Monday, January 09, 2006


Given the pasting President Bush has taken over the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, one might have assumed the president's critics were in agreement about how to prevent such disasters. But for years now, the left has been deeply ambivalent about the most logical and time-tested mitigator against the threat of city-wide and regional floods: dams.

How could dams, embraced by everyone from beavers to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, be a source of contention? Ask the environmentalists. Their campaign against dams has gained influence and stalled, decommissioned, or otherwise limited the construction of many dams and levees, including one project that could have made a significant difference during Katrina's pounding of New Orleans. This animus against dams also continues to skew spending and construction priorities to make such disasters more likely in the future.

Until recently, dams were the pride of the left, and for good reason: They provide electricity, irrigation, and, of course, bulwarks against flooding. In 1964, presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was thought to have committed campaign suicide when he proposed privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority, which had been built with New Deal dollars. Local voters, grateful to the TVA for providing power and controlling wild rivers, didn't much like Goldwater's argument.

Now a position far more radical has become respectable. In Deep Water: The Epic Struggle over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, a new book receiving rave reviews from the mainstream press, Jacques Leslie assails all dams as "loaded weapons aimed down rivers" and calls for rivers to be allowed to return to their natural flows. Leslie, who was a Vietnam war correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and has written for magazines such as Harper's and the Washington Monthly, takes on what he calls the "Rooseveltian vision, arising out of the New Deal, built into the Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority, enthralled with its seeming capacity to foster prosperity by subjugating nature." He concludes by inveighing against dams as "relics of the twentieth century, like Stalinism and gasoline-powered cars, symbols of the allure of technology and its transience . . . of the delusion that humans are exempt from nature's dominion."

Most New Deal programs are considered sacred on the left, as George Bush learned recently when he tried to reform Social Security. But liberals conveniently forget Roosevelt's no-nonsense views on dealing with nature. At the 1935 dedication of Hoover Dam, FDR hailed the taming of a "turbulent, dangerous river" and the "completion of the greatest dam in the world." He proudly noted that the dam on the Colorado River was "altering the geography of a whole region," calling what had existed before "cactus-covered waste" and "an unpeopled, forbidding desert." Roosevelt also defended public works such as dams on the now-discredited Keynesian ground that they create jobs (the New Deal did not bring down overall unemployment, which only returned to pre-Depression levels with World War II), but he was generally pragmatic about nature in its pristine state. About the river he said bluntly that "the Colorado added little of value to the region this dam serves." In the spring, he said, farmers "awaited with dread the coming of a flood, and at the end of nearly every summer they feared a shortage of water that would destroy their crops."

But to Leslie, damming the Colorado River was a damn shame, and he pushes for returning it "to its virgin state: tempestuous, fickle, and in some stretches astonishing." He acknowledges that if you took away the dams and the hydroelectric power they provide, you would also "take away modern Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix" as well as the nearby former desert outpost known as Las Vegas. But in exchange for this major subtraction from civilization as we know it, Americans would be able to marvel at a "free-flowing river" and "an unparalleled depository of marine life."

What does the left-wing website Salon, a consistent defender of New Deal programs, have to say about Leslie's savaging of Roosevelt's achievement? (And what does a West Coast webzine make of a book that proposes cutting off a major power source for Los Angeles?) Salon heaps praise on Leslie, stating in a September article that "the modern dam, in short, has come to signify both the majesty and folly of our age's drive to conquer nature."

Leslie and Salon aren't alone. Support for dam removal and opposition to new dams have become a staple among modern environmentalists, giving rise to organizations whose only agenda is to stop dams. American Rivers, for example, brags about how many dams have been decommissioned and has as its slogan "Rivers Unplugged." The Berkeley-based International Rivers Network does similar work in Third World countries, where dams are even more crucial for power and flood control. This sea change on dams illustrates a larger shift of the left concerning technology and the nature of man.

The same weekend that Salon ran its glowing notice for Jacques Leslie's rants against artificial barriers on natural rivers, it also ran an article about a recent antiwar protest in Washington under the headline "'Make Levees, Not War.'" This was a popular trope at the time, with leftie antiwar spokesmen charging that money for the war in Iraq could have gone to building levees as well as their favorite social programs. Yet one of the main obstacles, before Katrina, to building and fortifying levees, as well as creating more innovative flood barriers, was put up by environmentalists.

In 1977, the group Save Our Wetlands successfully sued the Army Corps of Engineers to halt the construction of large floodgates intended to prevent Gulf of Mexico storms from overwhelming Lake Pontchartrain and flooding New Orleans. The gates, the environmentalists said, would have hurt wetlands and marine life, although the Corps had already done an environmental assessment to the satisfaction of environmental regulators. Many experts believe the gates could have greatly reduced the impact of Katrina. "It probably would have given [the people of New Orleans] a better shot," says Daniel Canfield, a renowned professor of aquatic sciences at the University of Florida.

Then, in the 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers tried to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the Mississippi River, telling the Baton Rouge Advocate in 1996 that a levee "failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi." But the anti-dam American Rivers, along with eco-groups such as the Sierra Club and state chapters of the National Wildlife Federation, sued, alleging harm to "bottomland hardwood wetlands."...

But to refute the claim that dams are "dinosaurs," all we have to do is look to Western Europe, usually a favorite reference point for liberal activists and the media. There has, however, been a good deal of silence about European efforts on flood control, while the few reports that have addressed this subject largely focused on the amount of money Europe spends. But what the countries spend it on is more important: dams, walls, and gates. After a North Sea storm in 1953, the Netherlands, half of which is below sea level, set out to dam every last major body of water. The last of these were ultramodern dams built in the 1980s.

In the United States, The Weekly Standard was virtually alone in suggesting that Lake Pontchartrain could be dammed along Dutch lines. (See James R. Stoner Jr., "Love in the Ruins," September 26, 2005.) London, which sits below the high tide of the Atlantic waterways, has also had severe problems with the flooding of the Thames River. So, in the '80s, gates were built that can rise as high as five stories. The Dutch and the British are sensitive to the environment, but only to a point. They try to regulate water levels to accommodate the native fish. But neither country is undertaking massive projects to restore swamps or, in the eco parlance, "wetlands."

The environmentalist crusade against dams is curious for other reasons. The same activists who campaign for hydrogen-powered cars, for example, rail against the hydroelectricity produced by dams. As environmental journalist Gregg Easterbrook pointed out in his 1995 book A Moment on the Earth, a dam "burns no fossil fuel and emits no greenhouse gases, smog or toxic or solid wastes." Take away dams, and folks will have to rely on other energy sources such as coal, which, as we know from the recent tragedy in West Virginia, has its own environmental and safety concerns.

Citing the Dutch and British experience, Canfield says the anti-dam movement is not mainly about science, but rather philosophy, or even theology. "It's a belief structure," he says. What motivates anti-dam activists is abstract talk about man not interfering in the "ecosystem" or leaving a "footprint" on the planet. But without humans asserting themselves, nature will leave plenty of its own footprints, like Katrina, as it stomps at will over human beings and wildlife alike.

More here

BBQs and climate change

Panic: 'Warm weather "to boost food bugs"' reports BBC News after comments from public health expert Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia. 'There's an interesting area around climate, that's how is it going to impact on human behaviour', said Hunter. 'People have more barbecues when it's hot.' In turn, this would lead to food being left out or undercooked more often with a resultant increase in illness. His comments were echoed by Gordon Nicholls from the UK Health Protection Agency who suggested that cases of malaria might appear in the UK, too.

Don't panic: It is still unclear what, if any, long-term impact global warming might have on the UK, but that won't stop the relentless speculation about how climate change is going to make life worse. Assuming that Professor Hunter is right and the UK does get warmer weather in future, it is interesting how he manages to turn this into a Bad Thing. Most Britons look enviously at Americans and Australians enjoying outdoor get-togethers with beer and grilled meat. In fact, if anything is likely to cause food poisoning, it is the fact that barbecues in the UK are so few and far between. Rushing outside with inadequately defrosted burgers and chicken to take advantage of the unexpected surprise of some weekend sun, the catchphrase at every British barbecue is, 'Does anybody know how to light it?' It's a miracle that there aren't more cases of food poisoning. If we could actually rely on there being good weather, we might barbecue more often, and learn how to do it properly.

The idea of malaria making a comeback because of rising temperatures seems implausible. Many parts of Western Europe have climates which are hotter than the UK will ever get, yet endemic malaria was officially eradicated 30 years ago (and much earlier in the majority of countries). As Paul Reiter points out, 'From 1564 to the 1730s - the coldest period of the Little Ice Age - malaria was an important cause of illness and death in several parts of England'. The prevalence of malaria is related above all to economic development, not temperature. Better drainage, improved healthcare and the use of pesticides are among the main factors that have enabled developed countries to conquer the disease.

To suggest that an increase in average temperatures might have pros as well as cons is at odds with the consensus that the future is bleak because human beings damage or destroy everything they touch. But while the science of climate change is complex and provisional, 'manmade global warming' is a morality tale about the dangers of messing with nature. If islands drowning under rising sea levels or crops failing are too remote to scare you, perhaps the thought of uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea will make you reconsider that 4x4 you were going to purchase.

We should not take the ideas of 'experts' like Hunter at face value. It's not just those barbecue steaks that need a good grilling.


Tim Flannery: An Australian eco-nut

Next week the global debate on climate change comes to Sydney. Governments of the countries that consume most of the world's energy, dictate the world economy, house most of the world's people and which emit the largest share of greenhouse gases will meet to chart a new approach to climate change.

The meeting will be the first for the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate at a high level. Yet greens are hostile - they realise the partnership is a rival to the Kyoto agreement on climate control, which they prefer. Greenpeace says the partnership is a prescription for inaction. Paul Gilding, a former international director of Greenpeace, blames global warming for last week's record temperatures on our east coast. Anthony Albanese, Labor's shadow environment minister, has discovered the world's first global-warming refugees: fleeing from rising sea levels in Papua New Guinea.

WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) has finally decided to enter the science debate. Its president, Rob Purves, has had his own foundation fund a new book by scientist Tim Flannery, the Australian humanist of the year in 2004 and author of the best-selling The Future Eaters. The book is The Weather Makers, the History and Future Impact of Climate Change. Bill Bryson and Jared Diamond have endorsed it, the former declaring on the cover: "It would be difficult to imagine a better or more important book."

So what case does Flannery put? It is a tract. For those who want to believe things are worse than they thought, that global warming will eliminate one in five living things, cause oceans to rise, make weather worse, melt the Arctic and Antarctic ice and the glaciers and cause people to migrate in large numbers, and have 243 references to demonstrate this, then this is the book for them.

For those genuinely curious about the scientific debate about global warming, the message is buyer beware. At times Flannery's writing is lyrical. His account of flora and fauna in the valleys and mountains of PNG is a delight. But, like Diamond, he is attracted, fatally, to the grand lateral leap in thought.

In The Future Eaters, Flannery makes a superficially persuasive case that Australia is overpopulated. Our (we humans) environmental footprint is too large. We consume more of the natural environment than is available. His leap in thought is that we are like ruminant carnivores that overgraze when herds are too large. However, Flannery does not account for the one thing that separates us from other species - our capacity to develop and use technology. The world's population has doubled since 1950, yet we are feeding people from a smaller area of cultivated land because we have applied technology.

Flannery makes similar leaps in The Weather Makers. His frame of reference for understanding global warming is Gaia. This is the idea that the Earth is one integrated ecosystem. Conceptually it is like a pseudo-scientific Earth Mother. He expressly rejects "reductionism", that is trying to establish the causal relationship of how one action affects another, such as how increased levels of carbon dioxide actually cause the Earth to warm. To quote him: "Saying that something causes something is an unhelpful way of thinking. Instead, what we have are seemingly insignificant initial occurrences - such as an increase of atmospheric CO2 - that lead to runaway change."

This is a handy logical let-out given that "what is causing what" is the key question for those advocating measures that will reduce the capacity to eliminate poverty. Flannery's most astonishing point is that the Earth's biosphere is shaped by "telekinesis" (how Uri Geller used to bend spoons with apparently paranormal telepathic powers). Activity in one part of the system remotely causes changes in others.

Consider what Flannery is implying. Do these big-concept, if not other-worldly, ideas warrant the discarding of a normal test in science to prove claims that one thing causes another? Would a construction company employ Geller to use his paranormal powers to build a skyscraper instead of using cranes on the basis of the theory implied in an otherwise implausible event?

Flannery hews to the Greenpeace and WWF orthodoxies on global warming and provides what he regards as evidence to support their positions. Basically he has collected every piece of research in recent years that demonstrates the impact of global warming. He treats the work of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as establishing a probability that the Earth's temperature will rise.

His pro-Kyoto scientific colleagues have always been more careful. John Zillman, the former head of the Atmospheric Research Division of the CSIRO, is always careful to state that the UN just laid out scenarios for temperature increases (the range was between 1.8C and 5.8C by 2100 and no probability was attached to them).

Flannery seems to be fully integrated into the green policy stream. Even the title of his book, The Weather Makers, seems calculated to emphasise the most current claim by green groups that global warming is causing intemperate weather. Ian Plimer, a professor of geology at Adelaide University, says there is no basis for such a claim. If Flannery says global warming is causing sea levels to rise, maybe we can't blame Albanese for saying this is happening in PNG, despite the fact the IPCC itself concluded in 2001 that there was no evidence of increases in global sea levels in the 20th century.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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