Tuesday, February 07, 2006


National Grid has added a small charge on all of their heating customers’ bills for January because the company didn’t deliver as much energy as it expected to. How does the company decide when it needs to add the surcharge to bills? If the temperature is two degrees higher than the 30-year average during the months of October through May, customers will have to pay the surcharge.

If it’s two degrees lower than the average, you get a credit on your bill. The last time customers saw a credit was in December. In fact, National Grid has issued seven credits in the past two years. But in that same time period, they’ve added surcharges to your bill 11 times. A National Grid spokesman says it is all part of the way they do business. They have setup this mechanism because the cost of their utility almost solely depends on the weather.

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My attention obviously wandered while doing the post above. The story refers to N.E. USA, not California. I guess I hear so much about energy craziness in CA that I assumed it had to be from there!


.... But one statistic offered last week by a top Chinese environmental official should stimulate genuine alarm inside and outside China. The official, Zhang Lijun, warned that pollution levels here could more than quadruple within 15 years if the country does not curb its rapid growth in energy consumption. China, it seems, has reached a tipping point familiar to many developed countries, including the United States, that have raced headlong after economic development only to look up suddenly and see the environmental carnage. The difference with China, as is so often the case, is that the potential problems are much bigger, have happened much faster and could pose greater concerns for the entire world. "I don't think it will jump four or five times," Robert Watson, a senior scientist with the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said of the pollution prediction by Zhang. "But it could double or triple without too much trouble. And that's a scary thought, given how bad things are now."

China is already the world's second-biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions and is expected to surpass the United States as the biggest. Roughly a third of China is exposed to acid rain. A recent study by a Chinese research institute found that 400,000 people die prematurely every year in China from diseases linked to air pollution. Nor does China's air pollution respect borders: On certain days almost 25 percent of the particulate matter clotting the skies above Los Angeles can be traced to China, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Environmental experts in California predict that China could eventually account for roughly a third of the state's air pollution.

The air problem could become a major embarrassment if, as some experts believe, Beijing does not meet its environmental targets for 2008, when the Olympic Games will be played here. For the Chinese government, the question is how to change a booming economy without crippling it. President Hu Jintao has made "sustainable development" a centerpiece of his effort to shift the country from unbridled growth to a more efficient economy. Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have repeatedly mentioned environmental protection in speeches.

The political attention comes as environmental problems are begetting social and economic problems. Violent riots have erupted in the countryside over contaminated water, stunted crops and mounting health woes. In a handful of villages, farmers have stormed chemical factories to stop the dumping of filthy water. Roughly 70 percent of China's rivers and lakes are polluted. In cities, people drink bottled water; in the countryside, most people are too poor to pay for bottled water, so they boil polluted water or simply drink it untreated.

Public anger is also rising in cities. In some, air pollution is so thick that on the worst days doctors advise, impractically, against going outside. Last week, hundreds of people living in the outskirts of Beijing protested plans for a factory that they fear would inundate the neighborhood with pollution. The severity of the situation has created an opening for environmentalists in and out of the government. Environmentalism is a chic issue at universities. Students participate in garbage cleanups and join the growing number of nongovernmental organizations focused on pollution. The once-meek State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, has become more aggressive in identifying and going after polluters and calling for reforms.

But the political and practical obstacles are formidable. Car ownership has become part of the Chinese middle-class dream, and the car industry has become a major contributor to tax coffers and a force in the overall economy.

Industrial pollution is difficult to control because local officials often ignore emissions standards to appease polluting factories that pay local taxes. The SEPA has closed factories, only to see them reopen weeks later. To make a serious reduction in air pollution, experts say, tougher, enforceable standards are needed, and many factories would need new pollution control equipment. "There has to be the political will," said Steve Page, director of the U.S. EPA office of air quality planning and standards. "The challenge they face is how will these plants be lined up and told this will happen?"

Politically, the Communist Party has based its legitimacy on delivering economic growth and understands that the boom cannot be taken for granted: high growth is needed simply to keep unemployment in check, and top leaders fear that a slowdown could lead to social instability. Local officials are promoted, foremost, for delivering economic growth. This is why environmental officials have pushed for a new "green GDP," which would alter how China's gross domestic product is calculated to reflect losses inflicted by environmental degradation. The party is suspicious of environmental groups because of the role similar groups played in promoting grass-roots democracy in the "color" revolutions of central Asia. Human Rights Watch reported that some environmentalists were recently arrested in China.

But if there is resistance, there is progress, too. A law taking effect next year will require that China produce 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Fuel efficiency standards for new cars are already stricter than those in the United States. At an air pollution conference on Oct. 24, environmental officials solicited advice from their peers in Europe and the United States. Page, the American EPA official, praised Chinese officials and said China is considering the sort of regional pollution abatement strategies used in the United States. They are wrestling with a lot of the same pollution problems that we wrestled with several years ago and that, to some extent, we still are grappling with," said Page, who attended the conference.

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`They call me a global warming heretic," says David Bellamy, the conservationist who has dismissed the imminent demise of the planet under a tidal wave of melted polar ice caps as "poppycock". "I have assured them that they cannot burn me at the stake because of all the dioxins my body will give off." The bearded botanist emits a hoot at this scientific bon mot, but in truth he isn't finding his current predicament very funny at all.

Ever since he stuck his head above the undergrowth to question the view that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for climate change, Bellamy has found himself frozen out of the debate on global warming. Rather than blaming pollutants, he argues that the current change in climate is simply part of an eons-old global cycle; one that humans are as powerless to stop as they are blameless in starting. "Natural climate change has been happening for a long time," he says. "If you were sitting in London 10,000 years ago there would be woolly rhinos walking around because it would be the end of the ice age. Now we are in a pretty wobbly phase and some people are saying that this is caused by carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere and drowning us all. I just don't believe that."

The problem is that the thought police of the conservation community will brook no dissent and have contrived to silence his voice and that of his supporters. "I always thought that was what science was all about: arguing publicly and publishing both sides of the point, finding the answer," he says. "But we simply cannot get our stuff published. They don't tolerate dissent because they are not telling the truth. There is no consensus whatsoever on global warming; there are just as many people dissenting but they will not publish those papers in journals."

He believes the reason that non-believers are being silenced is fear: after all it is reassuring to think that whatever the cataclysm ahead we at least have the power to head it off. Much less comforting to believe that there is nothing we can do.

Bellamy, who endeared himself to a generation with his mangled pronunciations and saliva-soaked enthusiasm on television, might make an unlikely rebel, but that is what, reluctantly, he has become. He is no apologist for the car industry, he says, though his views are likely to be more acceptable around the water coolers of General Motors than Greenpeace. "If you believe that CO2 actually is causing man-made global warming then the car is bad news," he says. "But I think the car industry should be patted on the back. They are all doing their bit making more and more efficient cars, and increased fuel efficiency is a good thing because it will make the oil last longer."

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(By Boris Johnson)

I used to have a mother-in-law called Gaia, so any book called The Revenge of Gaia is likely to cause a flutter of panic in my breast; and by the time I had finished the new best-seller by green prophet James Lovelock, I am afraid I was in a state of brow-drenched hysteria. The good news is that the Gaia in question is not my ex-mother-in-law. The bad news is that she represents a chthonic deity even more capable of vengeance upon errant mankind. Gaia is the Earth herself; she is Mother Nature; she taps her foot in ever-growing impatience at the antics of our species; and, according to Professor Lovelock, she is about to exact the most terrifying punishment for our excesses. She is about to get carboniferous on our ass.

Lovelock has been studying climate change since the 1960s. He has been described by the New Scientist as one of the great thinkers of our age, and he was made a Companion of Honour in 2003. He knows his onions, and, indeed, how much moisture they require. He has been around the world looking at the rising tidelines, sniffing the smoke from the burning rainforest, listening to the roar of the ice-melt from the glaciers, and he has come to the conclusion that the climate change lobby has got it hopelessly wrong.

We delude ourselves, says Lovelock, if we think that the global temperature is going to rise in small increments over the next century. We are like the blindfolded crew of a boat approaching Niagara Falls, and there will come a moment when the temperature will rise with all the equivalent vertical horror. Some time in the next hundred years, he says, it is suddenly going to get hotter and hotter and hotter. "Billions will die," says Lovelock, who tells us that he is not normally a gloomy type. Human civilisation will be reduced to a "broken rabble ruled by brutal warlords", and the plague-ridden remainder of the species will flee the cracked and broken earth to the Arctic, the last temperate spot, where a few breeding couples will survive.

It is going to be a "hell of a climate", he says, with Europe 8C warmer than it is today; and the real killer, says Lovelock, is that there is not a damn thing we can do about it. We are already pumping out so much carbon dioxide, with no prospect of abatement from the growing economies of China and India, that our fate is sealed.

We in Britain produce only two per cent of the world's carbon output and, even if we closed down British industry overnight; even if we abolished the winter fuel allowance and ordered the pensioners to wear more sweaters; even if we forested the entire country with windfarms, it would make not a bean of difference. It would be like trying to cool a volcano with an ice cube. The Kyoto protocol; the climate change levy; the windows and doors regulation - they are all as pointless as telling a patient with terminal lung cancer that he should give up smoking.

And when the Great Heat has destroyed our industry, and wrecked civilisation, it will get worse, says Lovelock. Because then we will lose the aerosol of dust and smog that has kept out some of the sun's rays; and it will get hotter still. There is nothing for it, he says, but to forget the piffling Kyoto-led regulation, and build nuclear power plants, so as not to be dependent on Russian gas, and send bodies of fit young men and women to East Anglia, there to build levees against the coming inundations. An international solution is now beyond our reach, he says, and we must look to Britain first.

Phew-ee. Is Lovelock right? I haven't the faintest; but as I listen to his Mad Max-style vision of the coming century, I find my mind bubbling with blasphemous thoughts. Wasn't it pretty hot in the 10th century? Didn't the Romans have vineyards in Northumberland? And is it really so exceptionally hot in modern Europe? According to yesterday's paper, Lisbon has just had its first heavy snowfall for 52 years. What's that about?

I feel I cannot possibly disagree with Lovelock, or with the overwhelming body of scientists who attest to the reality of climate change. I am sure that they are, in some sense, right; and it feels instinctively true that we are a nasty, over-polluting species; and there is something horrifying, when you look at those pictures of the world at night, to see the phosphorescent sprawl of humanity. But the more one listens to sacerdotal figures such as Lovelock, and the more one studies public reactions to his prophecies, the clearer it is that we are not just dealing with science (though science is a large part of it); this is partly a religious phenomenon.

Humanity has largely lost its fear of hellfire, and yet we still hunger for a structure, a point, an eschatology, a moral counterbalance to our growing prosperity. All that is brilliantly supplied by climate change. Like all the best religions, fear of climate change satisfies our need for guilt, and self-disgust, and that eternal human sense that technological progress must be punished by the gods.

And the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful. One sect says we must build more windfarms, and these high priests will be displeased with what Lovelock has to say. Another priestly caste curses the Government's obsession with nuclear power - a programme Lovelock has had the courage to support.

Some scientific hierophants now tell us that trees - trees, the good guys - are the source of too much methane, and are contributing to global warming. Huh? We in the poor muddled laity scratch our heads and pray. Who is right? Who is wrong?

If Lovelock is only half-right, then we must have an immediate programme to pastoralise the global economy and reduce emissions. The paradox is that, if he is completely right, there is not a lot we can do, and we might as well enjoy our beautiful planet while we can. Or is he completely wrong? To say that would be an offence not just against science, but against a growing world religion.


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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