Zombie Science and JP Morgan’s Annual Energy Paper

Thanks to a link provided by our friend Francis Menton at Manhattan Contrarian, I have now read JP Morgan’s annual energy paper. Much of it consists of stuff that a sceptic would endorse: how most of the proposed decarbonisation measures for the world aren’t working and won’t work. Its author, Michael Cembalest, does not however make the sceptic’s leap: maybe we don’t need to decarbonise this fast, if at all? There are a number of figures in Cembalest’s review that should be put under the noses of politicians who are insisting on driving us off a cliff in order to save us. I recommend everyone reads it.

But I don’t want to talk about the useful stuff.

Instead, I want to talk about Cembalest’s postscript making a dig at wind power opponents.

Despite appearances, I am not against wind power. I am against birds being killed by wind power, wind power being subsidised, having first dibs on generation, being paid to turn off, industrialising the countryside, destabilising the grid, having who knows what effect on cetaceans, etc etc.

Most of those things can be eliminated with a stroke of a dictator’s pen. Others are a matter of siting. Bird kills though: it’s hard to think of somewhere you could usefully put a wind farm without imperilling birds. To get me on board with the siting of a wind farm, you’d have to persuade me that more birds would be saved by the carbon dioxide emissions abated by the wind farm than would be swatted by it. That is a difficult task.

Cembalest’s final remarks in said postscript are:

If you’re one of those people that delivers diatribes against wind power due to bird deaths, and if you don’t mention estimates of birds killed by other energy sources at the same time [67], and/or the 30% decline bird life since 1970 due in large part to rising temperatures [68], I made a name badge that you can use at the next conference you attend. This name badge also works for people who still believe that the 2021 Texas freeze was all about the decline in wind generation rather than the collapse in natural gas generation. Just print, cut it out and peel/stick. See you all next year.

Michael Cembalest

The name badge looks like this:

Now, I might not be a serious person. My writing style is consistently flippant. But I will not be lectured on this topic by someone who should either be aware of the lacunae in his knowledge base or be reluctant to make unequivocal claims. I would not dream of lecturing Cembalest on economics, which I know nothing about. But he should not assume that, because he is smart and knowledgeable on some topics, that he knows anything about others.

Let us begin with “… you don’t mention estimates of birds killed by other energy sources at the same time…

I don’t mention such things because they are mostly inconsequential, and where they are not inconsequential they are entirely avoidable, unlike the deaths from wind farms, which are a function of the use to which the wind farm is put.

The reference used by Cembalest to justify this remark is a zombie paper by Benjamin Sovacool, which has been mentioned in these pages by Mike here (scroll down). This paper has been refuted, but not retracted. Because it is in such a state, it is still used in the discussions of otherwise wet-nosed truth hounds like Cembalest. I have no doubt that if the Sovacool paper discussed anything with a dollar value attached, a banker like Cembalest would have spotted that it was a crock at once, or seen its refutations and discarded the paper as worthy of note. As it is, the paper discusses bird deaths, and bankers and others just drive by at forty in their new hybrid Jeeps, glancing sideways at its headline conclusion, and report it uncritically.

Jit’s Law of Surprising Science:

The more surprising a paper’s conclusion is, the more likely it is to be wrong.

The Sovacool paper made the surprising announcement that coal power and nuclear power were responsible for more bird deaths than wind power per GWh. So these high power generators, that sit there in small footprints like great immobile lumpen things, cause more bird deaths than low power generators that are spread out over tens of square kilometres and spend their active lives rapidly spinning in the same space that birds fly in.

Mike (ibid.) links to a retort, which takes issue with most of Sovacool’s data on casualties from nuclear (too high) and wind (too low). A particular failing is the misuse of a one-off event at a disused copper mine, which poisoned 300 snow geese. As this is not an active uranium mine, nor even a disused uranium mine, the deaths can hardly be tallied under nuclear power. Present environmental standards, at least in the West, should anyway preclude such things. And lurking in the background is a large empty space where “mining for wind power” should be:

Unlike fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, which spread their avian-related impacts across an entire fuel cycle, most of a wind farm’s impact occurs in one location.

Sovacool, 2012

Because everyone knows that wind power uses no raw materials at all, and it definitely does not use copper.

SFX: A telephone rings.

Jit: Hello?

SFX: A muffled voice

Jit: Wind power DOES use copper, and you’re wiring the data to me now?

SFX: A muffled voice

Jit: OK, I will. You too. Farewell.

SFX: An old Bakelite telephone crashes back onto its hook.

SFX: An email arrives.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the copper used in wind turbine manufacturing. Here is the World Bank’s data:

RationalWiki puts it better than me, as follows:

Perhaps the most notable failing of these papers is that Sovacool considers lifecycle bird deaths for nuclear, while omitting them for wind. Thus, the fact that wind uses 10 times more steel than nuclear and 700 times more copper than nuclear per MWh generated, would have reversed Sovacool’s conclusions even if that were the only error in these papers.

RationalWiki page on Benjamin Sovacool

As to the deaths from fossil-fuel generators, most of them come out of someone’s unmentionable posterior orifice:

Looking at the mid-range scenarios in climate change expected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they projected that 15% to 37% of all species of birds could be extinct by 2050. These numbers, too, can be tentatively quantified into 9.16 deaths per GWh from oil, natural gas, and coal-fired power stations.

Sovacool, 2012

That’s 9.16 out of 9.36 deaths per GWh. Most of the rump is also nonsense: acid rain (mate, get into the 21st century), mercury (ditto), collisions with power cables (a problem that is fixable by burying cables, and in any case wind farms, being further from the populations they serve, require additional cabling).

Sovacool also praises the notorious Altamont Pass wind farm:

We found, perhaps unexpectedly, that electricity production from Altamont Pass reduces emissions of SO2, NOx, PM2.5, and greenhouse gases to the degree that it has a net beneficial impact on avian wildlife.

Sovacool 2012

Obvious tripe. Altamont Pass is a poster child for destroying nature in the name of saving it.

For decades, the Altamont Pass has killed so many Golden Eagles that it is a “population sink” for the species and is contributing to its overall decline in the region.

Audubon Society, via WUWT

Like the RSPB, the Audubon Soc finally decided to stand up for birds, just four decades too late. So close! They almost had it there. What were they formed for again? Can’t remember.

Anyway, the conclusions of Sovacool’s paper were wrong, wronger than wrong, out the other side of Wrongville into the land of fairies and unicorns. But that doesn’t stop them from being used in Wikipedia here (scroll down), or by JP Morgan’s Cembalest to try to make those of us who object to wind farms look like dribbling fantasists. Well, we ain’t.

What about the other paper referred to? What was it that Cembalest quoth? Oh yeh:

…the 30% decline bird life since 1970 due in large part to rising temperatures [68]”

The link takes you to Rosenberg et al 2019, available here. And while a decline in bird life in the US is described, it is not claimed that such a decline is “due in large part to rising temperatures.”

Rosenberg et al leave the why until near the end of their paper, when they mention:

Habitat loss

Pesticide use

Agricultural intensification


…and conclude by saying…

Our results signal an urgent need to address the ongoing threats of habitat loss, agricultural intensification, coastal disturbance, and direct anthropogenic mortality, all exacerbated by climate change, to avert continued biodiversity loss and potential collapse of the continental avifauna.

Rosenberg et al 2019

Now, I grant you that they have thrown in the term climate change, but what is written there is hardly captured by Cembalest’s summary.

Unfortunately, Cembalest does not give his email, or I would challenge him on his casually insulting and ill-informed appendix. My carrier pigeon won’t reach him in his tower of steel and glass; it will just bounce off the mirrored windows, plummet to the street, and some time later get washed into a storm drain and out of the story.

So Sovacool’s zombie paper rises from the dead again.

But at least the birds can comfort themselves that they will only have to die once.

Featured image: Judith O’Dea as Barbra in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

via Climate Scepticism


June 8, 2022 at 03:31PM

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