Cato @ Liberty
Global Science Report: Greenland’s Resilience in the Face of Apocalyptic Hypotheses
Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:46 EDT

Thirty years ago, NASA scientist James Hansen put greenhouse-effect warming on the map with his strident testimony indicating that global temperatures could then confidently be related to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Two years ago, he made another prediction: several meters of sea level rise in this century. He told Scientific American:

Consequences [of climate change] include sea level rise of several meters, which we estimate would occur this century or at latest next century, if fossil fuel emissions continue at a high level. That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history.

There’s only one way to accomplish this: melt a substantial portion of Greenland’s ice. In fact, as early as 2004 he wrote Greenland could a substantial portion of its ice in 100 years with the warming of this century, causing a total sea level rise of nearly 20 feet.

Fortunately, there are ways to test the hypothesis that Greenland is about to shed like a calico cat in the summer.  It turns out Greenland has experienced multiple millennia of heat at times during the last 125,000 years.

The last two million years or so have been punctuated by (at least) four major ice ages. The reigning theory is that they are driven by slight but predictable variations in earth’s orbit around the sun, as well as the opening of the circumpolar Southern Ocean and the rise of the Himalayas. Our orbit is an ellipse in which the relation to the sun changes over time. Right now, earth is closest to the sun in Northern Hemisphere winter, and furthest away in summer.  Under some conditions, that would lead to an ice age, but the seasonal distances between earth and sun also precess with time, and our orbit is right now quite circular. That makes the winter-summer difference small, preventing another ice age.

At the end of each of the last two ice ages, earth and sun lined up in a position where they are closest in Northern Hemisphere summer, and the orbit was highly elliptical, which means excess sunshine in the high latitudes, warming Greenland, and northern Eurasia and North America—a lot.

The Arctic tundra holds many secrets, including the fact it was once forested. It’s now too cold for trees, but we also know how warm it has to be for trees to survive. Dying trees buried in highly acidic peat are preserved remarkably intact. Here, for example is a log, radiocarbon dated at 6,000 years old that looks like new wood:

We became interested in this years ago, with the 2000 publication by Glen MacDonald, of UCLA, and several colleagues, showing that from roughly 7,000 to 9,000 years ago, “mean July temperatures along the northern coastline of Russia may have been 2.5° to 7.0°C [3.6° to 12.6°F] warmer than modern.” This is consistent with the 2016 finding of Jason Briner (University of Buffalo) that the difference between warmest and coldest postglacial millennia is 5.4° +/- 1.8°F in Arctic Canada and Greenland. Last year, dating buried wood and cones, Leif Kullman found high latitude summer temperatures at least 3.6°C [6.5°F] warmer than today, between roughly 6,500 years to 11,200 (!) years ago.

What did all this mean for Greenland? According to a very recent paper by Lisbeth Nielsen of University of Copenhagen, all that warming melted enough ice to raise sea level between ~0.15-1.2m (0.5-4.0 ft) over several thousand years. That’s a far cry from Hansen’s 20 feet in a hundred years, and it’s telling that the 2016 Briner finding and Hansen’s forecast were concurrent.

It’s also noteworthy that, due to all this arctic warming, “Arctic sea ice cover was strongly reduced during most of the early Holocene and there appear to have been periods of ice free summers in the central Arctic Ocean.” And yet this creature survived:

All this recent research is consistent with a landmark 2013 paper by Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and several colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, who drilled a core through the     Greenland ice to the beginning of the previous interglacial–125,000 years ago, through the millennia known as the Eemian warmperiod.

If one thinks it was warm at the beginning of the current interglacial, the beginning of the last one was sweltering at high northern latitudes, given the Dahl-Jensen data. It used to be thought that a 6,000 year period, centering around 118,000 years ago, was around 3.6-5.4°F (2-3°C) warmer in summer than the 20th century average for Greenland. But data in their core showed it averaged 10.4-14.0° (6-8°C) warmer in summer for 6,000 years. And for all of that, they estimate that Greenland lost about 30% of its ice, which would raise sea level about about 1.38 inches per century over these six millennia. Not a Hansenian 20 feet, in a hundred years, but about 6/1000’s of that.

Quantitatively, here’s why Hansen’s hypothesis is wrong.

Assume that the six-millenia Eemian averaged around the lower level of Dahl-Jensen’s estimate, some 6°C warmer in summer. That means the melting heat-load (Greenland’s ice melts every summer) over Dahl-Jensen’s core region (northwestern Greenland) was:

6000 summers X 6°C = 36,000 degree-summers.

It’s doubtful we are going to warm our atmosphere with increased carbon dioxide for anywhere near 1,000 years, and climate models project a summer warming around Greenland in the top range of around 5°C.  But let’s assume these pessimistic parameters.

Although this is likely a huge exaggeration of the heat that humans could possibly unload on Greenland, it is

1000 summers X 5°C = 5,000 degree-summers.

Therefore, in a 1000-year worst-case scenario we will only melt a small fraction of Greenland’s ice, compared to the loss in the 6000-year Eemian.

That’s a far, far cry from Jim Hansen’s 20 feet in 100 years. When his alarming sea-level rise hypothesis comes up (as it will) around the 30th anniversary of his 1988 testimony on June 23, rest assured that thousands of years of ice core data—real data instead of a speculative hypothesis—show the Greenland-driven disaster scenario to be simply untrue.

Bumping the Constitution to Ban Bump Stocks
Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:37 EDT

For years, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has maintained that “bump stocks”—devices that allow a firearm to reciprocate slightly and assist in “bump firing”—are not “machineguns.” From 2007 to 2017, spanning multiple administrations (including the current one), the ATF issued 10 different opinion letters confirming that the devices were not “machineguns” or “machine gun conversions,” and thus did not fall under the purview of the National Firearms Act of 1934 and Gun Control Act of 1968, two federal laws which heavily regulate machine gun ownership.

Under federal law, a “machinegun” is a device “which shoots … automatically more than one shot … by a single function of the trigger.” With language so clear, the provision was never considered ambiguous by a reviewing court over 80 years of decisions—and the ATF’s interpretation remained consistent. It is for this reason that bump stocks, and crank-operated “Gatling guns,” while having a high rate of fire, have never been considered “machineguns.” (Yes, virtually anyone can own a Gatling gun under federal law.) What could change the state of such settled law, then? Political expediency.

After the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, where the shooter used a bump stock, President Trump made clear that he intended to see the devices banned “without going through Congress.” The administration then announced that it intended to “clarify” the NFA and GCA to include bump stocks within the statutory definition of “machinegun.” The issue is, of course, that no amount of “clarification” can lawfully make a statute say something it does not. That, however, did not seem to deter the ATF when it published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in March, threatening to stretch statutory language beyond the point of tearing, all in an attempt to use an 83-year-old law to do away with bump stocks.

Our Constitution requires that new laws be brought through Congress, not shoehorned into old ones by executive agencies. In that light, we have filed a regulatory comment, expressing our view that the ATF’s new “interpretation” is an attempt to force new restrictions as a matter of political expediency, not a good faith interpretation of existing law. The president undoubtedly has the authority to direct the actions of his principal officers, but when those directions urge the reversal of longstanding previous interpretations based on an unambiguous statute, they smell more of an attempt to improperly change the law than a valid exercise of constitutional authority.

The Rising Popularity of Increasing Immigration
Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:29 EDT

The most fascinating phenomena of American politics is the increasingly anti-immigration opinions of politicians like Donald Trump that contrasts with an increasingly pro-immigrant public opinion.  Gallup has asked the same poll question on immigration since 1965: “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?”  Gallup’s question does not separate legal from illegal immigration, likely meaning that answers to this question undercount support for increasing legal immigration.  They recently released their 2018 poll results.  The support for increasing legal immigration is at 28 percent – the highest point ever (Figure 1).  Support for increasing immigration is just one point below support for decreasing immigration – well within the 3-point margin of error (95% CI). 

Figure 1

Gallup: Should Immigration Be Kept at Its Present Level, Increased, or Decreased?


Sources: Gallup.

The Gallup trend is the clearest and best for those of us who support increasing immigration but the General Social Survey shows a similar directional trend – although not nearly so dramatic (Figure 2).

Figure 2

GSS: Should Immigration Be Kept at Its Present Level, Increased, or Decreased?


Source: General Social Survey.

If the public is increasingly pro-immigration, why is the GOP so opposed to immigration?  It can’t be radically divergent opinions across partisan lines. According to the Gallup poll, 65 percent of Republicans think immigration is good for the country compared to 85 percent of Democrats.

Another possibility is that anti-immigration voters care a lot more about the issue than pro-immigration voters and are willing to change their votes based on it.  For pro-immigration voters, immigration just isn’t their biggest issue.  The Gallup poll hints at this as 55 percent of those who are dissatisfied with the current immigration levels want to cut the numbers while only 22 percent who are dissatisfied want to increase the numbers.

Another issue is causality as anti-immigration politicians could be pushing moderate Americans into a more pro-immigration position.  The crude language used by nativists, such as President Trump’s description of illegal immigrants as an infestation, can turn off a lot of voters in the same way that the Prop 187 campaign in California in the mid-1990s convinced a lot of white voters to not support the GOP.  This is the exact worry that Reihan Salam, a moderate restrictionist, voiced. The spokesman for political issues matters and Trump is not a very good one.

Another potential explanation is the “locus of brutality,” a riff on the locus of control literature that says voters are more supportive of liberalized immigration when they perceive it to be controlled.  Under that theory, border chaos, illegal immigration, refugee surges, and the perception of immigrant-induced chaos increases support for restriction.  Thus, countries with open immigration are mostly able to maintain those policies so long as it appears orderly.  Since disorder usually arises from poor government laws, this means that more regulation can make it more chaotic and create demand for more legislation in an endless cycle.  That locus of control pattern could be countered by the brutality of immigration enforcement such that voters become more pro-immigration when they are confronted with the government’s brutal enforcement of immigration laws.  Prison camps for immigrant children thus create support for liberalization.

My final theory is that this is the last gasp of nativism.  Lots of dying political movements that are terminally ill due to shifting public opinion go all out as it is their last chance to get elected.  Think George Wallace and segregation.  During the 2016 campaign, then-Senator Jeff Sessions said that that was the “last chance for Americans to get control of their government.”  When it comes to changes in the public trends and support for cutting immigration, he is probably correct.

The public is becoming increasingly pro-immigration.  The Democratic Party is increasingly reflecting that changing public opinion while the Republican Party is getting an increasing percentage of that shrinking but sizable anti-immigration majority.  There will come a point, should public opinion continue to support increasing immigration, where both parties will adopt this position.