Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New paper finds groundwater extraction & 2004 earthquake are the primary causes of sea level rise in Thailand

A paper published today in Global and Planetary Change finds high rates of sea level rise along certain sections of the coast of Thailand are almost entirely due to "extreme land subsidence" [land sinking] rather than global warming. The authors find sea level rise increased significantly after the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake which greatly increased land subsidence in certain regions, and that rapid land subsidence is also due to groundwater extraction. 

Relative sea level change is primarily related to subsidence or post-glacial rebound [land height changes] rather than melting ice or steric sea level changes [thermal expansion from warming]. Global mean sea levels are rising at only about 1-1.6 mm/year, equivalent to 4-7 inches per century and without any evidence of acceleration. Without acceleration, there is no evidence of any human effect on global sea levels. 

The land at along the coast of Bangkok is sinking up to 20 times faster than the rate of global sea level rise

Sea level rise is primarily a local phenomenon primarily due to land height changes rather than global warming. 

Fast sea level rise in upper Gulf of Thailand due to land subsidence is explored
Sea level rise increased significantly after the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake
Seasonal sea level variations are driven by monsoonal winds
Annual and semi-annual sea level variations in Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand are very different


The study addresses two important issues associated with sea level along the coasts of Thailand: first, the fast sea level rise and its spatial variation, and second, the monsoonal-driven seasonal variations in sea level. Tide gauge data that are more extensive than in past studies were obtained from several different local and global sources, and relative sea level rise (RSLR) rates were obtained from two different methods, linear regressions and non-linear Empirical Mode Decomposition/Hilbert-Huang Transform (EMD/HHT) analysis. The results show extremely large spatial variations in RSLR, with rates varying from ~ 1 mm y− 1 to ~ 20 mm y− 1; the maximum RSLR is found in the upper Gulf of Thailand (GOT) near Bangkok, where local land subsidence due to groundwater extraction dominates the trend. Furthermore, there are indications that RSLR rates increased significantly in all locations after the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami that followed, so that recent RSLR rates seem to have less spatial differences than in the past, but with high rates of ~ 20-30 mm y− 1 almost everywhere. The seasonal sea level cycle was found to be very different between stations in the GOT, which have minimum sea level in June-July, and stations in the Andaman Sea, which have minimum sea level in February. The seasonal sea-level variations in the GOT are driven mostly by large-scale wind-driven set-up/set-down processes associated with the seasonal monsoon and have amplitudes about ten times larger than either typical steric changes at those latitudes or astronomical annual tides.

World's largest solar energy plant wants to increase its greenhouse gas emissions to 94,749 tons per year

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating & Bird-Frying System in California, touted as the world's largest "green energy" solar plant, has recently filed an application with the State of California to increase the carbon pollution emissions it generates from dirty fossil fuels to 94,749 tons of greenhouse gases per year, a 59% increase above the greenhouse emissions currently permitted by California. The plant is requiring much more natural gas to fire its boilers than expected when the Sun doesn't shine & on cloudy days.

As shown by Table 2 below, the proposed new greenhouse [GHGs] emissions are 94,749 tons per year, approximately equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas output of 16,500 average passenger cars:

If the petition is approved, the "solar" plant would be allowed to use a quantity of natural gas that would have been enough to supply about 35,000 typical California households. That's 35% of the 100,000 households the entire project is expected to power - generated from fossil fuels!

The plant cost $2.2 billion and has a "gross capacity" of 392 MW [but may actually perform at a much lower average capacity], thus a minimum cost of $5.64 million per MW capacity.

By comparison, A 650MW gas turbine power plant can be built for around $630 million and run 24/7/365 without requiring fossil-fuel back-up, a cost of $970,000 per MW or about 6 times less. Since ~35% of the proposed plant output would be from fossil fuels, the solar maximum capacity would be ~255 MW, increasing the cost for the actual solar-derived energy to ~8.6 times higher than a conventional gas turbine power plant [which has much lower greenhouse & particulate emissions than firing boilers in the Ivanpah plant]. 

These back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest the Ivanpah 'solar' plant is not only a bird and retina frying machine, but a financial boondoggle with a substantial carbon & environmental footprint as well. 

Ivanpah Solar Plant Owners Want To Burn a Lot More Natural Gas

by Chris Clarke  KCET  3/27/14

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System | Photo: Penny Meyer/Flickr/Creative Commons License
It's been lauded as the world's largest solar power plant, but the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System could also be called the world's largest gas-fired power plant (largest as in physical size, not gas consumption). Each of the 4,000-acre facility's three units has gas-fired boilers used to warm up the fluid in the turbines in the early morning, to keep that fluid at an optimum temperature through the night, and to boost production during the day when the sun goes behind a cloud.
The project's managers, BrightSource Energy and NRG Energy, originally estimated that the plant's main auxiliary boilers would need to run for an hour a day, on average, to allow the plant to capture solar energy efficiently. But after a few months of operation, they're now saying they need to burn more gas, with the boilers running an average of five hours a day.
To that end, the companies have asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to change the project's license to allow Ivanpah to burn more than 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a year, and the plant's operators say that change won't have any environmental impact.
The request from Ivanpah's operators comes in the form of a petition to amend the plant's air quality conditions of certification, posted Thursday on the CEC's website.
Under its current license, the project is allowed to use up to 328 million standard cubic feet of natural gas (MMSCF) per year at each of its three units. That's with the proviso that the total amount of natural gas used can't climb above 5 percent of the energy the project gets from the sun. Ivanpah's owners (doing business as the shell corporations Solar Partners I, II, and VIII) want that upper limit increased to 525 MMSCF per year per unit, and the 5 percent limit abolished altogether.
If you're wondering about that acronym, MMSCF is a bit of natural gas industry jargon based loosely on Roman numerals, with M meaning 1,000. A standard cubic foot, generally speaking, is the amount of natural gas that would take up a cubic foot of volume at sea level at room temperature.
If the petition is approved, ISEGS would be allowed to use a quantity of natural gas that would have been enough to supply about 35,000 typical California households.
In asking for the changes to the plant's permit, Solar Partners say that they've been climbing a steep learning curve in ISEGS' first months of operation:
ISEGS is unique. For some aspects of operation, the only way to fully understand how the systems work has been through the experience of operating the powerplants. Petitioner first became aware of the need to increase annual fuel use after the completion of construction and commencement of commercial operations, which began in December 2013. The experience gained during commercial operations indicates that more boiler steam would be needed than previously expected in order to operate the system efficiently and in a manner that protects plant equipment, and to maximize solar electricity generation.
Solar Partners says that in order for ISEGS to operate at full efficiency, the plant's gas-fired auxiliary boilers will need to run an average of 4.5 hours a day, rather than the one hour a day originally expected.
To be sure, the amount of natural gas ISEGS would be able to burn under the requested amendments to the plant's license is still dwarfed by the amount a typical gas-fired power plant burns in its normal course of operations. The 1,575 MMSCF (or more than 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas) per year ISEGS would burn at its upper limit would supply a 300-megawatt gas-fired power plant for about 27 days of peak operation.
Still, the boosted gas consumption limits proposed by ISEGS' backers aren't without impact. The plant's total CO2 footprint from burning natural gas would rise to just above 92,200 tons per year, approximately equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas output of 16,500 average passenger cars.
And yet Solar Partners says that the boost from 328 to 525 MMSCF of gas per year -- with a climate impact increase equivalent to about 6,200 of those cars -- will have no significant environmental cost, saying that the boost in gas burning won't change the project's impact on either air quality or public health.
Our guess is that Solar Partners is defining both "air quality" and "public health" differently than we would.
We'll update you on CEC's response to the petition when it becomes available.

Monday, August 18, 2014

WSJ: Another example that scientific debates are rarely 'settled': The Salt Libel

Up until a week ago, we were told the science was settled: salt is bad, the less you consume, the better. Anyone sprinkling salt on their food must be deniers of the 100% consensus of scientists and thousands of peer-reviewed papers over the past 40 years proving beyond any reasonable doubt whatsoever that table salt is sodium pollution to the human body.

Hold the boat...

"several related papers in this week's New England Journal of Medicine undermine these [sodium] recommendations, and one even speculates that the official targets pose health hazards. In one of the most complete treatments of the subject to date, researchers followed more than 100,000 people world-wide for three and a half years. They found that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 mgs had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious medical event like a heart attack."
It's yet another example of confirmation bias, "consensus" groupthink, and the dangers of assuming scientific debates are ever "settled."

Likewise, until very recently, the 100% scientific consensus was that saturated fat causes obesity & heart disease and to eat low-fat carbs instead. Now disproven, the settled overwhelming 100% scientific consensus thrown out the window, low-fat carbs are bad, saturated [and unsaturated] fat good in moderation. 

Likewise for the 100% scientific consensus for over 50 years that peptic ulcers were due to stress or eating spicy foods, later proven to be completely false and instead caused by infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, and treatable with antibiotics not histamine blockers. 

There are hundreds of other examples in the medical and physical sciences where the overwhelming > 97% scientific consensus was flat out wrong. The bogus "97% consensus" on climate change will be next on this long list of "consensus" failures.

UPDATE: see a list of additional scientific consensus failures from a new post at http://ipccreport.wordpress.com/

The Salt Libel

Another example that scientific debates are rarely 'settled.'

Aug. 18, 2014 7:53 p.m. ET   THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

We were told the science was settled. Yet new research suggests that salt is not nearly as dangerous as the government medical establishment has been proclaiming for many decades—and a low-salt diet may itself be risky. Other than how to season tonight's dinner, perhaps there's a lesson here about politics and the scientific method.

The USDA, Food and Drug Administration and other regulators have long instructed eaters to consume no more sodium than 2,300 milligrams a day, or about a teaspoon, well below the U.S. average of 3,400 mgs. The limits are said to reduce the risks of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

But several related papers in this week's New England Journal of Medicine undermine these recommendations, and one even speculates that the official targets pose health hazards. In one of the most complete treatments of the subject to date, researchers followed more than 100,000 people world-wide for three and a half years. They found that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 mgs had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious medical event like a heart attack.

Enlarge Image

Getty Images

The findings are associations, not definitive clinical proof (to the extent there is such a thing). But they add to a growing literature arguing that the evidence that sodium is harmful is weak or nonexistent, including a report last year out of the Institute of Medicine.

If the war on salt was wrongly declared, that may be because diet is inevitably an elusive and ambiguous field given the complexity of human biology. What we know about the body evolves over time. Many theories of food and health are no more than superstition, so any nutrition advice that is more specific than moderation and more vegetables ought to be taken with a grain of—well, you know.

Yet the latest USDA food pyramid, which was updated as recently as 2011, clings to simplistic low-salt pseudo-science. The FDA is pressuring food manufacturers and restaurants to remove salt from their recipes and menus, while the public health lobby is still urging the agency to go further and regulate NaCl as if it were a poison.

The larger point is that no scientific enterprise is static, and political claims that some line of inquiry is over and "settled" are usually good indications that real debate and uncertainty are aboil. In medicine in particular, the illusion that science can provide some objective answer that applies to everyone—how much salt to eat, how and how often to screen for cancer, even whom to treat with cholesterol-lowering drugs, and so on—is a special danger.

Government regulation often can lock in bad advice and practices and never changes as quickly as the evidence evolves. So be glad the salt debate continues.


The consensus was wrong

In an article in the Guardian, Richard Tol wrote that “There are plenty of examples in history where everyone agreed and everyone was wrong”. He didn’t give examples there – perhaps he thought this was so well known that it wasn’t worth commenting on, or perhaps space was too limited.
Here are a few examples of where the consensus has turned out to be wrong (thanks to @Fastcom, @intrepidwanders, @DerrickByford, @nmrqip and @Beautyon for suggesting many of these). More examples welcome! 
Yes, I know, these stories are all greatly oversimplified.
Copernicus, Galileo and the Sun. For some time after Copernicus wrote his book saying that the Earth goes round the Sun, most scientists continued to believe the opposite.
Ernst Chladni and meteorites. The consensus was that meteorites came from the earth, perhaps from volcanoes, until, around 1800, some nutter suggested they might come from outer space.
Cholera and John Snow. The consensus was that cholera was caused by ‘miasma’ – bad air, until John Snow identified a link with a contaminated water pump in the 1850s.
Semmelweis, hand-washing and puerperal fever. His results were rejected because they conflicted with the consensus of scientific opinion.
Evolution. The consensus was that God created species in a few days. Darwin was so worried about the consequences of what he’d found that he sat on it for many years.
The Aether and the speed of light. It used to be thought that light travelled at a certain speed relative to a background known as ‘aether’. Experiments and then Einstein’s theory of relativity showed that this was wrong.
Wegener and continental drift. Wegener was attacked and ridiculed for this theory.
George Zweig and quarks. The consensus was that protons and neutrons were fundamental elementary particles until Zweig and Gell-Man came up with quarks.
Barry Marshall and stomach ulcers. The consensus was that gastritis and ulcers were related to poor diet and stress. in 1984, Marshall had to ingest the bacteria, helicobacter pylori, to show he was right that this was the cause, and eventually won the Nobel Prize.
Stanley Prusiner and prions The consensus was that disease agents needed nucleic acids. Prusiner’s theory of prions in the 1980s led to incredulity, personal attacks and then a Nobel Prize.
Barbara McClintlock and “jumping genes”. Another Nobel Prize winner whose work wasn’t accepted at first because it went against received wisdom.

New paper finds the Sun controls Greenland climate

An important paper published today in Nature Geoscience finds a persistent link between solar activity and Greenland climate during the last ice age, and finds the link is similar to modern solar forcing of regional climate. 

According to the authors, 
"We suggest that solar minima could have induced changes in the stratosphere that favour the development of high-pressure blocking systems located to the south of Greenland, as has been found in observations and model simulations for recent climate. We conclude that the mechanism behind solar forcing of regional climate change may have been similar under both modern and Last Glacial Maximum climate conditions."
The authors describe a solar amplification mechanism by which solar minima favor the development of high-pressure blocking systems which block the jet stream and cause increased jet stream dips of the polar vortex [just like we have seen over the past few record cold winters in the US and Europe]. Many other papers have described this solar amplification mechanism via solar effects on the stratosphere, which in turn affect the QBO, which in turn affects large scale planetary waves such as Rossby Waves and the jet stream. This is only one of many solar amplification mechanisms described in the scientific literature. 

The authors also provide a new reconstruction of solar activity using the cosmogenic isotope 10Be, which shows a remarkable correlation over relatively short time-scales to ice core temperatures and precipitation: 

d18O [mean of 2 ice cores shown as blue line] is a proxy of temperature and precipitation. 10Be [orange line] is a proxy of solar activity [note 10Be is inversely correlated to solar activity]
Note 10Be concentration at end of 20th century was ~0.6, much less than mean of ~1 from first chart above, indicating solar activity was much greater at end of 20th century than during the last glacial maximum. 

Excerpt explaining the solar amplification mechanism

Climate alarmists such as Jennifer Francis and Heidi Cullen claim man-made CO2 from your SUV is the control knob of Greenland climate, and that increased CO2 causes jet stream dips and record cold weather. However, this new paper and many others provide a much more plausible explanation: it's the Sun. 

Persistent link between solar activity and Greenland climate during the Last Glacial Maximum

Nature Geoscience
Published online
Changes in solar activity have previously been proposed to cause decadal- to millennial-scale fluctuations in both the modern and Holocene climates1. Direct observational records of solar activity, such as sunspot numbers, exist for only the past few hundred years, so solar variability for earlier periods is typically reconstructed from measurements of cosmogenic radionuclides such as10Be and 14C from ice cores and tree rings23. Here we present a high-resolution 10Be record from the ice core collected from central Greenland by the Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP). The record spans from 22,500 to 10,000 years ago, and is based on new and compiled data456. Using 14C records78 to control for climate-related influences on 10Be deposition, we reconstruct centennial changes in solar activity. We find that during the Last Glacial Maximum, solar minima correlate with more negative δ18O values of ice and are accompanied by increased snow accumulation and sea-salt input over central Greenland. We suggest that solar minima could have induced changes in the stratosphere that favour the development of high-pressure blocking systems located to the south of Greenland, as has been found in observations and model simulations for recent climate910. We conclude that the mechanism behind solar forcing of regional climate change may have been similar under both modern and Last Glacial Maximum climate conditions.


What is the Planetary Theory about? Why all the Fuss?

New sunspot record shows accumulated solar energy was at "Grand Maximum" at end of 20th century

Solar physicist Dr. Leif Svalgaard and colleagues have submitted their paper "Revising the sunspot number" to the journal Solar and Stellar Astrophysics for peer-review. Outcomes of the new paper are said to include:
  • The so-called “Modern Maximum” disappears
  • Sunspot activity is steady over the last 250 years
  • Three detected “inhomogeneities” since 1880 are corrected
  • Cycle 24 will become the weakest in 200 years
However, the paper actually says that "such a tight sequence of 5 strong cycles over 6 successive cycles (from 17 to 22, except 20), which we can call the “Modern Maximum”, is still unique over at least the last four centuries," and "The recalibrated series may thus indicate that a Grand Maximum needs to be redefined as a tight repetition/clustering of strong cycles over several decades, without requiring exceptionally high amplitudes for those cycles compared to other periods." 

Excerpts from pages 71-72:
"Still, although the levels of activity were not exceptional except maybe for cycle 19, the particularly long sequence of strong cycles in the late 20th remains a noteworthy episode. Indeed, the 400-year sunspot record and one of its by products, the number of spotless days, show that such a tight sequence of 5 strong cycles over 6 successive cycles (from 17 to 22, except 20), which we can call the “Modern Maximum”, is still unique over at least the last four centuries. Given the inertia of natural systems exposed to the solar influences, like the Earth atmosphere-ocean system, this cycle clustering could still induce a peak in the external responses to solar activity, like the Earth climate. However, we conclude that the imprint of this Modern Maximum (e.g. Earth climate forcing) would essentially result from time-integration effects (system inertia) [i.e. the sunspot time-integral], since exceptionally high amplitudes of the solar magnetic cycle cannot be invoked anymore. In this suggested revision, the estimated or modeled amplitude of the effects, including the response of the Earth environment, can be quite different, necessarily smaller, and should thus be re-assessed. 
The recalibrated series may thus indicate that a Grand Maximum needs to be redefined as a tight repetition/clustering of strong cycles over several decades, without requiring exceptionally high amplitudes for those cycles compared to other periods."
Using Dr. Svalgaard's data from the paper, it is clear that the sunspot time-integral of accumulated solar energy has been increasing since the 1700's to a "Grand Maximum of Accumulated Solar Activity," in remarkable correspondence to the HADCRU3 global temperature record:

From the post "It's the Sun":

It's the Sun

Solar physicist Dr. Leif Svalgaard has revised his reconstruction of sunspot observations over the past 400 years from 1611-2013. Plotting the "time integral" of sunspot numbers from Dr. Svalgaard's data shows a significant increase in accumulated solar energy beginning during the 1700's and continuing through and after the end of the Little Ice Age in ~1850. After a ~30 year hiatus, accumulated solar energy resumes a "hockey stick" rise for the remainder of the 20th century, followed by a decline beginning in 2004, all of which show remarkable correspondence to the HADCRU3 global temperature record:

The real "hockey stick"


The Sun explains 95% of climate change over the past 400 years; CO2 had no significant influence

Climate Modeling: Ocean Oscillations + Solar Activity R²=.96

Analysis shows accumulated solar energy explains 20th century global warming; no significant effect of CO2

The Time-Integral of Solar Activity explains Global Temperatures 1610-2012, not CO2

Natural Climate Change has been Hiding in Plain Sight

New paper confirms the Sun was particularly active during the latter 20th century

Global warming made simple: How natural variability explains 20th century global warming without man-made CO2

Sunspot Integral v. Temperature

The Sun can't possibly explain global warming

New paper finds recent Grand Maximum of solar activity was 'rare or even unique event' in 3,000 years

New paper finds up to 72% of temperature increase over past 150 years due to the Sun

How climate models dismiss the role of the Sun in climate

How climate models dismiss the role of the Sun in climate change [Part 3]
How climate models dismiss the role of the Sun in climate change [Part 4]

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New paper: "explanations of the so-called ‘warming hiatus’ remain fragmented & implications...unclear"

A new paper published in Nature Geoscience finds excuse #32 for the 18 year "pause" in global warming that sophisticated IPCC climate models failed to predict. According to the paper, the IPCC models didn't predict the pause because they are too complex, but if a model with "reduced complexity" and the already known changes of natural variability is used, all is well.

The simpler model uses observations of ENSO, solar activity, and stratospheric aerosols to retrospectively predict the known climate change, not nearly as challenging as making a true prospective prediction of climate change before the natural variability is known.

The authors state, "the explanations of the so-called ‘warming hiatus’ remain fragmented and the implications for long-term temperature projections are unclear," but that their less complex model including a greater role for natural variability explains the "pause."

Natural variability, radiative forcing and climate response in the recent hiatus reconciled

Nature Geoscience
Published online
Global mean surface warming over the past 15 years or so has been less than in earlier decades and than simulated by most climate models1. Natural variability234, a reduced radiative forcing5,67, a smaller warming response to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations89 and coverage bias in the observations10 have been identified as potential causes. However, the explanations of the so-called ‘warming hiatus remain fragmented and the implications for long-term temperature projections are unclear. Here we estimate the contribution of internal variability associated with the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) using segments of unforced climate model control simulations that match the observed climate variability. We find that ENSO variability analogous to that between 1997 or 1998 and 2012 leads to a cooling trend of about −0.06 °C. In addition, updated solar and stratospheric aerosol forcings from observations explain a cooling trend of similar magnitude (−0.07 °C). Accounting for these adjusted trends we show that a climate model of reduced complexity with a transient climate response of about 1.8 °C is consistent with the temperature record of the past 15 years, as is the ensemble mean of the models in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). We conclude that there is little evidence for a systematic overestimation of the temperature response to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the CMIP5 ensemble.

WSJ Op-Ed: Cheeseburgers Won't Melt the Polar Ice Caps

Cheeseburgers Won't Melt the Polar Ice Caps

The next targets of the climate change enforcers will be livestock and all Americans who eat meat

Aug. 17, 2014 7:19 p.m. ET  THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The documentary film "Cowspiracy," released this week in select cities, builds on the growing cultural notion that the single greatest environmental threat to the planet is the hamburger you had for lunch the other day. As director Kip Andersen recently told the Source magazine: "A lot of us are waking up and realizing we can choose to either support all life on this planet or kill all life on this planet, simply by virtue of what we eat day in and day out. One way to eat takes life, while another spares as many lives (plant, animal and otherwise) as possible."

James McWilliams, vegan author of the 2013 book "The Politics of the Pasture," argues that modern agricultural, and the cattle industry in particular, are part of a global food-supply system so damaging that the only moral solution is to give up eating meat entirely.

Each to his own, you might say. But these ideas are working their way into government policy proposals. For example, Angela Tagtow, a self-described "environmental nutritionist" formerly with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, was recently tapped to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture's effort to revise federal dietary guidelines. This is a sign that the new recommendations are likely to go beyond nutritional science to incorporate environmental considerations. Many observers believe that meat will be specifically targeted for scrutiny.

Environmental nutritionists argue that the social and environmental costs of meat production—obesity, chronic disease, the production of green-house gases such as methane, etc.—are not reflected in prices at the grocery store or restaurant. "The big-ticket externalities are carbon generation and obesity," New York Times columnist Mark Bittman recently wrote. He argues that beef prices don't reflect these externalities and that "industrial food has manipulated cheap prices for excess profit at excess cost to everyone."

That the price of meat is too low might come as news to food consumers who, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paid 14% higher prices for ground beef this June than they did in June 2013 and 29% more than two years ago. Recent droughts and high corn prices—due in part to Washington's support for ethanol—are largely to blame. It is unclear how high prices must rise to overcome the view that meat is "too cheap." Some industry critics have even called for new "meat taxes" to discourage consumption.

Those who promote sustainable agriculture often push for more "natural" production systems, such as grass fed, local, or organic beef. But these result in lower productivity, greater water and land use, and higher carbon footprints. More broadly, the argument that modern agriculture is a leading cause of global warming is tenuous at best.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that U.S. agriculture, including livestock production, accounts for only about 8% of total greenhouse-gas emissions in the country. Livestock in the U.S. have lower greenhouse-gas footprints than in other parts of the world. This is partly because American producers generally use higher-quality feeds, higher-yielding breeds, and more productivity-enhancing technologies such as probiotics, vaccines and growth hormones. Future improvements in feed and animal genetics could further reduce animal-agriculture's impact. As economists have shown, one should not underestimate the ability of innovation, markets, the courts and private negotiation to resolve the adverse effects of externalities.

Moreover, the concept of externalities when applied to food is nebulous. At a recent Institute of Medicine meeting I attended, a room full of Ph.D.s struggled to understand exactly what to measure.

We would never trust a group of experts to set the price of beef, milk or automobiles. We rely on a decentralized marketplace to aggregate disparate information unknown to any single person or expert committee. And yet there is a belief among some that public-health experts can accurately divine a single true and just cost for a hamburger that will help prevent the melting of the polar ice caps and save millions of lives and billions of dollars in health-care costs.

Never mind that the nutritional composition of beef provides much-needed protein, vitamins and iron. Studies have shown that higher beef prices lead to iron deficiency and more cases of anemia. It is hard to project the unintended consequences of policy-induced reductions in meat consumption, but they are likely to include reduced incomes for family farmers and rural communities and cast uncertainty over the use of millions of acres of grassland that currently support cattle producers.

Let us also not gloss over what is beef's most obvious benefit: Livestock take inedible grasses and untasty grains and convert them into a protein-packed food most humans love to eat. We may be able to reduce our impact on the environment by eating less meat, but we can also do the same by using science to make livestock more productive and environmentally friendly.

Mr. Lusk a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University, is the author of "Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto about the Politics of Your Plate" (Crown Forum, 2013).