February 8th, 2012
Will reduced solar activity counteract global warming in the coming decades? That is what outgoing German electric utility executive Fritz Vahrenholt claims in a new book. In an interview with SPIEGEL, he argues that the official United Nations forecasts on the severity of climate change are overstated and supported by weak science.
The articulate utility executive is nervous at the beginning of the conversation. He is groping for words -- not a common occurrence for the practiced provocateur. After all, Fritz Vahrenholt, 62, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, has been a rebel throughout his life. "Perhaps it's just part of my generation," he says.
He is typical of someone who came of age during the student protest movement of the late 1960s, and who fought against the chemical industry's toxic manufacturing plants in the 1970s. His party, Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), chose him as environment senator in the city-state of Hamburg, where he incurred the wrath of the environmental lobby by building a waste incineration plant, earning him the nickname "Feuerfritze" (Fire Fritz). He worked in industry after that, first for oil multinational Shell and then for wind turbine maker RePower, which he helped develop. Now, as the outgoing CEO of the renewable energy group RWE Innogy, he is about to embark on his next major battle. "I'm going to make enemies in all camps," he says.
He wants to break a taboo. "The climate catastrophe is not occurring," he writes in his book "Die Kalte Sonne" (The Cold Sun), published by Hoffmann and Campe, which will be in bookstores next week.
He has only given the book to one climatologist, Jochem Marotzke, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, to read prior to its publication. Marotzke's assessment is clear: Vahrenholt represents the standpoints of climate skeptics. "A number of the hypotheses in the book were refuted long ago," Marotzke claims, but adds, on a self-critical note, that his profession has neglected to explain that global temperatures will not increase uniformly. Instead, says Marotzke, there could also be phases of stagnation and even minor declines in temperature. "This has exposed us to potential criticism," he says.
While books by climate heretics usually receive little attention, it could be different in Vahrenholt's case. "His fame," says Marotzke, "will ensure that there will be a debate on the issue."
The book is a source of discomfort within Vahrenholt's party. No one with the SPD leadership is willing to comment on the theories of their prominent fellow party member, from former Environment Minister and current SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel to parliamentary floor leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was given an advance copy of the book.
A lecture Vahrenholt was scheduled to give at the University of Osnabrück in northwestern Germany was recently cancelled.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Vahrenholt, in the week before last, you made the surprising announcement that you are resigning as head of RWE Innogy. And now your book "Die Kalte Sonne," in which you deny the climate catastrophe, is appearing. Were you forced to step down because your ideas could damage RWE's new green image?
Vahrenholt: No. My contract would have expired at the end of the year, anyway. Besides, I will continue to be a member of the company's supervisory board for another three years.
SPIEGEL: How have your fellow executives responded to your provocative prediction that it will get colder instead of warmer in the coming decades?
Vahrenholt: This is not an RWE book. Aside from CEO Jürgen Grossmann, I didn't give an advance copy to anyone in the company. Grossmann, at any rate, found it so engrossing that he read the entire book in one night.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, your precipitous withdrawal from RWE management is reminiscent of the scandal surrounding Thilo Sarrazin, who was forced to resign from the board of Germany's central bank in 2010 following the publication of his controversial book on immigration and integration.
Vahrenholt: This isn't a precipitous withdrawal. Besides, I don't need Thilo Sarrazin as a role model. I also didn't need a role model when I drew attention to risks in the chemical industry in my 1978 book "Seveso ist überall" (ed's. note: Seveso is Everywhere -- a reference to the infamous Seveso chemical spill in 1976 in Italy). Today, I want new scientific findings to be included in the climate debate. It would then become clear that the simple equation that CO2 and other man-made greenhouse gases are almost exclusively responsible for climate change is unsustainable. It hasn't gotten any warmer on this planet in almost 14 years, despite continued increases in CO2 emissions. Established climate science has to come up with an answer to that.
SPIEGEL: You are an electric utility executive by profession. What prompted you to get involved in climatology?
Vahrenholt: In my experience as an energy expert, I learned that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is more of a political than a scientific body. As a rapporteur on renewable energy, I witnessed how thin the factual basis is for predictions that are made at the IPCC. In one case, a Greenpeace activist's absurd claim that 80 percent of the world's energy supply could soon be coming from renewable sources was assumed without scrutiny. This prompted me to examine the IPCC report more carefully.
SPIEGEL: And what was your conclusion?
Vahrenholt: The long version of the IPCC report does mention natural causes of climate change, like the sun and oscillating ocean currents. But they no longer appear in the summary for politicians. They were simply edited out. To this day, many decision-makers don't know that new studies have seriously questioned the dominance of CO2. CO2 alone will never cause a warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. Only with the help of supposed amplification effects, especially water vapor, do the computers arrive at a drastic temperature increase. I say that global warming will remain below two degrees by the end of the century. This is an eminently political message, but it's also good news.
SPIEGEL: You make concrete statements on how much human activity contributes to climatic events and how much of a role natural factors play. Why don't you publish your prognoses in a professional journal?
Vahrenholt: Because I don't engage in my own climate research. Besides, I don't have a supercomputer in my basement. For the most part, my co-author, geologist Sebastian Lüning, and I merely summarize what scientists have published in professional journals -- just as the IPCC does. The book is also a platform for scientists who apply good arguments in diverging from the views of the IPCC. The established climate models have failed across the board because they cannot cogently explain the absence of warming.
SPIEGEL: You claim that the standstill has to do with the sun. What makes you so sure?
Vahrenholt: In terms of the climate, we have seen a cyclical up and down for the last 7,000 years, long before man began emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. There has been a warming phase every 1,000 years, including the Roman, the Medieval and the current warm periods. All of these warm periods consistently coincided with strong solar activity. In addition to this large fluctuation in activity, there is also a 210-year and an 87-year natural cycle of the sun. Ignoring these would be a serious mistake …
SPIEGEL: … but solar researchers are still in disagreement over whether the cycles you mention actually exist. What do you think this means for the future?
Vahrenholt: In the second half of the 20th century, the sun was more active than it had been in more than 2,000 years. This "large solar maximum," as astronomers call it, has contributed at least as much to global warming as the greenhouse gas CO2. But the sun has been getting weaker since 2005, and it will continue to do so in the next few decades. Consequently, we can only expect cooling from the sun for now.
SPIEGEL: It is undisputed that fluctuations in solar activity can influence the climate. Most experts assume that an unusually long solar minimum, evidenced by the very small number of sunspots at the time, led to the "Little Ice Age" that began in 1645. There were many severe winters at the time, with rivers freezing over. However, astrophysicists still don't know the extent to which solar fluctuations actually affect temperatures.
Vahrenholt: Many scientists assume that the temperature changes by more than 1 degree Celsius for the 1,000-year cycle and by up to 0.7 degrees Celsius for the smaller cycles. Climatologists should be putting a far greater effort into finding ways to more accurately determine the effects of the sun on climate. For the IPCC and the politicians it influences, CO2 is practically the only factor. The importance of the sun for the climate is systematically underestimated, and the importance of CO2 is systematically overestimated. As a result, all climate predictions are based on the wrong underlying facts.
SPIEGEL: But you are doing exactly what you criticize climatologists of doing: Using a thin body of data, you make exact predictions. In your book, you estimate the sun's influence on the climate down to the last 0.1 degrees. No one can do that.
February 8th, 2012
By TIM ARANGO
BAGHDAD — Less than two months after American troops left, the State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining American influence in the country.
Officials in Baghdad and Washington said that Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and other senior State Department officials were reconsidering the size and scope of the embassy, where the staff has swelled to nearly 16,000 people, mostly contractors.
The expansive diplomatic operation and the $750 million embassy building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by what they see as Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag.
The swift realization among some top officials that the diplomatic buildup may have been ill advised represents a remarkable pivot for the State Department, in that officials spent more than a year planning the expansion and that many of the thousands of additional personnel have only recently arrived.
Michael W. McClellan, the embassy spokesman, said in a statement, “Over the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number of contractors needed to support the embassy’s operations.”
Mr. McClellan said the number of diplomats — currently about 2,000 — was also “subject to adjustment as appropriate.”
To make the cuts, he said the embassy was “hiring Iraqi staff and sourcing more goods and services to the local economy.”
After the American troops departed in December, life became more difficult for the thousands of diplomats and contractors left behind. Convoys of food that had been escorted by the United States military from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing.
Within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken-wing night, wings were rationed at six per person. Over the holidays, housing units were stocked with Meals Ready to Eat, the prepared food for soldiers in the field.
At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.
For their part, the Iraqis say they are simply enforcing their laws and protecting their sovereignty in the absence of a working agreement with the Americans on the embassy.
“The main issue between Iraqis and the U.S. Embassy is that we have not seen, and do not know anything about, an agreement between the Iraqi government and the U.S.,” said Nahida al-Dayni, a lawmaker and member of Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament.
Expressing a common sentiment among Iraqis, she added: “The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.”
Those suspicions have been reinforced by two murky episodes, one involving four armed Americans on the streets of Baghdad that Iraqi officials believe were Central Intelligence Agency operatives and another when an American helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing because of an unspecified mechanical failure on the outskirts of the capital on the banks of the Tigris River.
“The aircraft that broke down raised many questions about the role of Americans here,” said Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a leading Shiite political party and social organization. “So what is the relationship? We’re still waiting for more information.”
The current configuration of the embassy, a 104-acre campus with adobe-colored buildings, is actually smaller than the original plans that were drawn up at a time when officials believed that a residual American military presence would remain in Iraq beyond 2011. For instance, officials once planned for a 700-person consulate in the northern city of Mosul, but it was scrapped for budgetary reasons.
February 8th, 2012
MOUNTAIN CITY, Tenn. – A father who was upset after a Tennessee couple deleted his adult daughter as a friend on Facebook has been charged in the shooting deaths of the couple, authorities said Wednesday.
The victims had complained to police that Marvin Potter's daughter was harassing them after they deleted her as a friend on the social networking site, Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece said Wednesday.
Potter, 60, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in last week's slayings of Billy Payne Jr. and his girlfriend, Billie Jean Hayworth. The couple was shot to death in their Mountain City home in the far northeast corner of the state. Their 8-month-old baby was found unharmed in Hayworth's arms.
James Curd and Marvin Potter
February 8th, 2012
By Jason Linkens
On last night's edition of his eponymous Fox News show, Sean Hannity briefly took a trip to his smile-time fantasy world when he had this conversation with Frank Luntz:
HANNITY: I know the president will say, 'Well, we got bin Laden.' Putting that aside...
LUNTZ: And the public gives him credit for that.
HANNITY: They do. The public does give him credit for that. But it wouldn't have happened if he had his way, and I think that can be proved as well on tape.
Oh, really? That would sure be interesting. You see, if President Barack Obama really didn't want to take out bin Laden, he sure had an odd way of showing it. The easiest way to avoid going after bin Laden would be to say something like -- I don't know ... bin Laden is "one person" and that you "really just don't spend that much time on him, to be honest with you." Which isn't necessarily the height of awfulness, mind you, there's numerous ways to confront al Qaeda and the threat they represent.
But killing bin Laden, nevertheless, seems for all the world like something Obama was really into doing. As ABC News reported, the president "authorized the development of a plan for the United States to bomb bin Laden's compound with two B-2 stealth bombers dropping a few dozen 2,000-pound bombs" back in March. But when it became clear that this mission would preclude any possibility of obtaining physical evidence to attest to bin Laden's demise, the plan was scrapped in favor of what would become "Operation Geronimo" -- the riskier Navy Seals raid on the compound. And to that end, a replica of bin Laden's compound was erected at Bagram Air Force Base's "Camp Alpha." There, the Seals practiced the raid, making two dry runs in April ahead of the May mission.
This is all a very convoluted and, ultimately, ineffective way of demonstrating that you didn't really give a crap about killing bin Laden, let alone actively not wanting to kill him. Here's a hint: If you really don't want a terrorist mastermind to get killed, you should probably not assign the task to highly trained military professionals, and then give them a practice facility, two stealth helicopters and a hero dog to carry out the task. When you do that stuff, things tend to run, inexorably, in the "let's try to kill bin Laden" direction.
But Hannity says that some "tape" can prove otherwise. (And you know, it's an election year ... there's always some tape that's supposed to be floating around!) I'd be interested in seeing that tape, obviously. But I don't think that's going to happen. Meanwhile, here's a tape of Sean Hannity, a few days after Obama's inauguration, bitching about how Obama had "softened his stance" on killing bin Laden.
Interestingly enough, at one point, Hannity says of Obama's "softened" policy, "Isn't this precisely what President Bush has done? Marginalize bin Laden by chasing him into caves where he's been unable to harm us?" For starters, he wasn't in a cave (as it turns out)! But listening to Hannity praise Bush's approach to bin Laden, I can't help thinking that he sounds like a guy who wouldn't have killed bin Laden, if he had his way.
Conservative Refocus Retort:
Indeed, Jason, but perhaps you didn't seen the alternative game of inner-West Wing drama that sources say actually unfolded between Jarret, Obama and a number of other staff members:
In the insider explanation, Valerie Jarrett, the Mao loving adviser, tried to continually way-lay Obama into avoiding the Bin Laden decision altogether. Obama, being the leftwardly malleable POTUS, seemed to heed Jarrett's council at every turn. In fact, it was the military/intelligence officials who actually overruled Obama at ultimately taking out Bin Laden, as it turns out.
It was Panetta who executed a constant work-around when faced with the President's maddeningly persistent hesitation regarding Osama Bin Laden's demise. The debate to invade Bin Laden's compound had been in the works since August 2010 according to numerous accounts. Hillary Clinton, who had known of the President's hesitation, became livid when Obama never took a position on the intensifying argument to take out Bin Laden while the opportunity was still available. The insider states that Clinton's State Department actually began leaking small amounts of information in an effort to goad the President into acting.
Here again it was the tentative Jarrett who feared for her President's standing should the SEAL campaign fail, and she also feared that the Muslim world and the Mideast would destabilize as a result of any attack on Bin Laden. As the situation continued to unfold and more facts became known, it was Petraeus who had nearly locked down the President's decision to allow him to bomb Bin Laden with little collateral damage; however, Jarrett, once again, moved Obama into a position of neutrality, thereby angering Panetta and much of the staff. In fact, it was at this juncture that Gates made the decision to retire from his position as SecDef.
At this point, the insider states that Panetta began maneuvering the President masterfully into a position that assured that the mission would be tried. Panetta convinced Obama that the leaks were increasing to the point that eventually word would get out. If Obama failed to act before Bin Laden disappeared again, the President's re-election hopes would whither and die in a cloud of Presidential malpractice. At this point, Obama, knowing that an on the ground attack would both require more time and preparation, as well as allowing the President greater time to make a final decision, gave the go ahead for Panetta to plan for an on the ground take down by special forces, also intending that Panetta would be left with sole discretion as the fall-guy should the plan fail. But what Obama and the calculating Jarrett did not know was that Panetta had already planned for this possibility well in advance and had, in fact, been planning for it for months. The operation was ready to go within hours.....
So, the insider story has quite a different spin altogether. Is it true? Only the players know for sure, but from everything I have seen, this far more keeps in character with the true Obama than the one which is constantly being parlayed, at least from his liberal worshipers. In order to read the rest of the story, click on the following link and scroll down to the header "The Missing Maoist" :
Top Stories at Huffington
February 8th, 2012
The Sydney Morning Herald
Opening a scientific frontier kilometers under the Antarctic ice, Russian experts have drilled down and finally reached the surface of a gigantic freshwater lake, an achievement the mission chief likened to placing a man on the moon.
Lake Vostok could hold living organisms that have been locked in icy darkness for some 20 million years, as well as clues to the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.
Touching the surface of the lake, the largest of nearly 400 subglacial lakes in Antarctica, came after more than two decades of drilling, and was a major achievement avidly anticipated by scientists around the world.
"In the simplest sense, it can transform the way we think about life," NASA's chief scientist Waleed Abdalati told The Associated Press in an email on Wednesday.
The Russian team made contact with the lake water Sunday at a depth of 3,769 meters, about 1,300km from the South Pole in the central part of the continent.
Scientists hope the lake might allow a glimpse into microbial life forms that existed before the Ice Age and are not visible to the naked eye. Scientists believe that microbial life may exist in the dark depths of the lake despite its high pressure and constant cold - conditions similar to those believed to be found under the ice crust on Mars, Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus.
Valery Lukin, the head of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, said reaching the lake was akin to the Americans winning the space race in 1969.
"I think it's fair to compare this project to flying to the moon," said Lukin, who oversaw the mission and announced its success.
American and British teams are drilling to reach their own subglacial Antarctic lakes, but Columbia University glaciologist Robin Bell said those are smaller and younger than Vostok, which is the big scientific prize.
"It's like exploring another planet, except this one is ours," she said.
At 250km long and 50km wide, Lake Vostok is similar in size to Lake Ontario. It is kept from freezing into a solid block by the more than two-mile-thick crust of ice across it that acts like a blanket, keeping in heat generated by geothermal energy underneath.
Lukin said he expects the lake to contain chemotroph bacteria that feed on chemical reactions in pitch darkness, probably similar to those existing deep on the ocean floor but dating back millions of years. "They followed different laws of evolution that are yet unknown to us," he said.
Studying Lake Vostok will also yield insights about the origins of Antarctica, which is believed by many to have been part of a broader continent in the distant past.
And the project has allowed the testing of technologies that could be used in exploring other icy worlds. "Conditions in subglacial lakes in Antarctica are the closest we can get to those where scientists expect to find extraterrestrial life," Lukin said.
Drilling through the ice crust in the world's coldest environment brought major technological challenges.
Temperatures on the Vostok Station on the surface above the lake have registered the coldest ever recorded on Earth, reaching minus minus 89 degrees Celsius. Conditions were made even tougher by its high elevation, more than 3,300m above sea level.
The effort has drawn fears that the more than 60 tons of lubricants and antifreeze used in the drilling may contaminate the lake's pristine waters. Bell said the Russian team was doing its best "to do it right" and avoid contamination, but others were nervous.
"Lake Vostok is the crown jewel of lakes there," said University of Colorado geological sciences professor James White. "These are the last frontiers on the planet we are exploring. We really ought to be very careful."