Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Pretty soon, walking into the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be like entering Unfrozen Caveman Committee Chairman World. The new Democratic chairman of the powerful committee is Michigan's John Dingell, who's held his House seat since 1955. Unfortunately, some of Dingell's ideas are stuck in the 1950s as well -- most notably his thinking about global warming. While most Americans are looking for solutions to a problem that is threatening Florida's coast, is causing species to go extinct around the world, and is just plain causing a lot of wacky weather, Dingell says he's not even sure if it is a problem. "This country, this world, the [human] race, of which you and I are a part, is great at having consensuses that are in great error," he recently told Grist Magazine when asked about the issue. "And so I want to get the scientific facts, and find out what the situation is, and find out what is the cure."

That's a striking claim of ignorance for someone who's known around Capitol Hill for his spritely mind and his attention to detail. No, it's not likely ignorance or mental feebleness that's informing Dingell's ambivalence. Dingell's professed global warming myopia is actually more rooted in his decades-long slavishness to the auto industry. The automakers don't want to be required to build more fuel efficient engines. And so they've recycled the same arguments that they've used again and again to dissuade the government from requiring everything from seatbelts to catalytic converters: They can't afford to do it, or American engineers don't have the ingenuity to make it happen. Dingell has repeatedly given his congressional imprimatur to the industry's misleading claims. Meanwhile, foreign competitors have leapfrogged ahead of the Big Three automakers.

So why are the Democrats allowing Dingell, who's so obviously beholden to a special interest, the power to decide such an important issue? It's because under their current rules and leadership, they don't have much of a choice. Democrats continue to give out committee assignments on the basis of seniority, not competence or even how well a particular chairman represents the sentiments of the majority of the Democratic caucus. It's that system that has elevated other Unfrozen Cavemen like Jack Murtha to important posts, despite undistinguished and ethically questionable records.

Even in the one case this year where they passed over the most senior candidate in line for a position (Alcee Hastings, for his alleged corruption as a federal judge), Speaker Nancy Pelosi just went right down the seniority line to the next person, apparently not even stopping to inquire whether he was up to the job of protecting America from terrorists and other threats. She settled on Texas's Silvestre Reyes, who, in an interview, couldn't even answer the question of whether al-Qaida was Sunni or Shiite.

There is another way, though it's the Republicans who pioneered it. When they came into office in 1994, the Republicans did away with the seniority system, requiring committee chairmen to run for office, and instituting term limits.

Of course, the Republicans ended up abusing this system to the point where the only requirement for a committee chairmanship became loyalty. But in the early years, it meant that at least the Republican committee chairman represented the democratic will of their caucus, not just time spent in the Beltway.

Until the Democrats force committee chairmen into real elections for chairmanships, it's going to be Unfrozen Caveman World all over Capitol Hill.



Many people buy locally produced food in the belief that it will be better for the environment than food flown thousands of miles to supermarkets, but is that really true? The food will have certainly have travelled fewer miles. The farmers' market certification scheme run by the Farmers' Retail and Markets Association rules that produce must come from within a 30-mile radius of the market - or 50 miles for urban and coastal locations. That means the "food miles" are a fraction of the 2,000 miles travelled by Egyptian green beans or nearly 6,000 miles travelled by Chinese apples to reach Sainsbury's.

It is not only the food and the farmers that travel a smaller distance, so too the buyers. A study of an Edinburgh market reported that a high proportion of visitors lived within a two-mile radius, a "fair proportion" coming on foot.

But local may not necessarily mean greener. Supermarkets pack large amounts of food into a single lorry, while a farmer may carry only a small amount in a 4x4. A Defra report found that the supermarkets' centralised distrubution systems, with lean supply chains and fully laden lorries, could generate less pollution than a larger number of smaller vehicles travelling locally. It also found, for example, that it was better for the environment to import winter tomatoes from Spain than to grow them here in heated greenhouses.

However, farmers' markets can claim to be greener in other ways. Hardly any energy is used in processing the fruit and vegetables. "The carrots and potatoes still have mud on them; they are neither washed nor scrubbed," a spokeswoman for the association said. "There is no packaging involved and many shoppers bring plastic bags."

Produce does not have to be organic, but often is. Although the champions of organic agriculture often claim it is better for the environment, that is a subject of controversy. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel-prize winning "father of the green revolution" in farming, insists the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is "ridiculous" because it has lower yields, and so requires more land under cultivation.

However, the farmers' markets association remains convinced that local markets can withstand the criticism. "The markets educate people in eating seasonal produce, which would remove the need for any imports," the spokeswoman said.



There are a billion Muslims controlling huge areas of desert. So how come it took little Israel to come up with this? Jews wouldn't be smarter, would they? It is in any event a good reply to Greenie angst about resources and their illogical claim that global warming will induce desertification -- not to mention their totally fraudulent claim that ocean fish will die out soon

Fish farming in the desert may at first sound like an anomaly, but in Israel over the last decade a scientific hunch has turned into a bustling business. Scientists here say they realized they were on to something when they found that brackish water drilled from underground desert aquifers hundreds of feet deep could be used to raise warm-water fish. The geothermal water, less than one-tenth as saline as sea water, free of pollutants and a toasty 98 degrees on average, proved an ideal match.

"It was not simple to convince people that growing fish in the desert makes sense," said Samuel Appelbaum, a professor and fish biologist at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at the Sede Boqer campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "It is important to stop with the reputation that arid land is nonfertile, useless land," said Professor Appelbaum, who pioneered the concept of desert aquaculture in Israel in the late 1980s. "We should consider arid land where subsurface water exists as land that has great opportunities, especially in food production because of the low level of competition on the land itself and because it gives opportunities to its inhabitants."

The next step in this country, where water is scarce and expensive, was to show farmers that they could later use the water in which the fish are raised to irrigate their crops in a system called double usage. The organic waste produced by the cultured fish makes the water especially useful, because it acts as fertilizer for the crops. Fields watered by brackish water dot Israel's Negev and Arava Deserts in the south of the country, where they spread out like green blankets against a landscape of sand dunes and rocky outcrops. At Kibbutz Mashabbe Sade in the Negev, the recycled water from the fish ponds is used to irrigate acres of olive and jojoba groves. Elsewhere it is also used for irrigating date palms and alfalfa.

The chain of multiple users for the water is potentially a model that can be copied, especially in arid third world countries where farmers struggle to produce crops, and Israeli scientists have recently been peddling their ideas abroad. Dry lands cover about 40 percent of the planet, and the people who live on them are often among the poorest in the world. Scientists are working to share the desert aquaculture technology they fine-tuned here with Tanzania, India, Australia and China, among others. (Similar methods of fish farming are also being used in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.)

"Each farm could run itself, which is important in the developing world," said Alon Tal, a leading Israeli environmental activist who recently organized a conference on desertification, with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Ben-Gurion University, that brought policy makers and scientists from 30 countries to Israel. "A whole village could adopt such a system," Dr. Tal added.

At the conference, Gregoire de Kalbermatten, deputy secretary general of the antidesertification group at the United Nations, said, "We need to learn from the resilience of Israel in developing dry lands." Israel, long heralded for its agricultural success in the desert through innovative technologies like drip irrigation, has found ways to use low-quality water and what is considered terrible soil to grow produce like sweet cherry tomatoes, peppers, asparagus and melon, marketing much of it abroad to Europe, especially during winter.

"Most development is still driven by the Zionist ethos that the desert was some mistake of God that we have to correct and make the desert bloom," said Uriel Safriel, an ecology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The history of fish-farming in nondesert areas here, mostly in the Galilee region near the sea, dates back to the late 1920s, before Israel was established as a state. At the time, the country was extremely poor and meat was considered a luxury. But fish was a cheap food source, so fish farms were set up on several kibbutzim in the Galilee.

The early Jewish farmers were mostly Eastern European, and, Professor Safriel said, "they only knew gefilte fish, so they grew carp." Eventually they expanded to other varieties of fish including tilapia, striped bass and mullet, as well as ornamental fish. The past decade has seen the establishment of about 15 fish farms producing both edible and ornamental fish in the Negev and Arava Deserts. Fish farming, meanwhile, has become more lucrative worldwide as people seek more fish in their diet for better health, and ocean fisheries increasingly are being depleted

More here

Global warming still a fear, not a fact

Comment from Australia

After more than 200 years, you would think that non-Aboriginal Australians would be used to the fact that the continent experiences great variability in its climate, oscillating between years of too much rain and years of too little. Yet each time we have one of these naturally occurring events, there have been calls for something to be done about the weather. And there have always been people prepared to make alarming predictions and offer simplistic solutions to phenomena that are still not completely understood by meteorologists and climatologists.

On the banks of the Warrego River in the western Queensland town of Charleville, there is a monument to this recurring foolishness. In an attempt to break the prolonged drought that began in the mid-1890s, the self-promoting Queensland meteorologist, Clement Wragge, used six funnel-like devices to fire shots of gunpowder into clouds to make them release their moisture. The experiment was an embarrassing failure. Two of the devices exploded and the remainder failed to produce any rain. It helped end Wragge's official career, although it did not end his career as a paid spruiker to credulous audiences wanting certainty from their climate.

Now, of course, every flood, drought or cyclone is seen through the prism of the continuing debate about global warming. And there are those prepared to play on people's fears with exaggerated and simplistic claims that demean the debate and the depth of scientific inquiry that is being conducted on the issue. Tim Flannery's article in Tuesday's Age provided a good example of this. To take just one point, it is nonsense to suggest, as Flannery did, that the present drought is the worst in 1000 years.

Whenever someone claims that a weather event is the worst since records began, it is important to remember that reliable climate records only go back for a century at best. And even after the establishment of the Bureau of Meteorology in 1908, the records remained very patchy, and periodically became even more so when cost-cutting governments forced the bureau to restrict its record-gathering activities. With a relatively brief climate record, it does not take much for a drought to be portrayed as the worst on record, or for a temperature to be described as the highest on record.

Even so, the evidence does not suggest that the present drought is even the worst in 100 years, let alone the worst in 1000 years. Moreover, even a bad drought will have less effect on Australians today than droughts have had in the past, when the economy was much more dependent on the farming sector and farmers were less able to ameliorate the effects of drought. Present projections suggest that the present drought will cause less than a 1 per cent decrease in Australia's GDP, whereas droughts in the 19th and early 20th centuries almost invariably triggered an economic depression as farm incomes collapsed.

After making his alarmist claim about the drought being the worst in 1000 years, Flannery leaps from one insupportable conclusion to another, with his claim that this supposedly "extraordinary drought" is a "manifestation of the global fingerprint of drought caused by climate change", and his implication that Australians need to prepare for a state of permanent drought. In fact, Australians would do better to prepare for the floods that will almost certainly follow this drought as they have done in the past.

As for the "global fingerprint of drought", whatever that means, droughts in Australia have often occurred in tandem with droughts elsewhere in the world. A century ago, such simultaneous drought events were blamed by Clement Wragge on the "inevitability of cosmic law", although meteorologists nowadays are more likely to ascribe the cause to cyclical changes in ocean temperatures.

Despite Flannery's claim to base his alarmist arguments on science and common sense, few scientists working in the field of weather and climate would be as definite as Flannery in predicting our future climate. It was only a few years ago that meteorologists were unwilling to predict the weather more than a day or two ahead. Although they now routinely make forecasts for a week ahead, the public are sensible enough to realise that the longer the prediction the less reliable it is likely to be. Similarly with seasonal forecasts, which the Bureau of Meteorology now issues despite them enjoying limited predictive ability. You certainly would not want to bet your farm on them just yet.

Predictions about the likely climate to be experienced 50 or 100 years hence are even more problematic. Although the past few decades have seen huge leaps in our understanding of the ocean-atmosphere interaction, and huge increases in our computing capacity, no serious climatologist would attempt to predict the future global climate with the sense of certainty that Flannery purports to do.

In particular, there remain great uncertainties about the extent to which human activity is responsible for the increase in global temperatures over the past few decades, and whether or not such increases are largely driven by a natural cycle that will reverse itself in coming decades.



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 generally 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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