Wednesday, October 07, 2015

That evil radiation again

To the Green/Left any level of ionizing radiation is reason for panic.  A level of radiation that is perfectly normal and untroublesome in some places on earth (e.g. Aberdeen, Scotland) will evoke shrieks if human activity can somehow be invoked as causing it.

The huge body of evidence about hormesis shows that low to medium levels of radiation are in fact beneficial rather than harmful but that is totally ignored by the panic merchants.  The findings below are therefore just more evidence that ionizing radiation has to reach much higher levels than is conventionally understood before it becomes harmful.  Zero tolerance of radiation is absurd.

Not mentioned below is that some older people have returned to their original homes in the area.  They remembered how well their gardens fed them in the Soviet era (yummy potatoes and onions!) and they have found that their gardens can still do that.  And they too remain alive and kicking

Wildlife including wolves, elk and wild boar are thriving around Chernobyl since the area was deserted by humans after the world's worst nuclear accident, a study shows.

Populations of large mammals show no evidence of being affected by the continuing radiation in the exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant in Ukraine, close to the Belarus border, which was hit by an explosion and fire in 1986.

Around 116,000 people were permanently evacuated from the 1,600 square miles (4,200 sq km) exclusion zone around the power plant, with villages and towns left to go to ruin.

Three decades on, a scientific study published in the journal Current Biology has found abundant populations of mammals - the most sensitive creatures to the impacts of radiation - in the area.

Using helicopter surveys, researchers in Belarus found that elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar populations within the exclusion zone are similar to those in four uncontaminated nature reserves in the region, while wolf numbers are seven times higher.

And studies involving assessing tracks in new-fallen snow of roe deer, fox, wild boar and other animals including lynx, pine marten and European hare, found numbers were not reduced in areas with higher radiation.

The study found said while the extremely high dose rates of radiation in the immediate aftermath of the accident significantly hit animal health and reproduction, they recovered quickly and there was no evidence of long term effects on mammal populations.

While individual animals may be affected by radiation, overall populations have benefitted from the absence of people and hunting, forestry and farming which are likely to have kept wildlife numbers low before the accident, the researchers said.

Lynx have returned to the area, having previously been absent, while wild boar are taking advantage of abandoned farm buildings and orchards for shelter and food.

One of the study's authors, Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University, said that the nuclear accident had very severe social, psychological and economic consequences for the local communities which had to be evacuated.

But he said: 'In purely environmental terms, if you take the terrible things that happened to the human population out of the equation, as far as we can see at this stage, the accident hasn't done serious environmental damage.

'Indeed by accident it's created this kind of nature reserve.'


Saving the Environment from Environmentalism

When Jonathan Franzen wrote a provocative piece in The New Yorker earlier this year, “Climate Capture”, Chris Clarke, an influential environmental blogger in California, described it as having “walked up to a hornet’s nest and hit it with a baseball bat.”[1] Franzen had asked the question no one has wanted to face: “Has climate change made it harder for people to care about the environment?” After identifying what he called a few “winces” Clarke concluded, “Finally. Finally, someone prominent is saying this.” By “this” Clark was referring to the growing concern that today’s environmental policies are causing unanticipated impacts that are being ignored in the name of a supposed higher good – reducing carbon emissions. As one speaks to grassroots environmentalists across the country, there is a growing sense that perhaps we are getting it wrong, perhaps we are living with an inherited environmental dogma that reflects old thinking and flawed premises.

Most would agree on the major goals of environmentalism: first, reduce carbon emissions, and second, minimize our environmental footprint as we pursue growing human needs. Current thinking on how to achieve these goals is informed by two basic premises: first, environmental solutions must “harmonize with nature”, hence the emphasis on so-called “green” renewable resources; and second, nuclear power must be opposed at all costs. Fossil fuels are to be displaced over the long term, but they take a back seat to nuclear power, like way back. There is now good reason to believe those premises are fundamentally flawed.

During the past decade, a number of leading environmentalists have already challenged the historical opposition to nuclear power, five of them being featured in a 2013 documentary by Robert Stone called “Pandora’s Promise”. Their issue was carbon and the belief we won’t achieve the kinds of reductions we need without nuclear power. We can get a sense of that challenge from The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based affiliation of 29 countries founded in 1973 to coordinated global energy policies. They have developed what they call a 450 scenario, aimed at keeping atmospheric concentrations of CO2 below 450 ppm, a level viewed by many as a tipping point for climate change.[2]

Their rather startling conclusion, evident in the above figure, is just how radically current policies need to be changed. To turn the curve over we must both cut coal and hold natural gas emissions constant at present levels. Current policies are harsh on coal but they encourage more gas generation. The simple reality is that nuclear power will need to be part of the mix if we are to achieve these reductions.

And yet carbon is only one piece of the picture. In late 2014 an “Open Letter to Environmentalists”, signed by fifty-six environmental and conservation scientists from throughout the world argued the exclusive commitment to renewable resources is threatening biodiversity. They too agreed “the full gamut of electricity generation resources – including nuclear power – must be deployed if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change.” But it wasn’t just carbon that disturbed them. Based upon a study by two Australian scientists at The Environmental Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, they concluded the exclusive reliance on renewable resources is doing unnecessary damage to habitat. “As conservation scientists concerned with global depletion of biodiversity,” they wrote, “proponents of (non-nuclear alternatives) typically to not admit to the difficulties of large scale use of these technologies.” In effect, the ideological impulse to “harmonize with nature” is propelling us toward resources that are unduly threatening biodiversity. Here too nuclear power, a resource they described as “by far the most compact and energy dense of sources,” needs to be part of the mix. [3]

For many grass-roots environmentalists, it is the biodiversity issue that rankles most. Yet the emotional, financial and political investment in the current dogma is so strong there is a collective beat down for anyone who tries to raise it. Witness the reaction to Franzen’s article. The opening salvo came from Mark Jannot, writing for the Audubon Society. Franzen had opened with an inference that, facing the global threat of climate change, we were trivializing a few thousand bird deaths in the present, with an oblique reference to the Audubon Society. It was one of Clark’s “winces”. After understandably defending the Audubon Society, Jannot charges that Franzen’s analysis is “half-baked”, “intellectually dishonest” and “based on intellectual sleight of hand,” eventually claiming the underlying concern – that climate change has raised some difficult questions — is not supported by a “shred of evidence.” Standing by with pom poms, Joanna Rothkopf, writing at, elegantly cheered him on: “Audubon doesn’t take that kind of shit-talking from anyone”. The Guardian weighing in as well, calls Franzen’s charges “absurd”, charging that “Franzen’s claim about a conflict between conservation and climate activism” is a form a lunacy – “psychologically-driven, a product of his private prejudices, irritations and resentments.”

Ok, so let’s take a deep breath and chill. This sort of stridency misses the point, though it highlights the hair-trigger sensitivity of the issue. No one is questioning the authenticity of the Audubon Society or anyone else who has devoted themselves to environmental causes, their genuine concern for the environment, or for birds or for habitat – I don’t, and I certainly did not read Franzen that way. But they are trying to engage a reasoned dialogue about a growing angst among grassroots environmentalists over impacts they are seeing and the reluctance of major environmental groups to take them seriously, all in the name of “saving the planet”. It’s a simple question: are we really saving the planet? Are these the right steps to reduce carbon? And have we allowed ideology to blind us to a most basic environmental issue – minimizing our footprint on the ecology?
Environmentalists versus environmentalism

Laura Jackson, raised on a wooded 300-acre farm in southwestern Pennsylvania, gained a respect and appreciation for nature at a very early age. She eventually served as a high school teacher in environmental science for 38 years, joined the Audubon Society in the 1970’s, the Sierra Club a little later, and other environmentally focused groups such as the Nature Conservancy. “I’ve developed an environmental ethic, a concern for habitat and species,” she says, “which I’ve tried to instill in my students, especially in the environmental science classes I’ve taught.”

Her curriculum included an emphasis on renewable energy, the importance of wind and solar and “how great they are”, as she puts in now in a moment of reflection. Today she has become a skeptic. Her earlier teachings on wind and solar, she says, were “basically just superficial reading that I had done and not gone into much depth.” She was doing what every good environmentalist was supposed to do, what every major national environmental group had insisted we must do to assure sustainable, environmentally friendly sources of energy for the future while combating climate change. She was, she thought, embracing a “clean” and “green” future.

All of that began to change when she learned in 2005 that major wind projects were being planned for a local mountain range “about 20 miles north of where I live – not in my backyard but in the county where I live. I got his sick feeling in my stomach because I knew that was not an appropriate site for any type of energy development – very steep slopes, very rocky soil, and there would have to be a lot of damage to the habitat.” It prompted her to dig deeper and as she did, she describes herself as “blown away … I had never seen pictures of wind projects built on mountains and what had to be done to move the earth, to remove the natural vegetation and to change the whole topography to put in a project.” Eventually she mobilized local opposition, including local chapters of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club and was able to limit the damage, blocking some of the worst of them.

But the stress here is on the word “local”. The National Audubon Society and the National Sierra Club are both strong supporters of industrial wind development. While both claim they only support projects on “proper sites,” as Jackson would say, “when I ask where is it properly sited, nobody answers that question – it is very frustrating. We have these huge powerful conservation organizations that are pro-wind, and they are not being helpful at the local level.”

In the national push to pursue wind generation, ridgetop areas in the mountainous Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions have been caught in crossfire.[4] The names are familiar – the Appalachians, Green Mountains, Catskills, Adirondacks, Blue Ridges, and Great Smokies, all evoking images of scenic areas environmentalists have historically sought to protect. Unfortunately they also have ideal wind speeds making them attractive sites for wind generators.

While the rhetoric claims this growth is being carefully managed to protect wildlife and habitat, the facts on the ground say otherwise. In Maryland, where wind projects were planned for major bird corridors along the Appalachian Mountains, legislation was passed in 2007 exempting wind projects under 70 MW from environmental reviews, hoping to nullify “a vocal minority of anti-wind extremists” and giving developers an environmental free pass. [5],[6] A few years later, Governor O’Malley overrode legislation blocking a project to build 24 windmills across Chesapeake Bay, stating: “I am committed to protecting (the) Pax River because I know how critically important it is to Maryland”, but, he continued, “the real threat to the Pax River is not an array of wind turbines on the lower Eastern Shore, but rising sea levels caused by climate change.”[7]

Farther to the north in Vermont wind turbines may ultimately be installed on as many as 200 miles of mountain ridgetops.[8] It is all part of Vermont’s vision “to lead the nation to an energy future that relies on renewable resources.” As spelled out in their 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP), Vermont is committed to producing 90% of their energy from renewable resources by 2050.[9]

Why this push for renewables? When the plan was produced in 2011, Vermont had the lowest carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in the 50 states, relying primarily on hydro power from Canada and electricity from Vermont Yankee, a 620 MW nuclear plant. Therein lies the answer.

Facing a flawed wholesale market, a hostile political climate, and with the encouragement of state political leaders, the owners of Vermont Yankee made a decision in 2013 to permanently close the plant, even though its operating license had recently been extended through 2032.[10] While the ostensible reason was economics, writing of the decision at the time Amy Goodman stated, “it was years of people’s protests and state legislative action that forced its closure.”[11] Yet while the political leadership cheered, the regional administrator of the wholesale electric market, ISO-New England, was not so sanguine: “The retirement of this large nuclear station will result in less fuel diversity and greater dependence on natural gas”, he said, observing that the growing dependence on natural gas had been identified as a key strategic risk for the region.[12] As Vermont’s plan unapologetically states, natural gas is now embraced as a preferred resource with plans to increase its use.[13]

High-minded rhetoric aside, Vermont’s energy ambitions are driven by the need to fill the hole left by the closure of Vermont Yankee, even if it means a massive development of wind generation along mountain ridgetops and greater dependence on natural gas to provide electricity when intermittent wind is not operating.

For the “Green Mountain State”, a state that has banned billboards and prides itself on its natural beauty, this aggressive shift to renewables is a non-trivial undertaking. Annette Smith, founder and current head of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) puts it this way: “That’s what we’re doing here in Vermont. Let’s carpet everything with solar and every ridge line with wind turbines and it’s a moral imperative in order to save the planet.” She too has become a skeptic. Having been completely off-grid since 1988 and relying almost totally on solar, her initial instincts were favorable. It was only after locals raised concerns and she visited the Cohocton Wind project in nearby New York that, alarmed by the size, noise and visual impacts – VCE became active in efforts to challenge the unconstrained wind development in Vermont.

Others have stepped in as well. Nationally respected wildlife ecologist Susan Morse puts it this way: ”… it’s not so much that my aesthetic life would be ruined,” she says, but it’s the “whole manner of damage to wildlife habitat.” From the effects of erosion, to the clearing of mountain tops areas for construction, to the roads required both for initial construction and on-going maintenance, the result is “irreparable damage to core habitat and healthy ecological functions.” She continues, “This is being presented as a green alternative but it’s not green if it’s not done well, and that’s where, as a scientist, I really beg to differ with the proponents of wind energy on our ridge lines. It’s not well researched, (and) we don’t have all the answers.”[14]


The Big Sunshiny Lie

As Florida enviros push for their solar amendment, solar’s undesirability goes unmentioned

The important thing to know about solar and wind power, and other so-called “renewable” sources of energy, is that they aren’t necessary. Au contraire, their dominance of the energy mix would be a disaster for the republic. Solar and wind create trifling amounts of power at a multiple of the cost of power made available by fossil fuels.

Increased reliance on pricy power from wind and solar would drive up the overall cost of energy, which in turn would drive up the cost of everything. EVERYTHING! Not just individual power bills, which would be bad enough. It takes energy to produce, transport, and market all the goods Americans take for granted. Even our service economy is a heavy user of energy.

Wind and solar power are also unreliable. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. This isn’t going to change.

In a dystopian wind and solar economy, say goodbye to the supermarket, to pain-free dentistry, to air-conditioning, to the modern hospital, to night baseball. While you’re up, take the hood off your car and make it into a planter because you’ll no longer afford to drive it. A fossil-fuel-free America would become, in short order, a third-world country. Life would once again become nasty, brutish, and short. Or at least a damn sight more straitened than the prosperity contemporary Americans are used to and take as a given.

There is enough oil and gas underground in America to supply energy needs for centuries, if the Sierra Club and other Lexus Luddites would allow us to use it. The problems associated with the burning of fossil fuels have been grossly exaggerated by the political Left for ideological reasons. Those who identify themselves as environmentalists slander fossil fuels — about which most enviros I’ve encountered know bugger all — in order to make themselves feel morally superior to others. To demonstrate how much more they LUV the planet than you do.

Most leftist politicians are another matter, less ignorant, more cynical and conniving. They cater to enviros and whoop us such frauds as global warming in order to increase their political power. The solution to global warming, and other environmental “problems,” is to tax and regulate, i.e. turn more political power over to government. Turn the decisions individuals and businesses have been making for centuries in the land of the free over to politicians and bureaucrats. Just what the Left has always wanted. Obama and his EPA are pushing this agenda at every level now, with very little resistance from Republicans, who, as usual, find themselves confused and cowed. In this instance by junk science that has proved popular with voters.

Right now, against all the available evidence and the urgings of good sense, the lefty alarmists hold the upper hand. A frightening number of Americans have been convinced that fossil fuels — the single thing most responsible for their long, healthy, prosperous, and easeful lives — are dirty, downright evil, and a danger to their very existence. (Review the theory of The Big Lie here.)

Which brings us to a superfluous campaign going on in Florida just now, in which solar boosters are attempting to make the state government a solar crusader. (Similar crack-pot campaigns are going on in other states — I write about this one because it’s in my front yard.) An outfit called Floridians for Solar Choice, largely funded by the usual left-enviro outfits, is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would make Florida a shill for solar with the following meat-axe language: “It shall be the policy of the state to encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.”

Wow. This is clearer than a sunshiny day. This kind of mandate in the state’s governing document would doubtless lead to more solar-mandates and more subsidies, of which there are too many already. I can see solar industry grant-writers salivating now. With this language in the Florida constitution, the Florida Legislature might consider changing the legend on Florida’s automobile license plates from “The Sunshine State” to “The Solyndra State.”

This group’s published rationalization for this additional carve-out for the solar industry is that they wish to put solar on the free market with other power sources and allow power consumers to choose. They say this would drive down the cost of electric power, though they never get around to saying how. They say this would create a level-playing field for solar, when in fact it would oblige the state to discriminate against all other forms of power in favor of solar. Out-of-state solar companies would profit from this solar favoritism. Floridians would be handed the bill.

It’s hard to imagine anyone paying the slightest attention falling for this laughable line. Solar wouldn’t last an hour on the open market. It’s only the massive subsidies and tax breaks that solar receives that disguise the fact that electricity generated by solar costs three times that of power generated with fossil fuels. No amount of new math will make it anything but a disaster to force more of this costly power on an already weak economy.

It would take industrial strength naïveté to believe that Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Tom Steyer really wish to promote free markets. Still, many columnists and editorial writers among Florida’s mainstream media have been charmed. This is not difficult to do, and only those with an agenda would stoop to it.

The agenda is pretty clear. In addition to obliging Florida to whoop up and facilitate solar, the amendment would allow solar companies to install solar panels free of charge on homes and businesses and sell the power these panels generate to the property owners. And there is meat-axe language in the amendment that would prohibit the state from regulating solar companies. No one would benefit from this amendment other than the already politically charmed solar industry.

As it stands now, only utilities can sell electric power in Florida. One doesn’t have to be a fan of everything utilities do to see the reason for utility monopolies. If the corner drugstore goes belly-up, this can be inconvenient. If the power company goes belly up…

Floridians For Solar treats all opposition to its proposed amendment as nothing more than propaganda from rich utilities trying to protect their privileges and their ability to gouge the little guy on power. Floridians For spokesmen used this argument and more last Tuesday when arguing before the Florida Supreme Court that their amendment is both clear and only treats of one subject, requirements for constitutional amendments in Florida. Attorneys for utility companies and the Florida Attorney General’s office argued that the language does deal with more than one subject and is misleading in that it does not inform voters that the Florida Public Service Commission would not regulate solar companies as to service, territory, or rates.

The court will rule on the wording in due course, and should that be a legal thumbs up, Floridians For Solar will have to get 683,149 valid signatures of Florida voters on their petition before next summer in order for the amendment to appear on the November, 2016 ballot. If the language is turned down, it will likely be 2020 before another attempt is made, according to Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the biggest financial backer of Floridians for Solar.

“I always think you want to run one of these things in a presidential year because you have a larger turnout and a whole different demographic,” Smith told the Jacksonville Business Journal.

A second constitutional amendment, called Consumers for Smart Solar, backed mostly by utilities and which largely maintains the status quo on solar, has recently begun to circulate. Press attention and public discussion on both amendments has been minimal. There’s no predicting what 2016 will bring. But for now solar power and these two amendments don’t seem to be on the radar of many voters, which is just as well because both of them are unnecessary. Floridians may need sun block when they go outside, especially in summer (11 months of the year hereabouts). But they don’t need solar power


Appeals court blasts Obama admin's view of key bird law

A decision last week by a federal appeals court to overturn an oil company's convictions under a century-old bird law could hinder the Obama administration's ability to prosecute companies that kill migratory birds and calls into question a potentially sweeping rulemaking.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling cleared Citgo Petroleum Corp. of violations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It's the latest appeals court to weigh in on what some argue is the government's expansive interpretation of the 1918 law.

Energy company attorneys say the ruling confirms that Congress only intended the law to apply to the intentional killing of migratory birds through activities like unpermitted hunting.

But an attorney for the American Bird Conservancy disagreed, calling the 5th Circuit's ruling a "minority view" among federal courts that severely undermines the law's purpose to conserve migratory birds.

One thing's for sure: This is likely not the last time courts and the federal government will wrestle over the scope of MBTA. The 5th Circuit's opinion is a break from other circuit courts, which increases the chances the issue could find its way to the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the 5th Circuit's ruling could boost efforts among some Republicans in Congress to shield wind farms, oil companies and chemical manufacturers from MBTA's reach (E&E Daily, June 12).

The 1918 migratory bird law makes it illegal to "pursue, hunt, take, capture [or] kill" any of more than 1,000 covered bird species, but courts have disagreed over whether such actions need to be intentional.

Over the past few years, the Obama administration has taken a more expansive view by prosecuting two energy companies whose Wyoming wind farms had unintentionally killed migratory birds and several oil and gas firms in North Dakota whose wastewater pits became deathtraps for ducks.

But in the 5th Circuit case, a three-judge panel unanimously ruled that a district court was wrong to convict Citgo of violating MBTA when it unintentionally killed 10 ducks that ingested or were coated with oil at a Texas refinery.

The company argued that MBTA does not cover unintentional bird kills, and the court agreed.

"Taking" under MBTA, the court found, "is limited to deliberate acts done directly and intentionally to migratory birds."

The government's expansive interpretation of MBTA would make a host of other bird-killing businesses and individuals liable for violations, including the owners of telecommunications towers, power lines, wind farms, skyscrapers and even domestic cats, the court ruled.

"This scope of strict criminal liability would enable the government to prosecute at will and even capriciously," the court said, yielding "absurd results."

The Justice Department has asked the court for additional time to decide whether to ask for a rehearing.

"All we can say at this point is that we are reviewing the court's decision," said Laury Parramore, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees MBTA and works with DOJ to prosecute violators.

The 5th Circuit aligned itself with similar rulings by the 8th and 9th circuits that also found "taking" under MBTA to be limited to deliberate kills.

But the 10th Circuit has taken an opposing view, ruling in 2010 to uphold the misdemeanor MBTA convictions of two Kansas oil rig operators after dead birds were found trapped in heater treaters. That court concluded that MBTA is a "strict liability" statute that covers all deaths of migratory birds.

Svend Brandt-Erichsen, an attorney at Marten Law who represents energy firms, said the 5th Circuit's ruling was among the least ambiguous of the circuit courts. If it stands, it would force FWS to think twice before prosecuting wind farms or other energy facilities for incidental bird kills within the court's Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi territory, he said.

The court drew a sharp distinction between the limited meaning of "take" under MBTA and a more expansive definition under the Endangered Species Act, he said.

Andrew Bell, another attorney at Marten Law, said the court was right to point out larger sources of incidental bird kills that could be liable under the government's view of MBTA. It noted that Fish and Wildlife estimates between 97 million and 976 million birds are killed annually by running into windows and that communication towers kill an additional 4 million to 5 million each year.

Energy producers, who have recently borne the brunt of MBTA enforcements, are estimated to kill far fewer.

"This has been the refrain of the wind industry for over a decade, and it's nice to see that someone has heard it," Bell said.

For its part, FWS has so far exercised prosecutorial discretion in enforcing the law, going after only the companies it feels are the most negligent.

Eric Glitzenstein, of Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP, which represents the American Bird Conservancy, said the 5th Circuit adopted "an extraordinarily narrow and, in ABC's view, legally bankrupt view of the MBTA's scope that severely undercuts the act's -- and the underlying treaties' -- broad bird protection purposes."

He argued that it was also a minority view.

"Most courts have correctly concluded that the MBTA's prohibition on taking birds without an MBTA permit encompasses bird deaths resulting from inherently hazardous activities -- such as maintaining uncovered oil tanks and operating wind turbines in the habitat of migratory birds," he said.

Glitzenstein said the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has also held that MBTA applies to "inherently hazardous activities," as have district courts, including the one in Washington, D.C.

The 5th Circuit decision could also affect Fish and Wildlife Service plans to establish a permitting regime to more tightly regulate incidental take of birds under MBTA.

The agency in May said it will study the potential issuance of take permits for owners of drilling pits, gas flares, power lines and communications towers. The aim is to give companies legal cover under MBTA while securing commitments from them to offset their take with habitat restoration and protection (Greenwire, May 22).

But that rulemaking, if FWS were to pursue it, assumes MBTA applies to incidental take, which the 5th Circuit explicitly denied.

The American Bird Conservancy supports a permitting regime, arguing that the government must take better stock of impacts to ecologically important migratory bird species, many of which are in decline.

Glitzenstein helped ABC petition FWS to develop MBTA incidental take regulations.

"This ruling makes it all the more important that the FWS continue with its rulemaking establishing a system for regulating incidental take from industrial activities that are inherently harmful to migratory bird populations," he said.


New book: Doubt and Certainty in Climate Science

The Preface provides some interesting history, here are some excerpts:

"But more recently, I became troubled by what seemed to be a preference to view the climate as a global stable state, unless perturbed by anthropogenic effects, rather than as a highly complex system having several dominant states, each having a characteristic return period imposed on gradual change at millennial scale. The research of H.H. Lamb and others on the natural changes of regional and global climate of the Holocene appeared to be no longer of interest, and the evidence for anthropogenic climate change was being discussed as if it was reducible to change in a single value that represented global surface temperature.

The complex relationship between solar cycles and regional climate states on Earth that was central to classical climatology (and is still being discussed in the peer-­‐reviewed literature) had been replaced with a reductionist assumption concerning radiative balance, and the effective dismissal of any significant solar influence. I found this rejection of an entire body of scientific literature troubling, and looked for a disinterested discussion of the balance between natural and anthropogenic effects, but could not find what I wanted -­‐ a book that covered the whole field in an accessible and unprejudiced manner, and that was based solely on the scientific literature: I found text-­‐books on individual topics aplenty, together with a flood of others, either supporting or attacking the standard climate change model, but none that was based wholly on studies certified by peer-­‐review -­‐ and whose author was inquisitive rather than opinionated.

One thing led to another and this text is the result. My intention has been to examine the scientific literature that both supports – and also contradicts -­‐ the standard description of anthropogenic climate change, and its effects on Earth systems: I undertook the task with an open mind concerning the interpretation of the evidence presented in individual research reports, and collectively by those who have been tasked to report to governments on the progress of climate change and to predict future states.

Because of my experience, this review leans very heavily on discussion of the role of the oceans in controlling climate states, but I make no apology for this: their role is central and critical and too often ignored.

Anthropogenic modification of climate, especially of micro-­‐climates, is undoubtedly occurring but I have been unable to convince myself that the radiative contribution of carbon dioxide can be observed in the data, although modellers have no trouble in demonstrating the effect.

Because there will certainly be some who will question my motive in undertaking this task, I assure them that I have been impelled by nothing other than curiosity and have neither sought nor received financial support from any person or organisation in the preparation and distribution of this eBook."

The conclusions from Longhurst’s analysis are presented in section 11.2:

"While I am aware that the general opinion of the relevent scientific community is that no further debate is necessary after five successive assessments by the IPCC, I suggest that this is premature because these conclusions concern topics that have not yet been properly addressed by that body, and so should be accorded status in a continuing debate concerning the influence of anthropogenic effects on regional climates.

If the peer-­‐reviewed scientific literature, with all the levels of uncertainty associated with individual contributions, has anything to say collectively in assessing the standard climate model, then a small number of conclusions may be drawn from the 600 peer-­‐reviewed papers that I have consulted:

 *  the global archives of surface air temperature measurements are unreliable estimators of the consequences of atmospheric CO2 contamination, because they are already themselves contaminated by the effects of deforestation, land use change, urbanisation and the release of industrial particulates into the lower atmosphere (Sections 6.3, 6.4, 6.5).

 *  users of these data are not able to judge the consequences of the adjustments that have been made to the original observations of surface air temperature ashore, although the limited investigations now possible show that the adjustments have changed the long-­‐term trends that had been recorded by some reputable national meteorological services (Sections 4.1, 4.2).

 *  sea surface temperature is not a substitute for air temperature over the oceans because it responds to changes in vertical motion in the ocean associated with coastal and open-­‐ocean upwelling; the resultant change in surface temperature is independent of any changes in atmospheric temperature caused by CO2, yet these changes are integrated into the GMST record which is used to estimate the effects of CO2 (Section 4.3)

 *  surface air temperatures respond to cyclical changes within the Sun, and to the effect of changing orbital configurations in the solar system: the changes in the resultant strength of received irradiance (and of tidal stress in the oceans, which also has consequences for SAT) are both predictable and observable (Sections 3.2, 3.3, and 3.4),

 *  our description of the evolution of the global heat budget and its distribution in multiple sinks is inadequate for an understanding of the present state of the Earth’s surface temperature, or to serve as the initial state for complex modelling of climate dynamics. Future states are therefore unpredictable, cannot be modelled, and will certainly surprise people living through the next century (Sections 4.1, 4.2, 4.4, 4.5),

 *  the planetary heat budget is poorly constrained, perhaps principally by our inability to quantify the mechanisms that control the accumulation and loss of heat in the ocean, where most solar heat accumulates; the quantification of changes in cloud cover is so insecure that we cannot confidently describe its variability -­‐ yet clouds are the most important control on the rate of heat input at the sea surface (Sections 5.1-­‐ 5.4),

 *  the evidence for an intensification of extreme weather events and, in particular, tropical cyclones is very weak and is largely due to the progressively-­‐ increasing reliability and coverage of weather monitoring: todays frequency of cyclones and other phenomena does not appear to be anomalous when longer data sets can be examined (Sections 9.1, 9.2),

 *  global climate in the present configuration of the continents falls naturally into a limited number of patterns that are forced externally and patterned by internal dynamics. Some of these climate patterns will tend to conserve global heat, some will tend to permit its dissipation to space, while all move heat from one region to another. Two dominate the whole: the North Atlantic Oscillation that describes the flux of tropical heat through the North Atlantic Current into Arctic regions, and the Southern Oscillation that describes the strength of trade winds, especially in the Pacific, and thus the relative area of cold, upwelled water that is exposed to the atmosphere (Sections 7.1, 7.2),

 *  the recent melting of arctic ice cover over larger areas than 20 years ago in summer is not a unique event, but is a recurrence of past episodes and is the result of cyclically-­‐variable transport of heat in warm North Atlantic water into the Arctic basin through the Norwegian Sea; the present episode will likely evolve in the same way as earlier episodes (Sections 8.1-­‐8.3),

 *  sea level is indeed rising as described by the IPCC and others, but the causes -­‐ especially at regional scale -­‐ are more complex than suggested by that agency and involve many processes other than expansion due to warming. Had the human population of some very small islands remained within carrying capacity, their occupation could have been permanent, but this is not the case (Sections 10.1, 10.2),

 *  the consequences of acidification of seawater is one of the most enigmatic questions, and may bring serious biological problems, although it seems now that (i) marine organisms are more resilient to changing pH than was originally feared, because of the genetic diversity of their populations and (ii) the history of pH of seawater during geological time suggests that resilience through selection of genomes has emerged when appropriate in the past (Sections 10.3, 10.4).

Unfortunately, the essential debate on these issues will not take place, at least not openly and without prejudice, because so many voices are today saying – nay, shouting -­‐ ‘enough, the science is settled, it is time for remediation’. In fact, many have been saying this for almost 20 years, even as fewer voices have been heard in the opposite sense. As discussed in Chapter 1, the science of climate change -­‐ like many other complex fields in the earth sciences -­‐ does not function so that at some point in time one can say “now, the science is settled”: there are always uncertainties and alternative explanations for observations."


Reproducibility will not cure what ails science

Leaders of the scientific community, nudged by the media (including Nature ), are acknowledging that a culture of science focused on rewarding eye-catching and positive findings may have resulted in major bodies of knowledge that cannot be reproduced.

Private-sector, academic and non-profit groups are leading multiple efforts to replicate selected published findings, and so far the results do not make happy reading. Several high-profile endeavours have been unable to reproduce the large majority of peer-reviewed studies that they examined.

Meanwhile, the US National Academies is preparing to publish a high-profile report on scientific integrity that will flag irreproducibility as a key concern for the research enterprise. As the spotlight shines on reproducibility, uncomfortable issues will emerge at the interface of research and ‘evidence-based’ policy.

Consider, for example, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, a US bill that would “prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible”.

Passed in March by the House of Representatives essentially along party lines (Republicans in favour, Democrats opposed) and now awaiting action by the Senate, the bill has been vigorously opposed by many scientific and environmental organizations. They argue, probably correctly, that the bill’s intent is to block and even roll back environmental regulations by requiring that all data on which the rules are based be made publicly available for independent replication.

One of the main objections is that a lot of the scientific research that informs regulatory decisions is not of the sort that can be replicated. For example, a statement of opposition from numerous scientific societies and universities explains that:

“With respect to reproducibility of research, some scientific research, especially in areas of public health, involves longitudinal studies that are so large and of great duration that they could not realistically be reproduced. Rather, these studies are replicated utilizing statistical modeling.”

Precisely. Replication of the sort that can be done with tightly controlled laboratory experiments is indeed often impossible when you are studying the behaviour of dynamic, complex systems, for example at the intersection of human health, the natural environment and technological risks.

But it is hard to see how this amounts to an argument against mandating open access to the data from these studies.

Growing concerns about the quality of published scientific results have often singled out bad statistical practices and modelling assumptions, and have typically focused on the very types of science that often underlie regulations, such as efforts to quantify the population-wide health effects of a single chemical.

Although concerns about the bill’s consequences are reasonable, the idea that it would be bad to make public the data underlying environmental regulations seems to contradict science’s fundamental claims to objectivity and legitimacy.

In June, a commentary in Science by an array of leading voices, including the current and future heads of the National Academies, flagged “increased transparency” and “increased data disclosure” as crucial elements of science’s “self-correcting norm” that can help to address “the disconcerting rise in irreproducible find - ings” (B. Alberts et al . Science 348, 1420–1422; 2015).

This is more or less the position taken by the Secret Science bill’s sponsor, Representative Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas):

“The bill requires the EPA to use data that is available to the public when the Agency writes its regulations. This allows independent researchers to evaluate the studies that the EPA uses to justify its regulations. This is the scientific method.”

This battle for the soul of science is almost surreal in its avoidance of the true issue, which is ideological. One side believes that the government should introduce stricter environmental regulations; the other wants fewer restrictions on the marketplace.

Science is the battleground, but it cannot adjudicate this dispute. At its core, the disagreement is about values, not facts.

But just as importantly, the facts themselves are inevitably incomplete, uncertain, contested and, as we have been learning, often unreliable. Like a divorced couple bitterly fighting over the custody of their child, both sides in the Secret Science debate insist that they have only the interests of science at heart. Republicans are using a narrow, idealized portrayal of science — that it produces clear and reproducible findings — as a weapon to undercut environmental and public-health regulation of the private sector.

But many scientists, environmentalists and Democrats have long used similar portrayals to justify the same regulations, and to bash Republicans as anti-scientific when they did not agree.

More and more, science is tackling questions that are relevant to society and politics. The reliability of such science is often not testable with textbook methods of replication. This means that quality assurance will increasingly become a matter of political interpretation.

It also means that the ‘self-correcting norm’ that has served science well for the past 500 years is no longer enough to protect science’s special place in society. Scientists must have the self-awareness to recognize and openly acknowledge the relationship between their political convictions and how they assess scientific evidence.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Wildfires: Another wild-eyed prophecy

Caution: Evangelists at work.  These prophecies come and go.  Just about everything either causes or is caused by global warming -- if we take such pronouncements seriously

It may however be worth noting what HAS made wildfires worse in recent years:  Greenie interference in forest management.  One particularly pernicious type of interference is Greenie opposition to precautionary burnoffs in winter.  Such burnoffs are easy to keep within bounds and reduce fuel load for later fires.  So any fires that eventuate in warm seasons are much tamer and spread less.

Why Greenies oppose such burnoffs I am not sure -- some feeling that it "unnatural" would be my guess. They say it is to protect forest critters but the big burns are actually the ones that kill most forest critters.  Many of the critters can escape a small controlled burn and a controlled burn can in fact make some provision for that

A spate of wildfires in Alaska has since quieted down after an active summer, but the environmental impact of the blazes may stretch for years.

Roughly 9 million acres of forest burned in the US so far this year, up from a 6,250,000 acre average over the last ten years.

The increase in acreage, however, is coming from a smaller number of fires, with each incident engulfing more and more trees before being put out.

A team of scientists says that the land left in the wake of the flames could carry scars long after trees grow back, with the intensity of the fires permanently changing the Arctic, and global, climate.

This year marks the seventh time that more than 8million acres have burned, in the years after 2000. Almost 10million acres, 9,873,745, burned in 2006, the most destructive year.

Alaska's particularly active wildfire season has helped make this year's outsized total, with more than 5million acres burning this summer.

Scott Goetz, a scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, told PRI that the increase in fire activity has come from climate change and warmer, drier air that leads to more intense fires.

The Woods Hole website says that 'if trends continue as predicted, [warming and drying] are likely to induce feedbacks that may further influence the global climate'.

The fires may have the more acute effect of speeding up changes in the Arctic climate as well, with the scientist saying that fires may unleash large amounts of carbon contained in permafrost areas.

Wildfires burn away layers of soil and peat that insulate the permafrost.

Goetz said that degrading the permafrost and severe wildfires could unleash 'enough emissions to the atmosphere that it's equivalent to another United States in terms of total emissions from fossil fuels'.

Woods Holes' Max Holmes said that the greenhouse gas release could have 'catastrophic global consequences'.

Beyond increasing the intensity of fires, the warmer conditions in the Far North may be leading to decreased 'productivity' in the forests that don't grow as well in the heat.

Satellite images show 'browning' over belts of the interior Alaskan and Canadian boreal forests, or taiga, meaning few trees are growing there.

While browning is seen in some southern parts of the North American taiga, there has been an increase in trees in more northern regions that usually see less vegetation.

Goetz told PRI that while more trees in tropical areas are probably a good thing, increased presence in the Arctic will not take a large amount of carbon out of the air and change the 'energy balance' of the northern climates.

He said that the new trees are 'much darker than the other vegetation there, and they absorb a lot more solar energy, and they retain that energy, so it warms the surface'. 'It sets the system on a whole new course,' Goetz previously told CBS.


The Great Battle Looming in Paris

By Viv "Farmer" Forbes

Our way of life faces a huge threat in the next couple of months. Totalitarians of all complexions are hoping to seize an opportunity in Paris to sneakily create the legal and political chains to turn the free democracies into a little soviet cogs in a suffocating UN-controlled world. They are using the climate scare as a cover story to justify rations and taxes on energy production and consumption. Naturally these burdens will fall heaviest on richer western democracies.

The Leaders of this Unholy Alliance are:

 *          The Pope with his socialist agenda and his dreams of rejuvenating Catholic leadership in world matters by embracing trendy causes.

 *          The UN/IPCC whose sustainability rules, heritage no-go areas and green barriers are already affecting every industry and every law book in the world (but mainly in the compliant western nations).

 *          Obama who seeks a last-minute legacy for his disruptive era of non-achievements.

 *          Crusading Royals such as Prince Charles; frustrated politicians such as Mikhail Gorbachev; power-seeking magnates such as George Soros; tinsel-town idols seeking more purpose in their make-believe lives; would-be messiahs and prophets-of-doom like Tim Flannery; guilt-stricken millionaires and the rich foundations and NGO’s whose control has been captured by the extreme green/left.

 *          China and its ruthless central controllers, who will manufacture most of the useless green energy machines and hardware.

 *          The un-elected EU bureaucracy with its growing power over most of Europe.

 *          The Turnbull/Bishop/Hunt/ALP/Greens carbon-tax-coalition now ruling Australia.

 *          Most western bureaucracies who hope to be local enforcers and tax collectors for the new world order.

 *          The old Marxists who suddenly see new hope for their jaded dreams.

And there are Circling Jackals looking to Share in the Spoils.  They include all of those looking for benefits and loot from what is so far mainly a War on Coal:

 *          Oil and gas interests everywhere – including BP/Shell, OPEC, Russia, Venezuela etc.

 *          The world-wide wind-solar industry – speculators, investors, manufacturers and subsidy recipients.

 *          Pacific Island and failed state mendicants who seek climate change manna from heaven (more accurately from the atmosphere).

 *          India whose massive bureaucracy hopes to extract benefits in exchange for support.

 *          The nuclear and hydro-power industries which will expand as coal is taxed to death.

 *          The legal/banking fraternity who are already briefing, advising and financing both sides.

 *          The climate academics and bureaucracies who see never-ending research grants and recurring travel jaunts to exotic locations.

 *          State-owned media everywhere who tend to be anti-industry and pro bigger government.

 *          Now we even have barristers and lawyers advising green groups to use green-tinged courts and judges to enforce the global climate agenda.

The White Knights of the Rag-Tag Opposition:

Opposing this powerful coalition of ambitious totalitarians and greedy rent-seekers is a rag-tag bunch of largely self-funded climate scientists, freedom-lovers, consumer representatives, small businesses and those concerned to preserve the western heritage of constitutional democracy, individual freedom and private property rights.

It is a sad indictment of our scientific and educational leaders that carbon, the key essential element in all living compounds, and carbon dioxide, the natural gas-of-life absolutely essential to feed all life on earth, have been so vilified by alarmists, opportunists and charlatans seeking power, votes or profits, that innocent children and clueless adults now fear and detest these innocent beneficial natural substances.

And it is a sad indictment of our energy engineers and industrial historians that the essential role of hydrocarbon fuels in human well-being is not recognised

Hydrocarbon fuels (oil, gas and coal) have made an enormous contribution to welfare of the biosphere and the human race. They provide cheap reliable energy for heat, light, transport, industry and agriculture, and coal is essential to make steel and other metals for all our building and infrastructure needs.

Their environmental benefits are considerable – kerosene lamps saved the whales being hunted for whale oil; coal gas reduced city pollution by replacing pollution-prone open fires using wood or coal. Urban air quality benefitted even more strongly with the replacement of more combustion-in-the-cities with clean-coal-by-wire (electricity). Electricity has cleared the smog from cities such as London and Pittsburgh and could even power the trains, light rail, trams and electric cars that could remove diesel and petrol pollutants from the skies of modern cities. Coal saved the forests being logged to produce charcoal, or being burnt in smelters, boilers, stoves and heaters. Steam engines saved many rivers which would have been harnessed for hydro-power. Gas is now propping up the intermittent green energy producers, wind and solar. Finally combustion of any hydro-carbon recycles valuable plant nutrients into the biosphere assisting to return Earth to the verdant green land it was when the great forests which formed the coal seams grew profusely. Surely recycling this stored solar energy of the sun is the most sensible energy option we have? Those who deny these facts need to prove their case.

Finally we have the widespread pollution of land, air and waters. Observations will show that the most polluted countries, cities and suburbs are always the poorest ones where people are too busy surviving, scavenging or poaching to worry about endangered species, hazardous waste or polluted waterways.

Access to affordable reliable energy is the quickest way to enrich poverty stricken people.

Unfortunately the producers of hydrocarbon energy seem too cowardly, too ill-informed or too infected by climate hysteria to defend themselves or the products which contribute so much to our prosperity, industry, environment and government income.

For almost 20 years now, global average temperature has trended steady – it is NOT rising.  Over the same period the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide has continued rising.  Therefore, carbon dioxide is NOT the main driver of global temperature.

There has been no real global warming – just models that are programmed to run hot.

It therefore follows that man’s tiny contribution to the small content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can have no perceptible effect on global climate.


But there is Danger in the Growing Public Apathy.  The public is becoming bored with incessant climate crisis propaganda. In public opinion polls it now hardly rates a mention. THIS PUBLIC APATHY POSES A HUGE DANGER.

Those with experience in battling the red-green-left in student or other politics know that one strategy is often used successfully by radicals. Keep talking endlessly, repetitively and boringly until the conservative opposition (which usually has better things to do with their time) becomes bored, or goes home, or stays away. This leaves radicals in control of the agenda. Then, at the exhausted end of what appears to be a pointless and boring debate, they make their greatest unopposed gains, because opposition has evaporated. Deadly things get signed.

This battle is approaching its desperate stage. It is like another time involving France when, just before sunset, Napoleon’s Old Guard (“The Invincibles”) was advancing in a tight column towards Wellington’s exhausted thin red line on the crest of a hill at Waterloo. Every redcoat was needed, and none must falter, or the day and the continent were lost.

We have outlined a profoundly pessimistic picture. Most of the world’s money, power, and vested interests are lining up behind this New World Order, and we can only attack them with words, facts, ideas, and votes at the next election.

What we do have is the power of ideas whose time is coming. Public opinion sometimes changes quickly and dramatically. They were listening all the time, but no one wants to be seen to be the first to break ranks. They are waiting for someone to give a lead in a different direction. It may be triggered by the refugee invasion in Europe, a freezing winter in America, another huge green fraud or a severe blackout in UK.

Suddenly all the one-world fellow travellers will be rejected.

Our job is to keep sowing the seeds of carbon sense.


Why that climate deal is already a dead duck

Christopher Booker is less alarmed than Viv Forbes:

Last week a steady drone rising all year finally swelled to a crescendo. Talking up what Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, described to the City’s leading insurers as the “catastrophic impacts of climate change”, the world’s great and good were piling in on all sides. The Pope was supposed to be at it in his addresses to the UN and the US Congress. Presidents Obama and Hollande were at it, as was David Cameron with his offer of £5.8 million of UK aid money to support the cause. And the Prince of Wales wrote a letter to Britain’s top judges pleading with them to do all they can to bring about what he called “a Magna Carta for the Earth”.

The binding treaty they all want simply isn’t going to happen

What they are all after, of course, is that global treaty they hope to see signed at the UN’s mammoth climate conference in Paris in December, legally committing the world’s 193 nations to phasing out fossil fuels, to prevent the Earth’s temperature rising by any more than 2 degrees C

This was why Mr Carney was warning insurers that they stand to lose billions as fossil fuels are banned and shares in coal and gas become worthless. This was why Mr Cameron upped the UK’s contribution to the UN’s “Green Climate Fund” to just under £6 million, to help countries such as India and China to build solar farms and “roll out mobile banking”.

And this was what the Pope was widely billed to be calling for in America, except that, when he got there, he didn’t once mention “climate change” in his speech to Congress, and at the UN included only one sentence on the Paris treaty.

What they are all shutting their eyes to is that the binding treaty they all want simply isn’t going to happen. This is not just because all the horrors the BBC and the Met Office keep warning us about are failing to appear.

Global temperatures and sea levels are not rising as their computer models predicted. There is no increase in droughts, floods, hurricanes or killer heat waves. As for that “vanishing” Arctic ice, its refreezing in September was the largest and fastest for more than a decade.

The crucial reason why there will be no treaty (other than a meaningless fudge) is that those developing countries, led by India and China, are not going to have it. They may be happy to accept the Western world’s promise of a $100 billion (£66 billion) a year Green Climate Fund by 2020, except that, despite Mr Cameron chipping in a one-off payment of £6 million, the richer countries are just not coming up with the money.

But India, already the world’s third largest CO2 emitter, is now planning to double its coal production by 2020. China, easily the world’s largest CO2 emitter, is planning to build 363 new coal-fired power stations, adding 50 per cent to the world’s coal-powered electricity. The International Energy Agency tells us that these two countries alone plan to build more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity, compared with the mere 11GW which is all we shall soon have left in the UK.

In India last month, these two countries and 11 others declared that, while they will be pleased to share in that (non-existent) $100 billion from the West to help them build windmills and solar farms, there is no way they will hold back on their CO2 emissions.

Even the EU, which has long boasted that it is leading the drive to secure that new treaty, has lately dramatically changed its stance. As pointed out by Dr Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the EU is now prepared to pledge a 40 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, but only on condition that any Paris agreement is legally binding on all countries.

So their failure to get that hoped-for treaty will mark a further very significant shift in the balance of global power between West and East (including Russia). But the good news is that this will not have the slightest effect on the world’s climate, which changes for reasons none of the world’s great and good begin to understand.


Revolt: Vermont town votes 274-9 against giant wind turbines

Hundreds of residents of small town Irasburg, Vt., showed up at Town Hall Thursday night to say no to putting wind turbines on their local ridgeline on Kidder Hill

In a stinging rebuke of Vermont’s most prominent wind developer, Irasburg residents packed Town Hall Thursday night and voted 274-9 against hosting giant wind turbines on a ridgeline in sight of local neighborhoods.

At a special meeting called by the Irasburg Selecboard, hundreds of people met to vote on Kidder Hill Community Wind, a controversial renewable-energy project that seeks to put two 500-foot turbines on Kidder Hill, west of the village center.

As the hall exceeded maximum capacity and voters flowed out into the street, Selectboard members delayed the start to discuss how to accommodate the large crowd.

Additional time was taken in hopes of locating the project’s developer, David Blittersdorf, who was widely expected to make a presentation defending his project. When it became apparent the green-energy mogul was a no-show for a meeting in which his wind turbines were the sole item on the ballot, the Selectboard proceeded with a vote.

Residents formed a line and cast paper ballots in a single large ballot box. One question appeared on the ballot: “Shall Kidder Hill, or any other ridgelines of the town of Irasburg, Vermont, be used for development by industrial wind turbine projects?”

Voters didn’t say no — they said hell no. The count was 274 against and 9 in favor. Two spoiled ballots weren’t counted.

Following the vote, roughly a dozen residents stood up to voice their opinions.  “We are here tonight to make our voices heard. We the people of Irasburg say, ‘No ridgeline wind in Irasburg,’” said Ron Holland, a local physician.

Holland was the organizer of a petition drive that helped raised awareness of the project.

Choking back emotion as he spoke, Holland presented the petitions to the Selectboard and urged members to oppose the Kidder Hill Community Wind project “by all means possible,” and to develop a town plan that “protects all of our ridgelines from industrial wind development.”

One resident spoke about the impact of unregulated development in the area.

“There are big companies that are right now buying up some very large plots of land, and they’re targeting areas like this. … If we do not stop this, in 20 years you will not recognize this area. It will look very different,” said Paul Drayman.

Another attendee protested that towns have have no authority over siting of projects.

“Our vote doesn’t actually count. That’s why I think this is about people getting together and galvanizing to say, ‘We want a voice against corporate America,’ said John Clark.

After the event, Susan and William Wahl, who purchased a home half a mile from Kidder Hill in June, said Blittersdorf invited them — along with about 25 other residents —  to his cabin in August to break the news.

“The way he acted, I think it was a done deal. We had just found out about it. Nobody in Irasburg had a clue,” Susan Wahl told Vermont Watchdog. “We wouldn’t have bought the home if somebody said there’s going to be wind turbines.”

The vote in Irasburg is the latest news in a growing revolt against renewable energy projects. Siting controversies have arisen in Swanton, Barton, Poultney, Dummerston, and Pownal, among other towns. Towns that have lawyered up to fight developers include New Haven, Bennington and Rutland Town.

Under state law, approval of energy projects rests solely with the Public Service Board. The regulatory body has come under fire for rubber-stamping green energy proposals. The process stands in stark contrast to Act 250, Vermont’s land use law that places strict constraints on commercial development.

While not binding, the vote in Irasburg has force, according to Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

“If a town opposes something and changes their town plan, and if they vote to oppose it, that is the strongest thing a town can do,” she said. “They certainly have the ability to send a message. The town of Swanton just did it, too, for the Swanton Wind project, which is actually further along.”

According to Smith, the vote could cause Blittersdorf to switch towns.

“There’s a possibility that Blittersdorf will just choose to move it across the border into Lowell, affecting the same people in Irasburg,” she said. “If he moves to Lowell, which has supported wind turbines, he’s likely to get a vote of support there.”

Although Blittersdorf was a no-show at Thursday’s meeting, Leslie Cadwell of Kidder Hill Community Wind issued a statement to media following the vote.

“Regrettably, the outcome of this vote comes as no surprise. It represents a rush to judgment at odds with basic notions of fairness and fact-driven dialogue. From the start, the Irasburg Selectboard has stacked the deck against informed and thoughtful conversation about this project.”

She added, “We look forward to finalizing our proposal. … Residents and elected leaders in Lowell, Milton, Georgia and other wind-hosting towns, have proven that Vermonters are willing to do their part for a cleaner, more energy-independent future. We hope Irasburg residents will eventually follow their lead.”


A conversation … or a lecture?

Pope Francis and all of us could learn a lot from an actual conversation on energy and climate

Paul Driessen

We must “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home,” Pope Francis recently told the US Congress, frequently quoting from his Laudato Si encyclical. “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge … and its human roots concern and affect us all.”

I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the pontiff seems more interested in a lecture than a conversation on climate change, energy and economic development, and improving the lives of Earth’s poorest families.

The pope’s advisors believe humans are destroying our planet and dangerously changing its climate. Instead of seeking dialogue with those who disagree with them, they denounce and try to silence contrarian voices. They dominated the Vatican’s April 2015 summit, while experts who question claims that climate change is manmade or dangerous were not invited or permitted to speak, or even ask questions during the summit; nor was their input considered during the encyclical’s preparation.

Many of those advisors (Jeffrey Sachs, Hans Schellnhuber, Peter Wadhams, Naomi Oreskes and others) hold views that can best be described as extreme: on energy use, climate change, population control, and how much poor nations should be “permitted” to develop. They are deeply involved in and profit greatly from a $1.5-trillion government-funded climate crisis industry that owes its continued existence to perpetuating the manmade global warming narrative and silencing those they vilify as “climate deniers.”

They have little knowledge of the enormous complexities of Earth’s climate system – and little concern about the impacts their policy prescriptions have on US or EU working classes, or Third World poor. Those people may be protected against climate risks created by computer models; but their livelihoods, living standards, upward mobility, health and welfare are gravely impaired by policies imposed in the name of preventing climate and weather events that are no different, more frequent or more extreme than those which have affected and afflicted humans throughout our presence on this miraculous planet.

Yet, an official document issued by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences after the climate summit declared that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality,” its “decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” and we now have the knowledge, technological ability and financial means to prevent manmade climate change. The document’s title demands “transformative solutions.”

The Laudato Si (“Praise Be to You”) encyclical continues in a similar vein. The Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” it declares. “Thousands of species are being lost” every year. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Right after calling for a conversation, Pope Francis told Congress, “Now is the time for courageous actions,” to “avert the most serious effect of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”

None of these statements – nor proclamations and decrees from the White House and EPA – suggests that any of these church leaders, climate activists or government officials want anything remotely resembling a conversation. Furthermore, history and reality flatly contradict their assertions about climate disasters.

Coal, oil and natural gas began replacing wood, whale oil, water wheels, horses and human labor less than two centuries ago. Since then, billions of people have been lifted out of abject poverty, terminal disease, borderline starvation and early death. Average global life expectancy has soared from barely 30 (48 in the richest nations) in 1900 – to 71 today. American welfare families now live better than kings did in 1900.

Over just the last 25 years, again thanks mostly to carbon-based fuels, almost 1.5 billion people finally received the incredible blessings of electricity. And yet, 1.3 billion (equal to the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe) still rely entirely on wood, charcoal and animal dung for heating and cooking. Every year, 4-6 million of them (mostly women and young children) die from lung and intestinal diseases, due to breathing smoke from open fires and not having clean water, refrigeration and unspoiled food.

Climate activists nevertheless continue to campaign against coal and gas-fueled power plants in energy-deprived Africa and Asia – while other environmentalists rail against hydroelectric and nuclear power, against GMO crops that would survive droughts and feed millions, and against pesticides and the spatial mosquito repellant DDT that could eradicate malaria, slash poverty rates and save millions of lives.

Radio host Thom Hartmann told me 1.5 million Syrian refugees were heading to Europe because of a drought resulting from fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions. He went into high decibel mode when I said his claim was absurd – that they were fleeing genocidal ISIS butchers who are cutting off children’s heads.

In Britain, 1,700 workers are about to lose their jobs at the Redcar steel plant, along with 4,000 supply chain workers and contractors and many more people in communities that relied on those jobs – because climate concerns force factories to pay a £8 ($12) surcharge on their electricity bills for every ton of steel produced. In the USA, EPA’s climate, ozone, water and other regulations are already costing thousands of jobs, and impairing the welfare of numerous families, for marginal or delusional health and climate benefits.

This is not “preferential treatment for the poor.” It is war on women, children, workers and the poor. It protects people against dangers that exist only in climate change computer models and press releases – while eliminating jobs, sending families to welfare lines, and perpetuating energy deprivation, disease and malnutrition that kill millions of people every year.

Coal-fired power plants certainly pollute Chinese and Indian cities. But they produce critically needed electricity and greatly improve living standards. Readily available emission control technologies will be added when their citizens demand it and growing economies make the systems more affordable.

These hard realities make climate change a critical moral and social justice issue. So it seems fair to ask why Pope Francis appears unwilling to have a real conversation about these human rights issues – and about the most fundamental issue of all: whether humans are actually causing a climate crisis.

Weather experts cannot provide accurate forecasts seven weeks or even seven days in advance. Predicting the number of hurricanes before the season begins, or even in the midst of a season, is a hugely daunting task. Even as its intensity began to build, and even as the storm began pounding the Bahamas, specialists could not project Hurricane Joaquin’s ultimate force, trajectory or possible US landfall. Why would we trust models that assume carbon dioxide causes of climate change and ignore numerous natural forces?

And why do we believe assertions that hurricanes and other storms will increase in number, intensity and duration because of CO2? Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, and yet this year marks the first time since 1914 that no hurricanes formed anywhere in the Western Atlantic, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico through September 22. And as of October 4, it has been 517 weeks since a Category 3-5 hurricane hit the continental United States. That’s a record dating back at least to 1900.

There is likewise no evidence that a single species has disappeared because of manmade climate change.

Finally, Pope Francis also decries “material greed” and worries about our “naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” under the “prevailing [capitalist] economic system.” In so doing, he fails to address the political greed that drives many politicians, bureaucrats and environmental activists. He seems to trust in the goodness of those who wield immense political power over what we think, say and do … and over the livelihoods, living standards and very lives of millions and billions of people – too often with little or no accountability for the consequences of their decisions.

So absolutely, let us have a real, open, robust conversation about these issues. And let us include everyone in it, because the energy, environmental and human rights challenges concern and affect us all.

Via email

The Simon-Ehrlich wager 25 years on

As the famous environmentalist bet showed, Malthusians are always wrong.  Shortages come and go but there is no systematic trend towards shortage of any important resource:  Rather a trend towards glut, particularly in agricultural products

In 1980, economist Julian L Simon challenged Paul R Ehrlich, the biologist and author of the best-selling "Population Bomb", to put his money where his catastrophist mouth was by staking $10,000 on his belief that ‘the cost of non-government-controlled raw materials… will not rise in the long run’, with the minimum period of time over which the bet could take place being one year (1). If, as Ehrlich believed, the store of valuable resources was absolutely finite and subject to ever-increasing demand, the resources’ price would rise.

Simon, however, argued that in a market economy characterised by freely determined prices and secured property rights, a rise in the price of a valuable resource could only be temporary as it would provide incentives for people to look for more of it, to produce and use it more efficiently, and to develop substitutes. In the long run, even non-renewable resources would become ever-less scarce as they are ultimately created by the always renewable and ever-expanding human intellect.

Ehrlich, along with his regular collaborators John P Holdren and John Harte, accepted ‘Simon’s astonishing offer before other greedy people’ jumped in and offered ‘to pay him on September 29, 1990, the 1990 equivalent of 10,000 1980 dollars (corrected by the consumer price index) for the quantity that $2,000 would buy of each of the following five metals on September 29, 1980: chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten’ (2).

Between Ehrlich’s chosen dates, the world’s population grew by more than 800 million individuals while standards of living rose. In spite of this, the prices of all these commodities fell – from a 3.5 per cent fall for copper to a 72 per cent fall for tin – as, just as Simon had predicted, new deposits were brought into production and new substitutes created. Ehrlich honoured his financial engagement by mailing Simon a check to the amount of $576.07, but never acknowledged the superiority of his intellectual opponent’s outlook.

Since the conclusion of the bet, several analysts have observed that Simon got lucky as the initial date coincided with historically high commodity prices (although he obviously didn’t know this at the time) and that different timeframes, say a different decade, would have put Ehrlich on the winning side on more than one occasion. While this is true, these comments detract from Simon’s larger point and more sophisticated arguments, for he was well aware of the volatility of the commodity markets and ultimately betted on the knowledge that the odds were in his favour, though by no means absolutely certain.

Looking back, his ‘astonishing offer’ was arguably the clever ploy of a serious poker player with a background in marketing and statistical analysis who sought to draw attention to a perspective then shunned by most environmentally minded academics, activists and public intellectuals.

Indeed, prominent critics of overpopulation rhetoric were then mostly limited to old-fashioned Marxists who, following (mostly) Engels’ writings, believed that scientific advances would overcome natural limits (3); the Vatican, whose doctrine opposed population control on (mostly) theological grounds; and a few free-market economists and think-tank analysts who also believed in scientific advances, but believed that these would be guided by the price system rather than central planning.

Although much less prominent these days, the old population-control and resource-depletion rhetoric is still alive and well in some of its traditional strongholds, be they some institutions dominated by the British upper classes (see, among others, recent remarks by, Jane Goodall, David Attenborough and John Sulston) or international-development bureaucracies.

For instance, when asked why Indians shouldn’t aspire to the same standard of living as the Westerners, the former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra K Pachauri, answered, ‘Gandhi was asked if he wanted India to reach the same level of prosperity as the United Kingdom. He replied: “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to reach its level of prosperity. How many planets would India require?”’

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Christiana Figueres once said, ‘We should make every effort to reduce the world’s population in an effort to fight climate change’, that ‘obviously fewer people would exert less pressure on the natural resources’, and that humanity is ‘already exceeding the planet’s planetary carrying capacity, today’. She added that population control wasn’t enough and that fundamental changes needed to be made to our current economic system.

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and an influential contributor to the recent encyclical letter Laudato si, is similarly on record estimating the carrying capacity of the planet at ‘below one billion people’.

Of course, the fear that a growing population is rapidly depleting its finite store of natural resources while mercilessly wrecking its environment is probably as old as civilisation. Some scholars thus interpret the oldest surviving written story, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as a warning against the rapid deforestation of Mesopotamia nearly 5,000 years ago. Two millennia later, Confucius (551 – 479 BC) and some of his followers reportedly argued that excessive population growth may reduce output per worker, lower standards of living and create strife.

After having determined that the ideal number of citizens per city-state was 5,040, Plato suggested fiscal and other incentives to increase the number if need be, or else birth control and emigration if warranted. He further warned that ‘exceed[ing] the limit of necessity’ and the ‘unlimited accumulation of wealth’ would result in expansionary wars. One problem was the populace’s fondness for meat, which would result in struggles over pastureland. Plato’s solution was a vegetarian diet consisting mainly of cereals (wheat and barley), fruits (grapes in the form of wine, olives, figs and myrtle berries), pulses (peas and beans), dairy products (mostly cheese), flavouring ingredients (relish-salt, roots and herbs) and a few other wild foods (mostly acorn).

Echoing his Mesopotamian predecessors, he further lamented that Athens’ back country, whose hills had once been ‘covered with soil’, the plains ‘full of rich earth’, and the mountains displaying an ‘abundance of wood’, had been turned after years of abuse into a landscape that could ‘only afford sustenance to bees’ because all the ‘richer and softer parts of the soil [had] fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land [was] being left’.

Shortly afterward, Aristotle cautioned that populations could outstrip their resource base and end up mired in poverty and social unrest. These risks justified drastic population-control measures such as abortion and exposing children to the elements. Writing half a millennia later, the Carthaginian Christian theologian Tertullian observed matter-of-factly that:

"[What] most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint), is our teeming population: our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, while Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race…"

The first full-fledged population catastrophist among modern writers is generally acknowledged to be the Italian Jesuit Giovanni Botero (1544-1617) who, more than two centuries before the better known Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), argued that human population would increase to the maximum extent permitted by human fertility, that the means of subsistence wouldn’t keep up, and that the unavoidable result would be poverty, starvation, war, diseases and population crashes.

In time, the ‘Malthusian trap’ came to describe the belief that population growth is absolutely limited by finite resources; that because there is only so much to share, a smaller population will be inherently better off; that technological or social innovations can at best delay the unsustainable character of population growth; and that because of projected future ills a range of – sometimes drastic – preventive policy interventions are justified in the present.

This Jeremiad was repeatedly brought to the fore over the past two centuries under the feather, pen, typewriter or keyboard of some (often highly credentialed) concerned individuals. And almost invariably, each time scores of public intellectuals, activists, bureaucrats, politicians, academic journal editors, private foundation and granting agency officials echoed, promoted, funded or implemented restrictive policies in the name of preventing the children of careless lemmings from jumping over the societal cliff.

Along the way, however, dissenting voices questioned the severity of the ‘population problem’ and made the case that free individuals were not only mouths to feed, but also arms to work and brains to develop new and better ways of doing things. The more people around, they argued, the more likely something good was going to happen. As the physicist Robert Zubrin asks, who, between Louis Pasteur or Thomas Edison, should not have been born in order to improve the lot of mankind? (4) Besides, because new ideas are born out of the combination of existing ideas, processes and things, the supply of new beneficial technologies will not only never run out, but will expand exponentially.

Of course, optimistic analysts conceded, humanity is always confronted by various challenges, but in the long run technological progress has a pretty good record of creating lesser problems than those that existed before. As a result, we now live in a world where every indicator of human wellbeing, from life expectancy, income per capita, hunger, and infant mortality to child labour and education, has improved dramatically over the past two centuries. And, even more amazingly, despite the fact that there now over seven times more (and much wealthier) people than two centuries ago, we live on a planet that is increasingly green and clean; where in many if not most places, wildlife is much more abundant than in the recent and even more distant past (5).

Population catastrophists, however, constantly remind us of Hegel’s alleged observation that ‘If theory and facts disagree, so much the worse for the facts’. This is especially true in current discussions of humanity’s increased consumption of coal, petroleum and natural gas over the past two centuries, where alleged problems always trump real benefits. After all, nobody would argue that this consumption made possible the development of large-scale, reliable and affordable long-distance transportation, which in turn paved the way to better and more affordable nutrition by concentrating food production in the most suitable locations. Or that kerosene, heavy oil and natural gas displaced poor quality biomass fuels such as firewood and dung, which filled houses with soot, particles, carbon monoxide and toxic chemicals. Or that cars, trucks and tractors removed the need for work animals (and their attending food consumption), while helping address the diseases associated with their excrement and carcasses. Or that refined petroleum products further reduced harvesting pressures on wild resources such as whales (whale oil, perfume base), trees (lumber and firewood), birds (feathers) and other wildlife (ivory, furs, skin), thus helping preserve biodiversity.

One overall result of these developments – plus the fact that plants benefit from increased carbon-dioxide emissions – is that nature, in the form of growing forests and increased wildlife, has made a significant comeback in advanced economies (6). And yet, pretty much the only thing one hears today from activists who take these beneficial advances for granted is something along the lines of: ‘ever-increasing production and use of fossil fuels will, over time, kill billions of us and irreversibly change all life on the planet’. Of course, the fact that there were barely one billion human beings around when fossil-fuel use took off and the very notion that ‘billions’ of us might die is entirely contingent on their widespread use is completely lost on eco-warriors.

Yet, even granting the seemingly more reasonable premise that hydrocarbons are incorrectly priced because of all the negative (or unaccounted for) climate externalities they generate is problematic. After all, reducing our consumption of fossil fuels will not make bad weather and extreme natural events go away. In the end, the greater wealth generated by fossil fuels (eg, better infrastructure, advanced-warning systems, long-distance transportation) remains our best insurance policy against whatever nature may throw our way.

The fact that past natural climatic events or trends were once blamed on anthropogenic causes such as insufficient offerings to the gods, witchcraft, deforestation, the invention of the lightning rod and wireless telegraphy, cannon shots in the First World War, atomic tests, supersonic flights, nuclear testing and air pollution should also perhaps temper some of the most extreme rhetoric (7).

Or else consider that, not too long ago, countless writers suggested, as the geographer William Dando did in his 1980 book The Geography of Famine, that most climatologists and even a ‘declassified Central Intelligence Agency’ report agreed that because of air pollution, the Earth was ‘entering a period of climatic change’ that had already resulted in ‘North African droughts, the lack of penetration of monsoonal rains in India and seasonal delay in the onset of spring rains in the Soviet Virgin Lands wheat area’. Global cooling, Dando told his readers, was ‘the greatest single challenge humans will face in coming years’ because it would soon trigger ‘mass migration and all-encompassing international famines’ (8).

That the perspective put forward by the likes of Julian Simon or the social and environmental benefits of fossil fuels remain mind-boggling to a general audience is to be expected. That so many well-meaning academics and public intellectuals remain enthralled by scenarios of doom after two centuries of debates in which the depletionists’ projections were repeatedly crushed by human creativity is more puzzling. In the end, though, one suspects that Paul Ehrlich, David Attenborough, Jane Goodall and other prominent messengers of gloom who have lived long and productive lives must, deep down, be grateful for living in Julian Simon’s world.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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