A PBS Nova show, meant to promote solar energy through solar flight, did nothing more than reinforce the fact that computer-modeled climate change is hooey.
If you asked me, I would say that the show devoted two hours documenting how highly educated European true believers invested tens of thousands of hours and possibly millions of gallons of fossil fuel into inventing and flying a solar-powered plane that (1) travels at 45 miles an hour, (2) can do night flights only under optimal — and unpredictable — circumstances, and (3) is so fragile rain can break every part of it.
At the end of the day, I would have this as my conclusion about the show: It’s as if these European intellectual elites decided to time travel to Kitty Hawk in 1903, turn to the Wright Brothers, and say “Hold my beer!”
Nova has a less cynical take:
On March 9, 2015, Solar Impulse II took off from Abu Dhabi on one of the greatest aviation adventures of our time: the first solar-powered flight around the world. Together with a team of brilliant engineers, two visionary pilots—Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg—designed and built Solar Impulse from scratch, even though top airplane manufacturers told them it would be “impossible to control.” To pull it off, they had to re-invent everything, from innovative solar cells and batteries to massive carbon-fiber wings. Despite all their efforts, the performance of the plane was balanced on a knife-edge, demanding near-perfect weather conditions and hour after hour of vigilant, skillful piloting. The longest nonstop leg, from Japan to Hawaii, lasted five days and set a new world solo flight record. NOVA captures an insider’s view of the Solar Impulse pilots and ground team as they experience moments of hair-raising crisis, remarkable endurance, and ingenious problem-solving.
The only part of the show I really enjoyed was the fact that it had a bald “Captain” Piccard boldly going where no man has gone before. Other than that, it dragged. We saw how the plane couldn’t do this and it couldn’t do that, and it couldn’t fly here and it couldn’t land there — all at 45 miles per hour. And we saw how, everywhere the plane wended its non-polluting ways, dozens of team members trailed in its wake, hauling with them vast amounts of equipment — all the old-fashioned way, relying on fossil fuels.
I finally reached maximum boredom when the plane was parked in China, preparing to make a trans-Pacific flight to Hawaii — something that would take five days of non-stop flying. This meant, of course, that the plane had to store enough solar power during the day to create energy to fly at night, something it could only do right on the cusp of the summer solstice. Five minutes less of daylight, and it was questionable whether the plane would be able to last the night.
But you know what happened right around summer solstice in China? Weather. Clouds, monsoons, fog, all sorts of things that the team’s engineers and meteorologists freely admitted were hard to predict two days out, even with the most sophisticated computer modeling, and impossible to predict five days out.
So the whole huge team hung around in China for days and days, as the summer solstice came closer. Finally, when a window of clear weather opened, Borschberg took to the skies for his five-day flight to Hawaii — only to be brought down in Japan one night later when the weather refused to cooperate.
That landing was indeed a “hair-raising crisis,” not because Borschberg couldn’t stick the landing, but because its unexpected nature meant that the huge team didn’t have time to ship (using fossil fuel, of course) the enormous, multi-part, inflatable hanger in which the plane had to be stored to protect against wind and rain. The wind and rain promptly damaged the plane, requiring days of meticulous overhauling to fix broken parts and dehydrate the thing.
We then got “hair-raising” discussions between all the people involved (all wearing natty, faux-military style team uniforms) about the fact that there was no way in Hell that they could figure out what the weather was actually going to be over the Pacific — especially the cloud cover. Where would the clouds be? Where would they move? How thick would they be? It was all impossible.
Eventually the team did manage to get the Solar Impulse from Japan to Hawaii, so the “ingenious problem-solving” must have kicked in. I don’t know, because I fell asleep.
My real problem with the entire show was that the people doing their myriad calculations to figure out five days worth of cloud cover, and the documentary filmmakers hanging onto every agonizing appraisal of upcoming weather, and the PBS audience watching, mesmerized by the wonders of solar flight are all, without exception, people who believe that anthropogenic climate change is real because . . . science — all while being utterly unfazed by the fact that, when it comes to our complicated climate biosphere, two days is about the best that the scientists can do with any certainty when actual lives are on the line. Everything else is wish, prayer, and guess-work — each of which has its place in the world, but none of which is “science.”
With that intro, you can imagine how delighted I was today to see that Prager U has released a new video: Can Climate Models Predict Climate Change? A highly credentialed actual scientists walks us through the issue and towards an answer to that question: