wants to phase out all gas boiler installations.
However, the upfront costs of installing a heat pump versus the cost of installing a gas boiler has put many homeowners off. 
Until 2025, homeowners who opt to install a heat pump will receive a £5,000 grant to do so as part of the Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme. But installation costs can be in excess of £10,000. Meanwhile gas boiler costs range from £1,000 to £4,000, according to Boiler Guide, a network of gas and heat pump engineers.
Running costs are not always cheaper for heat pumps, either. In June, the Climate Change Committee, an independent Government adviser on tackling climate change, estimated that the cost of running a heat pump was 10pc higher than gas. 
End of the road for fuel motors
The Government push towards electric cars has also caused much tension, especially as charging infrastructure across the country is not yet extensive enough to support all drivers. Last year it announced that it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030, forcing many drivers into expensive decisions.
The average cost of an electric vehicle is £43,896, compared with an overall average £23,185 for a medium-sized car, according to the price comparison website NimbleFins. 
However, electric car owners could save money in the long run on petrol, the price for which has rocketed this year. The cost of charging will also be cheaper under Liz Truss' plan to cap the cost of electricity units.
Green levies 
Households are currently charged a green levy on energy bills which adds £150 to the average energy bill. The proceeds are used to fund renewable energy subsidy schemes. 
Net Zero Watch, a campaign group that monitors the impact of decarbonisation, has estimated that the policy costs the British economy around £11bn a year, adding a total £250 to the annual cost of living per household. 
Liz Truss has pledged to cut the green levy out of energy bills, but it is not clear yet whether this will last beyond the next general election in 2024.
Renewables Obligation
The Government’s larger-scale economic policies are costing taxpayers too. Net Zero Watch found that the Government could shelter households by reducing the burden of some of its most expensive schemes. 
It highlighted the Renewables Obligation mechanism, under which wind and solar companies operate. The policy places an obligation on UK electricity suppliers to source more of their power from renewable sources. 
The Government issues Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) to operators, which they can then trade with other companies. ROCs are used by suppliers to demonstrate that they have met their obligation. 
The monetary value of these certificates is set by the Government, but could be set to zero, according to the Net Zero Watch. It calculated that the current scheme is expected to cost £6.8bn from 2022 to 2023, or £229 per household. 
see also Net Zero Watch publishes plan to address energy crisis


4) Energy crisis sparks global coal rush
Reuters, 20 September 2022


DAR ES SALAAM, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The sleepy Tanzanian port of Mtwara mainly dealt in cashew nuts until late last year. Now it bustles with vessels loading up with coal, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine drives a worldwide race for the polluting fuel.

Tanzania traditionally exports thermal coal only to neighbouring countries in east Africa; sending it further afield was out of the question, as it required trucking the material more than 600 km from mines in its southwest to Mtwara, the nearest Indian Ocean port.

Prices for thermal coal, used to generate electricity, have leapt to record levels as a result of the war, which has led to many European countries losing access to vital supplies of natural gas and coal from their top provider Russia.

Buyers in Europe and beyond are now vying to pay top dollar for coal from often remote mines in places such as Tanzania, Botswana and even potentially Madagascar. The resurgent coal demand, driven by governments trying to wean themselves off Russian energy while keeping a lid on power prices, clashes with climate plans to shift away from the most polluting fossil fuel.

"European players, after the Russian war, are going to any place where there is coal," Rizwan Ahmed, managing director of coal miner Bluesky Minings said in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. "They are offering to pay very good prices."

Commodities trader Cargill has seen a marked rise in coal shipments into Europe in recent months, said Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill's ocean transportation division, with the company transporting 9 million tonnes of coal globally in the June-August period compared with 7 million a year earlier.

"Europe is competing with other buyers and the alternative is more expensive, which is gas," said Dieleman. "Europe should be able to source coal and we will see very strong flows into Europe from Colombia, South Africa and even further away."

Even though the window of opportunity may be short should the geopolitical winds shift, some countries with coal resources see the margins to be gained as too good a chance to miss.

Full story
5) China doubles down on coal as energy crunch bites
The Business Times, 18 September 2022

CHINA has stepped up spending on coal in the face of extreme weather, a domestic energy crunch and rising global fuel prices – raising concerns Beijing’s policies may hinder the fight against climate change.

The country is the world’s biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases driving global warming, and President Xi Jinping has vowed to reduce coal use from 2026 as part of a broad set of climate promises.

Beijing has committed to peaking its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

Overall carbon emissions in China have fallen for 4 consecutive quarters on the back of an economic slowdown, research reported by climate monitor Carbon Brief showed in early September.

But at the same time, slowing growth has led authorities to rely on smokestack industries in an effort to boost the economy.

The push to shore up coal power – which still makes up most of China’s energy supply – has alarmed analysts who warn that it will make an eventual transition to a renewables-dominated energy mix more difficult.

Full story
6) Mark P. Mills: Europe is losing the energy war
City Journal, 18 September 2022
Here’s how the continent can fight back.


Wars are fought on many fronts. So far, Russian president Vladimir Putin is winning the energy war. High energy prices, triggered by supply disruptions, have neutered Western sanctions. Russia’s current account balance stands at record highs. Meantime, the same forces are de-industrializing Europe right before our eyes. Industry after industry is throttling back, shutting down, or considering doing so if the energy chaos continues. Britain is staring at the potential shutdown of 60 percent of its manufacturers. Germany and most of Europe are on the same track.

Discussions of how to rebuild Ukraine when the ground war eventually ends are prevalent, but the question of the decade will be how to rebuild Europe’s industrial infrastructure. Industrial facilities and supply chains that use and produce energy can’t easily be restarted once stopped. That’s one lesson, at least, that policymakers should have taken from the Covid lockdowns.
Europe is learning the importance of energy resilience and reliability and seeing just how pivotal energy-intensive industries are for an economy. With gas and electricity prices soaring by as much as 1,000 percent, the fuel bills to make steel, aluminum, glass, or fertilizer in Europe far exceed what the final products can be sold for—hence the closures. Those products are inputs to other domestic industries, from cars and beer to agriculture, that are scrambling for other sources or closing down themselves.
All this economic carnage and geopolitical leverage arises from Europe losing just 5 percent of its total energy supply. Most of that loss comes from an overall 20 percent drop in available natural gas (courtesy of Russia’s maneuvers), which itself constitutes about one-quarter of overall EU energy. That gap cannot be closed by surging Europe’s vaunted renewable energy sources. The extent of this still-developing energy crisis, and the collateral damage in inflation, jobs, and exports, depends now on the vicissitudes of nature (a cold winter could be catastrophic) and what unfolds from the war in Ukraine.
Europe doesn’t have many options to deal with the immediate shortages. Essentially everything that can be done quickly has been done: installing floating liquified natural gas (LNG) import terminals, reanimating old coal plants, preserving nuclear plants that had been scheduled for decommissioning, switching many industrial boilers from natural gas to more fungible oil, and sending symbolic messages about reducing demand via cold showers and the dimming of lights. Europe’s remaining near-term alternatives are now a brutal combination of more shutdowns, outright rationing, massive inflationary subsidies for citizens, and bailouts for industries. Some are already talking of nationalizing critical industries, which would hand Putin another victory.
Policymakers are doubtless praying that the energy chaos will be short-lived, after which most appear to think that life will go back to normal. Unfortunately, that means a return to the same energy policies that facilitated the chaos in the first place. Advocates of the “energy transition” are already saying that the path to recovery and independence from Russian hydrocarbons is to redouble commitments to alternatives, meaning solar, wind, and battery (SWB) technologies.
What many policymakers have yet to understand, or admit, is that the energy policies of recent decades were made possible by depending on massive amounts of cheap conventional hydrocarbons from Russia. That is, in the main, what enabled the continent to halt usage of its own conventional domestic energy supplies while continuing to operate critical energy-intensive industries. And those low-cost imports freed up the cash to spend a couple of trillion dollars, directly and indirectly, on building SWB machines.
The consequences of those energy policies were being exposed before Russia invaded its neighbor. Oil prices were already in the $100-per-barrel range before the invasion. Natural gas and electricity prices saw a similar 1,000 percent spike in late 2021 when northern Europe experienced a week-long wind drought: the kind of event that occurs regularly in nature but is inherently unpredictable.
The existential economic issue facing Europe in the aftermath of the twenty-first century’s first energy war, then, is whether the continent can fully rebuild many of the energy-intensive industries already shut or facing stoppages. (Certain classes of machinery, notably some in glass and steel manufacturing, can be irreparably damaged if shut down.) Whether such businesses decide to risk deploying capital to reopen involves speculation about whether foreseeable energy supplies will be both reliable and cheap. If the answer is found in locations in Asia, or Africa, and even Russia, that’s where those supply chains, jobs, and economic benefits will migrate.
European policymakers should know by now that depending on SWB technologies instead of hydrocarbons requires answering a basic question: How does an economy store enough energy to survive the week-long natural droughts of wind or sun that are common—or longer disruptions resulting from both natural and manmade disasters and geopolitical meddling? We know the answer for conventional energy.

On average, economies the size of the U.S. (and in normal times, the EU) store one or two months’ worth of coal, oil, or natural gas. Stowing away such quantities of hydrocarbons is relatively easy and inexpensive. Advocates of the energy transition propose that building more batteries can store excess energy from solar and wind installations. But matching the energy value of the two months’ worth of natural gas Europe now has in storage would require building $40 trillion worth of batteries, which would take all the world’s battery factories combined about 400 years to produce.
Handwaving about more factories and better batteries in the future is irrelevant to the task of what can be built now to keep economies, businesses, and people alive.

Or consider Europe’s rush to increase gas imports from non-Russian sources by installing some 20 LNG import terminals, the biggest single get-out-of-jail factor for the continent. Many will be online shortly; the rest will come next year. The terminals will cost a total of about $15 billion and deliver enough fuel annually to produce a quantity of electricity that would require building $200 billion of wind turbines. Those hypothetical wind turbines, of course, would still require natural gas backup for wind droughts—that is, trillions of dollars of batteries.

These realities are why Liz Truss, the new U.K. prime minister, has announced that the country will pursue shale gas and oil. Naysayers, including Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, said earlier that fracking wouldn’t solve the energy crisis even “if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow,” for “it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes.” Obvious and true, but the point is to forge an energy path that gives businesses enough confidence about the future to deploy capital today. And that confidence will rest on whether planners see a future with sufficient, resilient, and cheap energy.

China is now building the world’s biggest natural gas storage facility, drilling more, and increasing its coal use. What does China know about the future of essential energy-intensive industries?

If European policymakers want to restore energy sanity, they should reanimate North Sea oil and gas production and reopen the Netherlands’ massive Groningen natural gas field, which alone has the capability to make up most of the potential near-term shortfall if Europe sees a cold winter. The Dutch government has made it clear that the long-planned voluntary shutdown remains on track.

The bedrock sources for future hydrocarbon supplies for Europe are found in three domains: OPEC, deep-water rigs (global and U.S. offshore), and American shale fields. So restoring energy sanity would also include striking comprehensive, long-term buyer agreements with fuel suppliers, not just in the Middle East—which Europe has already rushed to do—but also in the U.S. Of course, for the U.S. to step up as a significantly greater supplier, that would require government policies that facilitate, not oppose, domestic hydrocarbon expansion.

Theoretically, Congress could enact the necessary legislation. And it’s something that would not cost taxpayers money but instead generate profits for American firms. It would also, in due course, reduce energy prices for consumers because it would ultimately oversupply markets, which always reduces prices and inflation. But the only way to do that would be to reset the regulatory structures that impede major development. It would require, in short, a political attitude change.

But if the EU and the U.S. were to work together for a major reset of energy supply and production, that would send precisely the market signals needed for reindustrialization and recovery. Any reset would have to be enshrined in legislation, not rhetoric, to be credible enough to inspire major private capital commitments. None of that would require governments to repeal their ambitions for SWB technologies.

Alas, promoters of magical thinking about the energy transition are redoubling their PR and lobbying efforts. The champion of the transition, IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol, recently took to the pages of the Financial Times to clear up what he called the “three myths about the global energy crisis.”

Birol is wrong on two counts and misguided on the third. Birol first claims that far from winning the energy battle, “Moscow is doing itself long-term harm by alienating the EU” and damaging long-term mutually beneficial relationships. But much of the rest of the world, from China and India to many African nations, don’t care about that “damage” and are instead enjoying the fruits of buying Russian commodities at a discount. Russia is also a major (often a top-three) producer of many critical minerals, from copper to nickel to aluminum.

Birol then writes that it’s “absurd” to claim that “today’s global energy crisis is a clean energy crisis,” and that leaders he talks to “regret not moving faster to build solar and wind plants.” Doubtless some people believe this, but Europe’s electric grids and industries cannot operate without hydrocarbons. The issue for Europe is who supplies them, and at what price.

Finally, Birol says that he doesn’t see the energy crisis as a “huge setback” for climate policy. On that, at least, the jury is still out. Even a mild winter will damage Europe’s industrial core. European governments are talking even more massive subsidies or nationalization efforts to regain footing. That outcome would qualify as a huge setback for the continent. The alternative? A return to energy sanity, in partnership with America’s mighty hydrocarbon machine.

Mark P. Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a strategic partner in the energy-tech venture fund Montrose Lane, author of The Cloud Revolution: How the Convergence of New Technologies Will Unleash the Next Economic Boom and a Roaring 2020s, and host of The Last Optimist podcast.
7) Joel Kotkin: Environmentalism is a fundamentalist religion
Newsweek, 19 September 2022


Today's climate activists resemble nothing so much as a religious movement, with carbon the new devil's spawn. 
The green movement is increasingly wedded to a kind of carbon fundamentalism that is not only not realistic but will reduce living standards in the West and around the world.

And as with other kinds of religious fundamentalism, the climate hysteria is often overwrought and obviously so; a decade ago, the same activists predicted a planetary disaster by 2020 if the U.S. and China did not reduce their emissions by 80 percent—which of course never happened.

This approach is a losing one that reduces the effectiveness of the green lobby. What's needed to combat climate change is a pragmatic approach based on adapting to real and verifiable dangers. And this starts with environmentalists acknowledging the limits of our ability to curb emissions in the short run.

This is not to cede the fight. The reality is what we do in the West means increasingly little. Today's biggest emitters comes from China, which already emits more GHG than the U.S. and the EU combined, while the fast growth in emissions comes increasingly from developing countries like India, now the world's third largest emitter.

These countries have developed a habit of blaming climate change on the West, then openly seeking to exempt themselves from net zero and other green goals. And the West's penchant for hyper-focusing on our own state or national emissions misses the reality of where the future problems are actually concentrated.

We aren't just missing the forest for the trees, though. Under the green lobby's current policies, our "war" against climate change is doomed to make things worse for most people, creating what economist Isabel Schnabel calls "greenflation." Higher prices for energy and food, worsened further by the war in Ukraine, are already are forcing countries to adopt massive subsidies for food and gas. In the developing world, billions now face immiseration, malnutrition or starvation. And green targets of zero emissions only make this situation worse.

Residents of rich countries will also suffer from the rapid adoption of current green policies that are focused almost entirely on wind and solar. Germany, for example, suffered the highest electricity prices in the world before Russia's war in Ukraine. In California, residents pay up to 80 percent above the national average for power. Reliance on wind power has made even Texas' grid vulnerable.

The real winners from green policies are not the birds and the bees but tech oligarchs, the uncompetitive U.S. auto industry, and Wall Street.

Given our limited ability to meaningfully reduce emissions, more attention should be placed on adapting, something we're actually good at. Since the beginning of the modern era, technology and science have been employed successfully to changes in temperature and precipitation. In the 1700s, people dealt with a colder climate by planting potatoes, which thrive in cooler weather. They also learned to use waterpower, wind and most critically fossil fuels, which made life bearable in the icy cities of the north and, later, with air conditioning, in the brutally hot south.

The Netherlands, where catastrophic flooding in the sixteenth century prompted an extensive expansion of coastal berms to prevent future floods, represents a classic example of successful adaptation. The Dutch even profitted from rising sea levels by opening new farmlands and expanding their exports to the global economy. Climate change was thus turned into a net plus.

Constructing proper adaptive polices may not be as emotionally satisfying as screaming about "climate criminals," but it could prove far less damaging to the masses of people and to the future of democracies. A regime run by the climatistas is likely to be very authoritarian, with many seeing in the COVID-19 lockdowns a "test run" for top-down edicts over how people live. In a sign of things to come, Switzerland is considering jail terms for those who try to stay too warm this winter.

For us to make progress on climate, the environmental movement needs to give up "utopian fantasies," writes Ted Nordhaus, a longtime California environmentalist, and "make its peace with modernity and technology." Instead of placing all bets on fundamentally intermittent,  unreliable and economically problematic solar and wind energy, we should focus more on other options, from nuclear power to hydroelectric generation to continuing to replace coal with abundant, cleaner natural gas.

A smart adaptive policy would start with a serious assessment of costs and risks. If our worry is rising ocean level, we may look into duplicating the sea-wall like that has protected the Texas Port of Galveston for the past century. A gradual shift to more energy efficient vehicles—not just electric cars—would allow for competition from other new technologies like hydrogen, recycled gas, and hybrids. Investment in a more decentralized power system, desalination plants, and better storage of water also could help alleviate damage often traced to climate change.

Nothing short of the stability of the global political economy is at stake.

Where climate hysteria promises only gloom, class conflict and ever-increasing repression, an adaptation scenario allows humans to adjust to a warming world, even as we work to bring down emissions. Adaptation gives us a way of addressing climate change while retaining prosperity, creating opportunities, and showing that, rather than wage a scorched earth policy to save Gaia, we can learn instead to work within its limits.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter.
8) Steven Koonin: Don’t believe the hype about Antarctica’s melting glaciers
The Wall Street Journal, 19 September 2022


Two studies carefully explore the factors at play, but the headlines are only meant to raise alarm.

Alarming reports that the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking misrepresent the science under way to understand a very complex situation. Antarctica has been ice-covered for at least 30 million years. The ice sheet holds about 26.5 million gigatons of water (a gigaton is a billion metric tons, or about 2.2 trillion pounds). If it were to melt completely, sea levels would rise 190 feet. Such a change is many millennia in the future, if it comes at all.
Much more modest ice loss is normal in Antarctica. Each year, some 2,200 gigatons (or 0.01%) of the ice is discharged in the form of melt and icebergs, while snowfall adds almost the same amount. The difference between the discharge and addition each year is the ice sheet’s annual loss. That figure has been increasing in recent decades, from 40 gigatons a year in the 1980s to 250 gigatons a year in the 2010s.

But the increase is a small change in a complex and highly variable process. For example, Greenland’s annual loss has fluctuated significantly over the past century. And while the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.
Many fear that a warming globe could cause glaciers to retreat rapidly, increasing discharge and causing more rapid sea-level rise. To get beyond that simplistic picture, it is important to understand how glaciers have flowed in the past to predict better whether they might flow faster in the future.
Two recent studies reported in the media focus on the terminus of glaciers—i.e., where the ice, the ocean and the ground come together. One study used an underwater drone to map the seabed at a depth of 2,000 feet, about 35 miles from the terminus of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Detailed sonar scans showed a washboard pattern of ridges, most less than 8 inches high. The ridges are caused by daily tides and serve as a record of where ice touched the seabed in the past. Researchers could read that record to infer that at some time in the past the glacier retreated for half a year at more than twice the fastest rate observed between 2011 and 2019.
The cause of the specific event at the Thwaites Glacier remains unknown, in part because the time of the rapid retreat hasn’t yet been determined. It likely happened more than 70 years ago, if not several centuries ago. But the media goes with this angle: “A ‘doomsday glacier’ the size of Florida is disintegrating faster than thought.” A correct headline would read: “Thwaites Glacier retreating less than half as rapidly today as it did in the past.”
A second study tested the idea that freshwater from the melting of one glacier could be carried by currents along the shore to accelerate the discharge of nearby glaciers. Because global climate models are insufficiently detailed to describe the ocean near the coast, researchers constructed a special model to prove out their idea. If ocean currents can connect the discharges of distant glaciers, that would add to the complexity and variability of changes in the Antarctic ice sheet.
Under scenarios deemed likely by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a connection between ocean currents and discharge would increase the overall discharge rate in one region of the continent by some 10% by the end of the century. But to emphasize the idea being tested, the modelers used human influences almost three times larger. Even though that fact is stated in the paper, reporters rarely catch such nuance, and the media goes with headlines such as “Antarctic Ice Melting Could Be 40 Percent Faster Than Thought” with the absurd statement that “a massive tsunami would swamp New York City and beyond, killing millions. London, Venice and Mumbai would also become aquariums.” A more accurate headline would read: “Ocean currents connecting antarctic glaciers might accelerate their melting.”
These two studies illustrate the progress being made in understanding a dauntingly complex mix of ice, ocean, land and weather, with clever methods to infer past conditions and sophisticated computer modeling to show potential future scenarios. These papers describe the science with appropriate precision and caveats, but it is a shame that the media misrepresents the research to raise alarm. That denies the public the right to make informed decisions about “climate action,” as well as the opportunity to marvel at the science itself.
Mr. Koonin is a professor at New York University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.”

see also Steven Koonin's 2021 Annual GWPF Lecture (pdf)

The London-based Net Zero Watch is a campaign group set up to highlight and discuss the serious implications of expensive and poorly considered climate change policies. The Net Zero Watch newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And how they laughed when Trump asked Nato why they had allowed themselves to become so dependent on Russian energy. That hasn''t aged well, has it.