A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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The Emissions Trading Scheme monster idea is back – but the conversation is booby-trapped with fake words

It’s a tax that’s “not a tax” and a “free market” that isn’t free.

Joy. An emission trading scheme (ETS) is on the agenda again in Australia. Here’s why the first priority is to clean up a crooked conversation. If we can just talk straight, the stupid will sort itself out.

The national debate is a straight faced parody — it could be a script from “Yes Minister”, except no one would believe it. Bill Shorten argues that the Labor Party can control the world’s weather with something that exactly fits the definition of a tax, yet he calls it a “free market” because apparently he has no idea what a free market really is. (What union rep would?) It’s like our opposition leader is a wannabe entrepreneur building a  Kmart that controls the clouds. Look out Batman, Billman is coming. When is a forced market a free market? When you want to be PM.

The vandals are at the gates of both English and economics, and we can’t even have a straight conversation. The Labor Party is in flat out denial of dictionary definitions — is that because they can’t read dictionaries, or because they don’t want an honest conversation? Let’s ask them.  And the idea central to modern economics — free markets — when will the Labor Party learn what one is? It’s only a free market when I’m free to buy nothing.

A carbon market is a forced market. Who wants to buy a certificate for a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions? Only 12% of the population will even spend $2 to offset their flight emissions. How many Australians would choose to spend $500? Why don’t we ask them?! Why — because Bill Shorten knows what the answer would be.

Then, on top of all that, is the hypocrisy — the Labor Party say an ETS is the most efficient way to reduce carbon, but they know it isn’t true, because they also insist we buy 50% of our electricity from renewables. Even with an ETS, no one would choose wind power or solar to reduce CO2. They are that stupid.

But a fake free market will help the Global Financial Houses. Buy a carbon credit and save a Banker!

When will Labor start to speak English?

Definition of “Tax”: noun

1.a sum of money demanded by a government for its support or for specific facilities or services, levied upon incomes, property, sales, etc.
2.a burdensome charge, obligation, duty, or demand.

So let’s call it what it is, the ETS-tax. Confront the Labor Party with their inability to speak honest English. There is deception here, written into their language. As long as they won’t speak English, how can we even discuss their policy?

Can someone tell Labor what a “free market” is?

Real free markets are remarkable tools and very efficient, but we can never have a real free market on a ubiquitous molecule used in all life on Earth. It’s an impossibility.

The Labor Party is simply stealing a good brand name. This fake market in air certificates does not meet even the basic requirements of a true free market. It’s a market with no commodity, no demand, no supply, and no verifiability of goods delivered. You and I are not “free” to choose to buy nothing. Most of the players in this market are not free to play — who pays for yeast, weathering, or ocean cycles?

As I said in The Australian:  people who like free markets don’t want a carbon market, and the people who don’t trust capitalism want emissions trading. So why are socialists fighting for a carbon market? Because this “market” is a bureaucrat’s wet dream.

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Wait ’til you see these numbers on Carbon Capture and Storage

Did you know CCS (carbon capture and storage) requires an industrial plant almost as large as the coal fired power station it is supposed to clean up? Or that it uses fully 40% of the energy of the entire output of the same station? It turns out to be such an onerous, costly pursuit it could only have been dreamed up by an enemy of coal.

The central problem is that under conditions we humans like to be in, the CO2 molecule emphatically wants to be a huge voluminous gas. To make it more compact and storable back in the small hole it came from, we either have to change it chemically, or forcibly stuff it in under some combination of extreme pressure or extreme cold. And there aren’t many cold sealed rock vaults in Earth’s thin crust, which rests on a 1000 degree C ball of magma. Any form of chemical, temperature or pressure change uses monster amounts of energy, and there is just no getting around it without fiddling with laws of chemistry. The whole idea of CCS is so insanely unfeasible that in order to stuff a beneficial fertilizer underground it appears we must spend 60% more to build every new power station and then throw away 40% of its output as well. You can’t make this stuff up. CCS is the threat that makes new coal stations unaffordable in the West, and building those costs into the plans makes cost comparisons with renewables (and nuclear) so much more “attractive”. Anton goes through some provocative numbers. — Jo

Guest Post: Anton Lang (TonyfromOz)

Here’s why CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration, Storage) or “Clean” Coal is impossible

The Big-PR machine makes it sound simple:

Credit to Genevieve Young (Univ of Utah) for an image that has been adapted by others.

Billions of investment dollars hinge upon it, but few will correctly explain the whole process and what it entails. If they did, the public would see it for the pie-in-the-sky fairy plan that it is.

CCS is the proverbial Sword Of Damocles, hovering over every proposal for a new large scale coal fired power plant because it might only be approved only if it includes CCS. It’s used in the costings for new plants, making them virtually unaffordable. Making coal fired power enormously expensive means wind-power appears to be “cheaper” than coal. It’s one of the ploys used to artificially raise the costs for coal fired power, so renewable proponents can point and gloat that wind especially is now cheaper than coal fired power.

CCS artificially raises the costs of coal fired power in two ways

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Shortens “aspirational” world 2030

There is only one good reason to buy The Age: cartoonist John Spooner

John Spooner, The Age, Cartoon, Turn back the boats, windmills, windfarms

For foreign readers, there are two big headlines in Australia this week that Spooner is teasing us with.

One is about Shorten’s fantasy that Australia can go 50% renewable by 2030. This is an “aspirational ambition”, which, according to opposition leader Shorten, doesn’t need any kind of feasibility or budgeting before being announced as a policy. He plans to wave his magic wand and make aspirations happen, regardless of stuff like “money”, “Watts” and thousands of dead bats.

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Climate Death Squads funded by Big Oil strike people with lightning! How’s that for an ideated conspiracy?

Big Oil knows no bounds. Not only can it derail governments, and thwart the  UN, World Bank, and IMF but now it may be sending out climate death squads to assassinate Arctic Ice Experts. These expert hit squads apparently push people down stairs, run them off the road, and strike them down with lightning. Lightning! (That is one mother of aTesla Coil.) James Bond could learn something. Q, where are you?

Prof Wadhams at Cambridge has been the go-to man for Arctic scare stories across the UK (h/t Delingpole). In 2012, Wadhams predicted Arctic Sea Ice was set to collapse in just four years. Last year, after years of a relentlessly surviving Arctic, even some alarmists threw Wadham under the bus, (so to speak) as being too “extremist”. But now he’s topped that.

You see, in January 2013  there were four leading Arctic experts in the UK, now there is one, and he is very very worried.

No, seriously, you can’t make this up. Let’s try to imagine how much more profitable Big Oil would be if every single  Arctic climate expert in the World was dead. (Count the zeros…)

The utter futility of it all escapes Wadhams. After a high-risk pogrom against arctic scientists, it would be exactly five minutes before the BBC and Guardian would be reporting their 22-year-old underlings apocalyptic predictions instead. Wadhams has no idea how irrelevant he is, or how little Big-oil cares. If I were advising Big Oil — I’d tell Royal Dutch Shell to hold off with the hit-squad — and just get their PR department to stop the press releases where they beg for more Carbon Trading in the EU. Next on the list: has Shell stopped sponsoring WWF? If Shell want to stop the climate scare campaign, that has to go.

The truth is that Big-Oil want the climate scare — it’s good for business. In the end, everyone wants oil, no one goes to work in a solar car. And Big-oil get bonus government subsidies for biomass and carbon sequestration too. Money for jam. Plus Big Oil also get an excuse to fight their real enemy, Big-Coal.

With such a hot-to-trot conspiracy on the cards, where is Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook and Mike Marriott? I bet they can’t wait to study conspiracy ideation among actual climate experts, it would be so much more exciting than analysing 10 anonymous internet responses, or getting no responses from “78,000 skeptics” (who didn’t see the survey that was never hosted at John Cook’s site). Imagine a real study subject, an actual person, instead of internet readers who say they are 32,000 years old. The thrill!

The Telegraph

Three scientists investigating melting Arctic ice may have been assassinated, professor claims

Cambridge Professor Peter Wadhams suspects the deaths of the three scientists were more than just an ‘extraordinary’ coincidence

A Cambridge Professor has made the astonishing claim that three scientists investigating the melting of Arctic ice may have been assassinated within the space of a few months.

Professor Peter Wadhams said he feared being labelled a “looney” over his suspicion that the deaths of the scientists were more than just an ‘extraordinary’ coincidence.

But he insisted the trio could have been murdered and hinted that the oil industry or else sinister government forces might be implicated.

The three scientists he identified – Seymour Laxon and Katherine Giles, both climate change scientists at University College London, and Tim Boyd of the Scottish Association for marine Science – all died within the space of a few months in early 2013.

Professor Laxon fell down a flight of stairs at a New year’s Eve party at a house in Essex while Dr Giles died when she was in collision with a lorry when cycling to work in London. Dr Boyd is thought to have been struck by lightning while walking in Scotland.

His suspicions drew outrage on Saturday from Prof Laxon’s partner, who was also a close friend of Dr Giles. When told what Prof Wadhams had said, Fiona Strawbridge, head of e-Learning at UCL, replied: “Good god. All of this is completely outrageous and very distressing.”

Alarmist propaganda has been ranting relentlessly for twenty years about the power of Big Oil. But brainwashing bites, and this is one of those moments. Poor Prof Wadhams is reaping what that bizarre culture has sowed.

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Weekend Unthreaded

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Flinders Uni in panic, “repulsed” by hint of semi-skeptic, Bjorn Lomborg

What’s scarier than an Endless Global Drought? The fear that the public might… hear from a skeptic. Skeptical arguments are so dangerous that even the whiff of one will kill a $4million dollar project stone dead at conception. Be Gone Freak! Guess who has no answer to the questions skeptics ask? How they do advertise the dire state of their intellectual ammo? You might think I’m exaggerating.  Bjorn Lomborg believes the IPCC science 100%, and uses the “denier” term to distance himself from the scientific skeptics. It’s like cloaking himself in garlic, except it doesn’t work — true believers still hate him and seek to shut him down.  Lomborg wants to stop fossil fuel subsidies, the arch-enemy in the believers world, and that’s not enough. Furthermore he wasn’t going to work at the Australian Consensus Centre and it wasn’t going to discuss the climate, but two steps of purification is not enough. Lomborg commits the unforgivable sin of wanting to spend enviro-gravy in ways that actually help the poor and protect the environment. He wants measurements and accountability. And that makes him “repulsive” — just ask the students of Flinders University. The modern University needs no logical reason, hate-mail is enough:

FLINDERS University students are “repulsed” by the prospect of a new policy centre associated with controversial Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg, who has long been accused of downplaying the dangers posed by global warming.

The university has been in talks with the Federal Government about establishing the Australian Consensus Centre, which would come with $4 million funding and base its work on Lomborg’s methodologies.

The University of Western Australia was to host the think tank, to be aligned with Lomborg­’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre and work in areas ranging from food security to social justice, but reversed its decision amid howls of protest from students and staff.

Flinders University Student Association general secretary Grace Hill said students would launch a campaign immediately against having “a climate change denial centre on campus”.

“I’m pretty repulsed by it,” she said.

“At this stage there seems to be no student or staff consultation. It’s right-wing junk. It was excellent to see him booted out of WA so hopefully the same will happen here.

– Flinders Uni Students Vow to Rebel against Bjorn Lomborg policy centre: Daily Telegraph

Only purity of thought will do behind the fortress walls of Australian Universities. The panic caused by the possibility of a skeptical argument is so strong that Global Repulsion is called for, even against believers who dare suggest the IPCC are not Godlike in all their aims and decrees. I think all universities in Australia should be offered the Lomborg Test. Let’s send an offer to host the Consensus Centre at their University, and cancel future government support for all who refuse to allow diversity of opinion and debate on campus. What’s the scariest thing that could happen — the Lomborg Consensus Centre might issue a press release? But the howling at UWA was so successful in cancelling the Lomborg Consensus Centre, that it’s happening again. What chance would a skeptical scientist have of working at an Australian University? Right now the best thing that can happen to Australian Universities is for them to be privatized and a few new institutions set up. Without some serious academic competition here to show them up, the backward behaviour will go on. We need one sensible university to show the others what “Sensible” looks like.

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Pope’s popularity fall 17% — preaching the climate change religion not so popular?

Pope Francis put out his pro-climate encyclical eight weeks ago, getting mass media attention, but the latest Gallop poll shows the people were not so enthused:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope Francis’ favorability rating in the U.S. has returned to where it was when he was elected pope. It is now at 59%, down from 76% in early 2014. The pontiff’s rating is similar to the 58% he received from Americans in April 2013, soon after he was elected pope.

Is this about “climate change” — the encyclical has 245 paragraphs, 16 mentions of “climate”, 7 mentions of “carbon”, and more than 100 mentions of the “environment”. Moreso it reported around the globe as a “coup” on the climate issue by groups who normally think the Pope is wrong, silly and anachronistic. Furthermore,  the biggest change has come among Catholics, Protestants, and especially conservatives. But he’s less popular among liberals too.

The drop in the pope’s favorable rating is driven by a decline among Catholics and political conservatives, two groups that have been ardent supporters of the modern papacy. Seventy-one percent of Catholics say they have a favorable image of Francis, down from 89% last year.

Favorable Ratings of Pope Francis, 2014 vs. 2015

h/t to Heartland who deserve some credit here, having sent a team to the Vatican to draw attention to this issue.

The poll was a random survey of 1,009 people in the US. The margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The question: “Please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Pope Francis — or if you have never heard of him”.

Did everyone miss the papal decree against Carbon trading?

During the orgy of papal-enthusiasm I noted that few people mentioned that the Pope was against carbon trading. Not the preferred prophesy?

190. Here too, it should always be kept in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces”.[134] Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.

The Pope was not able to explain why “market forces” were not the answer. He didn’t mention that sometimes free market forces work just fine with environmental problems, but they don’t when it’s a ubiquitous molecule central to life on Earth. In this case a free market is an impossible fantasy because most players can’t play — they are dogs, cats, yeast or the Pacific Ocean. Also it isn’t a real free market, because no one is “free” not to buy and governments control both supply and demand.


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Labor wants to waste $100b to make Australian energy 50% renewable, more expensive, by 2030

The Coalition in Australia must be thrilled that Bill Shorten wants to make the next election about “climate change”. What a gift from Labor.

Just before the last election Labor had a plan to spend $60,000 dollars per person to try to change the weather by 2050. Labor lost nearly a quarter of their seats. Bill Shorten’s new election vision is to repeat the same mistakes. Like the G7 leaders, he wants symbolic and unachievable promises — only, unlike them, he’s making pie-in-the-sky, uncosted plans for 2030, not 2100. Five of the seven G7 nations are increasing their coal use. Get with the game Bill, other countries are winding schemes back and putting off the promises til long after most people alive today will be gone.

Shorten is pushing a dead dog. The sweet end of the wind and solar power deals have already been done and the numbers get uglier from here. As more and more of the grid is taken over by a massive erratic and unreliable supply, the marginal returns shrink, prices go up. The carbon “savings” falls. Full baseload back up must be maintained regardless, whirring away inefficiently on standby. The Labor Party are making a big miscalculation electorally, fooled by inept surveys that show everyone “likes” the environment and “worries” about climate change. Better studies show almost no votes hinge on this topic, nobody wants to spend much, and pandering to the green religion will hurt things people do care about — electricity prices, manufacturing and employment. US voters rank “climate change” last in environmental polls, and they rank the environment below nearly every thing else. In the UK, polls show 62% don’t believe in a man-made climate disaster. There’s  a long list of environmental climate polls showing skeptics are everywhere, and many believers are bored and unmotivated. In the US Tom Steyer threw $74 m at the election on climate change and lost nearly every seat he tried to influence. Fully 92% of Swiss Voters said “No” to a carbon tax.

Just what the country needs?

Green “renewables” schemes push up the price of electricity, make the world 0.0C degrees cooler, and increase unemployment. Every green job created means a loss of 2 – 5 other jobs.

Bill Shorten to unveil 50% renewable energy target at Labor conference -- Sydney Morning Herald

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is set to unveil a bold climate policy goal requiring half of Australia’s large-scale energy production to be generated using renewable sources within 15 years.

Fairfax Media has learnt that despite Labor’s humiliating 2013 election defeat caused in part by voter contempt for its carbon tax, Mr Shorten will use this weekend’s ALP national conference in Melbourne to announce the even more ambitious goal, dramatically beefing up Labor’s renewable energy target.

The policy shift is designed to recover green support, sharpen the contrast with Prime Minister Tony Abbott over climate change and make global warming the defining battleground of the next federal election

As Andrew Bolt points out, it’s “not costed, not modelled, and not effective”.

Only in Labor economics can we add more expensive suppliers and pretend the prices won’t rise dramatically. It’s “free energy from the sun” after all. It’s like the Labor Party believe the bumper stickers.

Graph, cost of electricity from coal, gas, solar and wind power, renewable energy, Australia, 2015

Comparison of costs of electricity generation.  | Energy Supply Association of Australia

How much global cooling does $100 billion buy?

Australians emit 1.16% of human emissions, which total just 4% of natural ones. Co2 doesn’t appear to have warmed the world in the last 18 years despite rapid rises in human emissions — one third of all human emissions ever since 1998, and no warming.  The Australian impact is 0.00064 of nothing.

We need another 10,000 wind turbines?

Adam Creighton, The Australian, on energy prices, and the cost of the Labor 50% renewables plan:

ACIL chief executive Paul Hyslop said: “If this were met by wind power it would require 10,000 to 11,000 additional turbines … with capital costs for the turbines alone of $65 billion.”

He suggested such a move would undermine productivity.

ACIL said the total capital cost would be in the order of $100bn — about three times the cost of the National Broadband Network.

“Basically, we’d be spending another $65bn on turbines to effectively get no more output,” Mr Hyslop said.

Australia will need about 300,000 GWh total in 2030 according to ACIL — We’d need another 92,000 GWh of “renewables”:

The ­Coalition and Labor agreed in May to trim the RET from 41,000 GWh a year by 2020 to 33,000 GWh, to allow for the fall in electricity demand that was projected to lift the share gener­ated from renewables to 26 per cent by 2020, rather than the 20 per cent envisaged. The new RET is forecast to provide 23.5 per cent.

ACIL estimates a total power demand of 300,000 GWh in 2030, of which half would come from renewable sources under the Labor plan. The firm believes 25,000 GWh would come from rooftop solar systems, with another­ 16,000 GWh from existing hydro-electric plants, leaving 110,000 GWh to be provided by large-scale renewable projects — or 92,000GWh more than existing capacity.

In terms of carbon emissions, wind turbines are almost the last choice on Earth. They cost $50 – $100 per ton of carbon, seven times more than the Coalition’s Direct Action plan. No one who cares about the environment would want to waste money doing something so inefficient when they could spend the same money and achieve a lot more.

Australian electricity prices are rising much faster than inflation.

The big leap in electricity prices in the graph in 2012/13 below is due to the carbon tax, but some of the rise before that is due in part to other policies to “green” our electricity.

Australian Electricity retail prices, ABS

Electricity prices in Australia. The Carbon Tax was introduced July 2012.

Source: Parliamentary Library

 The electricity price is rising much faster than inflation. The Rudd Labor government was elected in November 2007.

Graph, CPI, inflation, ABS, Electricity prices, Australia

Modeling shows the RET scheme cost up to $28 billion and lost 5,000 jobs. The current scheme is 23% RET (Renewable Energy Target). Labor want to make that 50%.

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UK youth unconvinced about climate change — peak believers 30-50 years old

I’ve discussed the big ComRes/ITV survey before, which  showed that 62% of UK citizens are skeptics and are not convinced that humans are changing the weather. This is the same interesting survey which also showed that the highest proportion of skeptics were in the educated upper middle class, and the lowest was in the unskilled workers and pensioners. I didn’t explain then that this survey also split the groups according to age. So here (finally) are those graphs. Fittingly the young are undecided and the wise are more skeptical. But surprisingly there is a peak believer age, and that’s around 35 – 44. Either this generation has been assailed with more propaganda than any other, or something else is going on.

Is this the beginnings of the youthful revolution? Only 20% 34% of 18 – 24 year olds would be called believers?

They quizzed 2047 people from across the UK early last year and I’ve graphed the results according to age, and the “peak believer” band is clearly visible. In all three questions I colored believers red, and skeptics blue. The undecided are grey.

People generally switch from the “don’t know” category when they are young into the skeptic camp as they get older. Some may go via the “believer” group in their 20s and 30s.

The first graph shows results from an unusually specific and accurate question.

An unusually specific and accurate question.

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Solar activity was really at exceptional lows during the cold Maunder Minimum

Historic drawing, sunspots, 1671, maunder minimum, solar activity, Usoskin 2015

Fig 3 (Part VI only) Sunspot drawing of by G.D. Cassini in 1671 (Oldenburg, 1671c).

What is surprising is just how much data we have on the Sun from 400 years ago.

For some aspects of solar activity we barely have a half a solar cycle. For example, on solar spectral changes: UV and Infrared light swing up and down through the solar cycle, but we only got a good grip on these important changes in the last ten years with the SORCE mission.

But on other aspects of solar activity there is much more long term data than I expected: 400 years ago quite a few people were carefully recording detailed drawings of sun spots (like Cassini in 1671, right). Others were reporting aurorae — up to 150 a year in parish records, newspaper reports, and scientific observations, which tells us something about the strength of the solar wind. There were also observations of the solar corona during eclipses at the time, which suggest the sun was less active as well.

Lately some (Zolotova et al)  have said solar activity was not low during the cold Maunder Minimum period from 1645 – 1715. Usoskin and others have responded by amassing a compedium of  historic data demonstrating that something very unusual was going on with the sun during that time. They not only look at sun spots, but aurorae, solar corona observations, Beryllium in ice cores, Carbon 14 in tree trunks, and titanium in meteorites.

We know aurorae were rarer or smaller during the Maunder minimum because for 80 years there were virtually no reports of auroras in Great Britain, though keen observers were looking for them, and recording “clear skies” day after day.

There were reports of aurorae from the late 1500′s in the UK, Denmark, and Prague, but then early in the 1600′s activity fell away. The silence was loud. At the end of the Maunder period, across northern Europe on  “Tuesday 17th March 1716″ people all over Northern Europe reported aurorae, including Edmund Halley in Great Britain, who had never seen one before, yet had read about them, and looked for them. He’d begun to despair he might never see one. One Petter Dass in Norway did miss out, he diligently recorded the night sky from 1645 to 1707 when he died, and though he had read many historic reports of aurorae, he never recorded seeing one himself. His bad luck, to be an astronomer and his whole adult life spent during the quietest period for centuries.

The Usoskin paper is an interesting read for people interested in the history of early science as well as for the history of solar activity.

Total sunlight levels suggest the Sun was very quiet 300 years ago

The world has warmed since 1680, as best as we can tell, and solar activity has increased since then too. This graph of TSI (total solar irradiance) shows that rise — though the absolute change is tiny. TSI changes are small but appear to be another indicator of solar activity.

Graph, solar total irradiance, TSI, maunder minimum, solar activity, Usoskin 2015

Fig. 17. Selected TSI reconstructions since 1600, labeled in the plot are: Sea09 –Steinhilber et al. (2009); DB11 – Delaygue & Bard (2011); Wea05 – Wang et al. (2005); Kea10 – Krivova et al. (2010); Dea14 – Dasi-Espuig et al. (2014); Vea11 – Vieira et al. (2011). The green, blue and red colour tones are used for the reconstructions based on the 10Be, sunspot and 14C data, respectively. The black dotted line marks the TSI value at modern solar activity minimum conditions according to SORCE/TIM measurements.

As we keep suggesting, some other factor on the Sun, like the solar-magnetic, spectral changes or solar wind may be responsible for changing the climate on Earth. Correlation is not causation, but neither is it nothing. Yet, the mainstream Climate Models assume all the other solar factors are irrelevant.

That’s record low activity

The Zolotova and Ponyavin paper suggested that solar activity was much higher (red dashes) compared to other reports.

Graph, sunspot numbers, maunder minimum, solar activity, Usoskin 2015

Fig. 1. Annual group sunspot numbers during and around the Maunder minimum, according to Hoyt & Schatten (1998) – GSN, Zolotova & Ponyavin (2015) – ZP15, and loose and strictly conservative models from Vaquero et al. (2015a) (see Sect. 2.1), as denoted in the legend.



Aims. Although the time of the Maunder minimum (1645–1715) is widely known as a period of extremely low solar activity, claims are still debated that solar activity during that period might still have been moderate, even higher than the current solar cycle # 24. We have revisited all the existing pieces of evidence and datasets, both direct and indirect, to assess the level of solar activity during the Maunder minimum. Methods. We discuss the East Asian naked-eye sunspot observations, the telescopic solar observations, the fraction of sunspot active days, the latitudinal extent of sunspot positions, auroral sightings at high latitudes, cosmogenic radionuclide data as well as solar eclipse observations for that period. We also consider peculiar features of the Sun (very strong hemispheric asymmetry of sunspot location, unusual differential rotation and the lack of the K-corona) that imply a special mode of solar activity during the Maunder minimum. Results. The level of solar activity during the Maunder minimum is reassessed on the basis of all available data sets. Conclusions. We conclude that solar activity was indeed at an exceptionally low level during the Maunder minimum. Although the exact level is still unclear, it was definitely below that during the Dalton minimum around 1800 and significantly below that of the current solar cycle # 24. Claims of a moderate-to-high level of solar activity during the Maunder minimum are rejected at a high confidence level.

Look at the detail of this drawing by Cassini, 1671

Historic drawing of sunspots, 1671, maunder minimum, solar activity, Usoskin 2015

Fig. 2. Drawing of a sunspot group observed in August 1671, as published in number 75 of the Philosophical Transactions, corresponding to August 14, 1671.

The amount of aurorae data is remarkable

Graph, Aurora, maunder minimum, solar activity, Usoskin 2015

Fig. 11. Occurrence of auroral reports, 1700-1900. The green line is the number of auroral nights at geomagnetic latitudes below 56◦ from a combination of several catalogues (Nevanlinna, 1995; Fritz, 1873, 1881; Legrand & Simon, 1987). The points show the geomagnetic latitude and time of auroral sightings from the catalogue of V´azquez et al. (2014) (their Figure 9). Black diamonds, red squares and red triangles are, respectively,
for observing sites in Europe and North Africa, North America, and Asia. Blue dashed lines mark the minimum latitude of auroral reports in the last solar cycle of the Maunder minimum (MM) and in the two cycles of the Dalton Minimum (DM).

There is a stark dearth of aurorae recorded during the Maunder Minimum:

Graph, Aurora, maunder minimum, solar activity, Usoskin 2015

Fig. 12. Same as Figure 10 (see caption below graph box), but compiled from 41 different catalogues of auroral observations at magnetic latitudes below 55◦ in Europe, Asia, North Africa, New England and Great Britain. The time series covers both the Maunder and the Dalton minima.

[Fig. 10. (a) The grey histogram shows the number of auroral nights, NA, in calendar years for observations in Great Britain collated by E.J. Lowe (1870) with the addition of the observations by Thomas Hughes (Harrison, 2005) and John Dalton (Dalton, 1834). The black line shows the annual group sunspot number of Hoyt & Schatten (1998), with the adoption of recent corrections by Vaquero et al. (2011) and Vaquero & Trigo (2014). Lowes personal copy of his catalogue of natural phenomena (including auroras) was only recently discovered and was compiled completely independently of other catalogues. Yet it shows, like the others, the dearth of sightings during the Maunder minimum, some events in 1707 and 1708 and the return of regular sightings in 1716. (b) Annual variation of NA in the same dataset and of RG.]

Usoskin et al describe the extraordinary sighting of the first aurorae for decades

What is significant about this event is that very few people in the country had seen an aurora before (Fara, 1996). Indeed, Halley’s paper was commissioned by the Royal Society for this very reason. This event was so rare it provoked a similar review under the auspices of l’Acad´emie des Sciences of Paris (by Giacomo Filippo Maraldi, also known as Jacques Philippe Maraldi) and generated interest at the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (by GottfriedWilhelmLeibnitz).All these reviews found evidence of prior aurorae, but none in the previous half century. Halley himself had observed the 1716 event (and correctly noted that the auroral forms were aligned by themagnetic field) but had never before witnessed the phenomenon. It is worth examining his actual words: “…[of] all the several sorts of meteors  of, this [aurora] was the only one I had not as yet seen, and of which I began to despair, since it is certain it hath not happen’d to any remarkable degree in this part of England since I was born [1656]; nor is the like recorded in the English Annals since the Year of our Lord 1574.” This is significant because Halley was an observer of astronomical and atmospheric phenomena who even had an observatory constructed in the roof of his house in New College Lane, Oxford where he lived from 1703 onwards. In his paper to the Royal Society, Halley lists reports
of the phenomenon, both from the UK and abroad, in the years 1560, 1564, 1575, 1580, 1581 (many of which were reported by Brahe in Denmark), 1607 (reported in detail by Kepler in Prague) and 1621 (reported by Galileo in Venice and Gassendi in Aix, France). Strikingly, thereafter Halley found no credible reports until 1707 (Rømer in Copenhagen and Maria and Gottfried Kirch in Berlin) and 1708 (Neve in Ireland).He states “And since then [1621] for above 80 years, we have no account of any such sight either from home or abroad”. This analysis did omit some isolated sightings in 1661 from London (reported in the Leipzig University theses by Starck and Fr¨uauff). In addition to being the major finding of the reviews by Halley, Miraldi and others (in England, France and Germany), a similar re-appearance of aurorae was reported in 1716-1720 in Italy and in New England (Siscoe, 1980).


The absence of auroral sightings in Great Britain during the MM is even more extraordinary when one considers the effects  of the secular change in the geomagnetic field. For example, using a spline of the IGRF (InternationalGeomagnetic Reference Field, vmod/igrf.html) model after 1900 with the gufm1 model (Jackson et al., 2000) before 1900 we find the geomagnetic latitude of Halley’s observatory in Oxford was 60.7◦ in 1703 and Edinburgh was at 63.4◦. Auroral occurrence statistics were taken in Great Britain between 1952 and 1975, and of these years the lowest annual mean sunspot number was 4.4 in 1954. Even during this low solar activity year there were 169 auroral nights observed at the magnetic latitude that Edinburgh had during the MM and 139 at the magnetic latitude that Oxford had during the MM (Paton, 1959). In other words, The British Isles were at the ideal latitudes for observing aurora during the MM and yet the  number reported was zero. This is despite some careful and methodical observations revealed by the notebooks of several scientists: for example, Halley’s notebooks regularly and repeatedly use the term “clear skies” which make it inconceivable that he would not have noted an aurora had it  been present. Halley’s failure to find auroral sightings in the decades before 1716 is far from unique.



Usoskin et al (2015)  The Maunder minimum (1645–1715) was indeed a Grand minimum: A reassessment of multiple datasets, arXiv:1507.05191 [astro-ph.SR]

h/t Willie.

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