Scientific Consensus In Doubt

coal1Two Stanford geologists are disputing the decade-old explanation of the large amount of coal accumulated during the Carboniferous Period. Associate Professor Kevin Boyce and Postdoctorate Research Fellow Matthew Nelsen collaborated with scientists across the country to release a paper this past month in which they propose a new understanding of coal development. According to Nelson, discontent with the evolutionary lag hypothesis has been around for some time before the publishing of this recent paper. This raises the larger issue: If geologists had seen problems with the hypothesis, why had nothing been done to disprove it earlier? –Aulden Foltz, The Stanford Daily, 2 February 2016

Fears that some of Australia’s most important climate research institutions will be gutted under a Turnbull government have been realised with deep job cuts for scientists. Total job cuts would be about 350 staff over two years, the CSIRO confirmed in an email to staff, with the Data61 and Manufacturing divisions also hit. “Climate will be all gone, basically,” one senior scientist said before the announcement. In the email sent out to staff on Thursday morning, CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall indicated that, since climate change had been established, further work in the area would be a reduced priority. –Peter Hannam, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 2016

Sceptics have often pointed out that if the science of global warming is “settled” then it’s clearly not necessary to spend a fortune researching it. The government down under now seems to have taken this message on, announcing that jobs in the ocean/atmosphere divisions at CSIRO are to be slashed. Their reasoning could have come straight from the pages of this blog: In the email sent out to staff on Thursday morning, CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall indicated that, since climate change had been established, further work in the area would be a reduced priority. It was Lord May who said to Roger Harrabin “I’m the President of the Royal Society and I’m telling you that the science is settled”. I wonder if he is reconsidering the wisdom of those remarks. –Andrew Montford, Bishop Hill, 4 February 2016

Scientists in Germany have switched on a nuclear fusion experiment that they hope will provide a solution to finding clean and safe nuclear power. A small amount of hydrogen was released into the device by German chancellor Angela Merkel as she launched the device at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald. The device itself won’t generate energy, but will be used to test technology that could hold plasma into place in nuclear reactors. The technology is considered to be several decades away, but proponents argue that it could be a viable replacement for fossil fuels and nuclear fission reactors. –Emily Reynolds, Wired 3 February 2016

SSE has announced plans to shut most of its Fiddler’s Ferry coal-fired power plant in April, wiping 1.5 gigawatts of power capacity from the UK grid and worsening the looming energy crisis next winter. UK energy supplies were already forecast to fall to dangerously low levels next winter due to the closure of several other old plants. Emergency measures have been brought in to bolster supplies after official analysis suggested there could be zero spare capacity in the market, and insufficient power to keep the lights on on a windless day. John Musk, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, warned UK margins would now be “critically tight for next winter” and forecast this would lead to “extremely volatile” spot power prices. –Emily Gosden, The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2016

British households will not benefit from a fall in market electricity prices because their suppliers are facing rising costs elsewhere, such as green energy subsidies, which they say cancel out any wholesale price falls. Electricity and gas prices traded on the open market have fallen 20-35 percent in recent months as milder-than-normal weather has curbed demand and falling commodity prices have added even more downward pressure. Cornwall Energy data showed the costs of government policies, which also include discounts for low-income households and payments for energy efficiency measures, on energy suppliers have risen to the highest level ever. This means non-energy costs now make up as much as 60 percent of the average British electricity bill, up from 45 percent four years ago, according to Cornwall Energy data. –Karolin Schaps and Susanna Twidale, Reuters, 1 February 2016

How quickly things can change. Once the darlings of the auto industry, recent auto show debuts and previews of high-mileage hybrid and plug-in electric cars are being met with a collective yawn in the wake of cheap (and getting cheaper) gasoline. Green car sales were down by around 16 percent last year and can be expected to drop even further through 2016 unless fuel prices suddenly soar. Expect to see casualties among some of the niche players in what could come to be an incredibly shrinking car segment, California-mandated models not withstanding. –Jim Gorzelany, Forbes, 2 February 2016